Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Mighty Peking Man

Dating back to 1977, The Mighty Peking Man (AKA Xing Xing Wang) is a King Kong rip-off of the most shameless variety, however, don't condemn it just yet...  Hearing of a giant gorilla that supposedly lives on an Indian island, a group of wealthy Hong Kong businessmen set about capturing it in order to expand their ever-growing fortunes.  For this they acquire the services of a disillusioned, bummed-out anthropologist (Danny Lee), and set off for an adventure to locate the beast.  On the island they first find a scantily clad beauty who was left behind as a baby when her touring parents died.  Somehow she's managed to learn Mandarin in the process, as well as forging a relationship with the mighty gorilla.  She and Danny also develop the hots for one another, and before long the group have captured the ape and chained him to their boat (how they manage this part is conveniently skipped), taking him back to Hong Kong to be put on display like a gargantuan zoo animal.  Naturally, the ape breaks free and causes Godzilla-style havoc in the city.
Closely adhering to the plot of King Kong, the Shaw Brothers make a few changes to the story and process of bringing an oversized animal to the big screen, notably creating the ape by placing a man in a suit on miniature sets for much of the time (instead of time-consuming stop motion effects).  The girl of interest to the ape is not brought to the island either, as she was in the 1933 classic; here she's found almost as if she's a female version of Tarzan, and played by Russian blonde Evelyn Kraft she is almost too perfect for words.  She also possesses the amusing characteristic of not wishing to get clothed up (she does try on a few things on route to Hong Kong but promptly throws them out of the window in favour of her rag bikini!).  The monster gets angry enough to escape when he witnesses someone attempting to rape her (again, that never happened to Fay Wray!) and goes on the rampage that leads up to a climax that apes (apologies...) its inspiration.  The army, appearing with the sole intention of putting an end to all the mayhem regardless of morals, is led by a nasty westerner natch.  Aside from the prolonged frolicking love story element (which bizarrely features Kraft swinging around a leopard on her shoulders at one point), this is an action packed spin on the story, probably better than the 1977 US remake because it's a hell of a lot more fun.

88 Films have put out a dual edition Blu-ray/DVD of The Mighty Peking Man into a reasonably respectable package that preserves its original theatrical ratio in a clean, if a little grainless print.  Audio is presented in two options, English or Mandarin (good English subtitles are available), and extras include a commentary by Bey Logan, and booklet that focusses on Danny Lee's cult career (written by Calum Waddell), with a little bit of a look at the film at hand here - apparently the booklet is limited to the initial print run.  The cover is also reversible and packed in a clear case (I actually really like the style of case they've adopted for the Asian Collection, which eschews the standard plastic header in favour of a full size cover).  Probably the best home video release of the movie itself, 88 Films continue to put out cult material of interest in the UK and extend their Asian range with a great addition.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Amuck!

Produced in 1972, Amuck! (AKA Alla Ricerca del Piacere/In Search of Pleasure), this giallo of sorts (really a mystery thriller with strong accent on sexploitation) has sweet but not so innocent Greta acquiring a job as a secretary on an island-bound mansion, where several people are wrapped up in an odd soap opera.  Her ulterior motive is actually to locate her (bisexual) friend Sally, who also worked at the place as a secretary but disappeared under unexplained circumstances.  Greta soon realises that all is not what it seems among the eclectic family.

There's no doubt that most will be enamoured with the near-constant presence of Barbara Bouchet (as Greta), and if that's what you're here for you do get your money's worth!  She looks amazing throughout and is not afraid to show you her physical attributes.  As a double whammy, we're also treated to the contrasting beauty of Rosalba Neri as a sadistic playgirl, while staring-faced Farley Granger, who you may remember from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and Rope, takes on the male lead.  The two lead women were of course known for some decent Euro-horrors/gialli between them throughout the seventies (e.g. Don't Torture A Duckling and Slaughter Hotel respectively), so their dual presence is quite a boon to entertainment value for cult movie fans.  The isolated location is a great idea for both picturesque qualities and the suspense factor, meaning there is plenty to feast one's eyes on during this film.  Where it does fall down a little is in the somewhat languid pace - it could have done with a couple more action or violent sequences here and there to break up the leisurely stroll.  For that reason some viewers may find themselves clock-watching.  On the flipside there is plenty of sex and naked skin, a dreamlike hallucinogenic tendency in places, and the mysterious nature of the characters provides some intrigue.  If you can get over the slow pace it has its rewards.  Admittedly I'm not familiar with Italian director Silvio Amadio's other work, but watching this one does arouse interest in checking his other films out.
Admittedly the releases of 88 Films can vary in quality to some extent, however, I'm very pleased with this Blu-ray.  Restored by boutique label Camera Obscura (for their own non-UK release) the 2.35:1 HD image with generous bitrate is really nice, and looks marvellous on a large screen.  The colours are vibrant, grain is at about the expected level, detail is very good, and damage is kept to a minimum.  The 88 disc features either English or Italian dubs, with optional English subtitles.  Audio via uncompressed LPCM sounds fine (this presumably keeps disc production costs a bit lower than utilising badges such as Dolby or DTS, but the results are as perfect as one can expect for films of this vintage in particular).  It should be noted that the varied music score (composed by Teo Usuelli) on Amuck! is an enjoyable one.

The disc comes with three extras: an excellent 23 minute interview with Barbara Bouchet, who talks candidly about her career generally, and is not afraid to say when she simply doesn't remember making a film.  She seems to have a great personality and looks good considering she's in her seventies.  There's also a 10 minute interview with Rosalba Neri, who conversely claims to remember an awful lot of the time.  The we get a half hour Manchester film festival talk with Bouchet on stage, going over some of the same ground as in the separate interview but captivating nonetheless.  So about an hour of disc-based extras then, which is nice value in my opinion for a film that is not widely known.  On top of that there's a leaflet in the pack with an essay on Bouchet (including some coverage of Amuck!) and the cover is reversible, with an appealing choice of art either way.  A fabulous Blu-ray from 88.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Absurd

One of the notorious 'video nasties' from the early eighties, Absurd (AKA Grim Reaper 2, Horrible, Monster Hunter, etc.) is sometimes considered a sequel of a kind to the equally lurid Anthropophagus, although the two have little in common other than George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori) playing the central role as an inhuman killer, the cause of a number of grisly bloodbaths along the way.  Here the character is on the run from a priest and deemed to be as near to immortal as possible in the sense that his damaged cells regenerate rapidly.  After being hospitalised during the chase his body repairs and he escapes.  A car accident brings him back to the house where (in the opening sequence) he previously attempted to seek sanctuary.  There he reaps bloody havoc on the inhabitants of the house as the Police waste time giving the priest a third degree treatment.

Pretty straightforward plot with hints of a Halloween influence, Aristide Massaccesi/Joe D'Amato's gutmuncher is a little clumsy in places, but aims for the viewer's throat when it comes to the murder setpieces, and lingers over the details in much the same way that Lucio Fulci tended to during his peak.  Annie Belle puts in a particularly convincing turn during the sadistic oven scene, which is pretty hard to watch and compulsive at the same time.  Absurd veers away from the mystical atmosphere of Anthropophagus but replaces it with doses of unique Italian madness to keep the entertainment factor above sea level (for example, there's another bizarre and very amusing kid, whose pitiful tantrum at not having his say on the TV channel really has to be witnessed!).
88 Films funded this Blu-ray restoration through Indiegogo, and the result is very pleasing: the widescreen HD image features a healthy bitrate providing plenty of detail (and grain, though not excessively so) without distracting damage.  This is certainly the best it has ever looked and sounded, and refreshing to see that the film can finally pass through the UK censors without any slicing of the wrong kind going on (it has not really been available in the UK for years).  The BBFC really have nastier things to worry about these days!  There are two versions of the film contained on the disc: the 94 minute English language version, and a shorter Italian language version with optional subtitles.  I watched the former in full, and sampled the latter - they looked about the same in terms of picture quality.

Also on the disc is an entertaining commentary led by the very amiable-sounding Justin Kerswell with his Hysteria Continues friends.  I enjoyed listening to this as there is a balanced mix of information and general observation of a mostly humorous nature.  There are additionally a couple of recently filmed interviews with George Eastman and Michele Soavi (who has a small role in Absurd as a motorbiker who meets an unpleasant fate).

Exclusive to the Indiegogo supporters (although they may have a handful left to sell direct through the 88 store) is a nice quality glossy slipcase.  The main cover of the amaray itself is reversible while there's also a booklet in my edition although I'm uncertain whether that's in the standard release or not as it is touted as 'limited' on the back cover.  The booklet presents an essay on the subject of video nasties; I'm not sure what more can be said about this stuff but if you are relatively new to collecting then it may be considered a concise overview of the phenomenon.  The writing looks at the furore that exploded during the early eighties, as well as its revival in the nineties following the Bulger killing, before going on to encapsulate a very short analysis of each of the thirty nine successfully prosecuted tapes.

A reasonably entertaining film packed into an excellent edition, this is overall an essential release for the horror collector by 88 (part of their Italian range).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Raventale: On A Crystal Swing

Raventale are a band (primarily consisting of Astaroth Merc) from the Ukraine that I serendipitously stumbled across a few months ago, getting into their quite brilliant Dark Substance of Dharma album very quickly.  The particular disc under review here is a reissue of their very first album On A Crystal Swing (to give it the English translation - the actual original language title is На хрустальных качелях), whose recording dates back to 2006.  The reissue, which I've listened to quite a few times now, also contains three demo tracks from 2005.  Stylistically On A Crystal Swing is not hugely different to their more recent aforementioned album, but there is more of an emphasis on a doom-like atmosphere.
Opening with a majestic intro, which begins with the sound of ravens naturally, we are soon drifting into the fairly strong Огнём кромсая небеса, a keyboard driven, black metal odyssey of sorts.  Then the album's longest piece Серой тоской пораскинулся лес, which I have mixed feelings about.  On one hand there are some incredibly powerful segments that pull at the soul with a might not often heard in music, however... the main sequence is repeated so much that it actually drains the power out of it.  At 13 minutes 39 seconds, most of which is repetitive, it becomes way too long.  Hence on current listens I tend to switch forward at about the seven-minute mark.  It's a shame because, as I say, there is some stupendously tormenting material built into this track.

The next track, Небес смолистая чернь, is probably my favourite, again with doom-laden vocals, a beautiful keyboard-constructed string effect overlays majestic guitar riffs against a mid to slow paced rhythm section.  After that is a two-minute break from power chords in the shape of Дождя колыбель, which is a piano instrumental piece again backed by a string effect.  That leads nicely into the solid nine-minute closer, На хрустальных качелях.  As mentioned above, the reissue (pictured) contains three additional tracks at the end, which were not present on the now out-of-print former edition.  These are basically variants (shorter too) of the tracks I've talked about above, and interesting enough in their own right to warrant a place on the collector's shelves.

Whilst not a supreme listen overall, the album strikes me as a very strong debut, symbolising what was to come.  I've since bought all of the Raventale albums, mostly released by underground label Solitude Productions (although this particular one is by Bloodred Distribution).  My intention is to cover all of them over time; in the meantime I'm hoping more music fans discover the skilled beauty of Raventale's refined brand of black metal.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Werewolf Shadow

Sometimes known (more so in the US) as Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman (in reference to its climactic Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man-style showdown) and La Noche de Walpurgis (Night of Walpurgis) in its native Spain, this Waldemar Daninsky outing was the first pairing of horror icons Paul Naschy and León Klimovsky (the latter actually an Argentinian, whose career evolved between the countries).  In classic fashion two doctors foolishly remove the silver bullets embedded in the chest of inert Daninsky, this act reviving him as the werewolf and thus bringing an abrupt end to the lives of the two men present in the morgue.  Later on a couple of nubile students are on a research mission to find the burial site of Countess Wandessa, someone who was killed centuries before and rumoured to be a vampire.  They meet Daninsky, who has set himself up in a lonely castle.  Hitching up at his place for a few days they eventually locate Wandessa, proceeding to pull out the silver dagger that's keeping her in a corpse-like state (despite the fact that they know of the legend).  Wandessa is alive once again and menacing the occupants of the castle, which ultimately leads to a battle between the blood-sucking countess and the werewolf.
A lovely little film from 1971 demonstrating some great atmospheric sequences, particularly once the undead Wandessa appears on the scene - Klimovsky was brilliant at this sort of creepiness despite being quite an old man by the time he made this.  It can be argued that it is overall low on velocity, although underlying this is essentially Naschy's desire to remake Universal's classic monster movies albeit with boobs and blood (who can argue with that concoction?).  As always, Naschy gets the beautiful babe (and there are several to choose from in this picture, including luscious Barbara Capell, who looks even better once she joins the legions of the undead!).  Reportedly Naschy wrote this film but nearly lost out on the main role to a younger, better looking actor.  Thankfully this decision was overturned by the German backers to the film, thus the legacy of the character was granted longevity that really lasts until this day with a number of harder core Spanish horror fans.

Anchor Bay US restored this film to its original Spanish glory in the early part of the Millennium, and this DVD from the legendary but ill-fated BCI Eclipse essentially replicated the earlier disc.  The long out-of-print DVD from BCI presents the film in either Spanish or English (with some Spanish) language plus English subtitles.  The disc also contains the shorter US cut (which some viewers prefer) in a much more battered-looking version.  Incidentally, many actors actually spoke in English while the film was being shot, as it was intended to export this from the beginning.

The main feature on the disc looks okay, with some jagged edges and awful day-for-night photography that surely should have been re-graded?  Otherwise viewed on a decent TV albeit from a distance the standard definition image is certainly passable with some nice colours and contrast.  A new Blu-ray restoration would naturally, as always, be very welcome.  The disc also came in a slipcase-enclosed amaray that contained a booklet with a pretty decent essay about the film and its history on home video.  BCI were a godsend and would truly have more than hailed in the HD collectors era with the many great films they gave life to on DVD.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Hourglass Sanatorium

Or Sanatorium pod Klepsydra as it would have been known in Polish, directed by Wojciech Has.  This will be a hard film to digest for most viewers I would imagine, but I decided to give it a go nonetheless.  The plot is almost impossible to describe, but to attempt a synopsis: a traveller arrives at a dilapidated building where his father has died, or is about to die...  There he is told by a doctor that time operates differently and whilst his father may be dead from where Joseph has travelled, that's not necessarily the case here.  Joseph then proceeds to traverse deeper into a dreamlike world from one strange locale to another, from one odd encounter to the next.

A near overwhelming exercise in surrealist cinema, Hourglass Sanatorium is a film that lives outside of the time (1973) in which it was made.  I have to admit that most of the symbolic imagery goes over my head, and perhaps this composition of subversive ideas is something that academics will revel in.  Despite its long running time (just over two hours) I think it's worth the rest of us sticking with, because the final scenes suggest what's going on with the lost soul of Joseph.  I understand the film is also allegorical of the Jewish plight during the thirties and forties although again I am not knowledgeable enough on such historical matters to appreciate the film in this respect.
What I can say is that the imagery contained within is extremely powerful - the cinematography combined with production design is a monumental achievement all round, with rich and evocative visuals playing on the senses in almost every frame.  The sound design is also notable in its ability to construct atmosphere.  I do hope to revisit the film again with the aim of deciphering its esoteric narrative details.

British company Mr Bongo have recently put the film out on disc, and I picked up the Blu-ray for this viewing.  It is extras-free unfortunately - I say that because often films that don't really need much explanation arrive with plenty of interviews, etc., whereas something that could really do with some insightful exposition comes along with nothing at all.  Then again, it could be said that this might encourage people to interpret the material themselves, though I suspect most contemporary viewers are a little too lazy for that.  The 1.85:1 full HD image on the Blu-ray is exemplary, with enticing detail/chromatics supported by what is likely to be the best possible audio given the era of production (it's here in DTS HD MA 5.1 but the sound really is centred largely at the front).  Audio is Polish language only, with excellent English language subtitles.  As an import option, there is also quite a nice Polish digibook edition which is English-friendly (apart from the bundled Polish booklet) and can be picked up for a reasonable price at time of writing.

One to give a chance if you're feeling brave and experimental - if so, the Blu-ray is the way to go.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Dead Next Door

Made over the course of several years during the late eighties, The Dead Next Door finally spluttered into VHS life by 1989, and has since gone on to evolve a minor cult reputation over the decades since.  An ode to the zombie films of the seventies and eighties, it's an ambitious tale of an uprising of the dead that sweeps across America.  Sounds unoriginal now, in the wake of millions of such films, but back then such films were comparatively infrequent.  Here the film follows a government appointed 'Zombie Squad' as they tour the countryside surviving whilst searching for what promises to be a cure for the epidemic.

Back in the nineties I picked up a dupe tale of the film, as it was not easy to get hold of at the time in the UK, and was for a while of the opinion that it had actually been shot on VHS (I'd seen a few features of this ilk around the period, like Redneck Zombies and the fuck-awful Zombie 90).  The reasons for it resembling a video-made item are now clear (explained indirectly through some of the extras that have materialised on disc since), however, it was indeed shot on film (Super 8mm to be specific).  That makes it even more ambitious for what was essentially a group of amateurs with little experience behind them.  There are some decent gore effects throughout, with a story that spans a variety of locations, populated by many extras.  Sam Raimi became involved from a production point of view, and Bruce Campbell ended up helping with the looped sound as well as voicing one of the characters - the location-recorded sound at the time proved to be unusable so the whole film had to be redubbed in post-production.  Overall J R Bookwalter did an impressive job under the circumstances, although casual modern-day viewers may be left a little cold.
As mentioned, I used to view this as a hopeless quality tape for a few years until Anchor Bay released a much better (though shorter, due to damaged footage) edition on DVD in the mid-noughties.  This came packed with quite a few extras too, and was the definitive release for some time.  Ten years or so after that Bookwalter decided to go through a fundraising campaign to restore the film properly, given the fact that technology had moved on quite a bit and the world was now blessed with the home cinema phenomenon that is Blu-ray.  Out of this came an Ultimate Edition in the US, while the UK got a stripped-down (though not bare) equivalent, courtesy of 88 Films.  The latter includes the remastered film (which was evidently a painstaking process, as outlined by the Restoration of the Dead featurette), commentary, featurette, and some deleted scenes as well as a booklet.  Being much cheaper than the UE I deliberated for some time over which version to get, but eventually decided to pay the extra and get the full deal.  It's certainly a great package overall, with multiple viewing options to start with:: the full frame (as shot) remaster, a (cropped) widescreen remaster, the DVD version that Anchor Bay released, and the original VHS version (all on two discs).  The reason he's decided to include all three is because the differences are not down to quality alone, for example the new edit corrects some issues with elements accidentally photographed that should not have been visible, as well as locating sources for the footage missing from the DVD version, whilst furthermore colour correcting the image and fixing unavoidable flaws that could not be sorted out ten years prior.  In terms of video and audio quality, the new remaster looks really good, especially when you think about the very small frame size of 8mm film (i.e. a fraction of the detail of 35mm).  There's plenty of grain along with much more detail than I'd seen before - the restoration has clearly been done with great respect.  One of the big sells for the UE is that you can choose to view with the 'classic dub' audio, featuring Campbell et al, or the newly restored on-location recordings, which are now usable thanks for technological progression.

There are also several of J R's pre-Dead short films, which show surprising promise considering he was just a boy at the time (these have commentary tracks by J R and his son!).  Aside from new featurettes the discs collate the extras from previous releases, plus have some trailers for various things.  There is also a CD of the soundtrack for used and unused material, plus a booklet, a reversible cover with unique number (for the 1000-limited print run).  Pleasingly it's also signed by J R himself.

Whether you want to pay a much larger sum for the UE will depend on a) how much you like the film, and b) how much of a collector you are, but it is truly an ultimate and very complete package, on the whole a loveletter to the film itself.  Alternatively you get the main transfer plus some of the extras for a much lower price from 88 - the choice is yours.  Either way, I think this film deserves a place in the discerning horror fan's collection.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Vampires' Night Orgy

A 1972 Spanish horror directed by the king (in my opinion, naturally) of the genre, Leon Klimovsky, the title is somewhat misleading - there is a little sexual activity but certainly nothing approaching an orgy, unless it refers to the periodic flocking of the undead over human meat.  In a similar fashion to several of the Italian go-go Gothic chillers of the sixties, the film starts with a busload of people travelling through the European countryside.  After assuring the crowd that the 'crate' of a bus will make the journey, the bus driver himself finds that he doesn't quite have the same longevity - he has a heart attack at the wheel.  The enervated group decide to take a detour (corpse lying across back seat) to the nearest village for a rest, there finding the place relatively deserted and quite creepy.  After meeting up with another traveller and one or two locals they are all invited to wine with the resident countess, who insists they are welcome to stay.  The next day their newly adopted driver appears to be acting a little strange, which is put down to alcohol consumption, and the bus now won't start!  They are forced to stay longer than expected, however, to their peril the locals are not entirely your normal collective of villagers...
Overlooked by the majority of horror fans unfortunately, this - as with many other Spanish horrors of the period - is something of a minor classic in my eyes.  The isolated rural village has a great look, an air of the uncanny persistently underpinning the proceedings.  The undead creatures themselves are very spooky - through the use of odd angles, misdirected lighting, and sudden wide angles, Klimovsky had a knack for shooting the supernatural with a distortion that really gives certain scenes some punch.  Amidst all of this, however, are some great lines that mix amusement with horror to great effect.  For example I love the scene where one of the guests screans at a human finger in her dinner (certainly trumps a fly in the soup).  Unbeknownst to the travellers humans are being butchered to get the meat, hence the missed appendage during the mincing.  But to cover up the truth they say that the cook had an accident whilst preparing the food, as if that's supposed to comfort everyone!  Said cook then materialises from the kitchen carrying a new dish and one missing finger...
I used to view this film via the old UK Pagan DVD, but Code Red have since put it out on Blu-ray.  Being one of my favourites I decided to import.  It's definitely a significant step-up from the old Pagan disc: the Blu features a much bolder, more vivid image compared to the washed-out, blurry, low resolution mess that was the (non-anamorphic) DVD.  It's nothing format-smashing objectively speaking, and the colour grading is a bit of a mess, but I guess we have to keep expectations in check for such a niche title where the original elements may no longer exist (which would be tragic), hence I suspect this Blu was taken from a (fairly battered) 35mm print - there's certainly a lot of wear/scratches.  Both discs run the film for approximately the same length, the DVD around four minutes shorter due to PAL speed-up, but the Blu features the unclothed version (about three sequences, including sexy Helga Line, containing nudity that is covered up by night dresses in the alternate version found on the DVD.  The other difference is the fact that the Code Red utilises an English print, whereas the DVD has credits in Spanish (although both only feature English language audio).  Sound is shrill on both, the Code Red featuring deeper vocals with a more distinct music track, though a fair bit of hiss too.

In terms of extras, the Code Red actually loses to the old UK DVD, though not by too much: we're talking about a very rough VHS quality trailer versus notes on the film and crew plus stills.  One day I hope for a restoration from superior materials and the option to view this film in Spanish with English subtitles, until then the Code Red Blu, whilst far from perfect considering the price, is a very welcome upgrade of a fantastic Spanish chiller from what should now be thought of as a golden era.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Emmanuel and the Last Cannibals

Released in 1977 and directed by the notorious Joe D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi) this is an attempt to mix the bloody cannibal sub-genre with, inappropriately enough, erotica.  Typically a group of westerners head out to the jungle (the Amazon in this case) in search of what is believed to be the sole remaining tribe of true cannibals in the world.  The team is headed up by hot reporter Emmanuel, who demonstrates her hungry need to report on anything in the prologue when she is revealed to have spent time in prison in order to uncover abuse and corruption.  Once hooked up with a famed academic anthropologist and a small team of helpers (including a nun!) they head off for an adventure where most of them won't survive, and those that do will be changed forever.

Surprisingly for a cannibal film this one features minimal violence towards animals, therefore it is somewhat more bearable even though it might not be classed as up there with the 'best'.  There is of course some fairly nasty violence and gore, often of a sexual nature, that I'm surprised was left intact for the 88 Films release.  On top of that, there's a lot of nudity and sex which should please fans of Laura Gemser.  If women aren't fingering themselves they're fingering each other, or enticing men to mate with them.  Lurid material then but at least it helps prevent boredom.  The adventure aspect is, as with many of these films, the factor that makes or breaks the storyline itself, and this one summits with a grand escape from the island by the survivors after a hellish journey that claims almost everyone.
There is an underlying ineptitude to this production that's exemplified by the English language audio track (some great lines for your amusement), which can be overlooked by viewers wishing to immerse themselves in such a sleazy but periodically fun (and gruesome) adventure.  Interestingly the film reminds me in a number of ways of 1980's Zombi Holocaust, feeling very much like the same sort of territory.  In fact both films also share some of the same (beautiful) music (composer Nico Fidenco was involved in both) and happen to have been screenplayed by Romano Scandariato.  Gianfranco Couyoumdjian also produced both films, and Dr Butcher himself, Donald O'Brien, appears in both in nefarious roles.  A lot of coincidences then, it's no wonder they feel like they're both taking place on the same island at times.

As mentioned, surprisingly 88 Films have got this film through apparently without any cuts for a UK Blu-ray release.  It runs around 92 minutes, longer than the previous British cinema release and its subsequent video counterparts, albeit a few seconds shorter than the old Shriek Show DVD (I understand none of the gore is affected).  It looks pretty good for what it is, in widescreen and with a choice between Italian or English language audio (unfortunately you have to choose between them on the main menu rather than being able to switch in film, but at least the option is there).  English subtitles are available while extras are limited to trailers, alternate credits, a postcard (in the pack) and reversible cover.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Death by Invitation

The prologue depicts a young woman, suspected witch, being flayed by a horde of medieval people, themselves in some cases decorated in almost a devilish fashion.  In the present day someone who resembles the woman, possibly her ancestor, infiltrates a family consisting of the killers' descendants, the intention apparently being one of cross-generational vengeance.

A little known film by Ken Friedman from 1971, Death by Invitation is an intriguing study of a psychologically disturbed woman driven to kill by events that may have occurred aeons previous.  I say 'may' because I feel there are elements of ambiguity in all of this - either she is the descendant of a witch that was killed by Catholics (and, indeed, there is a brief hint that the religion has been passed down to the family in the present day), or she is deluded into thinking this is the case by her own paranoia and misandry.  Or perhaps she is the actual witch herself, who has survived for hundreds of years to now finally discover or locate her opportunity to end an extended lifetime of bitterness.
It's a plodding piece, underpinned by an air of feminism that I wouldn't ordinarily have much sympathy for in the post-millennial Western world, however, the concept overall is not without its interest.  Moreover, the lead character - the first known role of actress Shelby Leverington - is fascinatingly sexual and disturbed.  Leverington is quite incredible, both for her mysterious, acute portrayal of Lise, and for her alluring sultry persona.  She may not appeal to all but I found her to be hypnotic throughout, especially during her intense pre-murder delivery of a historical monologue that her character may have been witness to in some way, or have an obsessive belief in - despite this being pure talk it is a captivating and vivid sequence.

Having had very minimal exposure to the public in the past via home video (and possibly a brief theatrical run?) Vinegar Syndrome unearthed this for what could be its final lease of life, a double bill DVD, part of the Drive-in Collection, with Dungeon of Harrow (previously it was doubled with 1979 slasher Savage Water before that ran into trouble and was quickly withdrawn from circulation - a handful of copies are out there but you can guess what people are asking for them).  Death... is presented on DVD at 1.85:1 from a fairly scratchy print, battered, but looking better than it ever has (and, shamefully, possibly ever will).   It comes with an audio commentary from the Hysteria Continues pod-casters.  Unfortunately this does not offer a great deal of useful information about the film, sometimes consisting of the commenters merely passing thoughts about the décor or fashion (yes, people, this was 1971 - the stuff that you're wearing will no doubt also look like a joke in forty years!  Or possibly less).  Justin Kerswell comes off as an intelligent chap, often bringing things back on to track.  Aside from the occasional amusing comment or slice of insight, the commentary is not how I'd like to remember the film.  On the other hand, the sitting-with-one's-mates-watching-a-film type of scenario might appeal to some.  In summary though, this is a good disc to own and one much appreciated from the stellar organisation that is Vinegar Syndrome.