Vampires (1998) Blu-Ray Review

rsz_john_carpenters_vampiresJOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998) (BLU RAY)

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Tim Guinee
Running time: 108 minutes
Released by Powerhouse Films (Indicator Label) on Limited Dual Format Edition (7000 copies). Region Free. Out now.

Powerhouse’s Indicator label is a relatively new addition to the horror genre market but it has already impressed collectors with its clean presentations and wealth of extras. Following their excellent release of Carpenter’s Christine adaptation last year they are now adding two more of his back catalogue titles, Ghost of Mars and Vampires.

The Film: Based on John Steakley’s 1990 novel Vampire$, the film marked Carpenter’s 19th feature. It follows a similar premise to the novel as Jack Crow (James Woods) leads his team of vampire hunters including Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) across New Mexico flushing out vampire nests and tracking down Masters. However, after clearing out one particular nest his team is ambushed during celebrations by a centuries’ old Master called Valek (Eric Draven lookalike, Thomas Ian Griffith) and Crow’s team is brutally murdered. Along with a freshly bitten hooker Katrina (Sheryl Lee), his only surviving team member Montoya and a young priest, Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), Crow hunts Valek across the desert plains as he tries to stop an ancient ritual being fulfilled.

I had not seen John Carpenter’s Vampires since its release at the cinema back in the late Nineties. I remember being less than impressed at the time and unfortunately almost two decades later nothing has changed my opinion. The film is a horror/western hybrid and it is just bad. It outstays its welcome at almost two hours and sadly it doesn’t even work as a ‘tits, guns and fangs’ B-movie because the production values are just too damn good.

rsz_john_carpenters_vampires_1The acting is abysmal as James Woods doesn’t just ham it up, he literally chews up scenery in every shot he is in (check out the moment where he first meets the Catholic priests). The fight scenes look amateurish, for example Valek kicks a chair at someone but uses such little force it only just reaches its intended victim and as for Don Jakoby’s script, well where to start. I am certainly no prude but by today’s standards it is an embarrassment, littered with casual misogyny and homophobia. Woods character utters the majority of it and whilst there is a certain irony that the villain Valek does indeed look European (“Eurotrash”) and dresses in effeminate (“fag”) clothing, I am not sure the film is meta enough to have made that connection.

The only positives I can say about Vampires is that Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger’s make-up effects are excellent and in most cases are clearly too good for such a weak film. For example, the scene where Valek takes revenge on Crow’s team at a motel is a particular highlight. Vampires also marked Carpenter’s 15th original score and whilst it continues his interest working with synths, this time he has skewed his sound into a Western aesthetic as he pays homage to the classics of Ford, Hawks and Peckinpah.

The Disc: The main feature is presented uncut and picture quality throughout is very good, there are a few scenes where the image appears a little soft but for the most part detail is impressive. The film is dowsed in filters during the daytime scenes which gives the picture a red hue as though dusk is never far away. Night scenes are suitably dark but detail is never lost and as night fades into morning, those filters come into play again without detail ever suffering.

Sound options include 5.1 Surround Sound track and Stereo Audio. I watched the feature in 5.1 Surround and there were no notable issues. Carpenter’s score sounded crisp and prevalent, whilst dialogue was audible throughout even during some of the heavy firearm sequences. I also checked and English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing are available on the disc.

There is no specific Chapters menu on the disc, however the feature has been separated into 13 chapters once the film is playing.

rsz_john_carpenters_vampires_2Special Features:

Audio commentary with director John Carpenter: A very dry commentary from Carpenter which mainly involves him describing what is happening on screen, rather than sharing interesting anecdotes. A missed opportunity, especially as there are several long periods of silence.

The Guardian Interview with John Carpenter – Part One, 1962-1983 (38 mins) the director discusses his career with Nigel Floyd at the National Film Theatre, London (filmed on 29th July 1994). Without a doubt the best aspect of the entire disc. Carpenter discusses his childhood memories and early attempts at filmmaking gradually leading to a formal education at film school. He describes how he got into screenplay writing and the critical reception of Assault on Precinct 13 in Europe finally leading to recognition State side. The origin of Michael Myers, his attitude to director’s cuts, The Fog, Escape From New York and a very interesting story about a preview screening of The Thing are also covered. In my opinion, this extra is more enjoyable than the main feature. Part 2 covering his more recent films is included on Powerhouse’s Ghosts of Mars release.

Behind the scenes (1999, 6 mins), Cast & Crew Interviews (1999, 9 mins), B-roll footage (1999, 9 mins). These three vintage additions can be played together as a ‘making of’ documentary or as separate interviews plus footage. Interviews with Carpenter, Woods, Baldwin, Lee, the SFX crew including Greg Nicotero are included but as they are essentially several mini-featurettes there is a lot of repetition in each section. However, each section adds a little extra information as you go through them chronologically.

Isolated score – Viewers can experience John Carpenter’s original soundtrack music as the film plays out with all other sound effects muted. It is a nice addition for fans but for the rest of us, it depends how eager you are to sit through the film again. It may have worked better as a literal isolated score track with a dynamic image gallery.

rsz_john_carpenters_vampires_3Original theatrical trailer – It does exactly what it says on the tin. Remastered in HD.

It is worth noting that during all the extras and particularly the vintage featurettes, there is very little mention that Vampires is actually based on Steakley’s novel and is not Carpenter’s own work. Instead, there is a strong emphasis on this being John Carpenter’s Vampires, presumably in a bid to sell it to his devoted fans. It would have been nice to have an extra about the man behind the original source material.

Also, whilst not included with the screener copy the sell-through edition includes an exclusive 20-page booklet with a new essay by Kim Newman, and a 2015 interview with John Carpenter about Vampires.

In conclusion: Powerhouse’s Indicator label continues to impress and as a back catalogue title with a limited audience, this is an impressive release. However Vampires is one of Carpenter’s weaker entries and despite the excellent Guardian interview, I can only recommend this release to die-hard fans.

Rated: 3/10

Happy Birthday To Me (1981) Blu-Ray Review

rsz_hbtmHappy Birthday To Me (1981) Blu-Ray Review

Running time: 110 mins
Director: J Lee Thompson
Cast: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Tracey E Bregman, Jack Blum, Matt Craven, Lenore Zann, Lesleh Donaldson

Out now on UK Blu-Ray from Powerhouse Films.

Originally released in 1981, Happy Birthday to Me has just received a UK blu-ray release prompting a long overdue look at the film that casts Little House on the Prairie’s Mary Ingalls (Melissa Sue Anderson) at the centre of a slasher-fest. At the time, the casting itself must have been something of a surprise, allowing audiences to see the all American good girl in something rather less wholesome.

Anderson plays Virginia Wainwright (the birthday girl of the title) who has recently returned to school at Crawford Academy and been accepted in to the elite ‘top ten’ group. For top ten, read rich spoilt kids who hang out together, wreaking havoc and being crazy 80’s teens. Unfortunately for them, there is someone in town ready to ruin their fun and one by one each of Virginia’s new friends are picked off in elaborate and gruesome fashion. As the bodies pile up we learn more about Virginia’s past, the death of her mother and her subsequent trauma which has resulted in her seeing therapist Dr David (played by Hollywood stalwart Glenn Ford). Influences of Halloween in the writer’s mind? Perhaps, but Happy Birthday is a very different film to the slasher classic and you get the sense that tongue was somewhat in cheek when creating this film.

rsz_hbtm1Opening as it means to go on, we witness the death of the first of the top ten: Bernadette, whose throat is cut as she heads to her car to join her friends at the Inn. As this is the early 80’s, the blood is red and the killer goes straight for the jugular, but surprisingly the camera doesn’t linger too long on the aftermath. When Bernadette doesn’t turn up for class the next morning, people are surprised but nobody seems overly concerned. Even her friends are blasé about where she might be. In fact even as more of the top ten go missing, the remaining ones seem faintly uninterested in where their friends have disappeared to. Then again they’re known for their tomfoolery and pranks, so why immediately panic? As Dr David tells Virginia (in a brilliant understatement), ‘some of your friends have a macabre sense of humour’.

The tagline for the film aptly claims this is ‘six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see’. It doesn’t lie and the killings are what ensures you stay hooked, waiting to see which friend will be next and how they’ll meet their fate. Director Thompson (who also directed the original Cape Fear) handles the tension and suspense of the murder scenes well, playing in to the horror genre with confidence. What makes this film memorable above others though, is the bizarre and insane script, credited to John C.W. Saxton, Peter Jobin and Timothy Bond. Whilst it fulfils the expected horror/slasher elements, it take so many outrageous twists and turns, your jaw will be left permanently dropped. You just need to give yourself over to a rather convoluted back story, some odd flashbacks to Virginia’s past and a little insanity come the finale. The film’s original trailer warned that ‘because of the bizarre nature of this birthday party, no-one will be seated in the last ten minutes of happy birthday to me’ and once you’ve watched the film, you’ll see why.

rsz_hbtm2An interesting part of the early 80’s horror cannon, Happy Birthday to Me does everything in its power to entertain and falls just the right side of cheesy. The performances hit the mark, with Anderson showing a darker side to the sweet daddy’s girl most know and the ‘top ten’ giving us fairly believable (if not necessarily loveable) teenagers, with taxidermy fanatic Alfred, easily the most intriguing. Whilst the running time could be trimmed slightly, the film manages to maintain its momentum to become the sort of ‘cult’ viewing you could see yourself revisiting. One to watch, enjoy and not take too seriously.

6 out of 10

Extras on the Blu-Ray are –

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• HD restoration
• Original mono audio
• Alternative 5.1 surround sound track
• Alternative score: experience the film with the controversial re-scored electronic music soundtrack, as used on the 2004 home video re-release
• Audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues team: Justin Kerswell (author of Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut) Joseph Henson, Erik Threlfall and Nathan Johnson
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional material
• Original trailer and TV spots
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 24-page booklet with extracts from the original press kit, advertising and promotion guide, and selected film reviews
• UK Blu-ray premiere
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies

Fright Night (1985) Eureka Blu-Ray Review

fright-night-1FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse
Running time: 106 minutes

Released by Eureka! Entertainment on standard dual format (Blu Ray/DVD) 10th April 2017
(An exclusive Zavvi limited edition steelbook released 26th December 2016 is now OOP)

The UK has been waiting what seems like centuries for a decent release of Tom Holland’s fangtastic 80’s cult classic on any format. Thankfully Eureka! Entertainment have finally delivered on a disc which is surely destined to become one of the must-have blu ray releases of 2017.

The Film: For those unacquainted with Fright Night, it follows teenage horror fanatic Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his ongoing attempts to prove to his mother, girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and best friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) that his charismatic new neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. His suspicions are further confounded by the strange activities he sees going on next door including a coffin being taking into the property and Jerry’s friend and live-in helper Billy (Jonathan Stark) assisting with all daytime activities.

As his mother and friends believe him to be crazy, he goes to the one person he is convinced will believe him and be able to help. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is the presenter of his favourite late night horror show Fright Night, however he is just that – a TV personality – and not an actual vampire hunter. However, as Charley’s girlfriend and best friend become seduced by Jerry’s charms, it is up to Charley and Peter to destroy the evil next-door and hopefully save the neighbourhood.

Following a rather lacklustre remake in 2011 starring the late Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell and David Tennant, this release of the original (and best) version of Holland’s homage to horror and vampire lore is an essential purchase for any horror fan. For those new to it, Fright Night is intentionally a horror comedy however its attention to providing full on gore and graphic transformation scenes is also the reason it ranked the second highest grossing horror film of 1985 behind Freddy’s Revenge.

fright-night-2The Disc: I never saw the previous US Twilight Time or European blu ray releases of the film, so cannot offer comparisons but this release is based on the Sony 4K scan of the original negative overseen by renowned film restoration specialist Grover Crisp. It looks excellent and is certainly a vast improvement over my DVD copy or any version I’ve seen before on TV. There is a more natural colour palette, finer image detail and Crisp has ensured that classic 80’s look and ‘sheen’ isn’t lost in the restoration. Like a severed artery the film is overflowing with old school SFX and whilst on blu ray some of these do stand out more prominently, it is such a pleasure not to be browbeaten with CGI and instead I was left with a nostalgic glow. I watched the film again in its original Stereo and had no concerns with dialogue or indeed Brad Fiedel’s excellent score. Eureka! have also included a 5.1 Surround Sound option for those wanting a more immersive experience and English SDH subtitles. Sadly, they have not included a chapter menu on either the main menu or via pop-up menu, although this was apparently also lacking on previous releases.

Special Features: Apart from the excellent transfer, what really makes this release of Fright Night an undead treat is the wealth of extras which run at just over six hours. Eureka! have really spoilt fans with the highlight being an edited (two and a half hour version) of Dead Mouse Productions recent You’re So Cool Brewster documentary. A retrospective piece that includes contemporary interviews with cast, crew and many more it mainly focuses on the first Fright Night film and follows the film’s inception, production, casting, special effects, memories of filming and the film’s sleeper success. Fright Night: Part 2 (1988) is also mentioned but fans will need to pick up the full documentary for more in-depth discussion about the sequel.

Fear Fest 2008 Reunion (54 mins) is a panel discussion with cast and crew from both Fright Night and Fright Night: Part 2. There is some repetition from the documentary however we learn more about the sequel, including its now infamous troubled release and the change in attitudes to sexuality and diversity between both films. Holland also mentions upcoming talks for a possible remake/sequel and the script variations he is aware of.

Shock Till You Drop – Choice Cuts (28mins) is an interview with Tom Holland where he discusses his involvement with The Beast Within (1982), his work on Psycho 2 (1983), its release, effect on his career and his views on the studio system. He also discusses his transition from a theatre and TV actor to writer including early writing credits, the initial inception of Fright Night and the film’s major influences.

Vintage Electronic Press Kit (93 mins) is a nice addition but is taken from a VHS copy (with clock counter) and therefore suffers from vertical rolls and frequent cut outs. The kit includes US reviews, two music videos, a making of, three featurettes, news wraps, open end interviews and TV scene clips.

What is Fright Night? (11 mins) is a talking heads piece which appears to be an additional segment from the You’re So Cool Brewster documentary. Cast and crew from both original Fright Night films discuss what they believe the films are about.

fright-night-3Tom Holland: Writing Horror (9 mins) is a special feature which is also available on the You’re So Cool Brewster documentary disc. Despite the title, it has little to do with his writing techniques and is mostly about his directing style. There is also some information overlap from the Choice Cuts extra.

Roddy McDowall: Apes to Bats (21 mins) is a featurette about the actor’s history in Hollywood and cast and crew from both Fright Night films reminisce about their time with him. Again, there is some information overlap from the Choice Cuts and Reunion extras.

Also included are two theatrical trailers (G and R rated versions), plus an image gallery of 64 behind the scenes, props and memorabilia photos.

In conclusion, Eureka! have done the UK proud in bringing Holland’s cult classic to our shores in a release it totally deserves. However, folks will have to wait until April 2017 for it to hit the shelves but I can tell you it is absolutely worth the wait… Until then, be as a cool as Brewster and pick up a copy of the Dead Mouse Productions excellent documentary and pray that one day Fright Night: Part 2 gets a similarly stunning release.

UK September releases as Arrow Video go Old-School

arrowvideoUK September releases as Arrow Video go Old-School

September means back to the old-school for Arrow Video with a massive helping of cult classics arriving on Blu-Ray, DVD and Dual Format releases!

Lovers of camp’s lord and master, Russ Meyer, get a double portion of his studio hits with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls coming to Blu-Ray with all its sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, while the lesser-seen but brilliant censorship drama, The Seven Minutes, lands on DVD.

Fans of William Castle-style exploitation will want to get their hands on Matinee, Joe Dante’s take on the sci-fi and horror features of the 1950s and 1960s, starring John Goodman. If your tastes are more psychological thriller, however, September also sees the Arrow Video edition of Brian De Palma’s iconic John Lithgow vehicle, Raising Cain.

Cinephiles who can’t get enough of Ozsploitation should check out Dead-End Drive-In and its vision of a not-too-distant dystopian future from Quentin Tarantino favourite, Brian Trenchard-Smith. Last but not least, the gross-out creature feature Slugs comes slithering along, with its squirm-tastic monster effects.

Each release features a range of special features to please even the most ardent cult fans.

BEYOND_THE_VALLEY_OF_THE_DOLLS_2D_BDBeyond the Valley of the Dolls – on Blu-Ray on 5 September 2016
Russ Meyer’s first studio film is an exercise in the merciless satire of Hollywood and the music industry as a wholesome female rock band try not to be corrupted by the LA lifestyle. An X-rated camp, cult classic.

The Seven Minutes – on DVD on 5 September 2016
Russ Meyer’s second studio film is an intelligent drama on the perils of censorship with a dazzling cast that includes Tom Selleck, John Carradine and Yvonne De Carlo. A little-seen marvel.

MATINEE_2D_BDMatinee – on Dual Format Blu-Ray + DVD on 12 September 2016
Joe Dante’s witty feature stars John Goodman as a William Castle-esque producer trying to plug his latest film in Florida against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A homage to sci-fi and monster movies that’s both funny and clever.

Raising Cain – on Dual Format Blu-Ray + DVD on 12 September 2016
John Lithgow – here at his very best – tackles not one but three roles and raises merry hell in Brian De Palma’s offbeat psychological thriller, with both star and director harking back to the likes of Psycho and Peeping Tom.

DEAD_END_2D_BDDead-End Drive-In – on Blu-Ray and DVD on 19 September 2016
One of the best Ozsploitation films of all time, Dead-End Drive-In is directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith – one of Tarantino’s all-time favourite filmmakers – and presents a dystopian near-future where drive-ins have become concentration camps in which to detain the unruly youth.

Slugs – on Blu-Ray and DVD on 26 September 2016
A brand new restoration of one of the squirmiest creature features of all time as squelchy slugs meet gross-out gore! Giant slugs are breeding in the sewers of a small town, developing a taste for human flesh.

Part of Arrow Films, one of the UK’s leading distributors of independent, arthouse and world cinema, Arrow Video brings you the best cult films in deluxe editions with newly commissioned artwork, specially curated extras and booklets.

Arrow Video editions take in genre staples such Italian horror, grindhouse classics and high octane action, as well as iconic filmmakers including Dario Argento, George A. Romero and Brian De Palma.

The Ninth Configuration (1980) Blu-Ray review

ninth1THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (Dir- William Peter Blatty, USA, 1980)

Starring- Stacey Keach, Scott Wilson, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Robert Loggia, Moses Gunn

Out Now on UK DVD & Blu-Ray from Second Sight

William Peter Blatty will most notably be known for his novel of THE EXORCIST and also for the screenplay of the film. Though despite numerous screenwriting credits, Blatty has rarely dealt directly with cinema and has only made two films, including the superb and underrated EXORCIST 3 and before that, this film, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. Yet each of his foray’s into cinema, along with the original screenplay for the EXORCIST, EXORCIST 3 (based on his own novel LEGION) and CONFIGURATION deal with the directors primarily Christian themes of good and evil, the questioning of faith and how can such bad things happen in a world to the innocent and good and to those who believe in God and how his characters deal with these contradictions.

THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is one such complex example and having not seen it for a long time after first watching it on Channel Four in a director approved version (broadcast late 90’s/early 00’s maybe?), it remains a baffling, deliberately disjointed exercise that on this viewing has cleared up a lot more than the first watch yet still confuses and confounds.

The film is set in a castle, stylised with gargoyles and sculptures of menacing, yet awesome looking hooded figures. This castle is owned by the U.S. military who have made it a makeshift home for mentally disturbed soldiers and those of military command. On arrival to this asylum is Colonel Kane (Keach) who has been assigned to take over treatment of the patients. He meets Colonel Fell (Flanders) who helps him get used to the patients one of whom is Reno (Miller) who is trying to stage a play of the works of Shakespeare with a cast of dogs. But its former astronaut Cutshaw (Wilson) who Kane takes an interest in. He has been confined into this castle since he was dragged form the capsule of a failed Moon launch suffering an apparent mental breakdown.

ninth4Cutshaw engages Kane with questions on the existence of god and the idea of self sacrifice for the benefit of others. Kane seems to approach his patients with an apparent calmness indulging their every mean no matter how daft. Though it starts to become unclear as to whether Kane has some apparent motive behind his supposed therapy or whether he has suffered from traumas himself that he wants to forget.

Admittedly it’s hard to pinpoint what type of film THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is. A comedy. A serious drama focusing on the effects of war and duty on soldiers. Or is it a psychological thriller with theological overtones. The fact that it is hard to categorise makes the film unique in it’s own way and also frustrating in another. After seeing this a long time ago I couldn’t quite fathom what I saw and in some respects didn’t like it. Maybe I was expecting another EXORCIST style horror and my expectations where of course not met and that could just be a nice reflection on the way that as viewers/fans we expect the creator of a well known possession horror film to come up with another possession horror film and to follow through with more of the same and not confuse us with something they might want to try and to experiment with.

ninth5Though on this viewing I came away with more of an appreciation for the film. Even if that appreciation is still met with confusion. Whilst THE EXORCIST detailed a battle between good and evil over the soul of a teenage girl and the testing of faith of a catholic priest, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION debates the inherit belief in god and whether he exists in a world that allows such inhumane acts to occur and the idea of beneficial self sacrifice. In this case the debate is done between a former astronaut and a Colonel who seems to be hiding some past trauma from his previous calls of duty. Blatty handles this material well amidst the madness and chaos of the asylum with Miller auditioning dogs for roles in his Shakespeare production, Moses Gunn dressed as a black superman and Robert Loggia doing a karaoke rendition of Al Jolson in black face.

To say that the film doesn’t have a dark twisted sense of humour would be an understatement, after all we are in the midst of a group of nut jobs, to use the crude phrase. Though its these twists and turns throughout that somehow make the film uneven often at times hard to fathom especially if you are viewing this for the first time. As often as some segments are bizarre and funny we then enter into some scenes that are intense and dark. Most notably in the bar room scene where Kane and Cutshaw encounter a biker gang. It’s both at times slightly absurd in it’s depiction of the gang and intense in building up to an inevitable violent crescendo. Performance wise it’s certainly Keach and Wilson who are both excellent in their respective roles. Keach especially, who seems both world weary and drained from his time in the military and eventually conveying the build up of anger that soon reveals his character’s true nature.

ninth2.jpgIt’s a surprise to hear that he was a last minute replacement after previous star Nicol Williamson was fired after he threw a phone through a hotel window in the films location in Budapest. The supporting players seem to chew the scenery in many respects which when conveying patients in an asylum is probably good thing, especially Miller who is fantastic especially when berating dogs he auditions for his play. Cult film fans should also keep an eye out for an appearance from MANIAC star Joe Spinell who plays Miller’s “theatrical” assistant a role which wasn’t written in but somehow Spinell convinced Blatty to cast him. Visually the film is splendid with it’s castle setting being a striking superb setting and as one of the characters states in the film, with the presence of the gargoyles, seems to be the most unlikeliest place to treat the mentally ill. It also features some striking scenes most notably the superb image of a crucified figure of Jesus on the moon. A lunar crucifixion that is both startling, unusual and outlandish mirroring the state of most of the character’s in the film.

Blatty has said of his film as being the true sequel to THE EXORCIST, with EXORCIST 3 or as it was originally meant to be called LEGION, being a conclusion of a trilogy of films dealing with theological issues. Raised a Jesuit, Blatty is serious in his approach to debating the existence of a greater higher power and in many respects even those of a non belief position, can admire the man’s approach as he tackles themes with an intelligent discourse. Though most of all THE NINTH CONFIGURATION as much as it is confusing often at times frustrating is unique, one of a kind in a way, a film that without the association of the author and screenwriter of one of the most successful horror movies of all time would probably have never been green lit for production.

ninth3Even now the film stands out as an original mish-mash of theological debate, twisted surreal humour and maddening intense visuals orchestrated by someone who doesn’t care for the demands of a straightforward narrative and after 35 years the film still retains a cult following and with this new Blu Ray release from Second Sight will no doubt confront and confuse a new generation.

7.5/10

Bonus Features:

– English Subtitles for The Hard of Hearing
– Audio Commentary by Writer/ Director William Peter Blatty
– ‘The Writer/ Producer/ Director’ – Interview With William Peter Blatty
– ‘Confessions of Kane’ – Interview With Actor Stacy Keach – ‘The Debrief Of Sgt. Christian’ – Interview With Actor Stephen Powers
– ‘Designing The Configuration’ Interviews With Production Designer William Malley and Art Director J. Dennis Washington
– ‘Killer On My Mind’ – Interview With Soundtrack Composer Barry De Vorzon
– ‘The Party Behind The Curtain’ – Interviews With Actors Tom Atkins, Jason Miller, Richard Lynch and William Peter Blatty
– Mark Kermode Introduction Featurette
– Deleted Scenes and Outtakes

Ghoulies 2 (1988) Blu-Ray Review

ghoulies2Ghoulies 2 (1988)

Director: Albert Band

Writers: Charlie Dolan (story), Dennis Paoli (screenplay)

Stars: Damon Martin, Royal Dano, Phil Fondacaro

Out now for the first time on UK Blu-Ray from 101 Films.

For those of you that were good enough to read my review of Ghoulies (http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/ghoulies-1984-review/), your will have learnt that Ghoulies was one of my childhood “Hoy Grail” films that I never managed to see until later in life. Because of this, Ghoulies always carried a kind of aura to it. Ghoulies II on the other hand, I managed to watch very close to its release on VHS.

I’ve got to be honest here, I didn’t think too much of it at the time. The reason, I think, is due to the image I had built up of its predecessor didn’t match what I was seeing in the sequel.

So when I got the opportunity to review the Blu-Ray releases of both, I jumped at the chance to see how much my tastes in horror had changed from my youth.

ghoulies2-3Before I give you my opinion of the film, and let you know if it has changed with age, let me tell you about the plot.

First of all, I can tell you that(except for the little monsters) Ghoulies 2 has no connection whatsoever to the plot of its predecessor. This is a sequel in name only and doesn’t advance Ghoulies plot one bit.

Ghoulies 2 takes place in a roaming fairground, that is struggling financially and may have to close it’s doors. Larry (Damon Martin-who went on to appear in Amityville: It’s About Time and Freddy’s Nightmares) and his uncle Ned (veteran actor Royal Dano who has over 190 acting credits to his name) are your stereotypical carnies, so the idea of moving on and changing career is not a welcome one. When Ned stumbles upon an ancient book of spells, he unwittingly unleashes Ghoulies from their Hellish resting place.

The arrival of the Ghoulies turns out to be a welcome one for Larry and Ned. The Ghoulies take up residence in their House of Horrors, and as the paying punters mistake the creatures for exhibits, word spreads and business picks up!

Unfortunately(and predictably), the Ghoulies soon manage to escape and wreak havoc in the carnival.

ghoulies2-1The first thing I want to say is that Ghoulies 2 does manage to improve on the original, primarily due to the fact the monsters now take centre stage and don’t appear as an afterthought. There are now long, prolonged sequences (especially near the end) that focus on the Ghoulies actions.

That’s not to say that the human characters are not well developed though. At the core of the film is the relationship between Larry and a female carnie that is eerily like the main relationship in Gremlins (even going as far as having the female reveal tragic moments for her past, sound familiar?).

The quality of acting in the film, while not terrible by any means, is at a level where I found it hard to invest in any of the characters, which essentially just made them bait for the Ghoulies to me.

So, I hear you cry. Has my opinion in the film changed after all these years. Well, yes it has. While I still don’t think it’s a good film by any means, it isn’t as bad as I remember. Maybe its the years of watching crap films that has put things into perspective for me, but it is at least watchable and there are sequences in the film that re a lot of fun.

The Blu-Ray, widescreen transfer that the film has received makes it look great, and if I’m honest is a lot better that the film really deserves. The film also sounds great though a home cinema system.

ghoulies2-2To sum it up, its fairly obvious that, like the original, has been “inspired” by Gremlins, with the Ghoulies even giggling and acting mischievous in such a way that it is hard NOT to compare them with Joe Dante’s classic. But if you are a child of the late 70’s or 80’s, and remember the spate of horror films that flooded into the country in the wake of the home video revolution, then this is well worth a watch, if for nothing else, for the nostalgia.

3.5/10

Ghoulies (1984) Review

ghouliesGhoulies (1984)

Director: Luca Bercovici
Writers: Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Stars: Lisa Pelikan, Peter Liapis, Michael Des Barres

Out Now in the UK for the first time on Blu-Ray from 101 Films

Plot (from IMDB) A young man and his girlfriend move into an old mansion home, where he becomes possessed by a desire to control ancient demons.

I’m sure that everyone of my age group will have fond memories of browsing the shelves of their local video shop, being mesmerised and intrigued by the sheer number of awesome looking video box covers. And I’m sure that, like me, a good number of you would have one or two particular titles that both intrigued, but you never got to see!

For me, one of these titles was Ghoulies. There was just something about the image of a goblin type creature, emerging from a toilet that sent my 7 year old imagination into overdrive.

I did eventually get to see the film, about 10 years later, when I purchased an ex rental cassette from our local Blockbusters. Boy was i disappointed. Not that it was the worst film I had ever seen, but it didn’t live up to my 7 year old self’s imagination.

So, what exactly is Ghoulies about?

ghoulies1-2Originally released way back in 1985, Ghoulies(directed by Luca Bercovici) follows Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). They have just moved into a dilapidated old mansion that was previously owned by his father. After making the place a bit more liveable, he starts to learn truths about his old man that he never knew. In essence, dear old Daddy was a Satanist!

From here, some unexplained, evil force starts to take possession of Jonathan, and he starts to become obsessed with learning more about his dad’s occult pastimes. He manages to summon a horde of tiny, goblin type creatures, and worryingly a pair of Demon Midgets! From here, Jonathan invited 6 of his best friends to the mansion for a dinner party, where he plans to sacrifice them as he believes this will resurrect his dead father.

Now, I’ve been around the block enough now to realise that you cant count on the cover art of a film to tell the whole story, but with Ghoulies I actually did feel cheated. The title, artwork and even the trailer to the movie all had you believe that the movie was all about the Ghoulies, the toilet dwelling goblins from hell. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, they seem like an afterthought(the iconic toilet scene from the front cover lasts all of 5 seconds). The main focus of the film is Jonathan’s battle with his fathers evil spirit.

ghoulies1-3The acting in the film is just what you would expect from an 80’s horror film. Peter Liapis, although a little cheesy, does perform well most of the time. The rest of the cast range from 100% pure over the top cheese, to unspectacular.

Where the film does fall down though, is the cheap looking special effects, and VERY cheap looking costume design. The Ghoulies themselves(when they are afforded screen time) look very cheap and rubbery. The natural comparison to the Ghoulies, are the Gremlins. Even if you take the difference in budget into consideration, the difference is like night and day.

The matted in special effects, like the lightening bolts and “demonic” eyes and the like, are at times hilarious, and caused my other half to laugh at the sheer “naffness”(her word!).

The plot itself, seems a bit conflicted to me. Its almost like the script was locked in, then the studio’s marketing team decided they wanted the film to be “just like Gremlins”. This leaves a few “what was that about” moments in the film. I wont spoil them, as they were some of the most(unintentionally) entertaining. The narration o the film, is very hit and miss, appearing randomly at the most obscure times.

ghoulies1-1Its not all bad though. When they do appear, the Ghoulies are very entertaining. The sheer number of different types is impressive. Also in contrast to the naff costume design, the set design really is appealing.

To sum up, if you saw this movie as a kid, you will love it to this day, but if you built it up in your head(like me), it may be best left alone. One thing is for sure though, the new Blu-Ray release that i watched made sure that Ghoulies never looked so good!

5/10

Burial Ground (1981) Blu-Ray Review

burialground1Burial Ground (Italy, 1981)
Dir: Andrea Bianchi
Starring: Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Pietro Barzocchini

Out March 28th on Blu-Ray from 88 Films

Visit 88 Films shop here – http://88-films.myshopify.com

Plot: When a professor opens a previously undiscovered crypt he accidentally releases a plague of zombies. Unaware of the zombies, the professor’s guests arrive at his mansion and are soon trapped inside, zombies hungrily clawing at the doors.

I’ve watched quite a lot of shlock recently but not the fun kind, and here we have an example of the fun kind. Italian horror cinema is often a goldmine of strange, silly and gory tales, full of sex and over the top violence. Burial Ground, or as it was originally titled Le Notti Del Terrore (Nights of Terror), was a departure from Andrea Bianchi’s previous Giallo films and an attempt at the zombie splatter films popularised by the likes of Lucio Fulci.

What makes Burial Ground special isn’t really the story, it’s mostly one long zombie siege and the characters have little to no character development. The story up until the siege feels very rushed and filled with a couple sex scenes to keep the audience placated until the gore. What makes it special is the amount of gore, and the often ridiculous dialogue. There is plenty of imaginative violence, ranging from the zombie staples such as gut-ripping and exploding zombie heads, to more unique kills such as a decapitation with a scythe. It keeps it fresh and interesting throughout the film.

burialground3Romero puritans will be happy to hear that there are no running zombies in Burial Ground, but the zombies do break from tradition by using a number of tools including the previously mentioned scythe, nails thrown like throwing knives, and a table saw. The unexpected tools are amusing in their unexpected way, much like some of the other stranger parts to this film.

The strangest part of this film is easily the child character, Michael, played by 25 year old Pietro Barzocchini. It’s clear from first appearance that Michael is being played by someone much older, even if he is the right height. Combined with the film’s often bewildering dubbing, Michael’s dialogue is weirdly golden. He’s whiny and always calling for his Mama, or coming out with some really dark stuff like telling his mum to burn the zombies. What makes him the strangest character though is his incestuous relationship with his mum which is never really addressed by any of the other characters.

The dubbing of Burial Ground is often amusing, it’s not badly done in a technical way but the dialogue doesn’t always seem to match the tone and some of the female characters scream in a similar way regardless if it’s a sex scene or a zombie scene. Typically the female characters are pretty useless in this which is common in Italian films of the era, in this case they scream and cover their faces as the zombies slowly lurch towards them.

burialground4Overall Burial Ground is dated and weird, but in a fun way that is a laugh to watch with friends. The 88 Films bluray release of Burial Grounds gives it the restoration treatment but also contains the Grindhouse cut which leaves all the scratches and distortions in the film to give it that grindhouse quality. There is also plenty of special features including trailers, interviews, commentary, and deleted scenes. Also there are physical extras including a collectable art card, reversible sleeve and a booklet filled with information about the film.

7/10

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) Blu-Ray Review

birdemic1Birdemic: Shock and Terror (USA, 2010)
Dir: James Nguyen
Starring: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster

UK Blu-Ray release from Severin Films and out now!

Plot: When the birds inexplicably begin to attack human beings, Rod (Bagh) and Natalie (Moore) run for their lives.

Oh sweet Satan, I have seen Hell and it’s name is Birdemic – Shock and Terror. For about the last month this film has sat on our screener list here at UK Horror Scene like the last kid to be picked in gym class and foolishly I decided to burden myself with Birdemic. I’ve watched some low-budget schlock over the years, I’ve enjoyed some of it too. I can tolerate a bad film better than most other people so I thought why not. I used to think there was no regret I could have that would warrant travelling through time to undo the past. Then I watched Birdemic.

I can’t really tell if writer/director James Nguyen is the ultimate sadist or masochist. The sadism is clear if you have watched Birdemic, it’s just painful to watch. Nguyen’s possible masochism however is evident in the fact that he spent four years making Birdemic and struggled to get it seen by a wider audience. In this era of Sharknados, B-movies are as popular as ever but Birdemic isn’t a fun film. There’s very little to laugh at in this film. The one joke that it has is that it is god awful.

birdemic2From the beginning it is terrible. It opens to a mind-numbingly long credits reel, making sure that the people who made this film (and the fictional cast members that Nyugen just made up) got their credit seen before the audience turned off the movie. It’s an impressive feat to make a film come across as terrible before you’ve even seen the main character. Once Rod has been introduced and his love interest Natalie, the film really starts to become an arduous task. The characters are ridiculous, but in the most boring way possible. The film also makes every scene unwatchable with terrible audio, nonsensical camera movements and editing that baffles the mind.

The first half of the film follows the blossoming of Rod and Natalie’s relationship with it’s awkward dialogue and scenes that seem to build up to nothing before jumping onto the next scene. Rod’s character has little going on, he loves Natalie, his job makes an obscene amount of money, and he’s very concerned about the environment. We know this fact because he comes up with random lines like “good thing my car is a hybrid”. Natalie has even less character, she loves Rod and she’s a model. They are frustratingly boring. The subtle as a brick references to the environment imply that the birdemic is a result of global warming. The film tells us we better cut back on our use of fossil fuels. You will be kill by birdemic if you don’t.

biredmic3At exactly half way through the film, the birdemic begins. It is more awful than you could ever imagine. It could have been funny, seeing these terrible CGI eagles attacking the city, randomly dive bombing and exploding things and people. It could have been hilariously absurd. It just wasn’t, it was stupid and clichéd. The rest of the film is just repetition. The same eagle screech repeats over and over and it tears away at your psyche. The film introduces guns to liven things up but instead we get bad CGI muzzle flashes and the same animation of an eagle falling out of the sky. I see where it’s supposed to be funny, it’s bad and absurd but I can barely crack a smile and the eagle screeching begins again and I swear at the TV.

One hour and thirty three minutes of one joke, the joke being “look at the mess I’ve made.” It’s a mess of a film and it only seeks to irritate the audience. This is a troll film, a “I bet you can’t watch this” film, a YouTube reaction video waiting to happen. The only reaction it gets is boredom though, as you endure it in hopes that something interesting might happen. The acting is reminiscent of the storyline porn set-up, awkward and terrible but somewhat essential to set up a little context but unfortunately Birdemic doesn’t contain any hardcore porn scenes to make up for it’s terrible storyline.

birdemic4Don’t watch this film, it’s just boring and tedious. I’m not sure if we do zero out of ten ratings here on UK Horror Scene so I’m giving it 1/10. If you’re going to watch this, I suggest a drinking game, drink every time this film is still running, you win when you black out from drinking and don’t have to watch Birdemic anymore.

1/10

Extras:

Audio Commentary with James Nguyen
Audio Commentary with Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore
Deleted Scenes
Birdemic Experience Tour featurette
James Nguyen on Movie Close-Up
Moviehead: The James Nguyen Story teaser
Birdemic Experience 2010 trailer
Teaser Trailer & Theatrical Trailer
Electronic Press Kit

Hellraiser Trilogy Blu-Ray from Arrow Video (2016) Review

Hellraiser Trilogy Blu-Ray from Arrow Video (2016) Review

hellraiserarrow3

UK Release January 25th 2016 from Arrow Video

Hellraiser (1987)

Directed by Clive Barker

Starring Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence and Claire Higgins

The Film

By this point in time nearly everyone in the modern world has seen at least one Hellraiser film and if not, knows the character of Pinhead at least. He has become woven into modern culture and has spawned sub cultures and numerous sequels. The film where it all began, Clive Barkers’ Hellraiser, is a stone cold classic. The musical theme that opens the film is recognisable but not hummable ala a John Williams or John Carpenter. The film is infused with set pieces, that although aged, are a sight to see, from Frank rising from the floorboards in Harryhausen stop motion to Skinless Frank staring into the moonlight (a favourite shot of mine). There is subtext if you dig deeper, the horrors that lie upstairs and the domestic middle class bliss of a dinner party downstairs. Unlike most horror films today the script is tight, scenes are there for a reason, not just to lengthen the running time. The film is a classic, seek it out.

The Presentation

Arrow Video released the Hellraiser trilogy in a ‘Scarlet Box’ limited edition set only a short amount of months ago. I couldn’t find this for love nor money in local shops or supermarkets which was a shame as it was an excellent collection. Now Arrow have seen fit to release a boxset of the trilogy. Hellraiser has also been remastered in 2K, approved by the DOP Robin Vidgeon. I watched the film on a 40” Samsung Full HD TV and unfortunately the disc did not hold up. The grain over the film in certain scenes makes the film worse than VHS and I expected better.

The Extras

Arrow Video are renowned for presenting films with generous extras, you can almost call them the UK version of Criterion. Each individual film comes with a plethora of extra which I have summarised below:

Audio Commentaries

1) Clive Barker – a well spoken thoughtful track with the director alone in the booth. Some stories are supplemented in other areas but the track is highly enjoyable. The track is only dated by him mentioning the track is being recorded days before Hellraiser – Bloodline comes out. This would date it around 1995/96.
2) Clive Barker, Ashey Laurence and Moderator – another lively track, helped in parts by the moderator. Clive Barker seems a lot more energised by having other people with him. Again an enjoyable track. Well worth a listen.

Making Of – Leviathan

A feature length documentary behind the first Hellraiser, missing only Clive Barker. Most of the interviews are modern and represent a good portion of the cast that are not present on the commentaries. The only downside is a wholly unnecessary ‘trailer man’ voice over which spoils it some what.

Being Frank – Sean Chapman on Hellraiser

The actor who plays Frank is given time to speak about the role and how it came about

Soundtrack Hell

A well known historical fact is that the music of Hellraiser could have been so much different. An industrial 80’s band called Coil were supposed to score the film before a more ‘Hollywood’ composer cam onboard. This featurette interviews a former member about the scoring and the removal of the band from the film. We also get to hear some themes played over the opening to the film which is a nice touch.

Vintage Featurette – Resurrection

An of its time featurette with interviews including an on set Clive barker looking scarily like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame.

Trailers and TV Spots

Interesting trailers including the original voice of Skinless Frank (it was dubbed with an American accent in the final film)

Overall

Overall the package from Arrow is sumptuous and will take any horror fans days to get through. Although the picture quality of this first outing isn’t the strongest which is a disappointment for this HD outing I highly recommend it.

 

hellraiserarrow1Hellbound – Hellraiser II

Directed by Tony Randel

Starring Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence and Kenneth Cranham

With most sequels the saying goes, make it bigger, better and darker. Hellbound – Hellraiser II certainly ticks each of those boxes. Rather than try and remake the original again, the creative team behind the mega hit Hellraiser decide to go further and look further into the world of the Cenobites, where they come from and their origins.

I’ve seen Hellbound a handful of times and I have mostly watched it while its on in the background. This time was different. I watched it with no distractions and, rather than feel it was characters running down endless corridors, I got a lot more from it. It’s a worthy sequel. Most, if not all, of the creative team are back, from the writer to the make up and effects team. Scenes with skinless characters are excellent and hold up in the this début 2K HD product, unlike the original Hellraiser which looked awful in parts. Special consideration should be to Kenneth Cranham and his character of Dr. Channard, his death howl still gives me shivers to this day. An enjoyable and well made continuation of the Hellraiser saga.

Again, like before, Arrow have released a disc bursting with extras. My notes are below:

Commentaries

1) Director Tony Randel and Writer Peter Atkins – a enjoyable commentary especially when talk turns to when they start talking about the late great ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper. Also of note, they do say Laserdisc at one point which must mean this commentary is from a long long time ago.
2) Director Tony Randel, Writer Peter Atkins and Star Ashley Laurence – bringing a different dynamic to the group, star Ashley Laurence joins the conversation and talks of her time on set

Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Made by the same team from the Hellraiser disc, another well made, in depth discussion of the sequel and the series as a whole. The same annoying voice over is present though, it is unneeded.

Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound
Actor Sean Chapman talk about reprising the role of Frank Cotton in this film.

Surgeon Scene – the holy grail of deleted scenes. In the Under The Skin featurette, Doug Bradley says “we did not film the scene”. Sorry Douglas, yes you did! Here it is in all its glory, but it is terrible, doesn’t work and is rightfully been hidden away all these years.

Lost In The Labyrinth – Vintage Featurette – what is says on the tin, looks like it was filmed through a film of Vaseline though, oh how we loved VHS quality.

Under The Skin – Doug Bradley on Hellraiser II – discussion from the main man on why he returned to the role and its legacy.

On Set Interviews – Clive Barker/Cast and Crew – Clive Barker still looks like Trent Reznor and is very articulate/Cast and Crew are excited about the sequel and the new blood coming in.

hellraiserarrow2

Hellraiser III – Hell On Earth

Directed by Anthony Hickox

Starring Doug Bradley and Terri Farrell

Each of the original trilogy films are of their time Hellraiser and Hellbound are almost one continuous film as the British creative team were kept on but with Hell On Earth the location was changed to sunnier climes of LA. It sounds like the move overseas shouldn’t work but, for me, it does. In fact, I would go as far as saying this film is the most accessible and fun. The first two films have no humour or brevity in it, and are serious as hell, but Hell On Earth does and it works.

Doug Bradley returns again as Pinhead but this time he is mostly confined to a pillar with his head stuck in it. It weirdly works. The film again is of its time, when grunge and heavy metal were popular. Seeing the fashions and music infused into the film is a good call back to a time of fun and excitement in America, before we all became too self aware and afraid to go out our front door.

The inclusion of different Cenobites is a good addition and takes the pressure off Pinhead. Scenes set within a nightclub are gory and well done. A scene where Pinhead sheds a victims skin right off her body is a gross moment but fun at the same time.

Hell On Earth is a different beast from the first two films. Some may not like the location and tone shift but if you ride the wave, its an enjoyable ride. Also, the late great Lemmy sings a song called ‘Hellraiser’ over the end credits, its a great song. I’ve been singing it to myself since I finished the film.

Extras

Commentaries

1) Writer Pete Atkins – a solo discussion from the Liverpudlian Atkins and how he was kept on from Hellbound.

2)Director Anthony Hickox and Star Doug Bradley – a deep discussions about the behind the scenes filming

Alternate Unrated Cut of Hell On Earth – a longer cut of the film. Doesn’t really add anything of note.

Hell On Earth – The Story of Hellraiser III – a shorter, sharper look at the behind the scenes making of the film.

Terri’s Tales – an up to date interview with actress Paula Marshall

Under The Skin – Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III – Hell On Earth – further discussion with the legendary actor under the make up of Pinhead.

Raising Hell On Earth – archival interview with the director Anthony Hickox

On Set interviews with Barker and Bradley – what is say on the tin.

Rare Dailies – a fun look at the raw materials that made up the film.