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’
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.
Alan Marlowe (Malcolm Stoddard) and his TV presenter wife Kate (Cyd Hayman) lead an idyllic life in their country cottage with their four children. When a mysterious pregnant woman (Angela Pleasance) vanishes after giving birth to a baby girl in their home, Kate and Alan decide to raise the girl as their own, naming her Bonnie. But tragedy soon strikes their own brood: their infant son Matthew is found dead in its cot, son Davy drowns in a lake, and Sam dies after fall in the barn.
When Alan blames Bonnie, Kate cannot bear the thought her beloved daughter could be responsible. But the seemingly angelic child with the snow white hair and blue eyes is, in fact, a human cuckoo, who refuses to share her ‘nest’ with anyone else… which doesn’t bode well for sister Lucy or the fetus growing inside Kate…
This 1980-horror thriller was based on Bernard Taylor’s 1976 debut novel of the same name, which rode the wave of Bad Seeds reads, including The Exorcist, The Other and Rosemary’s Baby, that came out during the era, and like them, ended up transferring to the big screen.
The papers of the day called the novel ‘a shocker’ and ‘a splendidly readable and creepy story’ and its premise was indeed inventive. But in the hands of screenwriter Olaf Pooley (who also contributed to the mess that was 1985’s Lifeforce) and TV drama director Gabrielle Beaumont (who’d do much better with Hill Street Blues later on), the movie adaptation is a flaccid affair, with little in the way of suspense, atmosphere or imagination, particularly the death scenes, which all happen off-screen. There are certainly no memorable Omen-esque set pieces on offer here, while the scenes of sun-drenched picnics and country walks looks more like something out of Comic Strip Presents… Five Go Mad in Dorset.
Angela Pleasance is the only star name amongst the cast, and she certainly elicits a genuinely chill when she’s on screen. But she only book ends the film, which concludes with the devastated Alan spotting her at London’s Serpentine Lake befriending another family. Fans of Hammer’s TV 1980s series might like to know that Wilhelmina Green (one of the two actresses who play Bonnie) was one of Diana Dors’ brood in the episode, The Children of the Moon.
The Godsend is out on Blu-ray in the US from Scream Factory (released on this day in 2015)
* This review first appeared on The Spooky Isles
Revenge (1971) | James Booth and Joan Collins are out for blood in the sensational X-rated British shocker!
If you look in the basement… be prepared to SCREAM!
Following the murder of his young daughter Jenny, publican Jim Radford (James Booth) is persuaded by his best mate Harry (Ray Barratt) to hunt down the suspected child killer who has just been freed by the police and extract a confession from him.
Aided by his 18-year-old son Lee (Tom Marshall), Jim and Harry abduct loner Seely (Kenneth Griffith), then lock him up in the pub’s cellar where they beat him to a pulp under the watchful eye of Jim’s wife Carol (Joan Collins). But keeping their quarry a secret from the police and the pub’s punters while they decide what to do next puts their loyalties to the test…
Welcome to the Inn of the Frightened People
With tight direction from Sidney Hayers (Circus of Horrors, Night of the Eagle) and a script bristling with tension and melodrama from The Saint screenwriter John Kruse, Revenge was one of the most lurid British thrillers to come out of the 1970s, and quite the departure for producer Peter Rogers, who was better known for the Carry On films.
But there’s quite the carry-on happening down at The Crown pub where James Booth’s landlord Ray must decide the fate of the man he’s got tied up cellar – is he really responsible for his daughter’s death or has he been falsely accused? While Kruse’s script touches on the very emotive subject of child killers and sex offenders that’s still very relevant today, it concerns itself more about matters of conscience. For Ray, it’s the nagging thought that he may have gone to far; for Lee, it’s being unable to perform for girlfriend Rose (Sinéad Cusack), and for Carol, it’s all about looking the other way.
Working entirely on location and shooting in vivid Eastmancolor, Hayers (coming directly off TV’s The Avengers) and cinematographer Ken Hodges (The Shuttered Room) make excellent use of the pub’s nooks and crannies and surrounding suburban streets (in Little Marlow in Buckinghamshire), which lend the proceedings a suitably claustrophobic air – all the better for the ensuring drama to heat up as Ray, Carol and Lee try to cover their tracks, and tensions start to fray, climaxing (no pun intended) in the film’s most sordid scene in which Lee engages in rough sex with step-mum Carol while a bound and gagged Seely looks on through shattered glasses.
The abduction of a suspected child killer by a grieving dad and his mates was also used as the premise of the shocking 2013 Israeli film Big Bad Wolves. But that relied on scenes of extreme violence to tell its politicised vigilante story. Now, Revenge may have been regarded as one of the most unsavoury British thrillers of the 1970s, but it’s pretty tame by today’s standards, and could easily be a storyline in one of those ITV real-life dramas or a British soap – after all The Queen Vic’s cellar in EastEnders was the setting of Dirty Den’s ultimate demise. And I must admit that watching Joan Collins as landlady Carol in Revenge, I couldn’t help but wonder what she’d be like taking over The Vic now that Babs Windsor’s Peggy Mitchell has said her final goodbyes. Maybe she should be speaking to her agent?
THE NETWORK RELEASE
Revenge is featured in a brand-new High Definition transfer from the original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio on Blu-ray and DVD, as part of Network’s The British Film collection.
The extras includes restored original theatrical trailer (which thankfully doesn’t have any spoilers), an image gallery (with lots of modelling shots of Joan Collins), a script (in pdf) and a collector’s booklet with articles by Professor Neil Sinyard.
His Plundering Army of Bandit Raiders Sweeps to Glory
Across the Plains of India!
In director John Gilling‘s 1965 adventure The Brigand of Kandahar, it’s 1850 and the British Army are holed up in a fort in remote north-east India (actually Bray studios in Berkshire), valiantly trying to protect the Empire’s interests.
When mixed-race British officer Lieutenant Case (Ronald Lewis) is unjustly discharged, he finds himself being becoming a pawn in a rebel plot to attack the fort. Oliver Reed hams it up wildly as the ‘half-mad’ tribesman leader Eli Khan, while Yvonne Romain lends her exotic beauty to play his treacherous sister Ratina.
Meanwhile, when Glyn Houston’s foreign journalist Marriott sets out to uncover the truth behind the officer’s dismissal, he discovers not everything’s as it seems…
While it wouldn’t win any awards for historical accuracy or political correctness (especially the use of white actors ‘blacked-up’, and the scant regard for Benjali culture or customs), this studio-bound non-horror Hammer is a lively enough romp to enjoy on a lost weekend, with Romain’s busty performance and Reed’s shouty turn being the film’s highlights.
The Brigand of Kandahar is out DVD in the UK from StudioCanal Home Entertainment and also screens on Movies4Men (Sky 325, Freeview 48, Freesat 304) on Sunday 22 May at 3.30pm
Having spent six years dealing with all manner of freaks and psychos as Dr Sean McNamara in Ryan Murphy’s dark drama Nip/Tuck, Dylan Walsh made a suitable choice to step into the shoes of The Stepfather, which originally belonged to Terry O’Quinn back in 1987.
This 2009 remake of the cult classic sees Walsh play the deeply disturbed title character who sets up home with fatherless families, then slaughters them when they inevitably disappoint him. Now calling himself David Harris, Dylan’s killer has charmed his way into the life of divorcée Susan (Sela Ward) and her family. When Susan’s oldest son Michael (Penn Badgley) returns home after a spell at a military school, David uses every trick in the book to get on the bad boy’s good side so that he can marry Susan and start playing happy families.
But David slips up during a bonding session, causing Michael to become suspicious of his soon-to-be-step dad’s seemingly perfect manner. When Michael’s dad and Susan’s sister begin to check up on David’s background, the tension mounts as David’s dark side manifests – leading to a gripping climax.
This good-looking production is actually better than I thought. Walsh is effectively creepy – David’s conservative approach to raising a family is truly scary (just think right-wing Republican) – and Badgley shows he’s more than a pretty boy (although that’s no bad thing), especially when it soon becomes a fight to the finish as moody Michael tries to unmask David for the killer he really is.
A UK R2 DVD was released back in 2010. But why it was called the Extreme Director’s Cut is a mystery as Nelson McCormick, who also directed the Prom Night remake, and his writer, The Covenant‘s JS Cardone, have gone for Hitchcockian suspense over gore, which is actually a fright for sore eyes.
You can catch The Stepfather on The Horror Channel tonight (Wednesday 6 April) at 9pm.
INTO THE WOODS
Following a bloody fallout with their mob boss dad, two biker brothers and their sadistic Impalers gang invade the secluded cabin of a crazy scientist and his glum daughter. But they soon regret it when they unwittingly become guinea pigs in the scientist’s latest genetic experiment, while a sasquatch starts picking them off…
A huge fan of 1960s and 1970s drive-in exploitation movies, director James Bickert hits the jackpot in recapturing the sleazy vibe of those films with Dear God No!, a breast-tastic, ultra-violent trip that fuses John Waters-style humour with Roger Corman’s biker classic The Wild Angels, the trippy satanic film I Drink Your Blood and the 1970s faux documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek to create a grindhouse homage to die-for. Shot on super 16mm, Dear God No! is a drive-in lovers’ wet-dream. Just forget the lame acting and bad synching and enjoy the ride.
THE DVD RELEASE
In 2012, a two-disc Impaler edition was released by Monster Pictures which included the Grindhouse Cut of the feature (with 1.32sec cut by the BBFC), collector’s booklet, audio commentaries, trailers, gag reel, two parodies and an animated short. In the US, Big World Pictures released a R1 DVD featuring the film uncut and unrated.
Dear God No! also screens today (Sunday 3 April) on The Horror Channel at 11.40pm
Parisian striptease dancer Angela (Anna Karina) yearns to have a child, but her bookseller husband Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) is only interested in cycling. Angela then turns her attentions to Emile’s best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who ends up falling in love with her.
This delightful light comedy from 1961 was Jean-Luc Godard’s second feature, but his first to be shot in colour and in a studio. It also earned him and his then wife Anna Karina awards at the Berlin Film Festival.
Channelling the spirit of American screwball comedies and musicals of the 1930’s, with an affectionate nod to director Ernst Lubitsch (Belmondo’s character is named after the Hollywood legend), this off-centre tribute is dominated by an engaging Karina as the naïve dancer and Belmondo as the gauche, tongue-tied Alfred. A colourful confection indeed.
Une Femme Est Une Femme (Cert PG, 80min) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside featuring Breathless, Le Mépris, Pierrot le fou and Alphaville.
The special features include and introduction by Colin McCabe, an interview with Anna Karina, and galleries of photos and posters.
Valentino (1977) | Ken Russell paints Hollywood’s golden age with a flamboyant flourish and a dark heart
Back in 1977, controversial British director Ken Russell conceived this wildly colourful biopic of the adored silent screen legend Rudolph Valentino, starring the world’s most celebrated dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, in the title role.
Featuring colourful cinematography, evocative art direction, stunning costumes, and a stellar cast, it’s another energetic and outrageous entry in the director’s Twenties Quartet (*) about the breaking of dreams, presenting a vivid picture of the free-for-all life of New York and Hollywood during those golden years between the two World Wars.
Tracing Valentino’s humble beginnings as an Italian immigrant in New York, where he worked as a gigolo and dancer in a fashionable ballroom, to Hollywood, where he seduces famous lovers and becomes an international star, Russell’s film flashes over Rudy’s life through the five women mourning his untimely death at the age of 31 in 1926.
There’s his first love Bianca (Emily Bolton), the bisexual avant-garde actress Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron), his ‘starlet’ first wife Jean Acker (Gotham’s Carol Kane), and his spiritualist set designer second wife Natacha Rambova (Michelle Phillips), and finally the screenwriter who discovered him, June Mathis (Felicity Kendal, in one of her finest roles).
Nureyev, whose own masculine beauty was described as ‘unbelievable’ by co-star Caron, certainly looks the spitting image of the screen idol, but his portrayal is as allusive as the real Rudy. And that’s all part of Russell’s mad genius as he explores concepts of image versus reality and the indestructibility of the artist in his own visual, visceral way.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Russell film without some confrontational imagery (remember Women in Love’s nude wrestling scene or that crucifix scene in The Devils?), and there’s much to choose from, including one scene where Rudy is abused by a group of drunks and perverts in a jail cell, which cruelly shows up the ugliness behind Hollywood’s beautiful facade.
Critically underrated on its release, Valentino was actually a box office success in the UK, staying on top for 17 days before being knocked off it’s perch by something called Star Wars. While Russell later considered the film a big mistake, this sumptuously dressed recreation of Hollywood’s golden age deserves reappraisal, and this new BFI HD is the way to go.
• Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition in the original aspect ratio 1.85:1
• Audio commentary with Tim Lucas (this also appears on the Kino Lorber release)
• Original TV spots and trailers
• Dudley Sutton on Ken Russell and filming Valentino (2016, 22 mins)
• The Guardian Lecture: Ken Russell in conversation with Derek Malcolm (1987, 89 mins, audio with stills)
• Lynn Seymour remembers Rudolf Nureyev (2003, 9min, audio with stills)
• Tonight: Nureyev on Ken Russell and Valentino (1977, 10min)
• Gallery (2016, 10min)
• The Funeral of Valentino (1926, 9min). This is also on the Kino Lorber release, but benefits from the HD transfer.
• Textless opening and closing credits
• Isolated music and effects track
• Illustrated booklet with an informative essay by Paul Sutton about the film.
(*) Isadora (1966), Women in Love (1969) and The Boy Friend (1971)
American Horror Project | Arrow Video revives three unsung heroes of indie terror cinema in gore-rious HD
From Arrow Video comes the first in a new series of box-sets, entitled American Horror Project, showcasing some of independent US horror’s more obscure tales of terror which have been rescued from the archives and resurrected in shiny new HD restorations.
Three unsung heroes from the 1970s appear in this first volume. The surreal Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973) sees a family fall foul of cannibalistic ghouls (including Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize) in a dilapidated fairground; while 1976’s The Witch Who Came from the Sea is an exploitation gem that was once included on the UK’s notorious Video Nasties list. Directed by Matt Cimber (who’d go onto score a Golden Globe nod for 1982’s Butterfly), it stars Mollie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as a disturbed woman whose violent fantasies start to bleed into reality. The last offering is The Premonition (1976), director Robert Allen Schnitzer’s tale of psychic terror in which a five-year-old girl (All in the Family’s Danielle Anne Brisebois) is snatched away by a woman claiming to be her biological mother.
Each film has been re-mastered from scratch with the involvement of the original filmmakers with new extras that will hopefully give new voice to these underrated exploitation chillers. Look out for my reviews of each title real soon.
American Horror Project is out on dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) from 22 February 2016
THE FULL SPECS
• Brand new 2K restorations of the three features.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations.
• English subtitles.
• Reversible sleeves featuring original artwork by the Twins of Evil.
• 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films.
• Commentary with director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
• Interview with director Matt Cimber
• Interview with Dean Cundey
• Interview with actor John Goff
• Commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
• Interview with composer Henry Mollicone
• Interview with actor Richard Lynch
• Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: Vernal Equinox, Terminal Point and A Rumbling in the Land
• 4 Peace Spots
• Trailers and TV Spots