Cold War Creatures: Four 1950’s sci-fi horror treats from Sam Katzman

Arrow Video unleashes a quartet of 1950s monochrome terrors on Blu-ray that revisits the golden age of B-movie monsters! Welcome to the world of Sam Katzman and his Cold War creature features.

Katzman (July 7, 1901 – August 4, 1973) was one of Hollywood’s most prolific film producers and directors whose long career included serials, musicals, teen pictures, action movies and sex comedies, from the 1930s to the early 1970s. In the 1950s, Katzman navigated the zeitgeist of the Cold War era with a host of successful horror Columbia Pictures’ features aimed squarely at the teen market. This collection handpicks four that have left an indelible mark on contemporary culture and the bonus extras in this four-disc box-set include interviews and visual essays from an array of film historians that explain why. What Katzman, who only ever saw his pictures in terms of box-office receipts, would make of the in-depth analysis will make for great discussion when you break out this fabulous box-set.

Producer Sam Katzman on-set with Little Richard in Don’t Knock the Rock

In 1955’s Creature with the Atom Brain, a mob boss uses an ex-Nazi scientist’s atomic radiation reanimation machine to seek revenge on his enemies. An auto-accident survivor turns gnarly when he’s injected with an irradiated wolf serum in The Werewolf (1956). Treasure hunters battle the zombified crew members of a sunken ship while seeking a cache of diamonds in Zombies of Mora Tau (1957). And in The Giant Claw – one of the most infamous sci-fi’s of the decade – an extraterrestrial turkey creates worldwide havoc.

The Arrow Video box-set includes high definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all four films (which were originally released together in a DVD box-set in 2008), with original uncompressed mono audio, optional English subtitles, an illustrated 60-page collector’s book and an 80-page collector’s art book. Plus, there are two double-sided posters by Matt Griffin, and reversible sleeves featuring original and new artwork by Matt Griffin. The bonus features on each disc are listed below.

DISC 1 – CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN
Written by Curt Siodmak (who also penned Donovan’s Brain and The Wolfman), this taut thriller about mind-controlled reanimated corpses successfully fuses sci-fi and crime noir and paved the way for Katzman’s subsequent creature features. Richard Denning (of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame) plays the all-American square-jawed devoted husband/dad/scientist who ultimately saves the day. Director Edward L Cahn also helmed genre faves The She Creature (1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957).

● Introduction by Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by Russell Dyball
Sam Katzman: Before and Beyond the Cold War Creatures, feature-length presentation on the life, career and films of Sam Katzman by Stephen R Bissette
● Condensed Super 8mm version of Creature with the Atom Brain
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 2 – THE WEREWOLF

This one has the distinction of being the first ‘werewolf’ film of the 1950s and went out on a double bill in the US in 1956 with Earth vs. Flying Saucers and Creature with the Atom Brain in the UK. Is it any good though? Well, it does make good use of the Big Bear Lake location in California’s San Bernardino National Forest, and the transformation scenes are also pretty OK. There’s also a couple of good turns from character actors Saul John Launer (best known as Perry Mason), Larry J Blake (who set up the first Motion Picture AA group in Hollywood) and Don Megowan (who played the on-land Gill-man in The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).

● Introduction by critic Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by Lee Gambin
Beyond Window Dressing, visual essay exploring the role of women in the films of Sam Katzman by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
● Condensed Super 8mm version of The Werewolf
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 3 – ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU
Creature with the Atom Brain director Edward L Cahn returns with this contemporary-set zombie thriller whose story is said to be the inspiration for John Carpenter’s The Fog. Watch out for Allison Hayes, who is best known for her lead role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, and check out those zombies (any slower and they’d be walking backwards). Bizarrely, the film is supposed to be set in Africa – but it looks more like the same swampy Louisanna backlot used in Universal’s The Mummy’s Curse (1944). The underwater diving sequences are the film’s hilarious highlight.

● Introduction by Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
Atomic Terror: Genre in Transformation, a visual essay exploring the intersection of mythical horror creatures and the rational world of science in the films of Sam Katzman by Josh Hurtado.
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

DISC 4 – THE GIANT CLAW
Love it or hate it! This ludicrous sci-fi is one of a kind. Katzman had wanted Ray Harryhausen to devise the special effects (as he had co-produced Earth vs. Flying Saucers with Charles Schneer in 1956), but when that didn’t pan out he still went ahead. The result, a right ugly turkey puppet on very visible wires. The best part about his schlock-fest is that everyone plays it dead straight, which just makes it all the more hilarious to watch. Jeff Morrow, best known for This Island Earth (1955) and Kronos (1957), was so embarrassed at the film’s premiere, he went home and got drunk. I wonder if he did the same when he saw 1971’s Octaman (in which he had a cameo)? Playing the film’s brainy heroine is Mara Corday, who was married to House on Haunted Hill and Nanny and the Professor actor Richard Long. She was also a buddy of Clint Eastwood who gave her some notable cameos in The Gauntlet (1977) and Sudden Impact (1983).

● Introduction by critic Kim Newman
● Audio commentary by critics Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard
Family Endangered!, visual essay on Cold War paranoia in Katzman’s monster movies, by Mike White
● Condensed Super 8mm version of The Giant Claw.
● Theatrical Trailer & Image Gallery

The Monster (AKA I Don’t Want to Be Born) | The three Dame 1970s British shocker gets a HD remaster

From Hammer/Amicus director Peter Sasdy comes the 1975 Fox-Rank exploitation horror that totally deserves its cult reputation. If you haven’t seen it, then Network’s new remastered release (which is out on Blu-ray and DVD) is worth seeking out.

This unsubtle rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, sees Joan Collins cast as Lucy Carlesi, a London stripper who believes she has given birth to a demonic child, who possesses unusual strength. Ralph Bates plays her Italian husband Gino, who can’t decide whether Lucy is suffering from post-natal depression or not, Donald Pleasence is none-the-wiser as Lucy’s obstetrician, and Eileen Atkins is Gino’s nun sister, whom he turns to for guidance. But when Lucy realises that Hercules (George Claydon), a dwarf she once humiliated, has placed a curse on baby Nicholas, only an exorcism can save her child.

There’s much to deride this absurd slice of 1970s horror – including Bates’ and Atkins’ weird Italian accents, the obvious dubbing of Caroline Munro (as Lucy’s friend Mandy) and the laughable dialogue. But there’s also much to enjoy: the fab London film locations (I’ve passed the Chelsea house off the King’s Road many times); Collins looking ever so chic (in her own clothes, according to wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs); and a gritty, atmospheric Ron Grainer score. You also get some memorable kills: including drowning, hanging and decapitation, and a great turn from Hilary Mason as the Carlesi’s no-nonsense housekeeper.

While Collins maybe the film’s star, Atkins, however, totally steals the show as Albana (who bizarrely conducts medical experiments on animals with her fellow convent nuns). After watching her steely performance, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was the inspiration for Dolly Wells’ Sister Agatha Van Helsing in 2020’s Dracula.

In the extras, director Sasdy proudly points out that his film (which he saved by pumping in his own money) boasts three Dame Commanders of the Order of the British Empire: Collins, Atkins and Floella Benjamin (who plays a nurse early in the film). Coincidentally, both Collins and Atkins are doing book events at the same time as this release – though I’m not sure this film will get much of a mention. But you never know.

Pre-order from Network: https://new.networkonair.com/british_horror_classics

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition remaster from original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio.
• Audio commentary from the Second Features podcast team
Sasdy’s Baby: director Peter Sasdy gives an honest and gleeful look back at the film, and answers the long-asked question: why are Bates and Atkins’ playing Italian characters?
The Excisit: interview with editor Keith Palmer
Holding the Baby: fab interview with continuity veteran Renée Glynne, and wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs
• Alternative titles (I Don’t Want to be Born)
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Booklet written by Adrian Smith

The Brotherhood of Satan | The 1971 horror is devilishly good fun

Sam Peckinpah favourites Strother Martin and LQ Jones take the lead in the 1971 American indie horror The Brotherhood of Satan, which is now out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

After witnessing a gruesome traffic accident, widower Ben (Charles Bateman), his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) and daughter KT (Geri Reischl) find themselves unable to leave the southwest desert town of Hillsboro, where scores of families have been slaughtered and their children have mysteriously disappeared.

As the sheriff (Jones) and his deputy (Alvy Moore) try to make sense of the situation, the local priest (Charles Robinson) suspects a supernatural force is at work. The town’s physician Doc Duncan (Martin), meanwhile, is hiding a diabolical secret – he’s the head of a satanic cult whose elderly members are planning on transferring their souls into the bodies of the kids.

Filmed (in Albuquerque, New Mexico) in 1969, but not released until 1971 (through Columbia Pictures), The Brotherhood of Satan belongs in the top tier of the satantic panic movies of the 1970s – alongside my personal favourites Race With the Devil and The Devil’s Rain. Originally titled, ‘Come In, Children‘ it was produced by best buddies LQ Jones (who also wrote the script) and Alvy Moore (who is best known for his comic turn as Hank Kimball in TV’s Green Acres), and directed by Bernard McEveety (who did loads of TV shows like The Fall Guy and Charlie’s Angels).

The film certainly wears its indie credentials on its sleeve as Jones goes down the arthouse route with the film’s visuals and pacing; while also giving his actors loads of room to invest in their respective roles – just like John Carpenter would do in 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13.

Everyone is brilliant here, particularly so Reischl, who would find fame (and infamy) taking over from Eve Plumb as Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-1977). Martin also shows much light and shade with his duplicitous character, before launching into full-blown scenery-chewing in the climax; while the facial contortions of Helene Winston’s doomed witch Dame Alice will haunt you forever.

Jones and Co also seem to be paying homage to Roger Corman and his 1960s Poe films with one effective dream sequence (that uses distorted lens and colours) and with the design of the film’s set-piece – the coven’s lair featuring an enormous spider web and the kids displayed like mannequins on pedestals. It’s terrific, if incongruous to the film’s dusty desert setting and looks like a rock concert stage creation by way of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare. But then, the reason why it does look so out of place does become evident in the closing scenes. Interestingly, director Peter Sasdy’s Nothing But the Night, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, shares a similar pay-off.

This is a super release from Arrow, with some excellent extras – especially the interview with Alvy Moore’s daughter, Alyson. Although it would have been great to hear from LQ Jones, too.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary by writers Kim Newman and Sean Hogan
Satanic Panic: How the 1970s Conjured the Brotherhood of Satan, a visual essay by David Flint
The Children of Satan: interview with actors Jonathan Erickson Eisley and Alyson Moore
• Original Trailers and TV and Radio Spots
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Richard Wells
• Booklet featuring new writing by Johnny Mains and Brad Stevens.

Prophecy | The 1979 creature feature bears its claws on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1979 Paramount Pictures’ eco-horror Prophecy directed by John Frankenheimer on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range.

Government environmental advisor Dr Robert Verne (Falcon Crest‘s Robert Foxworth) and his pregnant wife Maggie (The Godfather‘s Talia Shire) travel to Maine to assess the environmental damage the lumber industry is having on a forest claimed by a local Native American tribe (dubbed the Opies).

When three lumberjacks are found mauled to death, the Opies blame a vengeful spirit called Katahdin – while the Vernes uncover evidence that the local paper mill’s use of mercury is causing birth defeats and making the wildlife grow to abnormal size.

After rescuing a mutated bear club trapped in a salmon fishing net, the Vernes and a couple of Opies (Armand Assante, Victoria Racimo and George Clutesi) find themselves under attack by the cub’s monstrous mutated mother.

I first saw Prophecy on its release on the big screen. It was one of the blockbuster summer releases of 1979 (alongside Alien) and this then 15-year-old monster kid was so excited to see it – mainly due to the poster featuring a mutant bear embryo, and that it was based on a novel by David Seltzer, who had penned one of my faves The Omen in 1976.

But I was pretty disappointed by what played before me. It all starts off great, with its interesting ecological storyline – but when the 15-ft momma bear appears with its melted pizza face, I just laughed – as did most audiences of the day.

Fast forward four decades and seeing it in this new Blu-ray release – its just as ropey. Which is a shame considering its sterling cast and credentials (especially Frankenheimer who had helmed such classic fare as Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate in the 1960s).

The big fault lies in its execution – particularly with the climactic scene that opts for a soundstage (complete with fake plants and wind machines) rather than where most of the film was shot (Crofton, North Cowichan in British Columbia), and the hilarious bear creature, which was a combination of a man in a suit (Tom McLoughlin) and a fur-covered model on wheels.

That saying, it’s still a fun watch with a gang of mates around. No bear hugs allowed though! Also welcomed are the great special features that accompany the Eureka Blu-ray (especially Seltzer and McLoughlin’s reminiscences).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a High Definition transfer
  • Optional English SDH Subtitles
  • New feature length audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith
  • New feature length audio commentary by film writers Lee Gambin & Emma Westwood
  • New interview with screenwriter David Seltzer
  • New interview with mime artist Tom McLoughlin
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann; and an archival interview

The Psychic | Lucio Fulci’s masterful 1970s murder mystery gets a 2k restored Blu-ray release

Lucio Fulci (17 June 1927 – 13 March 1996) is one of the greatest of marmite directors – you either love him or hate him. During his 50+ year career, his output ranged from astonishing to abysmal, but he certainly proved his worth with his Gates of Hell trilogy (City of the Living DeadThe BeyondThe House by the Cemetery) in the 1980s and with a handful of Giallo thrillers in the 1970s – namely The Psychic, which is now out on Blu-ray from Shameless in a 2K restored edition.

Sette note in nero (AKA Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes) stars Jennifer O’Neill as Virginia, a wealthy English woman who marries handsome Italian playboy, Francesco (Gianni Garko), and while he’s away on business begins renovating his old palazzo. Having had second sight since childhood, Virginia is soon haunted by strange visions involving a broken mirror, a murdered woman, a magazine cover, a limping man, a hole in a wall and someone being bricked up in the dark. After getting little help from her parapsychologist friend Luca (Marc Porel), she tries to uncover the meaning of the visions herself only to discover they are premonitions of future deaths…

Written by Roberto Gianviti and Dardano Sacchetti, Sette note in nero was Fulci’s fourth giallo. It is a meticulously constructed murder mystery filled with powerful imagery (especially the room full of chintz furniture that Virginia sees in her visions), some Argento-esque touches by way of 1971’s Cat O’Nine Tails (which was also penned by Sacchetti) and 1975’s Deep Red, and a gravely elegant score from Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera. This includes those all-important ‘Seven Black Notes’ which (as a chime on a watch) become a crucial plot point. If the tune sounds familiar, that’s because Quentin Tarantino appropriated it for 2003’s Kill Bill. There’s also a fab opening theme song that’s worthy of ABBA.

The Shameless Restored Edition of The Psychic looks and sounds terrific – and you get the option of both the English or Italian audio. Plus, there are some super extras (my fave was Fabio Frizzi’s memories on composing the score). It’s also given me a chance to revisit Stephen Thrower’s definitive tome, Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, in which he explores how on this film Fulci proved himself to be a director of ‘skill and sophistication’.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Extensively restored in 2k from a new scan
• English and alternative Italian audio (alternative LPCM & DTS-HD audio tracks)
• Revised English subtitles
Touching Fate: new exclusive interview of Antonella Fulci 
Daddy Dearest: Antonella talks about her father Lucio Fulci
• Restoration process for The Psychic
Escape from Doom: writer Dardano Sacchetti on working with Fulci
Behind the Wall: composer Fabio Frizzi on scoring The Psychic
• Limited edition numbered O-Card (first 2,000 units)

Dune | David Lynch’s flawed 1984 sci-fi gets a stellar 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Arrow

With director Denis Villeneuve’s epic new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 sci-fi novel getting a worldwide release in October, this is the perfect time to revisit David Lynch’s 1984 Dino De Laurentiis-produced space opera, which is now out on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray from Arrow. And I must say… this is a stellar release.

Making his screen debut, Kyle MacLachlan and his voluminous 1980s hair-do plays messiah-in-waiting Paul Atreides who incites an intergalactic war after his father Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow), the patriarch of House Atreides, and his loyal followers are murdered by the rival dynastic family, House Harkonnen, who seek control of the coveted spice melange – a space flight-enabling drug produced only on the desert planet of Arrakis.

Throughout the 1970s, various attempts were made to bring Herbert’s Duniverse to the big screen. Most famously was Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose aborted attempt became the subject of a must-see 2013 documentary. A director to watch following the critical success of 1980’s Elephant Man, Lynch was hired to helm De Laurentiis’ ‘Star Wars for grown-ups’ which, if successful, could have spawned a new sci-fi franchise. But the film bombed big time. Lynch called it ‘a failure and a great sadness’ and disowned the film due to lots of interference from the money men and not getting final cut privilege.

Having seen it again after all these years, I can understand why. The excising of an hour of the film’s original running time has reduced it down to a series of disjointed set pieces – thus cutting out the very heart of Lynch’s original vision. It’s a shame as it is gorgeous to look at, with an awesome production design that evokes Jules Verne steampunk with some Byzantine stylings.

It’s also got a knock-out cast who deliver some memorable performances – especially Kenneth McMillan as the obese Baron Harkonnen (he’s most disturbing in a John Wayne Gacy with a face of oozing sores kind of way) and a fit-looking Sting (and his blue loincloth) as the Baron’s sadistic nephew. But there’s also Freddie Jones, Siân Phillips, Patrick Stewart, Francesca Annis, Linda Hunt and many many more. They are all so good in each of their parts, I can almost forgive the film’s major faults. I do, however, find the whole surfing on giant sandworms rather silly.

Still, Lynch’s Dune remains a unique part of cinematic sci-fi history, and this 4K restoration is probably the best way to rediscover it (despite the fact there’s no input from Lynch). It also allows you to revisit Herbert’s seminal tale which, in its essence, is about colonial terrorism – something that still plays out across our own troubled world.

SPECIAL FEATURES

DISC ONE – FEATURE & EXTRAS (4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY)

• 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray™ presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
• Original uncompressed stereo audio and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Audio commentaries by film historian Paul M Sammon and Mike White (The Projection Booth podcast)
Impressions of Dune: 2003 making-of documentary, featuring interviews with star Kyle MacLachlan, producer Raffaella de Laurentiis, cinematographer Freddie Francis, editor Antony Gibbs and many others
Designing Dune, Dune FX, Dune Models & Miniatures, Dune Costumes: 2005 featurettes
• Eleven deleted scenes from the film, with a 2005 introduction by Raffaella de Laurentiis
Destination Dune: 1983 promotional featurette
• Theatrical trailers and TV spots
• Image galleries

DISC TWO – BONUS DISC (BLU-RAY)

Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune: Collector Brian Sillman explores the bizarre toys and ephemera that was created to promote the film – and there was quite a lot.
• Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune, Toto’s Steve Lukather and Steve Porcaro, and film music historian Tim Greiving explore the film’s music score, and the importance of the state-of-the-art synthesisers used.
• Interviews with make-up effects artist Giannetto de Rossi (2020), production coordinator Golda Offenheim (2003), actor Paul Smith (2008) and make-up effects artist Christopher Tucker

4K ULTRA HD LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

• Brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative
• 60-page collector’s book featuring new writing on the film by Andrew Nette, Christian McCrea and Charlie Brigden, an American Cinematographer interview with sound designer Alan Splet from 1984, excerpts from an interview with the director from Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch and a Dune Terminology glossary from the original release
• Large fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dániel Taylor
• Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
• Reversible sleeve packaging featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dániel Taylor

Frightfest 2021 | The hits, misses and WTFs!

Back ‘in the flesh’ after last year’s Covid-induced blip, Arrow Video Frightfest proved to be once again the UK’s leading genre festival. Cineworld Leicester Square was my home for five days and of the 25 main screen features shown, I clocked up 12. You can check out my thoughts below, but here are my top 5 (of what I saw):

Sweetie! You Won’t Believe It (Zhanym, ty ne Poverish)
• The Advent Calendar (Le Calendrier)
• The Retaliators
• Brain Freeze
• The Show

The films aside, it was great to see my FrightFest family – in person – again, and making new friends in between the screenings – mostly at the nearby Imperial pub where the drinks flowed and the discussions (and debates) ensued about some of the more divisive films (especially Neill Blomkamp’s possession thriller Demonic).

It was also great to meet some of the cast and crew behind some of the films shown – especially FrightFest favourite and regular Dominic Brunt, whose new film Evie received a fantastic response following its world premiere.

Congrats on the FrightFest team for putting together another great show… roll on Halloween.

Today, as I write up my notes, I’m listening to Simon Boswell‘s newly released special edition Santa Sangre album which I scored as a prize during one of the screenings… You can catch him (and Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin) in London in December. Click here for tickets.

And thank you Harvey at FAB Press for this fantastic The Wicker Man DVD release, which included a card signed by Britt Ekland.

Now for the reviews…

DAY ONE

DEMONIC

Director Neill Blomkamp is best known for his inventive and intelligent sci-fi’s, District 9 and Elysium. While sitting out the Covid-19 pandemic he decided to turn his hand at crafting a possession thriller, which he shot with a tiny crew in British Columbia. The premise is a rather intriguing blend of horror and sci-fi. A hi-tech lab company tests a virtual reality programme on a young woman (Carly Pope), in a bid to communicate with her comatose mother, who has been imprisoned for many years after setting fire to the nursing home where she worked. But there’s a secret agenda – the company is financed by the Vatican and run by a black-ops unit of exorcist priests intent on destroying the demon that possesses the mother.

Demonic could have been so good. The VR scenes are well-executed and I loved the idea of a bunch of fit tattooed exorcist priests trying to rid the world of evil (think The Night Stalker with muscle) – but it all ends up becoming a typical running around a basement in the dark affair – and don’t get me started on the fact that Carly is warned so many times by her estranged friend Martin (Chris William Martin) not to do something that she immediately does the opposite and gets everyone killed in the process. Oh, and the Spear of Destiny/Lance of Longinus has an important role – but is completely forgotten about in the final scene. Argh!

THE KINDRED

From Tucked director Jamie Patterson comes this London-based supernatural thriller starring April Pearson, James Cosmo, James Dreyfus, Samantha Bond, and Patrick Bergin. April plays Helen, a young woman who wakes from a year-long coma to discover she has given birth (to baby Heidi) but struggles to remember her final conversation with her father before his suicide. As she pieces everything together, she soon finds herself haunted by the ghosts of the children that she suspects were murdered by him.

Haunting, engrossing, with some knock-out performances (especially Pearson and Steve Oram – who seems to be reprising his brilliant psychic medium role from 2016’s The Dark Song ), The Kindred could be Patterson’s break-out film. There’s some genuine jump scares, but the highlight for me was the film’s main setting, Ernő Goldfinger’s brutalist Grade II-listed Trellick Tower, which becomes a character all of its own. Patterson and his team lend everything with a noirish quality (especially the exterior night shots around the tower block), while the claustrophobic interior scenes recall Polanski’s Repulsion.

DAY TWO

BRAIN FREEZE

I’ve dubbed this French Canadian comedy horror, Baby’s Day Out with Zombies. On an island in Montreal, where the inhabitants are all stinking rich, an exclusive golf club uses a revolutionary fertiliser to keep the grass green all year round. However, when it gets into the local drinking water supply, it turns the inhabitants (and their prized pet pooches) into flesh-eating zombies. After his workaholic mum turns green and nasty, 13-year-old André (Iani Bédard) tries to find a way to escape the island with his baby sister in tow. Along the way, they get help from a grizzled security guard and his infected daughter.

Released digitally in the UK and Ireland on 6 September, Brain Freeze is a fun, fast-paced rollercoaster ride with some delicious satire and social commentary (especially at the expense of those who favour kale juice and bottled spring water), and a winning performance from Iani Bédard as the clueless youngster who is forced to learn very quickly how to care for his little sister (played by twins who totally own the film).

THE SHOW

From the deliriously surreal mind of comic book writer Alan Moore and director Mitch Jenkins, comes this weird magical realist trip down the rabbit hole via Northampton. Tom Burke plays the mysterious Fletcher Dennis, who arrives in the town in search of a stolen artefact for his vicious East End client, and soon finds himself embroiled in its twilight world of voodoo gangsters, not-to-be-trusted beauties and pubescent private eyes. As he delves deeper, reality and fantasy collide, but seemingly everything is connected to two old-time comedians and a deadly pact with Death itself.

I thoroughly enjoyed just switching off and letting The Show take me into its bizarre film noir cabaret world that’s part-David Lynch, part-Ken Russell. It’s filled with colourful set pieces, strange characters and lots of in-jokes – especially having Burke’s character becoming an alternate version of The Beano‘s Dennis the Menace, complete with trademark slingshot (which plays a crucial plot device). It won’t be to everyone’s taste – but I loved it and will be watching it again when it gets a UK digital release from Altitude in October.

DAY THREE

THE LAST THING MARY SAW

Forbidden love, toxic family relations and dark forces all come to play in director Edoardo Vitaletti’s feature debut. In Southold, New York, 1843, Mary (Stefanie Scott), a young woman from a deeply religious family, is interrogated about the death of her grandmother (Judith Roberts). Flashing back in time, Mary’s intimate relationship with the household’s maid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), is uncovered and the women are forced to pray while kneeling on rice for a day. But when they dare to continue in secret, their punishment is made more severe. In retaliation, they plot their escape – but the arrival of a hooded stranger (Rory Culkin) reveals other forces are at work.

This American indie period thriller is a ‘real’ slow-burner – almost too slow. Shot mostly in the dark with just candlelight, a lantern or a small fire for illumination, with characters (that hardly move) speaking in hushed voices throughout, it’s a bit of a hard slog – but engaging nevertheless. The ending is bleak but given this story takes place in a world where patriarchy and religious indoctrination rule it is entirely expected. The film’s ‘WTF” moment involves a levitation in a chicken coop. It’s totally unexpected and never explained. Is this a divine intervention or a demonic power at force? It certainly left me scratching my head. One for folk horror enthusiasts to discuss. Oh, but Judith Robert is the real reason to catch this. She is bloody scary. You may know her from Orange Is the New Black – but she was also the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall in David Lynch’s Eraserhead.

SWEETIE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT

Dad-to-be Dastan (Daniar Alshinov) needs some quiet time from his bickering heavily pregnant wife and goes fishing with his old school buddies, an unlucky businessman and a local police officer. But events turn sour when they witness a murder by a group of thugs while sailing on their raft constructed out of blow-up sex dolls. As they make their escape, things turn even widely when a one-eyed vigilante appears and takes out the gang’s leader. Mistaken for the killing, Dastan and his mates soon find themselves being hunted down by the gang.

Featuring lashings of gore and goofiness, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is a gloriously farcical delight from start to finish. The characters are a riot (who make great fun of masculinity along the way), the brutal and bloody action is expertly choreographed (especially from the Kung Fu psycho), and the humour is pure slapstick and OTT weird (just check out the desperate bride and her creepy dad). Probably, the finest film ever to come out of Kazakhstan (but then this is the first one I’ve ever seen).

The good news is that it will be getting a home entertainment release in the UK from 101 Films in early 2022.

MASK OF EVIL APPARITION 

Prior to Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It, FrightFester’s got to see the world premiere of Alex Proyas’ 20-minute short which taps into his Dark City universe. Stylishly executed, it follows a young woman (Bonnie Fergeson) being pursued by a shadowy cult known as the Mysterious Ones (all played by Goran D Kleut). Here’s the trailer.

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND

Samurai Town is ruled with an iron fist by a wealthy warlord known as The Governor (Bill Moseley). When his granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) escapes, he gives ruthless bank robber Hero (Nicolas Cage) the chance to earn his freedom if he can locate and return her. To ensure success, Hero is strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within five days.

This futuristic samurai-western is director Sion Sono’s first English-speaking feature – and I’m sorry to say it was my turkey of the festival. I don’t know why, but it just bored me. I couldn’t invest in the story or the characters, nor did I enjoy Cage doing his now predictable angry Nic Cage-thing. It just looked like a cheap Asian rip-off of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and the location reminded me of the TOEI Kyoto Studio Park that I visited a couple of years ago. Even the costumes looked like they were rented from the performers working there.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is out in cinemas On Demand and Digital HD from 17 September

DAY FOUR

Evie

An ancient Celtic myth, the Selkie, is explored through the prism of family trauma in Dominic Brunt’s fourth feature, which he co-directs with writer Jamie Lundy. As a child, Evie becomes unruly after finding a strange pendant near her family home by the sea. Following a terrible tragedy, she and her brother Tony are placed into care. Many years later, the now-adult Evie (Holli Dempsey) is reunited with her brother (Jay Taylor) – but the demons of her past soon come back to reclaim her.

Selkies are malicious seal creatures of Celtic folklore, and there are many stories connected to the legend. This Brit thriller doesn’t put them front and centre, instead uses the myth as a hook for its psychological-driven storyline. This is all about the destruction of the family unit and Evie’s journey to get at the root of it. I won’t reveal anything more, safe to say that Dempsey gives a stand-out turn bringing both humour and humanity to her character who drives the plot to its fateful conclusion.

DAY FIVE

The Retaliators

When his eldest daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) is murdered, grief-stricken pastor Bishop (Michael Lombardi) sets out to find who is responsible. At the same time, a local well-respected homicide detective (Marc Menchaca) is also on the trail – but with a secret agenda. After tracking down Sarah’s psychotic gang member (Joseph Gatt) killer, he makes Bishop an offer that forces the pastor to question his entrenched beliefs. But can he take a life for a life?

Well plotted, scripted and acted with excellent production values and some genuine jump scares, The Retaliators is a smart and exciting action horror set to a metal/rock soundtrack. You get totally engaged in the story and characters then it hits you in the face with its very bloody, very gory climax that echoes The Evil Dead and even The Island of Dr Moreau. Loved it! Will see it again – and again!

Slapface

Tough brotherly love and a witchy tale combine in American indie director Jeremiah Kipp’s taut and troubling psychological thriller. After losing their mum in a car accident, siblings Tom and Lucas (August Maturo) must rely on each other for support, but Tom (Mike Manning) is finding it increasingly hard to deal with his younger brother’s increasingly bizarre behaviour, which the local sheriff is also worried about. Lucas, meanwhile, has become fixated on a story about a local legend about a witch in the woods called Virago and ends up befriending the monster in an abandoned hospital. But events take a deadly turn when Virago turns protector and anyone who dares upset the boy soon ends up dead.

Well-acted by the two leads, with well-rounded supporting characters, tight pacing and direction, Slapface was another stand-out at Frightfest. While the director’s on record saying the film’s underlying themes deal with child abuse and bullying, I didn’t really get that while watching the film. Unless, of course, he is talking about the two brothers slapping each other when either of them has done something wrong. But the fact they both willingly take part in the ‘game’ didn’t strike me as child abuse. What you do have, however, is a very creepy psychological drama in which Lucas may or may not have created the monster from his imagination to deal with the trauma of losing his mum. And even after the film’s bloody climax inside a police station, you will still be wondering that very thing.

Ultrasound
After his car breaks down in a storm while heading home after a friend’s wedding, Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) is invited to spend the night with a friendly samaritan and his young wife. But his stay sets in motion a chain of events that involve several random strangers and a research facility where a bizarre experiment using sound frequencies is being conducted.

Rob Schroeder is best known as the producer of the Barbara Crampton horror Beyond the Gates, which went down a treat at Frightfest back in 2016. Here he makes his feature debut with this multi-layered Cronenberg-esque sci-fi about the power of suggestion and mind-control. Based on the 2021 graphic novel Generous Bosom by Conor Stechschulte, it’s pure Twilight Zone territory and very twisty indeed. There are lots going on, and nothing is what it seems – but stick with it and you will enjoy the ride especially when Breeda Wool’s feisty trauma counsellor turned research administrator puts in motion her plan to save Glen from his nightmare.

The Advent Calendar (AKA Le calendrier)
Following a car accident, professional dancer Eva (Eugénie Derouand) is unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair. When her friend Sophie gives her an antique wooden advent calendar (which she stole from a German Christmas market), she discovers that each window contains a sugar-rush surprise that triggers repercussions in real life.  Some of them are good (like being able to communicate with her father who has Alzheimer’s), but most of them are bad – very bad. Now she must choose between sacrificing everyone she loves so she can walk again or throwing it away and being damned as a result.

This Belgian-shot French horror fantasy was the slickest entry at Frighfest and has ‘will be remade in the US as a new film franchise’ stamped all over it. Making his second feature, Patrick Ridremont has crafted a chiller that’s packed with excellent set-pieces, great production values and excellent performances. Derouand brings much light and shadow to her character, whose morality is put to the test each midnight as the days count down to Christmas Eve – and you can’t help but be carried along on her perilous journey. The ending, however, may surprise you. Now, where can I can a replica of the wooden calendar – it is so cool!

Blind Beast | Yasuzo Masumura’s 1969 Japanese arthouse erotic horror shines again on Blu-ray

From the pen of Japan’s foremost master of the macabre, Edogawa Rampo, comes Blind Beast – a grotesque portrait about obsession, art and sensuality.

Waking up inside a dark warehouse studio whose walls are decorated with outsized women’s body parts, artist’s model Aki (Mako Midori) discovers she has been abducted by Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), a blind sculptor who desires to create the perfect female form. Defiant at first, Aki soon finds herself drawn into his warped sightless world in which touch is everything.

This 1969 arthouse erotic horror from director Yasuzo Masumura, adapted from Rampo’s 1931 novel Mojo: The Blind Beast, is a trippy, stylish, fetishistic affair, boasting lashings of dark humour, fantastical set design and way out performances from the two leads. It now gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow, alongside some entertaining extras. Check out the trailer and special contents below.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand new audio commentary by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson
• Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
Blind Beast: Masumura the Supersensualist, a brand new visual essay by Japanese literature and visual studies scholar Seth Jacobowitz
• Original Trailer
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
• Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Virginie Sélavy (first pressing only).

A Tale of Two Sisters | Kim Jee-woon’s stylish and scary 2003 chiller on Blu-ray

Director Kim Jee-woon’s stylish and scary 2003 thriller, A Tale of Two Sisters, is one of the key films of the Korean New Wave. Now it’s getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow that comes with a host of extras that you should only view once you have watched the gripping chiller.

Inspired by the popular Korean folktale, Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, the twisted mystery centres on young Su-mi (Im Soo-jung), who returns home with her father (Kim Kap-soo) and her younger sister, Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), after a stay in a mental facility. But the reason for her hospitalisation only becomes clear when she encounters the ghost of her dead mother, and engages in a battle of wills with her cold-hearted, self-medicating, stepmother (Yum Jung-ah).

Exquisitely photographed, with wonderful performances all around (especially the glacial Yum Jung-ah as the wicked step mum), A Tale of Two Sisters, is a slow burner but it’s never boring as every scene counts. It also deserves multiple viewings, so you can fully appreciate Jee-woon’s assured direction, visuals and storytelling.

Here’s what you also get…

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original DTS-HD MA 5.1 and uncompressed stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand-new Audio commentary by Korean Cinema historian Pierce Conran & critic James Marsh
• Audio commentary by writer/director Kim Jee-woon, lighting cameraman Oh Seung-chul and cinematographer Lee Mo-gae
• Audio commentary by writer/director Kim Jee-woon and cast members Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young
• Always on the Move: The Dynamic Camera and Spaces of Master Stylist Kim Jee-woon, a brand-new visual essay by Korean Cinema historian Pierce Conran
• Spirits of the Peninsula: Folklore in Korean Cinema, a brand-new visual essay by cultural historian Shawn Morrisey
• Imaginary Beasts: Memory, Trauma & the Uncanny in A Tale of Two Sisters, a brand-new visual essay by genre historian and critic Kat Ellinger
• Behind the Scenes, an archival featurette shot during filming
– Outtakes, archival footage from the set
• Production Design, an archival featurette about the intricate look of the sets
• Music Score, an archival featurette
• CGI, an archival featurette
• Creating the Poster, an archival featurette about the iconic original poster
• Cast Interviews, archival interviews with Kim Kab-su (Father), Yeom Jung-a (Stepmother), Im Soo-jung (Su-mi), and Moon Geun-young (Su-yeon)
• Deleted scenes with director’s commentary
• Director’s analysis, an archival featurette in which Kim Jee-woon discusses the complexity and ambiguities contained within the film and why they were important to him.
• Director’s thoughts on horror, an archival featurette in which Kim Jee-woon discusses his feelings about the horror genre.
• Psychiatrist’s Perspective, an archival featurette exploring the psychological reality behind the story of the film
• Theatrical Trailer
• Stills galleries
• Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Sister Hyde
• Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by critics Stacie Ponder and Anya Stanley, plus a new translation of the original Korean folktale that inspired the film.

The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd

ice cream blondeThis authoritative biography was written by Michelle Morgan back in 2015. It traces the life of American actress and businesswoman Thelma Todd (29 July 1906 – 16 December 1935, from a vivacious little girl who tried to assuage her parents’ grief over her brother’s death to an aspiring teacher, turned reluctant beauty queen, to an outspoken movie starlet and restaurateur.

Increasingly disenchanted with Hollywood, in 1934 Todd opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café, a hot spot that attracted fans, tourists, and celebrities. Despite success in film and business, privately the beautiful actress was having a difficult year – receiving disturbing threats from a stranger known as the Ace and having her home ransacked – when she was found dead in a garage near her café.

An inquest concluded that her death, at age just 29, was accidental. But in this book, which draws on interviews, photographs, documents, and extortion notes (some of which was not previously available to the public), Morgan offers compelling new evidence that Thelma was in fact murdered. But by whom? The suspects include Thelma’s movie-director lover, her would-be-gangster ex-husband, and the thugs who were pressuring her to install gaming tables in her popular café – including a never-before-named mobster.

Fans of Thelma Todd, Hollywood’s Golden Age and real-life murder mysteries should add this to their list of must-reads. Also, the story is worthy of a Netflix series.

Available from Gazelle Books in the UK: https://www.gazellebookservices.co.uk/GazelleBooks/sresult.pgm?search1=9781613730386&searchtype=advanced

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