Category Archives: Documentary
‘I want the fucker out of my life!’
For some 30 years, Terry Gilliam struggled to make his screen adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, including an abandoned attempt chronicled in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha.
Despite several aborted attempts, the visionary artist never gave up and neither did Fulton and Pepe (who also helmed Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys making of doco). He Dreams of Giants is the culmination of their endeavours and follows Gilliam’s journey as he finally completes his passion project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
Fulton and Pepe’s follow-up covers the history of the making of the film (which has been hailed as the most cursed in cinema history), as well as what happened after the events shown in Lost in La Mancha. The result is a poignant, heartfelt character study of an artist (Gilliam) and his creative obsession. Along the way, we witness him bearing his soul (and much more) to achieve his seemingly insurmountable quest.
It’s a tough watch at times, especially seeing Gilliam (who is fast approaching 80) struggling not only with the myriad of problems that arise while shooting but also the aches and pains of mortality. But not even the handicap of having a catheter fitted (that fills up with blood and urine) slows him down – despite the self-doubts and cynicism that occupies his state of mind. His determination is admirable, worrying and also inspirational (something only artists will understand – it also reminded me of another unfinished project, Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (as detailed in Kevin Schreck’s documentary Persistence of Vision).
Gilliam finally completed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2017 (and it is dedicated to two of his original leads, John Hurt and Jean Rochefort). It went on to get a 15-minute standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes in 2018, but a lengthy legal dispute resulted in huge delays in its release. Running at 2hrs 12min, it got mixed reviews, with some critics calling it a ‘mess’ that ‘overstays its welcome’. The film itself centres on genius director Toby (Adam Driver), who is at a crossroads in his career. While filming a commercial in Spain, he finds himself reconnecting with the movie he made about Don Quixote 10 years previously that became his Hollywood calling card. However, the humble village cobbler (Jonathan Pryce) he convinces to play Quixote now believes he really is Cervantes’ knight-errant.
What follows is a surreal adventure that’s pure Gilliam. Filled to the brim with colourful, crazy characters and an even crazier plot-line, all set against stunning scenery (in Spain and Portugal – I’m so going to visit), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote may have its flaws, but it most certainly bears Gilliam’s individuality – both in its visuals and in its polemics. Critical essays on the film will no doubt unearth all this in due course, but at its heart – the film is essentially about the artistic struggle between commerce and freedom (with the characters of Toby and Quixote performing as elements of Gilliam’s psyche). If you are anything like me, then you’ll be chaffing at the bit to hunt the film down after seeing this essential documentary.
He Dreams of Giants from Blue Finch Film Releasing is available to rent on digital platforms in the UK/Ireland, including iTunes, Google Play, Sky Store, Virgin, Chili and BFI Player.
If you have ever thought about becoming an independent film-maker, then you must check this out first. Justin McConnell, who writes, directs and features, has worked as a film festival coordinator, as well as being a cinematographer and editor on heaps of featurettes you’ve probably seen as bonus content, and also directed a number of documentaries and helmed two features. But he has still yet to make his mark in this riskiest of businesses, where it has become harder and harder for independents to make a living due to media giant monopolisation and a market oversaturated with product.
Featuring interviews with a vast range of industry luminaries, Clapboard Jungle (which is available on ARROW from Monday 19 April) follows Justin’s personal journey over a five year period, exploring not only the nitty-gritty of the film business (from pitch to product) but also the physical and emotional strain that comes with it. It’s a fascinating insight and something of a survival guide for anyone brave enough to attempt themselves.
Once you have watched the documentary, I strongly urge you to check out the extended interviews which feature a roll call of some of our favourite cult heroes who all discuss their career highs and lows, and their place in the independent film world today. Poignantly, among them are Dick Miller, George Romeo and Larry Cohen, who are no longer with us – so these are very special indeed.
Clapboard Jungle is available from ARROW from Monday 19 April
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Audio commentary with Justin McConnell
• Crew commentary: Justin McConnell, co-producer Darryl Shaw, executive producer Avi Federgreen and editor/associate producer Kevin Burke)
• Guest commentary/panel discussion: Barbara Crampton, Richard Stanley, John McNaughton, Gigi Saul Guerrero and Adam Mason
• Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Justin McConnell
• Extended interviews: Anne-Marie Gélinas, Barbara Crampton, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Brian Yuzna, Charles Band, Corey Moosa, Dean Cundey, Dick Miller, Don Mancini, Frank Henenlotter, Gary Sherman, George Romero, George Mihalka, Guillermo Del Toro, John McNaughton, Jon Reiss, Larry Cohen, Larry Fessenden, Lloyd Kaufman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Mick Garris, Paul Schrader, Richard Stanley, Sam Firstenberg, Tom Holland, Tom Savini, Vincenzo Natali
• Documentaries: Working Class Rock Star (2008) and Skull World (2013)
• 13 short films with optional commentaries and intros
• Trailers, promos, photo gallery and Easter eggs
• Artwork by Ilan Sheady
• Collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by producer/director Brian Yuzna
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…
THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION OF MICHAEL REEVES
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.
MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS
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.
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).
From his early years as the son of silent screen star parents, through the production of some 30 low budget exploitation pictures from the early-1960s through the early 1980s to his bizarre and tragic death, the story of American filmmaker Al Adamson (25 July 1929 – 21 June 1995) is told through the recollection from colleagues, friends, family and Adamson himself. Go-go dancers, bikers, porn stars – even Charles Manson and aliens all cross Al’s path before he himself becomes the doomed centre piece of a true crime story. Welcome to director David Gregory’s Blood & Flesh The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson.
If you recognise titles like Horror of the Blood Monsters, Satan’s Sadists, Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Brain of Blood, then you’re probably already familiar with the bargain basement schlocky horror oevure of Adamson. Actually, no genre was safe from Al’s guerrilla-style approach to making disposable programme fillers as he just loved to make films and make a buck doing them. And he often used the same crew (many getting their first start in the business like László Kovács (Easy Rider), Gary Graver (The Toolbox Murders) and Vilmos Zsigmond (The Deer Hunter) and gave some veteran Hollywood actors their final pay cheques, including alcoholics Lon Chaney Jr and Broderick Crawford and the one-eyed, wheelchair bound J Carroll Naish (you’ll be crying with laughter at his story). He even married his muse, Regina Carroll, who appeared in many of his films until her early death, aged 49 (from cancer) in 1992.
In the first two thirds of documentary, Gregory interviews over a dozen interviewees with close ties to Adamson’s life and work who all provide some colourful anecdotes, most notably producer Samuel M Shepard who reveals how he and Al extended the life of their tacky low-rent films by reissuing them with new titles and added scenes (along with the fantastically lurid poster art that was always way better than the films themselves), and cashing on the latest genre crazes of the day, like Blazing Stewardess (1975) in the wake of the success of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. He also spins a fantastic yarn about Al’s obsession with UFOs and an encounter that may or may not be believed.
Now, you know the old saying – Truth is stranger than fiction? – well that’s certainly the case when it comes to Al’s brief encounter with Charles Manson. For his shoot on The Female Bunch (1971), Al used the infamous Spahn ranch, where Manson and his ‘Family’ were holed up just weeks before the horrific Tate-LaBianca murders. Seems Manson was a bit of a pain and got thrown off the set.
But most bizarrely is how Adamson ended up being murdered by his contract builder, Fred Fulford, who Al had hired to renovate his home in Indio, California. It was here that Al’s corpse was hastily buried under cement (after home jacuzzi), and wasn’t discovered for several weeks. This is when Gregory’s turns slightly procedural as it unravels Al’s mysterious disappearance and his death through interviews with his brother Kent, local law enforcement, and his housekeeper. But its gripping to the end.
While Al Adamson’s cinematic output might be questionable, this is an engrossing documentary about one of exploitation cinema’s true mavericks. And while I won’t be hankering for a boxset of his movies, I might consider looking out for the forthcoming restoration release of Dracula vs. Frankenstein, which will be released by Severin, the producers of this engrossing documentary.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Since 2000, David Gregory has carved himself a niche making documentaries on outré cinema, cult film-makers, composers and some legendary figures with his best known work being Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau from 2014. At this year’s FrightFest in the UK, genre fans will not get the chance to see Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson, but also Master of Dark Shadows, a fantastic look at Dan Curtis and his iconic vampire soap opera.
Get you tickets here:
Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson
Friday 23 August, 1.15pm
Master of Dark Shadows
Sunday 25 August, 6.30pm
Jarman – Volume Two (1987-1994) | The BFI presents six final features from the iconoclastic artist, plus 66 superlative special features, on Blu-ray
It has been 25 years since British filmmaker Derek Jarman died, aged 52 (on 19 February 1994), and yet his artistic legacy continues to live on. Embracing the experimental, the political and the artistic, his cinema was fearlessly unique but also touchingly personal and truly inspirational.
The BFI’s second Limited Edition Blu-ray collection brings together Jarman’s final six features, made during a prolonged burst of creativity and political activism that followed his HIV diagnosis in 1987, and all of them featuring his artistic muse, Tilda Swinton.
These include The Last of England (1987), War Requiem (1989) with Laurence Olivier in his last screen performance, The Garden (1990), Edward II (1993) with Steven Waddington, Wittgenstein (1993) with Michael Gough, Blue (1993) with composers Brian Eno, Coil, Scanner and Simon Fisher Turner, and the posthumously-released elegy to Super 8, Glitterbug (1994), with music from Brian Eno.
All the films are presented in High Definition for the first time in the UK, and the box-set includes 66 amazing special features – both new and archival, plus trailers, galleries of rare stills and promotional materials, and a 100-page collector’s. This truly is a must-have, and a perfect companion to the BFI’s first volume (1972-1986), which contains In the Shadow of the Sun (1974), Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), The Tempest (1979), The Angelic Conversation (1985) and Caravaggio (1986).
•••THE FILMS AND THOSE EXTRA FEATURES IN DETAIL•••
THE LAST OF ENGLAND
Jarman’s highly personal allegory of England in the 1980s. The film combines images of inner-city decay, footage from home movies of three generations of Jarman’s family and a post-apocalypse vision of London ruled by a para-military authority.
• Dead Cat (1989, 20 mins): Derek Jarman and Genesis P-Orridge feature in this startling surrealist film in which a young man is terrorised and humiliated, later engaging in a mechanised, industrial sexual encounter
• Isle of Sheppey (1984, 7 mins): edited highlights from a VHS video shot on a location-hunting expedition, featuring Derek Jarman and cultural historian Jon Savage
• Depuis le jour (1987, 5 mins): Derek Jarman’s sequence from the anthology film Aria
• Depuis le jour: audio commentary by producer Don Boyd
• Remembering Derek Jarman (2014, 13 mins)
• James Mackay Remembers The Last of England (2019, 14 mins)
• Don Boyd Remembers The Last of England and Aria (2019, 16 mins)
• Homemade Stuff and Wild Ideas: Simon Fisher Turner on Derek Jarman (2019, 16 mins): the composer looks back on his involvement with Derek Jarman’s art
• Another Derek: Jarman’s Life Away From the Limelight (2019, 5 mins): interview with artist filmmaker John Scarlett-Davis
• An Odd Morality (2019, 4 mins): interview with Lee Drysdale
• Another World for Ourselves (2019, 9 mins): director John Maybury on meeting Jarman
• David Lewis Remembers Dead Cat (2019, 15 mins)
• Audio commentary on The Last of England with James Mackay, Christopher Hughes, Christopher Hobbs and Simon Fisher Turner
A must-see for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece, Jarman’s film interpretation includes readings of Wilfred Owen’s World War One poetry and disturbing images of wars since. Tragedy without the triumph, in other words. Features Nathaniel Parker (as Owen), Laurence Olivier, Sean Bean, Patricia Hayes and Nigel Terry.
• Books By My Bedside: Derek Jarman (1989, 25 mins)
• Derek Jarman in Conversation with Simon Field (1989, 32 mins)
• Requiem For Jarman (2008, 37 mins): recollections on the making of War Requiem
• Don Boyd Remembers War Requiem (2019, 38 mins)
• John Maybury Remembers War Requiem (2019, 8 mins)
• The Nature of Super 8 (2019, 8 mins)
• Caravaggio was Accidental (2019, 10 mins): Simon Fisher Turner remembers his first feature soundtrack for Derek Jarman
• Before The Last (2019, 15 mins): James Mackay recalls working with Derek Jarman on The Angelic Conversation and Imagining October
•Derek Jarman Presents (2019, 27 mins): John Maybury remembers the Super 8 filmmaking scene
• War Requiem trailer
· Audio commentary on War Requiem with Don Boyd
• War Requiem image gallery
• Derek’s Shoot in Dungeness (1990, 6 mins): rare behind-the-scenes Super 8 footage shot on location at the time of The Garden
• The Wanderer (1991, 30 mins): experimental film by David Lewis based on the Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name, featuring Michael Gough and Michael York
• Kiss 25 Goodbye (1991, 7 mins): experimental short on the 1991 OutRage! ‘kiss-in’ protest at Bow Street police station
• Clause and Effect (1988, 19 mins): the gay community unites against Clause 28
• Orange Juice (1984, 41 mins): Derek Jarman’s location shoot for the promo for ‘What Presence?!’ by post-punk band Orange Juice, fronted by Edwyn Collins
• Shooting the Hunter (2015, 5 mins)
• James Mackay Remembers The Garden (2019, 15 mins)
• Anything Can Happen (2019, 11 mins): Richard Heslop on working with Derek Jarman
• David Lewis Remembers The Garden (2019, 15 mins)
• The Other Great Masterpiece (2019, 6 mins): John Maybury considers Jarman’s enthusiasm for gardening
• The Garden trailers
• Life with Derek (2018, 44 mins): Composer Simon Fisher Turner’s collage of audio clips
Jarman’s trenchant sort-of-modern-dress adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s play about the downfall of the medieval monarch, richly-textured with atmosphere, but with the homosexual content expanded, embellished and politicised.
• Derek’s Edward (2009, 24 mins): the making of Edward II
• Ostia (1987, 27 mins): Jarman embodies Pier Paolo Pasolini in this ambitious student film imagining the last hours of the Italian director’s life
• Ostia director’s audio commentary
• The Clearing (1993, 7 mins): short film by Alex Bistikas starring Derek Jarman and Keith Collins
• The Extended Derek Jarman Interview (1991, 70 mins): With Colin McCabe
• Cut/Action (2019, 8 mins): Video essay with music and narration by Simon Fisher Turner
• David Lewis Remembers Edward II (2019, 4 mins)
• The Same Spirit (2019, 6 mins): Don Boyd remembers Jarman’s later years
• Truly Beautiful (2019, 19 mins): interview with costumer designer Sandy Powell
• Derek Jarman in Conversation with Colin McCabe (1991, 97 mins, audio only)
Jarman executed this critically-acclaimed Channel 4 film celebrating the life of Austrian-born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in just two weeks (on a tiny £300,000 budget). Visually stunning, with some fantastic costumes (from Sandy Powell), it explores Wittgenstein’s repressed homosexuality alongside his reputation as one of greatest thinkers of the century, and features Michael Gough and John Quentin as Bertrand Russell and Maynard Keynes.
• Karl Johnson on Wittgenstein (2007, 9 mins)
• Tilda Swinton on Wittgenstein and Derek Jarman (2007, 10 mins)
• Tariq Ali on Producing Wittgenstein (2007, 9 mins)
• Wittgenstein: Behind the Scenes (1993, 22 mins)
• Wittgenstein: An Introduction (2007, 4 mins)
• Face to Face: Derek Jarman (1993, 41 mins): Jarman discusses his HIV status and sexuality with Jeremy Isaacs
• Producer Tariq Ali on Wittgenstein (2014, 7 mins)
• Jarmanalia with Simon Fisher Turner (2019, 17 mins)
• Films Made by a Painter (2019, 5 mins): James Mackay reflects on Jarman’s distinctive style as a filmmaker
BLUE & GLITTERBUG
Blue – the third film in the highly-personal trilogy begun by The Last of England and The Garden – received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival for its uncompromising look at what it’s like to live and work as an artist with the emotional and physical agonies of AIDS. A challenge to conventional filmmaking ideas, the film sees Jarman (and friends) musing on life, death and living with AIDS using vocal and musical testimony against a blank blue screen. Its a fitting goodbye from a director who never once compromised his principals or his own vision. The posthumously-released Glitterbug is a wonderful elegy to Super 8, featuring a compilation of shorts in which the likes of Adam Ant, William S Burroughs and Marianne Faithfull all contribute.
• 21st Century Nuns (1994, 10 mins): A look at the British chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and their ‘colourful’ activist efforts at fighting homophobia. Great to see this included, as it features some dear friends (some of whom are no longer with us), and is a reminder of just how far we have come with gay/lesbian/transgender rights.
• Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman (2009, 13 mins)
• James Mackay Remembers Blue (2019, 15 mins)
• Simon Fisher Turner Remembers Blue (2019, 8 mins)
• David Lewis Remembers Blue (2019, 13 mins)
• Hard to Imagine (2019, 8 mins): John Maybury recalls Jarman’s journey towards Blue
• After The Garden (2019, 10 mins): Richard Heslop remembers Jarman’s later days
• Total Magic (2019, 6 mins): production designer Christopher Hobbs looks back upon Jarman’s fascination with occult imagery
• After Neutron (2019, 8 mins): interview with Lee Drysdale
• The Best Mentor (2019, 9 mins): John Scarlett-Davis on Jarman’s artistic legacy
• Glitterbug and Beyond (2019, 7 mins): James Mackay on the production of Glitterbug
• David Lewis Remembers Glitterbug (2019, 7 mins)
• Bliss (1991, 40 mins, audio only): the London debut of the avant-garde live show that helped raise funds to produce Blue, featuring Derek Jarman and Tilda Swinton. This is another of my personal favourites as I was in the audience for this performance, and ended up meeting and chatting with Jarman after the gig. He later gave me some Super 8mm film to shoot my own experimental short, Cruising Headstones.
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
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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!)
Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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/.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2012) | Tinseltown’s finest pay tribute to the King of the Bs
Film trivia buffs will certainly know what Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner and Peter Fonda all have in common – it’s working with Roger Corman.
This one-man show of producer, director, writer and actor has been in the film business for near-on 60 years. A leading visionary in American entertainment who mentored two generations of actors and film-makers, Corman received a richly-deserved Honorary Academy Award in 2009. This 2012 documentary is an affectionate tribute to the legendary man, tracing his career, up to that auspicious occasion.
Modern-day audiences will know Corman’s latest efforts for the Syfy channel, the fun CGI monster flicks Dinoshark and Sharktopus, but he’s also responsible for a host of other classic cinematic offerings going all the way back to 1955, when he started out doing teenage drive-in flicks. These have included cult comedies like Little Shop of Horrors, gothic Edgar Allan Poe chillers like The Fall of the House of Usher starring Vincent Price, plus gangster dramas (Bloody Mama), biker road movies (The Wild Angels) and the underrated racial drama The Intruder, starring William Shatner.
In the 1970s, his New World Pictures and New Horizons outfits made a host of exploitation flicks (Women in Cages, Death Race, and Piranha) that have since became cult classic, and he also helped expose the films of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa to international audiences.
While the huge success of Jaws and Star Wars knocked Corman for six in the mid-1970s and the straight-to-DVD market took over the exploitation market in the 1980s, Corman refused to retire. Today, he’s still ‘in the game’ and living by his mantra that ‘It’s OK to have fun at the movies’.
The best thing about this documentary are the tributes paid to Corman by the likes of an emotional Jack Nicholson, an erudite Martin Scorsese and a thankful Ron Howard, to name just three. Nicholson’s first picture for Corman, Cry Baby Killer, was humiliating, while The Terror with Boris Karloff still belies logic, but they were great for his career, which really took off after The Wild Angels and The Trip led him to Easy Rider (a film which Corman nurtured, but missed out on making himself).
Martin Scorsese, whose favourite film of Corman’s remains The Tomb of Ligeia, got his first directorial duties on Boxcar Bertha in 1972. He would later use the techniques he’d learned on that film for his breakout feature, Mean Streets.
Former Happy Days star Ron Howard, remembers that it was the TV campaign for The Pit & The Pendulum that drew him into film-making in the first place. Thanks to Corman, Howard would earn his directorial stripes on Grand Theft Auto in 1977 and has never looked back.
Featuring a cool soundtrack from Air, this is an outstanding documentary about an outstanding man and we should all be thankful for all the ‘cool, weird and wonderful moments’ (to quote Nicholson) that he has given us film fans.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011) | The must-see documentary tribute screens on BBC2 and BBC iPlayer
Cinema’s most admired and influential special-effects innovator Ray Harryhausen is honoured in the comprehensive 2011 documentary, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, which airs tomorrow morning (Saturday 3 December) on BBC2 at 7.30am, following a screening of the 1949 adventure Mighty Joe Young (at 6am).
A seminal influence on modern-day special effects, the American visual effects creator, who sadly left us aged 92 in May of 2013, was the undisputed king of stop motion animation, and his films – which include The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans – inspired many of today’s big-name film-makers – from Steven Spielberg to Terry Gilliam and Peter Jackson – to follow in his footsteps.
This is a must-see for all film fans, with a wealth of clips from Harryhausen’s classic films and, on the Blu-ray, some neat extras (my favourite being a featurette in which Harryhausen’s prized models are unpacked for the 2010 London restrospective). Click here for a gallery of images.
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan is also available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Arrow Films, can be streamed via the Arrow Films VOD service, or you can watch it for free shortly after its broadcast on BBC iPlayer
‘We all can dance when we find music that we love’
There’s a moment in this honest and affectionate film about Gary Numan that captures perfectly the gentle soul behind the cold robotic image that the synth pioneer became famous for – albeit very briefly – in the late 1970s and early 1980s – when he crafted the electro-pop classics Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and Cars.
Gary is reading to his daughter Raven from a children’s book about a lonely giraffe called Gerald who learns to embrace his brilliance. It’s a story that matches Numan’s own outsider journey, one that has seen him battle years of rejection and mental illness with drive and determination and, most significantly, with the help of the love of a good woman. In Gary’s case, it is his wife Gemma, who has not only given him a loving family (daughters Raven Persia and Echo), but has supported him through all the highs and lows (including stage fright, depression, and a fall out with his parents).
Their tight-knit relationship, which started out when Gemma was a teenage fan girl, is core to the film’s unapologetic honesty (and her detractors should take note). The film also allows audiences to get inside the creative mind of the Godfather of electronic pop music as he moves the family from the UK to California to put the final touches to Splinter, his first album since 1983. As played out in the film, this labour of love would eventually reach the UK Top 20 on its release in October 2013 – earning Numan the praise and accolades from the very people who had for so long belittled his career.
You certainly do not need to be a fan of Gary Numan’s music to get totally absorbed in this captivating film, which can also be read as a real-life fairy tale, one in which a self-confessed geek and loner conquered his demons to recognise his own brilliance. But once you’ve seen it, you’ll be wanting to track down Numan’s back catalogue… and be hankering to see him live on stage.
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is screening in selected UK cinemas throughout September. Check out the website for more details: http://www.numandroid.com/