A decade on from the end of the Nazi occupation of France, a small rural town finds itself engaged in another war. A platoon of dead German soldiers are beginning to return from their unholy water grave – a cursed lake where the Spanish Inquisition held black masses and sacrificed children to appease evil spirits that would rise up in search of fresh blood.
At first, the town’s Mayor (Howard Vernon) refuses to take action, despite reported attacks on local women and the instance of a city journalist to investigate. But when a women’s basketball team is massacred and a local homicide squad arrives, the Mayor rally the townspeople to drive the Nazi soldiers into a infernal trap…
This 1981 Spanish-French horror film, which is also known as Le lac des morts vivants, was supposed to have been directed by Jesus Franco. But when he bailed Jean Rollin (Female Vampire) was roped in to put it together. But it’s a soggy mess.
Franco favourite Howard Vernon looks so bored as the Mayor of a picture postcard but deadly dull French town lives in a castle folly decorated in gargoyles; while the locals (made up of extras) seem to spend every waking moment in the town’s one and only tavern.
Lime green makeup is the only attempt at special make-up for the film’s zombies, so they end up looking like a bunch of Shreks in Nazi clobber – and certainly pale beside Shock Waves’ genuinely scary barnacle encrusted Storm troopers (that film’s highlight).
Interestingly, the zombie attacks come off as quite sexual, with lots of passionate kissing rather than any primal flesh tearing. Given Rollin’s penchant for eroticism, I wonder if this was his only creative contribution to the film, which some off a bit Benny Hill in its ludicrous attempts at titillation by chucking in nudity at every turn.
In a riff on Frankenstein and little Maria from the Universal classic, there’s a side story in which Helena (Anouchka), the 10-year-old daughter of one of the Nazi zombies befriends her undead dad (Pierre-Marie Escourrou, TV’s Une femme d’honneur) who ends up having to protect her from his bloodthirsty pals. This is actually more interesting than the main story, and provides the film with a moving (read: melodramatic) ending in which little Helena helps to release her dad’s restless spirit from its eternal torment.
The last 20-minutes sees the zombies walk very slowly into an ambush to the tune of an avant-garde score made up of drum and a harpsichord. It’s a bizarre choice, and just as patchy as the film as the music ranges from some melodramatic piano and string to jaunty la la la tunes every time there’s a nude swimming scene. And when the screen isn’t swelling with muzak, the incessant birdcalls are really grating.
Which leaves me with this last question: How would you react if your dead Nazi soldier dad came back as a pond dwelling green-tinged zombie?
Zombie Lake is out on DVD in the UK from Screenbound & Black House Films
In 1864, 18-year-old Ludwig II (Helmut Berger) ascends the throne of Bavaria. Following a scandal involving Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard) and his mistress Cosima von Bulow (Silvana Mangano), Ludwig is forced to expel them from Munich. Under pressure to marry, the latently homosexual king, who is having an intense relationship with Hungarian actor Josef Kainz (Folker Bohnet, agrees to an arranged wedding with his cousin Sophie (Sonia Petrovna). But the strain of this relationship, the war with Prussia, and fears of a conspiracy brewing his court play havoc on his mental state…
With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to King Ludwig II of Bavaria with this lavish 1972 historical drama that traces his bizarre 22-year reign, ending with his mysterious death in June 1886.
Sporting a sickly countenance and redden eyelids, Helmut Berger’s Ludwig cuts a miserable figure, who sinks further into despair and madness as he moves from one overly ornate palace and castle to another, which soon become gilded prisons, made all the more claustrophobic by the incessant rain and snow showers.
Featuring Armando Nannuzzi’s sumptuous cinematography and Piero Tosi’s Oscar-nominated costume design, Visconti mounts his epic of 19th century decadence on such an opulent scale – and in the very locations that the real king lived (*) – that it needs to be seen in its entirety to admire its dazzling operatic stature. And this new Arrow Academy release presents the film in its completed form in accordance with the director’s wishes, and – for the first time on home video – includes the English-language soundtrack.
Berger dominates every scene, but he does get some excellent support from the ever-reliable Trevor Howard, who is the spitting image of Wagner, and The House That Screamed’s John Moulder-Brown, as his mentally-unstable brother, Prince Otto, while Romy Schneider reprises her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the classic Sissi trilogy. The music includes Richard Wagner’s last original composition for piano, as well as works by Offenbach and Shuman. A melancholy masterpiece deserving of a revisit.
ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• 4K restoration from the original film negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut (1hr:15min) or as five individual parts (with the full pisodes 1-3 are on disc 2)
• Original Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles
• Original English soundtrack available with optional English subtitles (This version also includes the Italian soundtrack where no English track was recorded… which makes for any interesting experience. But if you are familiar with Italian, then it works quite smoothly)
• Interview with actor Helmut Berger (OMG! Be afraid! Be very afraid! Helmut is very candid and very eccentric)
• Interview with producer Dieter Geissler (who also did Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Without Warning and The Neverending Story)
• Luchino Visconti: an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
• Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico: an interview with the screenwriter
• Silvana Mangano – The Scent Of A Primrose: a portrait of the actress (30min)
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Cowie (first pressing only)
DID YOU KNOW?
(*) The film was shot on location in Munich and Bavaria, including Roseninsel, Berg Castle, Lake Starnberg, Castle Herrenchiemsee, Castle Hohenschwangau, Linderhof Palace, Cuvilliés Theatre, Nymphenburg Palace, Ettal, Kaiservilla and Neuschwanstein Castle.
Variety has called The Eyes of My Mother ‘an exquisite waking nightmare’, and I must admit that while viewing Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, I was reminded of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and even 1974’s Deranged.
If you like your horror slow-burning and artfully shot, then Pesce’s American Gothic-fused tale of depravity and dread will draw you into its monochrome-lensed folk horror world, while also setting your nerves on edge with its extreme violence, that’s more often implied than actually shown.
In a remote rural setting, young Portuguese farm-girl Francisca (Olivia Bond) witnesses the horrific murder of her surgeon mother at the hands of a travelling salesman called Charlie (Will Brill). When her father (Paul Nazak) arrives home, he knocks Charlie out and holds him captive in the family’s barn where he removes his eyes and vocal cords.
Psychologically damaged by the traumatic experience, Francisca begins to see Charlie as her only friend and a plaything that she can torture using her mother’s surgical instruments. Fast forward a few years, the adult Francisca (Kika Magalhães) has isolated herself from the real world and constructed her own morbid morality – which leads her to commit her own atrocious acts of murder and dismemberment…
With her quirky Paula Rego-esque features, Kika Magalhães reminded me of the British actress Angela Pleasence, she of the elfin-like countenance who gave weirdly unsettingly performances in films like José Ramón Larraz’s cult horror Symptoms (1974).
Indeed, such is Magalhães’ strong and nuanced performance, that her Francisca belongs in that pantheon of movies featuring women descending into madness, alongside its ice maiden queen, Catherine Deneuve, as seen in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965).
For me, its Zach Kuperstein’s monochrome photography that impresses the most – much more so than the story, which can be read as a nature vs nurture debate on the nature of evil – as his lighting and composition evokes the stark and sterile cinema of Ingmar Bergman and true crime films like The Honeymoon Killers (1970) and the Conrad Hall shot In Cold Blood (1967).
There’s also an exploitation vibe going on, recalling Alan Ormsby’s Ed Gein-inspired serial killer thriller Deranged (1974), while also paying homage to William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill featuring Vincent Price – which, along with Strait-Jacket, Psycho and Night of the Hunter, informs the film tonally. And there are other influences in there too, including Polanski and David Lynch, but also the extreme French horror cinema of the 2000s (Marytrs is one that comes to mind).
There are alot of ‘WTF?’ moments that will leave you in shock, but also baffle. Like, how does Francisca support herself when she’s clearly incapable of connecting with the outside world and can’t speak the local lingo? Having the film span decades also leaves questions unanswered, but if you take it that we are experiencing mere fragments of Francisca’s memory then it might help paper over the cracks.
Now, without going into detail, much of what happens in the second half will have you wondering what the hell you have you been watching – but those artfully conceived visuals, Magalhães brutal performance, and the nerve-wracking use of sound are saving graces. Oh, and thanks Pesce for making me never hear Amália Rodrigues the same way again. This is a brilliant, but bewildering debut.
The Eyes of My Mother is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from Friday 24 March from Park Circus
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 | This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun
This ‘sequel’ to Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s 1975 cult drive-in actioner Death Race 2000 is a hoot and a half – and finally consigns those dire Jason Statham/Luke Goss efforts to the wrecker’s yard.
Malcolm McDowall dials in another performance as the Trump-esque Chairman of the United Corporations of America who gets his bouffant comb-over in a twist when his four-time racing champion Frankenstein wants to retire from the ‘greatest pissing contest of mankind’ (aka the Death Race), which every citizen (now permanently unemployed) vicariously joins in via VR headsets.
Playing the man of many a spare part (and stepping into John Carradine’s black leathers) is Manu Bennett (TV’s Spartacus), who seems to be channelling Mel Gibson’s Mad Max as he sets off with his proxy Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller, Days of Our Lives) – who is secretly working for a resistance group – from Old New York to Los Angeles. But as they mow down ‘willing’ fans along the way to collect vital points, will trying to avoid some high calibre hospitality, hot on their tailgate is the genetically-modified superstar Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who’ll stop at nothing to beat them to the finish line…
This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun that pays loving homage to the original (even down to the retro poster design), while also providing some thigh-slapping political satire by lampooning everything that is wrong with America today – from guns and religion to consumerism and social apathy.
Director GJ Echternkamp and co-writer Matt Yamashita inject loads of black humour into the film and its characters, who are great fun to cheer on or boo as they traverse America’s re-named cities and states like Upper Shitville (Baltimore), New Texxaco (Texas) and MeatPakistan (Kansas).
Amongst the racers are hip-hop star Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku), whose latest hit song is ‘Drive… drive… drive… kill… drive…’; Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey), a bible-bashing interfaith wack-job who is a ‘magnet for heathens’; and ABE, a KITT-like artificial intelligence who has an existential meltdown when he accidentally impales his sex-mad proxy to the hood of his bonnet.
Turning up the Roid Rage to warp factor 10 is Burt Grinstead as the sexually-ambiguous Perfectus, who reminded me of a closeted version of Gerrit Graham’s glam rocker Beef in 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise, while Yancy Butler (of Lake Placid and Witchblade fame) is the tough as nails Alexis, a former network programmer who now leads the resistance – a bunch of leather clad muscle boys. But for me, it’s Shanna Olsen who steals the show as the Hunger Games-styled news anchor Grace Tickle.
Among the many funny lines are ‘It’s hard to turn global famine into click bait’ and ‘I’ll drink your tears Frankenstein and lick them off your handsome face’, but the most chilling must be, ‘The world is fucking crazy, a sane person doesn’t stand a chance’. Considering what America is going through now, it might just be true…
The late-great Ib Melchior gets a credit at the end for it was his short story The Racer that inspired Corman’s original Rollerball rip-off in the first place… now, does anyone remember sales people?
Death Race 2050 is out on Blu-ray and Digital Download from Monday 20 March 2017
DID YOU KNOW? You can watch the original cult action film here – in full!
Multiple Maniacs (1970) | John Waters’ outrageously offensive Cavalcade of Perversion restored and on Blu-ray
Who knew that after nearly five decades in the cult underground, one of John Waters’ early homemade ‘celluloid atrocities’ would end up sitting alongside the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman and their kind? Well, his gloriously grotesque second feature Multiple Maniacs has achieved that rare feat thanks to an amazing restoration by Janus Films, who first brought world cinema to the American masses, and The Criterion Collection, who are now bringing their fantastic releases into the UK.
“Glorious . . . Can only be described as The Passion of the Christ on Quaaludes.”
The Hollywood Reporter
“Even the garbage is too good a place for it.”
Mary Avara, Maryland Board of Censors
Waters’ anarchic spoof on gore movies starred Divine (in his fourth Waters film) as Lady Divine, the crazed impresario of a performance art freak show in conservative Baltimore whose troupe of counterculture misfits use the show to rob their patrons.
When the sociopathic Lady Divine goes on the run after killing the latest arrivals to her debauched show, she’s sexually attacked by glue-sniffers and has anal sex in a church with a woman (Mink Stole) sporting a set of rosary beads before going on to commit more acts of atrocity – including devouring the internal organs of her ex-lover Dr David (David Lochary) who she kills for having an affair with another woman (Marty Vivian Pearce).
But the death of her prostitute daughter (Cookie Mueller) finally sends Lady Divine over the edge, resulting in her being raped by a giant lobster [spoiler alert!!!] before the National Guard take her out on a busy Baltimore street.
Made on a shoestring budget (funded by mum and dad Waters) and at the home where Waters grew up, Multiple Maniacs has become the transgressive director’s highest rated films (says Rotten Tomatoes) and an anarchic masterwork that the Pope of Trash has longed to see get a proper release.
After a screening of the last-ever 60mm print during a retrospective at Lincoln Center in New York in 2014, representatives of The Criterion Collection approached Waters about doing a restoration. Asked if he wanted to keep the film exactly as is, with all the mistakes included, Waters told them, ‘Are you kidding me? Make it look good!’ Having removed all the splice marks and dirt, Waters now describes his ‘celluloid atrocity’ as looking akin to ‘a bad John Cassavetes movie’. Joking aside, the restoration is truly astonishing given the film’s DIY nature – it was shot on an Arcon 0627 camera using reversal black and white film with the sound being recorded on a magnetic strip at the same time.
So did he go too far? Well, according to an interview he gave to The Guardian following a screening of the restored version, Waters said: ‘Of course I went a little too far! I did look at that rosary sex scene, at the people around me, and I could see the young audience in disbelief. At the same time, I think, how did I get away with this? How did any of this happen? Part of it was a time capsule. A very accurate picture of what my sense of humour, and what my friends were like at the time, which might scare some people. And in some ways, they should actually be scared of us.’ (1)
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director John Waters, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary featuring Waters (Getting the lowdown on the movie from the horses mouth is truly hilarious and makes getting this release a must. I’ve actually listened to this twice now and can’t wait for round three).
• Interviews with cast and crew members Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe and George Figgs
• Plus, an essay by critic Linda Yablonsky (not included with my screener).
The Love Witch (2016) | Prepare to be seduced, bewitched and beguiled – just watch out for the jimsonweed!
A deliciously visual confection that pays loving homage to vintage Hollywood glamour, melodrama and Technicolor, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a beguiling and bewitching feminist exploration of pathological love, desire and narcissism.
She Loved Men… To Death
Wiccan convert Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is determined to find a man to love her entirely. Fleeing San Francisco after the death of a lover, she takes up residence in a gothic Victorian apartment in a quaint town northern Californian, where she begins her search for the man of her dreams.
But her sex magic – which requires the use of the hallucinogenic jimsonweed – is so powerful it sends her suitors to an early grave, and when she does meet her perfect match in a detective (Gian Keys) who is investigating her, Elaine’s desperation to be loved sends her over the edge…
With its purposefully stylised look, drenched in a ultra vivid colour palette, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch certainly took my breathe away and reminded me of how excited I felt when I first laid eyes on the hyper-real styling’s of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle, James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus and Todd Haynes’ Poison and Velvet Goldmine.
Praise be Biller for taking over seven years to bring her feminist opus to cinematic life – and doing all the writing, direction and editing herself (as well as the sets, songs and paintings), while also working closely with cinematographer, M David Mullen (Jennifer’s Body and TV’s Extant), to achieve her desire to create a fun movie that uses her own cinema fantasies to ‘penetrate the visual world of an iconic witch’.
It’s certainly exciting for cinephiles like myself to catch all the references that Biller channels into the film: like the opening sequence that’s an intentional nod to Hitchcock’s The Birds – complete with retro rear-screen projection; Douglas Sirk’s soapy 1950s melodramas; and female-driven pictures like Mildred Pierce and Leave Her To Heaven.
And when it comes to the borrowed music, Biller cleverly chooses some evocative 1960s giallo scores by Ennio Morricone. Now I might be mistaken, but I think I also heard a mock-medieval melody from David Lee’s Masque of the Red Death score from Roger Corman’s 1964 Pathecolor horror classic – another film that made masterful use of a primary colour palette courtesy of Nicolas Roeg.
For me, the heavy use of reds, purples and blacks and the witches’ coven sequences reminded me of some other psychedelic American International Pictures-produced horrors like Count Yorga, Vampire and The Dunwich Horror. But Biller has gone on record to say that she was never influenced by what she calls these ‘exploitation movies’ as they were made purely for ‘male pleasure’.
Playing the deluded femme fatale, Samantha Robinson is totally bewitching as Elaine, who is part Stepford wife, part Samantha from Bewitched, but with the darker shades of Sandy Dennis in That Cold Day in the Park and a couple of Hitchcock heroines lurking behind inviting deep hazel eyes that stare directly at the camera in almost every shot. It’s a clever technique that effectively seduces the viewer into being drawn into Elaine’s deluded candy-coloured world.
Here’s how Biller viewed her intentions: ‘I wanted to make a movie about a witch, because I think that every woman is made to feel like a witch by the men who don’t understand her: that is, mysterious, dangerous, different, abnormal. Elaine is monstrous, wreaking havoc wherever she goes, but she is also sympathetic, because she has essentially been driven mad by being a woman, and is struggling to find love and acceptance in a world that has disappointed her at every turn.’
The gender politics of Biller’s The Love Witch is certainly ripe for closer examination and comment, and I look forward to revisiting the film when it gets its UK Blu-ray release on 13 March from ICON Entertainment. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and catch this on the big screen – you NEED to see it in all its 35mm glory.
Oh and for those of you who are film location fanatics (like me), Elaine’s Munsters-like Victorian mansion can be found at 916 13th St, Arcata, CA 95521.
The Love Witch is out in selected UK cinemas now.
If you’re already familiar with the outré cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky, then you’re going to have a whole lot of fun spotting the real-life influences on his 1989 surreal horror Santa Sangre in this exuberant follow-up to his 2013 auto-biopic The Dance of Reality.
In 1940’s Santiago, alienated youngster Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) has an epiphany that his destiny is to become a poet. When he finally rebels against his ultra conservative father, Alejandro (now played by the director’s real-life son, Adan) moves in with a group of young anti-establishment artists, where he turns his hand to puppetry and clowning. Immersing himself in this carefree creative world, Alejandro’s metamorphosis leads him to discover an inner truth: that every path in life (both good or bad) is meant to be lived…
This is one Jodorowsky’s most personal films, where he strips away layers of ego to lay bare his inner self – and, in doing so, reveals up his influences for Santa Sangre. It’s also very much a family affair (both on and off-screen), for at the heart of his second auto-biopic is the troubled relationship that the director’s twentysomething self had with his father Jaime (played by another of Alejandro’s sons, Brontis).
Jodorowsky’s portrayal of Jaime is very much like the character of Orgo in Santa Sangre, which centred on the circus performer’s unstable son Fenix (who were played by brothers Adan and Axel) enacting revenge in the guise of his dead mother.
Watch carefully and you’ll spot a man with missing arms appearing in Endless Poetry. This is another reference to the director’s brilliant surreal horror in which Fenix’s mother Conchita has her arms cut off by Orgo after pouring acid on his testicles. Two other characters also appear – the Tattoo Lady (in the form of Alejandro’s red-headed muse) and the tutu-wearing Alma (as a dance-obsessed member of the art collective).
In Jodorowsky’s universe symbolism is everything, and here he weaves a visually-rich tapestry in which every image is a metaphor or signifier linked to the Tarot’s cycle of birth, death and renewal. Some images are quite strong – almost too much so, like the sex scene involving a dwarf having her period – but in Jodorowsky’s hand, these images become transformative rather than for shock value.
Others – like the incredible Day of the Dead carnival sequence – are just pure exalted joy. United these stunning images bring to visceral life the chaotic paths that we must all take to seek out our own inner truth, self enlightenment and life’s ‘endless’ poetry, which only Jodorowsky can get away with describing as ‘the luminous excrement of a toad that swallowed a firefly’ and make it sound truly beautiful.
Having learned his trade from the likes of Joe D’Amato, Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam, Milan-born film-maker Michele Soavi went on to direct a quartet of Italian horrors in the late 1980s and early 1990s that have their fans and their critics.
1987’s Stage Fright was a well-executed slasher that paid homage to Argento; 1989’s supernatural shocker The Church looked great, but was a bit of a bore; 1991’s The Sect revisited Rosemary’s Baby theme with trippy results, and 1994’s Cemetery Man aka Dellamorte Dellamore combined black comedy and horror to great effect that it became the director’s finest hour.
Given Shameless’ lovingly-restored, re-mastered release of The Sect (which follows their release of The Church last year and Dellamorte Dellamore back in 2012), I thought it ripe to pay Soavi’s underrated horror a revisit…
Kelly Curtis (daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and sister to Jamie Lee) plays American schoolteacher Miriam based in Frankfurt, where a satanic cult is making headlines for a series of grisly murders being carried out across the German city.
When she knocks over the elderly Moebius (Herbert Lom), she takes him home to recuperate. But her good deed results in her being drugged with some ominous-looking fluid.
Kelly then finds herself in a waking nightmare involving a dark well and a giant demonic bird that are all linked to the Charles Manson-like cult leader Damon (Thomas Arana) – who is seen in the film’s 1970’s-set prologue in which he is promised a child born from the seed of Lucifer himself…
The Sect is certainly as imaginative as Soavi’s other features, and it benefits from some surreal visuals and hazy cinematography (by Raffaele Mertes who’d go on to do Argento’s Trauma), as well as another cool score from Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now, Carrie, The Howling), and, as you follow Kelly’s modern-day Alice down the rabbit hole, the film plays like a really weird acid trip – which is made all the more insane by the runaway script (in which Argento had a hand in writing).
Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are certainly major influences, both in regards to the storyline and the themes (the Satanic Panic phenomenon was in full swing when this film was made), but Soavi does conjure up the odd cool ideas – like the demonic bird. In the end, however, it’s the score and those visuals that help paper over the cracks, while Curtis makes for an engaging heroine.
For me, however, the big highlight was Herbert Lom. Hearing his elegant gravelled tones and seeing him give a really honest and restrained performance as the mysterious Moebious was a real treat, and it was great to see him back in the genre that knew him best one last time (he retired after 1993’s Son of the Pink Panther).
THE SHAMELESS UK RELEASE
The new UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Shameless features a new 2K scan from the original negative with a running time of 117-min. It also includes the original English language audio, as well as Italian in stereo LPCM or 5.1 audio with new English subtitles.
The main extra here is Beauty and Terror, a 29-minute interview with director Michele Soavi, who discusses his association with Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato and the making of The Sect. Also included are trailers for The Church, Dellamorte Dellamore, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
In the US, Scorpion Releasing are scheduled to release The Sect along with The Church later this year.
US short’s director Jackson Stewart makes his directorial debut with Beyond the Gates, a nostalgic tribute to 1980’s horror films and board games that’s like The Big Bang Theory meets Jumanji and Fright Night.
Seven months after their drunken dad’s latest disappearance, estranged brothers Gordon (Tales of Halloween’s Graham Skipper) and John (The Guest’s Chase Williamson) have the task of clearing out his video store. Coming across a vintage VHS board game, the brothers decide to play the game for laughs, but are shocked to learn from its mysterious host Evelyn (Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton) that it is in fact a portal to an inter-dimensional world where their father’s soul has been trapped. With the help of Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Dexter’s Brea Grant), the trio set out to save him…
The DVD cover art makes this indie shocker look on par to Stranger Things. But while it can’t touch the thrilling heights of that Netflix sensation, it’s still an enjoyable ride. Now, not much actually happens when the trio are lured into the board game, but suspense and a sense of dread seem to be the name of the game here. And apart from an exploding head, there’s not that much in the way of gore.
Despite the lack of all-out shocks and action, I was drawn in by the story (which is basically about two geeky chalk-n-cheese brothers reconnecting) and the solid performances of the cast, especially Williamson as the moody John (he’s my one to watch, by the way) and everyone’s favourite scream queen Crampton as the spooky black-eyed host.
The shots of Crampton staring immobile, waiting for the lads to play their next move, really sent a chill up my spine, while her breaking the fourth wall inside the TV reminded me of 1986’s Escapes, in which an elderly Vincent Price played a similarly sinister role. The cool synth score is by Wojciech Golczewski, who also did Crampton’s 2015 horror We Are Still Here.
Mildred Pierce (1945) | The mother of all melodramas starring Joan Crawford joins The Criterion Collection
When it comes to high camp melodrama, director Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce must be the mother of them all! Giving her best-ever performance, Joan Crawford plays the eponymous single mum who walks out on her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett aka cinema’s original Tarzan) so she can build a new life for her two daughters and ends up creating a restaurant chain empire that gives her fame and fortune but leaves her personal life in tatters – and murder…
Nominated for six Academy Awards and scoring Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar, 1945’s Mildred Pierce transformed James M Cain’s 1941 psychological novel into a film noir murder mystery fused with a 1940s women’s picture. Maternal sacrifice never looked so melodramatic as played by Crawford, who is genuinely convincing as the unflappable Mildred who will do anything to achieve the American dream for the sake of her children – especially Veda, who causes her no end of grief.
Ann Blyth scored an Oscar nomination playing the deliciously mean-spirited spoiled brat, and became one of cinema’s all-time great villains as a result. And playing Mildred’s second husband Monte, Zachary Scott is the epitome of the worthless playboy who reminded me of Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s Laura. Then there’s Eve Arden in the supporting role as Mildred’s loveable sidekick Ida, who provides the film with some truly quotable lines like: ‘Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young’.
But this film belongs to Crawford, who looks fantastic bathed in Ernest Haller’s expressionistic camerawork (he’d done wonders with Crawford’s nemesis Bette Davis in Jezebel and would lens them both in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). And if you watch the feature-length documentary that accompanies the Criterion release, you’ll see that’s there’s quite a lot of Joan in her character – though probably not the mothering side.
Famously, Crawford didn’t attend the Oscars when she won the Best Actress award – instead, feigning sickness, the press were summoned to her home to see her accept the statuette. That’s our Joanie!
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration
• New conversation about Mildred Pierce with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito (watch a clip above)
• Excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show, featuring Joan Crawford
• Q&A with Ann Blyth from 2002
• Segment from a 1969 episode of The Today Show, featuring novelist James M Cain
• An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith
• Also included is Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star: a fascinating Turner Classic documentary from 2002, narrated by Angelica Huston, that’s longer than the movie, but just as gripping and melodramatic. It traces Crawford’s entire life and career, beginning as a dancer from a impoverished background who learned her craft from an unlikely source (the legendary Lon Chaney) to the creation of the Crawford image as the reigning Queen of the Movies in the 1930s, before a drop in popularity forced her to reinvent herself. Her marriages, affairs and catfights with the likes of Bette Davis and Mercedes McCambridge are legend, as is her association with Pepsi-Cola and her struggles in later life taking on roles in B-movie shockers like Berserk and Trog that were well beneath her. Of course, since the publication of her adopted daughter Christina’s 1978 memoir Mommie Dearest, Crawford’s reputation has been forever tarnished. But this documentary sets out to reminds us that, despite all of her failings, Crawford was one of a kind – and someone who was the creation of her own indomitable will. Catch a clip here…