Visiting Hours (1982) | Michael Ironside menaces Lee Grant in the notorious Canadian psycho shocker

Visiting Hours (1982)

This 1982 Canadian psycho shocker maybe somewhat implausible, but it’s so tightly constructed that you soon forget it’s flaws.

Michael Ironside (who made an explosive hit in David Cronenberg’s Scanners the year before) gives a genuinely unsettling performance as Colt Hawker, a closeted homicidal psycho who enjoys photographing his victims as he stabs them to death.

Visiting Hours (1982)

Bearing a deep-seated hatred of women (his mother disfigured his abusive father with boiling oil when he was a small child), he’s incensed when TV journalist and women’s rights crusader Deborah Ballin (Damien: Omen II’s Lee Grant) voices her views on TV over a murder case in which a battered woman claimed justifiable defence against her abusive husband.

Following Deborah home, Colt brutally attacks her – but she survives, and ends up being admitted to a local hospital to recuperate. But that doesn’t stop Colt from gaining access to the hospital, where he begins his killing spree in his bid to corner and kill her…

Now ever since 9/11 security in public facilities like hospitals and government has really stepped up to the max in North America. But even back in the 1980s, you’d expect a major hospital like the one featured in Visiting Hours would have the minimum of security. But it doesn’t. Even the police seem to miss Ironside’s suspicious-looking psycho creeping about.

But if you look past this flaw, then you’ll discover a masterful exercise in suspense from Québécois director Jean-Claude Lord, who brings a claustrophobic, giallo-esque feel to his first English-language film,. It also has some genuine scares and is bolstered by skilful performances, especially Grant, who brings great believability to her victimised Deborah.

Visting Hours (1982)

In a nice twist to the standard woman-in-peril story, Lord introduces a sub-plot involving kindly nurse Sheila (played by Matlock’s Linda Purl) who also finds herself on Colt’s hit list. This leads to a nail-biting showdown between the maniac and the two women. Wasted, however, is William Shatner, whose only purpose here is getting another star name onto the credits.

Bizarrely, this one featured on the UK’s notorious Video Nasty list, but ended up being shown on ITV uncut in 1989. It was also a firm favourite at my local video rental back in the day. Revisiting it now, courtesy of Final Cut Entertainment’s new dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) release, I’ve not only found a new appreciation for the film itself, but also for the cinematography, which had been previously muddied by inferior VHS transfers. This suspenseful slice of 80s slasher is well worth the revisit.

The Final Cut Entertainment dual format release also includes the following special features:
• Interview with Lind Purl (9 mins)
• Interview with director Jean Claude Lord (15mins)
• Interview with writer Brian Taggert (15 mins)
• Interview with producer Pierre David (17mins)
• Stills Gallery
• Double Sided Sleeve

Visiting Hours (1982)

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Dr Cyclops (1940) | ‘Honey, I’ve shrunk the scientists!’ – Technicolor thrills await in the vintage sci-fi adventure

Doctor Cyclops UK DVD

Deep in the South American jungle, physicist Dr Thorkel (Albert Dekker) is using a seam of radium in his mysterious experiments. When his eyesight starts to fail, he invites three scientists from the US to help him to help him complete the project.

Refusing to return home without proper explanation as to the exact nature of Thorkel’s work, the scientists, their mule driver and Thorkel’s assistant end up being shrunk down to doll size. A cat-and-mouse game then ensues as they try to escape Thorkel’s compound…

Dr Cyclops

Based on a short story of the same name by Henry Kuttner, Paramount’s Dr Cyclops was the first attempt since The Mystery of the Wax Museum to use Technicolor in a horror film. It also marked a return to the genre for director Ernest Schoedsack, best known for Most Dangerous Game and King Kong, who really goes to town on the special effects, which would earn the film an Oscar nomination.

Dr Cyclops

In his Classics of the Horror Film, renowned film researcher, collector and regular visitor to the UK’s famed Gothique Film Society, William K Everson, called Dr Cyclops ‘diverting hokum – but one of the wasted opportunities among films’. It’s a bit harsh, but not without some truth.

Yes, there’s virtually no horror on display, with the miniaturised cast mainly running and hiding amongst the oversized props and from a giant hand, and feigning distress in sequences featuring back projection shots of Thorkel’s snarling black cat Satanus (great name) and stock footage of a variety of animals and birds (kookaburras – in the Amazon?). While the lush colours and gay musical score does turn it into something akin to a live action cartoon adventure.

Dr Cyclops

Looking like a cross between Peter Lorre’s Mr Moto and Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld with his shaved head and thick, round glasses, Dekker brings much sympathy to his scientist with a God complex (I blamed the radiation for his increasing mania); while the rest of the cast (Thomas Coley, Janice Logan, Charles Halton, Victor Kilian and Frank Yaconelli) are all effective in their respective stereotype roles.

Dr Cyclops

There are, however, some genuine thrills, notably the death of one of our little heroes (who’s killed when he learns the miniaturisation effects are only temporary), the group’s efforts to train a rifle on their sleeping tormentor, and the gripping climax. Perfect for younger viewers and for revisiting on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Dr Cyclops is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films

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Blood Diner (1987) | The insane cult horror comedy restored and remastered on Blu-ray!

Blood Diner (1989)

This semi-sequel/remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963) was written by Michael Sonye (aka Haunted Garage’s Dukey Flyswatter) and directed by Jackie Kong. It follows two weirdo brothers Michael (Rick Burks) and George (Carl Crew) and the reanimated brain of their serial killer uncle Anwar (Drew Godderis) as they attempt to resurrect an ancient Lumerian goddess, Sheetar, using the body parts of immoral young women and the sacrifice of a virgin to awaken Sheetar’s powers…

Blood Diner (1987)

Given only a limited release back in 1987, Blood Diner’s cult reputation has grown over the years. Now, I do remember seeing it lurking in VHS bargain bins back in the day, but I never saw it until now as it’s been dusted off and given a HD Blu-ray makeover as part of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video re-issues – and I must say Blood Diner certainly belongs in the ‘it’s so-bad it’s good’ section of my cult film library.

Blood Diner (1987)

The music is a bizarre mix of dire synth score, 1960s soul and mambo; while the acting (featuring the worst accents ever) is abysmal, but it’s all shot with such energy and OTT garishness – just like the Troma films of the day – that I’ve actually gone back for a second helping.

Featuring hilarious gross-out sequences and lots of blood, gore, cartoon violence and projectile vomiting, Blood Diner is one seriously insane ride. It also boasts the kind of way-out characters you’d expect from an early John Waters movie, including a burger bar owner whose ventriloquist dummy does all the talking, an obese food critic, a manic archaeologist, and that talking brain in glass jar.

Blood Diner (1987)

Naked female flesh – and their entrails – are high on the menu alongside some quite nasty acts of violence against women and misogynist humour like ‘Every heard of battered girlfriends?’, which made me question whether the film’s female director was making some kind of a statement or not? There’s also some broad swipes against health food fanatics and the homeless which border on being just a little too unkind.

Blood Diner (1987)

Filling out the running time is a unnecessary wrestling match involving an Ayran bloke wearing a Hitler moustache and Nazi insignia, while the film’s big set piece is the ‘blood buffet’ where Sheetah, now resurrected, and sporting what looks like a man-eating vagina with teeth in place of her stomach, causes complete mayhem.

Blood Diner (1987)

Given the cult status that Troma’s Toxic Avenger has acquired over the years, this insane 1980s horror comedy is certainly in the same league. And now that its been restored and remastered – you never know, we might just see a stage musical adaptation one day soon. I know I’d pay to see that (just minus the misogyny).

Blood Diner is released through Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK, and includes the following special features:
• Audio commentary with director Jackie Kong
• Six Blood Diner featurettes: Queen Kong; The Cook, The Uncle, and The Detective; Open for Business; Scoring for Sheetar; You Are What They Eat!
• Archive interview with project consultant Eric Caidin
• Trailer, TV Sports and Still Gallery

 

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The Evil Within (2017) | Andrew Getty’s surreal Poe-esque psychological horror is destined for cult status!

Originally called The Storyteller, this surreal horror was 15 years in the making. Its writer/director Andrew Getty became a virtual recluse as he became consumed by the project, which he self-financed to the tune of some US$6million (courtesy of the family fortune). But he never saw it completed, as he tragically died, aged 47, in March 2015 from a bleeding ulcer. And it’s a real shame, as his twisted tale is more than just a billionaire’s vanity project – it’s a visually arresting psychological horror that’s worthy of cult status.

The Evil Within (2017)

Special needs LA teen Dennis (Frederick Koehler) suffers from sleep paralysis, in which he sees a demonic entity (The Hills Have Eyes‘ Michael Berryman) at the foot of his bed, and is haunted by a childhood nightmare involving a carnival ghost train that never ends.

When his brother John (Dead Zone’s Sean Patrick Flanery) redecorates his room at their Hollywood Hills mansion [Getty filmed everything at his own home, which was once owned by composer Miklos Rozsa], Dennis gets upset over an antique mirror which he recognises from his nightmares. But the mirror soon begins to exert a malevolent influence over Dennis, who starts conversing with his articulate reflection – that may (or may not be) the demonic entity in disguise.

The Evil Within (2017)

Offering to ‘fix’ his brain, his ‘reflection’ convinces him to turn to killing: starting first with animals and children, before graduating to adults. But when he’s then told to kill the object of his affection – an ice-cream parlor attendant, Dennis becomes convinced the entity is using him as a pawn to enter the real world… Meanwhile, John has his own inner demons to contend with – and they all rest on guilt. So what is he hiding?

The Evil Within (2017)

Getty’s weird, disturbing tale is a contemporary fusion of split personality psychological horror, archetypal pact with the devil story, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s visually inventive, thanks to Getty’s meticulous home-made special effects, which put a spotlight on Dennis’ turmoil of being trapped in a body that is not fully ‘right’ (you’ll discover why as the mystery thickens); while also serving to elicit some genuine scares (beware the giant spider!) and to disorientate the viewer as to what is real and what is imagined. And this really plays out when the film enters The Twilight Zone as John and his girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer) wander around a seemingly-deserted LA with only Will & Grace‘s Tim Bagley for company.

The Evil Within (2017)

But the film rests soley on Koehler, who brings two very distinct characters to life: his awkward but likeable teen Dennis, in which he channels Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo, and his dominate and downright scary sociopath reflection. It’s a mesmerising dual performance that puts everyone else in shadow – even guest star Kim Darby, best known for fighting off goblins in the 1970s TV movie classic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I’ve watched this twice now and can’t wait to sit through it again. A true outsider cult hit in the making.

The Evil Within is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from 4 September 2017 from Screenbound Pictures.

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Your Guide to Universal’s Mummy Films of the 1940s

The Mummy's Ghost

Recently, I got a hold of Universal’s The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection on Blu-ray, which gave me a chance to revisit not only the Karloff original, but also the 1940’s Kharis Mummy movies, which I had not seen since I was a kid.

Now released in HD for the first time, they sure look great, but – boy! – aren’t they a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns? Here’s a look back at the shuffling mis-adventures of Kharis, the ancient Egyptian avenger…

The Mummy's Hand

The Mummy’s Hand, 1940
Starring Dick Foran, George Zucco, Cecil Kellaway.
Director: Christy Cabanne.

Eight years after Boris Karloff donned bandages for Karl Freund’s The Mummy, Universal resuscitated the movie monster (now called Kharis, as Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep had crumbled to dust) for four new adventures. Cowboy star Tom Tyler is the black-eyed Egyptian avenger restored to life (with the fluid from a handful of Tana leaves) by Andoheb, George Zucco’s-newly appointed High Priest of Karnak, to wreak revenge on the archaeological team who are trying to locate the tomb of the Princess Ananka (whom Kharis tried to raise from the dead back in 1472 BC, but ended getting buried alive with his tongue cut out).

Dick Foran is the archaeologist, Steve Banning, and Wallace Ford is his wisecracking sidekick, Babe Jenson; while Cecil Kellaway is the travelling magician who funds their doomed trip, and Peggy Moran is his daughter who gets carried away by Kharis (literally) when Zucco’s Andoheb decides to make her immortal – much to Kharis’ annoyance.

To save on the budget, Kharis’ back-story incorporates Karloff’s incarceration from the 1932 film, while the temple from Universal’s 1940 adventure Green Hell is also re-used as Zucco’s secret lair in the Hill of the Seven Jackals. Looking at it today, the film is a bit of a joke as there’s no real horror on display, suspense or drama (although Tyler’s weird black eyes still disturb). It plays more like a comical adventure serial, and nobody bothered to double-check the hieroglyphics (which are meaningless), the Arabic (misspelled), or doing any historical research (Zucco’s temple is more Mayan than Egyptian, and his character mistakes the Incas as coming from Mexico).

Except for the odd flash of inventiveness that recall Universal’s 1930s glory days when German expressionism informed its production design, it’s a poor start to the Kharis series. Thankfully, Hammer would put their own macabre stamp on the iconic creature when they used this film and its sequel, The Mummy’s Tomb, as the basis for their 1957 Technicolor version.

The Mummy's Tomb

The Mummy’s Tomb, 1942
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Dick Foran, Turhan Bey.
Director: Harold Young.

30 years after the Banning Expedition desecrated Princess Ananka’s tomb in The Mummy’s Hand, Kharis (who survived his blazing demise) is transported to a cemetery in Mapleton, Massachusetts by Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey, aka the Turkish Delight), under the orders of George Zucco’s expiring Andoheb (who somehow survived being shot multiple times in the previous entry) to hunt down and kill the remaining members of the dig and their descendants.

Purists have often wondered whether it really is Lon Chaney Jr all the time under Jack Pierce’s make-up and bandages (as there are three stunt people also credited, including Eddie Parker); and whether playing a role in which he neither speaks nor is recognisable was a wise career choice. His shuffling Kharis is pretty poor. Moving at a snail’s pace with one lame arm, it’s incredible that any of his victims don’t just run away – instead they stay put (as though frozen in fear), or pretend to be cornered so that he can lunge at them with his one powerful arm (he was supposedly restored partially paralysed in the first film because of a lack of Tana leaf juice) and strangle them to death.

To keep the budget small and to fill out the running time, extensive flashbacks from The Mummy’s Hand are used before we get a repeat of the previous film’s revenge plot – only minus the wise cracks and pratfalls. The film does have some atmospheric cinematography and lighting effects, courtesy of George Robinson (Son of Frankenstein, Tower of London), especially the scenes set in the American gothic-styled cemetery. And it all looks a treat in this HD Blu-ray presentation, although it does show up the rubber mask on the Mummy as well.

Like the first film, it ends with a frightened lovely (Elyse Knox) dressed in another stunning Vera West gown being carted off by Kharis, so that the infatuated High Priest can make her his immortal bride. And, once again, the villain is shot while Kharis goes up in flames…

The Mummy's Ghost

The Mummy’s Ghost, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, George Zucco.
Director: Reginald LeBorg

My favourite of the Kharis mummy series, this one starts off just the last two, with George Zucco again playing the withered old High Priest (who seems to have more lives than a cat) who tasks another acolyte, this time a youthful John Carradine (as Youssef Bey) with bringing Ananka and Kharis back home to Egypt.

Bizarrely, Ananka’s protectors aren’t the High Priests of Karnak now, but Arkam. However, those Tana leaves are still lurking about – but with added mythology. Just as wolfbane can cure lyncathropy if prepared during a full moon, the fluid taken from the Tana leaves during the same lunar cycle can usher forth Kharis’ ghost (hence the title).

While the film is basically the same plot as the previous two, director Reginald LeBorg does stir things up by having the Princess reincarnated in the shapely form of former pin-up Ramsay Ames. She plays Amina Mensori, a student of Egyptology who is based in the very same town that Kharis shuffled amok years beforehand. LeBorg brings much flair to the proceedings, and there’s a real effort to make Chaney’s Mummy more menacing looking (BTW: his appearance ended up being used as the template for Aurora’s classic glow in the dark model kit that I have had since I was a kid).

In a clever nod to The Bride of Frankenstein, Ames gets a white streak in her perfectly-coiffured bonnet, which turns pure white as Ananka’s soul takes over (causing her to age rapidly) when Kharis ends up carrying her down into the murky depths of a nearby swamp in the film’s climax.

The Mummy's Ghost

The Mummy's Curse

The Mummy’s Curse, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Virginia Christine, Martin Kosleck.
Director: Leslie Goodwins.

Five months after the release of The Mummy’s Ghost, Universal rushed out this final sequel for a Christmas release, thus completing Lon Chaney Jr’s trio of turns as the shuffling undead Kharis (although he did spoof the character in an episode of Route 66 in 1962’s Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing). And – except for one sequence – this is the worst of the lot.

Unlike today, Universal had little care for their franchise and totally stuffs up the continuity and mythology by setting this follow-up in Louisiana instead of New England. When the swamp where Kharis and Ananka drowned is planned to be drained the Scripps Museum sends two representatives, Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and an Egyptian colleague Zandaab (Peter Cobb), to retrieve their bodies. Of course, Zanbaab is secretly a high priest of the Arkam set, and he has help in construction worker Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), who has Kharis’ body interred at an old abandoned monastery.

Meanwhile, Princess Ananka emerges from a muddy coffin and ends up a Jane Doe in the care of Halsey and his girl Betty (Kay Harding). Of course, its not long before Kharis arrives on the scene and whisks her away for the final showdown at the monastery… which ends badly for one and all, especially poor Ananka.

This was a rare horror entry from British-born director Leslie Goodwins, who was better at low-budget comedies, and also marked the feature debut of Virginia Christine, who’d go onto light character roles. It’s quite poor, and reeks of racial stereotyping, especially the Cajun Joe character. Chaney only gets one good scene, at the end, as the monastery collapses on him (watch him keep his composure as a heavy brick smashes into his face); and the day-for-night shots are infuriating. But it does have one scene which still haunts, and that’s when Christine’s Ananka emerges from her resting place in the swamp. It’s a striking scene, especially in the way in which Christine plays it.

The Mummy's Curse

Of course, Universal couldn’t keep their Mummy down for too long. In 1955, Abbott and Costello got their chance to have a date with Klaris (a pun on Kharis) for their 28th and final film comedy, with Eddie Parker wearing what looks like a onesie decorated with a bandage motif. Except to fans of the comic duo and their verbal gymnastics, this was a poor end to their feature film careers.

Abott and Costello Meet the Mummy

Magic Circle (2017) | A trickster theatrical descent into the occult zone with Brother Wolf and Kim Newman

Magic Circle (2017)

In what must be a first for the British stage, the Brother Wolf theatre company is conducting an arcane magic ritual for their latest production, Magic Circle, a two-handed mystery written by novelist Kim Newman, whose inspirations include real-life magician Aleister Crowley, the weird fiction HP Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley’s occult masterpiece The Devil Rides Out. And if you are a fan, then you are in for a treat.

Magic Circle (2017)

It’s circa 1970 and in a room at Calme Manor, where some gruesome murders have taken place, a protective chalk circle has been drawn. Inside sits Professor Harry Cutley (Michael Shon), an academic and occultist who plans to spend the night undoing a dangerous spell cast by a former acolyte.

Outside the intangible barrier stands the no-nonsense Inspector Nicholas Gammell (James Hyland) who doesn’t like having an unsolved case on his books and considers Cutley a suspect. What follows is a battle of wills as Gammell interrogates Cutley and hidden agendas begin to emerge from out of the shadows…

Magic Circle (2017)

This is the first full-length dramatic work for Kim Newman, best known as the author of the Anno Dracula novels (and comics) and for his insightful film reviews, and I must admit I was crossing my fingers that it would be better than his first stage production, The Hallowe’en Sessions – part of the portmanteau chiller The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore – which played at the Leicester Square Theatre but was stifled by mis-direction. But I got my wish, as director Phil Lowe has successfully breathed theatrical life into Newman’s intelligent and witty script (OMG! Sooty’s a satanic avatar!), which explores the power of words via an occult narrative (clever stuff indeed).

The intense proceedings are maximised by the use of the most minimal of sets, equipped with little more than that chalk circle, some ceremonial magic items, and a bundle of clothes neatly folded in a corner of the blacked-out stage – plus a pentagram designed with Newman’s own esoteric symbols. Such minimalism allows the audience to visualise the off-stage action (like the deaths describes in gory detail) and to ponder over the true intentions of Shon’s obsessive Professor of Comparative Religions and Hyland’s skeptical copper, who is trying to lure the hip occultist out of his circle, but never can cross (now why is it?).

Both actors excel in their respective parts, with Hyland’s surly copper coming off like a cross between Alfred Marks’ DS Bellaver in Scream and Scream Again (1970) and Laurence Olivier’s down-at-hell Archie in The Entertainer (1960), while Shon’s hippy occultit possesses the same arrogance as Dean Stockwell’s Wilbur Whateley in The Dunwich Horror (1970). And thanks to Newman’s trickster narrative, the duo get to showcase their vast range as they lure audiences into the author’s eerie mystery – one that’s guaranteed to leave you breathless by the end.

Catch Magic Circle next at…
16 SEPTEMBER
BARTON UPON HUMBER – ROPERY HALL
Maltkiln Road, Barton upon Humber, North Lincolnshire, DN18 5JT
01652 660 380 www.roperyhall.co.uk

1 NOVEMBER
STAFFORD – GATEHOUSE THEATRE
Eastgate Street, Stafford, ST16 2LT
01785 254 653 www.staffordgatehousetheatre.co.uk

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My Top 10 from Horror Channel FrightFest 2017

Horror Channel FrightFest 2017

Phew! Horror Channel FrightFest is over for another year and it was probably one of the best ever that I have attended with some great thrills and surprises amongst the 64 film shown over the Bank Holiday weekend at the Cineworld Leicester Square and The Prince Charles Cinema. Now, while I didn’t get to see all of them, I did rather burn out my retinas catching quite a few. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my Top 10, plus a couple pf runner-up faves.

THE TOP 10
• Tragedy Girls
• Cult of Chucky
• Better Watch Out
• King Cohen
• The Bar
• Freehold
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies

TRAGEDY GIRLS
Director: Tyler MacIntyre. US. 2017. 93 mins.
If you are a fan of TV’s Scream Queens, then you will certainly LOVE this gleefully camp Heathers meets Scream slasher in which two vain high school besties (played by Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) go on a killing spree just to increase their social media standing. With stylish cinematography, charismatic performances, and a smart script (with lots of 1980s horror movie references), this was a real winner at Frightfest.

CULT OF CHUCKY
Director: Don Mancini. US. 2017. 91 mins.
Following a great Twilight Zone-homage from Hatchet’s Adam Green and Joe Lynch, FrightFesters were treated to the World Premiere of the seventh entry in the 30-year-old Killer Doll franchise – and it did not disappoint. This time round, Chucky continues to terrorise poor Mica (Fiona Dourif), who was found guilty of the murders in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. But is she just imagining things because Chuck’s old nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) seems to have Chucky’s head locked up in a safe? If you want to read more (CLICK HERE). This one will be getting a Halloween release in the UK.

BETTER WATCH OUT
Director: Chris Peckover. Australia/USA 2016. 88 mins.
It’s Christmas, and parents Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen go out for the evening leaving 12-year-old Luke (Pan’s Levi Miller) in the care of his favourite babysitter, 17-year-old Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge). But when a brick crashes through the window reading ‘You Leave, You Die’, it sets in motion a series of events that you will not expect. This Yuletide home invasion horror is enormous fun, but also very dark, featuring an intelligent, genre-bending script, and great performances from the young leads – especially Miller. It’s due out in the US on 6 October, and I do hope it gets a UK release soon.

King Cohen

KING COHEN
Director: Steve Mitchell. USA 2017. 110 mins
I really enjoyed this fantastic appreciation of maverick US film auteur Larry Cohen, the writer/producer/director behind TV’s The Invaders and genre fare like It’s Alive and The Stuff. Featuring interviews with his former stars like Yaphet (Alien) Kotto and Eric Robert, and admirers like Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and John Landis, plus with the legend himself (and boy, can he talk!), this is a real must-see. If you want to know more, check out my full review (CLICK HERE).

THE BAR
Director: Alex de la Iglesia. Spain 2017. 104 mins.
This latest effort from the director of Day of the Beast and Witching and Bitching was one of the festival’s big highlights. It’s life as usual at Amparo’s bar in central Madrid until a group of regular customers – including hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), snooty Elena (Blanca Suárez), businessman Andrés (Joaquín Climent) and homeless beggar Israel (Jaime Ordonez) – witness two men being fatally shot as they try to leave. Who is responsible? Why aren’t the police doing anything? And why are there people wearing Hazmat suits in the square? Alex de la Iglesia’s black comic chiller puts human nature under the microscope, and it’s not a pretty picture. Death, selfishness, survival and hypocrisy are all treated with great wit and dark humour.

FREEHOLD
Director: Dominic Bridges. UK. 2017. 79 mins.
The feature debut from commercials director Dom Bridges and written by Outpost’s Rae Brunton is a twisted fusion of claustrophobic black comedy and urban morality tale, but with a bizarre spin on the home invasion premise. Contortionist Orlan (Javier Botet) secretly moves into the flat of slimy real estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) by occupying the hidden spaces of his flat (like his cupboards and wardrobe). It’s all part of the master of concealment’s plan to slowly unravel Hussein’s life and drive him insane. But does he succeed? Well, hopefully Bridges’ searing comment on race, the house market (and Brexit) will get a proper UK release soon so you can find that out for yourself. Cleverly scripted and with strong performances (especially the double-jointed Botet – whose face is usually hidden behind loads of make-up in films like the new It, The Mummy and Crimson Peak), this is a cracker of a debut from Bridges.

Victor Crowley (2017)

VICTOR CROWLEY
Director: Adam Green. US. 2017.
The big surprise at FrightFest was Adam Green unveiling the world premiere of his fourth entry in the Hatchet series with the film’s star Kane Hodder in attendance. Hatchet 3 survivor Andrew Long (Parry Shen), is now a minor celebrity who ends up back on Crowley’s swamp turf (which has been turned into a tourist attraction) when he agrees to a $1million fee to participate in a TV documentary. But when the crew’s plane crashes and wannabe filmmaker Chloe (Katie Booth) invokes Crowley’s spirit (via clips on the internet), the slaughter begins all over again. Made in secret over two years, this gory fun ride is packed with inventive, and very bloody, kills and some LOL campy humour. It also earned Green a standing ovation following the screening. Green dedicated the film to two masters of the genre – the late George A Romero and Tobe Hooper, who actually passed away on the same day as the screening (26 August).

Victor Crowley (2017)

68 KILL
Director: Trent Haaga. USA. 2017. 93mins
Chip (Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler) is a hapless nice guy who pumps sewage for a living and is completely infatuated with his trailer park ex-stripper girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). But she turns out be crazier than he first imagined when her plan to rob her sugar daddy goes horrible wrong. This fast-paced thriller is full of surprises, great fun and boasts some quite extreme violence.

Death Note

DEATH NOTE
Dir Adam Wingard. US. 2017. 101 mins.
This Netflix-produced take on the Japanese manga comes from director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and follows high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who turns self-appointed judge, jury and executioner when he comes across a supernatural notebook in which you write the name of someone you wish to die. When he begins to kill all those he deems unworthy of life, a reclusive detective (Lakeith Stanfield) sets out to end his reign of terror. Featuring great Final Destination-style set pieces, excellent performances, superb John Carpenter-inspired synth score from Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross, and Willem Dafoe voicing Ryuk, the death god who becomes Light’s moral compass, this is not to be missed. Catch it on Netflix now.

Attack of the Adult Babies

ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES
Director: Dominic Brunt. UK 2017. 80 mins.
Dominic Brunt is best known as bumbling vet Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, but he’s also a film director who has shared his passion for all things horror with his writer/actress wife Joanne Mitchell in films like Before Dawn, Bait and now this perverted shocker. A home invasion forces a mother (Kate Coogan) and two teenagers (Kurtis Lowe and Mica Proctor) to break into a country manor to steal some secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile – which is presided over by the mysterious Margaret (Sally Dexter) – is also where high-powered middle-aged men take refuge from daily life by dressing in nappies and having young women in nurses uniforms indulge them in their every perverse nursery whim. But these rich bastards also have another very sick agenda and it involves something quite monstrous in the basement. Brunt’s blunt, bloody and bonkers satire is a gleefully grotesque carnival of bad taste, over the top gore and gross-out scatological humour. It’s like Lindsay Anderson re-making Downton Abbey as a Pete Walker horror with added Benny Hill comedy touches. Just throw in some crazy claymation (courtesy of Lee Hardcastle) and some psychedelic chat with the God of Shit (voiced by Brunt) and you’ve got one of the weirdest British comedies ever made.

Attack of the Adult Babies

I  ALSO LIKED…
Freddy/Eddy – Tini Tuellman’s spine-chilling psycho suspense thriller
Leatherface – Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s stunning prequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Canaries – Peter Stray’s alien-invading black comedy
Veronica – Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran’s gripping psychological twister
To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story – a moving documentary about everyone’s favourite Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series (expect my full review soon, but here’s a pic of the legendary stuntman with one of his fans – me!)

Kane Hodder

Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.

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King Cohen (2017) | The wild world of America’s maverick film auteur – Larry Cohen

King Cohen (2017)Larry Cohen is that rare breed of filmmaker, a writer, producer and director whose mantra was to make it on the cheap, on the sly, and on the steal, while always staying true to the vision and the story.

This hugely enjoyable documentary from writer/director Steve Mitchell picks through the American auteur’s 50 year output, which includes such cult fare as Black Caesar, God Told Me To and Q: The Winged Serpent, to highlight Cohen’s maverick approach to film-making – which was mostly borne out of necessity as he detested the interference of major studios (having been stung quite a few times).

King Cohen (2017)

Now, I’m a fan of Cohen’s more quirky offerings like It’s Alive and The Stuff, two leftfield projects laced with his unique brand of satire and weirdness, and featuring the mad delights of Michael Moriarty, and I had seen his name attached to thing like the cult 1960s Cold War with aliens drama The Invaders, but I never realised just how truly prolific a screenwriter the native New Yorker has been ever since he started out doing live TV dramas in the 1960s. Even now, in his mid-70s, he writes daily and was responsible for big screen hits like Phone Booth (2002) and Cellular (2004).

King Cohen (2017)

After seeing the European Premiere of Mitchell’s documentary at FrightFest, I really ‘need’ to track down Cohen’s more obscure earlier features, like his 1972 directorial debut Bone (also known as Dial RAT for Terror to cash in on the Blaxploitation craze) with Yaphet (Alien) Kotto, and 1977’s The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, his fast and loose biopic with an ageing Broderick Crawford – one of the many Hollywood veterans that Cohen respected and admired and gave work to when no one else did. The others he helped in their dotage included director Sam Fuller, actor Red Buttons (whom he befriended until the day he died) and stroke survivor Bette Davis (who quit Wicked Stepmother, the project he had especially created for her).

Bone (1972)

A born entertainer (and frustrated stand-up), Cohen is brilliant at self-promotion and self-parody, and this comes through Mitchell’s candid interviews at his LA home (which featured in all of his movies) and on the convention circuit; and also through the anecdotes told by the likes of Martin Scorsese (who reflects on the how Cohen got Robert De Niro and Brian DePalma to pretend to be Jewish for Bernard Herrmann’s funeral), Robert Forster, Eric Roberts, Joe Dante, John Landis and Mick Garris (who gave Cohen his last directing gig on the 2006 Masters of Horror episode Pick Me Up); while a cigar-wielding Fred Williamson got the biggest laughs at the screening when he countered some of Cohen’s wilder claims.

King Cohen (2017)

But what really impressed me (that I did not know before) was Cohen’s sly approach to the filmmaking process which was all about the ‘steal’ (and ended up marking his style as a result). This mainly involved shooting without permits on the streets of cities like New York and Washington. One example was when he got to film inside the iconic Chrysler Building for Q: the Winged Serpent using real off-duty police officers and construction workers as extras, and ended up causing total mayhem when he rained fake bullet catridges down on the pedestrians below (impossible today, post 911).

Mitchell – who is best known for penning Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall back in 1988 – is currently screening his doco at festivals around the globe, and hopefully this will create enough buzz to attract a distributor for an eventual release. I, for one, will be looking forward to that – as well as the many hours of extra material (well, as the director remarked, Cohen does likes to talk).

For more on the film, and a look at Cohen’s unfilmed screenplays check out: http://www.larrycohenfilmmaker.com/.

Waxwork (1988) | Anthony Hickox’s monster club comedy horror restored and remastered!

A staple of VHS rentals in the late-1980’s and early 1990’s – when horror films were becoming increasingly self-reverential thanks to the likes of An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Fright Night (1985) – Waxwork was the directorial debut of Anthony Hickox, the son of Theatre of Blood director Douglas Hickox, and is his love-letter to Universal’s classic monsters as well as contemporary horror icons by way of 1953’s House of Wax.

Waxwork (1988)

Gremlins star Zach Galligan is rich douche Mark who is forced to man-up when his high-school pals start disappearing after visiting a waxworks museum that has bizarrely just opened up in an old mansion in their swanky LA neighbourhood.

Waxwork (1988)

Run by the mysterious Mr Lincoln (David Warner, dressed like a ’66 Batman villain) and his vertically-challenged assistants, the mansion is a front for their diabolical plan to collect the last remaining souls they need to bring life to 18 effigies of ‘the most evil souls who ever lived’ in order to raise the dead and bring about the end of the world.

Waxwork (1988)

After three friends step over the ropes of the exhibits and find themselves at the mercy of a werewolf, Dracula and the Phantom of the Opera, while a chain-smoking detective (Charles McCaughan) has a live burial date with The Mummy, Mark and another of the gang Sarah (Deborah Foreman) discover a link between Mr Lincoln and Mark’s late grandfather – who was fascinated by death and horror.

They then seek out Patrick Macnee’s wheelchair bound Sir Wilfred, a friend of the family, who reveals Lincoln’s diabolical plan. But when Mark and Sarah set out to stop Lincoln, Mark finds himself trapped in a Romero-esque zombie graveyard while Sarah is lured into the Marquis de Sade’s sex stable….

Waxwork (1988)

Waxwork certainly ticks lots of boxes. It’s very gory, with great physical effects of heads being ripped off, crushed and exploding, and one particularly gross out scene of a human leg being gorged on as though it were a shoulder of Serrano ham.

It’s got great visual style, with nods to EC Comics and Mario Bava’s colour palette; and packed with little in jokes (I particularly liked the references Vincent’s Price Henry Jarrod in House of Wax: indeed the idea of using real people as waxworks is lifted straight from that classic horror). Even the synth score (always the letdown of movies of this era) from Emmy-nominated composer, Roger Bellon is pretty darn effective.

All-in-all it’s tremendous fun, and now that Lionsgate have resurrected it from the Vestron archives and given it a re-mastered restoration it is well worth a revisit – just mind you don’t step over those ropes.

Waxwork (1988)

Film location fans might like to know that Mark’s house (aka the Higgins-Verbeck-Hirsch Mansion in Wiltshire) was also used in William Castle’s The Night Walker, as well as Willard and Ben, and Witchboard.

Waxwork (1988)

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with Anthony Hickox and Zach Galligan (after listening to this, I really would like to hang out with these guys).
• The Waxwork Chronicles featurette (This leans quite heavily on the sequel, which I now so want to see. To bad it wasn’t released here as a double bill like in the US).
• The Making of Waxwork (This 30-minute archive featurette is narrated by Patrick Macnee – yeah!!!!)
• Theatrical trailer
• Still gallery

Waxwork is distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series

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DID YOU KNOW?
The evil souls collected for Waxwork exhibition are:
• The Marquis de Sade
• The Werewolf
• Count Dracula, his son and the Brides of Dracula
• The Phantom of the Opera
• The Mummy
• A zombie
• Frankenstein’s monster
• Jack the Ripper
• The Invisible Man
• A voodoo priest
• A witch
• A snakeman
• Pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers
• Rosemary and her Demonic Baby
• An axe murderer
• A multi-eyed alien
• Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors
• Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Cult of Chucky (2017) | The killer doll strikes again – but is it lucky number seven for Don Mancini and co?

Cult of Chucky

Last night, Horror Channel Frightfest opened with the world premiere of Don Mancini and David Kirschner’s seventh instalment in their Chucky franchise, with some of the cast and crew in attendance, including Mancini, puppeteer Tony Gardner, Fiona Dourif, Ada Hurtig and Jennifer Tilly (who could hardly contain her excitement).

First up, however, was The Dollhouse, a 7-minute short made by Tony’s daughter Kyra, in which she revealed how the franchise has become a family business involving Dourifs, the Mancinis and the Kirschners. This was a great introduction, and also showed just how much passion and commitment has gone into making Chucky such a horror icon.

Cult of Chucky

Next up: Cult of Chucky. Picking up four years after the massacre of her family in Curse of Chucky, an incarcerated Nica (Fiona Dourif) believes she is guilty of the crimes and is transferred to a medium security mental institution.

But when the killer doll starts targeting the inmates, Nica quickly comes to her senses. But no one, including her dubious psychiatrist (Michael Therriault), will believe her.

Her only hope is Chucky’s original nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), who is now a grown-up survivalist. But Nica had better watch her back as Chucky’s bride, Tiffany (now possessing the body of Jennifer Tilly), has plans of her own…

Cult of Chucky

Over the past three decades and six films, horror fans have watched the tale of the possessed Good Guy doll unfold. The first three were scary were your typical 80s slasher-inspired, the next two took a hit-and-miss comic route, then original creator Don Mancini turned to the dark side with his Hitchcock-inspired Curse of Chucky. Now, he’s ramped up the scare-factor with an insane psychological horror thrill ride for this seventh outing.

Mancini really has fun messing with your head this time round as there are not one but two Good Guy Dolls on the prowl, while the smashed-in head of another is being used as a sadistic plaything by Andy. I, for one, thought Andy and Nica were imagining Chucky was alive until the big reveal halfway through!

Featuring elaborate death scenes and lashings of gore, a great music score and inventive camera-work that makes atmospheric use of the claustrophobic setting – an imposing Brutalist-designed hospital with gleaming white corridors and padded cells, all set in a snowbound prairie land (which gives the whole thing a dreamlike quality); plus some terrific performances from Dorif and co, this is a real treat for Chucky fans. I must say, however, that the film also features one of the most poorly manned mental hospitals in cinema history.

Cult of Chucky is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download on 23 October from Universal Pictures UK

Cult of Chucky

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