Category Archives: Horror

Jeepers Creepers: Reborn | The Creeper is back!

Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (which is out now on Blu-ray from 101 Films in the UK) is the fourth film in the horror franchise, which was unleashed back in 2001 by controversial writer-director Victor Salva.

After two hugely successful instalments, Salva and his demonic serial killer, The Creeper, laid dormant until 2017, when a third film got a one-night-only cinema release before heading to TV and a home entertainment release.

This ‘reboot’ removes Salva from any involvement – most probably due to the dark cloud that continues to hover over his career – but is this ‘reboot’ any good? Well, not really! Here’s why!

Taking the helm is Finnish director Timo Vuorensola, whose previous films included a huge fave of mine Iron Sky and its sequel Iron Sky: The Coming Race, while Jarreau Benjamin replaces Jonathan Breck, the actor who portrayed Creeper in the original trilogy. 

Tapping into the latest horror trends, the plot involves a young couple – loveable geek Chase (Imran Adams – Hollyoaks, Ghosts) and his pregnant girlfriend Laine (Sydney Craven – EastEnders, A Christmas Carol) – who win an escape room experience while attending a horror convention in Louisiana. But it’s a trap set by the satanic followers of The Creeper, who’s after Laine’s unborn child.

So why didn’t I like it? Well, a number of things. The film (which was shot primarily at the Black Hangar Studios in Hampshire here in the UK) comes off looking like a computer game. There’s lots of CGI used for the ‘escape room’ house and the birds, which play an important role. Maybe that was what the director was aiming for (just as he had done in the Iron Sky films), but it just made it less real – fake, even. It’s a shame because there’s a Devil’s Rain kind of film itching to get out here (especially with the introduction of The Creeper’s satanic followers – but they aren’t explained nor developed enough).

Also the convention crowd scenes are poorly staged, with the same dozen extras gyrating, dancing and mucking about that don’t match the final music edit (Focus on one extra instead of the main characters, and you’ll see what I mean).

The Creeper isn’t creepy at all. Jarreau Benjamin does an admiral job, but he lacks the otherworldly ‘feral-ness’ of Breck’s incarnation. And what’s greatly missed (for me) is that it’s devoid of any of the homoerotism that bubbled beneath the surface of Salva’s originals – and made The Creeper so darn creepy. Saying that the cast give their all to make their characters believable, and it was great to see some young British talent getting to strut their stuff.

The Ballad of Tam Lin | Ava Gardner casts a seductive spell in Roddy McDowall’s off-kilter British fantasy curio on Blu-ray

In her last major lead role and 44th feature, Hollywood legend Ava Gardner holds seductive sway in the rarely seen, often overlooked 1970 British fantasy, The Ballad of Tam Lin, which was also the sole directorial credit of Roddy McDowall (who ‘escaped’ the Planet of the Apes to do his pet project). It’s certainly a weird one, and that’s probably why I love it so much. Think part folk horror/part Blow-Up style Swinging Sixties critique, shot through a psychedelic lens.

Based on a folkloric Robert Burns poem, the fantasy centres all on Gardner as the Praying mantis-like Michaela Cazaret, an immortal witch/creature whose current lover/victim is London photographer Tom Lynn (Ian McShane). With her coterie of thrill-seeking hipster hangers-on (who imbue her with the energy she needs to survive), Michaela heads to her moorland estate in the Scottish Borders for some psychological fun and games. But when Tom falls for the local vicar’s daughter Janet (Stephanie Beacham), who soon falls pregnant, Tom is doomed to ritual sacrifice… 

Gardner’s presence permeates the screen thanks to McDowall’s devoted direction, and she looks every inch the screen goddess thanks to cinematographer Billy Williams’ lighting and framing. McDowall pre-planned every shot, and the results are sublime. He then paired his meticulously curated images with a heady mix of musical styles, including songs by folk favourites Pentangle and an evocative score by composer supremo Stanley Myers.

Supporting the divine Gardner is a bevvy of up-and-coming British talent, including McShane and Beachman, as well as Joanna Lumley, Madeline Smith and Jenny Hanley, elder statesmen Cyril Cusack and Richard Wattis, and also a pre-Rocky Horror Peter Hinwood and pre-Withnail and I Bruce Robinson.

Of course, the big question is, why didn’t McDowall go on to direct more films? Some say that as a keen/professional photographer, he had done what he set out to do. Another theory is that he was so stung by the debacle (which is explained in the audio commentary and booklet) that caused the film to sink into obscurity (after its truncated 1972 US release at The Devil’s Widow) that he just gave up. It’s a pity, as I would have loved to see what he’d do next. Still, if he had, he may not have continued with the Apes films (particularly my favourite, 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).

I am so pleased it has been given so much renewed love in this BFI UK release. But it is the extras that make this a must-have for any cult film collector – as it includes an insightful audio commentary by the BFI Flipside co-founders, plus interviews with cast members Ian McShane, Stephanie Beacham and Madeline Smith, and Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee. Also included are some typically offbeat extras that so fit the BFI Flipside’s quirky and obscure agenda. An Australian Blu-ray release was also put out in November 2021 by Imprint, with a mix and match of similar extras (check them out below).

Special features

  • Presented in High Definition in the original aspect ratio 2.35:1 // BD50: 1080p, 24fps, PCM 2.0 mono audio (48kHz/24-bit)
  • Audio commentary by BFI Flipside co-founders William Fowler and Vic Pratt (2021) 
  • Love You and Leave You For Dead (2021, 11 mins): Ian McShane on Tam Lin
  • An Eerie Tale to Tell (2021, 10 mins): Stephanie Beacham on Tam Lin
  • Ballad of a B-Movie: Revisiting Tam Lin (2021, 12 mins): an interview with Roddy McDowall biographer David Del Valle
  • Legendary Ladies of the Silver Screen: Ava Gardner (1998, 18 mins): Roddy McDowall remembers Ava Gardner and The Ballad of Tam Lin in this adoring archive introduction
  • Adventures Along the Way (2022, 32 mins): an interview with Madeline Smith
  • Listening In (2022, 27 mins): Jacqui McShee, the lead singer of the seminal British folk group Pentangle, recalls the writing and recording of the film’s cult soundtrack
  • Hans Zimmer on Stanley Myers (2021, 20 mins, audio only): the much-loved composer discusses the work of Stanley Myers
  • Red Red? Red (Jim Weiss, Chris Maudson, John Phillips, 1971, 34 mins): an impressionistic study of a commune in Devon where people dress up, play instruments, make love and take part in strange revolutionary games
  • Border Country (26 mins): rare short films from the BFI National Archive reveal rural lifestyles at Scotland’s edge
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Booklet with a new essay on the film by the BFI’s William Fowler, essays by Sam Dunn and Corinna Reicher, a contemporary review by Tom Milne from Monthly Film Bulletin and notes on the special features and credits

ORDER from the BFI Shop: https://shop.bfi.org.uk/the-ballad-of-tam-lin-blu-ray.html

THE US IMPRINT EXTRAS NOT PORTED OVER
• Audio Commentary from author and journalist Dr Adam Scovell
• Interview with Cinematographer Billy Williams;
• Interview with Actress Delia Lindsay 
• Interview with Actor Kiffer Weisselberg
• Interview with Assistant First Director Peter Boyle
• Tam Lin & the representations of the witch in film Visual Essay from author Kat Ellinger 

Karloff in Maniacal Mayhem | Three creepy classics from the Universal vaults head to Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Maniacal Mayhem – the two-disc Blu-ray boxset featuring three tales of terror from the Universal archives starring Boris Karloff: The Invisible Ray (1936), Black Friday (1940) and The Strange Door (1951). Available from 17 October 2022.

Each film is presented in 1080p from 2K scans of the original film elements with optional English SDH. Also included is a limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on all three films by film writers Andrew Graves, Rich Johnson, and Craig Ian Mann.

While The Invisible Ray and Black Friday were previously included in the first volume of Scream! Factory’s Universal Horror Collection in the US, this is the first Blu-ray outing for The Strange Door

THE INVISIBLE RAY (dir. Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
This vintage sci-fi sees Karloff playing the first of his many sympathetic scientist-turned-society menace roles and is a direct follow-up to his first pairing with Bela Lugosi, 1935’s The Raven. He plays astronomer Dr Janos Rukh (Karloff), who is contaminated by a super-powerful element he dubs Radium X. Lugosi is Dr Benet, a fellow scientist who devises a temporary antidote. But when Benet presents the discovery as his own, Rukh becomes consumed by revenge and goes on a killing spree.

Featuring effective luminescent special effects from John P Fulton, some great sets (borrowed from Flash Gordon and Frankenstein), excellent performances from Karloff and Lugosi, and a thrilling climax in which Violet Kemble Cooper (playing Karloff’s mother) saves the day, The Invisible Ray is a sci-fi classic that still stands up today. Footage later turned up in the 1939 Lugosi serial, The Phantom Creeps

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

BLACK FRIDAY (dir. Arthur Lubin, 1940)
Karloff and Lugosi are at it again in this bizarre gangster/horror film penned by Curt Siodmak. Karloff plays amoral surgeon Dr Sovac, who transplants part of a mobster’s brain into the body of his dying college professor friend George (Stanley Ridges), creating a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure who starts murdering his former criminal associates.

This was the last of the Karloff-Lugosi Universal pairings. Unfortunately, they have no scenes together. Originally, Karloff was to play the professor and Lugosi the doctor. Still, Karloff didn’t want to do another dual role (he’d already down that in 1935’s The Black Room), so Lugosi got short shrift by the director and handed a minor role instead – which is a shame because this is quite a thrilling little gem, which plays more like a crime film than outright horror. Ridges, however, does an excellent job playing the two roles. Writer Siodmak later revisited the brain transplant idea in his 1942 sci-fi novel Donovan’s Brain and its subsequent 1953 film adaptation.

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

THE STRANGE DOOR (dir. Joseph Pevney, 1951)
Charles Laughton takes centre stage as the wicked 18th-century French nobleman Sire Alain de Maletroit, who has imprisoned his brother Edmond (Paul Cavanagh) in a dungeon for 20 years. Now he wants to ruin the life of his niece Blanche (Sally Forrest) by forcing her to marry the roguish Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley). But his plan is upset when Denis attempts to rescue the girl, aided by Karloff’s abused servant, Voltan.

Coming out a year before The Black Castle, this costume shocker based loosely on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson boasts an incredibly OTT performance from Laughton, who outshines everyone else in the cast – including Karloff, who stays in the shadows for most of the film.

In his biography, Charles Laughton – A Difficult Actor, Simon Callow wrote of his performance, ‘he messes sloppily around, pulling faces, slobbering, leering, chuckling, wheezing, a nightmarish display of an acting machine out of control’. He’s so spot on – and that’s what makes this so much fun to watch. 

You also get some wonderfully evocative Gothic sets and dressing, including a creepy cemetery and castle backdrop that’s pure classic horror Universal-style. Indeed this was the last of the studio’s period chillers before it headed into science fiction territory. Also appearing are Batman‘s Alan Napier and a fave of mine, Australian actor Michael Pate.

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
• Three radio adaptations of The Sire de Maletroit’s Door (Escape – 4 August 1947, Theatre Royal – 1 November 1953, CBS Radio Mystery Theatre – 6 February 1975)
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

The Mummy and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell | The Hammer horror classics get a Limited Edition Blu-ray release

From Second Sight Films comes the Hammer Horror classics The Mummy (1958) and  Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) on Blu-ray in a Limited Edition set on 29 August 2022. But are they worth double-dipping? Well, you do get some new commentaries and featurettes, plus some super art cards and gorgeous new artwork by Graham Humphreys. But you will have to make up your own mind. Here are my comparisons.

THE MUMMY – SPECIAL FEATURES
• Main feature presented in original UK theatrical aspect ratio 1.66:1 and alternative full frame 1.37:1: These are the same as the 2012 Icon Home Entertainment release.
New audio commentary by film academic Kelly Robinson:
• Audio commentary by Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby: Ported over from the Icon release.
• An Appreciation of The Mummy by David Huckvale: This is new, and David is always of great value.
• The Music of The Mummy: Ditto, and David really is the go-to guy for all things musical.
• Unwrapping The Mummy (28:40): Ported over from the Icon release.
• The House of Horror – Memories of Bray (46:40): Also ported over, thankfully, as it includes interviews with many Hammer alumni who are no longer with us, such as Barbara Shelley and Renee Glynne.

• The Hammer Rep Company (14:20): Johnathan Rigby’s insightful featurette has been ported over too.
• Original Promo Reel (5:31): Also on the Icon release.
• Stills Gallery (6:58): Ported over too.

New artwork by Graham Humphreys: Simply divine illustration work, of course.
• Collector’s book with new essays by Kat Ellinger, Lindsay Hallam and Kevin Lyons plus production stills
• Five art cards

WHAT’S MISSING: The 2012 Icon Home Entertainment Blu-ray also included an episode of The World of Hammer: Hammer Stars Peter Cushing and a bonus feature directed by Terence Fisher, Stolen Face (1952)

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL – SPECIAL FEATURES
• Main feature presented in original UK theatrical aspect ratio 1.66:1 and alternative full frame 1.37:1: These are the same as the 2014 Icon Home Entertainment release and are the full uncut version of the film (unlike the Shout!/Scream Factory 2020 Blu-ray release, which is the censored US theatrical version that loses a couple of minutes of extra gore footage.
• New audio commentary by film academic Kat Ellinger
• Archive audio commentary by Shane Briant, Madeline Smith and Marcus Hearn: This has been ported over from the Icon release and is most welcomed here, considering Shane’s passing in 2021.
• An Appreciation of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell by David Huckvale: This is new, and as I’ve said before, David’s contributions are always entertaining.
• The Music of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell: David is back again tinkling the ivories and discussing James Bernard’s score.
• Taking Over the Asylum: This has been ported over from the 2014 release and includes Denis Meikle and Shane Briant, who have since passed away.
• Charming Evil: Terence Fisher at Hammer: Likewise, this was on the 2014 Blu-ray.
• Stills Gallery: Ported over too.
• New artwork by Graham Humphreys: Great work, as usual from Graham.
• Soft cover book with new essays by Kevin Lyons, Kelly Robinson and Emma Westwood plus production stills
• Five collectors’ art cards

The Curious Dr. Humpp | The Argentine sexploitation cult horror on Blu-ray

The Curious Dr. Humpp is one of the most bizarre sexploitation films ever made – but so worthy of its cult status. And now you see it for yourself in this new Blu-ray release from 101 Films (available from 18 July 2022).

‘Permit your libidos to soar!’
A weird robot-like monster abducts seemingly random victims that are taken to the estate of morose mad scientist Dr Humpp (Aldo Barbero), who gives them an aphrodisiac formula ‘that turns humans into veritable screwing machines’.

With the aid of his former mentor, now a living, breathing, talking disembodied brain in a jar, the good doctor drains blood from the copulating couples (‘Let the lesbians share one room; I want to observe them’) that keeps him eternally young. ‘Sex dominates the world and now I dominate sex!’.

But when news reporter George (Ricardo Bauleo) is captured too, it’s up to Inspector Benedict (Héctor Biuchet) to find Humpp’s hideout before George is drained.

Shot with an artful eye to the Euro horrors of Mario Bava, Ricardo Frieda and their ilk, The Curious Dr. Humpp is a weird fusion of gothic horror, adventure serials and nudie movies, directed by Emilio Vieyra, atmospherically shot in black and white by Aníbal González Paz, and featuring an evocative score from Víctor Buchino. Add in that talking brain, the hideous guitar-playing monster, and some young ladies in sheer nighties, then stir in lots of dry ice, and you have one hell of a wicked brew.

Alas, the film also includes some 18-minutes of ‘sexy’ inserts – basically couples fondling each other in close-up. This was not of Vieyra’s making, but the producer’s. As such, this ‘Adult’s Only’ cut of the film was poorly received both in the US in 1970 (where it was given an English dub) and in Argentina in 1971. It was only when it was released on VHS by Something Weird Video in the 1990s as part of Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers From the Vaults series, that it found its proper audience.

‘Wow. How come this went unnoticed when it was released here in 1970?
Didn’t audiences go berserk when they saw it? An amazing out-of-control, instant cult classic,
quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. The world needs more movies like this. Frank Henenlotter

Thankfully, this 101 Films x AGFA + Something Weird Blu-ray release gives today’s cult film fans a chance to see the film at its best – as it includes both edits of the film in brand-new restorations. Plus, there’s a must-listen commentary from legendary Basket Case director Henenlotter, who gives the full lowdown on not only the film’s production but also its lasting legacy thanks to the work of Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm internegative
• Commentary track with Frank Henenlotter
La Venganza del Sexo: the 2K restoration of the original cut of The Curious Dr. Humpp from a 35mm fine-grain lab print. Presented in Spanish, with English subtitles (just remember to switch them on, unlike what I did, duh?)
• Shorts and trailers
• Reversible cover artwork
• English subtitles

The Appointment | The rarely-seen 1980’s Brit horror starring Edward Woodward gets a BFI Flipside release

Courtesy of the BFI, comes the 44th Flipside release, The Appointment, the rarely-seen British horror directed by Lindsay Vickers, on Blu-ray (11 July) and on iTunes and Amazon Prime (25 July).

Edward Woodward and Jane Merrow star as suburban parents Ian and Dianna, who finds themselves troubled by prophetic nightmares when Ian is unable to attend his daughter’s violin recital. Are dark forces about to be unleashed upon their comfortable life? And what has it to do with the mysterious disappearance of a local schoolgirl many years ago?

The Appointment was the only feature film directed by British filmmaker Lindsey Vickers. After honing his skills as a third and second assistant director on a host of 1970s Hammer films, including Taste the Blood of Dracula and Vampire Circus, and the Amicus horror, And Now the Screaming Starts, Vickers helmed a short film, The Lake.

In this 33-minute creeper, a young couple (played by Gene Foad and Julie Peasgood) and their loveable rottweiler (courtesy of Joan Woodgate, who supplied the dogs for The Omen) are beset by evil spirits at a lake beside a country house where a series of brutal murders took place. This was Vickers’ calling card to the British film industry. But no offers came, so he took up the difficult challenge (financially) to make his own feature, The Appointment.

Director Lindsey Vickers on set with Samantha Weysom, Jane Merrow and Edward Woodward.

Drawing on similar spooky themes he explored in The Lake, Vickers’ crafted a slow-burning chiller that culminates in a WTF ‘edge-of-your-seat’ ending. The director remarks in the extras that he felt the film was too slow, but watching the BFI’s new Blu-ray release, it only makes it all the more unsettling.

Before the shock ending (which features some adrenaline-pumping stunt work on location in Snowdonia), you are led into a false sense of security as you watch a normal family domestic drama play out. Woodward’s character, Ian, is miffed that he has been called away on business, and this doesn’t bode well with his musically-gifted teenage daughter, Joanne (Samantha Weysom). She may or may not be a conduit to the evil powers at play, and it’s never fully explained – as is a car mechanic’s gruesome demise. But, again, it’s what makes the film so bewitching and unique.

Oh, and watch out for the scene involving a telephone box – it’s a masterclass in creating suspense through careful editing. Also making a return appearance are Joan Woodgate’s rottweilers (although much more menacing this time around).

Following its British television airing, The Appointment, quickly faded into obscurity and, when the directing offers failed to materialise, Vickers turned his hand to commercials for the rest of his career. Thankfully, the BFI’s Flipside team have resurrected Vickers’ film for a new generation of film fans to appreciate, alongside some great extras (my favourite being an interview with Lindsay and his wife Jan – their memories of watching the film’s TV debut are a hoot).

Special features

  • Presented on Blu-ray in Standard Definition
  • Newly recorded audio commentary by director Lindsey Vickers
  • Vickers on Vickers (2021, 41 mins): the director looks back on his life and career
  • Another Outing (2021, 16 mins): Jane Merrow recalls co-starring in The Appointment
  • Appointments Shared (2022, 7 mins): Lindsey and Jan Vickers remember the making of the ‘haunted film’
  • Framing The Appointment (2022, 19 mins): Lindsey Vickers recalls making the film
  • Remembering The Appointment (2022, 10 mins): assistant director Gregory Dark shares his recollections of the film
  • The Lake (1978, 33 mins): Lindsey Vickers’ eerie short finds two young lovers choosing to picnic at a spot haunted by echoes of a violent event
  • Newly recorded audio commentary on The Lake by Lindsey Vickers
  • Splashing Around (2020, 18 mins): actor Julie Peasgood on making The Lake
  • Galleries featuring annotated scripts, storyboards, images and production materials
  • Newly commissioned sleeve art by Matt Needle
  • Illustrated booklet with new writing by Lindsey Vickers including a message about this release, Vic Pratt and William Fowler; biographies of Edward Woodward and Jane Merrow by Jon Dear, notes on the special features and credits

Edge of Sanity (1989) | The lurid Anthony Perkins Jekyll and Hyde meets Jack the Ripper horror on Blu-ray

When his experiments into a new anaesthetic using cocaine go awry, respected London physician Dr Jekyll (Anthony Perkins) takes off into the night in pursuit of sensual pleasures under the guise of Mr Jack Hyde. As his wife Elisabeth (Glynis Barber) continues her charity work with Whitechapel’s fallen women, Jekyll’s growing addiction draws him into an escalating cycle of lust and murder as the seemingly unstoppable Hyde. Can he be saved? Does he want to be saved?

Produced by the legend that is Harry Alan Towers (AKA the king of the co-production deal), this 1989 independent horror is an intoxicating fusion of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Jack the Ripper’s real-life reign of terror over Victorian London – but with an interesting (contemporary) spin that incorporates the power of drugs to unleash the unconscious mind.

From an idea by Towers (under his Peter Welbeck pseudonym) and helmed with a surreal, lurid eye by French erotica director Gérard Kikoïne, Edge of Sanity afforded Perkins one of the best performances in his final years before his death in 1992. Sporting just a bit of red eyeliner and red lipstick, a pallid complexion, and greased down bangs, he brings his bisexual drug fiend Hyde to savage, livid life (and chews the scenery in the best possible way), and effectively counterpoints this with a gentlemanly, staid Jekyll, who is the embodiment of Victorian values.

The film also boasts hugely atmospheric lighting and camerawork, and evocative Budapest location work. Indeed just some set-up shots were filmed in London, but you’d never guess – except for one scene that takes place at Budapest’s famed Art Nouveau Gellért Thermal Bath. Kikoïne also makes excellent use of the red and pink-tinged brothel set for the film’s kinky hallucinogenic scenes that border on Ken Russell-styled excess.

Thanks to this new 2k restoration, this is the best the film has ever looked. Indeed I had only ever seen it before in a muddy VHS print, so this has been a revelation – as have been the extras, which add a new dimension to the horror slasher.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Audio commentary by writer David Flint and author/filmmaker Sean Hogan
French Love: an interview with director Gérard Kikoïne (French with subtitles)
Staying Sane: Gérard Kikoïne discusses Edge of Sanity (French with subtitles)
Edward’s Edge: an interview with Edward Simons
Over the Edge: Stephen Thrower on Edge of Sanity (ED: loved Stephen’s analysis of the film’s anachronisms which places Hyde into a late-1980s post-punk, goth and alt clubbing context and compares them with the visual style of Derek Jarman)
Jack, Jekyll and Other Screen Psychos: an interview with Jack the Ripper in Film and Culture author Dr Clare Smith
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jon Towlson

The Initiation of Sarah | The 1978 TV tale of telekinetic terror makes its restored Blu-ray debut

WELCOME TO HELL WEEK!

Shy teen Sarah Goodwin (Kay Lenz) secretly harbours psychic powers which she cannot fully control. When she and her sister Patty (Morgan Brittany) arrive at the prestigious Waltham College, their mother’s plans to have them both join her old sorority, Alpha Nu Sigma (ΑΝΣ), are scuttled by its snooty Queen Bee president, Jennifer Lawrence (Morgan Fairchild), who chooses Patty over Sarah.

Separated from her sister, Sarah is taken in by a rival sorority, Phi Epsilon Delta (ΦΕΔ AKA Pigs, Elephants and Dogs), which is made up of a group of independently-minded misfits. But Sarah soon becomes embroiled in a bizarre revenge plot masterminded by her satanic house mother, Mrs Erica Hunter (Shelley Winters).

Helmed by veteran British director Robert Day (The Haunted Strangler, First Man into Space, She) from a treatment written by Tom Holland (making his debut here), The Initiation of Sarah was part of a wave of made-for-TV horror movies that were shown on the US ABC network in the 1970s. This one aired on 6 February 1978, so was a late entry in what had started out as the ABC Movie of the Week in 1969, and which gave us such delights as Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Satan’s School for Girls (1973), Trilogy of Terror (1975), and so much more.

Growing up in this decade, I was lucky enough to have caught these – and they certainly fuelled my appetite for all things creepy, weird, and occasionally taboo. I have a lot of love for The Initiation of Sarah and am so pleased it’s been given a new lease of life on Blu-ray (and restored in all its kitsch 70s pastel glory). Yes, it does bare quite a few similarities to Carrie (most notably the shower scene, Jennifer’s cruel prank and the fiery climax), but it’s the cast that really sells it for me.

First and foremost, Shelley Winters! What can I say! She commands every scene she’s in as the mysterious Mrs Hunter, who starts out all nice and cuddly before revealing her evil true colours (in a flaming red robe, no less). And when she does, she certainly lets loose – very much like her wicked witch character in 1972’s Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (who also – SPOILER – goes up in flames).

Then there are two future US soap legends, Morgan Brittany and Morgan Fairchild, a fit-looking Robert Hays (just before his Flying High fame) – he effectively plays a character similar to John Travolta in Carrie – and Tisa Farrow (long before her Euro-horror turns) as Mouse, a withdrawn music student who is infatuated with Sarah.

When I first saw this on Australian TV in the 1980s, I knew there was something going on under the surface of Mouse’s attraction to Sarah (just check out those lingering looks between them). And thanks to the extras on the Arrow release, the queer connection is deffo playing out. Indeed, listening to the comments by the Gaylords of Darkness podcasters (who are a hoot) and Samantha McLaren (sporting fantastic batwing glasses) you’ll garner a new appreciation of the film from a queer perspective.

And if you count in Amanda Reyes’ commentary and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ feminist analysis – there’s a lot more to The Initiation of Sarah than just being a small screen Carrie rip-off. It’s all about sisters doin’ it for themselves!

Mind you, Tom Holland’s original idea was to have Sarah turn her victims into animals. Now, if only the terrible 2006 remake had gone down that dark path instead of the teen friend one?

On a trivia note, star Kay Lenz had been one year married to singer David Cassidy at the time (they divorced in 1983), while playing her ‘bitchy’ adopted mum was Kathryn Crosby (AKA Mrs Bing Crosby). Now, wouldn’t it have been cool if David and Bing had been asked to do a song together for the film? It certainly would have been way better than the annoying theme tune by the legendary Scottish composer Johnny Harris, who worked with the likes of Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones and scored the terrific jazz-fuelled Fragments of Fear (sorry Johnny).

The Arrow Video Blu-ray is out on 20 June 2022

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative by Arrow Films
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
• Original lossless mono audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary by TV Movie expert Amanda Reyes
Welcome to Hell Week: A Pledge’s Guide to the Initiation of Sarah, visual appreciation by Stacie Ponder and Anthony Hudson, co-hosts of the Gaylords of Darkness podcast
Cracks in the Sisterhood: Second Wave Feminism and The Initiation of Sarah, a visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
The Intimations of Sarah, interview with film critic Samantha McLaren looking at witchcraft, empowerment, TV movies, and telekinetic shy girls post-Carrie
The Initiation of Tom, a new interview with Tom Holland
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Luke Insect
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Lindsay Hallam and Alexandra West

Vampyr | The uncanny 1932 German horror returns to the big screen with an all-new 2k restoration for its 90th anniversary

“★★★★★ A vampire film like no other… a waking nightmare of eerie, ethereal horror” – Total Film

“As close as you get to a poem on film” – Guillermo del Toro 

Courtesy of Eureka Entertainment comes the release of the 2K restoration of director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s enduring 1932 Germany horror Vampyr, in cinemas (UK & Ireland from 20 May) and on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series (also 20 May).

The first foray into sound filmmaking by one of cinema’s pivotal artists, Vampyr remains a cornerstone work of the horror genre. The dreamlike tale of an occult-obsessed student’s visit to the small French village of Courtempierre, as he is drawn into the unsettling mystery around a stricken family’s struggle with malevolent forces, remains an unparalleled evocation of the uncanny.

Adapting Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 story, In a Glass Darkly, Dreyer’s ceaseless innovation delivers a tour-de-force of supernatural phantasmagoria and creeping unease, via audacious camera work and sound design, as well as a mesmerising performance from the film’s producer, aristocrat Nicolas de Gunzburg (credited as Julian West), in the central role of occult student, Julian West.

Presented from an all-new 2K restoration by the Danish Film Institute (completed in 2020), and taking more than a decade to complete, this is regarded as the most definitive incarnation of Vampyr possible.

LIMITED-EDITION BLU-RAY (3000 COPIES) FEATURES
• Hardbound Slipcase
• All-new 2K digital restoration of the German version, with an uncompressed mono soundtrack
• Optional unrestored audio track
• Audio commentaries from critic and programmer Tony Rayns and Vampyr fan Guillermo del Toro
• Visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s Vampyr influences
• Interview with Kim Newman on Vampyr‘s place within vampire cinema
• Two interviews with music historian David Huckvale
Carl Th. Dreyer (1966) – a documentary by Jörgen Roos
• Two deleted scenes, removed by the German censor in 1932
The Baron: short MoC documentary about Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg
• Optional English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet featuring rare production ephemera, a 1964 interview with Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, and essays by Tom Milne, Jean and Dale Drum, and film restorer Martin Koerber

VAMPYR Limited Edition Blu-ray available to order from the Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/vampyr-limited-edition-box-set-3000-copies/

VAMPYR 90th Anniversary Screenings www.vampyr90.co.uk

Demonia (1990) | Lucio Fulci’s satanic sisters shocker gets a UK 4k release

From Arrow Video comes the UK release of the 4K restoration of Lucio Fulci’s 1990 Sicily-set supernatural shocker, Demonia, alongside a stunning array of special extras – including the 2021 documentary Fulci Talks, in which the maverick Italian director spills all about his oeuvre.

While excavating an ancient Greek amphitheatre in southern Sicily, Canadian archaeologist Professor Paul Evans (Brett Halsey) and his team set up camp near a medieval monastery where, in 1486, five heretic nuns were crucified for worshipping the Devil. Evans’ protégé, Liza Harris (Meg Register), has been having visions of the nuns, and when she finds their skeletons in the crypt, she awakens the vengeful spirit of the Abbess. Let the killing begin!

Demonia is by no means one of Fulci’s best films, but it’s not his worst either. In fact, despite its myriad of flaws (like the faulty gauze camera effect) and its serious lack of a decent budget (which Stephen Thrower elucidates on his in his excellent commentary), there’s a lot to like.

First up is Brett Halsey, one of Fulci’s favourite actors. He brings much gravitas to an otherwise lacklustre supporting cast (although his character is a mean-spirited misogynist bastard).

Next are the film’s stunning Sicilian settings, including the Antiquarium di Eraclea Minoa near Agrigento and the monastery of San Pellegrino in Caltabellotta, just an hour’s drive from Palermo (I’m so visiting when I next return to Sicily). Also featured is a deconsecrated church crypt in the town of Sciacca containing real-life corpses (I do hope I can get access, too).

Then there are a couple of disturbing Fulci-esque set pieces, including a baby being burned alive, Lino Salemme’s butcher having his tongue nailed down after being attacked by a carcass of meat, and a young boy watching his father’s intestines spilling out as he is quartered in a trap unwittingly set by the soon-to-be blood-splattered child. Oh, and the award for the most hilarious of Fulci’s eyeball gouging set-ups goes to the cat attack on Carla Cassola’s medium (using obviously stuffed kitties).

To make up the film’s running time, Fulci plays Inspector Carter, who is investigating the murders, and his beloved boat (not the Mornin Lady II) also makes a cameo. Demonia never got a theatrical release, and it wasn’t until 1998 that it made its way to VHS (in Japan) and then DVD in 2001. But now it’s heading to Blu-ray; it’s ripe for a reappraisal.

Demonia is presented here in a brand-new restoration, and unlike the pics I’ve used in this post, it looks terrific (though that gauze effect becomes more noticeable, as do the lame prosthetics). This is the same print that’s used in the Severin Films release in the US, with the same extras ported over. However, Arrow has done UK fans a favour by including the documentary Fulci Talks – surely the last word(s) from the great man himself. Check them out below. Arrow’s release is out on 6 June.

2-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Deluxe crucifix-style packaging featuring original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kat Ellinger

DISC 1: DEMONIA
• 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
• Restored original lossless mono English and Italian soundtracks
• Optional English subtitles
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Audio commentary by Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci author Stephen Thrower
Holy Demons: interview (via Skype) with co-writer/assistant director Antonio Tentori
Of Skulls and Bones: an interview with camera operator Sandro Grossi
Fulci Lives!!!: camcorder footage of a visit to the Demonia set, including an interview with Lucio Fulci
• Original trailer

DISC 2: FULCI TALKS
Fulci Talks, a feature-length 2021 documentary based on an in-depth video interview from 1993 in which the director talks about sin, sailing, anarchic cinema, and reevaluation. This is the last word in all things Fulci – who is much more than the Godfather of Gore – and will certainly make you want to track down his earlier work.
• Original lossless mono Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles

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