Category Archives: Horror
The iconic 1980s horror Fright Night is out in a dual-format special edition from Eureka Classics in the UK featuring a 4k digital restoration of the film and a coffin load of bonus material (check them out below). And the best news? It’s currently available on Amazon for just 8 quid (while the Limited Edition Steelbook is fetching £69.99).
This 1985 vampire movie certainly has plenty of bite – but also strikes the perfect balance of blood and guts horror and darkly comic humour. And alongside the same year’s, The Return of the Living Dead, it remains one of my personal favourites that I return to time and again.
If you love being scared, it’ll be the night of your life…
No-one will believe teenager Charley (William Ragsdale) when he tells them that a vampire called Jerry (Chris Sarandon) has moved into the house next door and is seducing and murdering young maidens there. He then turns to TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help. Lured by a $500 incentive by Charley’s girlfriend (Amanda Bearse), who happens to look like Jerry’s long-lost love, the one-time Great Vampire Killer discovers that Jerry is indeed a vampire as he casts no reflection in a glass – and so the deadly games begin…
Sarandon is every inch the smoothie-savage bloodsucker, while Stephen Geoffreys steals every scene he’s in as Charley’s bestie turned beastie ‘Evil Ed’. But the real star of this late night horror show is Roddy McDowall, whose character name is made up of two iconic horror actors – Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Alongside his turns in the Planet of the Apes films, this must rank as one of his career-best turns.
• 4K digital restoration, with original stereo PCM soundtrack and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options, plus English subtitles
• You’re So Cool, Brewster! Exclusive to this release, a two-hour version of the 2016 documentary on the making of Fright Night.
• What is Fright Night? 2016 video piece featuring cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Tom Holland: Writing Horror, a 2016 video piece featuring interviews with Holland and his collaborators (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Rowdy McDowall: From Apes to Bats, a 2016 video piece featuring archival footage of McDowall and cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Fear Fest 2 2008 reunion panel featuring Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Shock Till You Drop Present Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek, a three-part video interview on the film (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• The full electronic press kit, featuring extensive on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Stills and memorabilia from Tom Holland’s personal collection (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• G-rated and R-rated theatrical trailers (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Collector’s booklet (STEELBOOK EXCLUSIVE)
Pieces (1982) | Juan Piquer Simón’s bonkers Spanish slasher gets a 4k restored limited edition Arrow release
Back in 2011 Arrow Video released Juan Piquer Simón’s 1982 splatter hatchet job Pieces uncut on DVD, with just a handful of fun extras. Now, they have gone further by creating a new 4k transfer from the original camera negative to present both the US theatrical version and the original director’s cut (Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche) with the original score (by Librado Pastor, who only ever composed four film scores) in a limited edition 3-disc dual format box-set loaded with bonus content.
These include archive interviews with the director and actor Paul L Smith (of Midnight Express fame), new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo (Slugs), a fan appreciation featurette, and an audio interview with producer Steve Minasian (Don’t Open Till Christmas, Slaughter High). The alternate re-score by Umberto is also a special feature, while a separate disc features the original 16 track score. Podcasters The Hysteria Continues supply the well-informed audio commentary, while artist Marc Schoenbach has come up with the new artwork (way less gory than Jeff Zornow’s 2011 artwork), and a collector’s booklet is also included.
Best served as a splatter spoof than an exercise in excessive violence, Pieces is a real guilty pleasure despite its flaws (and there are many), and this new release from Arrow is a real step up from their 2011 DVD release. So, if crazy Spanish splatter is your bag, then I’d highly recommend adding it to your collection.
From writer/director Caradog James and producer John Giwa-Amu, who gave us the inventive 2013 sci-fi The Machine, comes Don’t Knock Twice? starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran.
Sackhoff plays American sculptor Jess, a former addict who has turned her life around and is now settled in the UK with her banker husband (Moran). When she decides to reconnect with Chloe (Boynton), the daughter she was forced to give up nine years ago, she’s shocked to discover that Chloe has only agreed to come and live with her because she’s terrified of a supernatural curse. Chloe claims her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) was taken by a vengeful child-eating witch and is frightened she’s next on the urban legend’s menu. At first, Jess disbelieves her Chloe, but when she learns that other children have gone missing, Jess sets out to uncover the truth…
I really really enjoyed James and Giwa-Amu’s The Machine (you can read my review here), so I was so looking forward to being surprised once again by the Red and Black Film gang, but their Welsh-filmed horror follow-up – which puts a contemporary spin on Hansel and Gretel and the Baba Yaga legend, with a dash of bit of estranged mother-daughter reconnecting – fails to deliver.
Yes, it’s got a couple of scary moments, as well as solid performances from all involved, but I was left feeling I had seen it all somewhere before. Now, the long-fingered witch make-up is terrific, but its physical movements were too much like The Ring‘s Sadako Yamamura or The Exorcist‘s Linda Blair in full possession mode to really stand out. It’s also very dark – not so much in tone, but in the excessive use of low lighting effects – which had me wondering if the film-makers had run out of budget as well as steam.
Don’t Knock Twice? is out on VOD and DVD from Signature Entertainment
Now, I haven’t seen any of the House films since their original releases, and while they’re a perfect example of ‘the law of diminishing returns’, they’ve been dusted off and given a sparkly 2k restoration by Arrow Video for a new Blu-ray/DVD release. Fans of trashy, cheesy 1980s comedy horror will certainly be adding the box-set to their collection, not only because they boast some might sine fine transfers, but for bonus content which includes new ‘making-of’ documentaries alongside some replicated Anchor Bay DVD extras.
So, for what its worth, here’s my take on these blasts from the past…
William Katt (TV’s Greatest American Hero) inherits his dead aunt’s neat Victorian gothic mansion where his troubled author Roger hopes to finish his novel about his experiences in Vietnam. But the house has other ideas, and soon Roger finds himself facing off monstrous apparitions and a vengeful spook…
Fusing spooky scares and funny thrills is certainly no mean feat when it comes to creating the perfect slice of comedy horror (Return of the Living Dead and Fright Night being of the superior kind), and while this first visit to the House franchise means putting up with a lot of silliness and some stage-bound Vietnam scenes with a bunch of extras that look like they belong in a gay porn, the pay-off (involving Roger trying to rescue his missing son from the great beyond) is worth putting up with the crappy bits. For me, the best scenes involve Katt (sporting a chest revealing 1980s cardi) teaming up with George Wendt (of Cheers fame) to battle a really cool Lovecraftian-inspired monster in the closet.
• Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley
• Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House: documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailers
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY (1987)
Arye Gross’ fit nerd Jesse gets into all sorts of inter-dimensional scrapes when he digs up his mummified great-great-grandfather (Royal Dano) while searching for a mystical crystal skull…
Coming off like a live-action episode of Scooby-Doo, this light-hearted supernatural sequel is pure 1980s, boasting a typically naff party sequences, lots of big hair and neon attire and really bad synth pop. It’s also got some cute Henson-styled puppets (a baby pterodactyl and a caterpillar-dog), which just adds to the cartoon-like atmosphere.
Another Cheers favourite, ohn Ratzenberger, has a cameo, but the film’s big star is the Stimson House, the 19th-century Richardsonian Romanesque LA mansion which stands in for the film’s Aztec-temple home (it’s also appeared in Mad Men, Pushing Daisies and the Vincent Price episode of The Bionic Woman).
• Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham
• It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up & creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (1989)
Lance Henriksen’s craggy cop Lucas McCarthy finally nails serial killer ‘Meat Cleaver Max’ (Brion James). But when Max is sent to the electric chair, he’s transformed into a vengeful evil spirit which sets his sights on putting Lucas in the frame for a new series of gruesome murders…
This schlocky shocker bears no relation to the previous two House entries apart from its production team. It’s also a much more serious affair. But while the execution scene is staged with flair and James (a favourite of director Walter Hill) brings some excellent crazy-eyed charisma to a role that hits all the right slasher movie buttons, it’s just not that great and pales against Wes Craven’s Shocker, which came out the year and had the exact same premise.
• Uncut Version, for the first time on Blu-ray.
• Audio commentary with producer Sean S. Cunningham
• The Show Must Go On – interview with actor/stuntman Kane Hodder
• House Mother – interview with actress Rita Taggart
• Slaughter Inc. – brand new featurette with special make-up effects creators Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger
• Behind-the-Scenes Footage
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE IV: THE REPOSSESSION (1992)
This direct-to-video entry got William Katt back (albeit very briefly) as Roger Cobb who is killed in a car accident at the very start. The rest of the film has his widow Kelly (Terri Treas) and crippled daughter Melissa (Melissa Clayton) experiencing ghostly goings-on and the greedy machinations of Roger’s brother (Scott Burkholder), while a Native American spirit guide tries to help them contact Roger from the other side…
I think one of the reasons I’ve never really clicked with the House franchise is that there is a real lack of cohesion between them – unlike Cunningham’s more successful Friday the 13th series, which I return to time and again. This final nail in the coffin is by far the weakest of the lot and confusingly has Katt return as Roger Cobb, but he’s a completely different character with a different back story and family. Even the house is not the same as the original one. Instead, we have what looks like a studio set like the house in Tobe Hopper’s Eaten Alive (which is a real guilty pleasure, check it out here). The best thing to do is listen to the commentary as director Abernathy is far more entertaining than the movie.
• Audio commentary with director Lewis Abernathy
• Home Deadly Home: The Making of House IV: documentary featuring interviews with director Lewis Abernathy, producer Sean S Cunningham, stars Terri Treas and William Katt, actor/stunt coordinator Kane Hodder, and composer Harry Manfredini
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (1959) | A true five-star release of an important film in Italian horror cinema
REVIEWED BY ALAN HOARE
The week’s big screen movie was a premier of Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (original Italian title: Caltiki, il Mostro Immortale, British title: The Immortal Monster) a 1959 Italian science fiction-horror film directed by Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava, which neither Chris or I had seen before.
A team of archaeologists investigating Mayan ruins who come across a creature that is a shapeless, amorphous blob. Meanwhile, a comet is due to pass close to the Earth, the very same comet that passed near the Earth at the time the Mayan civilization collapsed, raising the question: “Is there a connection between the creature and the comet”?
* John Merivale as Dr. John Fielding
* Didi Perego as Ellen Fielding
* Gérard Herter as Max Gunther
* Daniela Rocca as Linda
* Giacomo Rossi-Stuart as Prof. Rodriguez’s assistant
* Daniele Vargas as Bob (expedition member)
* Vittorio André as Prof. Rodriguez
* Nerio Bernardi as Police inspector
* Arturo Dominici as Nieto (expedition member)
[WARNING: The following contains spoilers]
The opening narration tells us about the achievements of the Mayan civilisation and their unknown demise leaving their city empty and abandoned. We then see a delirious, worse for wear, man stumble from the ruins of the Mayan city and into his group’s camp (without his partner, both of whom have been exploring a nearby cave). He quickly babbles away madly, repeatedly muttering the word Caltiki. The group sets out for the cave to investigate what happened.
Upon entering the cave they find a huge chamber containing a deep pool of water, behind which on a stone pedestal is a large statue of Caltiki, the vengeful Mayan goddess who was ceremonially presented with human sacrifices.
Puzzled by the pool, they quickly decide to send a man with “full immersion gear” (in other words a diver) to investigate. Descending to the bottom, he finds the sandy bed scattered with Mayan skeletons clad in gold jewelry. Excitedly he surfaces clutching as much gold as he can carry. Although the group advises that he not go down again, he insists that he has plenty of air and suggests that they could all become millionaires from the wealth below. Relenting, they let him descend once more.
As he greedily collects more and more treasure he inadvertently disturbs something and his cable to the surface suddenly begins to move erratically. Fearing for his safety, the group pull him back to the surface, only to find, upon removing his face mask, that his face has been reduced to a decayed mass over his skeleton.
Moments later, a shapeless pulsating creature rears up from the pool, attempting to envelop anyone within reach. Max is caught by the arm but is rescued by John who chops off part of the creature with an axe, freeing Max’s arm.
As the team escapes, the shapeless mass begins to crawl out of the cave. Nearby, there is a tanker truck full of gasoline. John drives the truck directly into the creature , causing a violent explosion which sets fire to the blob, destroying it.
The team returns to Mexico City to take Max to a hospital to treat the small piece of the creature on his arm, which is slowly digesting him. The surgeons carefully remove the creature, wrapping it up. They find that Max’s arm is nothing more than a few moist scraps of flesh connected to the underlying bones and that Max’s face is also begging to deteriorate.
Through experimentation the scientists discover that sample of the creature is a unicellular bacterium that appears to be dead, only to revive and quickly grow when bombarded with radiation. Overnight the janitor inadvertently irradiates the creature which quickly grows, but is destroyed when the laboratory accidentally catches fire.
Investigating the origins of the creature they learn of a comet emitting radiation, which crosses Earth’s path only once in every 850 years, was in the earths orbit at the demise of the Mayan civilisation and now is approaching earth again. Unfortunately, the remaining samples of the creature are stored in the home of Dr. John Fielding. At the comet’s closest approach to Earth, the remaining piece of the blob begins expanding to an enormous size and reproducing. At the same time the deranged Max has escaped hospital and is terrorising Ellen Fielding.
While attempting to convince the Mexican government to send its army to destroy the reproducing blobs, Fielding is arrested for speeding but manages to escape. A colleague finally convinces the authorities to sound an alarm because if the creature multiples it will be beyond even their ability to control.
The government sends a regiment of soldiers equipped with high powered flamethrowers to Dr. Fielding’s home. Upon their arrival, they find that the creatures have multiplied and have overrun the house and grounds. Dr. Fielding’s wife and child have been forced to hide on a second-floor window ledge to escape being devoured. Fielding arrives just in time to save them, just as the soldiers lay waste to the creatures with torrents of fire.
A very enjoyable Italian take on the monster movie, that takes The Quatermass Xperiment as it’s basis, but goes well beyond this with graphic realistically detailed gore and a simply, but marvellously realised creature deigned by Mario Bava, which looks like old towels were utilised to incredible effect. Indeed there are elements of found footage genre and possibly the genesis of David Cronenberg’s body horror sub genre
Special mention must be made of Mario Bava’s excellent use of glass matte painting for the Mayan village were live action is skilfully mixed to strengthen the illusion of the painting, when the mystery man stumbles from the city and then walks directly in front of the painting. The use of sets combined with models is well handled and as realism to the film.
Allegedly, director Riccardo Freda was angered by the way the producers had treated his cinematographer, Mario Bava, on their previous film, I Vampiri. So Freda concocted a way to push Bava into the director’s chair of his next film, Caltiki, The Immortal Monster; he left the project early once Bava had been hired again as the film’s cinematographer. Freda felt that this would lead producer Lionello Santi into recognizing Bava’s talents as a film director. Bava described Caltiki, The Immortal Monster as “my very first film” while noting that Freda had fled the set “because everything was falling to pieces. I managed to carry it out, patching it up here and there”.
Arrow’s Blu-ray release of this long unavailable masterpiece is a wonder to behold. The black and white photography is crisp and detailed whilst still retaining a suitable filmic look. There is the option of English or Italian language, two audio commentaries and several documentaries.
A true five-star release of an important film in Italian horror cinema.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
• Audio commentary by Italian Giallo cinema author Troy Howarth
• From Quatermass to Caltiki: a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman
• Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master: an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
• The Genesis of Caltiki: archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
• Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
• Alternate opening titles for the US version
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti
A decade on from the end of the Nazi occupation of France, a small rural town finds itself engaged in another war. A platoon of dead German soldiers are beginning to return from their unholy water grave – a cursed lake where the Spanish Inquisition held black masses and sacrificed children to appease evil spirits that would rise up in search of fresh blood.
At first, the town’s Mayor (Howard Vernon) refuses to take action, despite reported attacks on local women and the instance of a city journalist to investigate. But when a women’s basketball team is massacred and a local homicide squad arrives, the Mayor rally the townspeople to drive the Nazi soldiers into a infernal trap…
This 1981 Spanish-French horror film, which is also known as Le lac des morts vivants, was supposed to have been directed by Jesus Franco. But when he bailed Jean Rollin (Female Vampire) was roped in to put it together. But it’s a soggy mess.
Franco favourite Howard Vernon looks so bored as the Mayor of a picture postcard but deadly dull French town lives in a castle folly decorated in gargoyles; while the locals (made up of extras) seem to spend every waking moment in the town’s one and only tavern.
Lime green makeup is the only attempt at special make-up for the film’s zombies, so they end up looking like a bunch of Shreks in Nazi clobber – and certainly pale beside Shock Waves’ genuinely scary barnacle encrusted Storm troopers (that film’s highlight).
Interestingly, the zombie attacks come off as quite sexual, with lots of passionate kissing rather than any primal flesh tearing. Given Rollin’s penchant for eroticism, I wonder if this was his only creative contribution to the film, which some off a bit Benny Hill in its ludicrous attempts at titillation by chucking in nudity at every turn.
In a riff on Frankenstein and little Maria from the Universal classic, there’s a side story in which Helena (Anouchka), the 10-year-old daughter of one of the Nazi zombies befriends her undead dad (Pierre-Marie Escourrou, TV’s Une femme d’honneur) who ends up having to protect her from his bloodthirsty pals. This is actually more interesting than the main story, and provides the film with a moving (read: melodramatic) ending in which little Helena helps to release her dad’s restless spirit from its eternal torment.
The last 20-minutes sees the zombies walk very slowly into an ambush to the tune of an avant-garde score made up of drum and a harpsichord. It’s a bizarre choice, and just as patchy as the film as the music ranges from some melodramatic piano and string to jaunty la la la tunes every time there’s a nude swimming scene. And when the screen isn’t swelling with muzak, the incessant birdcalls are really grating.
Which leaves me with this last question: How would you react if your dead Nazi soldier dad came back as a pond dwelling green-tinged zombie?
Zombie Lake is out on DVD in the UK from Screenbound & Black House Films
Variety has called The Eyes of My Mother ‘an exquisite waking nightmare’, and I must admit that while viewing Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, I was reminded of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and even 1974’s Deranged.
If you like your horror slow-burning and artfully shot, then Pesce’s American Gothic-fused tale of depravity and dread will draw you into its monochrome-lensed folk horror world, while also setting your nerves on edge with its extreme violence, that’s more often implied than actually shown.
In a remote rural setting, young Portuguese farm-girl Francisca (Olivia Bond) witnesses the horrific murder of her surgeon mother at the hands of a travelling salesman called Charlie (Will Brill). When her father (Paul Nazak) arrives home, he knocks Charlie out and holds him captive in the family’s barn where he removes his eyes and vocal cords.
Psychologically damaged by the traumatic experience, Francisca begins to see Charlie as her only friend and a plaything that she can torture using her mother’s surgical instruments. Fast forward a few years, the adult Francisca (Kika Magalhães) has isolated herself from the real world and constructed her own morbid morality – which leads her to commit her own atrocious acts of murder and dismemberment…
With her quirky Paula Rego-esque features, Kika Magalhães reminded me of the British actress Angela Pleasence, she of the elfin-like countenance who gave weirdly unsettingly performances in films like José Ramón Larraz’s cult horror Symptoms (1974).
Indeed, such is Magalhães’ strong and nuanced performance, that her Francisca belongs in that pantheon of movies featuring women descending into madness, alongside its ice maiden queen, Catherine Deneuve, as seen in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965).
For me, its Zach Kuperstein’s monochrome photography that impresses the most – much more so than the story, which can be read as a nature vs nurture debate on the nature of evil – as his lighting and composition evokes the stark and sterile cinema of Ingmar Bergman and true crime films like The Honeymoon Killers (1970) and the Conrad Hall shot In Cold Blood (1967).
There’s also an exploitation vibe going on, recalling Alan Ormsby’s Ed Gein-inspired serial killer thriller Deranged (1974), while also paying homage to William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill featuring Vincent Price – which, along with Strait-Jacket, Psycho and Night of the Hunter, informs the film tonally. And there are other influences in there too, including Polanski and David Lynch, but also the extreme French horror cinema of the 2000s (Marytrs is one that comes to mind).
There are alot of ‘WTF?’ moments that will leave you in shock, but also baffle. Like, how does Francisca support herself when she’s clearly incapable of connecting with the outside world and can’t speak the local lingo? Having the film span decades also leaves questions unanswered, but if you take it that we are experiencing mere fragments of Francisca’s memory then it might help paper over the cracks.
Now, without going into detail, much of what happens in the second half will have you wondering what the hell you have you been watching – but those artfully conceived visuals, Magalhães brutal performance, and the nerve-wracking use of sound are saving graces. Oh, and thanks Pesce for making me never hear Amália Rodrigues the same way again. This is a brilliant, but bewildering debut.
The Eyes of My Mother is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from Friday 24 March from Park Circus
The Love Witch (2016) | Prepare to be seduced, bewitched and beguiled – just watch out for the jimsonweed!
A deliciously visual confection that pays loving homage to vintage Hollywood glamour, melodrama and Technicolor, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a beguiling and bewitching feminist exploration of pathological love, desire and narcissism.
She Loved Men… To Death
Wiccan convert Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is determined to find a man to love her entirely. Fleeing San Francisco after the death of a lover, she takes up residence in a gothic Victorian apartment in a quaint town northern Californian, where she begins her search for the man of her dreams.
But her sex magic – which requires the use of the hallucinogenic jimsonweed – is so powerful it sends her suitors to an early grave, and when she does meet her perfect match in a detective (Gian Keys) who is investigating her, Elaine’s desperation to be loved sends her over the edge…
With its purposefully stylised look, drenched in a ultra vivid colour palette, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch certainly took my breathe away and reminded me of how excited I felt when I first laid eyes on the hyper-real styling’s of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle, James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus and Todd Haynes’ Poison and Velvet Goldmine.
Praise be Biller for taking over seven years to bring her feminist opus to cinematic life – and doing all the writing, direction and editing herself (as well as the sets, songs and paintings), while also working closely with cinematographer, M David Mullen (Jennifer’s Body and TV’s Extant), to achieve her desire to create a fun movie that uses her own cinema fantasies to ‘penetrate the visual world of an iconic witch’.
It’s certainly exciting for cinephiles like myself to catch all the references that Biller channels into the film: like the opening sequence that’s an intentional nod to Hitchcock’s The Birds – complete with retro rear-screen projection; Douglas Sirk’s soapy 1950s melodramas; and female-driven pictures like Mildred Pierce and Leave Her To Heaven.
And when it comes to the borrowed music, Biller cleverly chooses some evocative 1960s giallo scores by Ennio Morricone. Now I might be mistaken, but I think I also heard a mock-medieval melody from David Lee’s Masque of the Red Death score from Roger Corman’s 1964 Pathecolor horror classic – another film that made masterful use of a primary colour palette courtesy of Nicolas Roeg.
For me, the heavy use of reds, purples and blacks and the witches’ coven sequences reminded me of some other psychedelic American International Pictures-produced horrors like Count Yorga, Vampire and The Dunwich Horror. But Biller has gone on record to say that she was never influenced by what she calls these ‘exploitation movies’ as they were made purely for ‘male pleasure’.
Playing the deluded femme fatale, Samantha Robinson is totally bewitching as Elaine, who is part Stepford wife, part Samantha from Bewitched, but with the darker shades of Sandy Dennis in That Cold Day in the Park and a couple of Hitchcock heroines lurking behind inviting deep hazel eyes that stare directly at the camera in almost every shot. It’s a clever technique that effectively seduces the viewer into being drawn into Elaine’s deluded candy-coloured world.
Here’s how Biller viewed her intentions: ‘I wanted to make a movie about a witch, because I think that every woman is made to feel like a witch by the men who don’t understand her: that is, mysterious, dangerous, different, abnormal. Elaine is monstrous, wreaking havoc wherever she goes, but she is also sympathetic, because she has essentially been driven mad by being a woman, and is struggling to find love and acceptance in a world that has disappointed her at every turn.’
The gender politics of Biller’s The Love Witch is certainly ripe for closer examination and comment, and I look forward to revisiting the film when it gets its UK Blu-ray release on 13 March from ICON Entertainment. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and catch this on the big screen – you NEED to see it in all its 35mm glory.
Oh and for those of you who are film location fanatics (like me), Elaine’s Munsters-like Victorian mansion can be found at 916 13th St, Arcata, CA 95521.
The Love Witch is out in selected UK cinemas now.
Having learned his trade from the likes of Joe D’Amato, Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam, Milan-born film-maker Michele Soavi went on to direct a quartet of Italian horrors in the late 1980s and early 1990s that have their fans and their critics.
1987’s Stage Fright was a well-executed slasher that paid homage to Argento; 1989’s supernatural shocker The Church looked great, but was a bit of a bore; 1991’s The Sect revisited Rosemary’s Baby theme with trippy results, and 1994’s Cemetery Man aka Dellamorte Dellamore combined black comedy and horror to great effect that it became the director’s finest hour.
Given Shameless’ lovingly-restored, re-mastered release of The Sect (which follows their release of The Church last year and Dellamorte Dellamore back in 2012), I thought it ripe to pay Soavi’s underrated horror a revisit…
Kelly Curtis (daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and sister to Jamie Lee) plays American schoolteacher Miriam based in Frankfurt, where a satanic cult is making headlines for a series of grisly murders being carried out across the German city.
When she knocks over the elderly Moebius (Herbert Lom), she takes him home to recuperate. But her good deed results in her being drugged with some ominous-looking fluid.
Kelly then finds herself in a waking nightmare involving a dark well and a giant demonic bird that are all linked to the Charles Manson-like cult leader Damon (Thomas Arana) – who is seen in the film’s 1970’s-set prologue in which he is promised a child born from the seed of Lucifer himself…
The Sect is certainly as imaginative as Soavi’s other features, and it benefits from some surreal visuals and hazy cinematography (by Raffaele Mertes who’d go on to do Argento’s Trauma), as well as another cool score from Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now, Carrie, The Howling), and, as you follow Kelly’s modern-day Alice down the rabbit hole, the film plays like a really weird acid trip – which is made all the more insane by the runaway script (in which Argento had a hand in writing).
Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are certainly major influences, both in regards to the storyline and the themes (the Satanic Panic phenomenon was in full swing when this film was made), but Soavi does conjure up the odd cool ideas – like the demonic bird. In the end, however, it’s the score and those visuals that help paper over the cracks, while Curtis makes for an engaging heroine.
For me, however, the big highlight was Herbert Lom. Hearing his elegant gravelled tones and seeing him give a really honest and restrained performance as the mysterious Moebious was a real treat, and it was great to see him back in the genre that knew him best one last time (he retired after 1993’s Son of the Pink Panther).
THE SHAMELESS UK RELEASE
The new UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Shameless features a new 2K scan from the original negative with a running time of 117-min. It also includes the original English language audio, as well as Italian in stereo LPCM or 5.1 audio with new English subtitles.
The main extra here is Beauty and Terror, a 29-minute interview with director Michele Soavi, who discusses his association with Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato and the making of The Sect. Also included are trailers for The Church, Dellamorte Dellamore, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
In the US, Scorpion Releasing are scheduled to release The Sect along with The Church later this year.