Category Archives: British Film

Cul-de-sac (1966) | When Roman Polanski went rogue on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne – and won!

cul-de-sac

Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.

Cul de sac

Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.

Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasance) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).

But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…

Cul de sac

When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.

Cul de sac

From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.

A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasance caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).

Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.

Cul de sac

Donald Pleasance is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.

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The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).

And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.

THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson

 

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Essex Spacebin (2016) | Is this British indie sci-fi inspired lunacy or what?

 

essex_spacebin_poster

Honestly, I really cannot begin the describe how ‘bad’ Essex Spacebin is – and I use those commas because I think that’s the point – or so it seems.

Essex Spacebin

Meet Lorraine Willy (Lorraine Malby), a middle-aged woman with mental health issues who believes she and some intergalactic Rasta dude called Hogan have a psychic link with beings from another dimension. Armed with a PDF of Amen-Ra’s specs for an Essex-built pyramid, Lorraine sets out to locate a star key, which will gain her access to the parallel world…

Essex Spacebin

Written and directed by David Hollinshead and Philip Thompson (who don’t appear to have done anything else according to the IMDB), Essex Spacebin is a low-rent sci-fi take on the Wizard of Oz with production values akin to the VHS shorts that I used to make on a lark with my university friends back in the 1980s. But it’s shot in glimmering 35mm film stock, which leads me to suspect that the whole thing is a joke on us viewers, and that its ‘badness’ is intentional.

Essex Spacebin

So, are the film-makers hoping to pay homage to the likes of John Waters (Multiple Maniacs is back in UK cinemas in a restored version – yeah!!!) and the warped comedy of Troma’s 1980s output (in London, it was paired with Tromeo & Juliet, alongside a personal appearance of Lloyd Kaufman), and that their intentionally ‘bad’ film will take its place in the Midnight Movie pantheon alongside Rocky Horror, Birdemic: Shock and Terror and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, or is it really just a waste of everyone’s time and effort? I’ve sat through it twice now and I really can’t make up my mind. So, if you have seen it, please do leave a comment below, and let me know if I have missed something?

Kudos, however, do go to crazy collection of characters that populate this mad, bad, non-star trek, and to the evocative techno soundtrack (from Ceephax Acid Crew aka Andy Jenkinson).

Essex Spacebin is available on Amazon Prime Video.

David Hemmings’ gritty British drama The 14 on Talking Pictures TV today!

Jack Wild in The 14

David Hemmings’ THE 14 (aka THE WILD LITTLE BUNCH) starring Jack Wild gets its Channel Premiere today at 8pm on Talking Pictures TV (Sky 343, Freeview 81, YouView 81, Freesat 306) #TalkingPictures

READ ALL ABOUT THE CLASSIC BRITISH DRAMA HERE…

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All Night Long (1962) | Basil Dearden’s jazz-fuelled drama that swings to a Shakespearean beat

All NIght Long (1962)

 

Patrick McGoohan headlines director Basil Dearden’s modern dress, modern jazz adaptation of Othello, with jazz greats Charlie Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes appearing as themselves.

Musical comedy star Paul Harris plays Aurelius Rex, a musician whose wife, Delia (Marti Stevens), gave up a prosperous singing career when she accepted his hand in marriage. But the peaceful structure of their relationship is shattered during a late night warehouse party in Bermondsey, when ambitious drummer Johnny Cousin (McGoohan) uses every dirty trick to woo Delia into working with him.

This powerful psychological drama is now out on Blu-ray and DVD, as part of Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, and is presented in a new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its original, as-exhibited aspect ratio. The special features include original theatrical trailer and an image gallery.

All Night Long also makes its Channel Premiere today at 9.40pm on Talking Pictures (Sky 343, Freeview/Youview 81, Freesat 306).

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Psychomania (1973) | The British black magic biker flick roars back into mirthful mayhem in high definition

Psychomania (1973)

Let’s face it, 1973’s Psychomania is seriously daft! But this bizarre British exploitation oddity is also the only Surrey-set satanic frog-worshipping zombie biker flick ever to be made in the UK. Now it’s about to raise hell amongst horror aficionados again as the BFI brings it back from the dead for a re-mastered 2k dual format release.

Psychomania (1973)

Set its own warped version of Walton-on-Thames where pram and shopping trolley-pushing suburbanites live cheek to cheek next to a ancient pagan site where legend has it that a coven of witches were turned to stone, Psychomania (I have no idea why its called that either) finds real-life motorbike fan Nicky Henson (taking time out from treading the boards at the Young Vic) donning his own leathers and revving up a clapped out AJS to head up The Living Dead, a group of posh-sounding Hell’s Angel’s types with a penchant for tie-dye, crochet knitted tops, multi-coloured name patches and singing mournful folk songs.

Psychomania (1973)

Bored shitless in suburbia, where the only fun they get is in knocking down cereal boxes at the Hepworth Way Shopping Centre, Nicky’s medallion man makes a pact with the Devil in return for the secret of immortality, commits suicide, then returns from the grave. Soon his gang (who come off like Eric von Zipper’s Rat Pack in the Beach Party movies) are following their leader in order to create more Beano-esque mischief down at the shops.

Psychomania (1973)

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well that’s what makes this black magic biker flick from director Don Sharp (who also helmed the Fu Manchu movies and the Tony Randall comedy Our Man in Marrakesh for Harry Alan Towers) so much fun. Plus there’s Beryl Reid as the high mistress of comfy sofas and veteran Hollywood actor George Sanders casting a long shadow as the ghoulish guardian of a big toad that possesses arcane powers (no idea why, either!).

Their scenes take place in what looks like a showroom for the crème de la crème of 20th-century chair design (some I spied in Taschen’s 1000 Chairs), and it’s also the setting for some improvised waltzes between Reid and Henson and some ridiculous straight-faced dialogue, like ‘I’m dead, Mother, but apart from that, I couldn’t be better!’.

Psychomania (1973)

And if that’s not enough to wrap your laughing gear around, wait until you see the dead coppers lined up inside the mortuary cool boxes (that ended up in Space 1999) and the wonky prison-set where Doctor Who’s Sergeant Benson (John Levene) presides. There’s also guest appearances from the like of Robert Hardy, Bill Pertwee and future EastEnder June Brown (who would follow this movie with David Hemming’s Jack Wild drama, The 14).

Psychomania (1973)

Mind you, the action sequences (which all take place on the newly built M3) are terrific and more than once did I find myself shouting ‘OMG’ at screen as those spluttering bikes narrowly missed coming a cropper; while a sequence involving Hatchet (Blood on Satan’s Claw‘s Denis Gilmore) jumping off a bridge in front of a oncoming Commer van is a standout. Playing one of the suicidal bikers is Britain’s oldest stuntman Rocky Taylor, who has worked on everything from James Bond to Harry Potter.

Psychomania (1973)

Topping it all, however, is the soundtrack by Donovan’s former arranger, composer John Cameron. A mix of 1960s pre-punk garage, doom-laden psychedelia, and blaxplotation-infused funk, peppered with ecclesiastical organ sounds and early prog. – it belongs in every film buffs soundtrack collection. And makes a fitting companion to this new BFI release, which is a must have.

Sadly, this was the final feature for 65-year-old George Sanders. The Hollywood legend, who had made a career out of being a cad in classics like Rebecca, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The House of the Seven Gables, committed suicide on 25 April 1972 in Spain – and some say this was the last thing he ever saw…

 

Psychomania (1973)

Did you know that the film’s titles feature the same font that was used in American International Picture’s Dr Phibes movies – there’s even a Rolls as well?

Psychomania (1973)SPECIAL FEATURES
• Newly re-mastered in 2K and presented in the original aspect ratio (1.66:1), with optional subtitles.
Return of the Living Dead (2010, 25 mins): featuring interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor.
Sound of Psychomania (2010, 9 mins): interview with composer John Cameron.
Riding Free (2010, 7 mins): interview with singer-songwriter Harvey Andrews.
• Interview with Nicky Henson (2016, 14 mins): who recalls his time on the film (much of which is a repeat of what he says in the 2010 featurette).
Hell for Leather (2016, 8 mins): Short film about the company who supplied the film’s costumes.
• Remastering Psychomania (2016, 2 mins):
Discovering Britain (1955, 3 mins) Fantastic vintage travelogue, narrated by the celebrated poet, about the Avebury stone circle.
Roger Wonders Why (1965, 19 mins): Amateur film which sees two Christian biker youths visit the 59 Club, and meet its founder Reverend Bill Shergold. You have to stick with it to understand why its included here.
• Original theatrical trailer.
• Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016, 91min, onscreen text): in lieu of an audio commentary, this is a hilarious subtitle trivia track, and works a treat.
• Collector’s booklet with new writings on the film; plus full film credits.

Frank (2014) | Music, madness and a giant papier-mâché head collide in the oddball, anarchic comedy drama

Frank (2014)

With the offbeat comedy drama premiering on Film4 today at 10.40pm, here’s my take on Frank…

Don’t stop believing in your dreams
Following a chance encounter with the avant-garde Soronfrfbs rock band and their eccentric front man Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant papier-mâché head 24/7, wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) finds himself propelled on an anarchic journey of self-discovery.

Recruited as a replacement keyboard player, Jon struggles to connect with the other band members, especially distrusting Theremin-player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), but ends up using his inheritance to produce the band’s latest concept album. While cooped up in a log cabin on a remote island, the social media savvy Jon posts videos on the internet and ends up scoring the band a big gig at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. When a disastrous warm-up gig causes the band to fall out, Jon manages to convince Frank to take to the stage as a duo. But is he doing it for Frank, or himself?

Frank (2104)

Will it push you to your furthest corners?
It’s not often I come across a film that really connects on a personal level, but comedy drama, Frank, from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson really hit home. Loosely inspired by the cult figure of Frank Sidebottom (aka the late Mancunian singer-comedian Chris Sieves), in whose Oh Blimey Big Band one of the writers, Jon Ronson, played keyboards in the 1980s, the film also adds elements of notorious rock legend Captain Beefheart and schizophrenic Texan singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston, but sets the action in contemporary Ireland.

Michael Fassbender gives a nuanced performance as the titular outsider artist, whose absurd headgear hides a fragile soul which Domhnall Gleeson’s callow fan boy Jon ends up shattering (its their journey that’s at the heart of the film). And Maggie Gyllenhaal is a real standout as Clara. She’s like a female Syd Barrett, whose permanent scowl actually hides a deep love for Frank.

Frank (2104)

The film’s first half is a crazy road-movie-styled delight (the opening titles span a very post-modern 10 minutes btw) and I found myself helplessly drawn into Jon’s bromance with Frank, while his onscreen tweets are #hilarious (but you’ll never make them out if watch the film on a mobile). But when the comedy gives way to more serious matters (and the truth about Frank is revealed), the film’s fun factor comes to a screeching halt. While those introspective scenes put a dampener on the oddball adventure, the home truths that are revealed are food for thought – especially on the nature of the artist versus the cult of celebrity, maximising our online presence, and mental illness vs true genius.

Oddball, yet deep (in sentiment), passionate, yet punk-spirited (about the creative process), there’s a lot going here, just like there’s a lot going on behind Frank’s papier-mâché cartoon face. It’s also got some bonkers brilliant toons.

Frank (2104)

Frank is also available from Curzon Film World on Blu-ray and DVD, which includes audio commentary with Lenny Abrahamson, Domhnall Gleeson and composer Stephen Rennicks; commentary with writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straugaan; behind the scenes featurette, sound promo, deleted scenes and trailer.

Also available from ArtificalEyeFilms on YouTube and BFI Player

The Frank soundtrack is released by Silva Screen, check it out here: http://www.soundtrack.net/album/frank/

Sid & Nancy (1986) | Alex Cox’s harrowing punk tragedy turns 30!

Sid & Nancy (1986)

Sid & Nancy is one of the most important films ever made about the UK punk era, featuring career-defining performances from Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, and made director Alex Cox the one to watch following his 1984 cult Repo Man. To celebrate the punk classic’s 30th anniversary – as part of the Punk at 40 celebrations – comes a restored DVD/Blu-ray release from Studiocanal in the UK.

Sid & Nancy (1986)

This isn’t a tale of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, but a harrowing drama about ‘drugs, depression and death’ – one that deals with the tragic life of the Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious. And it all rests on Gary Oldman’s ferocious performance as the drug-addled Vicious (aka John Beverly), as well as Chloe Webb’s grating turn as his groupie American girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Cox’s gruelling depiction of Sid’s slow downward spiral into heroin addiction, self parody and miserable death is anything but entertaining, but as a sensitive and powerful character study, it makes for compulsive viewing.

Sid & Nancy (1986)

The special edition Blu-ray/DVD features the restored film approved by cinematographer Roger Deakins (Hail Caesar, The Shawshank Redemption), and a host of special features, including interviews with Deakins, director Alex Cox and Big Audio Dynamite’s Don Letts.

To celebrate its release, there’s a special screening on 29 August in support of War Child at Screen on the Green – the same venue where the Sex Pistols played in 1977 – which will also include a DJ set from Don Letts . For more information, visit: http://www.everymancinema.com/films/film-info?film=14451

 

Road Games (2015) | A suspenseful blend of And Soon the Darkness and The Hitcher

Road Games (2015)

If you’re familiar with the cult 1970 Brit thrillers And Soon the Darkness and Crescendo, then you’ll see echoes of those classics in debut director Abner Pastoll’s murder mystery Road Games.

Road Games (2015)

The gorgeous French countryside (actually Maidstone, Kent) is the setting for this unsettling thriller where suspicion and road kill is the order of the day. British drifter Jack (Rebellion’s Andrew Simpson) is trying to get to Calais when he encounters another hitchhiker, the enigmatic Veronique (Josephine de la Baume), along a stretch of road where they learn a serial killer is on the loose.

Road Games (2015)

Taken in for their own safety by the overly-friendly Grizard (The Returned’s Frederic Pierrot) and his somewhat nervous wife Mary (Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame), who live in a half-lived-in mansion, Veronique soon begins to suspects something amiss… And she’s right! For what follows is some splendid old dark house scares, some shocking twists – as every character become suspect – and some nail-biting The Hitcher-styled chills.

Road Games (2015)

With a cracking cast – especially former screen queen Barbara Crampton, who is firmly re-establishing herself in the horror genre of late – and direction that would make Hitchcock proud, Road Games is a winner all the way. Oh, and the house used in the film was last seen on the big-screen in 1980’s The Mirror Crack’d with Elizabeth Taylor. Check it out here: http://stclere.co.uk/

Out on DVD from Monday 29 August 2016 and on VOD and for download from Friday 26 August 2016 from Frightfest Presents

Road Games will also be screening at Horror Channel FrightFest on Friday 26th August. Check it out here

Blood Orange (2015) | Iggy Pop is no stooge in the searing noir thriller

Blood Orange (2015)

Iggy Pop is one the greatest performers on the planet. Having recently performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall (check out his stage dive below), his energy on stage – at the ripe age of 69 – continues to be electric, and his mere presence verges on the reverential and the messianic.

Iggy Pop at Royal Albert Hall 2016

For the sun-drenched psychological thriller Blood Orange, the rock legend brings his sleazy sex lizard image to the role of terminally ill rock star, Bill, taking some time out in a desert paradise with his hot young trophy wife Isabelle (former Grange Hill actress Kacey Clarke – nee Barnfield).

But their bohemian existence is soon rocked by the arrival of Isabelle’s stepson Lucas (The White Queen’s Ben Lamb), who demands an inheritance that’s been stolen from him. Power games and secret agendas soon unfold, resulting in betrayal and murder…

Iggy Pop in Blood Orange

While Iggy is undoubtedly the master of the concert arena, as an actor, he’s still learning the ropes. But in playing this version of himself he’s certainly scored, as he dresses his character in his trademark craggy complexion and grizzled leathered skin, iconic growling voice and awkward gait (something that was borne of a twisted spine caused by on-stage injuries and famously informed Andy Serkis’ Gollum in The Lord of the Rings). These physical characteristics not only match the sun-drenched landscape in which his Bill exists, they also help give his world-weary philosophical character an almost mythical quality. Its a character that’s certainly fit for purpose.

Iggy Pop in Blood Orange

If Bill were a desert-dwelling creature, he’d be a camel spider, which feeds opportunistically on small animals – with the little critter in question being Ben Lamb’s unlikeable upper-class twit Lucas. And joining Bill in trapping his prey is Kacey Clarke’s sexually-voracious Isabelle, who is also every inch the Lady Macbeth in that she can’t be trusted – especially with the pool boy.

Iggy Pop in Blood Orange

Using just a handful of characters in single setting (all shot in a modernist villa in the rocky hills of Ibiza) British writer/director Toby Tobias has done a pretty fair job at bringing his debut feature to searing noirish life, and it’s one that echoes René Clemént’s Plein Soleil,  Polanski’s Cul de Sac (1966), and even Philip Ridley’s The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995).

Now it may not reach the heady height of those classics of the genre, and could have done with less words and more suspense, Blood Orange is an engrossing experience nevertheless – and one that’s made all the more rewarding with the presence of that wild man of rock ‘n’ roll.

IGGY’S STAGE DIVE AT LONDON’S ROYAL ALBERT HALL

Iggy_Pop_Stage_Dive

The Godsend (1980) | An Omen-esque bad seed horror that’s lacking in suspense

The Godsend (1980)

Alan Marlowe (Malcolm Stoddard) and his TV presenter wife Kate (Cyd Hayman) lead an idyllic life in their country cottage with their four children. When a mysterious pregnant woman (Angela Pleasance) vanishes after giving birth to a baby girl in their home, Kate and Alan decide to raise the girl as their own, naming her Bonnie. But tragedy soon strikes their own brood: their infant son Matthew is found dead in its cot, son Davy drowns in a lake, and Sam dies after fall in the barn.

When Alan blames Bonnie, Kate cannot bear the thought her beloved daughter could be responsible. But the seemingly angelic child with the snow white hair and blue eyes is, in fact, a human cuckoo, who refuses to share her ‘nest’ with anyone else… which doesn’t bode well for sister Lucy or the fetus growing inside Kate…

The Godsend (1980)

This 1980-horror thriller was based on Bernard Taylor’s 1976 debut novel of the same name, which rode the wave of Bad Seeds reads, including The Exorcist, The Other and Rosemary’s Baby, that came out during the era, and like them, ended up transferring to the big screen.

The papers of the day called the novel ‘a shocker’ and ‘a splendidly readable and creepy story’ and its premise was indeed inventive. But in the hands of screenwriter Olaf Pooley (who also contributed to the mess that was 1985’s Lifeforce) and TV drama director Gabrielle Beaumont (who’d do much better with Hill Street Blues later on), the movie adaptation is a flaccid affair, with little in the way of suspense, atmosphere or imagination, particularly the death scenes, which all happen off-screen. There are certainly no memorable Omen-esque set pieces on offer here, while the scenes of sun-drenched picnics and country walks looks more like something out of Comic Strip Presents… Five Go Mad in Dorset.

The Godsend (1980)

Angela Pleasance is the only star name amongst the cast, and she certainly elicits a genuinely chill when she’s on screen. But she only book ends the film, which concludes with the devastated Alan spotting her at London’s Serpentine Lake befriending another family. Fans of Hammer’s TV 1980s series might like to know that Wilhelmina Green (one of the two actresses who play Bonnie) was one of Diana Dors’ brood in the episode, The Children of the Moon.

The Godsend is out on Blu-ray in the US from Scream Factory (released on this day in 2015)

* This review first appeared on The Spooky Isles
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