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since 19/04/2010


Aenigma (DVD) 20/03/2017


Aenigma (DVD) This is a film-only review, mainly because my chances of getting ciao to add the Blu-ray are precisely zero. It has recently been released on Blu-ray by 88 Films, and will set you back around £13 in HMV, possibly slightly less on amazon. (And as an aside, wouldn’t it be more useful if ciao included amazon and HMV prices in its search results for DVD and Blu-ray products? I’d hazard a guess they’re used more than and Zavvi.) This is a late 80s effort from Italian horror director Lucio Fulci. His late 70s / early 80s zombie movies, especially Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Beyond, are genuinely impressive, if a little silly round the edges. But after about 1983, the quality of Fulci’s work dipped drastically, as low budgets began to take their toll. Aenigma, sadly, is no exception – it was an Italian / Yugoslav co-production, and at least made it into cinemas, unlike a lot of Fulci’s late work. But it’s still crap. Year: 1987 Director: Lucio Fulci More information at: IMDB user rating: 4.8 At a posh girls’ school in Boston, an unpopular girl, Kathy, is left in a coma after a prank goes horribly wrong. But she somehow manages to possess the body of new girl Eva, using her to get revenge on the kids who tormented her (or as many of them as the budget will allow). The murders are all supernatural, so it’s not really clear why Kathy needs Eva’s body at all. Eva also starts an affair with the doctor treating Kathy, because apparently ...

Beyond the Darkness (Blu-ray) 09/03/2017

The naked and the dead

Beyond the Darkness (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray from 88 Films is currently £15 on amazon. Beyond the Darkness is a moderately notorious horror/sleaze/gore movie directed by Joe D’Amato, a man to whom horror, sleaze and gore came easily. Possibly the lowest of the low where Italian exploitation is concerned (he does have a few competitors, but not many), D’Amato’s films have a knack of showing me things I had no idea I didn’t want to see. In truth, the most excessive D’Amato efforts are not readily available in this country, and are never likely to be, uncut at least. We’re left with his more innocuous films – although that’s very much a relative term, even his most harmless films leave you feeling like someone has secretly filmed you sleeping and put it on youtube. This movie is grim, splattery and features quite explicit nudity. At one point, years ago, I thought of it was one of the grottiest films I’d ever seen. Now, though – having explored what you might call the D’Amato deep cuts – I realise that this is a stroll in the park. Would that I could return to that state of pre-lapsarian innocence! Year: 1979 Director: Joe D’Amato More information at: IMDB user rating: 6.3 (higher than I’d have expected) Frank is a young taxidermist who owns a mansion, which he shares with his housekeeper, the creepily obsessive Iris. Frank’s girlfriend, Anna, dies in hospital from some unspecified illness. Frank deals with his grief by stealing her body from the cemetery, taking it ...

Body Double (Blu-ray) 13/02/2017

Dial D for De Palma

Body Double (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray/DVD set from Powerhouse Films is £15 on amazon at the moment. It’s a limited edition, so may shoot up in price soon. Brian De Palma is part of the movie brat generation that brought us Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, among others. He’s never quite had the kind of insane success they’ve had, nor the kind of artistic acclaim of Scorsese, mainly because there’s a faint whiff of the disreputable about him. One of the main sticks used to beat him is the accusation of misogyny, especially in his Hitchcock-influenced thrillers. And Body Double is exhibit A in the case against him. Year: 1974 Director: Brian De Palma Stars: Melanie Griffith More information at: IMDB user rating: 6.8 Actor Jake Scully is out of work and down on his luck. He gets fired from the crappy vampire movie he’s making, then walks in on his wife having it off with another man. Another jobbing actor offers him the chance to house-sit. While doing so, he starts to spy on a woman in a nearby house who does a striptease (alone) every night at the same time. Unfortunately, she also seems to have attracted the attention of a creepy repairman, who starts to stalk her. I always associate this film with American Psycho – in the book, Patrick Bateman describes how he rents the film over and over in order to watch the central murder scene. Consequently, I was expecting the scene in question to be over-the-top and tasteless. In fact it’s no such thing. It’s not very ...

Rillington Place (Blu-ray) 06/02/2017

Notting Hill carnage

Rillington Place (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray is around £15 on amazon at the moment. This is a recent BBC miniseries about John Reginald Halliday Christie, one of the more famous British serial killers. Active during and just after the war, Christie murdered at least seven people, hiding their remains in his house and garden. This sort of true crime drama is usually produced by ITV, and gives popular TV actors the chance to show off how versatile they are – off the top of my head, I can recall Dominic West as Fred West, Martin Clunes as ‘Acid Bath’ Haigh and James Bolam as Harold Shipman. There are doubtless many others. It’s a bit rarer for the BBC to get involved. The BBC, presumably fearing accusations of bad taste from its enemies in the press and government, has really gone to town with its Christie project. It’s stretched out over almost three hours, and features proper film actors (albeit ones who aren’t quite as successful as they used to be). Everything about it screams self-conscious ‘prestige’. The Christie case is perhaps best known for including a famous miscarriage of justice (and in the days of capital punishment, miscarriages of justice couldn’t be remedied later). That presumably provides enough justification for the series to be made, rather than prurient interest in one of the first famous British sex murderers. The main problem for the TV series is that there’s a celebrated film version of the same story, 10 Rillington Place, which was made in 1971. The film – which was made on the ...

The Tyrant King (DVD) 30/01/2017

Swinging London

The Tyrant King (DVD) This DVD (which for some reason comes in a CD-sized case) is only about £8 on amazon at time of writing. This is an odd little thing. It’s a children’s drama serial made in 1968 by the fledgling Thames television, apparently to test out their location filming equipment. It was also apparently developed as an extended advert for London Transport. It was broadcast once, and then seemingly forgotten about. This DVD release is a few years old now, but I only stumbled across it quite recently. Three posh kids decide to break into a large mansion on a whim, where they overhear a preposterously camp man, Uncle Gerry, seemingly setting up some kind of illegal exchange to take place a week to the day. Determined to stop him, the kids try to figure out where he will be, based only on a few verbal clues – it will be somewhere touristy, and involve a landmark he cryptically refers to as ‘the tyrant king’. So the posh kids set off to visit every London landmark they can think of. Soon they find more clues in the form of an odd series of drawings sewn into a wallet. They also realise they’re being stalked by a sinister man they call Scarface (who does, to be fair, have a whopping great scar on his face). It’s a very strange story, in that its primary purpose is to advertise what a terrific place London is to visit. There are six 25-minute episodes, and they’re all padded with lengthy scenes of tourist footage, usually of people milling around in vaguely recognisable bits of central ...

Spirits Of The Dead (Blu-ray) 17/01/2017

Edgar Allen Slow

Spirits Of The Dead (Blu-ray) This Arrow Blu-ray is a mere £9 on amazon at the moment. There was a boom in gothic horror movies in the late 50s and early 60s. One of the main strands of this boom was Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allen Poe movies, most starring Vincent Price. While critics in the US and the UK were generally scornful towards horror movies, the French were far more willing to take them seriously, even to consider their artistic merit. This might be why two acclaimed French directors, Roger Vadim and Louis Malle, got together to make this anthology of Poe stories in 1968. Joining them was Italian maestro Federico Fellini. All three stories are pretty obscure as Poe goes, with William Wilson being the only one I remembered reading. I guess they felt they had to choose stories that hadn’t been adapted for films already by Corman and his various imitators. Metzengerstein Roger Vadim kicks things of with this tale involving a probably haunted horse, or something. Frederique is the spoiled, thoroughly decadent ruler of… somewhere unspecified. She does whatever she wants in pursuit of her often unpleasant pleasures. But she becomes oddly obsessed by her unwordly, reclusive cousin, the only man who doesn’t seem fascinated by her. When he rebuffs her, she has his stable burned down, and he dies trying to save his favourite horse. And then a wild black stallion arrives at Frederique’s castle… The story is rather confusing, which wouldn’t be a problem if it was actually any good. ...

Expresso Bongo (Blu-ray) 04/01/2017

Soho shenanigans

Expresso Bongo (Blu-ray) This BFI Blu-ray is about £10 on amazon at the moment, and possibly a bit cheaper in HMV. Expresso Bongo started out as a hit West End musical in 1958, and was filmed a year later. The stage version was a caustic satire on the Soho-based music industry of the time, in which a shady manager exploits a talentless young bongo player, Bert Rudge, propelling him to stardom as ‘Bongo Herbert’. Soon everyone wants a piece of the boy, and his manager struggles to keep control of him. The film is pretty good, but sadly, it tones down the satirical element considerably. It follows the plot of the stage version more or less, but by casting Cliff Richard, a genuine, successful pop star as the boy, it can’t really pass him off as a no-talent oaf. And although the rest of the cast seem to understand they’re in a satire, Cliff certainly doesn’t – he acts about as well as he sings. His polite RP voice, presumably rehearsed endlessly to make him not seem threatening to anyone, is completely wrong for the part. Bert’s meant to be a working-class boy who makes it unexpectedly big. Cliff plays him as a posh drama-school student who’s accidentally wandered onto the wrong street. (I don’t like Cliff Richard. I find his voice feeble and undynamic, his stage presence minimal, and – apart from a brief period in the late 70s – his choice of songs weak. It says a lot about Britain that our most successful pop star is Cliff ‘Blandy McBlandface’ Richard.) But while Cliff is terrible, luckily the rest ...

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years (Blu-ray) 19/12/2016

The Beatles on the road

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years  (Blu-ray) A review of the single-disk Blu-ray release of this recent documentary. It should set yuou back about £15 in HMV at the moment. This documentary tells the story of the Beatles’ years as a live band, from their pre-recording years in Liverpool and Hamburg, through to their world tours and their eventual disillusionment with the constant grind of live performance. And it’s… well, it’s not bad I guess. I’m just not really sure why this particular story needed to be told, especially since the Beatles themselves made a lengthy TV documentary series, Anthology, about their entire career in the mid-90s. This constant stream of Beatles new releases, re-releases, video games, whatever, is governed solely by the desire to exploit the fans, and to keep this particular property alive long after it should have fizzled out. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Beatles as much as anyone, and recognise that they’re absolutely the premier act of their era. But their era was a long, long time ago – their transformation from actual musicians into bizarre pop culture monolith has worn out my patience. It’s not like the film is bad or anything. It’s not a chore to sit through, although two hours does feel a bit over the top. There’s plenty of entertaining footage of the Beatles in their prime, performing some of their classic hits (and a few not-so-classic numbers). But I’m not sure that it really justifies the strapline: ‘The band you know. The story you don’t.’ Any Beatles fan (and I suspect most ...

The Lobster (Blu-ray) 06/12/2016

There is blood and biscuits everywhere

The Lobster (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray is currently £9 on amazon. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos broke through in 2009 with Dogtooth, a grotesque black comedy which gets away with its absurd premise by playing it with complete conviction (and which, in spite of the sex and violence, is genuinely hilarious). Lanthimos has moved to London, and his most recent film cuts back on the extreme imagery and has a starrier cast, but is every bit as good as Dogtooth. Year: 2015 Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz More information at: IMDB user rating: 7.1 The Lobster’s set in a dystopian world which resembles ours a bit too closely. People are obliged to be part of a couple – single people are given 45 days to find a new partner at a hotel/concentration camp, and if they fail, they are turned into an animal of their choice. David’s wife has just left him, and he arrives at the hotel looking for partnership. He decides that if he fails to find a companion in the allotted time, he will become a lobster. He takes his brother with him – his brother is now a dog, having failed to find love himself. (Obviously this raises the question of what animal one would choose to become, if one had to. I’d go for a tapir. I am fond of tapirs.) The hotel itself is full of bizarre rules – masturbation is not allowed, but guests are sexually stimulated once a day by the hotel maid. The staff act out little playlets designed to show how being single is unnatural and ...

The Taking Of Pelham 123 (Blu-ray) 28/11/2016

No other hijack was ever like his

The Taking Of Pelham 123 (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox is only £7 on amazon at the moment. Year: 1974 Director: Joseph Sargent Stars: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw More information at: IMDB user rating: 7.7 Four criminals, each known only by a colour-based pseudonym (Mr Grey, Mr Blue etc) hijack a subway train, acting with military precision. Uncoupling the lead carriage, they hold its passengers hostage and demand one million dollars for their safe release. While New York's ineffectual mayor grapples with the dilemma of whether to pay, transport cop Garber tries to figure out the bad guys' plan. How on earth do they plan on getting away with it? This is a fantastic, taut thriller with a premise that is delightfully simple in concept but full of enough detail to keep you interested after the initial buzz has worn off. Surrounded by cops on all sides, and restricted by technical safeguards built in to the trains, it should be impossible for the criminals to escape with their loot. But obviously they have a plan, and it's the unravelling of this mystery that fuels most of the second half of the film, along with some fantastically suspenseful action scenes. And the New York subway is a great location for something like this, as passengers are effectively trapped when they’re in transit. As someone who uses the London Underground twice a day, it's always vaguely in the back of my mind - passengers are quite vulnerable to those who might want to do them harm (as ...

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) (Blu-ray) 14/11/2016

Stay on the main road

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) (Blu-ray) This Arrow Video limited edition release currently sells for £15, but is likely to go out of print fairly soon, in which case I’d imagine the cost will increase drastically. There will presumably be a standard edition release some time next year. The 70s offered the last real golden age of horror films. In much the same way as mainstream Hollywood at the time offered up films that were a bit more adult and engaging than it had previously, the much-maligned horror genre gave us films with a social conscience, which feel like they’re trying to do more than just scare us. The fact that they do so by having, say, zombies attacking a shopping mall instead of having Jack Nicholson working for an oil pumping station is all the better. (Seriously – for all the glories of the 70s Hollywood new wave, I still can’t find anything interesting about Five Easy Pieces. Why on earth should I care about these people? But I digress…) A large number of iconic horror movies were spawned in the 70s, and most of the major modern horror directors got started then. One of those directors was the late Wes Craven, later famous for the hugely successful Nightmare on Elm St and Scream franchises. His first movie had been the massively controversial rape-revenge film Last House on the Left. His second horror movie was The Hills Have Eyes. Year: 1977 Director: Wes Craven More information at: IMDB user rating: 6.4 A family heading for a vacation in California get ...

Batman: Return to Arkham (Xbox One) 24/10/2016

Same bat time, same bat channel

Batman: Return to Arkham (Xbox One) This was £35 in HMV when I bought it last week, but I suspect it will probably go down in price fairly quickly. So we’re a couple of years into the next generation of games consoles now, but that doesn’t mean that all the old games have stopped being fun. There’s no automatic backwards compatibility on either PS4 or Xbox One, so wily games companies are starting to re-release old games that can be played on newer consoles. Which is what this is. (Xbox One does have the ability for old Xbox 360 games to be played, but they have to be specially ported. They are then made available for free, although you still needed the original 360 game disk. I’d been hoping to see both these Batman games pop up on that free service, but I guess that wouldn’t have made any money for anyone. It would also have been little help to PS4 owners, I guess.) The games themselves – especially Arkham Asylum – are two of the most beloved and acclaimed of the last generation, and are widely held up as the best superhero games of all time (not that there’s a lot of competition outside of Lego games). If you liked the games, and as long as you understand that there isn’t any new content here, you should be relatively content with this release. It also includes all the downloadable content that was released for both games. If you’re already familiar with the games, you can skip down to the ‘Xbox One versions’ heading, as that’s where I talk about these new versions. The Games Arkham Asylum First ...

Battle Of Britain (Blu-ray) 17/10/2016

Dancing the hideous gavotte of war

Battle Of Britain (Blu-ray) A review of the 20th Century Fox Blu-ray. You can find this for around £5 online if you look around a bit. The Second World War has been the subject of hundreds of movies since 1940, and they’ve ranged from patriotic propaganda to harrowing war-is-hell dramas to hilarious boy’s own adventures. One popular sub-genre has been re-enactments of actual events in the war. While early examples such as The Dam Busters or The Battle of the River Plate kept things small, modestly focusing on one event, by the 60s there was a trend towards epic attempts to recreate huge slabs of the war on screen, usually featuring all-star casts. They’re generally not very good – The Longest Day has one hilarious Richard Burton moment, but is otherwise stodgy and confusing, and A Bridge Too Far is trying much too hard. The Battle of Britain, though, manages to be somehow likable. It’s over two hours long, which is rarely a good sign for something like this, and has a preposterously over-stuffed cast list, but is still at least mildly endearing. Year: 1969 Director: Guy Hamilton Stars: Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Robert Shaw More information at: IMDB user rating: 7.0 It tells the story, obviously, of the Battle of Britain, which took place in the summer and autumn of 1940. After the fall of France, the German air force had to try to gain air superiority over Britain to make an invasion possible. Luckily the plucky RAF were able to stop them through a ...

Play On! Shakespeare In Silent Film (Blu-ray) 06/10/2016

Silence is the perfectest herald of joy

Play On! Shakespeare In Silent Film (Blu-ray) This BFI Blu-ray is currently a rather over-priced £16 on amazon. This is a bit niche, I suppose, but everyone else is cashing in on whatever Shakespeare anniversary is being celebrated this year, so what the heck. This is a compilation of scenes from silent films of Shakespeare’s plays. The BFI had already released it on video years ago, but then it was a rather indigestible slab, just each of the silent films shown one after the other in a way that was kind of difficult to engage with. This version gives you the option to watch some of the films through like that, but has also edited together a very charming 65-minute selection of highlights. Silent cinema was only really good in a way we can relate to nowadays for about about ten years: from around 1920 to 1929, when sound came in and swept it away. The films that are still widely watched or critically revered - mostly from Germany, Russia and Hollywood - date from that decade. That's not what we get in this set - most of these films date from earlier on, when cinema was still an artform in its infancy. Although we’re told (in one of the extras) that maybe as many as 300 Shakespeare films were made in the silent era, none of the really famous silent filmmakers tried to adapt Shakespeare (unsurprisingly, given how wordy he is, although one can imagine a pretty good German Expressionist Richard III). Most early sound directors stayed well away too, until Welles and Olivier in the 40s finally made the Bard a popular film ...

Slugs (Blu-ray) 03/10/2016

Slithering slimy slaughter

Slugs (Blu-ray) This Arrow Video Blu-ray is currently about £13 on amazon and the same in HMV. Revenge of nature films, in which animals rise up and punish man for his scientific hubris, were pretty big business at one point. I’m surprised we aren’t seeing another spate of them in these ecologically conscious times. Mutated giant bugs were, ah, big in the 1950s. The 60s brought us The Birds (although it’s not clear what the birds are actually pissed off about – it’s probably because Tippi Hedren wouldn’t let Hitchcock touch her boobs). But they really caught fire in the 1970s, when that poster of a Native American crying made everyone suddenly aware of, like, pollution and stuff. Soon you couldn’t move for homicidal ants (Phase IV), spiders (Kingdom of the Spiders), or frogs (Frogs). The cycle had almost worn itself out by the mid-80s, aside from Jaws: The Revenge. But Slugs mounted a slimy late challenge to man’s supremacy. It’s based on a novel by Brit horror legend Shaun Hutson, although the film is Spanish and set and partly filmed in America. (British shlock horror novelists were into unfeasibly gruesome revenge of nature stories – Slugs followed in the wake of James Herbert’s The Rats and Guy N Smith’s Night of the Crabs.) Year: 1988 Director: Juan Piquer Simón More information at: IMDB user rating: 4.9 A small town in America develops a problem with carnivorous, mutant slugs, which prove surprisingly adept at eating the townsfolk. A heroic ...
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