Category Archives: Horror
Step inside! You’re frightfully welcome! The hit horror House franchise opens its creaky doors once again with the release of all four instalments on DVD and Blu-ray, with 2k restorations and all uncut.
For those who didn’t snap up the House: The Collection box-set back in March 2017, you can now add these beauties to your home cinema collection as individual releases.
Having looked at the bonus extras on offer, Arrow have added some newbies, including the first draft screenplay of House, vintage Making Of featurettes of House and House II, and workprint footage of the final two instalments, alongside all the other great special features that were featured in the Collection box-set.
Makes for a great stocking filler! And don’t those covers look cool?
If you want to read more about the House franchise, check out my original post HERE
The 1970s rats on the rampage cult horrors, Willard (1971) and Ben (1972) get their UK home entertainment debut in newly-restored versions complete with brand new special features on DVD and Blu-ray in a limited edition box-set, as well as individual releases, on-demand and download from Second Sight Films.
This is the *one* movie you should not see alone!
Meet Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison), a pleasant but lonely young man who lives with his nagging elderly mother Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester) in a run-down LA mansion, and has a subservient position in the company his father once owned.
On his 27-birthday, the socially awkward Willard is humiliated when he’s thrown a party where the only guests are a bunch of senior citizens, while at work, his boss Al Martin (Ernest Borgnine) continues to belittle him.
After befriending a group of rats, Willard discovers that one them (which he names Socrates) will do anything for him, while another (named Ben) proves to be somewhat of a rebel. It’s time for Willard to get even. But it’s not without a cost…
This scary horror was a huge success on its original release in 1971. Bruce Davison, who had starred in the counter-culture film The Strawberry Statement the previous year, is perfectly cast as another angry young man, the meek Willard whose suppressed internal rage against the establishment is finally given release through his friendship with Socrates, Ben and co, who are quite happy (at first) to do his bidding.
Starting off with a harmless prank, Willard’s actions take on a deadly purpose when he becomes desperate to find the money he needs to feed the ever-growing rat population in his cellar. But he hasn’t counted on the devious motives of Ben, who soon turns into a rodent version of George Orwell’s Napoleon in Animal Farm, when Socrates meets a bloody end.
Loosely based on the novel Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, the film’s screenplay was by Gilbert Ralston, who wrote for countless US TV shows, including Star Trek, and helped create The Wild Wild West. He died in 1999 while battling a lawsuit with Warner Bros over the big-screen adaptation of the cult western spy spoof.
The Stiles’ Queen Anne-style house in the movie is the Higgins/Verbeck/Hirsch Mansion, which was designated a Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monument in 1988. Among the other films shot there are William Castle’s The Night Walker (1964) and Waxwork (1988).
Sondra Lock makes one of her earliest screen roles as Willard’s potential girlfriend Joan, while this marked the 500th screen appearance for 83-year-old former silent film star Almira Sessions, who retired after making this movie.
Best line: ‘Tear him up!’
Where ‘WILLARD’ ended… Ben begins. And this time, he’s not alone!
While investigating Willard’s murder by a band of rats, LA homicide detective Cliff Kirtland (Joseph Campanella) realises that they are becoming an organised army, and sets out to destroy them. But closely watching from his hiding place is Ben, the leader of the rats, who befriends Danny (Lee Harcourt Montgomery), a young boy with a heart condition, who finds himself in deadly peril when he follows Ben to his new home deep inside the LA sewers…
Director Phil Karlson’s is best known for his 1950s crime noir thrillers Kansas City Confidential and Hell’s Island, and the Dean Martin-starred Matt Helm adventure, The Silencers, and he’s in top form with this no-nonsense sequel that pays homage to the genre as the police pursuit of Ben through the city’s storm drains which could just as easily be a manhunt as a rat-hunt. And Karlson directs the action and its vital elements of harassed policeman (Campanella), sympathetic kid (Montgomery), and fast-talking reporter (Arthur O’Connell) with a brusque intensity against sombre, low-key settings, building steadily to an exciting fiery climax.
There’s also a strong eco horror vibe bubbling away as Ben and his band raid a local shopping mall to feed his ever-growing colony whose attacks on a hospital and a health spa turn the city into a disaster area. Having these scenes taken from the perspective of Ben and the rats only maximises the fear factor, which is stoked by O’Connell’s cries of ‘God help us if we go to war with people with guts like them’, in which his chain-smoking reporter equates the rats actions with Robert Ardrey’s 1966 Territorial Imperative – an hypothesis that described the evolutionarily determined instinct among humans toward territoriality (also also influenced Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and A Clockwork Orange).
Adding to the radical tone informed by the cultural uncertainities of the era are the flame-throwers and guns a blazing as the police take down our anti-heroes in a climax that’s reminicisent of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (which came out the same time).
Best line: ‘Their eating us alive down there’
• New HD transfer and restoration using the best surviving archive print
• Interview with Lee Montgomery
• Commentary with Lee Montgomery
• Theatrical trailers, TV & radio spots
• Stills gallery
Vault of Horror – The Italian Connection | Demon Records to unleash 20 classic terror themes on 8 December
Vault of Horror – The Italian Connection presents 20 classic soundtrack themes from the golden era of Italian horror. A heady mix of funk, disco, electronic and prog rock, the 2-vinyl set features scores by some legendary composers, including Stelvio Cipriani, Nico Fidenco, Ennio Morricone, Fabio Frizzi and Riz Ortolani, who conjured up iconic scores to some of most outrageous terror films of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, including Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, The New York Ripper and (one of my personal favourites) Tentacles.
Released on 8 December from Demon Records, this must-have also includes specially-commissioned artwork from artist Graham Humphreys (aka Britain’s Quadfather), biographical notes, a CD version in a replica card wallet, and a 12 x 12″ reproduction collector’s art print of the sleeve painting.
PRE-ORDER IT HERE: http://amzn.to/2zssh9m
HERE’S THE FULL TRACK LISTING
DISC 1 SIDE A
Carlo Rustichelli – ‘Atelier (totoli)’ from ‘Blood And Black Lace ‘(‘Sei Donne Per L’Assassioni)’
Franco Micalizzi – ‘Seq 1’ from
‘The Last Hunter’ ‘(L’Ultimo Cacciatore)’
Nico Fidenco – ‘Seq 6’ from ‘Porno Holocaust’
Roberto Donati – ‘Main Theme’ from ‘Eaten Alive’ ‘(Mangiati Vivi!)’
Francesco De Masi – ‘New York One More Day’ from ‘The New York Ripper’ ‘(Lo Squatatore Di
DISC 1 SIDE B
Franco Micalizzi feat. Warren Wilson – ‘Bargain With The Devil’ from ‘Beyond The Door’ ‘(Chi Sei)’
Stelvio Cipriani – ‘Small Town Pleasures’ from ‘Tentacles’ ‘(Tentacoli)’
Roberto Donati – ‘NYC Main Title’ from ‘Cannibal Ferox’
A. Blonksteiner – ‘Apocalypse’ from ‘Cannibal Apocalypse’ ‘(Apocalypse Domani)’
Carlo Maria Cordio – ‘Absurd’ from ‘Absurd’ ‘(Rosso Sangue)’
DISC 2 SIDE C
Fabio Frizzi – ‘Main Theme’ from ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ ‘(Zombi 2)’
Fabio Frizzi – ‘Mystery’s Apotheosis’ from ‘City Of The Living Dead’ ‘(Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi)’
Fabio Frizzi – ‘Voci Dal Nula’ from ‘The Beyond’ ‘(L’Aldila)’
Walter Rizatti– ‘I Remember’ from ‘House By The Cemetery’ ‘(Quella Villa Accanto Al Cimitero)’
Stefano Mainetti – ‘Main Theme’ from ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters 2’ ‘(Zombi 3)’
DISC 2 SIDE D
Walter Rizatti – ‘Main Theme’ from ‘Bronx Warriors’ ‘(1990: I Guerrieri Del Bronx)’
Claudio Simonetti – ‘Nuke Is Over’ from ‘The New Barbarians’ ‘(Nuovi Barbari)’
Riz Ortolani – ‘The Fighter Centurions’ from ‘Rome 2033 – The Fighter Centurions’ ‘(I Guerrieri Dell ‘Anno 2072)’
Ennio Morricone – ‘End Theme’ from ‘Holocaust 2000’
Nico Fidenco – ‘I Celebrate Myself’ from ‘Emanuelle In America’
This 1982 Canadian psycho shocker maybe somewhat implausible, but it’s so tightly constructed that you soon forget it’s flaws.
Michael Ironside (who made an explosive hit in David Cronenberg’s Scanners the year before) gives a genuinely unsettling performance as Colt Hawker, a closeted homicidal psycho who enjoys photographing his victims as he stabs them to death.
Bearing a deep-seated hatred of women (his mother disfigured his abusive father with boiling oil when he was a small child), he’s incensed when TV journalist and women’s rights crusader Deborah Ballin (Damien: Omen II’s Lee Grant) voices her views on TV over a murder case in which a battered woman claimed justifiable defence against her abusive husband.
Following Deborah home, Colt brutally attacks her – but she survives, and ends up being admitted to a local hospital to recuperate. But that doesn’t stop Colt from gaining access to the hospital, where he begins his killing spree in his bid to corner and kill her…
Now ever since 9/11 security in public facilities like hospitals and government has really stepped up to the max in North America. But even back in the 1980s, you’d expect a major hospital like the one featured in Visiting Hours would have the minimum of security. But it doesn’t. Even the police seem to miss Ironside’s suspicious-looking psycho creeping about.
But if you look past this flaw, then you’ll discover a masterful exercise in suspense from Québécois director Jean-Claude Lord, who brings a claustrophobic, giallo-esque feel to his first English-language film,. It also has some genuine scares and is bolstered by skilful performances, especially Grant, who brings great believability to her victimised Deborah.
In a nice twist to the standard woman-in-peril story, Lord introduces a sub-plot involving kindly nurse Sheila (played by Matlock’s Linda Purl) who also finds herself on Colt’s hit list. This leads to a nail-biting showdown between the maniac and the two women. Wasted, however, is William Shatner, whose only purpose here is getting another star name onto the credits.
Bizarrely, this one featured on the UK’s notorious Video Nasty list, but ended up being shown on ITV uncut in 1989. It was also a firm favourite at my local video rental back in the day. Revisiting it now, courtesy of Final Cut Entertainment’s new dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) release, I’ve not only found a new appreciation for the film itself, but also for the cinematography, which had been previously muddied by inferior VHS transfers. This suspenseful slice of 80s slasher is well worth the revisit.
The Final Cut Entertainment dual format release also includes the following special features:
• Interview with Lind Purl (9 mins)
• Interview with director Jean Claude Lord (15mins)
• Interview with writer Brian Taggert (15 mins)
• Interview with producer Pierre David (17mins)
• Stills Gallery
• Double Sided Sleeve
Dr Cyclops (1940) | ‘Honey, I’ve shrunk the scientists!’ – Technicolor thrills await in the vintage sci-fi adventure
Deep in the South American jungle, physicist Dr Thorkel (Albert Dekker) is using a seam of radium in his mysterious experiments. When his eyesight starts to fail, he invites three scientists from the US to help him to help him complete the project.
Refusing to return home without proper explanation as to the exact nature of Thorkel’s work, the scientists, their mule driver and Thorkel’s assistant end up being shrunk down to doll size. A cat-and-mouse game then ensues as they try to escape Thorkel’s compound…
Based on a short story of the same name by Henry Kuttner, Paramount’s Dr Cyclops was the first attempt since The Mystery of the Wax Museum to use Technicolor in a horror film. It also marked a return to the genre for director Ernest Schoedsack, best known for Most Dangerous Game and King Kong, who really goes to town on the special effects, which would earn the film an Oscar nomination.
In his Classics of the Horror Film, renowned film researcher, collector and regular visitor to the UK’s famed Gothique Film Society, William K Everson, called Dr Cyclops ‘diverting hokum – but one of the wasted opportunities among films’. It’s a bit harsh, but not without some truth.
Yes, there’s virtually no horror on display, with the miniaturised cast mainly running and hiding amongst the oversized props and from a giant hand, and feigning distress in sequences featuring back projection shots of Thorkel’s snarling black cat Satanus (great name) and stock footage of a variety of animals and birds (kookaburras – in the Amazon?). While the lush colours and gay musical score does turn it into something akin to a live action cartoon adventure.
Looking like a cross between Peter Lorre’s Mr Moto and Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld with his shaved head and thick, round glasses, Dekker brings much sympathy to his scientist with a God complex (I blamed the radiation for his increasing mania); while the rest of the cast (Thomas Coley, Janice Logan, Charles Halton, Victor Kilian and Frank Yaconelli) are all effective in their respective stereotype roles.
There are, however, some genuine thrills, notably the death of one of our little heroes (who’s killed when he learns the miniaturisation effects are only temporary), the group’s efforts to train a rifle on their sleeping tormentor, and the gripping climax. Perfect for younger viewers and for revisiting on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Dr Cyclops is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films
This semi-sequel/remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963) was written by Michael Sonye (aka Haunted Garage’s Dukey Flyswatter) and directed by Jackie Kong. It follows two weirdo brothers Michael (Rick Burks) and George (Carl Crew) and the reanimated brain of their serial killer uncle Anwar (Drew Godderis) as they attempt to resurrect an ancient Lumerian goddess, Sheetar, using the body parts of immoral young women and the sacrifice of a virgin to awaken Sheetar’s powers…
Given only a limited release back in 1987, Blood Diner’s cult reputation has grown over the years. Now, I do remember seeing it lurking in VHS bargain bins back in the day, but I never saw it until now as it’s been dusted off and given a HD Blu-ray makeover as part of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video re-issues – and I must say Blood Diner certainly belongs in the ‘it’s so-bad it’s good’ section of my cult film library.
The music is a bizarre mix of dire synth score, 1960s soul and mambo; while the acting (featuring the worst accents ever) is abysmal, but it’s all shot with such energy and OTT garishness – just like the Troma films of the day – that I’ve actually gone back for a second helping.
Featuring hilarious gross-out sequences and lots of blood, gore, cartoon violence and projectile vomiting, Blood Diner is one seriously insane ride. It also boasts the kind of way-out characters you’d expect from an early John Waters movie, including a burger bar owner whose ventriloquist dummy does all the talking, an obese food critic, a manic archaeologist, and that talking brain in glass jar.
Naked female flesh – and their entrails – are high on the menu alongside some quite nasty acts of violence against women and misogynist humour like ‘Every heard of battered girlfriends?’, which made me question whether the film’s female director was making some kind of a statement or not? There’s also some broad swipes against health food fanatics and the homeless which border on being just a little too unkind.
Filling out the running time is a unnecessary wrestling match involving an Ayran bloke wearing a Hitler moustache and Nazi insignia, while the film’s big set piece is the ‘blood buffet’ where Sheetah, now resurrected, and sporting what looks like a man-eating vagina with teeth in place of her stomach, causes complete mayhem.
Given the cult status that Troma’s Toxic Avenger has acquired over the years, this insane 1980s horror comedy is certainly in the same league. And now that its been restored and remastered – you never know, we might just see a stage musical adaptation one day soon. I know I’d pay to see that (just minus the misogyny).
Blood Diner is released through Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK, and includes the following special features:
• Audio commentary with director Jackie Kong
• Six Blood Diner featurettes: Queen Kong; The Cook, The Uncle, and The Detective; Open for Business; Scoring for Sheetar; You Are What They Eat!
• Archive interview with project consultant Eric Caidin
• Trailer, TV Sports and Still Gallery
The Evil Within (2017) | Andrew Getty’s surreal Poe-esque psychological horror is destined for cult status!
Originally called The Storyteller, this surreal horror was 15 years in the making. Its writer/director Andrew Getty became a virtual recluse as he became consumed by the project, which he self-financed to the tune of some US$6million (courtesy of the family fortune). But he never saw it completed, as he tragically died, aged 47, in March 2015 from a bleeding ulcer. And it’s a real shame, as his twisted tale is more than just a billionaire’s vanity project – it’s a visually arresting psychological horror that’s worthy of cult status.
Special needs LA teen Dennis (Frederick Koehler) suffers from sleep paralysis, in which he sees a demonic entity (The Hills Have Eyes‘ Michael Berryman) at the foot of his bed, and is haunted by a childhood nightmare involving a carnival ghost train that never ends.
When his brother John (Dead Zone’s Sean Patrick Flanery) redecorates his room at their Hollywood Hills mansion [Getty filmed everything at his own home, which was once owned by composer Miklos Rozsa], Dennis gets upset over an antique mirror which he recognises from his nightmares. But the mirror soon begins to exert a malevolent influence over Dennis, who starts conversing with his articulate reflection – that may (or may not be) the demonic entity in disguise.
Offering to ‘fix’ his brain, his ‘reflection’ convinces him to turn to killing: starting first with animals and children, before graduating to adults. But when he’s then told to kill the object of his affection – an ice-cream parlor attendant, Dennis becomes convinced the entity is using him as a pawn to enter the real world… Meanwhile, John has his own inner demons to contend with – and they all rest on guilt. So what is he hiding?
Getty’s weird, disturbing tale is a contemporary fusion of split personality psychological horror, archetypal pact with the devil story, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s visually inventive, thanks to Getty’s meticulous home-made special effects, which put a spotlight on Dennis’ turmoil of being trapped in a body that is not fully ‘right’ (you’ll discover why as the mystery thickens); while also serving to elicit some genuine scares (beware the giant spider!) and to disorientate the viewer as to what is real and what is imagined. And this really plays out when the film enters The Twilight Zone as John and his girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer) wander around a seemingly-deserted LA with only Will & Grace‘s Tim Bagley for company.
But the film rests soley on Koehler, who brings two very distinct characters to life: his awkward but likeable teen Dennis, in which he channels Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo, and his dominate and downright scary sociopath reflection. It’s a mesmerising dual performance that puts everyone else in shadow – even guest star Kim Darby, best known for fighting off goblins in the 1970s TV movie classic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I’ve watched this twice now and can’t wait to sit through it again. A true outsider cult hit in the making.
The Evil Within is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from 4 September 2017 from Screenbound Pictures.
Recently, I got a hold of Universal’s The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection on Blu-ray, which gave me a chance to revisit not only the Karloff original, but also the 1940’s Kharis Mummy movies, which I had not seen since I was a kid.
Now released in HD for the first time, they sure look great, but – boy! – aren’t they a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns? Here’s a look back at the shuffling mis-adventures of Kharis, the ancient Egyptian avenger…
The Mummy’s Hand, 1940
Starring Dick Foran, George Zucco, Cecil Kellaway.
Director: Christy Cabanne.
Eight years after Boris Karloff donned bandages for Karl Freund’s The Mummy, Universal resuscitated the movie monster (now called Kharis, as Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep had crumbled to dust) for four new adventures. Cowboy star Tom Tyler is the black-eyed Egyptian avenger restored to life (with the fluid from a handful of Tana leaves) by Andoheb, George Zucco’s-newly appointed High Priest of Karnak, to wreak revenge on the archaeological team who are trying to locate the tomb of the Princess Ananka (whom Kharis tried to raise from the dead back in 1472 BC, but ended getting buried alive with his tongue cut out).
Dick Foran is the archaeologist, Steve Banning, and Wallace Ford is his wisecracking sidekick, Babe Jenson; while Cecil Kellaway is the travelling magician who funds their doomed trip, and Peggy Moran is his daughter who gets carried away by Kharis (literally) when Zucco’s Andoheb decides to make her immortal – much to Kharis’ annoyance.
To save on the budget, Kharis’ back-story incorporates Karloff’s incarceration from the 1932 film, while the temple from Universal’s 1940 adventure Green Hell is also re-used as Zucco’s secret lair in the Hill of the Seven Jackals. Looking at it today, the film is a bit of a joke as there’s no real horror on display, suspense or drama (although Tyler’s weird black eyes still disturb). It plays more like a comical adventure serial, and nobody bothered to double-check the hieroglyphics (which are meaningless), the Arabic (misspelled), or doing any historical research (Zucco’s temple is more Mayan than Egyptian, and his character mistakes the Incas as coming from Mexico).
Except for the odd flash of inventiveness that recall Universal’s 1930s glory days when German expressionism informed its production design, it’s a poor start to the Kharis series. Thankfully, Hammer would put their own macabre stamp on the iconic creature when they used this film and its sequel, The Mummy’s Tomb, as the basis for their 1957 Technicolor version.
The Mummy’s Tomb, 1942
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Dick Foran, Turhan Bey.
Director: Harold Young.
30 years after the Banning Expedition desecrated Princess Ananka’s tomb in The Mummy’s Hand, Kharis (who survived his blazing demise) is transported to a cemetery in Mapleton, Massachusetts by Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey, aka the Turkish Delight), under the orders of George Zucco’s expiring Andoheb (who somehow survived being shot multiple times in the previous entry) to hunt down and kill the remaining members of the dig and their descendants.
Purists have often wondered whether it really is Lon Chaney Jr all the time under Jack Pierce’s make-up and bandages (as there are three stunt people also credited, including Eddie Parker); and whether playing a role in which he neither speaks nor is recognisable was a wise career choice. His shuffling Kharis is pretty poor. Moving at a snail’s pace with one lame arm, it’s incredible that any of his victims don’t just run away – instead they stay put (as though frozen in fear), or pretend to be cornered so that he can lunge at them with his one powerful arm (he was supposedly restored partially paralysed in the first film because of a lack of Tana leaf juice) and strangle them to death.
To keep the budget small and to fill out the running time, extensive flashbacks from The Mummy’s Hand are used before we get a repeat of the previous film’s revenge plot – only minus the wise cracks and pratfalls. The film does have some atmospheric cinematography and lighting effects, courtesy of George Robinson (Son of Frankenstein, Tower of London), especially the scenes set in the American gothic-styled cemetery. And it all looks a treat in this HD Blu-ray presentation, although it does show up the rubber mask on the Mummy as well.
Like the first film, it ends with a frightened lovely (Elyse Knox) dressed in another stunning Vera West gown being carted off by Kharis, so that the infatuated High Priest can make her his immortal bride. And, once again, the villain is shot while Kharis goes up in flames…
The Mummy’s Ghost, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, George Zucco.
Director: Reginald LeBorg
My favourite of the Kharis mummy series, this one starts off just the last two, with George Zucco again playing the withered old High Priest (who seems to have more lives than a cat) who tasks another acolyte, this time a youthful John Carradine (as Youssef Bey) with bringing Ananka and Kharis back home to Egypt.
Bizarrely, Ananka’s protectors aren’t the High Priests of Karnak now, but Arkam. However, those Tana leaves are still lurking about – but with added mythology. Just as wolfbane can cure lyncathropy if prepared during a full moon, the fluid taken from the Tana leaves during the same lunar cycle can usher forth Kharis’ ghost (hence the title).
While the film is basically the same plot as the previous two, director Reginald LeBorg does stir things up by having the Princess reincarnated in the shapely form of former pin-up Ramsay Ames. She plays Amina Mensori, a student of Egyptology who is based in the very same town that Kharis shuffled amok years beforehand. LeBorg brings much flair to the proceedings, and there’s a real effort to make Chaney’s Mummy more menacing looking (BTW: his appearance ended up being used as the template for Aurora’s classic glow in the dark model kit that I have had since I was a kid).
In a clever nod to The Bride of Frankenstein, Ames gets a white streak in her perfectly-coiffured bonnet, which turns pure white as Ananka’s soul takes over (causing her to age rapidly) when Kharis ends up carrying her down into the murky depths of a nearby swamp in the film’s climax.
The Mummy’s Curse, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Virginia Christine, Martin Kosleck.
Director: Leslie Goodwins.
Five months after the release of The Mummy’s Ghost, Universal rushed out this final sequel for a Christmas release, thus completing Lon Chaney Jr’s trio of turns as the shuffling undead Kharis (although he did spoof the character in an episode of Route 66 in 1962’s Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing). And – except for one sequence – this is the worst of the lot.
Unlike today, Universal had little care for their franchise and totally stuffs up the continuity and mythology by setting this follow-up in Louisiana instead of New England. When the swamp where Kharis and Ananka drowned is planned to be drained the Scripps Museum sends two representatives, Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and an Egyptian colleague Zandaab (Peter Cobb), to retrieve their bodies. Of course, Zanbaab is secretly a high priest of the Arkam set, and he has help in construction worker Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), who has Kharis’ body interred at an old abandoned monastery.
Meanwhile, Princess Ananka emerges from a muddy coffin and ends up a Jane Doe in the care of Halsey and his girl Betty (Kay Harding). Of course, its not long before Kharis arrives on the scene and whisks her away for the final showdown at the monastery… which ends badly for one and all, especially poor Ananka.
This was a rare horror entry from British-born director Leslie Goodwins, who was better at low-budget comedies, and also marked the feature debut of Virginia Christine, who’d go onto light character roles. It’s quite poor, and reeks of racial stereotyping, especially the Cajun Joe character. Chaney only gets one good scene, at the end, as the monastery collapses on him (watch him keep his composure as a heavy brick smashes into his face); and the day-for-night shots are infuriating. But it does have one scene which still haunts, and that’s when Christine’s Ananka emerges from her resting place in the swamp. It’s a striking scene, especially in the way in which Christine plays it.
Of course, Universal couldn’t keep their Mummy down for too long. In 1955, Abbott and Costello got their chance to have a date with Klaris (a pun on Kharis) for their 28th and final film comedy, with Eddie Parker wearing what looks like a onesie decorated with a bandage motif. Except to fans of the comic duo and their verbal gymnastics, this was a poor end to their feature film careers.
Magic Circle (2017) | A trickster theatrical descent into the occult zone with Brother Wolf and Kim Newman
In what must be a first for the British stage, the Brother Wolf theatre company is conducting an arcane magic ritual for their latest production, Magic Circle, a two-handed mystery written by novelist Kim Newman, whose inspirations include real-life magician Aleister Crowley, the weird fiction HP Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley’s occult masterpiece The Devil Rides Out. And if you are a fan, then you are in for a treat.
It’s circa 1970 and in a room at Calme Manor, where some gruesome murders have taken place, a protective chalk circle has been drawn. Inside sits Professor Harry Cutley (Michael Shon), an academic and occultist who plans to spend the night undoing a dangerous spell cast by a former acolyte.
Outside the intangible barrier stands the no-nonsense Inspector Nicholas Gammell (James Hyland) who doesn’t like having an unsolved case on his books and considers Cutley a suspect. What follows is a battle of wills as Gammell interrogates Cutley and hidden agendas begin to emerge from out of the shadows…
This is the first full-length dramatic work for Kim Newman, best known as the author of the Anno Dracula novels (and comics) and for his insightful film reviews, and I must admit I was crossing my fingers that it would be better than his first stage production, The Hallowe’en Sessions – part of the portmanteau chiller The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore – which played at the Leicester Square Theatre but was stifled by mis-direction. But I got my wish, as director Phil Lowe has successfully breathed theatrical life into Newman’s intelligent and witty script (OMG! Sooty’s a satanic avatar!), which explores the power of words via an occult narrative (clever stuff indeed).
The intense proceedings are maximised by the use of the most minimal of sets, equipped with little more than that chalk circle, some ceremonial magic items, and a bundle of clothes neatly folded in a corner of the blacked-out stage – plus a pentagram designed with Newman’s own esoteric symbols. Such minimalism allows the audience to visualise the off-stage action (like the deaths describes in gory detail) and to ponder over the true intentions of Shon’s obsessive Professor of Comparative Religions and Hyland’s skeptical copper, who is trying to lure the hip occultist out of his circle, but never can cross (now why is it?).
Both actors excel in their respective parts, with Hyland’s surly copper coming off like a cross between Alfred Marks’ DS Bellaver in Scream and Scream Again (1970) and Laurence Olivier’s down-at-hell Archie in The Entertainer (1960), while Shon’s hippy occultit possesses the same arrogance as Dean Stockwell’s Wilbur Whateley in The Dunwich Horror (1970). And thanks to Newman’s trickster narrative, the duo get to showcase their vast range as they lure audiences into the author’s eerie mystery – one that’s guaranteed to leave you breathless by the end.
Catch Magic Circle next at…
BARTON UPON HUMBER – ROPERY HALL
Maltkiln Road, Barton upon Humber, North Lincolnshire, DN18 5JT
01652 660 380 www.roperyhall.co.uk
STAFFORD – GATEHOUSE THEATRE
Eastgate Street, Stafford, ST16 2LT
01785 254 653 www.staffordgatehousetheatre.co.uk
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.