Category Archives: Must-See
The 1970s rats on the rampage cult horrors, Willard (1971) and Ben (1972) get their UK home entertainment debut in newly-restored versions complete with brand new special features on DVD and Blu-ray in a limited edition box-set, as well as individual releases, on-demand and download from Second Sight Films.
This is the *one* movie you should not see alone!
Meet Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison), a pleasant but lonely young man who lives with his nagging elderly mother Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester) in a run-down LA mansion, and has a subservient position in the company his father once owned.
On his 27-birthday, the socially awkward Willard is humiliated when he’s thrown a party where the only guests are a bunch of senior citizens, while at work, his boss Al Martin (Ernest Borgnine) continues to belittle him.
After befriending a group of rats, Willard discovers that one them (which he names Socrates) will do anything for him, while another (named Ben) proves to be somewhat of a rebel. It’s time for Willard to get even. But it’s not without a cost…
This scary horror was a huge success on its original release in 1971. Bruce Davison, who had starred in the counter-culture film The Strawberry Statement the previous year, is perfectly cast as another angry young man, the meek Willard whose suppressed internal rage against the establishment is finally given release through his friendship with Socrates, Ben and co, who are quite happy (at first) to do his bidding.
Starting off with a harmless prank, Willard’s actions take on a deadly purpose when he becomes desperate to find the money he needs to feed the ever-growing rat population in his cellar. But he hasn’t counted on the devious motives of Ben, who soon turns into a rodent version of George Orwell’s Napoleon in Animal Farm, when Socrates meets a bloody end.
Loosely based on the novel Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, the film’s screenplay was by Gilbert Ralston, who wrote for countless US TV shows, including Star Trek, and helped create The Wild Wild West. He died in 1999 while battling a lawsuit with Warner Bros over the big-screen adaptation of the cult western spy spoof.
The Stiles’ Queen Anne-style house in the movie is the Higgins/Verbeck/Hirsch Mansion, which was designated a Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monument in 1988. Among the other films shot there are William Castle’s The Night Walker (1964) and Waxwork (1988).
Sondra Lock makes one of her earliest screen roles as Willard’s potential girlfriend Joan, while this marked the 500th screen appearance for 83-year-old former silent film star Almira Sessions, who retired after making this movie.
Best line: ‘Tear him up!’
Where ‘WILLARD’ ended… Ben begins. And this time, he’s not alone!
While investigating Willard’s murder by a band of rats, LA homicide detective Cliff Kirtland (Joseph Campanella) realises that they are becoming an organised army, and sets out to destroy them. But closely watching from his hiding place is Ben, the leader of the rats, who befriends Danny (Lee Harcourt Montgomery), a young boy with a heart condition, who finds himself in deadly peril when he follows Ben to his new home deep inside the LA sewers…
Director Phil Karlson’s is best known for his 1950s crime noir thrillers Kansas City Confidential and Hell’s Island, and the Dean Martin-starred Matt Helm adventure, The Silencers, and he’s in top form with this no-nonsense sequel that pays homage to the genre as the police pursuit of Ben through the city’s storm drains which could just as easily be a manhunt as a rat-hunt. And Karlson directs the action and its vital elements of harassed policeman (Campanella), sympathetic kid (Montgomery), and fast-talking reporter (Arthur O’Connell) with a brusque intensity against sombre, low-key settings, building steadily to an exciting fiery climax.
There’s also a strong eco horror vibe bubbling away as Ben and his band raid a local shopping mall to feed his ever-growing colony whose attacks on a hospital and a health spa turn the city into a disaster area. Having these scenes taken from the perspective of Ben and the rats only maximises the fear factor, which is stoked by O’Connell’s cries of ‘God help us if we go to war with people with guts like them’, in which his chain-smoking reporter equates the rats actions with Robert Ardrey’s 1966 Territorial Imperative – an hypothesis that described the evolutionarily determined instinct among humans toward territoriality (also also influenced Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and A Clockwork Orange).
Adding to the radical tone informed by the cultural uncertainities of the era are the flame-throwers and guns a blazing as the police take down our anti-heroes in a climax that’s reminicisent of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (which came out the same time).
Best line: ‘Their eating us alive down there’
• New HD transfer and restoration using the best surviving archive print
• Interview with Lee Montgomery
• Commentary with Lee Montgomery
• Theatrical trailers, TV & radio spots
• Stills gallery
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) | The Jules Verne adventure classic starring James Mason thrills again in 4k
A landmark in Hollywood adventure film-making, 20th Century Fox’s 1959 adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1864 sci-fi novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, thrills again following a glorious 4k restoration.
Five years after playing Captain Nemo in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, James Mason stepped into the shoes of another classic Verne character – geologist Otto Lidenbrok (renamed Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook), who leads a daring mission into the bowels of the Earth after discovering a hidden message from Icelandic pioneeer Arne Saknussemm.
Tagging along is dedicated ‘Scottish’ geology student Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), the widow of Lindenbrook’s late partner, Carla (Arlene Dahl), and local Icelander Hans (Pétur Ronson) and his pet duck Gertrude. Heading down a fissure inside the Snæfellsjökull volcano, the amateur explorers soon find themselves in a world within a world populated by prehistoric creatures and strange natural phenomena. But following close behind is Saknussemm’s murderous descendent (Thayer David), who wants to claim the centre of the Earth for his own…
No matter how many times I have watched this film, I never tire of it. It’s a masterclass in adventure film-making and a big influence on Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (check out the rolling boulder) and Jurassic Park. The colourful subterranean sets are spectacular and work seamlessly with the gorgeously lit scenes shot in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns, while composer Bernard Hermann fills the colourful cavernous landscape with a tremendous music score that makes everything seem ominous and outer wordly.
Of the 11 prehistoric animals that appeared in Verne’s novel, only a couple end up on screen – a family of dimetrodons and a giant megalosaurus. And although they are just magnified rhinoceros iguanas with glued-on fins and a painted Tegu lizard, they’re still pretty effective and way better than the ones in Irwin Allen’s The Lost World.
James Mason is a joy to watch playing the ever curious scientist. But he wasn’t the producers original choice. That went to Clifton Webb, who had to drop out after suffering a double hernia. Mason, however, does make a great sparring partner for Arlene Dahl’s plucky widow, and it’s a nice change to see a middle-age romance blossoming before our eyes (you don’t see much of that today on the big screen).
Christian pin-up, singer Pat Boone may not convince as a Scot, but he does make for a fun hero – and also a bit of eye candy as we get to swoon over his lithe surfer bod and deep Californian tan (how very un-Scottish) when he loses his shirt and most of his tartan trousers.
The film’s other star is, of course, Hans’ pet and best friend – Gertrude the Duck. She has so much character (and I love her painted eyes), and provides the film with one of its most memorable (and tearful) scenes. Along with Captain Nemo’s pet sea lion Esmeralda in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Gertrude established the tradition of having a loveable critter join its human cast in daring adventures (remember Herbert the Rooster in 1965’s Wargods of the Deep? or Heidi the Dalmatian in 1975’s The Hindenburg?)
Eureka Classics’ 4K restoration really showcases the much-loved adventure’s fantastic production design and sound, making this a must-have in any film collection and one to watch over and over.
- 1080p presentation from a definitive 4K restoration
- Optional stereo PCM soundtrack and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options
- Isolated music and effects track (not included on my screener)
- Optional English subtitles
- Audio commentary with actress Diane Baker and film historians Steven C Smith and Nick Redman (not included on my screener so I can’t comment)
- Interview with author Kim Newman (very informative)
- A short clip featuring film’s restoration over the years
- Original theatrical trailer
- Booklet featuring Bosley Crowther’s 1959 New York Times review, archival images and poster gallery, and viewing notes.
Available to purchase here http://amzn.to/2tir1l6
The Evil Within (2017) | Andrew Getty’s surreal Poe-esque psychological horror is destined for cult status!
Originally called The Storyteller, this surreal horror was 15 years in the making. Its writer/director Andrew Getty became a virtual recluse as he became consumed by the project, which he self-financed to the tune of some US$6million (courtesy of the family fortune). But he never saw it completed, as he tragically died, aged 47, in March 2015 from a bleeding ulcer. And it’s a real shame, as his twisted tale is more than just a billionaire’s vanity project – it’s a visually arresting psychological horror that’s worthy of cult status.
Special needs LA teen Dennis (Frederick Koehler) suffers from sleep paralysis, in which he sees a demonic entity (The Hills Have Eyes‘ Michael Berryman) at the foot of his bed, and is haunted by a childhood nightmare involving a carnival ghost train that never ends.
When his brother John (Dead Zone’s Sean Patrick Flanery) redecorates his room at their Hollywood Hills mansion [Getty filmed everything at his own home, which was once owned by composer Miklos Rozsa], Dennis gets upset over an antique mirror which he recognises from his nightmares. But the mirror soon begins to exert a malevolent influence over Dennis, who starts conversing with his articulate reflection – that may (or may not be) the demonic entity in disguise.
Offering to ‘fix’ his brain, his ‘reflection’ convinces him to turn to killing: starting first with animals and children, before graduating to adults. But when he’s then told to kill the object of his affection – an ice-cream parlor attendant, Dennis becomes convinced the entity is using him as a pawn to enter the real world… Meanwhile, John has his own inner demons to contend with – and they all rest on guilt. So what is he hiding?
Getty’s weird, disturbing tale is a contemporary fusion of split personality psychological horror, archetypal pact with the devil story, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s visually inventive, thanks to Getty’s meticulous home-made special effects, which put a spotlight on Dennis’ turmoil of being trapped in a body that is not fully ‘right’ (you’ll discover why as the mystery thickens); while also serving to elicit some genuine scares (beware the giant spider!) and to disorientate the viewer as to what is real and what is imagined. And this really plays out when the film enters The Twilight Zone as John and his girlfriend Lydia (Dina Meyer) wander around a seemingly-deserted LA with only Will & Grace‘s Tim Bagley for company.
But the film rests soley on Koehler, who brings two very distinct characters to life: his awkward but likeable teen Dennis, in which he channels Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo, and his dominate and downright scary sociopath reflection. It’s a mesmerising dual performance that puts everyone else in shadow – even guest star Kim Darby, best known for fighting off goblins in the 1970s TV movie classic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I’ve watched this twice now and can’t wait to sit through it again. A true outsider cult hit in the making.
The Evil Within is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from 4 September 2017 from Screenbound Pictures.
Phew! Horror Channel FrightFest is over for another year and it was probably one of the best ever that I have attended with some great thrills and surprises amongst the 64 film shown over the Bank Holiday weekend at the Cineworld Leicester Square and The Prince Charles Cinema. Now, while I didn’t get to see all of them, I did rather burn out my retinas catching quite a few. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my Top 10, plus a couple pf runner-up faves.
THE TOP 10
• Tragedy Girls
• Cult of Chucky
• Better Watch Out
• King Cohen
• The Bar
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies
Director: Tyler MacIntyre. US. 2017. 93 mins.
If you are a fan of TV’s Scream Queens, then you will certainly LOVE this gleefully camp Heathers meets Scream slasher in which two vain high school besties (played by Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) go on a killing spree just to increase their social media standing. With stylish cinematography, charismatic performances, and a smart script (with lots of 1980s horror movie references), this was a real winner at Frightfest.
CULT OF CHUCKY
Director: Don Mancini. US. 2017. 91 mins.
Following a great Twilight Zone-homage from Hatchet’s Adam Green and Joe Lynch, FrightFesters were treated to the World Premiere of the seventh entry in the 30-year-old Killer Doll franchise – and it did not disappoint. This time round, Chucky continues to terrorise poor Mica (Fiona Dourif), who was found guilty of the murders in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. But is she just imagining things because Chuck’s old nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) seems to have Chucky’s head locked up in a safe? If you want to read more (CLICK HERE). This one will be getting a Halloween release in the UK.
BETTER WATCH OUT
Director: Chris Peckover. Australia/USA 2016. 88 mins.
It’s Christmas, and parents Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen go out for the evening leaving 12-year-old Luke (Pan’s Levi Miller) in the care of his favourite babysitter, 17-year-old Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge). But when a brick crashes through the window reading ‘You Leave, You Die’, it sets in motion a series of events that you will not expect. This Yuletide home invasion horror is enormous fun, but also very dark, featuring an intelligent, genre-bending script, and great performances from the young leads – especially Miller. It’s due out in the US on 6 October, and I do hope it gets a UK release soon.
Director: Steve Mitchell. USA 2017. 110 mins
I really enjoyed this fantastic appreciation of maverick US film auteur Larry Cohen, the writer/producer/director behind TV’s The Invaders and genre fare like It’s Alive and The Stuff. Featuring interviews with his former stars like Yaphet (Alien) Kotto and Eric Robert, and admirers like Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and John Landis, plus with the legend himself (and boy, can he talk!), this is a real must-see. If you want to know more, check out my full review (CLICK HERE).
Director: Alex de la Iglesia. Spain 2017. 104 mins.
This latest effort from the director of Day of the Beast and Witching and Bitching was one of the festival’s big highlights. It’s life as usual at Amparo’s bar in central Madrid until a group of regular customers – including hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), snooty Elena (Blanca Suárez), businessman Andrés (Joaquín Climent) and homeless beggar Israel (Jaime Ordonez) – witness two men being fatally shot as they try to leave. Who is responsible? Why aren’t the police doing anything? And why are there people wearing Hazmat suits in the square? Alex de la Iglesia’s black comic chiller puts human nature under the microscope, and it’s not a pretty picture. Death, selfishness, survival and hypocrisy are all treated with great wit and dark humour.
Director: Dominic Bridges. UK. 2017. 79 mins.
The feature debut from commercials director Dom Bridges and written by Outpost’s Rae Brunton is a twisted fusion of claustrophobic black comedy and urban morality tale, but with a bizarre spin on the home invasion premise. Contortionist Orlan (Javier Botet) secretly moves into the flat of slimy real estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) by occupying the hidden spaces of his flat (like his cupboards and wardrobe). It’s all part of the master of concealment’s plan to slowly unravel Hussein’s life and drive him insane. But does he succeed? Well, hopefully Bridges’ searing comment on race, the house market (and Brexit) will get a proper UK release soon so you can find that out for yourself. Cleverly scripted and with strong performances (especially the double-jointed Botet – whose face is usually hidden behind loads of make-up in films like the new It, The Mummy and Crimson Peak), this is a cracker of a debut from Bridges.
Director: Adam Green. US. 2017.
The big surprise at FrightFest was Adam Green unveiling the world premiere of his fourth entry in the Hatchet series with the film’s star Kane Hodder in attendance. Hatchet 3 survivor Andrew Long (Parry Shen), is now a minor celebrity who ends up back on Crowley’s swamp turf (which has been turned into a tourist attraction) when he agrees to a $1million fee to participate in a TV documentary. But when the crew’s plane crashes and wannabe filmmaker Chloe (Katie Booth) invokes Crowley’s spirit (via clips on the internet), the slaughter begins all over again. Made in secret over two years, this gory fun ride is packed with inventive, and very bloody, kills and some LOL campy humour. It also earned Green a standing ovation following the screening. Green dedicated the film to two masters of the genre – the late George A Romero and Tobe Hooper, who actually passed away on the same day as the screening (26 August).
Director: Trent Haaga. USA. 2017. 93mins
Chip (Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler) is a hapless nice guy who pumps sewage for a living and is completely infatuated with his trailer park ex-stripper girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). But she turns out be crazier than he first imagined when her plan to rob her sugar daddy goes horrible wrong. This fast-paced thriller is full of surprises, great fun and boasts some quite extreme violence.
Dir Adam Wingard. US. 2017. 101 mins.
This Netflix-produced take on the Japanese manga comes from director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and follows high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who turns self-appointed judge, jury and executioner when he comes across a supernatural notebook in which you write the name of someone you wish to die. When he begins to kill all those he deems unworthy of life, a reclusive detective (Lakeith Stanfield) sets out to end his reign of terror. Featuring great Final Destination-style set pieces, excellent performances, superb John Carpenter-inspired synth score from Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross, and Willem Dafoe voicing Ryuk, the death god who becomes Light’s moral compass, this is not to be missed. Catch it on Netflix now.
ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES
Director: Dominic Brunt. UK 2017. 80 mins.
Dominic Brunt is best known as bumbling vet Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, but he’s also a film director who has shared his passion for all things horror with his writer/actress wife Joanne Mitchell in films like Before Dawn, Bait and now this perverted shocker. A home invasion forces a mother (Kate Coogan) and two teenagers (Kurtis Lowe and Mica Proctor) to break into a country manor to steal some secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile – which is presided over by the mysterious Margaret (Sally Dexter) – is also where high-powered middle-aged men take refuge from daily life by dressing in nappies and having young women in nurses uniforms indulge them in their every perverse nursery whim. But these rich bastards also have another very sick agenda and it involves something quite monstrous in the basement. Brunt’s blunt, bloody and bonkers satire is a gleefully grotesque carnival of bad taste, over the top gore and gross-out scatological humour. It’s like Lindsay Anderson re-making Downton Abbey as a Pete Walker horror with added Benny Hill comedy touches. Just throw in some crazy claymation (courtesy of Lee Hardcastle) and some psychedelic chat with the God of Shit (voiced by Brunt) and you’ve got one of the weirdest British comedies ever made.
I ALSO LIKED…
• Freddy/Eddy – Tini Tuellman’s spine-chilling psycho suspense thriller
• Leatherface – Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s stunning prequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre
• Canaries – Peter Stray’s alien-invading black comedy
• Veronica – Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran’s gripping psychological twister
• To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story – a moving documentary about everyone’s favourite Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series (expect my full review soon, but here’s a pic of the legendary stuntman with one of his fans – me!)
Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.
David Niven’s super smooth Count Dracula is strapped for cash and renting his Transylvania castle out as an upscale B&B and corporate event facility. But when he uses the blood from four finalists doing a Playboy photo-shoot to resurrect his beloved wife, Vampira (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves), he gets the shock of his life when Vampira turns black.
Packing his coffin, old Drac, his jocular manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) and Vampira leave the Carpathians behind for swinging London and a haunted Hampstead mansion to track down the right ‘donor’ to restore Vampira…
Known as Old Dracula in the US (to cash in on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), this 1974 vampire comedy was written by Jeremy Lloyd (of Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo fame) as a vehicle for David Niven, who brings a real touch of class to director Clive Donner’s Carry On meets Confessions of a Biteable Playmate farce.
One-liner vampire jokes are the order of the day, with the best of them deservedly going to Bayliss, although Niven does get some nifty ones like: ‘That look of horror when they realise that it’s me is so exciting’. Drac’s castle dinner show, complete with creepy organ-playing and flying bats, effectively spoofs Hammer’s horrors, while his gimmicky haunted London pad with its screaming, laughing ghosts, satanic imagery and rat-infested well is a nod to William Castle and AIP’s 1970s shockers.
Lloyd and Donner also pay homage to blaxpoitation and spy flicks by turning Vampira into jive-talking disco queen after watching Black Gunn, and giving Niven some nifty weapons, including a cane with a deadly blade, which he uses to rescue a damsel in distress; while Anthony Newley’s jaunty theme tune sung by UK soul band, The Majestics is played over Bond-esque silhouetted credits. Mind you, Niven blacking up for the film’s final shot may have been misguided.
Psychomania‘s Nicky Henson plays horror writer Marc, who comes under the Count’s hypnotic control in order to put the bite on the likes of Jennie Linden and Veronica Carlson; while sex kitten Linda Hayden makes an early exit when her just-turned waitress Helga gets staked with a crossbow. Comedy actors Bernard Bresslaw and Frank Thornton make their hilarious cameos count, while the other ‘stars’ are the gritty Soho locations and David Whitaker’s funky music that has an air of Geoff Love’s fake 1970’s exotica group Mandingo about it. Fangs for the laughs, folks!
Oh my Lordy, Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep is a revelation. First thing is the magical Michel Legrand score; second is the gorgeous winter imagery – shot with Panavision perfection by French New Wave legend Henri Decaë; and thirdly, the sterling cast of Hollywood heavyweights, including Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk, Patrick O’Neal and a very nutty Bruce Dern.
Shot in Novi Sab, Serbia using a Disney-like castle (supposedly made out of Styrofoam) as its centrepiece, this dreamlike anti-war satire takes a brave stab at adapting William Eastlake’s offbeat 1965 novel of the same name, which drew on the author’s experiences at the Battle of Bulge.
Burt Lancaster heads the cast as the mercurial one-eyed Major Falcone billeting his remaining soldiers at the Ardennes castle of the Count and Countess of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont and Astrid Heeren).
With the castle’s position in the direct line of the German advance, Falcone prepares the castle for an assault; much to the concern of Captain Beckman (Patrick O’Neal), an art historian who is using the long waiting time to do an inventory of the castle’s art treasures which he wants saved.
While Beckman and Falcone debate the castle’s fate, the war-weary ragtag squad consisting of a ‘22-gold carat Indian’, cowboy, cook, baker, and minister occupy their free time at a local whorehouse, which is being picketed by Bruce Dern’s band of hymn-singing conscientious objectors.
Although Castle Keep preceded Robert Altman’s groundbreaking M*A*S*H* by a mere five months, it bears much the same style of black comedy, albeit with a strong dose surrealism added in. And this comes from the fact that the film is being told from the perspective of Private Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr), whose wartime experiences have been turned into a book called – yep, you guessed it! Castle Keep.
Among the visual highlights is the Red Queen brothel which, under Altman and Decaë’s visual eye, is turned into a dazzling jewel box hued in Bava-esque colours, and a comical scene in which a Volkswagen racing Beetle seems to have a mind of its own (ala Herbie The Love Bug) and refuses to sink after two soldiers try to shoot holes in it.
Altman peppers the film with imagery that really bangs home his nihilistic anti-war message – best represented in a sequence in which Dern’s fundamentalist Lieutenant leads shell-shocked soldiers Pied Piper-liked through a street under attack – and an underlying theme about class: which bubbles through a sub-plot involving the castle’s aristocratic owners wanting to continue their bloodline by getting the young Countess (symbolising old Europe) to mate with the Major (aka the New World).
Unlike M*A*S*H* however, Castle Keep was a flop on its release – probably on account of the film’s surreal, arthouse approach, and the dialogue – which comes off a little pretentious at times – penned by Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) and Altman’s frequent collaborator David Rayfiel.
Thankfully, however, Powerhouse Films have dragged Castle Keep out the shadows to present a region-free Dual Format Edition as part of the Indicator series so that cult film fans can reappraise this underrated cinematic gem. Now, if only I can find that score….
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Alternative 4.0 Surround sound track
• The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster (1972, 100 mins): audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London
• The Lullaby of War (2017, 18 mins): a new interview with actor Tony Bill, who played Lieutenant Amberjack, about his experiences making Castle Keep
• Eastlake at USD (1968, 29 mins): an archival, videotaped interview with author William Eastlake
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with Sydney Pollack and Burt Lancaster, and original pressbook material
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) | Ape-ocalypse Now! Adventure and spectacle never looked so awesome
Imagine if Cecil B De Mille and Irwin Allen created a Planet of Apes sequel and decided to fuse elements from The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape and Bridge on the River Kwai, while also paying homage to the original Ape movies… boom! You’ve got War for the Planet of the Apes aka Ape-ocalypse Now! – where spectacle and adventure collide on a colossal scale – but with a complex morality fable racing through.
Did I like it? Hell yes! Picking up two after the events of Dawn, Caesar and the surviving ape colony have been hiding out deep in the forest when they come under attack from a band of soldiers, who are quickly subdued. In an act of mercy, Caesar spares the lives of the survivors, but their leader, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), launches a devastating counter-attack.
With knowledge that forces from the North are heading their way, Caesar plans to send the colony out of the forest to a safe haven in the desert – but there’s a little matter of revenge against the ape-hating McCullough to sort out first…
[WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD]
What follows is Caesar undergoing an existential crisis as he struggles between becoming like his nemesis Koba whom he defeated in Dawn (but who still haunts Caesar) by getting violent revenge on the humans, and also dealing with the challenge of leading his tribe (just like Moses) to a Promised Land.
Of course he can’t do it without some help: so we have the ever-reliable Rocket (the brawn) and Maurice (the brains and Caesar’s conscience) accompanying him, along with Steve Zahn’s former zoo inmate, Bad Ape (who supplies the film’s only comic relief) and an orphaned girl (Amiah Miller) who Maurice takes under his protection – giving her the name Nova (could she be Chuck Heston’s rescued damsel from Planet of the Apes?).
The fact that little Nova can’t speak is another link to POTA where all of the humans were mute. Seems that pesky virus from Rise has had far-reaching effects. It could also provide a clue as to where this reboot franchise could be heading if War does just as well at the box office as the first two.
Caesar is soon into Heart of Darkness territory when Harrelson’s shaven-headed Kurtz-like Colonel captures the apes – including Caesar’s young son Cornelius – and forces them to work as slaves. Now, its time for Caesar to put on Dickie Attenborough’s officier’s hat and devise a Great Escape with the help of his sidekicks…
Like I said before, I loved War and those movie riffs, especially to the original Ape movies of which I’m a huge lifelong fan were a treat. The one that really tickled me was when Caesar is seen in silhouette as fires burn around him, which recalls the closing shot in Conquest of the Planet of Apes when Roddy McDowall’s Caesar delivers his ‘birth of the Planet of the Apes’ speech after defeating his captors. And those scary crucifixes seen in the first two movies also feature.
But while some may think it lazy film-making creating a movie based on the best scenes from classic big screen adventures, what makes this adventure so enthralling is the epic cinematography and the genuinely touching performances of all the motion-capture ape characters – with Andy Serkis providing some richly deep commanding vocal talent to his slightly greying and grizzled Caesar and Karin Konoval returning as my favourite – the marvellous Maurice. Then there’s the solid screenplay which brings brings lots of light and shadow and complexity to what could be seen as another ‘Apes good, Man bad’ scenario.
This is what summer blockbusters should be all about – adventure and spectacle on an awesome scale – but with a bit of heart and soul and moral complexity.
A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) | Douglas Sirk ditches the melodrama to make an anti-war epic
During the last days of World War Two, a young German soldier (John Gavin) stationed on the Eastern Front becomes bitterly disillusioned with the war and the Nazi ’cause’ when he returns to his village, finding his love destroyed and his parents missing.
Douglas Sirk, best known for his lush 1950s Hollywood melodramas, directs a moving love story within the context of a fiercely anti-war film, based on a novel by All Quiet on the Western Front author Erich Maria Remarque.
A far cry from the soapy high camp of All That Heaven Allows or Written on the Wind, Sirk’s CinemaScope epic, A Time to Love and A Time to Die (which was originally released on 9 July 1958) is an explosive and unforgettable experience and is rightly regarded as his masterpiece, counting New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard among its fans.
In 2009 Eureka Entertainment released the 1958 war-time drama on DVD, followed by the Blu-ray in 2013 – as part of its The Masters of Cinema Series – in its original 2:35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, with English SDH subtitles, optional isolated music and effects track.
The extras include, Of Tears and Speed: According to Jean-Luc Godard, a 12-minute, visually annotated recitation of Godard’s seminal essay on Sirk’s film; a 19-minute video interview with screenwriter Wesley Strick; Imitation of Life [Mirage of Life]: A Portrait of Douglas Sirk, a 49-minute documentary from 1984; trailer and collector’s booklet.
Based on an allegedly real-life paranormal encounter experienced by George and Kathleen Lutz in the mid-1970s, AIP’s The Amityville Horror scared the willies out of me when I saw it on the big screen back in 1979. And after all these years, the seminal shocker remains a thrilling exercise in suspense thanks to Stuart Rosenberg’s masterful direction, the top production values, a chilling Lalo Schifrin score, and some great performances.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder play the fraught couple who, along with Kathy’s three kids, buy a beautiful Long Island home, but they know nothing about the murders that took place there several years earlier.
And it’s not long before some inexplicable events start happening: Rod Steiger’s visiting priest turns into a sweaty nervous wreck when he’s bugged by a swarm of flies; the babysitter gets locked in a cupboard; and the Lutz’s little daughter gets herself an imaginary friend who turns malevolent.
Plus, there’s those spooky windows glowering like devil eyes, a vomiting nun, and James Brolin getting more mad-eyed, weird and sweaty while out chopping wood… Oh! and then there’s bubbling goo… Add some lightning and thunder and the family fleeing for their lives and you’ve got yourself the perfect scarefest.
Along with Burnt Offerings, Poltergeist and The Shining, The Amityville Horror is haunted house horror at its chilling best. So this new Blu-ray release from Second Sight is welcome addition to my cult film collection; while the bonus features are just the icing on the cake.
Check them out here:
• Brolin Thunder: Interview with actor James Brolin (his comments on The Car made me roar with laughter)
• Child’s Play: Interview with actor Meeno Peluce
• Amityville Scribe: Interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern
• The Devil’s Music: Interview with composer Lalo Schifrin
• My Amityville Horror: Feature-length documentary with Daniel Lutz
• For God’s Sake, Get Out: Featuring James Brolin and Margot Kidder
• Intro by Dr. Hans Holzer, PhD. in parapsychology (author of ‘Murder in Amityville’)
• Audio commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer
• Original trailer, TV spot, radio spots
• Four reproduction lobby card postcards (SteelBook Exclusive)
• New optional English subtitles
From Arrow Video comes the rarely seen early-1970s German serial killer drama, loosely based on the true story of Fritz Haarmann, aka the Butcher of Hanover. Produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by Ulli Lommel, Tenderness of the Wolves was originally released on 29 June 1973, and became available on Blu-ray and DVD following a restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation in November 2015.
Haarmann was responsible for the murders of 24 boys and young men during the so-called ‘years of crisis’ between the two world wars in the Lower Saxony capital before being executed by the guillotine in 1925. His grisly case partly inspired Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M (starring Peter Lorre) as well as this near-forgotten gem from 1973, which I have been searching for ever since I read about it an issue of Stephen Thrower’s Eyeball magazine back in 1998.
In a supremely understated performance, a shaven-headed Kurt Raab makes his perverted boy killer a repellent, yet fascinating and (at times) sympathetic figure. He’s also one of cinemas most human monsters. Using his status as a police informant to procure his young victims – mostly runaways and street vagrants, the former petty thief dismembers their bodies, then sells their flesh on the black market to his friends and neighbours.
While uneasy to watch, Ulli Lommel’s film expertly utilises the true crime thriller genre to let a disturbing socio-political commentary on how poverty creates a climate of indifference to rear its satirical head.
The film’s real horror, meanwhile, is not in the killings (although they are made all the more frightening because they are alluded to rather than shown), but in the in-actions of those who support and nurture a vile creature like Haarman: including the police, his neighbours and lowlife friends (who dare not cast the first stone in case their own darkness comes to light).
And this horror is presented in two chilling scenes: when a store-owner laughs off Haarman eyeing up her young son (knowing full well what he does to them); while another, barely 10, accosts him for sexual favours, but is never seen again after knocking on his door…
THE 2015 ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
• New high definition digital transfer on Blu-ray DVD, with original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 sound, and newly translated optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary, interview and introduction by director Ulli Lommel
• Photographing Fritz: interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges
• Haarmann’s Victim Talks: interview with actor Rainer Will
• An appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Trailer (in HD)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by the Twins of Evil
• Collector’s booklet