Category Archives: American Indie
Variety has called The Eyes of My Mother ‘an exquisite waking nightmare’, and I must admit that while viewing Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, I was reminded of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and even 1974’s Deranged.
If you like your horror slow-burning and artfully shot, then Pesce’s American Gothic-fused tale of depravity and dread will draw you into its monochrome-lensed folk horror world, while also setting your nerves on edge with its extreme violence, that’s more often implied than actually shown.
In a remote rural setting, young Portuguese farm-girl Francisca (Olivia Bond) witnesses the horrific murder of her surgeon mother at the hands of a travelling salesman called Charlie (Will Brill). When her father (Paul Nazak) arrives home, he knocks Charlie out and holds him captive in the family’s barn where he removes his eyes and vocal cords.
Psychologically damaged by the traumatic experience, Francisca begins to see Charlie as her only friend and a plaything that she can torture using her mother’s surgical instruments. Fast forward a few years, the adult Francisca (Kika Magalhães) has isolated herself from the real world and constructed her own morbid morality – which leads her to commit her own atrocious acts of murder and dismemberment…
With her quirky Paula Rego-esque features, Kika Magalhães reminded me of the British actress Angela Pleasence, she of the elfin-like countenance who gave weirdly unsettingly performances in films like José Ramón Larraz’s cult horror Symptoms (1974).
Indeed, such is Magalhães’ strong and nuanced performance, that her Francisca belongs in that pantheon of movies featuring women descending into madness, alongside its ice maiden queen, Catherine Deneuve, as seen in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965).
For me, its Zach Kuperstein’s monochrome photography that impresses the most – much more so than the story, which can be read as a nature vs nurture debate on the nature of evil – as his lighting and composition evokes the stark and sterile cinema of Ingmar Bergman and true crime films like The Honeymoon Killers (1970) and the Conrad Hall shot In Cold Blood (1967).
There’s also an exploitation vibe going on, recalling Alan Ormsby’s Ed Gein-inspired serial killer thriller Deranged (1974), while also paying homage to William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill featuring Vincent Price – which, along with Strait-Jacket, Psycho and Night of the Hunter, informs the film tonally. And there are other influences in there too, including Polanski and David Lynch, but also the extreme French horror cinema of the 2000s (Marytrs is one that comes to mind).
There are alot of ‘WTF?’ moments that will leave you in shock, but also baffle. Like, how does Francisca support herself when she’s clearly incapable of connecting with the outside world and can’t speak the local lingo? Having the film span decades also leaves questions unanswered, but if you take it that we are experiencing mere fragments of Francisca’s memory then it might help paper over the cracks.
Now, without going into detail, much of what happens in the second half will have you wondering what the hell you have you been watching – but those artfully conceived visuals, Magalhães brutal performance, and the nerve-wracking use of sound are saving graces. Oh, and thanks Pesce for making me never hear Amália Rodrigues the same way again. This is a brilliant, but bewildering debut.
The Eyes of My Mother is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from Friday 24 March from Park Circus
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 | This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun
This ‘sequel’ to Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s 1975 cult drive-in actioner Death Race 2000 is a hoot and a half – and finally consigns those dire Jason Statham/Luke Goss efforts to the wrecker’s yard.
Malcolm McDowall dials in another performance as the Trump-esque Chairman of the United Corporations of America who gets his bouffant comb-over in a twist when his four-time racing champion Frankenstein wants to retire from the ‘greatest pissing contest of mankind’ (aka the Death Race), which every citizen (now permanently unemployed) vicariously joins in via VR headsets.
Playing the man of many a spare part (and stepping into John Carradine’s black leathers) is Manu Bennett (TV’s Spartacus), who seems to be channelling Mel Gibson’s Mad Max as he sets off with his proxy Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller, Days of Our Lives) – who is secretly working for a resistance group – from Old New York to Los Angeles. But as they mow down ‘willing’ fans along the way to collect vital points, will trying to avoid some high calibre hospitality, hot on their tailgate is the genetically-modified superstar Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who’ll stop at nothing to beat them to the finish line…
This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun that pays loving homage to the original (even down to the retro poster design), while also providing some thigh-slapping political satire by lampooning everything that is wrong with America today – from guns and religion to consumerism and social apathy.
Director GJ Echternkamp and co-writer Matt Yamashita inject loads of black humour into the film and its characters, who are great fun to cheer on or boo as they traverse America’s re-named cities and states like Upper Shitville (Baltimore), New Texxaco (Texas) and MeatPakistan (Kansas).
Amongst the racers are hip-hop star Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku), whose latest hit song is ‘Drive… drive… drive… kill… drive…’; Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey), a bible-bashing interfaith wack-job who is a ‘magnet for heathens’; and ABE, a KITT-like artificial intelligence who has an existential meltdown when he accidentally impales his sex-mad proxy to the hood of his bonnet.
Turning up the Roid Rage to warp factor 10 is Burt Grinstead as the sexually-ambiguous Perfectus, who reminded me of a closeted version of Gerrit Graham’s glam rocker Beef in 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise, while Yancy Butler (of Lake Placid and Witchblade fame) is the tough as nails Alexis, a former network programmer who now leads the resistance – a bunch of leather clad muscle boys. But for me, it’s Shanna Olsen who steals the show as the Hunger Games-styled news anchor Grace Tickle.
Among the many funny lines are ‘It’s hard to turn global famine into click bait’ and ‘I’ll drink your tears Frankenstein and lick them off your handsome face’, but the most chilling must be, ‘The world is fucking crazy, a sane person doesn’t stand a chance’. Considering what America is going through now, it might just be true…
The late-great Ib Melchior gets a credit at the end for it was his short story The Racer that inspired Corman’s original Rollerball rip-off in the first place… now, does anyone remember sales people?
Death Race 2050 is out on Blu-ray and Digital Download from Monday 20 March 2017
DID YOU KNOW? You can watch the original cult action film here – in full!
Multiple Maniacs (1970) | John Waters’ outrageously offensive Cavalcade of Perversion restored and on Blu-ray
Who knew that after nearly five decades in the cult underground, one of John Waters’ early homemade ‘celluloid atrocities’ would end up sitting alongside the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman and their kind? Well, his gloriously grotesque second feature Multiple Maniacs has achieved that rare feat thanks to an amazing restoration by Janus Films, who first brought world cinema to the American masses, and The Criterion Collection, who are now bringing their fantastic releases into the UK.
“Glorious . . . Can only be described as The Passion of the Christ on Quaaludes.”
The Hollywood Reporter
“Even the garbage is too good a place for it.”
Mary Avara, Maryland Board of Censors
Waters’ anarchic spoof on gore movies starred Divine (in his fourth Waters film) as Lady Divine, the crazed impresario of a performance art freak show in conservative Baltimore whose troupe of counterculture misfits use the show to rob their patrons.
When the sociopathic Lady Divine goes on the run after killing the latest arrivals to her debauched show, she’s sexually attacked by glue-sniffers and has anal sex in a church with a woman (Mink Stole) sporting a set of rosary beads before going on to commit more acts of atrocity – including devouring the internal organs of her ex-lover Dr David (David Lochary) who she kills for having an affair with another woman (Marty Vivian Pearce).
But the death of her prostitute daughter (Cookie Mueller) finally sends Lady Divine over the edge, resulting in her being raped by a giant lobster [spoiler alert!!!] before the National Guard take her out on a busy Baltimore street.
Made on a shoestring budget (funded by mum and dad Waters) and at the home where Waters grew up, Multiple Maniacs has become the transgressive director’s highest rated films (says Rotten Tomatoes) and an anarchic masterwork that the Pope of Trash has longed to see get a proper release.
After a screening of the last-ever 60mm print during a retrospective at Lincoln Center in New York in 2014, representatives of The Criterion Collection approached Waters about doing a restoration. Asked if he wanted to keep the film exactly as is, with all the mistakes included, Waters told them, ‘Are you kidding me? Make it look good!’ Having removed all the splice marks and dirt, Waters now describes his ‘celluloid atrocity’ as looking akin to ‘a bad John Cassavetes movie’. Joking aside, the restoration is truly astonishing given the film’s DIY nature – it was shot on an Arcon 0627 camera using reversal black and white film with the sound being recorded on a magnetic strip at the same time.
So did he go too far? Well, according to an interview he gave to The Guardian following a screening of the restored version, Waters said: ‘Of course I went a little too far! I did look at that rosary sex scene, at the people around me, and I could see the young audience in disbelief. At the same time, I think, how did I get away with this? How did any of this happen? Part of it was a time capsule. A very accurate picture of what my sense of humour, and what my friends were like at the time, which might scare some people. And in some ways, they should actually be scared of us.’ (1)
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director John Waters, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary featuring Waters (Getting the lowdown on the movie from the horses mouth is truly hilarious and makes getting this release a must. I’ve actually listened to this twice now and can’t wait for round three).
• Interviews with cast and crew members Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe and George Figgs
• Plus, an essay by critic Linda Yablonsky (not included with my screener).
US short’s director Jackson Stewart makes his directorial debut with Beyond the Gates, a nostalgic tribute to 1980’s horror films and board games that’s like The Big Bang Theory meets Jumanji and Fright Night.
Seven months after their drunken dad’s latest disappearance, estranged brothers Gordon (Tales of Halloween’s Graham Skipper) and John (The Guest’s Chase Williamson) have the task of clearing out his video store. Coming across a vintage VHS board game, the brothers decide to play the game for laughs, but are shocked to learn from its mysterious host Evelyn (Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton) that it is in fact a portal to an inter-dimensional world where their father’s soul has been trapped. With the help of Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Dexter’s Brea Grant), the trio set out to save him…
The DVD cover art makes this indie shocker look on par to Stranger Things. But while it can’t touch the thrilling heights of that Netflix sensation, it’s still an enjoyable ride. Now, not much actually happens when the trio are lured into the board game, but suspense and a sense of dread seem to be the name of the game here. And apart from an exploding head, there’s not that much in the way of gore.
Despite the lack of all-out shocks and action, I was drawn in by the story (which is basically about two geeky chalk-n-cheese brothers reconnecting) and the solid performances of the cast, especially Williamson as the moody John (he’s my one to watch, by the way) and everyone’s favourite scream queen Crampton as the spooky black-eyed host.
The shots of Crampton staring immobile, waiting for the lads to play their next move, really sent a chill up my spine, while her breaking the fourth wall inside the TV reminded me of 1986’s Escapes, in which an elderly Vincent Price played a similarly sinister role. The cool synth score is by Wojciech Golczewski, who also did Crampton’s 2015 horror We Are Still Here.
The Driller Killer (1979) | Abel Ferrara’s notorious art house video nasty gets a deluxe HD restoration release
‘Abel Ferrara’s debut is in the exploitation ballpark, but it’s as much a product of Warhol low-budget artiness as the slasher genre.’ Empire
One of the most notorious of the video nasties, this 1979 exploitation-art-house crossover from future Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant and Welcome to New York director, Abel Ferrar was judged almost entirely on its video sleeve artwork with the film itself left out of the equation. Now it’s getting a deluxe Limited Edition Steelbook from Arrow Video with the disturbing film fully uncut.
Director Ferrara also goes in front of the camera to play struggling artist Reno, a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of late-1970s New York and the No Wave band practising in the apartment below. His grip on reality soon begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey…
The Arrow Video release of The Driller Killer features a high definition restoration of the film, plus the following special features…
• 4K restoration from the original camera negative of the never-before-seen pre-release version and the theatrical cut.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations in both 1.85:1 and 1.37:1 aspect ratios.
• Original Uncompressed Mono PCM audio.
• Audio commentary by Abel Ferrara, moderated by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) and recorded exclusively for this release
• Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer, a brand-new interview with Ferrara (see a clip below).
• Willing and Abel: Ferraraology 101, a new visual essay guide to the films and career of Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45
• Mulberry St., Ferrara’s feature-length 2010 documentary portrait of the New York, available on home video in the UK for the first time ever.
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens
• Steelbook Limited Edition features original artwork (2,500 copies).
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil (UK Amaray specs).
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
To celebrate Arrow Video’s release, we have been given this exclusive extra to share with you. In this new interview with Abel Ferrara recorded for this release, he discusses why he cast himself in the title role after initially asking David Johansen of The New York Dolls…
‘Youth had been a habit of hers for so long that she could not part with it’
When Fedora (Marthe Keller), the world’s most famous, ageless film star dies, having thrown herself in front of a train, her one-time lover, Hollywood has-been producer Dutch (William Holden), feels a sense of guilt about hounding her in starring in a new version of Anna Karenina. But, at her funeral, he learns a terrible truth…
You’ll get a real sense of nostalgia watching Billy Wilder’s penultimate film, Fedora (1978), as it bookends his Oscar-winning 1950’s classic Sunset Boulevard, and – for all intents and purposes – this is his sun-drenched farewell to a Hollywood changed forever.
I was drawn to the film not because of Wilder, but for William Holden, who hit his stride in the 1950s before becoming a veteran for hire in 1970s genre favourites like The Towering Inferno, Damien: Omen II and Network. His grizzled has-been Dutch is not unlike his down-at-heel screenwriter Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, and he again uses on that fabulous smoky growl. And it’s his narration that drives the story, based on Tom Tyron’s novella, which begins as a mystery before the big reveal…
You see, time has not been kind to the 67-year-old Fedora, who has a plastic surgeon (José Ferrer) on call 24-7 to keep her looking youthful, while the wheelchair-bound Countess (Hildegard Knef) relies on her servant (Frances Sternhagen) and chauffeur (Gottfried John) to keep Fedora out of the public eye and out of trouble. She also fears that the public will be mortified to learn that Fedora not only has a drug addiction – she also has an unhealthy obsession for the actor, Michael York…
The other reason I was drawn to the film was because of Tom Tyron (1926-1991). Ever since he ditched acting in the late-1960s, he went on to craft some fascinating horror, mystery and sci-fi novels, some of which were adapted for the big and small screen, like the American Gothic chiller The Other (1971).
His original novella is all about an obsession with youth, and his Fedora is portrayed as an addict desperate for her latest fix from her surgeon. It’s a character that certainly belongs in the pantheon of Grande Dame Guignol – and a sense of that creeps into Wilder’s film, especially in the relationship between Fedora and the Countess (they reminded me of real-life sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine).
Taking Tyron’s premise, Wilder then weaves in his own in-jokes to shine his old-style Fresnel lanterns on the ugly face of Hollywood and its acquiescence to youth-orientated culture that has seen the old guard replaced by bearded pot-heads waving a camera around.
Golden Age aficionados, meanwhile, will be richly rewarded with references that pay homage to screen legends like Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford, music that evokes The Third Man; Euro horror settings and visuals; and campy colourful Douglas Sirk-styled melodramatics. Not to mention an OTT funeral that’s to die for. As the Countess says, it’s ‘Magic Time!’
The new high-definition presentation of Fedora on dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) from Eureka! includes English subtitles, deleted scenes, a restoration comparison and a collector’s booklet featuring essays on the film and archival images.
Evan (Fran Kanz) is in a rut. He’s over-worked in a soul-destroying sales job and he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend and HR manager Amanda (Emma Fitzpatrick). To add insult to injury, his boss Ted (Mad Men‘s Joel Murray) has given his college nemesis Max (Pedro Pascal) the promotion due to him.
When his work colleagues start acting weird, Evan discovers Max is a vampire intent on replacing the entire staff with bloodsuckers. With the help of his slacker best friend Tim (Joey Kern), Evan then sets off to rescue Amanda and save his career…
Hailed as The Office of the horror genre,with elements of Buffy and Shaun of the Dead thrown into the mix, Bloodsucking Bosses is a gory hoot and a half with a sharp script and some hilarious turns from Cabin Fever’s Joey Kern and The Cabin in the Woods’ Fran Kanz. This makes for perfect Friday night viewing after a couple of drinks down the pub.
Out now on DVD in the UK from Entertainment One
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) | This road movie cult classic is Top Gear for petrolheads and indie film freaks
Two-Lane Blacktop (which got its US release on 7 July 1971) is one of the most celebrated road movies ever and a key film of the New American Cinema era that was made during a period when US film-makers were experimenting with a series of counterculture offerings like 1969’s Easy Rider.
Despite being a protégé of Roger Corman (the King of the B’s would also ride the coattails of Easy Rider‘s success), director Monte Hellman (above left) ended up fashioning an existential drama about lonely souls lost in transit on the long road to nowhere.
In their grey-primed 1955 Chevrolet, The Driver (singer-songwriter James Taylor of You’ve Got a Friend fame) and The Mechanic (played by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) keep their engine running by entering into illegal car races along Route 66.
Lying in the seatless back of the Chevy hot rod is The Girl (Laurie Bird), a hitchhiker with little to say and nowhere to go. Driving alongside, meanwhile, is Warren Oates’s GTO. Having traded the trappings of suburbia for a bright orange Pontiac, the middle-aged playboy coaxes the boys into racing to Washington.
Not much happens in Two-Lane Blacktop – but that’s the point. It’s a film that’s totally understated. All that counts is speed. It’s the lifeblood of the characters. Unable to connect with the Chevy boys – whose only conversations concern their car – The Girl ends up hitching a ride with GTO, only to find that he too masks his feelings by boasting about his car’s prowess.
And it’s this sense of distance and alienation that dominates the film as the two cars and their occupants cruise through non-descript towns, motels, truck stops and gas stations (all shot in a sad, but beautiful way) towards an inevitable, bleak conclusion.
Virtually impossible to see for years due to music copyright problems and poor distribution, Two-Lane Blacktop got dusted off and remastered in 2012 in the hope of attracting a new audience – one that shares not only a passion for cars (there’s some cool vintage numbers for the car nuts to salivate over), but also a style of independent film-making fuelled on the spirit of adventure. As the film’s taglines proclaimed, ‘Two-Lane Blacktop isn’t a Highway, It’s an Attitude’.
Eureka! Entertainment released a Regio B Blu-ray and limited edition Steelbook in 2012 as part of their The Masters of Cinema Series; while The Criterion Collection released a Region 1 Blu-ray edition in January 2013. Eureka’s special features include commentary by director Monte Hellman and associate producer Gary Kurtz; revisiting the film locations video with Hellman; Kris Kristofferson interview; screen-test footage; trailer; and booklet.
That Cold Day in the Park (1969) | This forgotten gem from American master Robert Altman is electrifying
Before he found fame with M*A*S*H, Robert Altman crafted the unsettling 1969 psychological thriller, That Cold Day in the Park, which gets a UK Blu-ray/DVD release from Eureka Entertainment.
Wealthy thirtysomething spinster Frances (Sandy Dennis) lives in a stiflingly bourgeois world of elderly suitors and domestic routine. But when she invites a seemingly mute and homeless hippy (Michael Burns) into her Vancouver apartment, her seemingly spontaneous act of charity reveals pent-up desires that soon turn into neurotic delusion.
Sandy Dennis’ measured performance drives this compelling tale that anticipates Altman’s ‘women on the verge’ films Images and 3 Women. Giving audiences an early taste of the director’s anti-genre approach to cinema, it eschews the camp hysterics of the Grand Dame Guignol of Whatever Happened to… Baby Jane and Aunt Alice for subtle subversiveness. And this is manifested through Dennis’ troubled Francis, whose repressed feelings are met with humiliation and sexual trauma that sends her careering over the edge, while the fate of Burns’ free spirited stranger proves that nothing in life is ever truly free.
Coupled with the gripping performances of the two leads is László Kovács’ dark, but luminous photography and Altman’s experimental visual touches (voyeuristic long lenses, distorted reflections and drifting zooms) that lends the psychological drama its all-pervading atmosphere of unease that builds and builds until the harrowing final scene.
Part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema Series, this dual-format edition includes a new high-definition transfer and an enlightening interview with Altman on Altman author David Thompson.
Having spent six years dealing with all manner of freaks and psychos as Dr Sean McNamara in Ryan Murphy’s dark drama Nip/Tuck, Dylan Walsh made a suitable choice to step into the shoes of The Stepfather, which originally belonged to Terry O’Quinn back in 1987.
This 2009 remake of the cult classic sees Walsh play the deeply disturbed title character who sets up home with fatherless families, then slaughters them when they inevitably disappoint him. Now calling himself David Harris, Dylan’s killer has charmed his way into the life of divorcée Susan (Sela Ward) and her family. When Susan’s oldest son Michael (Penn Badgley) returns home after a spell at a military school, David uses every trick in the book to get on the bad boy’s good side so that he can marry Susan and start playing happy families.
But David slips up during a bonding session, causing Michael to become suspicious of his soon-to-be-step dad’s seemingly perfect manner. When Michael’s dad and Susan’s sister begin to check up on David’s background, the tension mounts as David’s dark side manifests – leading to a gripping climax.
This good-looking production is actually better than I thought. Walsh is effectively creepy – David’s conservative approach to raising a family is truly scary (just think right-wing Republican) – and Badgley shows he’s more than a pretty boy (although that’s no bad thing), especially when it soon becomes a fight to the finish as moody Michael tries to unmask David for the killer he really is.
A UK R2 DVD was released back in 2010. But why it was called the Extreme Director’s Cut is a mystery as Nelson McCormick, who also directed the Prom Night remake, and his writer, The Covenant‘s JS Cardone, have gone for Hitchcockian suspense over gore, which is actually a fright for sore eyes.
You can catch The Stepfather on The Horror Channel tonight (Wednesday 6 April) at 9pm.