Arrow Video FrightFest – Twenty Blood Years | Day Four – Michael Reeves, Dan Curtis, David Cronenburg and the Roache-Turner brothers

Welcome to Day Four of FrightFest, where I spent most of the time at the Discovery Screens. First up was the second Short Film Showcase, where the highlights were Theo Watkin’s sinister Service, James Cadden’s messy Five Course Meal and the existential weird-one The Obliteration of the Chickens; then there were two excellent documentaries and another chance to see David Cronenberg’s cult 1977 sci-fi Rabid ahead of tomorrow’s much-awaited screening of the Soska sisters’ remake. I ended the day back at the main screen for the demonic Oz sci-fi actioner Nekrotronic.

Oh, and we also got to see Brandon Cronenberg’s 10-min short Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences As They Come to You, about a brain implant prototype that allows a patient at an experimental psychiatric facility to relive her dreams (which had shades of daddy’s body horror films).

Here are my thoughts…

UK audiences got to see the world premiere of Diabolique magazine’s feature-length documentary on Michael Reeves, whose life was tragically cut short at the age of just 25 (from an accidental drug overdose), just when he was making inroads as one of Britain’s most exciting new film-makers.  He only made three films, The Revenge of the Blood Beast (aka The She Beast), The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General (his finest achievement) – each starring a horror icon, Barbara Steele, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, but he’s now regarded as the genre’s shining light because he took his horrors out of the studio and onto the streets where generational conflict and youthful rebellion were the order of the day, fusing them with his love for Hollywood epics and the gritty violent action noir of his mentor Don Siegel.

Originally intended as an extra on a forthcoming Blu-ray release of The Sorcerers, the documentary draws on a number of sources to explore Reeves’ story; including his biographer’s Benjamin Halligan and John B Murray, as well as Reeves’ childhood pals Tom Baker (the screenwriter, not the former Time Lord) and Ian Ogilvy (who provides some very funny anecdotes), and his former girlfriend Ingrid Cranfield (who was one of the last people to see him alive). It’s all well-researched and – for those who don’t know much about Reeves – its a good primer. My only quibbles were with the repeated use of two or three photos of Reeves and Paul Ferris’ Witchfinder General score. It was also a pity that Halligan couldn’t make the introduction (thanks British Rail) as I would have like to question him about a questionable rumour concerning Vincent Price.

Growing up in the 1970s, the horror films that really made an impact on me were Burnt Offerings and Trilogy of Terror, andboth were produced by Dan Curtis. I was also a huge fan of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which often had photos from his long-running gothic TV soap Dark Shadows — oh, how I dreamed to see that show that was never played in Australia, where I grew up and I’ve had to wait decades to finally be able to experience the cult show, which is now available on Amazon Prime (I’m up to episode 887 or 1245).

In David Gregory’s second documentary to be screened at FrightFest, the life and career of the King of TV Horror is explored in great detail, as well as his later efforts (which I also remember seeing, but didn’t know he was behind it until now) – the epic miniseries Winds of War.  Narrated by Ian McShane, it features lots of anecdotes from Curtis and his family, the cast and crew of the Collinwood classic and its failed 1990’s reboot (Ben Cross, Barbara Steele) and even Whoopi Goldberg.

RABID (1977)
Made two years after The Parasite Murders (aka Shivers in the UK), David Cronenberg’s now cult classic marked the non-hardcore porn film debut of Marilyn Chambers, who still takes her clothes off many times. She’s the victim of a motorbike accident which conveniently takes place just outside a plastic surgery clinic. Her life is saved by a revolutionary skin graft, but one unpleasant side effect is the blood sucking tentacle that sprouts out of her armpit. Everyone she attacks becomes infected; they go on the rampage, too, and finally the entire city of Montreal is in such turmoil that not even Santa Claus is safe.

I’ve always been a big fan of Cronenburg’s body horror classics, and it’s always a treat to see it on the big screen (although in this case, its the Prince Charles Cinema’s small screen). Even after all these years, this pseudo-intellectual exercise in sexual horror still manages to disturb (in places), and Chambers is actually rather good, catching especially well the nastier and inwardly compelling aspects of the heroine’s inward desires.

‘Wow! This kill zone for demons is like the Bat Cave’. That’s the kind of in-joke humour that litters this latest Ozploitation offering from brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner (who gave us Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead back in 2008). Looking over my notes, I’ve written ‘Pokemon-Go’, ‘Power Rangers’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Hellraiser box’, ‘McGuyver’, ‘Tony Stark’ and ‘Lifeforce’. And these all come to play in this kick-ass comic-book style adventure.

Evil Queen of the Underworld, Finnegan (Monica Bellucci, at her slinky seductive best) who oversees a soulless corporation of human husks is using a Pokemon Go-like phone app game so ancient demons can possess humans. When sanitation worker Howard (Ben O’Toole) discovers he’s part of a magical sect and could be mankind’s saviour, he is reluctantly forces with a demon hunter (David Wenham) and his gun-totting daughters to take Finnegan down…

Everything moves at a frantic pace with lots of flashing lights (there were warning signs before we entered the cinema) from the ray guns, soul sucking and many explosions, so much so that most of the characters aren’t particularly well fleshed out – although Bellucci steals every scene and I really enjoyed Bob Savea as Howard’s shit-shovelling bestie Rangi (who ends up glowing in his role – you’ll see why).

The Roache-Turner brothers greet FrightFesters from Down Under

About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on August 26, 2019, in Documentary, Horror, Ozploitation, Sci-Fi and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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