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
Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.
Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.
Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasence) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).
But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…
When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.
From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.
A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasence caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).
Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.
Donald Pleasence is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.
The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).
And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson
When Under the Shadow had its UK cinema run late last year, everyone was raving about it and comparing it to the masterful Australian psychological horror The Babadook (you can read about that film here). Well now I’ve finally gotten to watch it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as those reviews, and so deserving of its – to date – 11 awards, including the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards and the Douglas Hickox Award at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Hickox, as some may know, was the director of my all-time favourite Theatre of Blood. And more awards are set to follow, as the horror thriller has also been nominated for two gongs at this year’s BAFTA’s taking place on 12 February.
Making his feature debut, writer and director Babak Amvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine. When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.
It’s a little unfair to compare Amvari’s thriller with The Babadook, as its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences. The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsuprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with a islamist republic.
Narges Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that is so engrossing to watch. So much so, that the film’s ending is a huge let down. I won’t reveal it here, but I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.
Under the Shadow (15) is out on DVD in the UK from Precision Pictures from Monday 20 January 2017
‘If he really is a ghost… then I won’t be able to kill him’
Out of his depth police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) investigates a spate of bizarre killings and outbreak of madness seemingly connected to the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man who lives in the outskirts of a remote mountain village. What’s more, Jong-goo is horrified to discover his young daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), may have fallen under the stranger’s curse. This prompts him to call on a charismatic shaman (Hwang Jung-min) to free his daughter, but the shaman’s intense exorcism ritual ends up worsening the situation, and forces Jong-goo into confronting the malevolent evil himself.
Breaking box office records in South Korea, and winning Best Film of the Focus Asian Selection and Best Cinematography at the 49th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, The Wailing from Na Hong-jin fuses a detective story with Exorcist-styled chills to create an unsettling occult thriller that takes full advantage of the country’s majestic rain-drenched mountain terrain – but! and here’s the ‘But!’… it’s painfully ponderous, and in desperate need of an editors’ eye and some action.
Imagine a modern take on a Kabuki show where every character screams over and over, but very, very slowly. Yes, there are some exciting set pieces (some are funny, others downright scary), but by dwelling on the internal drama of the main characters (who are all excellent by the way, especially Kwak as the corpulent, incompetent cop and Kim as his possessed daughter), the film moves at a snail’s place, which only makes its two hour plus running length feel even longer. It also does a disservice to the film’s best scene – an exorcism that feels frighteningly authentic.
The Wailing is out in UK cinemas and On Demand from 25 November
Fresh from freaking out viewers on FOX, Wolf Creek is heading to VoD, DVD, Blu-ray from today (10 October), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment in the UK.
Based on the cult Aussie serial killer thriller films of same name, the six-part drama sees John Jarratt reprising his iconic role as chuckling psychopath Mick Taylor, who continues to wreak murderous havoc on backpackers and holidaymakers in the Australian outback.
But, this time round, he may have met his match in American teenager Eve (Lucy Fry), when he takes his blood stained Bowie knife and guts Eve’s mum, dad and brother, but mistakenly leaves the wannabe athlete behind for croc bait.
Wounded and pissed off, Eve will stop at nothing to get her revenge. So, after stealing evidence from Darwin detective Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare), who is investigating unsolved missing persons cases, Eve sets out across the outback to remote parts of WA and South Australia where she picks up clues that will lead her inextricably to… Mick. But following close behind is dogged detective Hill and a gang of vengeful drug-running bikers. And when Mick picks up her scent… all hell breaks loose!
Writer/Director Greg McLean has done a sterling job transferring his slasher sleeper hit to the small screen. It looks great, with the great Australian landscape being showcased in all its bleak, barren beauty – including salt lakes, billabongs, an opal mine and lots of dusty and dangerous highways. There’s action aplenty, while the blood-drenched horror (people getting skinned, beheaded and blown apart) will please gorehounds.
Lucy Fry (last seen on TV as Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife in 11.22.63) makes for an energetic Mad Maxine-styled heroine (albeit one that never smiles until she befriends a stray dog that becomes her spirit guide), while John Jarratt is a hoot every time his murderous Mick slays another tourist (the yoga lady was my favourite).
But you have to suspend your belief over the show’s basic scenario in which Fry’s naïve American is able to escape police custody – and a jail cell – and seems to stay under the radar of the local cops and media. This would never have happened under my watch when I was working as a TV journo in the Goldfields. Australia might be a big place, but even in the remotest parts, when anything happens you’re on it like a shot. Plus, the cops are much more clued in than those portrayed in the show.
But if you can manage to overlook those plots holes, then this Aussie thriller is a must-see. Oh, and one final thought. I’m sure those know-it-alls at Screenwest must be kicking themselves for passing on McLean’s original film – given its cult status, and spawning a sequel (reviewed here) and now a series, it’s been great for South Australia, but another missed opportunity for WA.
Wolf Creek is available on DVD and Blu-ray on 10 October, and includes featurettes on the locations, visual effect, cast and bringing the film to the small screen.
At the height of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, four German exiles in Hollywood – director Fritz Lang, playwright Bertolt Brecht (earning his only US credit here as Bert Brecht), composer Hanns Eisler and actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski – pooled their efforts into Hangmen Also Die!, an important historical film from 1943 about the Czech resistance, which gets a 2k restoration release from Arrow in the UK from 29 August.
Taking as its starting point, the assassination of the real-life Nazi ‘Reich-Protector’ of Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich (Twardowski), Lang’s studio-bound suspenser sees an act of kindness by the courageous Marsha (Anna Lee) – hiding the culprit (a deadpan Brian Donlevy) from the Gestapo – result in her professor father (Walter Brennan) and 400 Czech compatriots facing execution unless Donlevy’s resistance fighter is turned over…
Shot in atmospheric black and white by the legendary James Wong Howe, and featuring a Oscar-nominated score from Eisler, Lang’s anti-Nazi gift to wartime American cinemagoers is a masterful blend of war picture, film noir and political thriller. It may loose points for its overly melodramatic Hollywood treatment of the story (all the non-Nazi’s have American accents and Twardowski’s Heydrich comes off like Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes), but its revolutionary spirit shines through.
Eagle-eyed cinephiles can watch out for Dracula‘s Dwight Frye as one of the hostages (it was his last film role before a heart attack cut short his life aged 44 in 1943), and hear the unmistakable growl of Cul-de-sac‘s Lionel Stander as the getaway driver.
The Arrow release features a 2012 2k restored print by Pinewood from the Cohen Film Collection, and includes an audio commentary by film historian Richard Peña, along with an interview with author Robert Gerwarth on Reinhard Heydrich, plus newsreel footage, restoration comparison anda trailer. The first pressing of this release comes with a collector’s booklet.
A must-have for fans of Fritz Lang fans and lovers of wartime cinema.
If you’re familiar with the cult 1970 Brit thrillers And Soon the Darkness and Crescendo, then you’ll see echoes of those classics in debut director Abner Pastoll’s murder mystery Road Games.
The gorgeous French countryside (actually Maidstone, Kent) is the setting for this unsettling thriller where suspicion and road kill is the order of the day. British drifter Jack (Rebellion’s Andrew Simpson) is trying to get to Calais when he encounters another hitchhiker, the enigmatic Veronique (Josephine de la Baume), along a stretch of road where they learn a serial killer is on the loose.
Taken in for their own safety by the overly-friendly Grizard (The Returned’s Frederic Pierrot) and his somewhat nervous wife Mary (Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame), who live in a half-lived-in mansion, Veronique soon begins to suspects something amiss… And she’s right! For what follows is some splendid old dark house scares, some shocking twists – as every character become suspect – and some nail-biting The Hitcher-styled chills.
With a cracking cast – especially former screen queen Barbara Crampton, who is firmly re-establishing herself in the horror genre of late – and direction that would make Hitchcock proud, Road Games is a winner all the way. Oh, and the house used in the film was last seen on the big-screen in 1980’s The Mirror Crack’d with Elizabeth Taylor. Check it out here: http://stclere.co.uk/
• Out on DVD from Monday 29 August 2016 and on VOD and for download from Friday 26 August 2016 from Frightfest Presents
• Road Games will also be screening at Horror Channel FrightFest on Friday 26th August. Check it out here
Iggy Pop is one the greatest performers on the planet. Having recently performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall (check out his stage dive below), his energy on stage – at the ripe age of 69 – continues to be electric, and his mere presence verges on the reverential and the messianic.
For the sun-drenched psychological thriller Blood Orange, the rock legend brings his sleazy sex lizard image to the role of terminally ill rock star, Bill, taking some time out in a desert paradise with his hot young trophy wife Isabelle (former Grange Hill actress Kacey Clarke – nee Barnfield).
But their bohemian existence is soon rocked by the arrival of Isabelle’s stepson Lucas (The White Queen’s Ben Lamb), who demands an inheritance that’s been stolen from him. Power games and secret agendas soon unfold, resulting in betrayal and murder…
While Iggy is undoubtedly the master of the concert arena, as an actor, he’s still learning the ropes. But in playing this version of himself he’s certainly scored, as he dresses his character in his trademark craggy complexion and grizzled leathered skin, iconic growling voice and awkward gait (something that was borne of a twisted spine caused by on-stage injuries and famously informed Andy Serkis’ Gollum in The Lord of the Rings). These physical characteristics not only match the sun-drenched landscape in which his Bill exists, they also help give his world-weary philosophical character an almost mythical quality. Its a character that’s certainly fit for purpose.
If Bill were a desert-dwelling creature, he’d be a camel spider, which feeds opportunistically on small animals – with the little critter in question being Ben Lamb’s unlikeable upper-class twit Lucas. And joining Bill in trapping his prey is Kacey Clarke’s sexually-voracious Isabelle, who is also every inch the Lady Macbeth in that she can’t be trusted – especially with the pool boy.
Using just a handful of characters in single setting (all shot in a modernist villa in the rocky hills of Ibiza) British writer/director Toby Tobias has done a pretty fair job at bringing his debut feature to searing noirish life, and it’s one that echoes René Clemént’s Plein Soleil, Polanski’s Cul de Sac (1966), and even Philip Ridley’s The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995).
Now it may not reach the heady height of those classics of the genre, and could have done with less words and more suspense, Blood Orange is an engrossing experience nevertheless – and one that’s made all the more rewarding with the presence of that wild man of rock ‘n’ roll.
IGGY’S STAGE DIVE AT LONDON’S ROYAL ALBERT HALL
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.
From Arrow Video comes the restored, limited edition release on Blu-ray and DVD of Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight starring giallo icon Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott).
In 1971’s Death Walks on High Heels (La morte cammina con i tacchi alti), Navarro plays Parisian nightclub dancer Nicole, the daughter of a murdered jewel thief, who encounters a black-clad assailant with piercing blue eyes demanding to know the location of her father’s stolen diamonds. Suspecting her jealous lover Michel (Simón Andreu) is her assailant, Nicole leaves for London with her wealthy admirer, Dr Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff). But death stalks her at every turn…
In 1972’s Death Walks at Midnight (La morte accarezza a mezzanotte), Navarro takes on the role of glamour model Valentina, who asks her photographer and on/off lover Gio (again played by Simón Andreu) to film her whilst under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. In the midst of the high she witnesses a murder, which turns out to have taken place six months earlier. When Valentina sees the killer again, she turns sleuth to solve the mystery…
Coming out of the giallo boom in the early 1970s and owing a debt to Dario Argento’s Bird With a Crystal Plumage, Ercoli’s Death Walks psycho-thrillers are a camp cult treat serving up twisted and perverse plots which verge on spoofs of Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Wallace, dressed in the most seductive of 1970s stylings imaginable and set to some stirring Stelvio Cipriani soundtrack scores.
While giallo fans can’t praise High Heels high enough, I found it way too convoluted, poorly structured, and deeply sexist. And when you finally get to the well-executed finale (after one WTF twist a la Psycho), you wonder why it took so many sideways paths to get to the bleeding obvious.
Midnight, on the other hand, is an über stylish treat and a real hoot to boot. I can watch this one over and over just for Navarro’s captivating performance as the resilient heroine (she should have got her own TV crime series), the gorgeous palette and production design, and the inventive camerawork. For me, this was Rear Window meets Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
The limited edition Arrow Video release (3000 copies) feature new 2K restorations of both films from the original film elements, presented on Blu-ray and standard DVD, with the original Italian and English soundtracks to choose from, and new English subtitles. A 60-page book is included along with an array of special features on each disc.
DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS
• Audio commentary from Tim Lucas
• Introduction by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
• From Spain with Love: Archive interview with director Luciano Ercoli and actress/wife Nieves Navarro
• Master of Giallo: screenwriter Gastaldi on how to write a successful giallo
• Death Walks to the Beat: Interview with composer Stelvio Cipriani
• Original Italian and English trailers
DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT
• Audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas
• Introduction by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
• Extended TV version of the feature
• Crime Does Pay: screenwriter Gastaldi on crime film writing
• Desperately Seeking Susan: an academic visual essay by Michael Mackenzie