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Visiting Hours (1982) | Michael Ironside menaces Lee Grant in the notorious Canadian psycho shocker

Visiting Hours (1982)

This 1982 Canadian psycho shocker maybe somewhat implausible, but it’s so tightly constructed that you soon forget it’s flaws.

Michael Ironside (who made an explosive hit in David Cronenberg’s Scanners the year before) gives a genuinely unsettling performance as Colt Hawker, a closeted homicidal psycho who enjoys photographing his victims as he stabs them to death.

Visiting Hours (1982)

Bearing a deep-seated hatred of women (his mother disfigured his abusive father with boiling oil when he was a small child), he’s incensed when TV journalist and women’s rights crusader Deborah Ballin (Damien: Omen II’s Lee Grant) voices her views on TV over a murder case in which a battered woman claimed justifiable defence against her abusive husband.

Following Deborah home, Colt brutally attacks her – but she survives, and ends up being admitted to a local hospital to recuperate. But that doesn’t stop Colt from gaining access to the hospital, where he begins his killing spree in his bid to corner and kill her…

Now ever since 9/11 security in public facilities like hospitals and government has really stepped up to the max in North America. But even back in the 1980s, you’d expect a major hospital like the one featured in Visiting Hours would have the minimum of security. But it doesn’t. Even the police seem to miss Ironside’s suspicious-looking psycho creeping about.

But if you look past this flaw, then you’ll discover a masterful exercise in suspense from Québécois director Jean-Claude Lord, who brings a claustrophobic, giallo-esque feel to his first English-language film,. It also has some genuine scares and is bolstered by skilful performances, especially Grant, who brings great believability to her victimised Deborah.

Visting Hours (1982)

In a nice twist to the standard woman-in-peril story, Lord introduces a sub-plot involving kindly nurse Sheila (played by Matlock’s Linda Purl) who also finds herself on Colt’s hit list. This leads to a nail-biting showdown between the maniac and the two women. Wasted, however, is William Shatner, whose only purpose here is getting another star name onto the credits.

Bizarrely, this one featured on the UK’s notorious Video Nasty list, but ended up being shown on ITV uncut in 1989. It was also a firm favourite at my local video rental back in the day. Revisiting it now, courtesy of Final Cut Entertainment’s new dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) release, I’ve not only found a new appreciation for the film itself, but also for the cinematography, which had been previously muddied by inferior VHS transfers. This suspenseful slice of 80s slasher is well worth the revisit.

The Final Cut Entertainment dual format release also includes the following special features:
• Interview with Lind Purl (9 mins)
• Interview with director Jean Claude Lord (15mins)
• Interview with writer Brian Taggert (15 mins)
• Interview with producer Pierre David (17mins)
• Stills Gallery
• Double Sided Sleeve

Visiting Hours (1982)

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Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror | An Amicus double bill on Blu-ray

Tales From the Crypt | Vault of Horror Blu-ray

From Final Cut Entertainment in the UK comes a double-bill of classic Amicus horror anthologies to make you shiver!!!!

First up is Tales From the Crypt. Directed with finesse by Freddie Francis, this 1972 British creeper was the fourth horror anthology to come from Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenburg’s Amicus outfit, and it remains a classic of its kind thanks to the sterling performances of an all-star cast and the five genuinely macabre stories, inspired by the original EC Comics, which still have the power to chill.

Vault of Horror (1973)

Subotsky drew on five more tales for the following year’s Vault of Horror, Amicus’ penultimate entry in their horror anthology cycle. Asylum director Roy Ward Baker was called in after original choice Freddie Francis (who helmed the first four entries) declined to oversee a mixed bag of horror and humour, which upped the horror quota, and boasted another starry line-up. You can read more HERE.

The extras on this new Blu-ray, which uses the same uncut transfer that Shout!/Scream Factory put out as part of their 2014 double bill, includes a 36-minute featurette featuring interviews with the likes of Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Chibnall.

Available from Amazon from Monday 5 December 2016

 

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The Black Cat (1941) | This vintage horror whodunit is a nostalgic laugh riot

The Black Cat (1941)

There’s something wrong in the house of Winslow
Wealthy eccentric Henrietta Winslow (Cecilia Loftus) loves her cats more than anything or anyone, and when it comes to the reading of her own will, Henrietta discovers ‘she has more relatives hanging around her than a dead sheep has surrounded by vultures’, so remarks antique dealer Mr Penny (Hugh Herbert) when he accompanies estate agent Gil Smith (Broderick Crawford) to Henrietta’s crumbling mansion to take inventory of her estate.

But she’s not dead yet, fellas! Well that little matter doesn’t stop one of Henrietta’s money-hungry relatives from stabbing her to death with a hatpin… But what they don’t know is that there’s a clause in her will that prevents all of them getting anything until her beloved pets and housekeeper Abigail are dead. And that’s the killer’s cue to use secret passages and a storm as cover to do just that…

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This 1941 black and white horror whodunit was Universal’s answer to Paramount’s 1939 comic creeper The Cat and the Canary, and it was just as successful at the box office.

Providing the sinister stares are Bela Lugosi as gloomy gypsy manservant Eduardo and Gale Sondergaard as surly housekeeper Abigail (who has a puss like a lemon rinse), while Basil Rathbone takes time out from his Sherlock Holmes’ duties to play an adulterous cad ‘who should have been actor’, (according to Henrietta). Of course, Universal’s resident ghouls are just red herrings as the real killer is eventually unmasked as… Alan Ladd, Claire Dodd, John Eldredge or Gladys Cooper (you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out).

As flirty niece Elaine, Anne Gwynne makes for a sparky heroine, while burly Broderick Crawford tries to be Bob Hope but comes off more like Lon Chaney Jr. Then there’s veteran comic Hugh ‘Whoo-hoo!’ Herbert who acts like he’s in another movie altogether.

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Featuring atmospheric camerawork that landed Stanley Cortez the cinematography gig on Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (check out the cat lamps that turn a fireplace into a giant feline face); a script that crackles with one-liners; and a creepy mansion that comes with it own crematorium dedicated to deceased pussies, The Black Cat is a nostalgic laugh riot.

And while it may have nothing to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story, save for some eerie cat howls, and the film’s gags run out of steam towards the end, the energy of the classy cast certainly makes up for those minor oversights.

The Black Cat is released on DVD in the UK from Final Cut Entertainment

Vault of Horror (1973) | Amicus’ final EC Comics homage is a neat job indeed

Vault of Horror (1973)

Below the Crypt lies Death’s waiting-room – The . . . Vault of Horror
Having already mined EC Comics for 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, Milton Subotsky drew on five more tales for the following year’s Vault of Horror, Amicus’ penultimate entry in their horror anthology cycle. Asylum director Roy Ward Baker was called in after original choice Freddie Francis (who helmed the first four entries) declined to oversee a mixed bag of horror and humour, which upped the horror quota, and boasted a starry line-up that, surprisingly, didn’t include Amicus’ two big names, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but did include cameos from Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies, who were well-known in the UK as doctors Duncan Waring and Dick Stuart-Clark in London Weekend Television’s popular Doctor in the House sitcom series.

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The wraparound story sees five men entering an elevator in London’s Millbank Tower (which celebrated its 10th-anniversary the year the film came out), where they descend to an underground vault designed like a gentlemen’s club. Fuelled by scotch and few gins, the men take turns in describing their recurring nightmares.… only they’re not…

Midnight Mess sees Daniel Massey trying to kill his sister (Anna Massey) for her inheritance, only to find himself in a restaurant full of vampires; The Neat Job finds Glynis Johns driven mad when she fails to meet new hubby Terry-Thomas’ exacting domestic standards; This Trick’ll Kill You has an Indian rope trick snap back when its stolen by Curt Jürgens’ nasty magician; Bargain in Death puts a humorous spin on Edgar Allan Poe’s Premature Burial short story with Michael Craig waiting to be released from his interment; and Drawn and Quartered sees Tom Baker’s artist using voodoo to get his revenge on the art dealers who have swindled him.

Vault of Horror (1973)

A Neat Job! first appeared in Issue 1 of EC Comics’ Shock SuspenStories in 1952

Vault of Horror got a mixed reception when it was released in the UK and US, and the story goes that EC Comics’ publisher Bill Gaines hated the screenplay so much he refused Amicus access to any further stories. But I regard this as a fantastic entry in Amicus’ portmanteau series, with The Neat Job being the films’ standout story, thanks to Terry-Thomas’s brilliant turn at the obsessive Arthur Critchit and Glynis Johns as the downtrodden Eleanor. Those cries of ‘Can’t you do anything neatly?’ will ring in your ear long forever. The second story, in which future Time Lord Tom Baker gives quite the method performance is also a winner, and plays like a mini Theatre of Blood as Baker’s bohemian artist literally paints out his three victims, who get acid thrown in their eyes, their hands chopped off and bullet between the eyes, before meeting his own demise courtesy of some paint thinner.

Vault of Horror (1973)

Midnight Mess is based on a story that first appeared in Tales from the Crypt (Issue 35) in 1953.

For years, film fans have had to accept home entertainment releases with freeze frames in place of the gruesome denouement of the vampire story and the well-aimed hammer attack in A Neat Job. Thankfully, Final Cut’s UK Blu-ray release uses the same uncut transfer that Shout!/Scream Factory put out as part of their 2014 double bill with Tales from the Crypt. This Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific [and really showcases the film’s 1970s production design] and while it doesn’t include any extras (you have to double dip and get the Final Cut double feature get that), it’s a worthwhile addition to your Amicus anthology collection.

Vault of Horror (1973)

This photo was taken for promotional purposes only, while the film includes a great plug for Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt.

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The Vampire Lovers (1970) | Hammer’s blood, breasts and blades Gothic horror is a buxom beauty indeed

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

By the late 1960s, those ghoulish purveyor’s of British Gothic horror, Hammer Films, needed more than Christopher Lee’s blood-shot-eyed Count Dracula to get bums back on the seats at local picture houses. What they needed was a good dose of sex and sadism. And so lesbianism reared its fangs in darkest Styria (just a couple of counties away from Karlsbad and Ingolstadt), where Ingrid Pitt put the vamp in vampire and the bite on some busty beauties, including Madeline Smith, Pippa Steele and Kate O’Hara, in 1970’s The Vampire Lovers.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

In the first of two films for Hammer, Polish actress Pitt plays Mircalla Karnstein, the last remaining descendant of a family of vampires who conducted a reign of terror until Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) took his blade to the heads of her undead loved ones. Now she’s back corrupting the daughters of a General (Peter Cushing) and a wealthy family headed up by Minder’s George Cole. But she’d better watch her head because Hartog and the General are hot on her tail…

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

A somewhat faithful adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 Gothic novella Carmilla (that had been tackled by Carl Dreyer in 1932’s Vampyr and Roger Vadim in 1960s Et Mourir de Plaisir/Blood and Roses), The Vampire Lovers was Hammer’s first sex vampire film and their only co-production with American International Pictures (who were in Europe at the time making a new slate of Poe/Price films).

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

It was also a watershed moment for the studio as by taking advantage of the change in the age restriction for X-certificate films, from 16 to 18, they could now include more sex and nudity, something that would dominate their horror output for the remainder of the decade.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Thanks to Ingrid Pitt’s totally uninhibited portrayal of the nipple-sucking vampire, the UK censors got their knickers in a twist over the film’s overt lesbianism, but it earned Pitt cult status, and with English Rose Madeline Smith under spell, Pitt sent the pulses racing of young males everywhere. Meanwhile, the censors also got nervous over decapitation scene, something that the US censors cut out altogether.

Shot at Elstree under the helm of Roy Ward Baker (who was slightly embarrassed by the sex content), but making excellent use of Moor Park Mansion in Hertfordshire, the film also introduced something new to Hammer’s vampire lore: the sexual possession/addiction aspect of vampirism, which Kate O’Mara brings to the fore in her masochist governess, Madame Perrodot.

Vampire Lovers 5

When it was originally released in the UK in October 1970, The Vampire Lovers was one of the country’s biggest money spinners, which resulted in Hammer continuing the Karnstein legacy in Lust for a Vampire (where Yutte Stensgaard’s Mircalla invades a girl’s finishing school) and Twins of Evil (where Damien Thomas’ Count faces off Peter Cushing’s puritan witch hunter).

The Vampire Lovers (1970)THE FINAL CUT ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
According to Hammer fans, including expert Jonathan Rigby (who co-hosts the audio commentary), Final Cut’s Region B digitally re-restored release (which came out on Blu-ray in November 2014 and gets its DVD debut on 14 March 2016) is regarded as the best home entertainment version available to date (an earlier Australian release had questionable audio, while the Scream Factory release contained an inferior transfer print). It’s also the most complete version as it includes a decapitation sequence that was cut from previous (US) versions. The extras include audio commentary with Rigby and Marcus Hearn (who really know their Hammer), a 25-minute documentary New Blood: Hammer Enters the 70s (which includes a look at the Hammer archives at De Montfort University in Leicester), stills gallery, original trailer, restoration comparisons; and subtitles for the hard of hearing. While Scream’s release may lose points on print quality, it does have, amongst its extras, an archive audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt and producer Tudor Gates, who – alas – are all no longer with us.

Tales from the Amicus Crypt | The Documentary

Tales from the Crypt (1972)Death Lives in the Vault of Horror!
Directed with finesse by Freddie Francis, this 1972 British creeper was the fourth horror anthology to come from Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenburg’s Amicus outfit, and it remains a classic of its kind thanks to the sterling performances of an all-star cast and the inventive and macabre collection of stories, inspired by the original EC Comics, which still have the power to chill.

For me, this is one I re-watch every Christmas, because the first story is so fittingly seasonal…

In some unidentified catacombs somewhere in Englans, five strangers meet the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), who reveals how each will die…

And All Through the House After Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) kills her husband on Christmas Eve, she prepares to hide his body but hears a radio announcement stating that a homicidal maniac (Oliver MacGreevy) is on the loose.
Reflection of Death Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) abandons his family to be with Susan Blake (Angela Grant). After they drive off together, they are involved in a car accident. He wakes up in the wrecked car and attempts to hitchhike home but, no one will stop for him.
Poetic Justice Edward Elliott (David Markham) and his son James (Robin Phillips) are a snobbish pair who resent their neighbour, retired garbage man Arthur Grymsdyke (Peter Cushing) who owns a number of animals and entertains children at his house.
Wish You Were Here Businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) is close to financial ruin. His wife Enid (Barbara Murray) discovers a Chinese figurine and wishes for a fortune.
Blind Alleys Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), the new director of a home for the blind, makes drastic financial cuts, reducing heat and rationing food for the residents, while he lives in luxury with Shane, his Belgian Malinois.

The Blu-ray of Tales from the Crypt was released in October 2015 in the UK through Final Cut Entertainment and featured a engaging 35-minute documentary directed by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and featuring interviews with the likes of Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Chibnall.

Here it is in full for your enjoyment…

Tales from the Amicus Crypt Documentary from Sarah Meikle on Vimeo.

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Invaders from Mars (1986) | Tobe Hooper’s 1950s sci-fi homage misfire lands on Blu-ray in the UK

Invaders from Mars (1986)

Glancing at the retro credits of the Final Cut Entertainment Blu-ray UK release of this 1986 sci-fi, director Tobe Hooper’s homage to the 1950s classic, Invaders from Mars, about a small-town boy who is convinced aliens are taking over the minds of his parents and townsfolk, should have been as inventive and rewarding as John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

It had Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return of the Living Dead) and Dan Jakoby (Arachnophobia) on script duty, the legendary Stan Winston conceiving some great creature effects, John Dkystra doing the impressive visuals, and Christopher Young supplying a suitably cosmic score. The cast, meanwhile, was a who’s-who of favourites, including Louise Fletcher, Karen Black, Timothy Bottoms and Bud Cort.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

But, and it’s a big but, Invaders from Mars was made by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ Cannon Films, and they were notorious for creating some of the VHS-era’s worst films (just check out the Electric Boogaloo documentary). Not only that, it was the second of Hooper’s three-picture deal with the misguided Israeli cousins to misfire – spectacularly. His first was the hugely expensive sci-fi flop Lifeforce (you can read all about that here).

Invaders from Mars (1986)

The problem with Hooper’s Invaders is that it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious sci-fi, a spoof, or a kiddie-friendly adventure. There’s also no action or suspense, and Hunter Carson, who plays David, is plain awful (he probably only got the job because he was Karen Black’s son). The original David, Jimmy Hunt, puts in a cameo as the Police Chief which made me smile, as did the in-joke of setting the film in the same town as another sci-fi classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Now, there’s a reimagining that’s just as good as the original.

But if you are a Tobe Hooper fan and don’t have a multi-region player (to view the Scream Factory Blu-ray release, which boasts a commentary from Hooper), then this Final Cut Entertainment Blu-ray UK release comes in at second best, and includes the following extras:
• A career in Cannon/Tobe Hooper in the 1980s with film historian David Del Valle
Mission to Mars: The Special Effects of Tobe’s Invaders by Alec Gillis (art department co-ordinator and creature effects crew)
Red Planet Recollection: Remembering Invaders from Mars by Leslie Dilley (production designer)
Creative Concepts: An interview with William Stout (concept artist)
Invaders from Mars concept art presented by William Stout

 

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Kiss of the Vampire (1963) | Hammer’s batty horror takes flight on Blu-ray

Kiss of the Vampire (1963) on Blu-ray

Shocking! – Horrifying! – Macabre!
In 1910 Bavaria, honeymooners Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) head for a local inn after their motorcar breaks down. But when they accept an invitation by the mysterious Dr Ravna (Noel Willman) to stay at his nearby castle, they soon discover their host and his family are part of blood-sucking cult. Can the hard-drinking Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) save the couple before its too late?

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Giant devil Bats… summoned from the caves of Hell to destroy the lust of the Vampires!
Following the disappointing Phantom of the Opera (also out on Blu-ray from Final Cut) and These Are the Damned (one of my favourites – reviewed here), Hammer decided on a third Dracula film. Borrowing elements from Anthony Thorne’s 1947 novel So Long at the Fair (which became a 1950 crime thriller directed by Terence Fisher) and the draft screenplay of 1960’s Brides of Dracula, Anthony Hinds (writing as John Elder) conceived Kiss of the Vampire.

Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

On his first assignment for Hammer, Aussie director Don Sharp handles the proceedings with intelligence and flair and makes it all pretty chilly with the help of some skillfully bleak colour camerawork from Alan Hume (who directed the famous Endor forest chase scene in 1983’s Return of the Jedi). While there’s no Lee or Cushing returning as Count Dracula or Van Helsing, Noel Willman’s charming, but creepy Ravna and Clifford Evans’ drunken puritanical vampire hunter make pretty good substitutes. Meanwhile, both Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel make a great double act as the newlyweds (they also supply the entertaining audio commentary on the Final Cut Blu-ray release).

Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Films & Filming gave the film its best review: ‘All credit to Don Sharp for turning what could have been a creaking, monotonously predictable story into an exceptionally well made (with some beautiful framed shots) and entertaining film’, while David Pirie, in The Vampire Cinema (1977), called it ‘a deftly constructed, occasionally Hitchcockian thriller, which is only married by an exaggerated performance from the hero Edward de Souza’. For me, it’s an underrated Hammer horror and a new personal favourite, and that climax in which the swarm of bats attack Ravna’s coven (actually latex toy bats from Woolworths) is truly iconic.

Kiss of the Vampire was originally released in the US in September 1963, followed by the UK in January 1964, where it double-billed with Paranoiac (reviewed here). For its US TV airings, it was severely cut which required new scenes to be filmed and inserted to make up for the lost minutes. Those scenes are not included in this release.

Kiss of the Vampire 1

THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
According to fans on a couple of online Hammer forums, Universal’s old US DVD transfer master was used for Final Cut’s blu-ray version rather than a transfer from the original negative, as such the quality varies from scene to scene, with noticeable edge enhancement/sharpening and grain. The colours and overall brightness have also been ramped which makes some scenes zing while others appear washed out. But the night scenes are very effective. Final Cut also released a DVD version of the film back in 2012.

Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

TRIVIA
• If you look carefully at the stained glass window that features in the film, among the satanic symbols and astrological signs is what looks like the logo for the London Tube.

• The film’s masked ball sequence inspired Roman Polanski to copy it for his 1967 spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires).

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