Saturday, 2 April 2022

Sleepy Hollow

Being a big fan of Tim Burton's work throughout the nineties I was thrilled when I heard of his adapting The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for the screen, and was just as thrilled when I got to see it at the cinema.  I can't say how closely it follows Washington Irving's short story but the result is a wonderful mix of quirky detective shenanigans and romance in a supernatural world.  Johnny Depp's character, Ichabod Crane, is something of an irritation in turn of the nineteenth century New York, with his new wave look at forensics and crime-solving.  He is sent, most likely to get him out of the local authority's hair, to investigate three decapitations at the insular village of Sleepy Hollow, some distance away via a long journey through increasingly creepy woodland.  There he finds the place in the grip of an apparently superstitious fear of a headless horseman, who is periodically appearing to relieve select victims of their heads.  Squeamish Ichabod is initially not given to such olde-worlde beliefs, however, his opinion gradually begins to swing as he himself witnesses the strange goings-on.

Burton, in what was probably his last great film, created a tangible, beautiful dark world for 1999's Sleepy Hollow, the mist enshrouded village being a sight to revel in, and the odd characters populating the place of constant interest.  Much like Ed Wood, Burton at the time trailed around with him a motley crew of regulars who were quite delightful to see recurring in his work, starting with an idiosyncratic turn from Depp himself, who probably wasn't quite a planet-sized ego as he later became.  Burton's partner at the time, Lisa Marie, is prominent in the role of Ichabod's mythical mother, while Michael Gough (still the best Alfred) and Jeffrey Jones are sublime as cranky villagers trying to figure out what to do about their deteriorating population.  Danny Elfman is also on hand to deliver yet another strong score which weaves its way through the film, and naturally one must mention the brooding cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki.  Sleepy Hollow holds up well twenty years later in all respects, one of the few occasions when everything comes together for an essentially Hollywood production to create an actual work of art.

Pathe released this one on DVD in the UK around 2000 and Optimum followed this up with a Blu-ray about a decade later.  I have been hoping for a proper remaster, especially on UHD Blu-ray, for some time but I can't foresee it happening at the moment.  This is unfortunate, although we never know what's going to appear next (when the likes of Vinegar Syndrome are remastering Flesh-Eater for UHD pretty much anything must surely be possible...).  I made a comparison between the two aforementioned UK discs, and here's what I found.  The DVD is fairly well specified, featuring an essential director commentary, a couple of trailers, some still/text-based features, a half-hour making of, plus a ten minute interview.  Conversely, Optimum's Blu-ray is very lazy featuring as it does none of those extras!  Strangely though they did take the time to put on an audio and video calibration tool, perhaps out of guilt...?  Audio-wise the Blu-ray wins out, presenting the film with either a stereo or DTS-HD 5.1 choice, whereas the DVD features an inferior lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track.  The DTS track is quite powerful and delivers a strong, sweeping experience for its era of production.

The video side of things is of course won out by the Blu-ray.  Firstly, the Blu-ray runs at the correct speed of 24 frames per second, as opposed to the inherent PAL speed of 25 fps.  The DVD is framed slightly tighter at the top/bottom to give us what would have been the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, whereas the Blu-ray opens this a touch for 1.78:1.  It doesn't make a worthwhile difference.  More pleasing though is the increased resolution, giving us better detail, visible grain, higher contrast, and an all round more satisfying image.  It could almost certainly be bettered these days (and I think the blacks do get swamped a little).  However, it projected to a large screen reasonably well given its age.  It's a shame that the Blu-ray is not carrying any real extras, in this case meaning I will keep both discs.  For viewing of the film though, the Blu-ray is clearly the way to go, until we get a 4K at some stage...

Saturday, 19 March 2022

Lurking Fear

From Full Moon Pictures and released in 1994, featuring Jeffrey Combs, this appears to be an attempt to capitalise on the run of low budget Lovecraft adaptations that were semi-popularised with Re-Animator (hinted at just slightly by the return of Combs).  It was directed by C. Courtney Joyner (who?) and also featured the gorgeous Ashley Laurence (from Hellraiser of course, here credited on screen as Ashley Lauren).  It might be expected that this film bears only a very loose passing resemblance to the H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name, primarily retaining the underground creatures that tunnel around beneath a graveyard and up to a nearby building.  They're described as monkey-like in the story, some liberty again taken with this description for the onscreen version (although they do admittedly look quite good).

Obviously the timezone is quite different in Lurking Fear - brought into what was then the blissfully mobile phone-free modern day, it eschews the investigator of the story to bring in a bunch of crooks looking for some buried money in the aforementioned graveyard.  These guys (and woman) clash with a clan of people already battling the lurkers, and together they find themselves effectively trapped in the building while one half wants the money and the other just to bump off the creatures.  Gone is the lovely backstory of how the creatures came about, here only loosely connected to the main ex-con in terms of bloodline (and name).  The atmosphere of the story, a staple of many Lovecraft shorts, is largely lost.  I've never been sure why Lovecraft is not more often and better adapted for film, there is such a wealth of wonderful material available, and Lurking Fear is not nearly at the top of the pile.

88 Films brought a Full Moon equivalent Blu-ray to the UK market, featuring a reasonable 1.78:1 hi-def image with audio as good as you might expect from a low-budget mid-nineties production.  There are some soundless deleted scenes (odd that they were willing to excise anything given the relatively brief running time of the feature), one of those Videozone short making-of featurettes, a commentary and plenty of trailers.  The cover is reversible, providing you with the welcome option of displaying the sleeve without the intrusive BBFC logo, a persisting motif for a long outdated organisation that hangs on to its existence by overcharging struggling boutique labels for the right to sell their movies to a small British audience.  Lurking Fear has a few moments of interest, the presence of Laurence and Combs being the main selling points, but overall I would say viewing this will not set your evening on fire in the same way that, for example, Re-Animator or From Beyond would, but then you probably knew that.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

The Sacrament

I've got a softer spot for Ti West than many seem to, having real affection for his former chillers Cabin Fever 2, House of the Devil, and Innkeepers.  He seems to work mainly in TV nowadays (unfortunately) but concluding his horror movie run in 2013 was The Sacrament, a purportedly true tale of a woman who becomes embroiled in the activities of a secluded theistic cult.  After a few months of her absence, her brother and a couple of reporters head into the wilderness to see how she's doing, armed with shaky cam and little else.  Initially things seem a somewhat hostile at the gates, guarded as they are by armed men, but soon they are welcomed by the resident sister who assures them that all is well.  She has temporary accommodation set up for them, and arranges meetings with the patriarch of the community, appropriately referred to as Father.  As one might expect, there are a few more sinister goings-on than where I leave this synopsis, otherwise naturally there would be no film (or indeed perhaps only a very boring one).

This is essentially a POV/found-footage type of movie, so be warned if this is not your bag.  Admittedly I have little tolerance for this genre, reserving my interests for a very select few, and I only put up with viewing Sacrament because it's by West.  It isn't too bad an experience, however, and does manage to exude a disquieting aura as we realise Father and his camp are not the ideal destination to spend one's holiday.  Of course we get the usual tropes of the genre, notably the persistently wobbling camera and the odd desperation to hold on to the thing no matter what is happening in the cameraman's life.  And then there is the uber-natural pretence of the actors, basically saying, 'I'm not acting, really!'  The only person who I'd say pulls off a compelling performance is Gene Jones as Father.  Some of the others acting turns do kind of get on my nerves but Gene manages to save the show.  I think the main issue with Sacrament is that there's not a huge amount to entice audiences, even though it has some value, and it's most certainly not a bad film by any stretch.

A trend with releasing lesser considered films in the UK, one that constantly annoys me, is to put it out only on DVD.  Hell, they may as well bang it out on VHS if they think that little of it (actually that would be cooler).  And this laziness applies here, a Ti West film on DVD only (from some company called House).  So I picked that up a few years ago only because it was virtually no cost (I wouldn't buy a DVD otherwise).  More recently I was able to pick up the film on Blu-ray, albeit imported from Germany.  Both are quite lacklustre releases - cover design on the UK DVD is more colourful although quite generic (boasting the imaginative tagline 'Pray for Salvation'... who the hell came up with that?!), while the German Constantin Film Blu (aside from the usual reversible cover showing certification on one side and not the other) contains a chapter insert - remember those?  Audio on the UK DVD gives you a choice between Dolby Digital stereo or 5.1, whereas you get high resolution DTS surround audio English on the Blu, along with a couple of German language tracks.  The German dialogue subtitles are removable.  Incidentally the utterly rubbish new-look BBFC site lists this as a 15 certificate, whereas the disc clearly displays an 18 certificate!  Either way there are themes of suicide that some people might find upsetting, as well as a touch of gore in places.

Extras on both discs consist only of related and unrelated trailers - this is where the Americans as is often the case are far better treated.  The old Magnolia Blu that came out in the US featured a commentary and a number of featurettes.  The Blu-rays run at around 99 minutes whereas the UK DVD runs at 95 minutes, due to being sped up (a symptom of PAL).  Finally, with regard to image quality, both Blu and DVD are framed at 1.78:1 (the film itself was shot digitally in High Definition), the Blu yielding noticeably sharper and more colourful results, although the DVD is watchable.  There is one slight caveat with the German Blu (aside from lacking the extras of its US counterpart), in that there is an occasional German onscreen text reference (for example it refers to times as '14:00 Uhr' and the like).  They are few and far between and don't detract from the viewing experience in my opinion.  The main draw of the German Blu is that it can be bought for a fraction of the price of the US disc and not much more than the UK DVD (at time of writing).  If you really want extras though, there really is no competition, but just for raw image and sound quality the German Blu provides best value for UK buyers for this reasonable entry into the found footage sub-genre.  It's interesting that West has made one movie about devil-worship, and one movie about God-worship, neither leading to particularly pleasurable results!

Saturday, 31 July 2021

The Girl in Room 2A

A woman is kidnapped, tortured, probably violated, then killed, and the opening credits have not even finished rolling yet.  Another woman, Margaret, is released from prison for a crime she says she had no involvement in, and rents a room in a strange little house.  It is the titular Room 2A of course.  A couple of the guests try to befriend her, whilst the landlady is a little too friendly.  Before long Margaret is plagued with prison-like hallucinations or dreams, and she has problems with a blood patch on the floor that she cannot seem to clean up no matter how many shots of Jif she gives it.  Soon she hitches up with a man who says his sister went missing in the very same house that Margaret is staying in.  On top of this bizarre activity there is the mysterious figure in red who likes to beat young women...

A sort of mystery horror thriller with hints of surrealism and possibly the supernatural, The Girl in Room 2A (directed by William Rose) is one of the underrated Italian (co-produced with the US) mystery chillers of the seventies.  The film is very much helped by the presence of its fetching leading lady, Daniela Giordano as Margaret - she also showed up in the Paul Naschy film Inquisition three years later (which you can at present pick up on Blu-ray courtesy of Mondo Macabro).  The beautifully shot ...Room 2A is certainly quite watchable, and indeed re-watchable even following delivery of its conclusive revelation that might have kept viewers guessing the first time around.

This appeared via Mondo Macabro on DVD many years ago, a fine disc for its time.  I recently picked up the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray and was able to make a comparison.  Firstly, the VS disc runs the film just over a minute longer - they were able to dig up a couple of extra scenes (dubbed in English only, so if you're watching in Italian the language flips for a short while).  They are inconsequential sequences but certainly not unwelcome.  As they are from an inferior source the quality dips a little on each occasion, but as I say this is only for about a minute or so of the film.  The ratio is improved on the VS - 1.66:1 as opposed to 1.78:1 on the old DVD, providing more image information and most likely the accurate aspect ratio.  Both discs deliver English or Italian language soundtracks, with optional English language subtitles in each case.  There is one interesting difference between the discs here: the English track of the MM DVD features a different score over the opening credits, whereas the VS Blu has the same score for both the English and Italian tracks.  I'm not sure which was intended by the film-makers but they are certainly very different in tone, with the Italian score being oddly more upbeat (I say oddly because it's against a visual backdrop of a woman being tortured and murdered!).

The picture quality is significantly better on the VS Blu, being clearer, brighter and more detailed (aside from having more information as aforementioned).  This is an old mono movie so you don't get too much difference either way - the VS has a higher bitrate DTS-MA English track although, possibly in oversight, only Dolby Digital for the Italian track (there is also a lower bitrate English track).  Subtitles are clearer (and newly translated) on the Blu-ray, inherent to the format.  As far as the extras are concerned, the Blu is again better off.  Both discs contain an 11 minute interview with the lead actress and a trailer.  The DVD does have some digital text based notes to accompany the film, but the Blu has a 17 minute audio essay.  Finally, in terms of the packaging, they are both very different with the VS disc having a choice between two covers (both different to the DVD - see top picture).  The VS disc is available as part of the Forgotten Giallo boxed set volume 2, with two releases - one is a proper boxed set (three films in LE packaging, pictured above) whereas the standard edition is more cut down in terms of packaging although containing the same discs.  Regional coding is not an issue, however, you will need NTSC compatible equipment to play the DVD.  Overall the Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome wins out by quite a margin, but the DVD retains a couple of merits.  The film itself is definitely worth owning for collectors of less mainstream horror and cult cinema.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Skinner

I think we have to consider ourselves lucky as film-collectors in the UK.  Skinner (1993) was nigh on lost if it were not for the efforts primarily of its writer Paul Hart-Wilden (along with help from others along the way), added to the fact that the BBFC would once have ruined this with censorship (they've today decide to mercifully leave it complete), as well as the chances of today's easily offended factions of society having something to be offended at being quite high (unfortunately that kind of whining has way more sway than it should, post millennium).  And then factor in that this is now mastered in 4K from an uncut source and put out - with decent extras - on Blu-ray, in the UK as technically the best edition in the world and ever (!), is all in all a miracle to behold.

In essence a tale about a serial-killer, back when they were quite popular on film, Skinner follows around the titular character (Skinner by name and nature - Ted Raimi) as he continues a compulsion to kill and remove/wear his victims' flesh.  Complicating matters is the detail that one of his former victims (a very tragic portrayal by Traci Lords) still lives.  Badly scarred she now seeks out Dennis Skinner in order to eventually execute her own revenge.  Along the way he lodges with an appealing young woman (Ricki Lake, surprisingly), forming a half-complete relationship with her while her husband takes immediate dislike to both the man and the boarding situation.  It's not quite hitting all the nails that could have made this a genuine cult classic, but it's not a million miles away from that classification either.  What I do like about it is its feeling of being a little bit underground, a bit sludgy and taboo.  It's quite nasty in places (very nasty in one particular prolonged sequence), not too fussed about pushing a few buttons as things weren't back then, and quite uniquely grim.


101 Films picked this up for UK distribution and added a few bells of their own.  Firstly the transfer is excellent, widescreen and sourced as mentioned above from a new 4K master using unrated elements that were very close to never seeing the light of day again.  There was once a very rough DVD of the film (succeeding prior VHS tapes and a LaserDisc), the only factor retaining value being its 4:3 presentation (i.e. opened up, as opposed to matted on the new edition).  But of course this new master, most likely now framed as intended, is leaps above anything else in terms of image colour and detail.  Shared with its US (Severin) cousin disc, there's a 20 minute interview with Hungarian-born director Ivan Nagy (shot around 2007 before his death a few years later) where he talks about how he got into directing and what he thought of the script, etc.  His controversial relationship with Heidi Fleiss is more than touched upon too (interestingly, the pursuing woman once nearly killed by Skinner was called Vicky in the script, but renamed Heidi in the filmed version...).  Ted Raimi provides a 15 minute interview where he expresses appreciation for being a part of the film.  The writer himself delivers a 17 minute insight into what he was thinking when he wrote the film and the story of the script essentially being taken away from his (London-bound, self-shooting) intentions through to loss and rediscovery.  Then we have a 10 minute piece that's a lot more fascinating than I expected it to be, a talk with the lucky guy who brought the elements back together in the 90s in order to cut (or recut) it for its then distributors.  Rounding out the extras on the discs are a 14 minute time-coded selection of outtakes from the brutal skinning sequence that centrepieces the film's horror statement, plus a trailer of course.  Aside from Severin's (who shot/compiled the extras footage) tiring inclination to repeatedly insert shots from the film as interviewees talk (e.g. someone mentions a door closing, cut to a shot of Ted Raimi in front of a door...), i.e. I would really just watch the interviews uninterrupted with pointless footage from the pertinent movie, this is a fantastic selection of talks from the people involved in Skinner.

But wait... here in the UK 101 released this (dual format Blu-ray and DVD) as part of their premium Black Label, whereby the standard edition is embellished with a quality slipcase and booklet containing (alongside stills) a fantastic essay by Paul Hart-Wilden detailing his blossoming interest in relocating the elements to Skinner and the arduous decade-long search that ensued, culminating with how it finally landed on Blu-ray in the beautiful edition that we have here.  If you are in the US the Severin disc will probably suffice, but 101 have edged it by putting out the best edition worldwide.  It's also available as a standard version here in the UK for when that Limited Edition goes out of print, but I would grab the LE if I were you.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Nosferatu The Vampyre

 Deep in the heart of Germany…

Estate agent, Jonathon, is offered the prosperous job of selling properties to a Transylvanian count but to do so must take a long trek into the isolated man’s homeland to close the deal. Thinking of career prospects and his beautiful wife, Lucy, he accepts and ventures via foot and horse into a lost world of mountains and forests, amidst which is the count’s ruined castle. Meeting the corpse-like Dracula, Jonathon closes the deal but, after realising that the villagers’ seemingly superstitious warnings of the living dead may have some foundation in truth, he soon finds himself prisoner in the castle, left to wander around for weeks as Dracula himself heads off to his new country by ship. Having spotted a picture of Lucy he’s also now out to acquire himself a new woman. Back in Wismar Dracula’s ship (now with a dead crew) arrives but unleashes on the town a horrific plague as rats pour onto the streets. Soon, mass numbers of the population are dying as the disease spreads and the vampire places his coffins at strategic points around the town; meanwhile the deeply lethargic Jonathon manages to escape before desperately attempting to head back home so he can save his otherwise doomed lover.

Taking the 1922 silent movie as a template was a fairly brave move as it was already an unofficial (and once legally denounced) version of Bram Stoker’s book and took many liberties with the source material. Thus, the Werner Herzog film can be considered more of a remake of a film than yet another adaptation of Dracula, though it certainly qualifies as the latter too. Herzog framed a number of the shots almost identically to the silent version, pre-empting the Psycho ethic that was (unsuccessfully?) adopted by Gus Van Sant a couple of decades later. It was a more relevant approach in the case of Nosferatu however because not only was it updating a silent film for sound-obsessed modern audiences, it also expanded on certain aspects and created an altogether more powerful experience. In fact, the use of sound in this version is incredibly instrumental in formulating a profound experience for viewers - the castle itself is a gothic joy to allow oneself to become a part of as wind howls through the corridors and rooms while wolves constantly whine in the distance. The music (from classical sources as well as German ambient group Popol Vuh) is overwhelmingly dark, thrusting forward an incremental feeling of impending doom like few other movies. It’s a chillingly grim world that Herzog creates. Even before that, the long journey to the castle is emphasised more here than in any other Dracula adaptation. Indeed, when Fox saw the first cut they wanted it shortened, not realising that Herzog was envisioning the metaphoric voyage of the spirit. Thankfully this is generally complete in the German cut. Use of landscape is monumental and absorbing.

The actors are well suited to their roles: Bruno Ganz as Jonathon plays an innocent man lost in a supernatural realm, doomed to a fate he cannot realistically control. Similarly, the vampire (Klaus Kinski, an actor famous for his clashes with Herzog on their many team-ups) is withered and pathetic as his deathly existence continues to sprawl meaninglessly across centuries. Kinski’s portrayal here, while not necessarily aping the Stoker character exactly, is unique and fixating. The other lead, Isabelle Adjani as Lucy, provides a captivating physical appearance coupled with melancholic presence helping us identify with her character’s futile plight. The conclusion, without giving anything away, is different to both the novel and the silent Murnau film. Unfortunately, the film was ridiculed in some quarters during its early days, not helped by the English version which was cut in the US and displayed a voice track uttered by people who couldn’t actually speak English, this alternate version having being shot simultaneously with the same cast/crew: it resulted in an oddity. The full German version gave cause to re-evaluate it but even there some may find it slow and theatrical in places. For me it works wonders and, dare I say (sorry, Stoker fans), the 1979 of Nosferatu is actually my favourite version of Dracula.

For years I’d only seen this on Fox’s old UK videotape. It had the dreaded English language track (in mono) with a fullscreen transfer, plus it had been blasphemously shortened by some twelve minutes. Even then I gradually developed an appreciation for the material, so it was some revelation when I finally picked up the first Anchor Bay US DVD just prior to the millennium: widescreen, German language, and uncut (though the monaural English cut was contained on the flip side of the disc). It was like a goldmine - what was once something that hinted at an incredible world suddenly became a beautifully nightmarish landscape of utter doom (that’s a good thing by the way). Of course it’s now one of my favourite viewing experiences. It’s been re-released by Anchor Bay various times in the US and UK but they’re basically variations on the same original disc. The transfer was good for its time but is looking quite rough now. It was eventually resurrected in the UK by BFI on Blu-ray, with a HD transfer that outshined former DVDs and audio in either English or German language (the latter having mono or 5.1 surround options).  I picked up the beautiful steelbook at the time - now long out of print - which came with a good quality booklet and lovely original poster art across the metallic exterior (see above).  The film was also available within a fairly priced Blu-ray collection of Herzog movies, and stateside from Scream Factory.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Baby Love

This is something of a little known drama from 1968, being released in various territories between 1969 and 1971.  It's a potentially controversial piece about a school girl who moves in with her new family after the death of her mother.  Despite what could have been a rosy life on the outside, the girl - Luci, played by Linda Hayden - conceals a damaged nature, and this manifests itself in her dealings with almost everyone she comes into contact with.  She possesses sexual allure for seemingly everyone who crosses her path, young/old, male/female, people just can't seem to avert their attention.  Sometimes she seems to be being taken advantage of, at others she demonstrates that she may actually be in perverse control of her questionable encounters.  During her stay with the family, everything and everyone appears to disintegrate around her.

Featuring as it does a school girl in obvious sexual situations, it's quite amazing that something like this got made, as you can see how risqué it was for its time (it received an X after some edits requested by the BBFC).  Despite only small amounts of nudity and little explicitness, even today it boasts an 18 certificate - I should imagine some of today's woke audiences would probably be more offended than viewers of the sixties, such is their nature to get offended...  Aside from an odd accent, Linda Hayden is an absolute star in the central role, perfectly cast for her natural combination of attractiveness and awareness.  Of course she went on to play some great parts in films such as Taste the Blood of Dracula, Blood on Satan's Claw, and the crowning performance which she more or less disowned, Exposé (House on Straw Hill).  Baby Love was her first feature role.

Network Entertainment have kindly put out this Studiocanal-owned film (perhaps too edgy for Studiocanal themselves to release directly) on Blu-ray.  It's been transferred from what's thought to be the last remaining film element, a 35mm interpositive.  Aside from small imperfections this 1.66:1 HD image is nice overall and particularly for such a rarity, there is absolutely nothing to complain about.  Dialogue is low in the mix with no real concerns of note for a piece of cinema of this era.  Extras are sparse: there is a still gallery, with further images on the reverse of the cover, and it's coupled (at least in its early print run) with a booklet containing essayed details of the book and movie's history (including quotes from various participants) put together by Adrian Smith, lecturer at University of Sussex.  Network Entertainment are to be congratulated for nicely preserving this equally entertaining and disturbing slice of cinema for posterity.

(As a footnote, I believe this disc is locked to Region B).

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Panic Beats

Paul's (Jacinto Molina/Paul Naschy) wife is undergoing life-threatening health problems when their doctor recommends that Paul takes her away from the city for the sake of her physical wellbeing.  Luckily Paul has retained an isolated rustic family property that is expected to serve just the trick, hence they promptly head out there for a few weeks or months, however long Geneviève needs to recuperate (although the doctor doesn't sound overly optimistic).  It's not exactly a good idea from the get-go.  The minute they're out in the country Paul has to head off for petrol, leaving his already nervous-wreck of a wife waiting in the car.  In true Spanish Horror fashion, there are bandits roaming the woods, and they quickly attempt to thieve what they can from the petrified Geneviève.  In true Paul Naschy movie fashion, he quickly reappears to save the day via beating two types of manure out of the bandits.  The flustered couple arrive at the old property later on in the midst of a thunderstorm, where the housekeeper and her recently appointed assistant are preparing vegetables, as one would.  It's not long before the ancient legend of Paul's ancestor, Alaric De Marnac, is proving to be problematic - he was reputed to have butchered his lover for loving someone else many centuries prior, and is now materialising every century or so to butcher another lover in the family line - that's Geneviève.  Several ghostly and bloody goings-on ensue, with poor Geneviève finding herself in a significantly more stressed and near-death state than she was back in the city!
A damned fun movie from Naschy's mid-eighties output, there are a whole bunch of great characters in here to take pleasure in watching suffer, make sweet lovin', etc.  Naschy does his old double role thing, playing both good guy and bad guy as well as bedding the best looking women in the movie.  In this case the bad guy - Alaric - has made an appearance before Panic Beats (AKA Latidos de Pánico), back in the early seventies classic Horror Rises from the Tomb.  Of course we all know Naschy liked to regurgitate ideas and that's all part of the artistic charm.  One of the things I love about this movie, aside from its melding of Gothic and Gore, is the fact that everybody seems to be double-crossing one another.  Alaric himself doesn't seem to so bad standing next to many of these characters - at least he was honest!  A nice score against the atmospheric backdrop rounds out one of Naschy's best horror excursions.

The only release I've ever seen of this is Mondo Macabro's classic DVD, which came out in 2005.  I bought it back then and have watched it quite a few times since, as the film is always a bit of a blast.  Very good for its time (twofold because, as always, they exhumed a nearly lost gem) the picture looks quite soft by today's standards, although it's nicely framed at 1.66:1.  I should imagine this 35mm 1983 production could look splendid on HD these days.  The audio on the disc was delivered in its original Spanish language track with optional English subtitles to help.  Extras consisted of a 20 minute Spanish Horror documentary (Caroline Munro: 'The first thing you notice over there is that they don't speak English...'), a half hour documentary on the director/lead man, plus a few other titbits.  Long out of print, as I say this was a legendary release by one of the great boutique labels.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Morrigan: Diananns Whisper

The final album of German Black Metal act, Morrigan, appeared - after a lengthy delay - in 2013 via Undercover Records on both CD and vinyl: Diananns [sic] Whisper.  A romantic, mystical painting adorns the cover but the Gothic album title feels amateur in its superimposition.  The package is low-fi, kind of what you would expect from the underground anyway.  Moving on to the music...  The aggression is often left aside here in favour of a moody outing, more melodic in many ways, although very much rough around the edges.  This is in no way a polished piece of work, perhaps deliberately so.  The opening six minute composition, 'Shadowwanderer', is melancholic and slow, setting the tone for much of what's to come.  Clearer vocals are clumsy in sound, though suiting the desperate nature of the song itself.  Edging closer to a Black Metal rasp, the band veer into 'Bloodwidow', complete with not-quite-trademark backing vocals reminiscent of some of Quorthon's work of course.  A pleasing heavy vibe accompanies this track.
'Warbitch' (they do like their bitches...) picks up the pace to midway for a heavy metal/traditional Black Metal aura, raw instrumentation throughout, along with a distorted solo to boot.  The nicely titled 'Thy Nasty Reaper' follows this with a much thrashier mood, a bit of early Emperor going on to catch you off guard before the album slips sneakily into '13 Steps at Dawn', a ballad in essence that will make you weep at the pains of existence.  This is of course not the entire track, as it quickly becomes heavier with a Black Metal rasp once again, albeit maintaining its established core melody.  'The Gallic War' is more of the Morrigan same in terms of a bit epic with the choral underlayer going on.  'Maze of the Graves' is faster again, just as gears switch down for the best track of the album, 'The Singing Hangman', atmospheric and full of doom.  The frantic, schizophrenic title track and 'Dustdevils' close the album.

At fifty-five minutes I would say the album is too long, particularly as it doesn't really cover any new ground for the band (other than a higher volume of clean vocal implementation).  Whilst I do love some of Morrigan's material, they explored every ounce of the breadth of obvious limited possibilities across their seven album career.  They achieved some great results, maybe repeating too few themes too often.  Bathory were ever present as an influential spirit, and at least the German band appeared to wear this influence proudly.  It was a shame that they never reached the heights of the brilliant Headcult again.  Diananns Whisper itself was not quite the last we would hear of Morrigan, however.  They appeared in 2014 for a limited edition split vinyl with Blizzard, a German thrash band who are possibly more active than their colleagues.  Morrigan themselves have been seen in a live capacity as recently as 2017 to my knowledge, so there may be more to come from this slightly mysterious and dark two-man act after all.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Morrigan: The Damned

Just a year after putting out Welcome to Samhain Morrigan unleashed what I believe is the superior The Damned in 2007, once again via their regular label Undercover Records.  The album opens with an almost sedate, reasonably melodic 'Teutates Warcult' before ploughing into the Emperor-esque 'Innozenz the 3rd', a very Scandinavian feeling going on here which should please many Black Metal head, in particular the lengthy screams giving Isahn something to be jealous about!  'Guilty' contains some interesting riffs while not really going anywhere interesting, then the nicely titled 'Boiling Blood' again hints at Emperor during its more manic moments, mixing in some pleasing melodies along its frantic path forward.
The hefty title track is melancholic in a manner that Morrigan understand, delivering a aura of hopelessness throughout.  'Carnal Desire' sees Beliar doing his Isahn impression once again, though the music is more relaxed than something the Norwegian would have been involved with back in his revered band's early days.  'The Devil's Kiss' picks up the pace somewhat, feeling urgent and chaotic (in a good way), utilising some nifty riffing along the way.  Final slice of music here is 'Confession'; the longest track on the CD this one does threaten to conclude in a fairly ordinary fashion until it segues into a blast-filled section during its last stretch.

One aspect of The Damned that I find notable is that out of all of Morrigan's opuses, this is probably the one that veers away from the Bathory formula the most, although the influence is undoubtedly still there (indeed, by default if an artist is creating anything close to a conventional Black Metal record then he cannot help but demonstrate something of Bathory in there somewhere).  The Damned is a fairly solid, sonically consistent listening experience, professional in execution and illustrating comfort on the part of the two musicians involved.