Saturday, 12 January 2019

Cherry Falls

Down in the cosmetically idyllic suburban town of Cherry Falls, somebody is pissed at the teens and bumping them off - but not, as is usually the case, for wantonly mating with one another.  This killer bucks the trend because he/she is bumping off virgins.  The investigating sheriff faces anger from the town's parent population whilst becoming increasingly concerned for his own innocent daughter's welfare as she protects her cherry in the good old fashioned way that few bother to anymore.  There are secrets to be uncovered along the way, as well as clothing - can the sheriff unmask the killer before his own daughter gets it... one way or another?
No doubt triggered by the success of Scream and the consequential revitalisation of the slasher genre, the smartly titled Cherry Falls appeared in 2000 following a 1999 production, kind of under the radar.  Its premise turns one of the genre's established conventions (that of teens having sex leading to their demise) upside down, taking a slightly humorous route in the process.  The writer suggests that the director (Geoffrey Wright of Romper Stomper fame) darkened his script in the act of bringing it to the screen, notably with the depiction of the rape scene, however, the sly winking still shines through (for example, within seconds of the sheriff announcing to the parents at a town meeting that the killer is going for virgins, fighting breaks out among the supposedly mature populace).  The tragic Brittany Murphy is great in the lead role (alongside Michael Biehn as the sheriff), giving you something to care about amidst the mayhem.  The MPAA unfortunately had their own wicked way with this film, making sure it came out in an essentially compromised form - I suspect we'll never see the pre-cut version, which I understand contained much more nudity during the final 'fuck-fest' massacre.  Indeed it's this sequence which really caps the film off with some excitement, and would definitely have been strengthened with an increased chaos factor (I love the bit when the fleeing teens get jammed on the staircase).  All in all Cherry Falls will never be considered a classic of the genre, but it has its redeeming qualities and you get a sense that there was a slightly better film in there had our moral superiors not gotten their way.

101 Films have put this out in the UK in a 1.85:1 edition that largely apes the US Scream version.  The 101 pack contains both Blu-ray and DVD in a neat, distinctive red case.  The picture quality is reasonable although clearly not the product of the kind of full 2K/4K restoration that we've been spoiled with elsewhere.  It looks quite 'digital' (i.e. rather than filmic) but is the best we've had, possibly the best we'll get.  There are options for stereo or 5.1, the latter presenting reasonable sonic spread albeit in a rather odd fashion at times: traditionally dialogue will be fixed to the centre unless there's a good reason to send it to another speaker, whereas here it's quite often spread to the left and right channels as well as the centre.  There's a commentary from the director, and a great 24 minute interview with writer Ken Seldon, who provides just a little insight into the problems occurring during production (e.g. running over schedule to a point where shooting had to be rushed at the end), plus an 8 minute interview with the sheriff's deputy Amanda Anke.  You do get a bit more in terms of extras on the Scream edition, but the 101 dual format release is a cheaper and satisfactory alternative for UK/Europe-based fans to pick up.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The House That Screamed

Or, as it was shot, La Residencia, made in 1970.  Teresa is enrolled at an isolated all-girl boarding school by a family friend.  It is ruled over by an apparently harsh head mistress, who will have a girl beaten for public insolence (imagine that happening in today's schools), sexual awakening and consequential frustration is rife, to a point where the girls will make do with the substandard wood delivery guy, and the lesbian, sadist topdog's attention is immediately drawn to Teresa.  There are a couple of males on the scene too: the aforementioned wood delivery guy and his assistant, a handyman, and the head's son, who she keeps away from the girls as much as possible until he can find a worthy female who will love him 'in the same way' as his mother does...  And then there are disappearances - apparent escapes that soon manifest themselves as murder cases that the head herself is quick to eschew, possibility in order to avert negative publicity.  Basically, all is not well at the girls' school, but can Teresa herself escape before she suffers the side effects of residency?

The House That Screamed (to use its common US title), or La Residencia is a mixed-nationality cast Spanish horror featuring several actors that were involved in other classic works of horror (e.g. Cristina Galbo [Teresa] appeared in the masterpiece that is Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, and The Killer Must Kill Again among other things; Maribel Martin made such a sexual impression in The Blood Spattered Bride and that desperately-needs-a-definitive-Blu-ray film The Bell From Hell; Ana Maria Pol popped up in Carlos Aured's Paul Naschy vehicle Vengeance of the Mummy).  The director himself (Narciso Ibáñez Serrador) didn't work outside of TV much unfortunately, but in addition to La Residencia he directed what is now also considered to be a minor classic, Would You Kill a Child?  Perhaps he should have turned his hand to horror more often.
La Residencia is a beautifully shot piece, adopting a much more classical stance than the straightforward horror/exploitation approach that Spanish cinema became known for as the 70s progressed (I love it all nonetheless).  The photography and colour palettes are appealing throughout, and the house itself (which one might expect to be haunted from the outset) must have been a spine-tingler to explore.  The all-is-not-well narrative that boils between the deliberately formal cosmetic surface reveals much to enjoy, even if it's not always taken as far as it could be.  Without being too revelatory, the final scene is quite a punchy shocker that may induce a shiver as the end credits approach their roll.

Released in a couple of locations on Blu-ray, the edition I obtained (pictured above) is the German Alive disc, entitled Das Versteck (literally, The Hiding Place - an apt title as you will discover).  It's packed in a neat slipcase with differing art on the contained standard case (this itself has a reversible cover so you can hide the 16 certificate).  The banner on the cover translates roughly as 'The unabridged version for the first time in a new HD scan', and the slogan is enticingly 'Fear and murder in the girls' boarding school'.  There is a well presented booklet, but of course the essay is in German.  The US Scream Factory disc contains the longer, slightly more explicit cut as well as the theatrical version, whereas the Alive disc contains only the longer version.  The 2.35:1 image is largely excellent, although the sequences used to make up the fuller version are clearly taken from an inferior source or two - it's noticeable but it didn't detract from my enjoyment.

The extras between the US and German discs are mostly similar: interviews with John Moulder-Brown (the boy) - this is about 6 minutes long on the Scream but 18 minutes long on the Alive disc - and Mary Maude (Irene), running 12 minutes or so on both, plus an assortment of trailers and stills on both.  The Alive disc also contains two alternate opening sequences (cannot be played as part of the film, they're in the extras menu only). Whilst you have the choice of two cuts on the Scream, the Alive disc wins out in terms of audio options.  Not content with presenting just the English track of the Scream disc you also get a choice of German, Italian and Spanish language tracks!  These are of variable quality, though you will be pleased to know there are English (and German) subtitles available.  The interviews are subtitled in German, although these are removable.  Personally I would say the Alive disc wins out, though I suspect your purchase will probably be dictated by territory more than anything else.  Either way, it's a classy film to have in your collection.

Monday, 31 December 2018

The Dead Come Home

The Dead Come Home, an independent low budget (around $200000 as the director recalls) feature, sees a group of young people arrive at an isolated house to fix it up - one of them has just purchased the place and it's in serious need of renovation.  What they don't initially know is that it was once the home of a crazy old homicidal woman, and prior to entry one of them thoughtlessly trashes her gravestone.  This somehow brings her back to life - the house becomes supernaturally sealed with the group inside, and unable to find means of escape they begin meeting their respective ends.  There is an additional twist: each one of the new victims also comes back to help reap the old lady's vengeance for her.

Probably better known for the fact that Troma picked it up not long after its production, and retitled it as Dead Dudes in the House, marketed for VHS with very misleading cover photography.  It was later distributed by another company as I understand, under the much more preferable title of The House on Tombstone Hill, although when James Riffel completed (in 1988) and initially sought distribution, it was known as The Dead Come Home, and that's what Vinegar Syndrome have effectively restored it as here (although you get other storage/display options - see below).  The film is surprisingly effective: having the Troma moniker at the beginning usually gives me alarm bells (they're not exactly the mark of quality, although their juvenile sense of humour does appeal to some).  It wastes no time in getting the group to the house, and soon establishes an uncanny atmosphere as they become incarcerated in what is clearly an extremely creepy real location (indeed, one of the actors interviewed for the disc confirms that the place put the wind up him).  Killings are quite gory and well executed for the budget, and the outcome suggests a fairly unique imagination behind the project.  Obviously there is a slight tongue-in-cheek element to all of this (I can't think of any other stalk-and-slash films where the teens are terrorised and bumped off by a rickety old lady) but it generates for itself quite a sinister atmosphere.  Incidentally, I did think the beautiful daughter of the old woman could have been put to greater use: her character's return from death is of limited value to the story, then she proves to be an odd loose end in the narrative (her fate remains unexplained).
Vinegar Syndrome have scanned the Super 16mm negative at 2K to achieve amazing results - the image is vivid, colourful, with a vast field of natural grain that is quite pleasing to behold.  You could be forgiven, if you weren't already aware, for initially mistaking this as a 35mm production - it looks wonderful projected.  The stereo soundtrack is mastered, probably overkilled, at 96KHz, with strong resonance throughout, although it does betray restraints in the recording.  On the extras side there's a near half-hour interview with three of the main actors, where they recall their experiences quite well.  You also get about four minutes worth of production stills, plus a forty two minute audio interview with Riffel (played against stills from the movie).  This sounds like it was recorded from a phone call, the quality therefore being difficult to warm to, and shrill.  Despite that technical problem, the content proves to be a fascinating and revealing insight into the film, covering the unusual method with which Riffel acquired funds, circumstances prior to and around the Troma pick up, etc.  I was just going to sample this, because of the troublesome quality, but I ended up listening to the whole thing - a great extra.  The cover of the Blu-ray/DVD standard case is reversible, with the Tombstone Hill poster on one side, and the awful Dead Dudes iteration the other.  If you get the limited version you have a high quality slipcase with Tombstone Hill on one side (and its spine), or The Dead Come Home on the other.  So in all there are three places you could put this on your alphabetised shelf.  The slipcase edition is limited to 1500 units, and a cool buy in my opinion: the film itself is better than I anticipated and it's been treated with the usual VS respect.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Conjuring 2

Released in 2016 this one is also known as The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case.  Set in 1970s Britain (conjuring - sorry - a reasonably accurate depiction too: I was there), a family home becomes afflicted with a haunting which seems to be primarily focussed on one of the young girls in the house.  She demonstrates signs of possession, with poltergeist-like activity taking place around her with increasing frequency and snowballing violence.  The police are of course powerless to do anything (seems reflective of their fight against today's yobby criminals...) but after witnessing an incident one of them suggests Church assistance.  This leads investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (returning from The Conjuring) to become aware of the case: these two experienced paranormal researchers are sent across the seas to London to take a look into the haunting whilst representing the Church in an unofficial fashion.  Simultaneously Lorraine has been having disturbing visions involving her husband's imagined death as well as very creepy nun - could this have any connection to the haunting in Enfield?  Or perhaps the whole thing is a scam to get the family moved into more appealing council premises...
The Conjuring is a powerful modern day horror with throwback characteristics, although I can think of little from the pre-2000s that is as terrifying to be honest.  Personally I find it an overwhelming experience in tension and fear, a trend that is continued in the second film: James Wan is quite a gift to the world of Horror.  Whilst this is a strong sequel I do have a couple of issues with it.  Firstly, it's too long at 134 minutes, and could have benefited from being shorn of 10 minutes or so at least.  Secondly, the first hour or so where the English family haunting sets its foundations can get a little repetitive, formulaic even.  The fright model works but is goes round in the same cycle four or five times before it gets back on track for the second half (i.e. day-time where a few ordinary things happen, night-time and a few bumps to scare the hell out of you, repeat several times over).  I can see how it was necessary to build up enough of a reason to get the Americans over to UK shores but it does get a bit much.  Despite this, I feel it becomes more intriguing once the investigators get down to work - there's a particularly good dialogue exchange between Ed and the ghostly old man, plus I really like the British investigator character, Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney), who shows up early on to give a hand.  Make no mistake, there are many scary moments along the way, making sure you have pretty much two hours of having your heartbeat put on hold (a good example is the crooked man sequence, but there are many more).  The climax is well-staged and full of tension, especially because Lorraine's horrific premonitions start to look like they could become reality.  The nun provides unexpected terror; indeed she's since been given her own spin-off movie entitled, cryptically enough, The Nun.

The UK Blu-ray features a fantastic 2.35:1 picture (HD probably allowing precise replication of what is most likely a 2K master), while the Dolby surround track will absolutely rock your room if you have a respectable system.  It's actually an Atmos track but will default to Dolby True HD if your equipment is not Atmos enabled (as is the case with me, though I hope to upgrade at some point in the next year or two).  Still, the True HD track multiples the terror several times over, giving you several sharp demo sequences to choose from if you feel the need to show your friends what your system can do.  There are also a bunch of extras including a look at the real-life Enfield case, deleted scenes, etc.  I'm not sure if my copy was HMV-exclusive but it came with quite a colourful slipcase (pictured) whose image differs slightly to that of the standard case.  Overall, this is an overlong but frightening continuation of the now so-called Conjuring universe that respects its predecessor to successfully deliver on much of the same sort of elements.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

All the Sins of Sodom

All the Sins of Sodom was one of a quick succession of films Joe Sarno wrote and directed in 1968, following the auspicious production of Inga back in Sweden.  The New York tale offers us a voyeuristic glimpse into several intertwined lives: Henning, a photographer on the edge of what he feels is a great artistic achievement; Leslie, the model of his current project, who has also become his (latest) lover; and a nomadic young woman called Joyce, who has befriended (beguiled?) Henning to a point where he lets her stay at his flat/studio indefinitely, ultimately allowing her also to intrude on his professional and personal lives.  Joyce develops some sort of sadistic attraction to Henning, deliberately attempting to cause a rift between him and Leslie, while also becoming a supplementary subject in his photographic conquest.  But, perhaps, she poses an even greater threat than he may realise.
It's very much a kitchen-sink style approach to drama, albeit with added eroticism and nudity (it never veers into hardcore territory, thankfully).  Clearly produced very cheaply (almost the entire film takes place in Henning's cramped apartment, where he also works) Sarno manages to elicit quite a buzz from the triangle.  The story is told through quite a lot of dialogue, facial expression, and copulation.  The surprising acting accolade (considering the material) of the film must go to Maria Lease as Leslie, who delivers an amazingly emotive and fragile performance, essentially putting the other actors in the shade slightly.  Having said that, the actress playing Joyce, despite appearing to be relatively inexperienced, comes across as quite fascinating and suitably mystical (indeed, her character is likened to the Devil early on).  Joyce is certainly appealing, though destined to be Henning's downfall just as one of the characters loosely predicts.  He asks the artistically impotent Leslie for more 'evil', and that's precisely what he ends up getting when Joyce strays into the equation.  Overall, aside from the fact that the film could be simplistically seen as softcore fodder, this is quite an intriguing character and situation study.

Film Movement have put this out on Blu-ray as part of their Joseph Sarno Retrospectove series, the disc additionally including the Sarno film Vibrations (also 1968).  Vibrations also features Maria Lease in an excellent role as she plays an uptight typist whose loose sister starts visiting the adjacent apartment for some strange group shenanigans (generally involving a vibrator, which I'm sure is exactly the same one that was used in All the Sins of Sodom).  Vibrations has a great soundtrack, while the story is effectively set against an ambient 60s New York.  Characterisation and drama is not as complex as Sins, but it is nevertheless quite an interesting piece that has welcome presence on the disc.  It has been treated to a 2K scan at 1.78:1 B&W, which is detailed and naturally grainy.  There are a couple of commentaries for this feature.

Back to Sins and you'll find there is an audio commentary and an interview with the director (who died in 2010) - what an amazing life he led!  The clear, slimline Blu-ray case contains a booklet depicting an essay by Tim Lucas, plus film credits and photos.  The 2K-scanned Sins transfer is 1.78:1, B&W, and looks excellent on the Blu-ray, with a consistent grain-field and strong detail.  This film was actually previously released on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome, but was limited to 1000 units and is of course out of print.  The Film Movement edition is superior anyway, due to its inclusion of extras and Vibrations, and makes a great buy for Sarno or otherwise curious film fans.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Grave Robbers

Grave Robbers (AKA Dead Mate), 1988, starts with a nightmare-plagued waitress (played by the striking Elizabeth Mannino) arriving at her dead-end job only to be impressed enough by one of her customers that she spontaneously accepts a proposal of marriage before heading off to live with the guy at - kind of another dead-end really - the funeral home he runs.  The romanticism doesn't end there: before she's barely settled in she realises that not all is quite right, not only with the inhabitants of the funeral place but extending to the surrounding town more widely, which is populated by some very strange individuals.  The owners of the home appear to be 'fiddling' with the deceased in various ways, and it becomes apparent that they may have plans for her also...
Routinely billed as a 'comedy horror' I wouldn't really say it particularly delivers, certainly not on the former aspect, although quite clearly the whole endeavour is not meant to be taken seriously (the necrophilia angle is certainly not handled in the same fashion as the likes of Nekromantik,or Kissed for example).  Occasionally gory with a little nudity, the entire project evolves in an offbeat fashion, the acting easily categorised as 'bad' if one chooses to view it in that way, and the unfolding events illogical from the very beginning.  I did become intrigued to a certain extent, but was left mildly frustrated: the conclusion was partly predictable, and is suffixed with a supposedly humorous 'where are they now' narrative that detracted from the film (for me).  For a while it almost steps into Lynchian territory, and I really feel the film-makers potentially had something pretty neat on their hands here.  Had they let the nightmarish scenario spiral further into the surreal without feeling the need to bail at the last minute, and also actually started the film a little more straight (i.e. normal people cast into an abnormal world, where the contrast can be felt, rather than moulding it as simply very odd right from the start), this could, I would controversially suggest, have been transformed into a minor classic.  As it is, it's an unusual, periodically atmospheric curiosity piece that possesses a degree of 'rewatchability'.

Vinegar Syndrome have a provided a reliably excellent 2K scan from the 35mm negative, making Grave Robbers look like nobody ever would have expected it to.  Audio is mono (DTS-HD), sounding deep and strong throughout, and the transfer is backed up with a commentary from the director, Straw Weisman, a thirty second introduction (optional), a 4:3 video trailer, and an eighteen minute on-screen interview with Weisman - this is quite a fascinating piece where he reveals his beginnings in the industry, his versatility in the range of jobs he undertakes, and some points about the film at hand of course.  Very interesting fella who I would have been happy to listen to more from.  The cover of the Blu-ray/DVD pack is reversible, and the limited edition comes with a premium slipcase, embossed in places and very nicely designed.  The Blu-ray will play on all regions.  Overall, an excellent package for another oddity exhumed by the legendary Vinegar Syndrome.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Offerings

88 Films continue their somewhat dubiously entitled 'Slasher Classics' range with this obscurity from 1988 (as it's dated at the foot of the end titles), spine numbered 36 for the disc series - apparently the film itself was released in 1989, although it could have ended up direct to videotape.  The tale goes as follows: an outcast child is knocked down a well by his friends (who needs them like these, eh?), only to spend the next decade in an institution due to his catatonic state.  Then one day he perks up, kills the nurse, and escapes.  Making his way back to the hometown he proceeds to also bump off each of the teenagers who were once responsible for bringing his childhood to such an abrupt end.

As it tends to be noted by reviewers, Offerings borrows liberally from Halloween, which is far superior it goes without saying.  Having said that, whilst suspense it notably lacking, this later effort directed by Christopher Reynolds does contain sequences that are likely to evoke amusement in the viewer - the way characters appear only to be bumped off minutes later, a bizarre segment where the teens find an ear on their doorstep, etc.  Naturally there are a handful of killings to behold, one of which makes me wince even though it shows very little gore-wise (this scene, where a guy gets his head jammed in a vice, is also quite funny because he actually thinks for some time it's one of his friends playing a joke on him...).  As the film reaches its climax it gets really cheeky with the Halloween inspiration: not only does the killer become a virtually unstoppable machine, à la Michael, but so too does the music increasingly ape John Carpenter's iconic score; a few notes are changed or dropped, possibly just enough to avoid the makers being sued.  It should be said also that the 'final girl', who inadvertently causes all the trouble back in the childhood days simply by befriending the boy who's to become a killer, is very appealing, although the actress herself (Loretta Leigh Bowman) did not remain in the business.
Previously issued on Blu-ray in the US by Dark Force, 88 bring an identical transfer to the UK shores.  It's touted as a new 2K scan of the original negative, but even though it was shot on 16mm I'm struggling a little with the soft nature of the image: either a) this transfer is not taken from the OCN (though I wouldn't blame 88 for that, they are simply reiterating what they've been told), b) it was taken from the OCN but has had noise reduction applied, or c) I've no idea what I'm talking about.  The colours also look a little pasty, the image lacking dynamism generally.  Personally I would say even 16mm should/can look quite a bit better than this (having seen what has been done with other horror pictures shot on this medium - in fact, a great example of this is Vinegar Syndrome's disc of The Dead Come Home, which I viewed a couple of days later).  The other thing that I would possibly raise issue with is the ratio: it's at about 1.78:1 on both Blu-rays, but the compositions often appear to be a little cramped and I'm guessing that an open-matte transfer would have presented the film better (I don't have the previous DVD's, which I believe were 1.33:1, to see how they stood up).  As I say though, it may be me not knowing what I'm talking about.  Despite my personal reservations, the picture quality could be said to be reasonable for such an obscure slasher movie that could easily have been left to disappear forever.

The disc offers up the same trailer that came with the Dark Force package, but 88 improve on the US edition in a couple of areas, notably the inclusion of an entertaining audio commentary from the Hysteria Continues guys - I quite enjoy listening to these and particularly here the banter enhanced my enjoyment of the film itself.  There's also a reversible cover (essentially eschewing the 18 certificate logo from front and spine, the Slasher Classics banner, plus the photos on the rear).  Therefore the 88 Films Blu-ray is technically the best available version of this moderately enjoyable but not quite classic little movie that is rammed full of slasher staples.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Dear Dead Delilah

A disintegrating family of plantation heritage are gathered at their isolated mansion, mostly waiting for the old lady of the house to pop her socks so they can get their hands on 'fair' share of inheritance.  They've also inadvertently acquired the services of a woman who once axed her own mom to death, subsequently serving time for it.  This old plantation bat is no going down so easily, however, and - out of sadistic fun? - hides a huge some of money somewhere on the grounds: first come, first served.  Thus ensues a frantic search for the fortune, occurring alongside the inevitable topping of various members of the family.

Dear Dead Delilah originates from way back in 1972, inexperienced director John Farris doing quite a good grindhouse job of constructing an offbeat tale about a bunch of greedy misfits housed up together. It can be talky for longer periods than necessary, but as the tension ramps up things get suitably screwed.  The director managed to get Agnes Moorehead on board to play Delilah (not dead, but pretty much all of the characters wishes she was), and she does a great job as the embittered rich (and therefore powerful) old lady.  The film captures the madness given birth by greed, and never more pertinent is that concept than it is in today's money-obsessed/driven world.
Vinegar Syndrome deliver their usual 2K scan of the best available elements of this otherwise obscure film, the 1.85:1 transfer frequently reaching 40Mbps along with DTS-HD mono audio mastered at a whopping 96KHz.  The picture quality depends on which part of the film you're at, sometimes looking out of focus, sometimes fantastic - looks like VS did the best job possible to me.  The disc contains just shy of two minutes of promotional material (including text-based items, which you can pause and actually read on the Blu-ray - a DVD is also contained for those yet to move on), and a twenty minute interview with the director, where he provides insight into various things including who else he considered for the Delilah role and how much he appreciated Moorehead's talents.  He also mentions the fact that the film's pretty nifty decapitation sequence earned it an X from the MPAA when originally submitted (they eventually got an R following appeal).  The VS cover is reversible, plus the limited edition is enclosed in a premium slipcase.  Slim on extras this is otherwise a nice film to have in the collection, especially looking better than it probably ever will.  For info, the disc plays on all regions.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Deadly Daphne's Revenge

I'm not overly keen on slating anything that the magnificent Vinegar Syndrome spew forth to the Earth but I am massively disappointed in this release, although the company have put their usual stellar efforts into the transfer itself (other than some visible print damage in some sections).  I think my dissatisfaction is more to do with the inherent fact that the film is seriously mis-marketed, most likely because it exists in its own netherworld of virtual pointlessness.  There is one brief second of creepiness when you glimpse the titular Daphne, and that is emblazoned across the cover (see below) - i.e. pretty much the only thing worth seeing in this film is on the cover of the box.

A group of rednecks on a hunting trip pick up a teenage hitchhiker, but instead of dropping her off at her destination they take her to their hunting lodge.  After one of the group befriends her and the two get it together, she's raped by a couple of the others no sooner the love interest is out of the room.  Days later she's pressing charges against the whole group, and thus ensues the wrangles between solicitors, victim, and perpetrators.  Later still the prime mover behind the sordid moves is hiring someone to bump off the girl, but then she drops the charges and so he has to rush to call the whole assassination attempt off.  Somewhere behind this whole social mess wanders the ex-girlfriend of the main badboy, who's escaped from an institution for the purposes of revenge.
So is it about a rape victim's attempts to bring her attackers to justice, or is it about a scorned ex out to bump off her not-so-nice boyfriend?  The hybrid approach suggests that even the film-makers weren't sure, and the whole scorned-ex subplot feels like it was tacked on.  The irony being that the handful of minutes that this takes up (a snippet at the intro, one or two cursory references along the way, and the finale) are the basis for the title and poster/cover.  Released in 1987 while looking like it was shot in the seventies, the movie itself was filmed under a different title I believe (possibly The Bigamist although later it was known as The Hunting Season), again suggesting the producers didn't know what to do with it.  I'm not sure why it was ever filmed at all, however, Troma appear to be involved so some viewers may shout 'enough said' to wake themselves up.

I'm certainly all for boutique labels exhuming the obscure, particularly if they were once lost gems, but I'm truly struggling with this one.  What begins as a possibly cool exercise in exploitation cinema soon pummels you into boredom with sheer eventlessness.  Hell, VS even gave it one of their premium slipcases!  The film was scanned at 2K and, as I mentioned above, looks mostly excellent.  Mono 48 KHz audio is in good shape (you can even listen to a music-separated track if you truly want to play with your sanity), and the discs (Blu-ray plus DVD in the pack) come with a barrel-scraping interview (with an actress who played a desk clerk, barely able to remember anything about the film) plus plenty of promotional stills, an alternate opening, and reversible cover.  The fact that it's a limited slipcase edition from a generally fantastic label might make this marginally collectible, but I'd be amazed if the film itself has, or acquires, many fans.  Thank the Lord that director Richard Gardner never went on to shoot anything else, otherwise VS would probably have bestowed the insomniac world with that too...  Now let's hope my recent Black Friday package (a welcome package nonetheless) contains some significantly better material than this!

Friday, 25 May 2018

Bride of Frankenstein

Taking some elements of the book that were originally left out of Frankenstein (1931), the 1935 sequel continues directly from the conclusion of the first film extending the story into something a little more complex.  Clearly the major omission from the 1931 adaptation was the creation of a mate for the abomination that had become a burden to its creator - a ploy on the part of Victor (here called Henry) to dispense of the creature once and for all from his life whilst simultaneously making amends, if such as thing were possible.  After the believed-dead Henry has been dragged back to his home and wife Elizabeth, his revival comes as a shock to all.  An old acquaintance visits the recovering man (bedridden partly because actor Colin Clive had actually broken a leg in real life at the time) with the intention of teaming up to continue experimenting with the creation of life, much to Elizabeth’s disapproval.  It seems the man, announced as Dr. Pretorius, has been developing in his laboratory a few miniature automatons of his own, something that seems borne out of a morally devoid mindset of obsessive, sadistic tinkering akin more so to that of a child than a scientist attempting to evolve mankind’s knowledge.  Initially defiant, Henry’s involvement is egged along by Pretorius bringing in the now obedient monster, something Henry thought to be dead after the windmill fire.  Elizabeth is kidnapped by the monster and Henry is forced to work with Pretorius to build a female, granting it life by similar means to the birth of his first ‘child’.  The monster himself is quite aroused at the prospect of a new friend after his first and only one, a wood-dwelling blind man, was taken from him by strangers.  Of course, the results of the female’s awakening are not predictable and her arrival is destined to bring doom to those around her.
Apart from filling in some literary gaps in Universal’s Frankenstein franchise the studio put together what some have since deemed to be the greatest horror movie ever made.  Yet this label often came from those who rarely watch genre products, and it can never live up to such heights.  Aside from that the film was certainly ahead of its era in many ways.  Englishman James Whale was nothing like the usual director employed to shoot mainstream films back in the golden age; he brought personality and style to his projects and was one of cinema’s earliest auteurs.  Look at any of his genre films and they stand out from the crowd: Frankenstein and the sequel reviewed here, The Invisible Man, and The Old Dark House.  In contrast to most directors of the period, Whale was not simply another employee on the film set.  One thing he brought to these darker outings, including Bride…, was a grimly humorous edge, something that was probably lost to the comprehension of studio executives in the thirties.  Much more pronounced here than in the first film it can take a while to get accustomed to nowadays (the squawking old woman who seems omnipresent still grates a little with me after many viewings), but it’s at least memorable, for example the monster puffing on cigarettes and acquiring a taste for wine is something that embeds itself in memory.  And then there’s that inexplicable laboratory lever…

Continuity is maintained with the first film quite well, bringing Colin Clive back as Henry, removing the monster’s burnt eyebrows as a result of the fire it had survived, the watchtower production design, etc.  Unfortunately, Mae Clarke would not return as Henry’s wife, however, she was replaced by the overly dramatic but innately beautiful Valerie Hobson.  Dwight Frye also returned despite his character being killed in the first film, this time in a role as a different person with almost identical functionality (that of an assistant). The increased budget (nearly half a million dollars) is reflected in an amazing laboratory sequence, the film’s pinnacle - a lovely marathon of drama, great shots and editing, culminating in the eponymous woman’s birth (or rebirth).  The combined motivations of Henry, Pretorius, and the monster itself all direct to this one event, their actions throughout propelled towards a singularity.  The monster simply desires a friend (though is innocently unaware of any reproductive urge that probably survives in his blood), Pretorius has a morbid, amoral fascination with experimentation in life engineering, while Henry wants his wife back, although it’s clear his own scientific intrigue is piqued once work begins on the bride.  Like the monster, the bride herself is a gorgeous, iconic piece of design, thanks to Jack Pierce once again I believe.  She doesn’t speak but clearly displays disgust as she first sees her predetermined mate, this in turn fuelling the monster’s anger that seals fate.  It was a small masterstroke to cast Elsa Lanchester as both the bride, and Mary Shelley herself in the film’s prologue (almost suggesting that Shelley identified with the bride when she wrote the story).  There was a similar epilogue shot eventually removed along with quite a few other scenes after test screenings; these are probably lost forever.

Certainly not the ‘greatest’ but a standout entry from Universal’s monster cycle and the genre as a whole when considering the thirties and forties.  James Whale did not return to the Frankenstein series again but Boris Karloff was to make one more appearance as the monster, several years later in Son of Frankenstein