Category Archives: Documentary
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/
Filmed as a fictional documentary, 1980’s Rude Boy follows a Brixton punk (Ray Gange) as he quits his job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for The Clash during their Clash on Patrol and Sort It Out UK tours of 1978.
Set against the backdrop of late 1970s Britain, this is an unparalleled film document of the iconic band (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon) as they tour the country and headline the legendary Rock Against Racism Carnival in Victoria Park, London (which happened on 30 April 1978), while also going into the rehearsal rooms and the recording studio to lay down tracks for their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope.
The Clash regretted their involvement with the film after watching the rough cuts and asked producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan to edit the film to just concert footage, when Mingay and Hazan refused the band had pin badges made with the statement ‘I don’t want Rude Boy Clash Film’. The film, however, was released in 1980 and won an Honorable Mention and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 30th Berlin International Film Festival.
Rude Boy featuring The Clash is available on DVD and for the first time on Blu-ray – fully restored in high definition with all new 5.1 surround sound, from Fabulous Films, from Monday 6 April. It includes 19 songs, 28 performances and 72 mins of live Clash footage.
THOSE EXTRAS IN FULL
• Audio commentary from producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan
• Interviews with Ray Gange and Clash road manager Johnny Green
• Interviews with Jack Hazan and David Mingay
• 2 bonus live tracks that never made the final cut
• 4 deleted scenes
• 1980 theatrical trailer
• 1980 30sec radio ad
• Just Play The Clash’ separate song menu
• Clash discography with original sleeve artwork
• Clash image gallery
• The Clash Live in Munich 3rd October
• 7 songs, plus backstage interview
• Original 1980 promotional fanzine
• Rude Boy photo book
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles | A moving, masterful montage on the maverick artist
Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman, this illuminating documentary explores the life and career of Orson Welles, whose motto was ‘believe in something bigger than yourself’. And that’s exactly what you’ll discover on this crazy Wellesian journey through awesome Orson’s time in the theatre (where he brought theatricality and expressionism back to the stage), on radio (where he sacred the pants off America with War of the Worlds), in film television; as well as his sudden fall from grace in Hollywood to his amazing artistic rebirth in Europe.
Featuring personal anecdotes and insights from the likes of Simon Callow, Peter Bogdanovich, Jeanne Moreau, Peter Brook, Costa-Gavras, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater and illustrated with fantastic archival material and film extracts – from both his best and least-known works, this is a carefully-crafted insight into the pioneering, uncompromising artist who, although misunderstood in his own time, is now rightfully lauded as the master of his art and a true hero to independent cinema.
If ever there was a documentary that will make you want to re-examine Welles’s back catalogue, then this is the one to do so. It will also make you see some of his works in a whole new light, especially Chimes at Midnight, which he regarded as his life’s masterpiece, and I quote: ‘If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of movie, it would be Falstaff’.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles debuts on Sky Arts on Wednesday 16 September at 9pm and is out on DVD in the UK from BFI
The BFI release includes the film trailer; two featurettes: A Conversation with Director Chuck Workman (2014, 9mins) and A Personal Appreciation of Orson Welles by Simon Callow (2015, 31mins); and an illustrated booklet.
Man With a Movie Camera (1929) | Dziga Vertov’s radical, spectacular ode to Soviet life reigns supreme on Blu-ray
‘I am the camera eye, I am the mechanical eye.
I am the machine which shows you the world as only I can see it’ Dziga Vertov
Voted the greatest documentary of all time in the 2014 Sight & Sound poll, Soviet director Dziga Vertov’s radical, ground-breaking 1929 city-symphony, Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek’s kino-apparatom), used every trick in the cinematic textbook and invented new ones to record the Moscow masses at work and at play from dawn to dusk, while celebrating the cameraman as hero.
Hugely influential, Vertov’s dazzling film certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the most contemporary of silent movies – and continues to inspire awe with each revisit thanks to its virtuso camera trickery. This is cinema vérité supreme.
On 27 July 2015 the BFI in the UK will release a Special Edition Blu-ray of the documentary, presented with Michael Nyman’s celebrated score, and accompanied with the following extras, while the 2014 restored version, featuring music by the Alloy Orchestra, screens at the BFI from Friday 31 July, as part of the 10 Greatest Documentaries of All Time season.
THE SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY EXTRAS
• Audio commentary by Russian film scholar Yuri Tsivian (previously available on the 2000 BFI DVD).
• Kino-Pravda No.21 (Dziga Vertov, 1925, 36 mins): this newsreel, one of 23 made over three years, charts Soviet progress under Lenin. With new electronic score from Mordant Music
• One-Sixth of the Globe (Dziga Vertov, 1926, 84 mins): an ideologically charged documentary which denounces capitalism and celebrates Communist transformation. It is presented in its UK distribution version from the politically radical film distributor ETV, with a soundtrack by Mordant Music
• Three Songs of Lenin (Dziga Vertov, 1935, 61 mins): poetic propaganda film based on three songs of the Soviet East. The first shows secular Communism’s victory over Islam and the empowerment of women, the second shows a country in mourning over Lenin’s death, and the third showcases Soviet military might and industrial expansion.
• David Collard on Three Songs of Lenin and WH Auden (2009, 7 mins)
• Simon Callow Reads WH Auden’s Verses from Three Songs of Lenin (2009, 3 mins)
• Illustrated booklet with essays on the film’s history, its director, the special features, and composer, Michael Nyman
The acclaimed 2013 documentary by Frank Pavich traces the history of director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt in the 1970s to adapt Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel. Starring Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Salvador Dali and his own 12-year-old son Brontis, and featuring music by Pink Floyd and the incredible art by HR Giger and Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud, Jodorowsky’s 14-hr take on Herbert’s saga was set to change cinema forever.
Over two years, the Chilean film-maker – best known for his surreal western El Topo and his mystical epic The Holy Mountain – and his team of ‘spiritual warriors’ worked furiously on the massive task of imagining Herbert’s universe: making storyboards, paintings, and even costumes. So what happened?
In creating what must be the best not-making-of documentaries ever made, Pavich hunts down the cast and crew of the aborted project from all corners of the globe to tell his tale, but the film’s real magic lies with the incredibly detailed book that Jodorowsky and his team assembled to woo the studios, and it’s the use of these pictures and storyboards that makes this the closest we’ll ever come to seeing Dune as the director intended.
Jodorowsky’s Dune, which premiered at the 2013 London Film Festival and was screened last year at the British Library as part of a special exhibition, with the director in attendance, has now gone straight to digital on pay-per-view VOD platforms, including. iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, blinkbox, Wuaki.tv and Google Play.
There’s no news of a UK DVD release as yet.