Category Archives: Psychological thriller
From Eureka! Entertainment comes director Robert Aldrich’s brooding murder mystery, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, starring Bette Davis, on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Don’t Tell Anyone What Happened In The Summer House!
Tended by her loyal servant Velma (Agnes Moorehead), Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) has been closeted in her family’s plantation mansion ever since the brutal murder of her married lover, John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) 37 years earlier. When the local county plans to tear down the house to build a highway, the spinster seeks the help of her New York-based cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), but Charlotte’s mind soon becomes unhinged when she sees visions of John’s decapitated hand and hearing the song he composed for her wafting through the mansion late at night. Has his ghost really come back to haunt her or is someone trying to drive Charlotte insane?
Regarded as Aldrich’s informal follow-up to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, this splendidly macabre psychological thriller deservedly stands on its own merits, especially considering its seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress gong for Agnes Moorehead. She is simply splendid as the dishevelled Velma, who is quick to alert the authorities and an insurance investigator (a twinkly Cecil Kellaway) about her suspicions. Moorehead’s old Mercury Theatre pal, Joseph Cotton, meanwhile, chews the scenery big time as the bourbon-soaked Dr Drew Bayliss, who jilted Miriam after the murder.
In her last film role is The Maltese Falcon‘s Mary Astor. ‘Turn her loose, Robert, you might learn something!’ was Davis’ famous on-set comment about the veteran actress whose scenes as John’s seriously-ill widow Jewel are the antithesis of Davis’ full-blown hysterics. Nevertheless, Davis brings much pathos to Charlotte (especially in the last half of the film), while Olivia de Havilland (who sensationally replaced Joan Crawford) gives sterling support as the butter-wouldn’t-melt Miriam, who is hiding a few dark secrets of her own.
With its atmospheric black and white cinematography (from Aldrich regular Joseph Biroc), meticulous art direction (from William Glasgow and Raphael Bretton), cracking script (from Baby Jane novelist Henry Farrell), ghoulish special effects and nightmarish set pieces, not to mention the memorably haunting theme tune (from Frank De Vol and Mack David), this is a classic murder mystery of the highest order and one that can be revisited over and over..
Watch out for George Kennedy as the demolition foreman, Ellen Corby as one of the town’s gossips, and a couple of faces from Baby Jane, including Victor Buono as Charlotte’s domineering father whom she believed killed John.
Favourite line: ‘Don’t turn on the light. It’s not real when it’s light. It’s only real when it’s dark… dark and still!’
Eureka! Entertainment presents Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte as part of their Masters of Cinema Series for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK with the following extras…
• 1080p presentation
• LPCM 2.0 Audio
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• Audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
• Audio commentary by film historian Glenn Erickson
• Hush…Hush, Sweet Joan: The Making of Charlotte [22 mins]
• Bruce Dern Remembers [13 mins]
• Wizard Work [5 mins] – archival behind-the-scenes look at the film, narrated by Joseph Cotton
• Stills Gallery
• Trailer & TV spots
• Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Lee Gambin, illustrated with archival imagery
Available to order from Zavvi at http://po.st/vIhZja
DID YOU KNOW?
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which was shot on location at the historic Houmas plantation in Burnside, Louisiana, was originally going to be called What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? However, Bette Davis disliked the title as it indicated a sequel to Baby Jane, so it was she who suggested using Frank De Vol/Mack David’s song title instead. Crooner Al Martino (who sings the tune over the closing credits) released it as a B-side of his January 1965 single release My Heart Would Know, which reached No.52 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bette Davis, Patti Page, Richard Chamberlain and even the UK’s very own Bruce Forsyth all released their own versions of the melody.
When a Stranger Calls (1979) | Have you checked the children! – The genuinely terrifying cult chiller on Blu-ray
Back in the 1979, When a Stranger Calls had cinema-goers (me included) on the edge of their seats when poor Carol Kane picked up the phone and heard the chilling words: ‘Have you checked the children?’. Now the seminal slasher is heading to Blu-ray in the UK for the very first time in a Limited Edition release loaded with extras from Second Sight.
Director Frank Walton’s feature debut (which expands on his 1977 short The Sitter) features an incredibly intense opener in which Kane, playing the unfortunate babysitter in peril, Jill Johnson, calls the police after a series of increasingly threatening phone calls and discovers to her horror that they are coming from inside the house! Charles Durning is the surly detective, John Clifford, who comes to her rescue, sparking a desperate chase and a gruesome discovery before the psycho, merchant seaman Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), is finally caught. Seven years later, the maniac targets Jill again after escaping from a psychiatric hospital, while Clifford (now a private detective) is determined to take him out…
The maniac-on-the-phone formula has since been done to death (especially in today’s climate of home invasion horrors), but along with 1974’s Black Christmas (read my review here) it’s played to great effect here – and was famously paid homage to by Wes Craven in his 1996 spoof, Scream.
This was the last screen role for 50-year-old British character actor Tony Beckley, who was terminally ill at the time, died six months after the film’s premiere. Beckley is best known to cult film fans for appearing in Hammer’s The Lost Continent, and the Britsploitation thrillers The Fiend and Assault, as well as classic fare like Get Carter and The Italian Job. Classic Doctor Who fans will also remember him as the villainous plant collector Harrison Chase in the superior Tom Baker adventure, The Seeds of Doom.
In 1993’s When a Stranger Calls Back, babysitter Julia (The Stepfather‘s Jill Schoelen) makes the mistake of talking to a weirdo who turns up at her front door: the prelude to a few minutes of fantastic nerve-jangling suspense. The main story, set five years later, is no less chilling. Still traumatised by the incident, the introverted Julia comes to believe that she is being stalked, and turns to Kane’s Jill (now a college counsellor) for help.
This made for cable TV sequel may be all style and no substance, but returning director Walton still manages to rack up the tension with some genuinely unsettling moments and the odd surprise. Alongside Kane, Charles Durning also reprises his role from the original film.
This Limited Edition Second Sight release features a brand-new scan and restoration of the original film and the following special features:
• The sequel When a Stranger Calls Back in HD
• The original short film The Sitter in a brand new scan and restoration
• New interviews with director Fred Walton, actors Carol Kane and Rutanya Alda and composer Dana Kaproff
• Original Soundtrack CD
• Collector’s booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons
• Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Obviously Creative and original poster artwork
• English subtitles for the hearing impaired for both films
Take one handsome leading Hollywood actor, add two foxy Broadway hoofers, throw in some hip-grinding jazz sounds and mix it all up in a soufflé of psychosexual angst set against a sleazy New York City nightclub and ‘Hey Presto!’ you’ve got Who Killed Teddy Bear?, which is now getting a worldwide Blu-ray release from Network Distributing in the UK.
From the cheesy theme tune and Saul Bass-inspired title sequence to the shattering climax, this 1965 neo-noir American indie reeks of exploitation. Sal Mineo (of Rebel Without a Cause fame) plays Lawrence, a busboy at a 42nd Street discotheque run by Marian, a fierce-but-fair lesbian (played by the utterly fabulous Elaine Stritch).
Spinning the decks in the dingy club littered with grooving babes and middle-aged men on the make is hostess-cum-DJ Norah (the alluring Juliet Prowse – you might remember her dancing with the Muppets back in the 1970s).
Sexually-frustrated and forced to look after his mentally-challenged sister, Sal Mineo’s chain-smoking Lawrence gets his jollies from making dirty phone calls to Norah in the dead of night in his tight white briefs. Cue lots of heavy breathing and a very frightened young woman.
Enter equally mixed-up cop, Lt Dave Madden (played by US stand-up comic Jan Murray). Madden is determined to put every pervert in New York behind bars and obsessively plays audio tapes of various criminals confessions as his daughter listens from her bedroom (now, that’s just not right!). Madden then sets out to help Norah, but there’s a problem – she thinks he might be the psycho…
I won’t spoil the rest for you, but the gritty Times Square location shots and overt sexualisation of Mineo’s sweaty toned body (check out the slideshow for a taster) makes this curio a must-see. The catchy discotheque numbers, meanwhile, are by Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio and Al Kasha (who wrote those Maureen McGovern songs in The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno).
Who Killed Teddy Bear is a forgotten neo-noir oddity of American independent cinema that rightly deserves high cult status. Previously available only on DVD, the film has been newly scanned from one of the few surviving 35mm prints in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Missing frames/sections have been re-instated from a 16mm print and the image matched as far as possible but a difference in visual quality may be occasionally noticed. While their are some scenes where print damage is still visible, this new scan is a huge improvement on the 2009 DVD release.
Network Distributing’s Blu-ray (out on 17 September 2018) also carries over the extras from the DVD, including The House Where He Lived, an episode of the 1960s TV series Court Martial, in which Mineo guest stars alongside Anthony Quayle; and 1967 short, LSD: Insight or Insanity, narrated by Mineo, in which some questionable old men in white coats outline the dangers of taking the drug.
10 years after the death of the infamous Jigsaw killer aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, Memento) and Hunt (Clé Bennett, Heroes Reborn) investigate a series of murders bearing the unique modus operandi of the Jigsaw killer. Has Kramer really returned from the grave to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a killer with designs of their own?
Director Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (Predestination) go back to basics with their reboot, which ditches the torture porn for a pure chill-ride that aims to recapture the same suspenseful thrills as Se7en – only bloodier. Matt Passmore (The Glades), Laura Vandervoort (Supergirl), Paul Braunstein (The Thing), Brittany Allen (All My Children) and Mandela Van Peebles (Baadassss!) are Jigsaw’s targets this time round, while Tobin Bell is back in his iconic role – and it’s not just a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo.
Horror fans will lap up the inventive death scenes, which involve booby-trapped rooms and firearms, and some truly deadly laser cutters. Kudos go to the film’s big set piece which involves a giant spiralator and a motorbike. In an homage to the franchise’s original inspiration, 1970’s The Abominable Dr Phibes, one trap sees the victims choosing between three syringes that contain a poison antidote, a saline solution and a flesh-melting acid.
Given its open ending and the huge business it did at the box-office (despite the mostly unfavourable reviews), it looks like the Saw franchise just might begin anew. Personally, I rather enjoyed it… unlike the previous ones.
SPECIAL FEATURES ON THE BLU-RAY AND DVD
• Audio Commentary with producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block
• I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Saw: A feature-length appreciation of the franchise, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew of the reboot discussing its visual design, sound score, special effects and much more.
• The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props: A fascinating featurette (around 6min) in which Don Post’s pig masks and the iconic Billy puppet make a welcome return.
Fragment of Fear (1970) | This baffling Blow-Up imitation starring David Hemmings is one helluva delirious ride
Before heading to cult-dom in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, David Hemmings was the hot ticket in Michelangelo Antonioni’s unfathomable but unquestionably hip 1966 arthouse classic Blow-Up. Four years later, 1970’s Fragment of Fear aimed to recapture the same magic, but ended up even more baffling – a delirious puzzle box that sets the nerves on edge, but leaves you screaming for answers.
Murder, mystery and paranoia are the order of the day in this adaptation the 1965 novel by former M15 spy John Bingham (John le Carré’s inspiration for George Smiley). Hemmings plays writer Tim Brett, who believes himself to being cured of his drug addiction.
When his philanthropist aunt (Dame Flora Robson) is found strangled while on holiday in Italy, Brett starts digging into her past, but soon starts receiving menacing threats warning him off the case. Investigating further, he is soon targeted by a shadowy government agency…
Frankly, it’s amazing that this British psychological thriller ever got finished, as it was made under the influence of lots of late-night drinking sessions by both the film’s crew and its star Hemmings. Which might also account for some truly offbeat scenes like one in which a group of bystanders casually watch a junkie shoot up in a London street (really?).
But while it may make for bewildering viewing, it does hold your gaze and interest throughout – thanks to Ossie Morris’ noirish cinematography – that makes atmospheric use of the Pompeii and London locations, and Hemmings’ genuinely convincing performance as the former-junkie battling to hold his own. And Indicator’s HD re-master is so pristine that it brings the excellent cinematography to the fore, while the sweat on Hemmings’ brow is so luminous, it practically drips off the screen.
While it certainly apes Blow-Up and bears a strong resemblance to Basil Dearden’s suited-and-booted dopplegänger cult classic The Man Who Haunted Himself (which came out the same year), there are a few other reasons to check it out. First up is the fantastic moody jazz score from the legendary Johnny Harris. It’s so cool, I’m desperately hunting down its supposed LP re-release.
Next comes the distinguished supporting cast playing the quirky, not-to-be-trusted characters including Mary Wimbush, Roland Culver, Daniel Massey, Wilfred Hyde White and Derek Newark, whose mysterious Sergeant Matthews sets Brett off on his ‘wild goose chase’. Playing Hemming’s love interest is his real-life wife, the gorgeous Gayle Hunnicutt, who apparently got the role as a condition to securing Hemmings’ involvement in the project.
The screenplay was by Paul Dehn, who had a knack for espionage, having penned The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and The Deadly Affair (both featuring le Carré’s George Smiley character – albeit in different guises); and he also wrote four of the original Planet of the Apes sequels. Check out the extra that accompanies the Indicator release for a very informative profile of Dehn.
Director Richard C Sarafian may not be a name you instantly recognise, but does he have some darn fine credits. Not only did he helm one of the most memorable Twilight Zone stories, 1963’s Living Doll, he also directed episodes of TV’s Batman and Wild Wild West; and followed this film with the bona fide cult classic, 1971’s Vanishing Point (now that’s one that deserves the HD treatment).
It might be a baffling Blow-Up imitation, but Fragment of Fear is still one helluva delirious ride.
The Indicator Limited Editon (3000 copies) Blu-ray (world premiere) features a HD re-master and original mono audio, with the following special features…
• The Writer as Auteur: an analysis of the life and work of screenwriter Paul Dehn
• First Assistant Director William P Cartlidge on Fragment of Fear
• Original radio spots & theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essay’s from Johnny Mains, composer Johnny Harris, critical responses, and historic articles
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.
Dario Argento’s genre-busting psycho-thriller The Bird With the Crystal Plumage gets a 4k-restored release from Arrow
Back in 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage paved the way for a new wave of cinematic terror when the then 29-year-old auteur fused the traditional thriller and whodunit with shock and spectacle for the first time.
In this landmark giallo, Tony Musante (who would later find fame as Nino in TV’s Oz) plays Sam, an American writer living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. After a series of other attacks and attempts on the lives of Musante and his lover Julia (played by British scream queen Suzy Kendall), Sam suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. In a bid to clear his name, he sets out to track down the killer – who turns out to be… Well, that’s for you to find out.
It was actually Bernardo Bertolucci who started the ball rolling on this production when he originally thought to adapt Fredric Brown’s classic thriller The Screaming Mimi for the big screen. But he ended up handing the reins over to Argento who, along with the celebrated editor Franco Fraticelli, made it his own. The film’s success would cement Argento’s reputation as the Italian Hitchcock, as well as usher in a wave of blood and black lace genre films with crazier and crazier titles.
What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.
Back in 2011, Arrow released a High Definition restoration of Bird on Blu-ray (that was slightly grainier than Arrow’s previous releases, but still stunning) presented in the original Univisium aspect ratio, and had the audio defaulted to the original Italian (which I prefer over the English mono). It also included contributions from directors Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino, and a booklet written by Alan Jones.
For their stunning 4k-restored limited edition dual format release, Arrow have really gone to town. So pull on some leather gloves, pour yourself a J&B on the rocks and let the deadly games begin…
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
• New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
• New interview with writer/director Dario Argento (this 30-minute monologue is a real treat and very instructive)
• New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Double-sided fold-out poster
• 6 Lobby Card reproductions
• Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques (shortened to Diabolique in this Criterion Collection release) without doubt one of the finest whodunits ever made in the history of cinema and regarded by critics and fans alike as Europe’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (released five years later). It is, in my books, the mother of all shockers!
Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) plays Cristiana (aka Cri Cri), the much put-upon wife of a sadistic boarding school head Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is coerced by his mistress Nicole (a tough, forbidding Simone Signoret in one of her best ever roles) into killing him and dumping his body in the school’s swimming pool. But when the pool is later drained, there’s no body and so the mystery begins.
Armed with a hotel key, found on the suit Michel was wearing the night he was killed, Christina begins her own investigation. But she, and Nicole, haven’t countered on the tenacity of a retired detective (Charles Vane) who is determined to prove he’s still got what it takes to solve the crime.
Even 60+ years after its initial release, this haunting thriller has never lost its potency, nor its ability to shock, thanks to a suspenseful script, carefully constructed pacing and the well-developed lead characters. Christina is so religious that she feels damned by her actions, yet Nicole is her polar opposite. Does she feel some affinity with Christina’s plight or is she preying on Christina’s weaknesses? Watching these two characters play off each other is what makes this film so unforgettable.
My favourite scenes are when Nicole and Christina put their murderous plan into action. I found myself watching their every move, hoping and praying nothing goes wrong. But of course it does, and – thanks to Clouzot’s eye – we, the audience, become complicit in the women’s actions.
Watch carefully and you will find that water features heavily throughout. The dripping tap, the highly decorative bath and the swimming pool are all symbols of death, best illustrated by a close-up of the bath drain (which Hitchcock would make his own in Psycho) and the emptying of the pool. So potent an image is the pool that it makes me wonder how many other films turn a swimming pool into a character itself.
Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror film-making and is a must-have for all world cinema fans. Back in 2011, a dual format UK release from Arrow Academy featured a HD transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative. Now, The Criterion Collection has released a UK Blu-ray version featuring the same digital restoration and the following special features…
• Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
• New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, codirector of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Inferno”
• New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
• Original theatrical trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
Split (2015) | James McEvoy displays incredible range in M Night Shamalayan’s twisted psychological thriller
I have always been wary of M Night Shyamalan’s films as they always hold so much promise, only to disappoint in the final reel. So I went into Split with much trepidation. But, as the twisted psycho thriller unfolded, I found myself totally entranced – thanks to James McAvoy’s incredible turn in the lead role(s).
McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and possesses 23 distinct personalities – which are at threat of being dominated by a 24th, called The Beast, which is currently beginning to manifest itself.
The mystery starts in a shopping mall car park where one of Kevin’s personalities, uptight germaphobe Dennis, abducts three teenage girls and holds them captive in an unspecified underground bunker. Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), whose own back story of being molested as a child is told in flashbacks, clicks to her captors’ different personalities, which include lisping nine year-old Hedwig, gay fashion designer Barry, and ice maiden Patricia.
With the help of her fellow abductees, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), Casey tries to play off the personalities in a bid to escape…
Watching McAvoy is an acting master class in itself, as he displays great range, moving from childish charm to menace and pathos using an array of facial expressions and voices. And this certainly helps to paper over the cracks in Shyamalan’s pseudo psychological ideas that dissociative identity disorder is able to cause physiological changes in the body (it reminded me of Cronenburg’s rage-fuelled psychoplasmics concept in The Brood).
Posing the bizarre theory is Kevin’s shrink Dr Karen Fletcher, marvellously played by Betty Buckley, who scored a Saturn Award for the role. Imagine Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher fused with Oliver Reed’s psychotherapist Hal Raglan from The Brood, but played like Peter Cushing’s Lorrimer Van Helsing. She’s just a fantastic creation.
The final scene features a cameo from Bruce Willis as his Unbreakable character, and sets the scene for Shyamalan to complete his superhero thriller trilogy, with the next film being entitled Glass (based on Samuel L Jackson’s unbreakable character).
Split is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures UK from 5 June, and to Buy & Keep from 22 May and rent from 5 June on Sky Store