Author Archives: Peter Fuller

Boccaccio ’70 (1962) | Italian sexual mores as seen through the eyes of Fellini, Visconti, De Sica and Monicelli

Boccaccio 70 (1962)

Italy’s greatest directors bring four stories of Italian post-war sexual mores and morality to cinematic life in the 1962 big-screen anthology Boccaccio ’70, which gets a brand-new remaster on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from CultFilms in the UK.

Federico Fellini directs his first colour work, the wild fantasy, Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio, which perfectly illustrates why Fellini is Fellini. Starring Anita Ekberg, who beguiled cinema audiences as the lady in the Trevi Fountain in 1960’s La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s surreal play sees a prudish man driven insane when a giant billboard featuring the ravishing Ekberg comes to life.

Boccaccio 70 (1962)

Luchino Visconti provides some serious melodrama with Il lavoro, a play in which Romy Schneider’s aristocratic housewife shows her independent side when her husband’s affairs make front page news. This one features what Time Magazine described as ‘surely one of the most provocative stripteases to be recorded on film’.

Boccaccio 70 (1962)

Vittorio De Sica’s story, La riffa, sees screen siren Sophia Loren putting her sexual favours up for auction in a bid a to pay off her taxes. While the portraits conclude with director Mario Monicelli’s once lost segment, Renzo e Luciana – a sweet, funny play about two working class lovers (Marisa Solinas and Germano Gilioli) who keep their impending marriage a secret in order to keep their jobs.

With an exciting soundtrack from the legendary Nino Rota and Armando Trovaili and outstanding camerawork, Boccaccio ’70 is a slice of cinematic history past that deserves multiple viewings.

Boccaccio 70 (1962)

For the first-time ever, the film is presented here in both its original language with new, improved, English subtitles and alternatively with an English audio track. The new Blu-ray release also features previously the unseen documentary, Sophia, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, a candid, intimate interview with Sophia Loren with contributions from Woody Allen, Giorgio Armani and other close friends and collaborators.

Boccaccio ’70 is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from CultFilms in the UK from 26 June 2017

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Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) | Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s haunting anti-war satire – now on Blu-ray

Slaughterhouse-Five

Meet Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) – who may or may not have come unstuck in time. During the Second World War, the young soldier is captured and sent to a German POW camp. On route, he witnesses the bombing of Dresden, an event that unhinges his fixity in time and causes him to live his life simultaneously as a POW, an optician in 1970’s America, and as the elderly abducted resident of a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where his captors provide him with a mate in the form of a porn star.

This thought-provoking anti-war, sci-fi from directed George Roy Hill (best known for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) is based on American author Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s most influential and popular work, the 1969 satirical semi-autobiographical novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew on the author’s own experiences as a prisoner of war when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

Thought to be impossible to film given its intertwining storylines and timelines, it went on to win the Prix du Jury at Cannes, as well as the praise of Vonnegut who remarked: ‘I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book’.

The Bach compositions used in the movie were supplied by celebrated classical pianist Glenn Gould, while the film’s star Michael Sacks later retired from the entertainment industry in the mid-1980s to become a technology industry executive for Morgan Stanley. Amongst the cast is Ron Leibman (TV’s Archer), Valerine Perrine (Lenny) and Perry King (Class of 1984).

Slaughterhouse-Five is out on DVD from Fabulous Films and on Blu-ray from 26 June

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Madhouse (1981) | Ovidio G Assonitis’ bloody revenge tale is a LOL delight

From the man who gave us Tentacles, The Visitor, Beyond the Door and Piranha II: The Spawning, Ovidio G Assonitis, comes Madhouse (aka And When She Was Bad/There Was a Little Girl), an Italian-made/Savannah, Georgia-shot slasher that was once on the UK’s video nasty list – and its a genuine find, courtesy of Arrow who have dusted it off and given it a 2k-restored release.

Madhouse (1981)

Julia (Trish Everly), a teacher in a school for the deaf, has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary (Alison Biggers)… but Mary hasn’t forgotten. Escaping hospital, where she’s recently been admitted with a disfiguring illness, Julia’s sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling – promising a birthday surprise she’ll never forget…

Madhouse (1981)

While nothing as gut-wrenching violent as the British authorities felt necessary to outlaw, Madhouse is a curious concoction of serial killer thriller, giallo whodunit and gothic histrionics. Think Happy Birthday to Me (also made in 1981) meets Rebecca, but with added camp – courtesy of character actor Dennis Robertson doing his best Roddy McDowall impression as the overly-friendly and rather odd Father James.

Indeed, director Assonitis told his cast to go over the top with their characterisations and indeed they did – which makes for some wonderful LOL moments (especially Alison Biggers as the bonkers mad Mary). And true to his honorific title as the ‘Rip-Off King’, Assonitis also chucks in a purely Omen-esque element – a Rottweiler trained to attack on command. It’s grisly demise – a power drill to the head – will most undoubtedly upset dog lovers everywhere, but the special effects will have you howling…

Madhouse (1981)

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition presentations
• Original Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
• Interviews with cast and crew (my favourite is Edith Ivey – who knew she was Indian Princess Summerfall Winterspring on The Howdy Doody Show?)
• Alternate Opening Titles
• Theatrical Trailer, newly transferred in HD
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Marc Schoenbach
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film (first pressing only)

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Dario Argento’s genre-busting psycho-thriller The Bird With the Crystal Plumage gets a 4k-restored release from Arrow

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Back in 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage paved the way for a new wave of cinematic terror when the then 29-year-old auteur fused the traditional thriller and whodunit with shock and spectacle for the first time.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

In this landmark giallo, Tony Musante (who would later find fame as Nino in TV’s Oz) plays Sam, an American writer living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. After a series of other attacks and attempts on the lives of Musante and his lover Julia (played by British scream queen Suzy Kendall), Sam suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. In a bid to clear his name, he sets out to track down the killer  – who turns out to be… Well, that’s for you to find out.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

It was actually Bernardo Bertolucci who started the ball rolling on this production when he originally thought to adapt Fredric Brown’s classic thriller The Screaming Mimi for the big screen. But he ended up handing the reins over to Argento who, along with the celebrated editor Franco Fraticelli, made it his own. The film’s success would cement Argento’s reputation as the Italian Hitchcock, as well as usher in a wave of blood and black lace genre films with crazier and crazier titles.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Back in 2011, Arrow released a High Definition restoration of Bird on Blu-ray (that was slightly grainier than Arrow’s previous releases, but still stunning) presented in the original Univisium aspect ratio, and had the audio defaulted to the original Italian (which I prefer over the English mono). It also included contributions from directors Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino, and a booklet written by Alan Jones.

For their stunning 4k-restored limited edition dual format release, Arrow have really gone to town. So pull on some leather gloves, pour yourself a J&B on the rocks and let the deadly games begin…

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
• New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
• New interview with writer/director Dario Argento (this 30-minute monologue is a real treat and very instructive)
• New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Double-sided fold-out poster
• 6 Lobby Card reproductions
• Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook

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The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast | A fitting farewell tribute to the goremeister who was born on this day in 1926

The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast

On 26 September 2016, Herschell Gordon Lewis – who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 15 June 1926, headed to the last drive-in in the sky aged 90. But, in doing so, he left behind an enduring legacy as the Godfather of Gore.

It was in 1963 that the exploitation film-maker decided to branch out from his nudie movies and attempt to emulate the success of American International Pictures (AIP) – but with his own style of shocking imagery (cow tongues, anyone?), bizarre visual slapstick and a ‘fuck-you ‘ attitude towards established film tropes. He ended up changing the horror cinema landscape forever.

In celebration of the schlock master, Arrow Video released 14 of HGL’s exploitation movies (including nine Blu-ray world debuts) in one giant box-set, filled with a bucket-load of bonus content, last October.

Blood Feast

Yes, his blood-n-guts epics are all presented in restored versions (Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore et al.), but also included are his rarely-seen exploitation flicks on sleazy photographers (Scum of the Earth), sex robots (How to Make a Doll), biker girl-gangs (She-Devils on Wheels), youths-run-amok (Just for the Hell of It), psychic witches (Something Weird) and hard liquor-loving hill-billies (Moonshine Mountain).

Color Me Blood Red

I’ve finally got my hands on the box-set and am now looking forward to some exploitation HGL’s movie madness. Now, bring on the moonshine…

WHAT’S IN THE BOX…
• Newly-restored from original and best surviving vault materials of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Moonshine Mountain, Color Me Blood Red, Something Weird, The Gruesome Twosome, A Taste of Blood, She-Devils on Wheels, Just for the Hell of It, How to Make a Doll, The Wizard of Gore, The Gore Gore Girls, This Stuff ll Kill Ya!
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the features and extras on 7 Blu-ray and 7 DVD discs
• Brand new introductions to the films by HGL
• Newly-produced interviews and featurettes, commentaries, and short films
• Two bonus Blu-rays featuring 1.33:1 versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore [limited editions exclusive]
• Bonus DVD: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore documentary [limited editions exclusive]
• 28-page HGL annual stuffed full with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material [limited editions exclusive]

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31 (2015) | Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent valentine to blood-soaked 1970s exploitation is a demented kill-ride

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

Following 2013’s supernatural misfire The Lords of Salem (which I rather liked, so check it out here), the shock rocker pays homage once again to 1970s grindhouse by tipping a blood-soaked Bozo clown wig to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse, by way of Stephen King’s The Running Man and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. But frankly, its not a par on those classics.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

The director’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie, heads up a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween night 1976 and let loose in a derelict factory where they are given 12 hours to fight their way to freedom through a maze of secret passages containing deadly traps and a cavalcade of homicidal clowns bearing sicko monikers like Psycho-Head, Sick-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and Doom Head.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

Placing bets on who will survive is Malcolm McDowell (who turns 74 today) as the bizarrely-named Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder, veteran British actress Judy Geeson (who was also in The Lords of Salem) and voice over artist Jane Carr. Bizarrely, their aristocratic 18th-century attire makes them look like they are appearing in a completely different film – and indeed they might well be as their characters are never fully explained.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

Fans of Rob Zombie’s cult hits House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects will relish his return to ghoulish sadistic form, but this demented trip through the most blood-drenched funhouse this side of the late Hershell Gordon Lewis might leave everyone else colder than all those corpses that pile up before Sheri’s final girl showdown with the film’s most intriguing character, the psychopathic killer Doom Head (Richard Brake, who played the Night King on Game of Thrones).

Rob Zombie’s 31 is available on platforms like Shudder and YouTube (£3.49) but has yet to have an official DVD/Blu-ray release in the UK. A Region A Blu-ray is also available.

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Zombie Resurrection (2014) | This indie undead horror from Hampshire is a homemade riot

Zombie Resurrection (2014)458 days after an engineered army vaccine has turned most of the world’s population into rabid flesh-eating zombies, a rag-tag group of survivors take refuge inside an old school in rural Hampshire.

Heading up the survivors are tough army sergeant Mac (Jim Sweeney) and cowardly Major Gibson (Joe Rainbow), who are transporting the alleged architect of the virus, Dr Sykes (Eric Colvin), to the city of Imperion; the golf-mad Beaumont (Danny Brown) and his teenage daughter, Becca (Rachel Nottingham); office worker Gandhi (Simon Burbage); Essex slag Harden (Jade Colucci); and a pint-sized, heavily-pregnant, religious nutter (Shamiso Mushambi).

Once inside, however, the survivors discover they are not alone – a messiah-like zombie (Rupert Phelps) with the power to heal the infected is wandering the corridors. Believing him to be the cure, Sykes convinces his captors to try and capture the unholy undead dude. But their task isn’t made easy when the virus starts spreading amongst the survivors…

Zombie Resurrection (2014)

‘Die down the negative energy, it’s not the end of the world!’
This low budget zombie comedy horror from Hampshire-based film outfit Charmed Apocalypse Pictures (aka Andy Phelps and Jake Hawkin) is way better than it ought to be. If you can forgive the copious amounts of swearing and questionable acting ability, this homemade horror is a riot.

Zombie Resurrection (2014)

It’s got a cracking script, whose black humour owes a big debt to Monty Python, Blackadder and Shaun of the Dead; gory special effects that really do deliver (decapitation by golf club, anyone?); some nicely twisted takes on the horror genre’s stock-in-trade characters; cool comic book style graphics; and a catchy darkwave electronic theme tune (that sounds not unlike Laibach).

Zombie Resurrection (2014)

Much fun is made about death and religion and some of it is very dark, like when the Bible-spouting Esther tries to crucify herself. It’s also incredibly inventive – who knew wearing a coat of rotting human skin will make you invisible to zombies? Then there’s the fatalistic central theme of being eaten, resurrected and eaten again: now that’s really scary. If there’s one downside, it’s that the comedy ends up taking the back seat as the grisly theme plays out. But then, we wouldn’t have the film’s Romero-esque final shot…

Zombie Resurrection is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Left Films in the UK

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Diabolique (1955) | The Criterion Collection releases the mother of all shockers in HD

Diabolique (1955)

Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques (shortened to Diabolique in this Criterion Collection release) without doubt one of the finest whodunits ever made in the history of cinema and regarded by critics and fans alike as Europe’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (released five years later). It is, in my books, the mother of all shockers!

Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) plays Cristiana (aka Cri Cri), the much put-upon wife of a sadistic boarding school head Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is coerced by his mistress Nicole (a tough, forbidding Simone Signoret in one of her best ever roles) into killing him and dumping his body in the school’s swimming pool. But when the pool is later drained, there’s no body and so the mystery begins.

Armed with a hotel key, found on the suit Michel was wearing the night he was killed, Christina begins her own investigation. But she, and Nicole, haven’t countered on the tenacity of a retired detective (Charles Vane) who is determined to prove he’s still got what it takes to solve the crime.

Diabolique (1955)

Even 60+ years after its initial release, this haunting thriller has never lost its potency, nor its ability to shock, thanks to a suspenseful script, carefully constructed pacing and the well-developed lead characters. Christina is so religious that she feels damned by her actions, yet Nicole is her polar opposite. Does she feel some affinity with Christina’s plight or is she preying on Christina’s weaknesses? Watching these two characters play off each other is what makes this film so unforgettable.

Diabolique (1955)

My favourite scenes are when Nicole and Christina put their murderous plan into action. I found myself watching their every move, hoping and praying nothing goes wrong. But of course it does, and – thanks to Clouzot’s eye – we, the audience, become complicit in the women’s actions.

Watch carefully and you will find that water features heavily throughout. The dripping tap, the highly decorative bath and the swimming pool are all symbols of death, best illustrated by a close-up of the bath drain (which Hitchcock would make his own in Psycho) and the emptying of the pool. So potent an image is the pool that it makes me wonder how many other films turn a swimming pool into a character itself.

Diabolique (1955)

Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror film-making and is a must-have for all world cinema fans. Back in 2011, a dual format UK release from Arrow Academy featured a HD transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative. Now, The Criterion Collection has released a UK Blu-ray version featuring the same digital restoration and the following special features…

• Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
• New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, codirector of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Inferno
• New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
• Original theatrical trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty

 

 

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The Entity (1982) | The supernatural suspense pulsates and Barbara Hershey electrifies in Eureka’s HD release

From Eureka Entertainment comes the Blu-ray release of supernatural terror tale, The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey.

The Entity (1982)

Hershey stars as single mum Carla who, one night, is sexually assaulted in her bedroom by someone – or something – that she cannot see.  Met with scepticism by her attending psychiatrist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver), she is repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath, and in front of her children.

Could this be a case of hysteria or something even more horrific? Now, with a group of liberal-minded parapsychologists, Carla agrees to take part in a bizarre experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately capture the spectral fury…

The Entity (1982)

Penned by Frank De Felitta, the author of the disturbing reincarnation thriller Audrey Rose, who draws on a real-life 1974 case in California, and helmed by veteran director Sidney J Furie, this strange slice of spectrophilia horror hokum caused a protest when the film first opened in London cinemas.

The Entity (1982)

Whether you believe in the film’s premise or not, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be gripped by Hersey’s genuinely moving performance (she’s in nearly every scene), or get angry at the male characters, who regard her (and all women) as merely hysterical and seem to be engaged in a macho pissing game between each other.

Interestingly, the film was made at a time when the feminist establishment in the US was becoming increasingly autocratic and puritan, espousing dogmatic views that were anti – men, sex, art, porn and censorship. And watching the film today, you can see a deliberately provocative anti-patriarchal subtext that warrants further analysis. And while Martin Scorsese regards The Entity as the scariest horror films of all time, maybe its not supernatural elements that unnerves, but male fears of a woman’s true sexual power? It’s certainly food for thought.

The Entity (1982)

The HD remaster looks super, but it also shows up the so-so effects of the Entity when it’s finally trapped – it reminded me of a giant-sized Mr Whippy ice cream version of the Carroon-creature in The Quatermass Xperiment

Kudos, however, go to the pounding sound effects by Nightmare on Elm Street composer Elmer Bernstein, whose evocative score can also be heard in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.

The Entity is released on Blu-ray in the UK through Eureka Entertainment and is available from Amazon

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Split (2015) | James McEvoy displays incredible range in M Night Shamalayan’s twisted psychological thriller

Split (2016)

I have always been wary of M Night Shyamalan’s films as they always hold so much promise, only to disappoint in the final reel. So I went into Split with much trepidation. But, as the twisted psycho thriller unfolded, I found myself totally entranced – thanks to James McAvoy’s incredible turn in the lead role(s).

Split (2016)

McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and possesses 23 distinct personalities – which are at threat of being dominated by a 24th, called The Beast, which is currently beginning to manifest itself.

The mystery starts in a shopping mall car park where one of Kevin’s personalities, uptight germaphobe Dennis, abducts three teenage girls and holds them captive in an unspecified underground bunker. Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), whose own back story of being molested as a child is told in flashbacks, clicks to her captors’ different personalities, which include lisping nine year-old Hedwig, gay fashion designer Barry, and ice maiden Patricia.

With the help of her fellow abductees, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), Casey tries to play off the personalities in a bid to escape…

Split (2016)

Watching McAvoy is an acting master class in itself, as he displays great range, moving from childish charm to menace and pathos using an array of facial expressions and voices. And this certainly helps to paper over the cracks in Shyamalan’s pseudo psychological ideas that dissociative identity disorder is able to cause physiological changes in the body (it reminded me of Cronenburg’s rage-fuelled psychoplasmics concept in The Brood).

Posing the bizarre theory is Kevin’s shrink Dr Karen Fletcher, marvellously played by Betty Buckley, who scored a Saturn Award for the role. Imagine Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher fused with Oliver Reed’s psychotherapist Hal Raglan from The Brood, but played like Peter Cushing’s Lorrimer Van Helsing. She’s just a fantastic creation.

The final scene features a cameo from Bruce Willis as his Unbreakable character, and sets the scene for Shyamalan to complete his superhero thriller trilogy, with the next film being entitled Glass (based on Samuel L Jackson’s unbreakable character).

Split is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures UK from 5 June, and to Buy & Keep from 22 May and rent from 5 June on Sky Store

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