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
Now, I haven’t seen any of the House films since their original releases, and while they’re a perfect example of ‘the law of diminishing returns’, they’ve been dusted off and given a sparkly 2k restoration by Arrow Video for a new Blu-ray/DVD release. Fans of trashy, cheesy 1980s comedy horror will certainly be adding the box-set to their collection, not only because they boast some might sine fine transfers, but for bonus content which includes new ‘making-of’ documentaries alongside some replicated Anchor Bay DVD extras.
So, for what its worth, here’s my take on these blasts from the past…
William Katt (TV’s Greatest American Hero) inherits his dead aunt’s neat Victorian gothic mansion where his troubled author Roger hopes to finish his novel about his experiences in Vietnam. But the house has other ideas, and soon Roger finds himself facing off monstrous apparitions and a vengeful spook…
Fusing spooky scares and funny thrills is certainly no mean feat when it comes to creating the perfect slice of comedy horror (Return of the Living Dead and Fright Night being of the superior kind), and while this first visit to the House franchise means putting up with a lot of silliness and some stage-bound Vietnam scenes with a bunch of extras that look like they belong in a gay porn, the pay-off (involving Roger trying to rescue his missing son from the great beyond) is worth putting up with the crappy bits. For me, the best scenes involve Katt (sporting a chest revealing 1980s cardi) teaming up with George Wendt (of Cheers fame) to battle a really cool Lovecraftian-inspired monster in the closet.
• Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley
• Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House: documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailers
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY (1987)
Arye Gross’ fit nerd Jesse gets into all sorts of inter-dimensional scrapes when he digs up his mummified great-great-grandfather (Royal Dano) while searching for a mystical crystal skull…
Coming off like a live-action episode of Scooby-Doo, this light-hearted supernatural sequel is pure 1980s, boasting a typically naff party sequences, lots of big hair and neon attire and really bad synth pop. It’s also got some cute Henson-styled puppets (a baby pterodactyl and a caterpillar-dog), which just adds to the cartoon-like atmosphere.
Another Cheers favourite, ohn Ratzenberger, has a cameo, but the film’s big star is the Stimson House, the 19th-century Richardsonian Romanesque LA mansion which stands in for the film’s Aztec-temple home (it’s also appeared in Mad Men, Pushing Daisies and the Vincent Price episode of The Bionic Woman).
• Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham
• It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up & creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (1989)
Lance Henriksen’s craggy cop Lucas McCarthy finally nails serial killer ‘Meat Cleaver Max’ (Brion James). But when Max is sent to the electric chair, he’s transformed into a vengeful evil spirit which sets his sights on putting Lucas in the frame for a new series of gruesome murders…
This schlocky shocker bears no relation to the previous two House entries apart from its production team. It’s also a much more serious affair. But while the execution scene is staged with flair and James (a favourite of director Walter Hill) brings some excellent crazy-eyed charisma to a role that hits all the right slasher movie buttons, it’s just not that great and pales against Wes Craven’s Shocker, which came out the year and had the exact same premise.
• Uncut Version, for the first time on Blu-ray.
• Audio commentary with producer Sean S. Cunningham
• The Show Must Go On – interview with actor/stuntman Kane Hodder
• House Mother – interview with actress Rita Taggart
• Slaughter Inc. – brand new featurette with special make-up effects creators Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger
• Behind-the-Scenes Footage
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE IV: THE REPOSSESSION (1992)
This direct-to-video entry got William Katt back (albeit very briefly) as Roger Cobb who is killed in a car accident at the very start. The rest of the film has his widow Kelly (Terri Treas) and crippled daughter Melissa (Melissa Clayton) experiencing ghostly goings-on and the greedy machinations of Roger’s brother (Scott Burkholder), while a Native American spirit guide tries to help them contact Roger from the other side…
I think one of the reasons I’ve never really clicked with the House franchise is that there is a real lack of cohesion between them – unlike Cunningham’s more successful Friday the 13th series, which I return to time and again. This final nail in the coffin is by far the weakest of the lot and confusingly has Katt return as Roger Cobb, but he’s a completely different character with a different back story and family. Even the house is not the same as the original one. Instead, we have what looks like a studio set like the house in Tobe Hopper’s Eaten Alive (which is a real guilty pleasure, check it out here). The best thing to do is listen to the commentary as director Abernathy is far more entertaining than the movie.
• Audio commentary with director Lewis Abernathy
• Home Deadly Home: The Making of House IV: documentary featuring interviews with director Lewis Abernathy, producer Sean S Cunningham, stars Terri Treas and William Katt, actor/stunt coordinator Kane Hodder, and composer Harry Manfredini
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
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.
Burnt Offerings (1976) | Why does Dan Curtis’ American Gothic haunted house chiller still frighten me so?
This is the face of the man who scared the bejesus out of my 12-year-old self… and he’s coming back to haunt me once again with Arrow’s HD release of Dan Curtis’ 1976 horror Burnt Offerings – coming out tomorrow (17 October).
Ben (Oliver Reed) and Marian (Karen Black) can’t believe their luck when they rent a vast country mansion for just $900 for the entire summer. All they have to do is look after the house as if it was there own – and to take a daily tray up to the elderly and reclusive Mrs Allardyce.
But as they settle in with their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) and Ben’s beloved aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), the house begins to exerts a dark influence on the inhabitants – especially Marian, who becomes obsessed with the unseen old lady at the top of the stairs.
As more strange occurrences take place, it soon becomes evident to Ben that the house is an evil living presence… Can he convince Marian to leave with the family before its too late?
Burnt Offerings is one of the most underrated chillers of all-time. Co-written, produced and directed by the legendary Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Trilogy of Terror), and adapted from the 1973 Robert Marasco novel by Logan’s Run author William F Nolan, its a rare thing indeed: being subtle in its horror, featuring a standout cast, and spinning social commentary in its inventive take on the old haunted house story: one in which the viewer becomes an unwitting voyeur as the family firstly fall under the house’s spell, then slowly being consumed by it.
There are scenes that have haunted me for decades: like the rough house play between father and son in the swimming pool that turns deadly dangerous, the house shedding its old shingles as it rejuvenates itself, and that grinning ghostly chauffeur that haunts Ben’s visions. The fact that the chauffeur was the spitting image of my own dad only added to my own nightmares. And don’t start me on that chimney…
From the cameos by Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart to child actor Lee Montgomery, everyone in the cast is brilliant, especially scary-eyed Karen Black whose transformation into the house’s clean-freak servant (in Victorian gothic garb, of course) is genuinely disturbing. But for me, it’s Bette Davis who really impresses. Watching her carefree, chain-smoking Aunt Elizabeth wither away before our eyes is terribly sad and truly terrifying.
It’s been decades since I first saw Burnt Offerings, and revisiting it, I prayed that I would not be disappointed. Thankfully I wasn’t. If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate it even more as it’s not only an excellent exercise in creeping terror, it also has an insightful underlying theme about the destruction of the American Dream in possessing material things.
THE ARROW SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM. (This is the same print as the Kino Lorber release, and looks terrific. It’s so pristine, you can practically feel the sweat and blood pouring off poor Ollie Reed, and the shadowy cinematography really shines).
• Original uncompressed PCM mono audio.
• Optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary with Dan Curtis, Karen Black and William F Nolan. I’m so going to nominate this for a Rondo. It’s not only informative and insightful, it’s an important historical record as both Dan Curtis and Karen Black are no longer with us.
• Audio commentary with film critic Richard Harland Smith. (After hearing Curtis and co, I haven’t really bothered with this… as yet).
• Acting His Face: Interview with actor Anthony James (aka that scary chauffeur).
• Blood Ties: Interview with actor Lee Montgomery. This is what I sought out first after revisiting the movie, and its great to hear about Lee’s experiences of working with theatrical giants like Bette Davis (who took him under her wing) and Oliver Reed (who got him drunk).
• From the Ashes: Interview with screenwriter William F Nolan (this guy is legend)
• Animated gallery
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
Lovelorn supermarket shelf-stacker and paramedic in training Holly (Abigail Hardingham), sets her sights on suicidal colleague, Rob (Cian Barry), who is still grieving over the death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). But during the couple’s first fumbling attempt at sex, Nina emerges from a blood-stained mattress to interrupt them. It soon becomes clear that the potty-mouthed Nina has no intention of letting Rob go, and wants Holly out of the way…
This quirky British indie horror comedy comes from writer/director brothers, Ben and Chris Blaine, who cut their teeth editing Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education UK TV sitcom. But it’s worlds away from that show’s irreverent humour, as guilt, loss and closure lies at the dark heart of this black comedy, played out through a bunch of characters who are all stuck in their own particular limbo.
As Nina, O’Shaughnessy (Utopia) steals the show and watching her I was reminded of another ghostly comedy in which a restless spirit comes between a couple: in Noel Coward’s quintessentially English comedy of manners, Blithe Spirit. And there are shades of Coward’s disruptive Elvira in O’Shaughnessy’s Nina, only with the added vocal mannerisms of Michelle Gomez’s Missy from Doctor Who.
Cian Barry (Doctor Foster) and Abigail Hardingham (Hollyoaks Later) bring a moody emo intensity to their dysfunctional wannabe lovers, Rob and Holly, while also getting their kit off for the film’s many sex scenes – which actually left me cold (probably on account of Nina’s constant corpus interruptus.
While the film does falter in parts, David Troughton’s forgiving dad and Elizabeth Elvin’s grieving mum are on hand to paper over the cracks, with one scene in particular, in which Troughton’s Dan lets slip his mask to vent his anger, supplying some genuinely raw emotion.
Nina Forever is released by StudioCanal on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from 22 February 2016
SUPERNATURAL was a BBC1 Saturday night horror anthology series from 1977
featuring a linking device that evoked Amicus’ big-screen compendiums. Each tale is told by a person seeking admission into the exclusive Club of the Damned. But there’s a catch! If the true life tale of terror doesn’t rattle the club’s selectors, the storyteller dies…
Originally broadcast on BBC1 in 1977 and rarely seen since, the eight-part series was released in November 2013 as part of the BFI’s Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film celebration in a two-disc DVD box set, and now gets another airing in time for Halloween 2014 on BBC4, beginning tonight (Tuesday 21 October) at 11pm with the vampire tale Dorabella, about a young man called Walter (Jeremy Clyde) travelling with a friend through Eastern Europe who falls for a vampire (Ana Marson) wishing to extend her bloodline…
Directed by Simon Langton (Upstairs, Downstairs), this moody Hammeresque story (keen eyes will spot the stock footage from 1972’s Scars of Dracula) was first shown on 6 August 1977 and was the last in the series. BBC4 will screen SUPERNATURAL in the reverse order, so next week’s tale will be the Frankenstein-inspired Night of the Marionettes.
Schalcken the Painter, Supernatural and Gaslight | Chill out this winter with three British classics
With winter setting in, what better way to spend a chilly November night than rugged up beside a roaring fire listening to tales of ghosts and ghoulies and of things that go bump in the night. Well, out of the BFI archives, come a host of British-made chillers that are certain to send a shiver down your spine – with three making their home entertainment debut this week.
SCHALCKEN, THE PAINTER (BBC1, 1979, 70min)
Adapted from a tale by J Sheridan Le Fanu, and narrated by the legendary Charles Gray, this atmospheric A Ghost Story for Christmas tale from Omnibus director Leslie Megahey fuses a creepy ghost story about a painter who forsakes love for ambition with the canvases of real-life 17-century Dutch painter, Godfried Schalcken. Exquisitely shot, and highly reminiscent of the work of both Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway, this is intelligent arthouse horror that deserves revisiting. The dual format Flipside release also includes two experimental shorts that are a must-see: the expressionist-inspired The Pit (1961) and the folk horror The Pledge (1981), which features an early score by Michael Nyman.
SUPERNATURAL (BBC1, 1977, 400min)
Rarely seen since its original broadcast, this eight-part series about the elite Club of the Damned, where membership is granted only through the telling of the most frightening tales, is British TV gothic horror at its best, and features a wealth of acting talent, including Billie Whitelaw, Jeremy Brent, Robert Hardy, Gordon Jackson, Sinead Cusack, Denholm Elliott and Ian Hendry. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires and spooky marionettes all feature on the two-disc DVD release.
GASLIGHT (Thorold Dickinson, 1940, 85min)
In this nerve-shredding 1940 British adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated stage play, Anton Walbrook stars as the villainous husband who drives his fragile wife (Diana Wynyard) to the brink of madness in Edwardian London. When MGM remade the film in 1944, the studio tried to destroy the negatives of this one. Luckily they were unsuccessful and now, following a BFI digital restoration, the original suspense thriller is must-see for all fans of classic British cinema. The dual format release also includes a number of vintage educational shorts from director Thorold Dickinson.