Category Archives: Might-See

My Top 10 from Horror Channel FrightFest 2017

Horror Channel FrightFest 2017

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
• Freehold
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies

TRAGEDY GIRLS
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.

King Cohen

KING COHEN
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).

THE BAR
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.

FREEHOLD
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.

Victor Crowley (2017)

VICTOR CROWLEY
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).

Victor Crowley (2017)

68 KILL
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.

Death Note

DEATH NOTE
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

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.

Attack of the Adult Babies

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!)

Kane Hodder

Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.

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Cockneys vs Zombies (2012) | ‘Bloody Trafalgar!’ this zom-com is just as bloody brilliant as Shaun of the Dead

Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

While geezer brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker) rob a bank with their cousin (Michelle Ryan), an ancient plague is unleashed on London’s East End turning the locals into zombies. Next stop – the Bow Bells Care Home, where their granddad Ray (Alan Ford) and his fellow residents are trying to fend off the undead horde. Can the trio save the oldies and escape before it’s too late?

Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

This 2012 zom-com combines the witty banter and comic hi-jinks of Carry On films of old with the flashy fast cut edits of a Guy Ritchie-styled mockney crime heist to produce one of the best British comedies in ages. In fact, having seen in countless times now, it’s as bloody brilliant as Shaun of the Dead.

Veteran stars Honor Blackman, Richard Briers and Dudley Sutton get the biggest laughs – especially Briers (who died six months after the film’s release) trying to outwalk the zombies on his zimmer frame. And the Ska-fuelled end credits song Head to Head with the Undead is just so darn catchy, you might find yourself wanting the soundtrack as well (yep, there is one).

Cockneys vs Zombies screens on The Horror Channel on Saturday 19th August at 9.00pm

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Origin Wars (2016) | This buff bromance in outer space is an enjoyable slice of Saturday matinee sci-fi

ORIGIN WARS

Set in the future in a time of interplanetary colonisation, Sy (Twilight‘s Kellan Lutz), escapes a brutal prison where mysterious experiments have been taking place. After orchestrating an escape, Sy meets Kane (former Neighbours star, Daniel MacPherson), a lieutenant working for an off-world military contractor – EXOR (overseen by Rachel Griffiths’ Assad-like General Lynex), who have set in motion a plan to wipe out all life from the face of the planet in an attempt to cover up their crimes – when their terrifying ‘experiments’ escape.

Now, the unlikely pair must work together to rescue Kane’s daughter, Indi (Teagan Crof). Teaming up with a pair of outlaws, Gyp (Isabel Lucas) and Bill (Luke Ford), it’s a race against time for the group as they clash with EXOR in an attempt to escape while battling the marauding savage creatures…

From writer-director Shane Abbess (Infini, Gabriel), Origin Wars (aka The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One) features an inventive action-packed screenplay, an oddball bunch of characters and some damn impressive practical creature effects (think Tremors meets Labyrinth).

Newcomer Teagan Crof might be a bit on the whiny side, but Isabel Lucas and Luke Ford rock as the rough diamond couple whose armoured prison van (which reminded me of George Peppard’s Landmaster in 1977’s Damnation Alley) plays a vital role in getting our hunky bromancing heroes Lutz and McPherson to their final destination. Don’t let this an enjoyable slice of Saturday matinee sci-fi pass under your radar…

Available on Digital Download 17 July and DVD and Blu-ray 24 July, 2017 from Lionsgate UK

DVD Amazon link: http://amzn.eu/3xRG7Gf
Blu-Ray Amazon Link: http://amzn.eu/fos5MDh

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Prevenge (2016) | Alice Lowe delivers with a surprisingly emotional black comedy

Prevenge (2017)Alice Lowe writes, directs and stars in the deadpan black comedy, Prevenge, which follows her heavily pregnant character, Ruth, struggling with prepartum depression and turning to murder as a result.

Prevenge (2016)

Convinced by her unborn baby (who speaks to her from her womb) that her partner’s death in a climbing accident was the result of a group decision to cut his rope, Ruth tracks them down and kills them with a large kitchen knife. But when her waters break as she finally confronts the group’s leader, Tom, (Kayvan Novak), Ruth finds herself on a cliff edge (both literally and metaphorically) swaying between redemption and destruction…

Prevenge (2016)

Shot in just 11 days during Lowe’s own real-life pregnancy, Prevenge is an assured directorial debut from the writer/actress, who is best known for her turns in Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and Sightseers. Now I came into the film expecting it to be played strictly for laughs, but there’s an emotional core that quietly drags you in.

And that’s down to Lowe’s compelling performance as Ruth who, throughout her murder spree, which includes slashing the throat of Kate (Game of Thrones) Dickie’s bitchy boss and the gory castration of Tom Davis’ sleazy DJ, the viewer is left wondering if she’s clinically mad or just having a really bad day?

Prevenge (2016)

Thankfully, Ruth’s got Jo Hartley’s caring midwife to help ground her back to reality. But Ruth is a deeply sad and lonely woman – and you can’t help but sympathise with her because she has no family or support as she awaits the birth of her baby.

Ruth’s bland apartment – which looks like temporary council accommodation – only heightens her loneliness and sense of alienation. So do the other-worldly neon-lit Cardiff city locations  – which were chosen on purpose according to Lowe in the extras.

Speaking of which, do check out the Post Natal Confessions extra, it’s really informative in shedding light on the making of this surprisingly emotional black comedy that deserves multiple viewings. It also reveals the genesis behind my favourite scene in which Ruth meets ‘Death’ in the form of a Halloween party-goer.

Prevenge (2016)

Prevenge is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD from includes an audio commentary with Alice Lowe, cinematographer Ryan Eddleston, editor Matteo Bini and producer Vaughan Sivell.

The Prevenge soundtrack by ToyDrum is also available digitally through Invada Records at www.invada.co.uk

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Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) | Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s haunting anti-war satire – now on Blu-ray

Slaughterhouse-Five

Meet Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) – who may or may not have come unstuck in time. During the Second World War, the young soldier is captured and sent to a German POW camp. On route, he witnesses the bombing of Dresden, an event that unhinges his fixity in time and causes him to live his life simultaneously as a POW, an optician in 1970’s America, and as the elderly abducted resident of a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where his captors provide him with a mate in the form of a porn star.

This thought-provoking anti-war, sci-fi from directed George Roy Hill (best known for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) is based on American author Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s most influential and popular work, the 1969 satirical semi-autobiographical novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew on the author’s own experiences as a prisoner of war when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

Thought to be impossible to film given its intertwining storylines and timelines, it went on to win the Prix du Jury at Cannes, as well as the praise of Vonnegut who remarked: ‘I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book’.

The Bach compositions used in the movie were supplied by celebrated classical pianist Glenn Gould, while the film’s star Michael Sacks later retired from the entertainment industry in the mid-1980s to become a technology industry executive for Morgan Stanley. Amongst the cast is Ron Leibman (TV’s Archer), Valerine Perrine (Lenny) and Perry King (Class of 1984).

Slaughterhouse-Five is out on DVD from Fabulous Films and on Blu-ray from 26 June

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Madhouse (1981) | Ovidio G Assonitis’ bloody revenge tale is a LOL delight

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.

Madhouse (1981)

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…

Madhouse (1981)

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…

Madhouse (1981)

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)

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31 (2015) | Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent valentine to blood-soaked 1970s exploitation is a demented kill-ride

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

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.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

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.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

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.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

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).

Rob Zombie’s 31 is available on platforms like Shudder and YouTube (£3.49) but has yet to have an official DVD/Blu-ray release in the UK. A Region A Blu-ray is also available.

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Zombie Resurrection (2014) | This indie undead horror from Hampshire is a homemade riot

Zombie Resurrection (2014)458 days after an engineered army vaccine has turned most of the world’s population into rabid flesh-eating zombies, a rag-tag group of survivors take refuge inside an old school in rural Hampshire.

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…

Zombie Resurrection (2014)

‘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.

Zombie Resurrection (2014)

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).

Zombie Resurrection (2014)

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…

Zombie Resurrection is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Left Films in the UK

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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.

The Entity (1982)

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…

The Entity (1982)

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.

The Entity (1982)

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 Entity (1982)

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

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The Magic Christian (1969) | Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a shipload of famous faces make this comic misfire worth a revisit

The Magic Christian (1969)

This wildly undisciplined 1969 British comedy sees a homeless man called Youngman (Ringo Starr) being adopted by the world’s richest man, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who sets out to prove that money can make people do anything through a series of practical jokes and bizarre stunts…

The Magic Christian (1969)

Shot with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality by one of the seven directors of the dire Casino Royal (The Goon Show’s Joseph McGrath), The Magic Christian is an absurd satire on capitalism, greed, and human vanities based on a novel by Terry Southern, whose warped imaginings also turned out screenplays for some of my favourite ‘out-there’ movies, Candy, Barbarella, The Loved One and Dr Strangelove.

Southern co-wrote the film with McGrath, but much was altered when the film’s star Peter Sellers – who loved Southern’s book so much he bought 100 copies to give to friends – got Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Graham Chapman to rewrite some scenes, some of which didn’t end up in the final cut. The biggest change was Ringo’s character, which was created especially for the movie.

Not that Starr brings much to the film, apart from hanging on Sellers’ every word (which the comedy legend utters in a vast array of vocal mimicry), as he carries out his ‘Grand’ schemes. These include getting Laurence Harvey’s Shakespearean actor to do a striptease during a performance of Hamlet, blowing the shit out of a squire’s sedate country shoot, fixing the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and inviting a bunch of city types to bob for pound notes in a vat of animal blood, piss and manure.

The Magic Christian (1969)

Along for the wacky ride are Spike Milligan as a traffic warden who eats a parking ticket for £500, Hattie Jacques as a vain train passenger with a penchant for Nazi torture porn, Yul Brynner (voiced by The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin) as a transvestite singing Mad About the Boy to Roman Polanski, John Cleese as a surly Sothebys auctioneer, and Raquel Welch as a whip-wielding galley slave mistress, while Christopher Lee has fun sending up his Dracula persona. Shamefully, however, Leonard Frey (of Boys in the Band fame) is called Faggot.

The hit and miss satire ends in a shambolic riot aboard the eponymous Magic Christian, a luxury liner berthed in the Thames where London’s elite gather for the social event of the year (as reported by Michael Aspel and Alan Wicker).

The Magic Christian (1969)

While it certainly fails as an incisive satire (probably on account of it being lost in translation), The Magic Christian does have those fun cameos to tickle your funny bones, and the central London locations (with a Thames bursting its banks) are a real nostalgia trip. Watch out for the grotesque dining scene which could very well be the template for Monty Python’s Mr Creosote sketch in 1983’s The Meaning of Life (well Messrs Chapman and Cleese probably wrote that as well).

The Magic Christian (1969)

As for the Beatles-sounding theme tune ‘Come and Get It’, well that was written and produced by Paul McCartney for the Welsh rock band Badfinger, who released it as a single in December 1969 on the Beatles’ Apple label.

Fabulous Films presents the film on DVD in an unrestored version (some slight flecks appear here and there), with no extras.

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