Being a huge fan of Robert Englund (AKA Freddie Krueger) and Stephen Geoffreys (AKA Fright Night‘s Evil Ed), I’ve been wanting to see 976-EVIL forever (I somehow missed it during the VHS days). Now it’s been given a Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment and I must say, it’s a fun slice of 1980s horror hokum.
Geoffreys plays another nerdy outsider, Hoax who lives with his overbearing Bible-bashing mother Lucy (Sandy Dennis looking fabulously hideous in a big fake wig and charity shop clothes) and his motorcycle bad boy cousin Spike (Patrick O’Bryan).
Hoax wants to be just like his cool cousin and even lusts after his tailer park tottie Suzie (Lezlie Deane); but he’s regarded as the town dork, especially by a gang of poker-playing thugs led by another cool dude Marcus (Back to the Future‘s JJCohen), who sports a nice line of Return of the Living Dead vests.
Introduced to a novelty ‘horror scope’ phone line, Hoax soon enters a Faustian deal with its demonic owner – Mark Dark AKA Satan (Robert Picardo). And, as he takes his revenge with his new supernatural powers, he’s slowly transformed into a demonic creature that plans to open the gates of Hell.
Englund (who had just finished A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), was given a free hand with this, his directorial debut. And while it’s not perfect, it has its moments thanks to a tongue-in-cheek script by future Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland and neat practical effects work from Robert Kurtzman, Howard Berger and Kevin Yagher (who was also working on creating the Chucky doll for Child’s Play at the same time). Horror fans will also have great fun name-checking the cool posters in the cinema scenes. The extras include some informative interviews, but I would have loved to have seen one from some of the cast, especially Geoffreys.
976-EVIL is released on Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment as part of the Eureka Classics on 19 October
BLU-RAY EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
- DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 audio options
- English subtitles (SDH)
- Audio commentary with Robert Englund and Nancy Booth Englund
- 976-EVIL: home video version [105 mins, SD]: An extended version of the film from its original home video release on VHS
- New interview with producer Lisa M Hansen (thoroughly enjoyed this as Lisa talks about the background behind getting the film made)
- New interview with special make-up effects artist Howard Berger (The Walking Dead)
- New interview with special effects technician Kevin Yagher (Nightmare on Elm Street)
- Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann
From 101 Films comes the UK Blu-ray of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves (2013), a brutal and unpredictable Israeli thriller that addresses the perils of victimhood and the consequences of vengeance.
SOME MEN ARE CREATED EVIL
Following the disappearance of a number of young girls in a small Israeli town, hardened police detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) fingers socially awkward religious studies teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) as the culprit. When Miki is caught on-camera using extreme violence while interrogating the teacher, he is forced to let him go and is suspended from the force.
Unable to let the case go, Miki pursues Dror, but the two men are then kidnapped by Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of one of the girls, whose headless body has just been discovered, who plans to extract a confession out of the teacher. But as the tension mounts and Dror maintains his innocence, the lines between justice and vengeance, innocence and guilt, become increasingly frayed. Just how far should you go before you accept a truth? And what does it cost you to find out?
MANIACS ARE ONLY AFRAID OF MANIACS
Big Bad Wolves comes from Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, who are best known for their breakout festival hit, and Israel’s first slasher, the black comedy Rabies (check out my review here).
For their follow up, Keshales and Papushado have created a brutal scathing shocker that has divided both audiences and critics. Part giallo, part torture porn, part political comment, it’s really hard to pigeonhole this incredibly violent tale about child abduction and vigilante revenge, that even adds elements from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale into its sordid mix.
The political comment, laced with absurdist humour, is evident throughout, with much of it aimed at Israeli identity, attitudes towards their Arab neighbours, and the use of excessive force over due process and trial by jury. The vitriolic hate espoused by the characters as they dish out their extreme form of justice – which gets increasingly stomach churning as the film progresses – certainly does leave a bitter taste. But what really sends a shiver down the spine is how these characters end up appearing, which is best summed up in one of the film’s most chilling lines: ‘Smells like a barbecue. You have no idea how much I’ve missed that smell’. In the end you have to ask yourself, just who are the real big bad wolves in this world?
Released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, this release from 101 Films includes Last Night at the Empire: Big Bad Wolves at FrightFest, a brand new documentary on the background and impact of the film, and its UK premiere at FrightFest in August 2013. In closing the festival, it became the last film to screen in the Empire Leicester Square’s famous main screen, before it was refurbished and split in two. The other extras include AXS TV: A Look at Big Bad Wolves and the theatrical trailer.
Outpost III: Rise of the Spetsnaz (2013) | The Nazi horror is back for another gory testosterone-fuelled adventure
‘CRY HAVOC, LET LOOSE THE DOGS!’
On the Eastern Front during the dying days of World War Two, Sergeant Dolokhov (Bryan Larkin) and his Russian Red Guard raid a Nazi convoy, but are captured and detained in an underground facility, where they discover the Nazis are attempting to create an army of invincible undead soldiers.
Fearing the success of the Lazarus project could turn the tide of the war effort, Dolokhov and fellow soldier Fyodor (Iván Kamarás) try to find a way to escape. But first they must survive becoming the next subjects in the terrifying experiment.
‘DYING ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE’
If you like your horror dripping in blood and testosterone, then you’ve certainly come to the right place. I’ve never seen the first two instalments of this Nazi franchise, but the lure of beefy blokes engaging in some brutal bare-knuckle combat with some seriously pumped up zombies, I couldn’t resist.
On the plus side, the production values are pretty good, featuring some cool vintage soldier kit, uniforms, vehicles and armoury and an explosive opening. While the descent into the underground bunker is a genuinely spooky ghost ride. On the minus side, there are few surprises on offer, the dialogue is delivered badly, and the corny humour just doesn’t work in a film that wants to be a tough, brutal horror. The German accents are particularly laughable, while Larkin slips into his native Scottish tongue on more than one occasion.
Despite this – and the fact that the monstrous creations are no more than wrestlers bulging out of their uniforms – the film does exactly what it says on the tin, and kudos especially go to Larkin as the fearless Wolverine-inspired Russian fighter hero. He certainly gets my vote as Man of the Match.
‘Asshole or bullet? In the end you’ll scream just the same’
Back in 1977, Dario Argento unleashed Suspiria, his intoxicating brew of black magic and murder in which Phantom of the Paradise’s Jessica Harper played an American ballet student who uncovers a deadly cover of witches at a prestigious German dance academy, overseen by Dark Shadows‘ Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc and Eyes Without a Face‘s Alida Valli as the butch dance instructor Miss Tanner.
Saturated with an expressive colour palette, hyper-real art deco production design and a ground-breaking score by The Goblins (as they were credited then), and punctuated by shocking, but expertly staged, violence, Argento’s symphony of terror is, without doubt, his horror film opus and a masterpiece of the modern macabre.
Now turning 40, Suspiria has been given a 4K makeover. Over in the US, Synapse Films spent four years working on their 4k restoration that was made from the uncut 98-minute 35mm Italian camera negative (and was overseen by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli). They have now released it as a Special Edition Steelbook (read more here) producing 6000 units, with bags of extras.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, CultFilms are releasing their own restoration, which is set to be the most complete and original looking, finally doing justice to Argento’s vision. The new 4K scan was painstakingly restored by TLE Films in Germany with the film’s crucially distinct colour palette reinstated in accordance with Argento’s original Technicolor Dye Transfer specification, using period film materials as reference. The restorers also reinserted all the missing frames which had degraded badly or were simply lost over the years.
CultFilms have got a crowd-funding campaign up and running to get the film its official UK/European Ultra HD home entertainment release. It’s got just under two weeks left, and has already passed its initial target of £15,000, thanks to some 700+ backers, which means some great bonus extras will be added. And 100 of those initial backers also got the chance to get their copy signed Argento himself (alas now sold out). If you live in Europe, or anywhere that isn’t region A and you do not have a region free player, then this 4k UHD release is one to look out for. Plus, it will also include the Blu-ray and DVD (see below).
UPDATE: On 4 December 2017, CultFilms announced that their campaign closed, reaching an incredible £33,705, which guarantees the creation of a third disc, filled with those promised bonus extras.
I was lucky to see the 4k print (which is simply stunning) at the sold out London screening at the Barbican, with Argento introducing film and giving an illuminating Q&A afterwards. Now, I have seen Suspiria more times than I can remember, and in many formats – from scratchy 16mm and faded VHS to dodgy DVD and the fab HD release back in 2009. But it’s always great to learn something new – especially from the master himself. So, thanks to some intelligent questions from the audience, I discovered that his main inspiration came from Disney’s Snow White, both as a dark fairytale of female empowerment and because of the animated feature’s vibrant primary colours; and that he drew from his own nightmares, one of which became the vicious dog attack sequence.
He also worked alongside Goblin to create what has become an iconic horror score, and even introduced the bouzouki, a Greek musical instrument, to link with the ballet school’s Directress, Helena Markos, a Greek émigré who is ultimately revealed to be Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs), the oldest and wisest of the Three Mothers.
The other interesting piece of trivia I discovered was that Jane Russell was in line for the role that eventually went to Joan Bennett, who got it only because she worked with Argento’s favourite director, Fritz Lang, and that she liked a drink or two. And, on a more personal side, Argento also said that he did not believe in magic, except as a narrative device in books and films; and that he had nothing to do with the poster design of the blood-splattered ballet dancer.
If you can’t wait to get your hands on the UK 4K edition, then CultFilms are releasing the Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition on 4 December, with the following extras…
• Dual format special edition: Blu-ray and DVD in a numbered, embossed slipcase
• New Extra: Long interview with Dario Argento
• New Extra: Exclusive Dario Argento Introduction of this new 4K restoration
• Audio commentary by critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones
• Fear at 400 Degrees: interview with Dario Argento and Claudio Simonetti
• Interview with Claudio Simonetti, Norman J Warren and Patricia McComack (Blu-ray only)
• New Extra: The 4K Restoration Process ‘utterly fascinating’
X Moor (2014) | Some nasty surprises await in the British indie horror – welcome to the lair of the Beast!
With her sights set on fame and fortune, American student journalist Georgia (Melia Kreiling) and her cameraman boyfriend Matt (Nick Blood) head to Exmoor in North Devon to capture footage of a legendary panther that is said to roam the moor.
With the help of an experienced animal tracker Fox (Matt Bonar), the couple set up camp in Slew Wood and begin fixing up 42 cameras to the trees and rocks. But when they uncover the rotting corpses of dozens of young women in the undergrowth, Georgia and Matt realise that Fox has intentionally led them into a serial killer’s dumping ground in a bid to hunt him down… So will they stay or will they go?
From writer/director Luke Hyams comes X Moor, an atmospheric survivalist horror. It’s a handsome looking film, with cool score and credits, and evocative photography of the wet and windy terrain (with Ballymoney, Northern Ireland standing in for Exmoor). The characters are well drawn and the cast is excellent.
Melia Kreiling’s Georgia’s got balls and a conscience and given what she goes through in the course of one night, she’s destined to join the ranks of horror’s other fierce Final Girls. Typically, Nick Blood’s Matt is a bit of a dick, although his relationship with Georgia comes off as playful and genuine. And when he sprains his leg and risks getting hypothermia, you can’t help but feel sorry for him.
Mark Bonnar’s Fox, meanwhile, is the film’s most intriguing character – part menacing, part sympathetic. He provides real gravitas to the proceedings and also one the film’s big shock moments. The other big jump-in-your-seat moment is when one of the six corpses the trio uncover is found to be still alive! That one really got me – as did the idea that the killer (the Beast) drugs his victims and buries them so that he can hunt them down later. That’s just sick!
The film however is ultimately let down by some serious randomness, especially the introduction of Charlene (Jemma O’Brien), the unseen killer’s one-eyed daughter, who is found by Georgia waiting for her father to return from grouse shooting. That was just too leftfield.
Then there’s the messy climax, in which everyone (killer included) make really stupid decisions until its just Georgia left to face her hunter armed with the jaw bone of a deer. What happens next is suppose to be the film’s big shock twist. But it just left me scratching my head and, in the end, there’s no closure for either Georgia or the audience. There’s also a suggestion that there’s more than one killer involved. I really wanted that one explained. The panther, by the way, does make an appearance on one of the CCTV cameras at the very end of the film. Growl!!!
‘Smells like a giant kitty litter’
XMoor gets its UK TV premier on The Horror Channel today (Friday 18 August) at 9pm.
31 (2015) | Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent valentine to blood-soaked 1970s exploitation is a demented kill-ride
Following 2013’s supernatural misfire The Lords of Salem (which I rather liked, so check it out here), the shock rocker pays homage once again to 1970s grindhouse by tipping a blood-soaked Bozo clown wig to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse, by way of Stephen King’s The Running Man and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. But frankly, its not a par on those classics.
The director’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie, heads up a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween night 1976 and let loose in a derelict factory where they are given 12 hours to fight their way to freedom through a maze of secret passages containing deadly traps and a cavalcade of homicidal clowns bearing sicko monikers like Psycho-Head, Sick-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and Doom Head.
Placing bets on who will survive is Malcolm McDowell (who turns 74 today) as the bizarrely-named Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder, veteran British actress Judy Geeson (who was also in The Lords of Salem) and voice over artist Jane Carr. Bizarrely, their aristocratic 18th-century attire makes them look like they are appearing in a completely different film – and indeed they might well be as their characters are never fully explained.
Fans of Rob Zombie’s cult hits House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects will relish his return to ghoulish sadistic form, but this demented trip through the most blood-drenched funhouse this side of the late Hershell Gordon Lewis might leave everyone else colder than all those corpses that pile up before Sheri’s final girl showdown with the film’s most intriguing character, the psychopathic killer Doom Head (Richard Brake, who played the Night King on Game of Thrones).
Heading up the survivors are tough army sergeant Mac (Jim Sweeney) and cowardly Major Gibson (Joe Rainbow), who are transporting the alleged architect of the virus, Dr Sykes (Eric Colvin), to the city of Imperion; the golf-mad Beaumont (Danny Brown) and his teenage daughter, Becca (Rachel Nottingham); office worker Gandhi (Simon Burbage); Essex slag Harden (Jade Colucci); and a pint-sized, heavily-pregnant, religious nutter (Shamiso Mushambi).
Once inside, however, the survivors discover they are not alone – a messiah-like zombie (Rupert Phelps) with the power to heal the infected is wandering the corridors. Believing him to be the cure, Sykes convinces his captors to try and capture the unholy undead dude. But their task isn’t made easy when the virus starts spreading amongst the survivors…
‘Die down the negative energy, it’s not the end of the world!’
This low budget zombie comedy horror from Hampshire-based film outfit Charmed Apocalypse Pictures (aka Andy Phelps and Jake Hawkin) is way better than it ought to be. If you can forgive the copious amounts of swearing and questionable acting ability, this homemade horror is a riot.
It’s got a cracking script, whose black humour owes a big debt to Monty Python, Blackadder and Shaun of the Dead; gory special effects that really do deliver (decapitation by golf club, anyone?); some nicely twisted takes on the horror genre’s stock-in-trade characters; cool comic book style graphics; and a catchy darkwave electronic theme tune (that sounds not unlike Laibach).
Much fun is made about death and religion and some of it is very dark, like when the Bible-spouting Esther tries to crucify herself. It’s also incredibly inventive – who knew wearing a coat of rotting human skin will make you invisible to zombies? Then there’s the fatalistic central theme of being eaten, resurrected and eaten again: now that’s really scary. If there’s one downside, it’s that the comedy ends up taking the back seat as the grisly theme plays out. But then, we wouldn’t have the film’s Romero-esque final shot…
Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen take the helm of this sequel to Jim Mickle’s 2010 indie horror, in which they plunge viewers back into the post-apocalyptic world of the Berserkers, as Martin (Connor Paolo) sets out to find legendary vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici) after his wife and daughter are murdered by The Mother (Kristina Hughes). But the hideous crone and her bloodsucker brood are the least of his concerns as he comes up against a cannibalistic couple, a vicious gang overseeing a death fight contest, and a deranged religious cult…
From the synopsis, you’d think this would be a gripping, gory thrill ride, but its execution is plodding and uninspired. Shame, as the creature effects are genuinely scary and some of the minor characters showed a glimmer of hope (especially the brave gay couple).
Stake Land II is out on DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
The Lords of Salem (2012) | His satanic majesty Rob Zombie spawns a trippy nightmare journey into pure evil
In 1692 Salem, as her coven of witches are put to death by judge John Nathaniel Hawthorne for creating satanic music, Margaret Morgan curses the judge’s female bloodline, promising that Satan will be spawned…
In the present day, Hawthorne’s descendant Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is living in a Salem boarding house run by overly protective landlady Lacy (Judy Geeson) and working on a late night show at a local radio station.
When Heidi listens to a record by a band calling themselves The Lords, she awakens Morgan’s spirit and triggers the curse. With the gates of Hell now opening up in room number 5 of her boarding house, it looks like Heidi is destined to bear Satan’s child…
Heavy metal icon and Halloween rebooter Rob Zombie gleefully sticks two blood stained fingers at Christianity with this trippy nightmare journey into pure evil. Taking its cue from 1970s devil worshipping films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, Zombie has fashioned a supremely intelligent satanic shocker that certainly doesn’t hold back on its blasphemous intent.
Metal fans expecting a Zombie-inspired feature-length music video will be disappointed as the director saves his trademark stage show visuals for the film’s climax. However, The Lords of Salem is a very visual experience.
From the décor of Heidi’s bedroom (adorned with giant murals from George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon – an obvious visual joke) and the 1970s flock wallpaper in a corridor of the boarding house that leads to the dreaded room No 5, to the film’s big set piece – an ornate staircase where Heidi meets Satan (inspired by the masque ball sequence in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera), Zombie lets his fevered imagination take full flight, with a host of visual film references guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of classic horror buffs.
For example, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday is paid homage to during the burning of the witch Morgan, while Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is alluded to in the film’s theatrical climax.
Zombie also brings together veteran British actress Judy Geeson, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Patricia Quinn and The Howling’s Dee Wallace as the satanic midwives put in charge of Heidi’s care. The presence of this unholy trinity got this fan boy excited, and they certainly do bring class and kudos to the proceedings, plus they help to paint over some of the cracks in Zombie’s dark canvas (like the naff Chewbacca-looking monsters in room no 5).
The Lords of Salem is worth repeat viewings just to get all the visual cues – if you are a horror fan. But Rob Zombie films are like Marmite (just look at his latest, 31). Luckily, I love the stuff. But you might have to make up your own mind on this one.
From writer/director Caradog James and producer John Giwa-Amu, who gave us the inventive 2013 sci-fi The Machine, comes Don’t Knock Twice? starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran.
Sackhoff plays American sculptor Jess, a former addict who has turned her life around and is now settled in the UK with her banker husband (Moran). When she decides to reconnect with Chloe (Boynton), the daughter she was forced to give up nine years ago, she’s shocked to discover that Chloe has only agreed to come and live with her because she’s terrified of a supernatural curse. Chloe claims her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) was taken by a vengeful child-eating witch and is frightened she’s next on the urban legend’s menu. At first, Jess disbelieves her Chloe, but when she learns that other children have gone missing, Jess sets out to uncover the truth…
I really really enjoyed James and Giwa-Amu’s The Machine (you can read my review here), so I was so looking forward to being surprised once again by the Red and Black Film gang, but their Welsh-filmed horror follow-up – which puts a contemporary spin on Hansel and Gretel and the Baba Yaga legend, with a dash of bit of estranged mother-daughter reconnecting – fails to deliver.
Yes, it’s got a couple of scary moments, as well as solid performances from all involved, but I was left feeling I had seen it all somewhere before. Now, the long-fingered witch make-up is terrific, but its physical movements were too much like The Ring‘s Sadako Yamamura or The Exorcist‘s Linda Blair in full possession mode to really stand out. It’s also very dark – not so much in tone, but in the excessive use of low lighting effects – which had me wondering if the film-makers had run out of budget as well as steam.
Don’t Knock Twice? is out on VOD and DVD from Signature Entertainment