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Varsity Blood (2014) | This babe and hunk slaying slasher is unashamedly old-school

Varsity Blood (2014)

The bitchy Hogeye High Varsity Cheer team and their dumb-headed jock boyfriends on the Warriors football team share a dark secret – last Halloween they were involved in the accidental death of the high school principal’s daughter Jenny during a party prank. Now, as Halloween approaches once again, the gang, along with new girl Hannah (Lexi Giovagnoli), head out to a remote abandoned farmhouse for a night of booze, blow and banging (hopefully). But waiting in the shadows is a killer – armed with an axe and dressed as their team mascot, an Indian warrior. But who is behind the mask? Could it be Jenny’s disturbed teen boyfriend Ben, who has just bailed out of rehab, or someone much closer to home?

Varsity Blood (2014)

Using John Carpenter’s Halloween, it’s sequel and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes: Part II as its blueprint, Varsity Blood is unashamedly an old school slasher right down to the Friday the 13th slashing string score, gratuitous near nudity and gory set pieces in which the vacuous good-looking cast get dispatched by hunting knife, shotgun, axe, bow and arrow and drowning in a toilet bowl (all mostly in the dark).

Varsity Blood (2014)

As you’d expect, the acting is pretty ropey, with scream queen icon Debbie Rochon turning up the demento-meter with her crazy momma turn, while Chris Hlozek, who plays Ben’s dad Rick, gets my vote as the worst actor this side of an Ed Wood movie. Despite the paint by numbers plot and typically cardboard characters, I actually found myself getting confused as to what was going on and who was who (well jocks and cheerleaders do lookalike, don’t they?). Plus, everyone talks really fast in some kind of Texan Valley speak. But if you listen real carefully, there are some LOL lines struggling to get out (check some of them out below).

Varsity Blood (2014)

Look out for the police dispatcher (Cindy Timms), whose sole purpose is to help us understand what the hell is going on. Now, is it just me or is she channelling Kimmy Robertson’s quirky Lucy Moran from Twin Peaks? Finally, a bit of trivia. It’s shot at the same high school where 1999’s Varsity Blues was filmed (which happens to be the alma mater of writer/director Jake Helgren).

Favourite lines:
Sex is like shooting a bunny – guaranteed to be greeted with guilt’ (Linda)
Your negativity is not helping anything’ (Heather)
My cheergina’s going to close up if you don’t do it already’ (Tina)
Damn meddling kids’ (Rick)

Varsity Blood is released on DVD in the UK from Image Entertainment

Black Water Vampire (2014) | It’s The Blair Witch Project meets Rosemary’s Baby in the snow

Black Water VampireFor the past nine years, Raymond Banks (Bill Oberst Jr) has been locked up in a penitentiary accused of murdering four women in the town of Fawksin, all on the night of the summer solstice, over 10 year periods.Young reporter Andrea (Andrea Monier), who has always regarded Banks as the bogeyman of her childhood but believes a vampire she saw in her dreams, is the real culprit, heads down ‘Bloodsucker Highway’ with her film crew to find out the truth.

After interviewing the weird locals and less-than-helpful authorities, Andrea, Danielle (Danielle Lozeau) and Anthony (Anthony Fanelli) take a three-day hike to the latest murder scene and and the site of Bank’s old cabin. But after loosing their way and falling out with each other, the trio discover – to their horror – that the Black Water Vampire really does exist, and that the Nosferatu creature has bigger plans for the virginal Andrea than draining her dry…

Black Water Vampire

OK! So this is yet another low budget found footage horror, and one which lets itself down by winding everything up (without explanation) in the final shot, but watching this on the big screen with a horror-loving audience made it a hell of a lot more fun. There’s bits of Silence of the Lambs in there, as well as Blair Witch, Troll Hunter (a great found footage horror worth checking out) and Rosemary’s Baby (in the final shot), but there’s also a subtle feminist statement running through the proceedings that makes it kind of fun. Think Girls, but on a really frightful hair day.

Black Water Vampire

When it comes to scares, they all happen when the night vision kicks, which is also when the Black Water Vampire makes its appearance. For me, however, the film’s most frightening character is the poncho-wearing 75-year-old cabin lady. She’s a right scream. The film’s best line goes to the annoying Anthony: ‘That thing wasn’t a bloody bunny rabbit’. Yep, Black Water Vampire really is best seen with a bunch of buddies and few beers…

Black Water Vampire is out on DVD in the UK from Monday 24 March 2014 from Image Entertainment.


House of 1000 Dolls (1967) | Undressing the Vincent Price Euro thriller

House of 1000 Dolls

The dolls in this 1967 Euro thriller about modern-day white slavery are a bevy of lingerie-clad beauties – 12 or so, not 1000 – being held captive in a Tangiers mansion. Vincent Price and Martha Hyer use their magic act as cover for the abductions, which they do on behalf of the mysterious King of Hearts. George Nader (aka Rock Hudson’s former lover) plays a detective whose investigation into a friend’s murder leads him to the dollhouse.

Vincent Price in House of 1000 Dolls

One can only imagine how this Euro thriller – and guilty pleasure – would have turned out had Hammer’s Terence Fisher not fallen ill before shooting the original Victorian adventure script. Instead, producer Harry Alan Towers wrote a screenplay which puts his real-life wife (Maria Rohm) in as many scenes as possible and reduces Vincent Price to a supporting role. At least the iconic star gets a memorable death scene. The film premiered in the US on November 8 1967 before going on general release in March 1968. For a full review, check out The Sound of Vincent Price blog.

The UK DVD release from Mediumrare Entertainment features a lovely print and a gallery of on-set photos (mainly of Maria Rohm), and will be of interest to both Price fans and vintage exploitation cinema enthusiasts.

House of 1000 Dolls also screens on CBS Action (Sky 148, Virgin 192) today (29 December) at 10.55pm; and on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149) on Monday 6 January 2014 at 2.25am.


The 14 (1973) | David Hemmings’ underrated anarchic British drama starring Jack Wild

David Hemming's The 14

Based on a true story, this obscure independent 1973 feature from actor/director David Hemmings is a revelation and is now available in a brand-new transfer from Network Distributing‘s The British Film collection.

Set against the backdrop of a rundown terraced street in London’s East End that’s been earmarked for redevelopment, Hemmings’ gritty urban drama follows 17-year-old Reg (Jack Wild), the eldest of 14 children, as he struggles to keep his family together following the sudden death of their mother (June Brown).

June Brown in The 14

When a team social workers take the youngest children into custody, Reg and his siblings go on the run, with one of their lot taking the family’s story to the newspapers. After a stint at a Catholic reform school, Reg reunites with his girlfriend, single mother Reena (Cheryl Hall), before rounding up the children at returning to their mother’s boarded up home to spend what could be their last Christmas together as a family…

Jack Wild in The 14

The late Jack Wild is best known for playing the Artful Dodger in Olivier! and having adventures with TV’s HR Pufnstuf in the late-1960s, but in Hemmings’ second film as director he shows what an accomplished and serious actor he could be. It’s such a shame that Wild was plagued by addiction throughout his life (he was smoking and drinking from the age of 12 and died of oral cancer in 2006), and watching him puffing away with a cigarette in each hand while downing bottles of beer on screen here only makes his tragic real-life story all the more sadder.

Apart from Wild, most of the performers playing his young siblings were non-actors, and this only adds to the film’s docu-drama feel. There’s also a very early turn from Alun Armstrong, who plays June Brown’s layabout boyfriend, who abandons her children after her funeral. And speaking of Brown (better known as EastEnders’ Dot Cotton), she may not have much screen time, but when she’s on, you can’t help but watch her every nuanced move.

Jack Wild in The 14

Hemmings film, which was based on actual events involving a group of Birmingham orphans who were eventually relocated as a family to a farm in Cornwall, won the Silver Bear at the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival, and though it depicts a family on the very edge of society, living in poor, squalid conditions with no future ahead of them except reform school and foster homes, the film’s central theme of ‘keeping the family together’, is superbly handled, avoids melodrama at all costs, and surprisingly ends on an upbeat note.

David Hemming's The 14

There’s also an anarchic sensibility running through the film as the youngsters stick two fingers at authority at every turn. And this is best expressed in the quite hilarious scenes in which the children see off a horrible woman hired to take care of them, reduce an inexperienced nun to tears and expertly give the police and social services the runaround. In this respect, Hemmings seems to have created a film with a true punk spirit, but with a neo-realist bent. This is gripping cinema with real soul. Do check it out…

The 2013 Network Distributing DVD release features a new transfer from the original film elements, plus the full frame as-filmed version of main feature, original theatrical trailer, image gallery and promotional material PDF.

The 14 also screens on Talking Pictures TV (Sky 343, Freeview 81, YouView 81, Freesat 306) on Monday 16 January 2017 at 8pm, and Friday 20 January at 8pm.




The Headless Ghost (1959) | It’s not just the spirits groaning in this haunted castle comedy

The Headless GhostSPOOKS RUN WILD!
While touring Britain, three exchange students Bill (Richard Lyon), Ronnie (David Rose) and Ingrid (Liliane Sottane) visit Ambrose Castle – the 14th-century home of the 12th Earl of Ambrose – which is reputedly haunted by the disembodied spirit of the fourth Earl (Clive Revill) who lost his head leading a rebellion. On the premise of writing a story for his college paper, Ronnie convinces Bill and Ingrid to spend the night in the castle, where they not only encounter the ghost, but also find themselves being tasked with recovering his head…

The Headless Ghost

This undemanding comedy was one of the first films made at the UK’s Merton Park studios by US B-movie maestro Herman Cohen, who would go on to lens such cult favourites as Horrors of the Black Museum and Konga, all featuring the wondeful Michael Gough. But this clunky monochrome feature lacks the colourful camp spirit of those later films and looks extremely dated today. Director Peter Graham Scott later worked on TV’s Danger Man and The Onedin Line, but his best work was helming the 1961 Hammer-produced smuggler’s tale Captain Clegg (aka Night Creatures), starring Peter Cushing. This one’s a ‘maybe miss’ from me.

The Headless Ghost

The new Network Distributing DVD release features a brand-new transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited cinema aspect ratio, but there are none of the usual extras.

You find more great releases from Network Distributing on their The British Film Facebook page (click here), and on their official website (click here) and Twitter feed (click here).


The Girl From Rio (1969) | Retro Eurotika thrills with Bond girl Shirley Eaton

The Girl from Rio

From the late Eurotika director Jess Franco comes The Girl from Rio, a cocktail swilling 1960s espionage actioner starring Bond girl Shirley Eaton as a bisexual super villain hell-bent on conquering the world with an army of beautiful women. But standing in her way is George Sanders’ slimy British mobster and Richard Wyler’s square-jawed secret agent…

The Girl From Rio

Inspired by the comic strip capers of 1966′s Modesty Blaise and 1968′s Barbarella, Franco and producer Harry Alan Towers first gave Sax Rohmer’s female Fu Manchu, Sumuru, a kinky makeover in 1967’s The Million Eyes of Sumuru. This colourful campy 1969 sequel isn’t in their league, but it does make great use of Rio’s Sugarloaf mountain (and gave Sanders and co an exotic paid holiday), while the cool production design and sexy sci-fi clobber are very much of the era. There’s also quite a bit of flesh on show and a large chunk of running time devoted to Rio’s carnival. Eaton retired from acting after making this film, while Sanders, who was already in poor health, would take his own life just three years later, in 1972.


Mediumrare Entertainment offers a fine print on this UK DVD release, with some interesting extras including a 2004 documentary featuring director Franco, who sums up his films as: ‘It’s not art, but it makes you happy.’

A might see. This is strictly for Jesus Franco completists.

The Girl from Rio and House of 1000 Dolls UK DVD review 2013

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