Rabid (1977) Blu-Ray Review

rabidRABID – 1977
DIRECTED BY: DAVID CRONENBERG
STARRING: MARYLIN CHAMBERS, FRANK MOORE, JOE SILVER, HOWARD RYSHPAN, PATRICIA GAGE
BLU–RAY
ARROW VIDEO

David Cronenberg’s follow up to the unexpectedly successful Shivers (1975) is an equally bizarre and suitably warped take on the Vampire movie. Coming to Blu-ray with the usual handful of Arrow extras it is an interesting time to be revisiting Cronenberg’s back catalogue. These early works may lack the finesse of his later masterpieces, and certainly the slick style of his more recent works, but they offer fascinating insight into the auteur’s mind and set the tone for what was to come. Even his work on more traditional ground like A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) owe much to these early forays into dark body horror.

Bigger in scope than Shivers, Rabid follows young couple Rose and Hart (Chambers and Moore) who find themselves in a horrific motorcycle accident. Taken to a clinic for surgery, Rose finds herself at the mercy of a group of doctors using experimental techniques. She awakes to find herself thirsting for human blood, and through a strange phallic lump under her arm proceeds to drain and infect everyone she comes in contact with.

Cronenberg has always preferred scientifically inclined horror to the supernatural. Offering up strange contortions of the human form and a juxtaposition of the body’s physical resilience with its vulnerability to disease, he has always found new ways to shock and disturb. And he has certainly never been afraid to go to some very controversial places in his career. Like Shivers (1975) before it Rabid represents early steps towards the greatness that would be fully realised in films like Videodrome (1983) The Fly (1986) and Crash (1996). Rabid is structurally very similar to Shivers, and uses a similar set-up and template; albeit on a slightly bigger canvas that before. Again, Cronenberg seems preoccupied with ideas of medical malpractice and venereal disease and how they warp and mutate the very essence of what we are. The casting of the late Marilyn Chambers, a porn star by trade, seems to hammer the point home; ideas of sexual exploitation are suggested and then turned around as the films predators ultimately become the prey.

rabid1For all its big themes and big ideas however, Rabid strangely feels less confident than its predecessor, and as such hasn’t aged as well as it could have. Essentially a B-grade exploitation flick, it has ideas well above its station and as such feels more relevant than similar films of the era. But where Shivers still feels relevant Rabid feels like an historical footnote in Croneberg’s career; suggestive more of things to come rather than feeling like a complete vision in itself. This is especially apparent in the film’s final scene, which seems to have accidentally wondered in from a George Romero movie and is at odds with the more singular vision Cronenberg has tried to create. That’s not to say Rabid is a failure; it has plenty of hints and ideas that would develop over later films and help shape Cronenberg into one of the foremost auteurs working in cinema today.

Arrow have put together another decent package for fans and completists here. Most of the material is retrospective but there is plenty to enjoy and it is always interesting to see how filmmakers react and respond to things differently over the years. Cronenberg as always, makes for an engaging interviewee and his recollections are worth the cover price alone. There is also a brilliant 1999 documentary called Directors that examines Cronenberg’s career up to that date and features fascinating insight from many of the people that have worked with him over the years. There are new interviews with producer Ivan Reitman (of Ghostbusters fame) a big champion of Canadian cinema and pivotal in kick starting Cronenberg’s career. The director himself provides an audio commentary as does William Beard, author of the book The Artist as The Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg.

rabid2The film is presented as well as could probably be hoped, and it looks okay in hi-def. Some scenes fare a little better than others, but it will probably be the supplemental features that talk fans into swapping their DVD’s for the Blu-ray. All in all it is another quality release from the folks over at Arrow and it still amazes me that they are able to put together such quality releases in an increasingly difficult market. Now if only someone would put out decent Blu-ray versions of Scanners, Videodrome, and Crash…

Film 7/10
Extras 8/10

Trancers (1984) Blu-Ray Review

t1 (1)TRANCERS -1984

88 FILMS

DIR: Charles Band

STARRING: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt

88 Films bring another of Full Moon productions B-movie ‘classics’ to Blu-ray, and afford it more respect than most big budget releases get these days. Considered to be one of Full Moons better productions Trancers is offered a little more love than most B flicks, but how you feel about it will depend on how you respond to its low budget eccentricity. Sitting somewhere in between Blade Runner and The Terminator it has a low budget charm and surprisingly slick visuals that set it apart from many other sci-fi films of the era. It has dated somewhat, but 88 have given it a top notch spit and polish that fans will love.

The story follows the time-travelling antics of hard boiled ‘Trooper’ Jack Deth (Thomerson) as he hunts the leader of a futuristic cult known as Trancers. Going back to 1984, the present at the time of the film’s release, he hooks up with Helen Hunt’s kindly punkette and sets about trying to save the future by changing the past. If that sounds familiar it is because it very similar to James Cameron’s seminal The Terminator, and plot wise the two walk very similar paths. But in all fairness, Trancers probably owes more to Ridley Scott’s ground breaking Blade Runner. Both visually, and thematically Trancers attempts to recapture some of the Raymond Chandler/Philip K Dick detective future noir that helped make Scott’s movie so compelling.

t2 (1)Trancers doesn’t really have the resources to match Blade Runner, but it manages to stretch what it does have to the limit and is armed with plenty of wit and charm. The future it presents is believable looking both advanced yet wearyingly apocalyptic; a place where humanity has lost much of its soul and seeks refuge in dark places. Its time travel set up is neat too; offering a believably brutal and grounded idea. Free from the perils of modern CGI it is a brilliantly jarring moment when the film switches time lines. The film loses some of its visual prowess once it lands itself in the 1980’s, but it ups the wit and offers up some genuinely inventive set-pieces that have been repeated in bigger budget films since.

A particularly smart sequence in which Jack Deth slows time in order to avoid injury and death is repeated in the recent, mega budget X-Men: Days of Future Past. Bryan Singer’s blockbuster is more spectacular, but the influence is there and it’s to Charles Band’s credit that a little B-Movie like Trancers was able to form its own identity and become influential in its own right.

Trancers may not be as memorable, or as important as The Terminator or Blade Runner, but it is successful within its own boundaries and manages to transcend its influences by creatively side stepping its budgetary limitations and some inspired casting.

t3 (1)88’s Blu –ray is packed with plenty for fans to enjoy. The film itself looks fantastic in 1080p and it still amazes me how well some of the older films scrub up on Blu-ray. As for extras the film has plenty of interviews with many of the main cast and crew and some oddities for those who like to dig deeper. Cybercrime: The making of Trancers is a fun talking heads documentary that gives a decent history of how the film came into being and how it became the cult hit it is today.

The rather superfluous Flashback Weekend featurette is just a few fans at a showing of a special Trancers work print. Probably of most interest to die- hard fans is Trancers: City of Lost Angels: a 25 minute piece of Trancers history that was believed lost for 25 years. It also has a commentary from Charles Band and Tim Thomerson along with a wealth of trailers and promo materials. A genuine must buy for fans of the film.

Film 7/10

Extras 8/10

Stu Smith’s FILMS OF 2014

Stu Smith’s FILMS OF 2014

2014 has been a bit of a mixed year for horror. Slow to start and producing some absolute howlers along the way, the genre has taken a bit of a battering both critically and at the box office this year. However, as the year went on some genuine gems started to emerge from all corners of the globe proving once more that the genre is alive and kicking.

As is so often the case, life can get in the way of it all sometimes and as such there are still plenty of films such as the highly regarded ‘The Babadook’ that I have yet to see, but for now this is my list of films that I feel were more than worth the time in 2014.

tusk (1)TUSK
Dir: Kevin Smith
A late entry to the list, Tusk proved to be a thought provoking and memorable film from Kevin Smith. Whilst it isn’t entirely successful in its attempts to gel the serious horror aspects to more recognisable comedy beats it is a very unique film that pushes its unusual concept to its limit. The story of an internet blogger (Justin Long) who becomes the unwitting victim of a crazed old man (Michael Parks) determined to turn him into a Walrus it’s a divisive oddity and, Like Smith’s previous foray into horror, Red State (2011) it has been greeted with some scepticism and trepidation with not everyone convinced. There are also those who will say that Smith may be biting the hand that feeds with his extremely acidic critiquing of the internet age and the blogging community in particular. However, despite the sub plots not quite meshing, a sterling performance from Parks and a bold one from Long add credibility to the films bizarre central idea and the film is never less than compelling. Johnny Depp even manages to show up in an extended cameo as a crazy Canadian cop. It may not be Kevin Smith’s masterpiece, but it suggests that he is on the verge of creating something truly crazy and special.

wk2WOLF CREEK 2
Dir: Greg McLean
This belated follow up to 2005’s unnerving and rather brilliant Wolf Creek proved to be just as good as its predecessor, even if it trod a tonally different path. Placing John Jarett’s sneering Mick Taylor at the centre of proceedings from the very start, Wolf Creek 2 jettisons the originals slow burning sense of dread in favour of some dirty, adrenalin infused thrills. Where- as Wolf Creek was a sun burned outback Texas Chainsaw, number 2 takes its cue from The Hitcher and plays a bit like a serial killer’s vision of Mad Max. The first half is more action film than horror featuring big car chases and daring escape attempts as Mick stalks his prey on the open road. Once the film arrives at Taylor’s lair however, things become darker and far more sinister as the true extent of his depravity begins to unfold. Fun and utterly fucked up this deserved far more than a quiet small screen release. Warning: Kangaroo lovers may want to avoid this one as it doesn’t end well for Skippy!

boderTHE BORDERLANDS
Dir: Elliot Goldner
Found footage doesn’t have the greatest of reputations. Thanks largely to the fact that ever since The Blair Witch Project proved you could turn an easy profit with minimal outlay every hack trying to push their foot in the door has used it as a cheap gimmick. However, when it’s done right it can be a truly unnerving and affecting experience, and The Borderlands nails it. The story of a Vatican investigation into a potential miracle at a small British church it is a slow burning tale of religious uncertainty mixed with devilish overtones. The Borderlands is a creepy experience that favours character depth and genuine dread over cheap scares. Its unnerving atmosphere and violent undercurrents build to a genuinely surprising conclusion that will divide opinion, but this is top drawer stuff and shows that you can make this format a success if you understand what drama and horror is all about.

rose1WANDERING ROSE
Dir: Corrie Greenop
This low budget, Scotland set chiller was a real surprise. A carefully, and lovingly made little film it follows the crumbling relationship of a young couple as they visit the Highlands to patch up their relationship. Surreal, unnerving and beautiful it captures the strangely evocative and supernatural atmosphere that Scotland seems to possess, and makes its wide open spaces feel strangely claustrophobic as the characters begin to put together the distressing truth. Brilliant performances and a well -constructed economic script make this far more than the sum of its parts. It is sometimes a little reliant on its scenery to pad out the running time, and it won’t appeal to those looking for quick, visceral thrills but this is a promising debut from Greenop and suggests that he may be a talent to watch.

hboundHOUSEBOUND
Dir: Gerard Johnstone
Housebound is the first of two films from New Zealand on this list and proves that Peter Jackson isn’t the only one with a good eye for mixing up horror and comedy. A witty mix of family comedy and horror hi-jinks it turns the haunted house movie on its head and has a lot of fun with its story managing to be unpredictable, suspenseful and laugh out loud funny at times. It follows Kylie, a teen delinquent who is placed under house arrest with her mother and stepfather. Unamused at being forced back to the family home she soon comes to question her sanity as things begin to go bump in the night. The films wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour along with some brilliant twists and turns make this a fantastic fun- house of a movie. It plays with convention and delights in pulling the rug from under the audience just as you think you have it all worked out.

purgeTHE PURGE: ANARCHY
Dir: James Demonaco
The first Purge movie met with mixed opinion but made a lot of money meaning that this sequel was inevitable. I for one thought the original was okay. No masterpiece certainly, and it rather criminally failed to capitalise on its unique concept, but it worked reasonably well as a home invasion thriller and had some genuinely creepy villains. The Purge: Anarchy moves the action outside and follows a group of people stranded outdoors during the annual purge. Delving deeper into the social implications and the adding a neat sub plot about an anti-purge movement this is more action packed, more interesting and much more fun than the first Purge. Taking its inspiration from Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1980) this is a solid B-movie action flick with just enough to say to raise it above the average. It still isn’t quite the ultimate Purge film people seem to be waiting for, but is an exciting and brutal popcorn thriller that I am more than happy to recommend.

GODZGODZILLA
Dir: Gareth Edwards
Gareth Edwards Godzilla met with a lot of disappointment on its release, and there is no escaping that Godzilla is a supporting player in his own movie. But whilst its plotting was sometimes weak, and its ‘human’ stories lacking the film possessed a poetic visual edge and some fantastic set pieces that set it miles apart from most blockbusters. He may not have the screen time we were all hoping for, but whenever this Godzilla is on screen its presence is electric. Like Edwards firs movie, the brilliant Monsters (2010), this one deals with humanities xenophobic nature and its dangerous reliance on things it cannot control. The film doesn’t always successfully balance this with the pressures of playing to a multiplex audience, and is hindered by rather flat human characterisation. But Godzilla and the gigantic MUTO’s make for strangely graceful creatures and whenever they are on screen the film rises up and stands monstrously proud, and Edwards has still created a unique summer movie with a visual verve missing from so many.

ed1 (1)THE EDITOR
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy
This homage to classic Giallo thrillers of the 1970’s and 1980’s took me by surprise. The opening film at Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams festival it turned out to be a deranged, riotous yet lovingly crafted film that captured the essence of its influences whilst gleefully sending them all up. The story of Rey (Adam Brooks) a film Editor put in the frame for murder it plays havoc with its own conventions and pokes fun at its own absurdities with a demented relish. Using deliberate technical tricks like bad dubbing, it is likely to confuse those uninitiated in the ways of the giallo’ but for those who know and love the films of Bava, Argento, and Fulci this is full of smart references and homages. It may work for everyone but The Editor is wholly unafraid to go to some very crazy places and is a match for almost any horror comedy released in the last few years.

guestTHE GUEST
Dir: Adam Wingard
Following up You’re Next was never going to be easy, but Wingard and his writer Simon Barrett meet the challenge head on here. The Guest is a tension packed horror/action hybrid that is more than a match for their previous film and stands as one of the very best of the year. When Dan Steven’s Afghanistan veteran turns up at the Peterson home claiming to be a friend of their deceased son, he is welcomed in and seems to be an antidote to the family’s grief. But people soon begin to turn up dead and the sinister guest begins to reveal himself as something far more than meets the eye. Tense, funny and at times ruthlessly violent The Guest is a throwback to paranoid post war thrillers and has a strange 80’s style edge, but mixes it up with a modern sensibility and a visceral eye. Like You’re Next did before it, it takes conventions and turns them around making the film fun and unpredictable. It also proves that Adam Wingard is as deft at delivering high octane action as he is at delivering scares and chills.

wwdits (1)WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Dir: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
When I first read the synopsis for this I nearly skipped it. Another vampire film, and a faux documentary to boot, I just wasn’t interested. Never have I been so wrong, and so glad that I took a chance on a film as I am with this absolutely wonderful piece of incisive horror comedy. From the very first few minutes this is a likeable, smart and side-splittingly funny film about what it is like to be a vampire in the modern world. The second film from New Zealand on the list it proves again that the Kiwis seem to have an incredible wit and humour that isn’t confined to the work of Peter Jackson. Following a group of flat sharing Vampires as they deal with the difficulties and dilemmas of being hundreds of years old in an ever changing world, it captures the fish out of water weirdness of the situation whilst making it all seem strangely normal. Filled with lots of smart observations about Vampire mythology and its place in popular culture, What We Do In The Shadows is an absolute treat for genre fans and I have absolutely no hesitation in declaring it my favourite film of 2014. Its limited theatrical release in the UK means that many people have yet to enjoy this brilliant little flick, but I guarantee that once it lands on disc and VOD it will gather momentum and quickly develop the cult following it deserves.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS
The year produced a handful of other films worth a look, and a couple of reissues that stood out for various reasons. The Mirror proved to be another successful found footage film managing to be both frightening and compelling; it missed out on the final list by the smallest of margins. Spanish Exorcism chiller was not quite The Exorcist (what is?) but had enough going for it to warrant a mention. Well- paced and well -acted it was a classy little film with a neat sting in its tale, revelling in its demonic themes and undercurrents. Claire (originally titled Kuru) is a very effective micro budget Brit-chiller that drew favourable comparisons with the work of David Lynch. Both creepily unnerving and emotionally affecting it was also a strong contender for the main list. Away from horror the blockbuster season threw up the unexpectedly good Guardians of The Galaxy and the intelligent yet exciting sequel Dawn of The Planet of The Apes. Along with Godzilla these both proved that blockbusters don’t have to be stupid to be entertaining and effective.

Clive Barker also had a good year as his Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut finally made it onto Blu-ray, and his underrated and under seen Lord of Illusions also took its high definition bow. The director’s cut of Nightbreed has been almost 25 years in the making and didn’t come without a little controversy. European fans were irked that the release was region A locked, but frankly people should be grateful that this has seen the light of day at all. America’s Scream factory have done a sterling job and the film looks great. As for the cut itself it differs from the Cabal Cut that did the festival run and is Barker’s definitive vision for the film. Adding depth to the central relationships, and returning to the original notion that Midian’s monsters are the heroes it is the film fans have been waiting so long to see. After a poor UK Blu-ray release from 101 films earlier in the year Barker’s final directorial effort was given a proper release once again from Scream Factory. Another brilliant release it offers a chance to rediscover a film that deserves more credit than it has received. Capturing the dark whimsical feeling of Barker’s books and stories and featuring his recurring character Harry D’Amour it is an underrated and intelligent work from one of dark fiction’s most unique voices.

QUIETTHE NOT SO GOOD
2014 produced a few howlers that failed for various reasons to make the grade. Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil was an absolute bore that failed to capitalise on a brilliant central idea. Dull and plodding, it goes nowhere slowly. Johnny Depp popped up in Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence, a visually slick but painfully uninteresting film that basically replayed the plot of Brett Leonard’s Lawnmower Man with added pretension. The ABC’s of Death 2 should hopefully be the nail in the coffin for these odd and uneven short film showcases. With very little of interest in its 2 hour run time this is one for die-hard fans of the first film only. I Frankenstein was until very recently the worst of the year. A big budget and confused waste of time, it doesn’t even muster the camp entertainment value of the equally maligned Van Helsing. It takes itself unforgivably seriously and manages to feel incredibly long despite a relatively lean 90 minute run time. But as much as I disliked I Frankenstein it was pipped at the post by Hammer films utterly depressing The Quiet Ones. With The Woman In Black (2012) the new Hammer seemed to have finally rediscovered its stride and was on track for a return to former glories. However, with The Quiet Ones a dramatic step backwards is taken. Mixing found footage with standard third person story telling the film is uneven, unexciting, and at times downright frustrating. It is not often that films annoy me as much as this one did, but it genuinely felt like time I would never get back. So here’s hoping that The Woman In Black 2 gets the studio back on the right track as we enter 2015.

Asmodexia (2014) Review

CELLULOID SCREAMS

asmodexia-hell-awaits-posterASMODEXIA – 2014

DIR: Marc Carrete

Written: Marc Carrete & Mike Hostench

Starring: Lluis Marco, Claudia Pons, Marta Belmonte, Pepo Blasco, Roser Bundo, Ramon Canals

Every year Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams have a secret film that isn’t revealed until it is time to roll. This all came about in the festival’s very first year when by a stroke of incredibly good fortune the organisers were offered a film that would prove to be something of a modern benchmark. The only proviso was that they had to keep it a secret until it was time to show it. Such was the marketing and the kind of buzz that was being created around this film the distributors wanted to keep a sense of the unknown about it. That film turned out to be the enormously successful Paranormal Activity. Every year since the festival has had a secret film, with somewhat mixed success from what I can gather. This year’s big secret was Asmodexia, an unusual and unnerving Exorcism thriller from Spain. It didn’t exactly elicit gasps of surprise or excitement as it was revealed but it proved to be an interesting and clever examination of religious extremism and the nature of good and evil.

Set over the course of five days the film follows Eloy De Palma (Marco) and his Granddaughter Alba (Pons) as they cross the darker parts of the Spanish countryside to perform Exorcisms on those afflicted by dark forces. They go from exorcism to exorcism, approaching the day when an event of major religious significance will occur. De Palma and Alba are received like saviours wherever they go, but in a world full of demons and darkness nothing is ever quite as it seems.

As2Ever since The Exorcist (1973) became the first and last word on cinematic exorcism film makers have been trying to recapture the essence and the sense of terror that film wrought. As a sub-genre the Possession/Exorcism film hasn’t always faired very well. Living under the shadow of the aforementioned grandfather of the genre they often fall short and feel tired and predictable. There are exceptions such as the underrated Exorcist 3 (1990) and the recent box office monolith The Conjuring (2013) but these are few and far between. So the question now is where does Asmodexia land in this particular movie minefield? Truthfully, it falls somewhere in the middle. It is neither the saviour the genre needs, nor is it as dull and disastrous as many others that have come before it. Asmodexia plays on themes of religious unrest and at its heart it has a character that is a zealot by nature.

Yet despite its seemingly Christian ideology the film achieves a sense of balance that The Exorcist also had and it doesn’t feel like it is preaching at you, more that it is teaching you how and why these people do what they do. It is steeped in atmosphere and its short running time means that it is well paced and doesn’t waste unnecessary amounts of celluloid with drawn out exposition. In fact this is one of Asmodexia’s biggest strengths. Despite its allusions to something incredibly complex the film is surprisingly simple in its execution meaning the action comes at you quite frequent and fast and it keeps its plotting free from convolution.

As3But despite all this it still feels like ground well -trodden and has a final twist that whilst entertainingly left-field, is flagged too early and unsurprising. The title alone will give away clues to what is really happening to those who know their demons. The film is also rarely really scary; atmospheric though it is it never rattles the bones and often seems to be going through the motions. But it still has a malevolent streak that just about gets it through, helping to smooth the films less assured edges. It also helps that the cast all bring their ‘A’ game and elevate the film beyond its humble ‘B’ movie origins. At its centre Lluis Marco and Claudia Pons give the film an engaging core, always walking a fine line between good and evil and helping the audience believe in their crusade.

In the end Asmodexia is a pretty decent flick that aspires to greater things than it ultimately achieves. However it has enough going for it to make it worth its brief running time, and despite the fact that it sign-posts its final twist a bit too soon, it does end on a wonderfully blasphemous note that will leave a wicked grin on your face as the credits roll.

7/10

Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla (2013) Review

cs_20141

csv1CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY VANILLA

Dir: Stuart Simpson

Written: Addison Heath

Starring: Glenn Maynard, Kyrie Capri, Aston Elliot, Louise Bremner, Benjamin Grant Mitchell, Kristen Condon

Out now in UK on DVD & BluRay from Monster Pictures UK.

Saturday at Celluloid Screams got underway with this little oddity from Australia. After the Kiwi’s landed a solid hit the night before with the brilliant Housebound, it was time for their neighbours to have a go with this weird psycho-thriller. Following the life of down on his luck ice cream man Warren Thompson (Glenn Maynard) as he goes about his daily business and obsesses over a soap actress (Kyrie Capri) with whom he wishes to develop a relationship. As he works he witnesses the worst of society and he soon crosses into dark territory as his rage builds and his obsessions begin to take control of him.

A strange film, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla has noble intentions and an extremely strong performance from Glenn Maynard at its centre, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark and begins to feel long and repetitive as it draws towards its conclusion. There is nothing specifically wrong with the film, it is just that it treads ground that has already been trodden better elsewhere. Clearly influenced by the Scorsese/De Niro classics Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy it tries to get under its lead characters skin and understand his increasingly erratic and dangerous behaviour. Looking at themes of isolation, obsession, and the psychosis of a man on the very edge it wants to be a weighty film, and in all fairness for about half of its running time it succeeds. But as its main character begins to unravel so too does the film.

csv2Starting strongly with Warren’s daily routine, leading to him accidentally killing his own cat, these early scenes are incredibly affecting. It gives us subtle, but emotionally arresting insight into Warren’s life and mind set and sets the film up very well. Warren is a likeable but rather sad character that trudges through life unable to ever truly connect to the world around him, and whilst the film is dealing with this it holds its own and has the potential to be something special in its own right. Unfortunately as it moves into its second half and begins to focus on Warren’s obsession with soap actress Katey George (Capri) and his troubles with a family of thugs it, like its lead character, begins to lose its grip. Much of the psychology becomes predictable and the film lays many of its cards out on the table too early meaning that any intended surprises towards the end fall flat, robbing the film of a lot of its power.

That said the film does have plenty of merits. Glenn Maynard is fantastic as Warren, eliciting plenty of empathy for a character damaged by the world around him and unable to relate to reality. Even as the film loses much of its early promise Maynard manages to keep Warren interesting and unusual. The film expects a lot of him as an actor, and he delivers in absolute spades. The film also attempts to inject some genuine emotion and human empathy into its story, something that is often lacking in many horror/thrillers. Whilst it may not manage to hold its weight until the end, the film does at least try to give the audience something more than the standard horror fare or revenge thriller, and for that it should be applauded.

csv3Ultimately Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is an interesting film rather than a compelling one. A victim sometimes of its own influences, its overly predictable second half is a disappointment after the careful emotional beats of the first. But Glenn Maynard gives an excellent performance as Warren Thompson and saves the film from completely folding in on itself.

6/10

ABCs of Death 2 (2014) Review

cs_20141CELLULOID SCREAMS 2014

ABCs-2-PosterABCs OF DEATH 2

Dir: Rodney Ascher, Julian Barratt, Robert Boocheck, Alejandro Brugues, Kristina Buozyte, Alexanre Bustillo, Larry Fessenden, Julian Gilbey, Jim Hosking, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, E.L. Katz, Aharon Keshales, Steven Kostanski, Marvin Kren, Juan Martinez Moreno, Erik Matti, Julien Maury, Robert Morgan, Chris Nash, Vincenzo Natali, Hajime Ohata, Navot Papushado, Bill Plympton, Dennison Ramalho, Todd Rohal, Jerome Sable, Bruno Samper, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Soichi Umezawa

Starring: Tristan Risk, Martina Garcia, Beatrice Dalle, Lawrence R Harvey, Jerod Meagher, Andy Nyman, C Ernst Harth, Miguel Angel Munoz, Ivan Gonzalez, Ian Virgo, Alys Crocker, Victoria Broom, Lee Majoub, Kestrin Pantera, Conor Sweeney

The first ABCs of Death it has to be said, had a rather fun and novel concept at its core. The idea of presenting 26 short films, each based around a letter of the alphabet was an inspired one. However, despite an array of horror talent both old and new, the film came up incredibly short (no pun intended!). It was inevitable that consistency would be an issue on a project like this but for the shorts to be as uninspired and often unpleasant as they turned out to be was something of a surprise. I appreciate that not everyone feels this way, and the film(s) has a lot of fans and was successful enough to warrant this sequel. Again we are treated to 26 short films based around the letters of the alphabet, and again it is a mixed bag, and again to these eyes anyway, it never achieves its potential and is lacking in something truly inspired.

How you feel about this second dose of alphabetised mayhem will probably depend of how much you liked the first dose, and how forgiving you are of the film maker’s indulgencies. It isn’t without merit and I have to admit that three or four of the shorts hit the mark, just about, for me this time which is a bigger success rate than the first. But ultimately as an exhibition of the short film format, and as an anthology picture it fails and is mostly filled with either very bland student style films, or films that are overly bizarre just for the sake of it.

abc2A is for Amateur is a convoluted little opener that I completely lost interest in early on and wasn’t a good start. B is for Badger was a mini mockumentary about an obnoxious reporter that falls foul of an angry man eating badger. Harmless enough, but again lacks punch. C is for Capital Punishment has bigger ideas, and its denouement is shocking, but it doesn’t quite ring true. D is for Deloused is one of the better entries; a stop motion animation about large bugs it is creepy and well done. E is for Equilibrium is kooky and entertaining as a girl comes between two castaways. F is for Falling is one of the worst of the bunch. It tries so hard to say something about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that it ultimately says nothing at all.

G is for Grandad is another poor entry and an example of something being gross for the sake of it. H is for Head Games is a weird animation about relationship power struggles; odd, but effective in its way. The amusingly gruesome I is for Invincible is a better short as a family tries to kill its invincible matriarch for its inheritance. J is for Jesus is a brutal and visceral affair about ignorance and martyrdom. It is solid and quite frightening, but not particularly memorable. K is for Knell was another oddity that failed to really connect with me. L is for Legacy involves a ritual sacrifice going wrong, but again is fairly forgettable. M is for Masticate is a slow motion bore that goes for high style but feels forced and a bit silly in the end.

N is for Nexus is better from the famed Larry Fessenden. Dealing with interweaving fates as people prepare for Halloween it is genuinely quite shocking. O is for Ochlocracy is well set up as it deals with a woman on trial for crimes against zombies after the zombies have become the dominant species. Smart and witty, it just out stays its welcome a little. P is for P-P-P-P SCARY! is just awful. Neither funny nor scary it is misguided and smart arsed. Q is for Questionnaire is ok. It works on its own terms, but isn’t particularly special. R is for Roulette sees three people in a basement forced to play Russian Roulette. Whilst it is well done, it doesn’t seem to have any real point. S is for Split is almost brilliant. Using split screen it follows a man as he is forced to listen to an attack on his wife via his phone in another country. It is genuinely tense, but is let down by offering up a predictable final twist.

abc3T is for Torture Porn sees American Mary’s The Soska Sisters take a stab at the murkier aspects of the porn industry. An interesting set up is ultimately let down and the film doesn’t particularly stand out. U is for Utopia is a quite effective sci-fi tale about our obsession with perfection. It emerges as one of the smarter more interesting entries. V is for Vacation is a raw and brutal entry that sees two obnoxious tourists fall foul of a couple of prostitutes they have mistreated. Rough and unpleasant, it is hit and miss. W is for Wish is a strange, but nightmarish journey into dark childish fantasy. Some interesting ideas are buried under tacky visuals. X is probably the most difficult letter to land but Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s X is for Xylophone is a good entry that goes to some pretty unpleasant places but does so with a wry and sinister smile. Y is for Youth is a crazed revenge fantasy that has some cool ideas but doesn’t feel entirely complete. Finally the end comes, and it ends on a high note with Z is for Zygote. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense but it is wonderfully gross and disturbingly funny.

Ultimately what we have here is a very mixed package from a very mixed bag of film makers. The best anthology films tend to have something that ties all the segments together, giving them some sort of narrative link and making them feel more cinematic. Possibly the biggest problem with both ABCs of Death films is that they lack any real connecting feature. They have the concept to work with but ultimately nothing is relevant to anything else on display meaning it is all a bit pick and mix. If you liked ABCs of Death the likelihood is you will find something to like here as well, but if you had little love for it the first time round it is unlikely that you will find much of interest here. Diverse, certainly but ultimately fairly forgettable from almost all concerned.

5/10

The Editor (2014) Review

CELLULOID SCREAMS 2014

ed1THE EDITOR – 2014

DIR: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy

Written: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Connor Sweeney

Starring: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Connor Sweeney, Paz De La Huerta, Tristan Risk, Lawrence R Harvey, Udo Kier, Jerry Wasserman

The opening gala of Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams festival, now in its 6th year, saw the UK premiere of film making collective Astron-6’s The Editor. This was my first experience of Astron-6 and their wildly over the top and wickedly astute humour. Hailed by the festival Director Robert Nevitt as the saviours of genre cinema it became clear to me looking around the auditorium that he wasn’t the only one who felt like this. People were sporting t-shirts and talking excitedly about what the Canadian crew had in store for them this time around. I felt a little out of place to start with as it seemed as though I was the only one not in the club and began to wonder how the crazy sounding Manborg and Father’s Day had passed me by until now. The atmosphere and excitement was palpable as the lights began to dim, and it was a reminder of what film festivals are all about.

The Editor is the story of Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks), a once great film editor that has been reduced to cutting low budget trash due to a horrific accident that left him with four wooden fingers. The latest ‘epic’ he is working on is a particularly poor piece and the set is filled with egotistical, self -serving wannabe’s. Rey is something of an outcast, and even his wife (Paz De La Huerta); a former great actress barely seems to notice him anymore. But when members of the cast and crew start turning up dead the finger of blame is pointed squarely at Rey and he must outwit a tireless police inspector (Matthew Kennedy) and work to prove his innocence as the evidence stacks up against him.

ed2A loving send-up of the Italian Giallo classics of the 70’s and 80’s The Editor is a fun, riotous, and demented piece of cinema that will have fans of old-school exploitation smiling from ear to severed ear. A perfect way to open a festival, it had the right mix of energy and ingenuity to get everyone in the mood for a weekend of insanity. Playing brilliantly on the absurdities of the classic giallo The Editor is filled with witty visuals and in possession of a genuinely smart script. There is a goldmine of knowing references and wry nods for those ‘in on the joke’, and The Editor will be most enjoyed by those who love their old-school Italian exploitation. It is possible to have fun with the film on a basic level, but the crazy plotting and the deliberately cranky technical tricks, like the bad dubbing, will probably leave those out of the loop somewhat perplexed. But if you have a place inside your heart for this sort of thing then you will have an absolute ball here.

Capturing the best of the past whilst showing Astron-6 as a talent for the future it is a clever mix of horror and hilarity and is wittier than most films can hope to be. Particularly funny is the films running joke on misogyny. Giallo thrillers were often criticised for their treatment of female characters, with Argento in particular coming in for some potent criticism. The Editor runs with this and takes it to an extreme that makes the whole argument seem ridiculous and plays perfectly on the stupidity of over blown machismo. Whilst the film walks the precarious line between satire and stupidity it emerges as an intelligent yet gleefully daft play on the nature of cinema as art and works towards a surprising removal of the fourth wall, tying it all in to its video era inspirations.

ed3With a hilarious cameo from Udo Kier and a genuine love for the films it is sending up, The Editor is a genuine gem of a film and one that should find a healthy audience as it does the festival rounds. Capturing the spirit of an era past without ever feeling forced or smart-arsed it really is as good as you will no doubt hear. How it will play upon multiple viewings remains to be seen, but with so much crammed into each scene it is likely that further viewings will unearth even more for those with a keen eye. It has sold me, and I am off to track down Manborg and Father’s Day.

9/10

Shivers (1975) Blu-Ray Review

SHIVERS1 (1)SHIVERS – 1975

AKA: They Came From Within; The Parasite Murders

Dir: David Cronenberg

Starring: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele.

Shivers in out in the UK now on Dual Format DVD & Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.

Shivers makes a bow on Blu-Ray as Arrow Video put their considerable talents to creating a definitive edition of Cronenberg’s early classic. David Cronenberg is now something of a household name respected and revered by both horror fans and the cineastes alike. Shivers marked his feature debut and immediately singled him out as a talent to watch and a subversive voice in the darkness. Although it was un-appreciated at the time, Shivers is intensely intelligent, yet creatively schlocky and emerges as a minor masterpiece, showcasing early examples of many recurring Cronenberg themes.

The story of a medical experiment gone wrong, it follows a group of people living in a high class high rise as a nasty parasite is loosed upon them. Causing violent and aggressive sexual tendencies in its victims it becomes a fight to survive for those who have kept the parasite at bay. Thematically ahead of its time, and dealing with some heavy issues Shivers is a sexually charged, grotesque affair that deals head on with the darker side of sexuality, the dangers of insular communities and the asinine impersonality of modern living. Many of these themes would inform his later work and the cold, detached style would be perfected in later films like Dead Ringers (1988) and the astonishing Crash (1996).

Its views of modern living and the dangers inherent within sexually repressive societies were quite revolutionary at the time. Trapped by the confines of the apartment block, and of their own lifestyles the residents are easy pickings for the parasites, and as it brings out the repressed desires of its hosts it passes easily from person to person. Foreshadowing the outbreak of HIV and presenting the penis shaped parasites as penetrative creatures forcing their way into their victims was a subversive idea. As they corrupt the routine and infect the social equilibrium the film presents a society that is released from its prison and all leads to an orgiastic conclusion that didn’t sit well with critics.

SHIVERS2 (1)The film was branded repulsive and disgusting by some on its release, and questions were asked as to whether or not the Canadian government should be helping to fund such ‘trash’. Completely missing the films core points about repression and the lack of intimacy within modern communities, these critics would also miss the films streak of jet black humour. Cronenberg is often viewed as an overtly serious film maker but many of his films are laced with a wicked sense of humour that underline the darker principles at work.

In its way it is a strange retelling of Romero’s Night of The Living Dead (1968) with the zombies replaced by the sex crazed hosts as the movie progresses. However, Cronenberg’s film avoids a lot of horror’s usual tricks and approaches the material with a scientific eye, introducing Cronenberg’s obsession with the inside of the body forcing its way out. Rabid (1977), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and even A History of Violence (2005) would return to some of the ideas that he first explores here. It may be a little rough around the edges, and there are times where Cronenberg’s lack of experience as a film maker are evident, but Shivers is something of a classic in own right; transcending its b-movie trappings to become a smart, rebellious picture that would mark Cronenberg’s arrival as one of the foremost directors of a generation.

As is now the norm with most Arrow releases the image here is pretty good. It isn’t the best I have seen but it is a step up from any DVD release that I have previously viewed. It’s a little grainy at times and doesn’t quite live up to Blu-Ray expectations but that suits the films humble origins and its gritty ideas. The special features here are a decent batch with two documentaries that detail the films production and feature contributions from almost everyone involved, including Cronenberg himself and producer Ivan Reitman who would go onto make such mega hits as Ghostbusters and Twins.

But its special effects maestro Joe Blasco that provides the most entertaining interviews. His lively, excitable recollections of how he came to be part of the production are engaging and thoroughly amusing. There is also a video essay by Croneberg expert and avid fan Caelum Vatnsdal detailing the directors career from his early shorts right up to his first major studio outing Videodrome (1983). It’s a very detailed piece covering everything including his television work and the little seen Fast Company (1979).

shivers3 (1)As to this being a definitive edition it has sadly come to light that several seconds have been cut from this version of the film. Arrow have released a statement regarding this and they are looking into what has happened. Unusually for Arrow they were not directly involved in the restoration of this one and the first they knew of the problem was after the film’s release. So if you are a purist it may be best to hold on to your DVD copy right now. I haven’t been able to do a comparison as I no longer have a DVD copy, but the word is that around 14 seconds are missing from various scenes throughout the film.

FILM: 8/10
PACKAGE: 7/10

31 Days of Horror: #24 – The Devil Rides Out

31 Days of Horror: #24 – The Devil Rides Out

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

Devil.Rides.OutThe Devil Rides Out (1968)

Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Richard Matheson, from the novel by Dennis Wheatley

Starring Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Patrick Mower, Niké Arrighi

Based upon occult expert Dennis Wheatley’s novel, The Devil Rides out is Hammer at their grandiose best. Directed with Terence Fishers simple but skillful style, it spins a devilish tale about the nefarious goings on inside a cult who quite literally summon the devil and are generally up to no good. The Devil Rides Out isn’t as achingly Gothic as some of the Hammer catalogue, but with a script respectful to Wheatley’s occult knowledge and its hints at the esoteric goings on of high society it is a perfect fit for Hammer.

Dripping with atmosphere, and in possession of a genuinely surprising twist, it is both creepy and gleefully camp making it a fantastic pick for anyone in the mood for some old school Halloween thrills. Christopher Lee is wonderfully theatrical as The Duc De Richelieu – a rare good-guy role – and with The Devil himself making an appearance, and some Giant spiders just for good measure, this is a perfect Samhain treat.

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Mark of The Devil (1970) Blu-Ray Review

mark 1MARK OF THE DEVIL – 1970

AKA: Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält

Dir: Michael Armstrong, Adrian Hoven (uncredited)

Starring: Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katalina, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux

Mark of The Devil comes to Arrow Blu Ray in the usual fine style that we have come to expect from the company. Packing a great transfer and some fine extras it is a perfect chance to revisit one of the most controversial films of its era. Advertised in the USA as “guaranteed to make you sick” cinema goers were treated to Mark of The Devil sick bags as they sat down to watch Michael Armstrong’s torture heavy film. As amusing as this is, it did distract from the fact that despite its exploitation trappings, the film was a disturbing examination of religious extremism and the politics of the church. For all its graphic torture scenes Mark of The Devil emerges as a smart and incredibly fearless picture that is as relevant today as it was in 1970.

Genre regular Udo Kier is Kristian is an apprentice Witch Hunter in the service of Herbert Lom’s Lord Cumberland. A relatively just man in violent times Kristian rescues the beautiful Vanessa from the local Witch Finder (Nalder) who has designs on the buxom beauty. Spurned by her advances he accuses her of being a witch until Kristian and his men step in and stop it. Kristian becomes enchanted by Vanessa and he finds himself intrigued by her more pagan views of the world. But when Cumberland arrives and the trials start things become complicated for the young witch finder as he is forced to confront the reality that the witch hunts have nothing to do with eradicating evil and are really about making the church richer and more powerful.

Violent, complex and unflinching, Mark of The Devil is an incredibly potent film. Its critique of the Christian church is incredibly cutting and it never shy’s away from confronting the issues head on. It is at times a very political film that examines the manipulative nature of modern religions whilst hinting that the destruction of older pagan ideals was detrimental to society. Hebert Lom’s Cumberland is a quintessential politician, presenting himself as the social and moral benchmark whilst behind the scenes he is manipulative and dangerous man pulling the strings of all those around him. In fact the film is peppered with visual references to puppets, driving home its point about political and religious control.

mark 2Whilst it has been over shadowed a little by Michael Reeves’ equally outstanding Witchfinder General (1968) Mark of The Devil stands as something of a companion piece to that film. Both approach the subject matter with a historical eye and are arguably not horror films in the strictest sense of the word. But where Reeve’s film is now an acknowledged classic, Mark of The Devil has the reputation of being a sleazy, violent exploitation film. To some extent this is a fair criticism as director Michael Armstrong is wholly unafraid to linger on the slow, unpleasant torture of those accused of consorting with The Devil. There is also no escaping the garish and gloatingly manipulative marketing campaign used by Hallmark on its original release. However, for all its horror, the film retains an integrity and intelligence that lifts it far above the simple minded gore films that would begin to flood the market as the 1970’s progressed.

The 1080p transfer here is exceptional. Arrow have once again proven themselves to be masters at breathing new life into old classics. High definition helps to elevate the films European look rather than detracting from it and the film looks truly fantastic. This is also the completely uncut version of the film meaning that it is something of a definitive release.

The extras here are substantial too. I am not one for audio commentaries but I have it on good authority that this one by Director Michael Armstrong is very insightful. In fact, considering the films troubled production history the Blu- ray comes with a lot of differing and interesting insight from many of those concerned. Mark of The Time is an excellent little documentary tracing the history of many of the ‘New Wave’ British directors that emerged during the 1970’s. From Hammer, through Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and of course Mark of The Devil itself it is an intriguing look back at the era from many of those involved. Hallmark of the Devil is a nice look back at the history and the some- what dubious advertising techniques of the notorious Hallmark releasing group by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold.

mark3A little more bizarre is a ‘then and now’ comparison of the films Austrian locations. It’s a touch unnecessary; especially as nothing much seems to have changed over the years, but still rather amusing in its way. The disc also boasts out takes and interviews with many of those involved including the genre legend Udo Kier, who simply doesn’t seem to age like normal people! He offers some interesting insight to the films production problems and director Michael Armstrong’s visions for the film.

This is a must by for fans of the film and a great place for new initiates to start. With a top notch transfer and a hefty amount of extras this is Arrow at their finest and a must for horror and exploitation fans.

Film 9/10
Package 9/10