Saturday, 9 April 2016

Raventale: Dark Substance of Dharma

I stumbled across Raventale quite by accident recently, whilst browsing Spotify.  I tend to have a trawl through random tracks occasionally in the hope of discovering something great that I've not heard of before, although this is with the intention of buying if I actually like something rather than taking something for nothing (I'm one of those old fashioned individuals who is willing to actually contribute something to an artist who creates work that I'm happy to enjoy...).  Anyway, there was this, which I expected little from given the overwhelming mass of largely derivative Black Metal acts that have appeared over the last quarter of a century.  To be fair to them it's quite difficult not to be derivative if you're a Black Metal act because the genre operates within very narrow parameters by its own definitions and principles.  Raventale, however, somehow managed to catch my attention.  So I bought the CD, Dark Substance of Dharma, which they released in 2015.  It's available to download also (legally) but admittedly I did find the CD very difficult to get hold of, something that adds to its esoteric, underground nature for me, but surely wouldn't do sales much good (this Ukraine act has been going a number of years with plenty of albums behind them it turns out, so I think some improved marketing should be on the cards personally).
Opening track Intra-Mantra is a moody introduction that leads directly into the positively explosive and epic Destroying the Seeds of Karma, I think the track that grabbed me when I initially stumbled on them online.  But this album is no one-hit wonder - the track is immediately followed by the groove-filled riffs of the title track, nicely progressing into some very speedy and again epic metal to monumental effect - between them those two tracks run to over fifteen minutes, but their combined beauty never gets boring.  Following that is the shorter, more chaotic and aggressive Kali's Hunger.  Then we are treated to the unusual Red Laugh's Walking, again a shorter track (this is not a band who creates long, repetitive songs just for the sake of it - looking at you, Maiden and Exodus!) with some urgent riffing mixed in with more mellow segments.  Next up is I am the Black Tara, again returning to epic, fast-paced material with a distinctive melodic edge.  Raventale keep things interesting with tempo changes and a creative drive alongside pleasingly solid production.  ...Black Tara also features quite a beautiful mellow piece of clean guitar giving away hints of Bathory's range of Black and Viking Metal over the years.  The Hecate Enthroned feel is evident on this album, with echoes of the better tracks from Slaughter of Innocence, albeit with a heavier production (something I always thought that album could have benefitted from).  ...Dharma leaves the listener with Last Moon Fermata, a mid-paced closer with some chunky riffs.

I don't frequently buy Black Metal albums these days, even though the genre was a big part of my music history and enjoyment, getting into Bathory early on, then the so-called 2nd wave when all that kicked off at the beginning of the 90s, but I tend to reserve the buying nowadays for stuff that's a bit special.  This is really because there's far too much similar material out there to have hundreds of discs and remain interested.  Raventale is an act that's refreshed my interest and I've listened to this album quite a few times now - thoroughly enjoying its twists, turns, and perceptive approach to Black Metal.  I'm now looking into buying their entire back catalogue (they've released seven albums including this one!).

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Burial Ground

The movie itself you're either going to have a great time with or loathe - Burial Ground (or Nights of Terror, or Zombie 3, etc., 1981) exists in its own microcosm and creates its own rules, despite being triggered by the whole zombie craze that was given birth by Dawn of the Dead towards the end of the seventies, especially in Italy where this oddity was born.  A group of weirdos head out to a mansion for weekend activities, a place where the owner has been toying with supernatural forces resulting in the rather large number of rotting corpses buried on the grounds returning to life before the opening credits have even got under way.   Before anybody even has chance to become impregnated (seeing as most of the characters get down to making out at the first opportunity upon arrival) the onslaught begins and these ugly mothers (the corpses that is) are tearing just about anybody to shreds who lingers in their path for more than a minute or so (which the denizens of this world frequently do).  Thus the rest of the film is a desperate bid to survive and escape for the gradually decreasing number of survivors.  What makes this film quite amazing is the sheer insanity of some of the goings-on - lightbulbs explode for no reason, bear traps seem to have been laid on the grounds for no apparent reason, the dialogue is priceless (child to mother: "mamma, this cloth smells of death"), and there's the boy, Michael, who looks like a forty year old man, and sounds like a forty year old man trying to be a boy - this chap has to be seen to be believed, and particularly notable for his jealousy towards anyone offering his mother any attention (i.e. new and unwanted step dad).  This jealousy leads to a rather bizarre incestuous encounter that ends with his mom slapping Michael and him running off upset crying, "but mamma, I'm your son!"...  It's hilarious like few American comedies can match.  The monsters are UGLY, and these things have real maggots crawling over their heads.  They're burned, shot, stabbed, but there is no end to their destruction.  They even don tools to break into the house for their victims - smart creatures despite probably being in possession of half rotted brains.  The electronic music really boosts the appeal too - it's in turns zany and melancholic.  This world may be funny at first, but it only leads along a path of gore and hell to utter doom.  Love it!
Having seen this a few times on VHS tape and a few more times on DVD, I was interested to witness how its Blu-ray incarnation turned out.  Upon originally picking up the Shriek Show Blu the first thing I did was flip out the older DVD from the same company (Shriek Show was the horror-devoted banner of Media Blasters) to compare shot-to-shot.  Initially the SS Blu-ray looked a little messy to be honest but comparison with the DVD revealed a better composition first and foremost - previously closer to 1.78:1 it was now framed at 1.66:1.  This is likely to be the accurate ratio as many Euro films were shot/screened in this manner around the period and before.  The DVD was interlaced whereas the Blu-ray was progressive (at 24fps), reducing jagged edges.  Detail and contrast was improved by a small amount in the Blu-ray though grain consequently also increased, quite a bit.  The main problem with the visuals was an ever-present turmoil of chromatic noise, not reflective of how you would expect natural film grain to appear.  Of note on the audio side was the fact that the sound (DTS-HD stereo) was a little fuller on the Blu-ray disc, the DVD sounding a tad tinny after going back.  So whilst it didn't look great, direct checks between the SS DVD and Blu discs revealed improvements, modest though they may have been.  The DVD was rendered almost unwatchable after sitting through the original HD version (though see the point about the running time below).

Media Blasters (i.e. Shriek Show) also exhumed from somewhere a number of outtakes that I'm surprised even exist!  For someone who's seen the movie around fifteen times this is quite fascinating material, depicting various further interactions between the characters and even a bit more undead mayhem.  This piece runs nearly ten minutes albeit without looped dialogue or sound effects - instead it simply plays against the movie's music track.  Given that it's in good condition (in HD too) it's a shame the footage is missing its intended audio because some of this would have slotted nicely back into the main feature for an 'extended' version.  My favourite segment is with Michael sitting in the back seat of the car that his mother is driving to the mansion, and clearly pi**ed that she and his new stepdad are having a nice time chatting.  There's also an interview section with actress Mariangela Giordano and producer Gabriele Cristani - pity nothing with director Andrea Bianchi could be found (the same man who bestowed Strip Nude For Your Killer upon the world), but nice to have anyway.  A trailer and gallery padded out the SS Blu further.  These and the interviews were present on the old US DVD but the outtakes had never been seen before.  Priceless stuff.

It may have taken some flak for a grainy presentation - this is not entirely unwarranted as the grain looked unnatural/digital as aforementioned, but a direct look at the same footage on the DVD shows that the SS Blu-ray was a small-to-medium step up in almost every respect.  HOWEVER, somehow Shriek Show inexplicably used a shorter cut for this presentation - about 1 minute 45 seconds shorter to be more precise.  Oddly it was not a clear cut case of scenes being simply excised, in fact there was some footage in the newer SS version that's not in the previous versions.  It looked like a lot of the missing footage was down to frame removals at the edge of shots as well as a few seconds of stuff here and there.  This version is a curiosity to say the least.

2016: After a long wait UK-based 88 Films put out another Blu after managing to locate some decent elements for a new scan, partly funded through the Indiegogo campaign that was initially there to restore Zombi Holocaust.  The new Blu is framed again at 1.66:1, but now presents for the first time (to my knowledge) an option to view the film in Italian with English subtitles - don't worry though, the famed English dub is still there for one to enjoy.  Extras are improved, the disc containing an audio commentary, a half hour documentary about the mysterious Bianchi, the same deleted scenes mentioned above, and a couple of trailers.  The package is really neat, giving you the option of two covers (i.e. a reversible sleeve), and having a booklet plus artcard inside.  If you contributed to the restoration through Indiegogo you also get an extremely limited slipcase, something that I will never let go of.  The disc itself is the same either way.

The audio quality has reached its limit as far as I'm concerned, considering its source, and sounds comparable to the Shriek Show Blu - both a little beefier than the film's former incarnations on DVD and VHS.  The Italian track is an intriguing curiosity, though I think it would be difficult to pry me away from that wonderful English dub.

88 have thoughtfully provided two versions of the film to watch:  an HD scan of the original 16mm negative (done in Italy) with audio transferred at 24 bit, and also a 'grindhouse' version, which is essentially a battered old 35mm projection print.  Good news with the running time in the case of this Blu-ray: the 16mm version runs at what I believe is the most uncut version we know and love: 85m 11s.  The grindhouse print is slightly shorter at 84m 21m.  As way of comparison, the SS Blu ran 83m 24s.  I'm also pleased to say that the OCN version in particular looks excellent, with a more natural representation of grain (rather than the chromatic noise of the SS disc), and noticeably improved levels of detail (bear in mind the 16mm source, however).  I can't imagine it ever looking better in all honesty.  The grindhouse version is very rough with a crackling soundtrack - a nice bonus but it won't be my preferred means of viewing the movie considering the option is here to view the much superior scan of the OCN.  Well done, 88 Films.

The likes of this film will never be made again and for some of us who have 'acquired' the taste (and a very strange taste it is, admittedly), Burial Ground is an awesome experience.  The new 88 Films Blu-ray is now the definitive edition.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Anihilated: Created in Hate

1988 was an incredible year for thrash, with essentials being produced by Slayer, Metallica, Artch, Bathory, Holy Terror, Megadeth, Testament as well as a slew of other bands springing up across the globe.  Oddly, almost as soon as its popularity peaked, so did the genre virtually wane and die.  Thankfully the millennium brought with it revived interest and it seems as alive today as it ever was.  Arising from punk origins Anihilated were one of the virtually underground groups that chugged along in the background at the time, and Created in Hate was something I stumbled across on vinyl on one of my many record-store trips back in the day.   Sometimes cheesy, its groovy heaviness was unexpectedly addictive, and I'm pleased that Marquee Records in Brazil have in recent years remastered it for a special CD release.
The music is heavy with a 'bassy' guitar sound and has a distinctness that is refreshing; overall I'm pleased with the audio performance of the remaster.  There's a myriad of fantastic riffs on this disc, songs like Slaughter, and Anihilated exhibit a bucketful of great ideas - for something that on the surface may sound a touch corny and derivative, the album is in reality brimming with delights.  I also appreciate the fact that the song structures vary from the boring and conventional verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus tradition that all too many bands adopt, particularly in today's risk-aversive times.

It's pleasing that the booklet contains both the lyrics and an essay about the band in addition to Created in Hate's inception, helping to put the whole thing into a context that remained unknown for years to me.  The original track list is also suffixed with four additional live tracks.  If you have an interest in 80s thrash at all then this may well prove to be a nice buy for you.  The band also seem to be still going strong, which is great news.

My personal opinion of each track from the original album:
Chase the Dragon **
Slaughter ****
Power is the Path ***
Anihilated ****
Final Dawn ***
Nitemare (instrumental) ***
Aftermath ****
The Seventh Vial ***

Bonus tracks on the CD are live versions of  Slaughter, Final Dawn, Seventh Vial, and Nitemare.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Blade in the Dark

The second feature from Mario Bava's son, Lamberto, takes a stab (sorry) at the giallo, a genre which his father had dabbled in a few times.  The protagonist is a composer by the name of Bruno, who becomes suspicious that murders have taken place on his property, but nobody seems interested in listening to his suspected mistaken ramblings.  There is no mistake, however, and murders are most definitely taking place as a string of women visit the property for various reasons.  Bruno thinks that the answer may lie in the reel of a film that has been kept hidden away by its director, but getting to see the contents is not as easy as he'd like.

Almost all of the activity here takes place in an Italian villa, with the killer prowling around the site and becoming increasingly violent each time a woman shows up.  It plods along slowly (running almost an hour an fifty minutes) and would have benefited from some trimming here and there, but overall this is quite a solid offering to the crowded giallo arena.  It moves along almost carefully, possibly in effort to give the murders more impact - admittedly they are quite brutal and sadistic, with a couple of bits quite hard to watch even by today's much more violent standards.
I've previously seen this on VHS, and watched the Anchor Bay DVD a few times over the years.  88 Films' Blu-ray (part of their lovely Italian range) frames the film at 1.66:1, which I believe provides a little more breathing space at the top and bottom while being more appropriate for a European film from the era of A Blade in the Dark's making (1983).  There is omnipresent grain though I don't feel that it is overly intrusive.  Edges are fairly soft, while detail fluctuates from scene to scene - one has to remember that this was shot in 16mm so it will never be especially sharp in any format.  Colours are not particularly vibrant but as I grew accustomed to the visual style of this new presentation I found it to be pleasing viewing, and possibly closely representative of the source (something we will never actually know until another Blu-ray appears for comparison).

Previously it was not possible for English speakers to enjoy the Italian language version of this film, so it is highly appreciated that 88 have supplied the option to watch in either English or Italian with English subtitles (although please, 88, start allowing us to switch languages mid film without having to go back to the main menu!).  Personally I think Blade plays much better in Italian, but at least the option is there whatever your preference.  Audio is DTS-HD MA (mono) either way, and very clear throughout.

Extras consist of a fifty minute low video quality Q&A session with the director, a twenty minute interview with the cinematographer, and the Italian opening/closing credits.  The cover of the case is reversible (with original Italian title (La Casa con la Scala nel Buio)/artwork on the other side) and inside the case is an extra piece of film art on a slip.

I'm not sure about the running time because it appears to be a minute or so shorter than what I believed the film ran to on the Anchor Bay disc.  However, the gore/murder sequences seem to be intact so I'm not sure if there is anything missing without going through frame by frame.  Even if that proved to be the case I think the benefits of this new edition outweigh anything else, and the 88 Films release is now the definitive edition (until someone else gives it another shot on Blu, but they'll have to put some effort in I think!).

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Candle For The Devil

Directed by the man behind the classic Horror Express Candle for the Devil (more appropriately known in the US as It Happened at Nightmare Inn) was made in Spain (largely Madrid and El Paular) in 1973, featuring two God-fearing sisters who run a small hotel in a traditional Spanish village,  They get a lot of English-speaking tourists but don't exactly approve of their more liberal ways, although the local men are somewhat more forgiving of course.  An argument with one of their guests, who is attracting attention with some topless sunbathing, results in the girl's accidental death.  Interpreting a divine message in the death they cover up the accident but don't reckon on the girl's sister arriving to meet her a day or so later.  They let her stay at the hotel under the impression that the dead sister has already left of her own accord.  The new arrival suspects something is amiss when another guest vanishes, and launches into her own investigation to find out what's going on in the sinister little equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.

The film has a nice funereal atmosphere with a screwed-up pair of sisters at the centre of the mess of corpses that starts building up around them.  They're not even what you might necessarily call 'evil' (however you want to argue the definition of that) - rather, they are misguided in their beliefs.  There is a poignant reflection of this even in today's political climate as certain terrorist organisations around the world choose to kill off others simply because they do not comply with their own belief systems.  It goes without saying that this kind of mind-set can also be found throughout history.
Odeon's UK Blu is quite a barebones affair similar to previous releases on disc that I'm aware of, with a cover that is not exactly going to win any design awards (although it is arguably sexy).  You only get a trailer for the film, and on the inside of the box is poster art (they could have expanded this into a reversible cover perhaps).  I had heard that it was a 'bad' transfer but this is nowhere near what I would call bad (many people troll these Blu releases with no understanding of the kind of sources that the distributors have access to, or the work that needs to be done to bring them up to standard with many films rotting in their cans as we speak, or they simply fail to contextualise something against releases of the same film on other formats, which are almost always inferior).  I suspect this one is taken from a print that is not in the most magnificent shape, but the digital transfer itself does not appear to be flawed, and certainly preferable to watching a DVD.  It does exhibit a slightly soft, grainy appearance, but I felt that it was organic and possibly an indication of how it might have looked at some fleapit cinema in the early seventies.  Audio track is functional, and English language only.  I'm aware there is also a Spanish language track out there but it's questionable which is more appropriate.  The location would suggest Spanish of course, but Geeson speaks/dubs English, while some of the other actors appear to be speaking English also.  As with many Euro films it's difficult to categorically state which language the film should be viewed in, although I think it would have been nice if Odeon could have obtained the Spanish track (with English subs, naturally) so that we could make up our own minds.

There is a Blu out in the US by Scorpion that is slightly better specified (it contains an 18 minute interview with Geeson - I don't count that Katarina rubbish as extras I'm afraid).  The problem is that the Scorpion disc is not easy to get hold of, especially if you live in the UK, or at least not for a reasonable price.  Hence you can either go for the extortionate Scorpion and get the interview, or pay about a third of the price for the Odeon without the interview.  I think the colour timing may be different between the two transfers but personally I liked the almost autumnal representation of the film on the Odeon Blu, and I bought it for a fair price on Amazon (surprisingly) saving a fortune on the US disc.  Not a stellar release but being the second best overall presentation of this edgy little film (possibly that we're ever likely to see) I'm pretty happy with it.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero

Unlike many reviewers before me, I actually like Cabin Fever 1 and 2, both in my opinion tapping into the black comedy splatterfest ethos of the likes of Braindead and others of that era (although I'm not elevating them to that kind of status), and perhaps Piranha if you're more familiar with this century's output.  CF2 seems to be particularly maligned by a good portion of those that have seen it, so I thought I'd give this one a go considering it seems to split audiences in the same way.  The plot doesn't need outlining in detail: a research facility on a remote island runs into problems containing the flesh-eating virus (of the earlier movies) that they're attempting to find a cure to.  A bunch of dumb partying teens ('natch) go out to the island (i.e. they won't get a mobile signal) for a stag party only to find themselves dropping victim to the virus one by one (a development that some viewers may be thankful for...).  Has potential perhaps.

From the outset of putting the third outing into your disc tray it's fairly clear that the black comedy madness of the first two films has been almost entirely eschewed by virtual newbie film-makers Andrews and Wall in favour of what they probably believe is a grittier, nasty affair.  My favourite character (the cop) is also lamentably absent.  Sam the hobbit shows up to give it all a bit of credibility, but the teens themselves are unable to give this cash-in anything convincing, as they just appear to be aping the performances of every other dumb-teen actor that you've seen in horror films over the last twenty years or so (unless that's how all American teens naturally are, in which case I forgive them), and the script is just as clich├ęd (I'm trying to remember some examples but the experience is mercifully fading from my mind).  There are some moments of hefty gore if that's what you're after but the few moments of injected humour fall flat, making this entry feel like it doesn't really belong as part of the series.

What truly ruined CF3 for me, however, was the near relentless shaky-cam approach - seriously, this cameraman can barely keep the thing still, and regardless of what's happening on screen and whether it calls for a feeling of seasickness, the image will be waving around like a wet kipper.  Watch this stuff on a projector or large screen like I do and the chances are you'll come out of this movie feeling nauseous for all the wrong reasons.  I'm not sure why this habit with film-makers persists - shaky camerawork does not draw a viewer into the action (and in my case it actually draws me right out, because I'm too conscious of the camera frame itself).  I think bad film-makers use this technique as a tool to cover up their ability to generate genuine tension by any skilful means.  Hence what might have been a 2.5 star film on a generous day becomes in my eyes a 1.5 star film.


The Blu-ray reminds me of the old days collecting films on tape - not because the image/sound is terrible (it isn’t) but rather there is nothing in way of bonus features on the disc.  Zilch.  Although you do get to select chapters.  The 1.78:1 full HD image is very detailed although clearly shot digitally.  Daylight scenes are reasonably nice, with perhaps an unrealistic edge to the colour.  DTS-HD audio has some oomph as might be expected.  If you must watch this, the Blu is the way to go and can be obtained incredibly cheaply anyway.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Bogey Man

Or The Boogey Man as it's more commonly known in the US.  Shot by German director Ulli Lommel at the tail end of the seventies and released to various territories in 1980/81, this supernatural chiller became notorious in Britain due to attracting the attention of the immortalised Director of Public Prosecutions when it appeared on video cassette.  It's always amazing to see these films in a contemporary context when compared to some of the rather disturbing stuff that passes through the BBFC nowadays - of course most of the banned or nearly banned lot from the early eighties are pretty tame standing next to the likes of Martyrs, et al.  In the Halloween-esque prologue a mistreated boy murders his mother's boyfriend whilst the two adults are in the midst of having a sleazy time.  A mirror captures the spirit of the deceased and years later spreads its influence in a homicidal fashion of course.  I like the atmosphere of Bogey Man, the overall appearance along with the characters that populate this microcosm.  The possession of Lacy later on is a bit cheesy, and ancient John Carradine (who was brought in to shoot scenes for the purposes of increasing the meagre running time) is a little on the stiff side.  The actress playing Lacy (Susanna Love, who was married to the director and appeared in a number of his projects) is very attractive, somewhat nubile, and makes for easy viewing.
88 Films (UK's almost-premier cult movie label, after Arrow naturally!) have made the wise choice of putting this out on Blu-ray in the UK - uncut of course.  Having not appeared on Blu in the US this is a good strategic move for the company, as the title is something of a minor cult item.  The widescreen full-HD image is surprisingly vivid given the age and budget (around $300000) - I projected this to approximately 100" as I do most Blus these days and was extremely pleased with the colour range and impressive detail on display.  This is the best the film has ever looked in the home.  There's a brilliant twenty minute interview with the director, featuring no time-wasting cutaways to the movie, just pure talk with a very solemn sort of character who is nevertheless extremely interesting as he reiterates how the movie came about.  There are some trailers for Bogey Man and other 88 Films releases (they need to update this reel) and a booklet.  As part of the company's 'Slasher Classics Collection' (spine number 10) it comes in a nifty red slimline case, and the cover is pleasingly reversible with some original poster/video art on either side (and one side omits the 18 certificate from the front and spine if that is a particular issue with collectors!).  A decent movie becomes one of 88 Films's most respected releases to date.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Several teens celebrate the end of term with a margin of excess when they run a poor guy down on country roads, and then rather than owning up to the situation they decide to dump his body in the sea.  The problem being (as if there weren't enough) it looks like he was alive at the moment they pushed him in, meaning that they're now technically murderers.  Forbidding each other to speak of the act ever again they attempt to move on with their guilt-ridden lives.  Then, a year later, they begin receiving notes suggesting that someone saw what happened.  Following that a psychotic individual begins his vengeful murder spree...
Following hot in the dust-cloud left behind by Scream in the new wave of slashers, I Know What You Did Last Summer, released in 1997, appeared at the time to be a second-rate attempt to aspire to the success of Craven's film.  Unsurprisingly the screenplay was written by the man who also wrote Scream and its sequel.  Years on I actually prefer watching Jim Gillespie's less popular foray into this particular sub-genre.  The teen leads are appealing, particularly in the case of young, very sexy Jennifer Love Hewitt and cute Sarah Michelle Gellar.  Freddie Prinze Jr.'s turn as the poor boy stumbling into a rich world is sympathetically likable while Ryan Phillippe is the punchable bully boy really responsible for the whole mess.  Anne Heche also shows up briefly as the messed-up sister of the man run down by the teens.  It's an attractively shot film, efficiently edited with some rousing music along the way.  Taken in the right mood, and without expecting high class cinema, this is one of the most enjoyable entries in the slasher film's final stab at mainstream popularity.  Oh, and occasionally it's quite violent (the killer carrying around a very nasty hook), though the absence of nudity is lamentable.  Is it original?  No, of course not - I don't think I've seen a slasher film that is especially original.  However, it entertains on its own level, and that's the important factor.

The US Blu-ray looks pretty good, backed up by a powerful Dolby TrueHD audio track.  There's also a half hour making-of (in standard definition) and Gillespie's short film Joy Ride along with a couple of other bits.  Surprisingly the director has not been too busy, going on to do D-Tox with Stallone, and Venom but little else.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Anguish

An interesting oddity dating back to 1987, and shot in Barcelona, Anguish (or Angustia, or Im Augenblick der Angst) begins with an uncomfortable depiction of a grown man's homicidal tendencies combined with his close, possibly psychic relationship with his creepy mother, before revealing that this is a film playing in an American cinema.  Some of the viewers become increasingly disturbed by what they're watching on screen, before events in 'real' life begin to imitate those of the celluloid they're experiencing.
What I particularly liked about Anguish is the manner in which it blurs the lines between reality and cinematic fiction, crossing over the events of the two worlds with gradually heightening frequency and intensity.  Whilst it can be uncomfortable viewing at time, with some particularly gruesome sequences spattered throughout (and a little unnecessary animal cruelty in my opinion), the film's fascinating tightrope walk between supposed realities, combined with occasional surrealism, result in an original piece of work, that is often bizarre, captivating, and will beg to be watched repeatedly, until you yourself succumb to its spell of demented hypnosis...

The Germans, as usual edging ahead of many other countries in their selection of enticing catalogue titles for Blu-ray, have put out Anguish (as Im Augenblick...) with an excellent 2.35:1 full HD transfer, and a choice between English (naturally, as shot) DTS HD MA 5.1 or German in the same mode.  German subtitles are there of course, but thankfully they are removable.  At 24 frames per second it runs about 85 minutes.  At times boasting the feel of a classic Dario Argento exercise, the sound mix of this film is really important, reminding me in some ways of the direction they took with Berberian Sound Studio, entwining intricate sound patterns with a deliberately confused transition between realities for both the protagonist and the viewer, and headphone-use or surround listening is encouraged.  The cover is reversible - effectively the same artwork but without the red banner at the top, and missing the huge age restriction that seems to emblazon all German disc releases.  Needless to say it was turned around instantly upon opening...  The disc also comes with an interview and trailers - not exactly padded extras-wise but the very fact that something like this appears on Blu in such an attractive audio-visual presentation is to be rejoiced.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity

Yeah, that's where they're from.  Can I have directions please...?  In the far depths of space two female astronauts escape with their lives from potential slavery using a spacecraft that ultimately plummets into the tractor beam of another planet.  There they are taken in by an eccentric hunter who initially appears to be hospitable.  They are soon warned by one of the other 'guests' that they're in danger (a matter also hinted at by the collection of severed heads on one of the walls...) and have to head out on the run through the surrounding jungles in order to once again escape with their lives.

Directed for Taryn Productions by Ken Dixon in 1987 Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity is a pleasing science fiction romp on a very limited budget that makes up for shortcomings in the epic department with several gorgeous women who spend the entire film wearing very little.  While acknowledged scream queen Brinke Stevens might be present, for me the star of the show is Hungarian-born Elizabeth Kaitan (credited here as Cayton).  She's got a cute voice, lovely face, perfect body, and next to the other woman comes across as much more voluptuous - to see her running around scantily clad for almost an entire film is pretty much worth paying for the film alone.  Pity that she was never more widely famed in the eyes of genre fans as the other scream queens of the era were.
The sets are cheap, and the effects are base level.  Oddly the dialogue is not overtly humorous, which feels offbeat when spoken by actors who are clearly in quite ridiculous situations, but because of this restrained nature in the delivery I feel that the material works quite well.  I was never a fan of the OTT Troma style of script delivery.  I do, however, feel that the exploitation elements could have been enhanced somewhat (and given a 70 minute running time, there was certainly room for it!).  Considering the girls have next to nothing on for most of the film, there is surprisingly little in way of nudity (although it is thankfully there to some extent).  If you're gonna do it, then go the whole hog!  As a Saturday night after-drinks film though, this is not a bad way to end it.

Once released in the US by Cult Video, 88 Films in the UK many years later put out a DVD (as part of their Grindhouse Collection) with similar credentials on the surface.  The full frame (probably as shot) transfer is merely okay - serviceable.  I suspect a Blu-ray upgrade will never be on the cards unfortunately.  Luckily the 88 disc does improve a little on sharpness over the old disc, and colour is much more bearable than the red-hued transfer of old.  The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is, again, functional.  While both discs have a batch of trailers to enjoy, along with a couple of other minor titbits, the 88 disc excels by including a feature length documentary also by Ken Dixon called 'Famous T&A', which is basically exactly what it states, featuring clips of actresses who have at one time or another bared their flesh for Charles Band (and other) productions.  Rough quality standard definition (closer to VHS quality actually) does not detract much from the novelty factor of having this grimy little piece as a bonus, so well done to 88 for including that.  The final advantage of the 88 disc is that is has a reversible cover with alternate artwork on the rear.  I prefer the main cover (pictured) as it replicates the art of the old video tape that I once owned many moons ago.