Category Archives: Horror
From the man who gave us Tentacles, The Visitor, Beyond the Door and Piranha II: The Spawning, Ovidio G Assonitis, comes Madhouse (aka And When She Was Bad/There Was a Little Girl), an Italian-made/Savannah, Georgia-shot slasher that was once on the UK’s video nasty list – and its a genuine find, courtesy of Arrow who have dusted it off and given it a 2k-restored release.
Julia (Trish Everly), a teacher in a school for the deaf, has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary (Alison Biggers)… but Mary hasn’t forgotten. Escaping hospital, where she’s recently been admitted with a disfiguring illness, Julia’s sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling – promising a birthday surprise she’ll never forget…
While nothing as gut-wrenching violent as the British authorities felt necessary to outlaw, Madhouse is a curious concoction of serial killer thriller, giallo whodunit and gothic histrionics. Think Happy Birthday to Me (also made in 1981) meets Rebecca, but with added camp – courtesy of character actor Dennis Robertson doing his best Roddy McDowall impression as the overly-friendly and rather odd Father James.
Indeed, director Assonitis told his cast to go over the top with their characterisations and indeed they did – which makes for some wonderful LOL moments (especially Alison Biggers as the bonkers mad Mary). And true to his honorific title as the ‘Rip-Off King’, Assonitis also chucks in a purely Omen-esque element – a Rottweiler trained to attack on command. It’s grisly demise – a power drill to the head – will most undoubtedly upset dog lovers everywhere, but the special effects will have you howling…
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition presentations
• Original Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
• Interviews with cast and crew (my favourite is Edith Ivey – who knew she was Indian Princess Summerfall Winterspring on The Howdy Doody Show?)
• Alternate Opening Titles
• Theatrical Trailer, newly transferred in HD
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Marc Schoenbach
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film (first pressing only)
Dario Argento’s genre-busting psycho-thriller The Bird With the Crystal Plumage gets a 4k-restored release from Arrow
Back in 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage paved the way for a new wave of cinematic terror when the then 29-year-old auteur fused the traditional thriller and whodunit with shock and spectacle for the first time.
In this landmark giallo, Tony Musante (who would later find fame as Nino in TV’s Oz) plays Sam, an American writer living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. After a series of other attacks and attempts on the lives of Musante and his lover Julia (played by British scream queen Suzy Kendall), Sam suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. In a bid to clear his name, he sets out to track down the killer – who turns out to be… Well, that’s for you to find out.
It was actually Bernardo Bertolucci who started the ball rolling on this production when he originally thought to adapt Fredric Brown’s classic thriller The Screaming Mimi for the big screen. But he ended up handing the reins over to Argento who, along with the celebrated editor Franco Fraticelli, made it his own. The film’s success would cement Argento’s reputation as the Italian Hitchcock, as well as usher in a wave of blood and black lace genre films with crazier and crazier titles.
What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.
Back in 2011, Arrow released a High Definition restoration of Bird on Blu-ray (that was slightly grainier than Arrow’s previous releases, but still stunning) presented in the original Univisium aspect ratio, and had the audio defaulted to the original Italian (which I prefer over the English mono). It also included contributions from directors Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino, and a booklet written by Alan Jones.
For their stunning 4k-restored limited edition dual format release, Arrow have really gone to town. So pull on some leather gloves, pour yourself a J&B on the rocks and let the deadly games begin…
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
• New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
• New interview with writer/director Dario Argento (this 30-minute monologue is a real treat and very instructive)
• New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Double-sided fold-out poster
• 6 Lobby Card reproductions
• Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook
The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast | A fitting farewell tribute to the goremeister who was born on this day in 1926
On 26 September 2016, Herschell Gordon Lewis – who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 15 June 1926, headed to the last drive-in in the sky aged 90. But, in doing so, he left behind an enduring legacy as the Godfather of Gore.
It was in 1963 that the exploitation film-maker decided to branch out from his nudie movies and attempt to emulate the success of American International Pictures (AIP) – but with his own style of shocking imagery (cow tongues, anyone?), bizarre visual slapstick and a ‘fuck-you ‘ attitude towards established film tropes. He ended up changing the horror cinema landscape forever.
In celebration of the schlock master, Arrow Video released 14 of HGL’s exploitation movies (including nine Blu-ray world debuts) in one giant box-set, filled with a bucket-load of bonus content, last October.
Yes, his blood-n-guts epics are all presented in restored versions (Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore et al.), but also included are his rarely-seen exploitation flicks on sleazy photographers (Scum of the Earth), sex robots (How to Make a Doll), biker girl-gangs (She-Devils on Wheels), youths-run-amok (Just for the Hell of It), psychic witches (Something Weird) and hard liquor-loving hill-billies (Moonshine Mountain).
I’ve finally got my hands on the box-set and am now looking forward to some exploitation HGL’s movie madness. Now, bring on the moonshine…
WHAT’S IN THE BOX…
• Newly-restored from original and best surviving vault materials of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Moonshine Mountain, Color Me Blood Red, Something Weird, The Gruesome Twosome, A Taste of Blood, She-Devils on Wheels, Just for the Hell of It, How to Make a Doll, The Wizard of Gore, The Gore Gore Girls, This Stuff ll Kill Ya!
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the features and extras on 7 Blu-ray and 7 DVD discs
• Brand new introductions to the films by HGL
• Newly-produced interviews and featurettes, commentaries, and short films
• Two bonus Blu-rays featuring 1.33:1 versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore [limited editions exclusive]
• Bonus DVD: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore documentary [limited editions exclusive]
• 28-page HGL annual stuffed full with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material [limited editions exclusive]
31 (2015) | Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent valentine to blood-soaked 1970s exploitation is a demented kill-ride
Following 2013’s supernatural misfire The Lords of Salem (which I rather liked, so check it out here), the shock rocker pays homage once again to 1970s grindhouse by tipping a blood-soaked Bozo clown wig to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse, by way of Stephen King’s The Running Man and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. But frankly, its not a par on those classics.
The director’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie, heads up a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween night 1976 and let loose in a derelict factory where they are given 12 hours to fight their way to freedom through a maze of secret passages containing deadly traps and a cavalcade of homicidal clowns bearing sicko monikers like Psycho-Head, Sick-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and Doom Head.
Placing bets on who will survive is Malcolm McDowell (who turns 74 today) as the bizarrely-named Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder, veteran British actress Judy Geeson (who was also in The Lords of Salem) and voice over artist Jane Carr. Bizarrely, their aristocratic 18th-century attire makes them look like they are appearing in a completely different film – and indeed they might well be as their characters are never fully explained.
Fans of Rob Zombie’s cult hits House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects will relish his return to ghoulish sadistic form, but this demented trip through the most blood-drenched funhouse this side of the late Hershell Gordon Lewis might leave everyone else colder than all those corpses that pile up before Sheri’s final girl showdown with the film’s most intriguing character, the psychopathic killer Doom Head (Richard Brake, who played the Night King on Game of Thrones).
Heading up the survivors are tough army sergeant Mac (Jim Sweeney) and cowardly Major Gibson (Joe Rainbow), who are transporting the alleged architect of the virus, Dr Sykes (Eric Colvin), to the city of Imperion; the golf-mad Beaumont (Danny Brown) and his teenage daughter, Becca (Rachel Nottingham); office worker Gandhi (Simon Burbage); Essex slag Harden (Jade Colucci); and a pint-sized, heavily-pregnant, religious nutter (Shamiso Mushambi).
Once inside, however, the survivors discover they are not alone – a messiah-like zombie (Rupert Phelps) with the power to heal the infected is wandering the corridors. Believing him to be the cure, Sykes convinces his captors to try and capture the unholy undead dude. But their task isn’t made easy when the virus starts spreading amongst the survivors…
‘Die down the negative energy, it’s not the end of the world!’
This low budget zombie comedy horror from Hampshire-based film outfit Charmed Apocalypse Pictures (aka Andy Phelps and Jake Hawkin) is way better than it ought to be. If you can forgive the copious amounts of swearing and questionable acting ability, this homemade horror is a riot.
It’s got a cracking script, whose black humour owes a big debt to Monty Python, Blackadder and Shaun of the Dead; gory special effects that really do deliver (decapitation by golf club, anyone?); some nicely twisted takes on the horror genre’s stock-in-trade characters; cool comic book style graphics; and a catchy darkwave electronic theme tune (that sounds not unlike Laibach).
Much fun is made about death and religion and some of it is very dark, like when the Bible-spouting Esther tries to crucify herself. It’s also incredibly inventive – who knew wearing a coat of rotting human skin will make you invisible to zombies? Then there’s the fatalistic central theme of being eaten, resurrected and eaten again: now that’s really scary. If there’s one downside, it’s that the comedy ends up taking the back seat as the grisly theme plays out. But then, we wouldn’t have the film’s Romero-esque final shot…
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques (shortened to Diabolique in this Criterion Collection release) without doubt one of the finest whodunits ever made in the history of cinema and regarded by critics and fans alike as Europe’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (released five years later). It is, in my books, the mother of all shockers!
Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) plays Cristiana (aka Cri Cri), the much put-upon wife of a sadistic boarding school head Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is coerced by his mistress Nicole (a tough, forbidding Simone Signoret in one of her best ever roles) into killing him and dumping his body in the school’s swimming pool. But when the pool is later drained, there’s no body and so the mystery begins.
Armed with a hotel key, found on the suit Michel was wearing the night he was killed, Christina begins her own investigation. But she, and Nicole, haven’t countered on the tenacity of a retired detective (Charles Vane) who is determined to prove he’s still got what it takes to solve the crime.
Even 60+ years after its initial release, this haunting thriller has never lost its potency, nor its ability to shock, thanks to a suspenseful script, carefully constructed pacing and the well-developed lead characters. Christina is so religious that she feels damned by her actions, yet Nicole is her polar opposite. Does she feel some affinity with Christina’s plight or is she preying on Christina’s weaknesses? Watching these two characters play off each other is what makes this film so unforgettable.
My favourite scenes are when Nicole and Christina put their murderous plan into action. I found myself watching their every move, hoping and praying nothing goes wrong. But of course it does, and – thanks to Clouzot’s eye – we, the audience, become complicit in the women’s actions.
Watch carefully and you will find that water features heavily throughout. The dripping tap, the highly decorative bath and the swimming pool are all symbols of death, best illustrated by a close-up of the bath drain (which Hitchcock would make his own in Psycho) and the emptying of the pool. So potent an image is the pool that it makes me wonder how many other films turn a swimming pool into a character itself.
Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror film-making and is a must-have for all world cinema fans. Back in 2011, a dual format UK release from Arrow Academy featured a HD transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative. Now, The Criterion Collection has released a UK Blu-ray version featuring the same digital restoration and the following special features…
• Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
• New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, codirector of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Inferno”
• New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
• Original theatrical trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
The Entity (1982) | The supernatural suspense pulsates and Barbara Hershey electrifies in Eureka’s HD release
From Eureka Entertainment comes the Blu-ray release of supernatural terror tale, The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey.
Hershey stars as single mum Carla who, one night, is sexually assaulted in her bedroom by someone – or something – that she cannot see. Met with scepticism by her attending psychiatrist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver), she is repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath, and in front of her children.
Could this be a case of hysteria or something even more horrific? Now, with a group of liberal-minded parapsychologists, Carla agrees to take part in a bizarre experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately capture the spectral fury…
Penned by Frank De Felitta, the author of the disturbing reincarnation thriller Audrey Rose, who draws on a real-life 1974 case in California, and helmed by veteran director Sidney J Furie, this strange slice of spectrophilia horror hokum caused a protest when the film first opened in London cinemas.
Whether you believe in the film’s premise or not, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be gripped by Hersey’s genuinely moving performance (she’s in nearly every scene), or get angry at the male characters, who regard her (and all women) as merely hysterical and seem to be engaged in a macho pissing game between each other.
Interestingly, the film was made at a time when the feminist establishment in the US was becoming increasingly autocratic and puritan, espousing dogmatic views that were anti – men, sex, art, porn and censorship. And watching the film today, you can see a deliberately provocative anti-patriarchal subtext that warrants further analysis. And while Martin Scorsese regards The Entity as the scariest horror films of all time, maybe its not supernatural elements that unnerves, but male fears of a woman’s true sexual power? It’s certainly food for thought.
The HD remaster looks super, but it also shows up the so-so effects of the Entity when it’s finally trapped – it reminded me of a giant-sized Mr Whippy ice cream version of the Carroon-creature in The Quatermass Xperiment.
Kudos, however, go to the pounding sound effects by Nightmare on Elm Street composer Elmer Bernstein, whose evocative score can also be heard in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.
The Entity is released on Blu-ray in the UK through Eureka Entertainment and is available from Amazon
Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen take the helm of this sequel to Jim Mickle’s 2010 indie horror, in which they plunge viewers back into the post-apocalyptic world of the Berserkers, as Martin (Connor Paolo) sets out to find legendary vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici) after his wife and daughter are murdered by The Mother (Kristina Hughes). But the hideous crone and her bloodsucker brood are the least of his concerns as he comes up against a cannibalistic couple, a vicious gang overseeing a death fight contest, and a deranged religious cult…
From the synopsis, you’d think this would be a gripping, gory thrill ride, but its execution is plodding and uninspired. Shame, as the creature effects are genuinely scary and some of the minor characters showed a glimmer of hope (especially the brave gay couple).
Stake Land II is out on DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
The Lords of Salem (2012) | His satanic majesty Rob Zombie spawns a trippy nightmare journey into pure evil
In 1692 Salem, as her coven of witches are put to death by judge John Nathaniel Hawthorne for creating satanic music, Margaret Morgan curses the judge’s female bloodline, promising that Satan will be spawned…
In the present day, Hawthorne’s descendant Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is living in a Salem boarding house run by overly protective landlady Lacy (Judy Geeson) and working on a late night show at a local radio station.
When Heidi listens to a record by a band calling themselves The Lords, she awakens Morgan’s spirit and triggers the curse. With the gates of Hell now opening up in room number 5 of her boarding house, it looks like Heidi is destined to bear Satan’s child…
Heavy metal icon and Halloween rebooter Rob Zombie gleefully sticks two blood stained fingers at Christianity with this trippy nightmare journey into pure evil. Taking its cue from 1970s devil worshipping films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, Zombie has fashioned a supremely intelligent satanic shocker that certainly doesn’t hold back on its blasphemous intent.
Metal fans expecting a Zombie-inspired feature-length music video will be disappointed as the director saves his trademark stage show visuals for the film’s climax. However, The Lords of Salem is a very visual experience.
From the décor of Heidi’s bedroom (adorned with giant murals from George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon – an obvious visual joke) and the 1970s flock wallpaper in a corridor of the boarding house that leads to the dreaded room No 5, to the film’s big set piece – an ornate staircase where Heidi meets Satan (inspired by the masque ball sequence in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera), Zombie lets his fevered imagination take full flight, with a host of visual film references guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of classic horror buffs.
For example, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday is paid homage to during the burning of the witch Morgan, while Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is alluded to in the film’s theatrical climax.
Zombie also brings together veteran British actress Judy Geeson, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Patricia Quinn and The Howling’s Dee Wallace as the satanic midwives put in charge of Heidi’s care. The presence of this unholy trinity got this fan boy excited, and they certainly do bring class and kudos to the proceedings, plus they help to paint over some of the cracks in Zombie’s dark canvas (like the naff Chewbacca-looking monsters in room no 5).
The Lords of Salem is worth repeat viewings just to get all the visual cues – if you are a horror fan. But Rob Zombie films are like Marmite (just look at his latest, 31). Luckily, I love the stuff. But you might have to make up your own mind on this one.
Before gaining fame battling David Bowie’s bewigged King Jareth in 1986’s Labyrinth, a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly starred in Dario Argento’s bizarre and eccentric horror Phenomena.
Sent to a posh Swiss boarding school by her absent film star dad, Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) learns of a serial killer targeting young girls in the area. With the help of Donald Pleasence’s wheelchair-bound entomologist, Jennifer discovers she has special psychic powers and a natural affinity with insects. She then uses these skills to track down the killer.
This being an Argento film, much mayhem ensues with lashings of grisly decapitations and stabbings, swarms of insects, a razor-wielding chimp and that classic horror staple – a monster in the basement.
Argento’s cameras really soar to great heights here. Taking his cameras out of Rome’s studios for a change, he really goes to town on the beautiful Swiss landscapes (the film was shot around Appenzell and Canton St Gallen). Watching Arrow’s new 4k restoration on blu-ray is a real treat watching on a big screen as you find yourself yourself flying high above the alpines, like one of the winged beasties buzzing about.
As with all Argento films, music plays a huge role, from the incongruous (Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade bellowing out during one death scene really spoils the atmosphere) to the sublime, courtesy of Goblin of course (the scene in which Jennifer is led to the killer’s glove by a firefly is truly haunting). After Profundo Rosso and Suspiria, this is one of band’s best-ever Argento scores.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of Phenomena when I first saw it on VHS back in the late-1980s, as it was such a big departure from Argento’s previous supernatural shockers. But it is actually much better than I remembered. In fact, I now ‘get’ what Argento was aiming for – a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale, with just a dash of surreal slash and gore. It’s not perfect, but it’s brutally beautiful work of cinematic art just the same – and probably Argento’s last truly great film.
Back in 2011 Arrow released a box-set containing a superb HD transfer of the Italian cut featuring some missing English audio sections, along with a ‘making of’ documentary, an interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti, and a Q&A with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. Now they have set their sights on creating the definitive home entertainment release – and if you look at what’s in the box, it just well maybe so.
• Brand new 4k restoration from the original camera negative (Arrow Video exclusive) of the 116-minute Italian version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• New hybrid English/Italian soundtrack 5.1 Surround/or Stereo with English subtitles
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Jennifer music video, directed by Dario Argento
• Rare Japanese vintage pressbook
• 110-minute international version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• The Three Sarcophagi: a new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie comparing the different cuts of Phenomena
• 83-minute Creepers cut on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• Of Flies and Maggots: feature-length documentary (March 2017) including interviews with Dario Argento, actors Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta, Daria Nicolodi and Fiorenza Tessari, co-writer Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, assistant director Michele Soavi, special optical effects artist Luigi Cozzi, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti
• Remastered soundtrack CD featuring the complete Goblin instrumental soundtrack, plus four bonus tracks by Simon Boswell and Andi Sex Gang
• Limited edition 60-page booklet