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since 19/04/2010


Hardcore (Blu-ray) 19/06/2017

"Oh my God, that's my daughter."

Hardcore (Blu-ray) This blu-ray release from Indicator is £15 on amazon and at HMV. This is a very entertaining but extremely silly film about LA’s seedy porno underbelly. It was written and directed by Paul Schrader, who ensured his film immortality by writing Taxi Driver, but whose efforts outside of Scorsese’s shadow have been – to put it mildly – ‘mixed’. They range from an embarrassing sexed-up remake of Cat People to The Canyons, the film that put Lindsay Lohan in a threesome with a porn actor. Hardcore feels like Schrader decided to take the most memorable scene in Taxi Driver – where Travis drives around New York’s porn district monologuing about rain and stuff – and spin it out into a film of its own, but set on the West Coast. Year: 1979 Director: Paul Schrader Stars: George C Scott More information at: IMDB user rating: 7.0 (this is a very overrated film generally) Jake is a successful small-town businessman and an extremely devout Calvinist. His daughter goes away to some kind of religious camp over Christmas, and promptly vanishes. Frantic with worry, Jake hires a seedy private eye to track her down. It is quickly established that the daughter, Kristen, has appeared in a porno film, and Jake descends on LA like a Biblical plague, determined to find his daughter before she… um… makes more porn, I guess. So it’s kind of a less action-y version of Taken. It says a lot about how attitudes have changed that appearing in porn was literally the ...

Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection (Blu-ray) 12/06/2017


Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection (Blu-ray) This is currently £30 on amazon and in HMV. It will come down in price in a couple of months, though. This is a blu-ray collection of Universal’s classic Dracula movies from the 30s and 40s, one of several classic horror collections they’ve released in the last few months. Dracula was more-or-less the first supernatural horror movie made in the US. In silent horror films (before the phrase ‘horror films’ had even been invented), seemingly magical/ghostly events always turned out to be the work of humans, as in Phantom of the Opera or The Cat and the Canary. Dracula was a bit of a gamble, as no one knew if an American audience would take to an actual, honest-to-goodness vampire. Universal acquired Dracula as a vehicle for their silent horror legend Lon Chaney. Unfortunately, he died. So the studio hired Bela Lugosi, the Hungarian star of a successful stage version of the story. Tod Browning, the top American director of sort-of horror movies in the silent era, was loaned from M-G-M. Ultimately, Dracula was so successful it spawned an entire cycle of early-talkie horror movies at Universal and other studios. It is, in many ways, the first true American horror film, so has a special place in my heart. Dracula (1931) The film itself is a disappointingly mixed bag. It follows aspects of the novel, although it swaps some of the characters around. The first 20 minutes – when Renfield the estate agent visits Castle Dracula – are very good. There’s an uncanny stillness, and the ...

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (Blu-ray) 05/06/2017

'Beyond describing'

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (Blu-ray) This BFI release is £25 on amazon at the moment. It feels a bit dumb to try to give a star rating for a film like this – watching it is not enjoyable, but the film works very well, was released with the best of intentions, and has historical importance. I’ve given it five stars for that reason, but whether I recommend it is a different matter. The specific criteria really don't apply - I only filled them in because I had to. The film This is a difficult film to watch. It’s a British documentary that was partly made in 1945 from footage shot by Allied cameramen as they liberated concentration camps in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Poland. It consists of some of the most horrifying material I’ve seen. The film was intended to act as a record of what the Allies found, and also to shame the German people into rejecting Nazism. It wasn’t completed in 1945 – it was decided that it might alienate the German population, who were needed to help rebuild Germany. The beginnings of the Cold War meant the Brits and Americans were keen to get the Germans on their side. The film was shelved, and was only completed a couple of years ago by the British Film Institute and Imperial War Museum. Publicity for the restoration focused on the fact that Alfred Hitchcock had a fleeting involvement in the film, but producer Sidney Bernstein (later founder of Granada TV) seems to have been the main creative force behind it. The decision was made to present the documentary as closely as possible to ...

Batman (1989) (Blu-ray) 29/05/2017

Bat rubbish

Batman (1989) (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray is a few years old now, so should be quite cheap – amazon says £8, but second hand sellers have it for more like £3. So having recently read a cultural history of Batman, I decided to revisit the Tim Burton movie for the first time in many years. I probably shouldn’t have bothered. This was the most successful film of all time when it was released (although that’s not saying much, as records like that get broken on an almost annual basis). Its popularity is absolutely baffling to me now. It is not a good film in almost any way. I liked it when I was 15, but I liked a lot of things back then that wouldn’t pass muster now, like Transvision Vamp, and self-abuse. Year: 1989 Director: Tim Burton Stars: Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Michael Keaton More information at: IMDB user rating: 7.6 (crazily high) The story is pretty familiar – a rich guy, Bruce, dresses as a rubber bat to fight crime at night because his parents were murdered. He romances a journalist called Vicki, and squares off against the Joker, a criminal with a clown-like face who tries to poison Batman’s hometown, Gotham City. The oddest thing about the film is that it was perceived at the time as having obliterated the legacy of the camp 60s TV show. Because, frankly, it’s almost as camp and over-the-top as the Adam West version, but not nearly as likable. This isn’t the dark and gritty Batman everyone said it was – it’s a short guy in a rubber suit fighting a ...

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Blu-ray) 22/05/2017

This technological terror you've created

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Blu-ray) This blu-ray is £15 in HMV or on amazon. Another year, another Star Wars film. This will supposedly be the case until human life is finally snuffed out. Rogue One was enormously successful, and continued the critical rehabilitation of the Star Wars saga after the catastrophic prequel trilogy. It’s the first of the one-off movies that are to be set in and around the existing main Star Wars saga. It’s set just before the opening of the original Star Wars (which has been renamed ‘A New Hope’ by morons, but for me will always just be called ‘Star Wars’). Year: 2016 Director: Gareth Edwards More information at: IMDB user rating: 7.9 You remember the text crawl at the beginning of Star Wars? This film basically acts that out – the Rebel Alliance discovers the existence of the Empire’s Death Star, and a team of agents has to go and recover the plans in order to save the galaxy. Inevitably, a story like this is going to lean heavily on what viewers already know from the existing films. Probably the main criticism of Rogue One is that it has no real existence of its own – it would be entirely meaningless without the context of the franchise it slots into. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone, but does no one else get the feeling that western culture is effectively eating its own tail now? All the new blockbusters are based on decades-old franchises, and we slurp them up like that guy in Oldboy eating the octopus. If all our new films ...

Phantasm 1-5 Collection (Blu-ray) 15/05/2017

Horror with balls

Phantasm 1-5 Collection  (Blu-ray) This limited edition boxset from Arrow films is £70 on amazon at time of writing. Phantasm is a venerable horror franchise that never quite made it to the kind of public recognition of Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street, but which has a fairly passionate cult following. It’s not a slasher movie franchise, like most long-running series, instead having an oddball sci-fi premise. It’s villains are an unusually tall undertaker, and his flying silver balls. The first film in the series is a classic. It’s also increasingly obvious as the series wears on that the first Phantasm was an unrepeatable fluke – subsequent instalments are as weak as the original is strong, and director Don Coscarelli’s other films have been uninspiring, in spite of some good ideas. Phantasm (1979) Phantasm is about 13-year-old Mike, who uncovers sinister doings in the local funeral home – corpses are mysteriously vanishing, locals are being murdered, and an unusually tall mortician seems to be the focus of everything. Mike has to convince his sceptical older brother Jody to help him unravel the mystery and stop the Tall Man. Jody’s friend Reg, an ice-cream vendor, also gets involved. One of the main reasons Phantasm is so good is that the characters seem like real people – you can imagine them having lives outside of the story. Jody and Mike’s parents have recently died, and Jody is having to act as his kid brother’s legal guardian. Mike is paranoid about being abandoned, and has taken to following ...

Mass Effect Andromeda (Xbox One) 24/04/2017

A galaxy far, far away

Mass Effect Andromeda (Xbox One) This game is currently around £42 to buy new, but given that it’s not been that well received, I imagine it will be down to around £30 within a couple of months. Mass Effect was a hugely enjoyable science fiction RPG trilogy from Bioware which, for me, was the defining single-player experience of the Xbox 360. OK, they screwed the ending up, but all in all, it was completely absorbing and had a rare emotional heft for a video game. It created memorable alien races, had an appealing aesthetic, and was fun to play (a few kinks notwithstanding). So now, with the next generation a few years in, they’re re-launching the franchise. (Although according to internet rumour, most of the people involved in making the original have moved on to other things. Bioware Montreal is not the Bioware of old.) The results are, to put it mildly, patchy. Why Mass Effect? The main problem with the game is that it exists at all. Mass Effect 3 may not have had the best ending of a multi-part video game story, but it did have a definite ending. Or rather, endings. The problem is that the player could choose from one of three or four different end results. So a direct sequel to Mass Effect would be impossible, as it would force the developers to accept one of the possible Mass Effect 3 endings as canon. This would piss off all the fans who went for the other endings. And pissed of Mass Effect fans are a surprisingly noisy bunch. So they’ve come up with the ingenious wheeze of having a hundred ...

The World at War (Blu-ray) 13/04/2017

Never before in the field of human conflict

The World at War (Blu-ray) This set is currently, released by Network, about £50 on amazon (although I’m sure it was cheaper when I bought it, so shop around). There’s an older Blu-ray release from Fremantle, which carries the subtitle ‘The Ultimate Restored Edition’, but that crops a huge chunk of the image off and should be avoided (it’s also more expensive). The World at War is an iconic documentary series that was first broadcast on ITV in late 1973. There are 26 episodes, each lasting around 50 minutes (they had fewer ad breaks in those days, so each episode fit into a one-hour slot). It tells the story of the Second World War, from Hitler’s coming to power in Germany, to the start of the Cold War. Most episodes tell the story chronologically, although some focus on one aspect of the war and follow that from beginning to end (Atlantic convoys, for instance). Episodes feature a mixture of footage from the war and talking head interviews. Laurence Olivier narrates it, as he was probably the most famous ‘classy’ actor in the world at the time. His narration is very good, with a slightly sardonic edge – I don’t think I’ve seen anything that justifies Olivier’s monumental reputation (he was primarily a stage actor), but this is certainly better than most things he was putting his name to by the early 70s. That said, some of his pronunciations are just weird (‘strarfed’ for ‘strafed’, ‘feeted’ for ‘foetid’. And I’m not sure I could even attempt to convey how weird his pronunciation of ‘Ukraine’ ...

Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast (Blu-ray) 03/04/2017

Nothing so appalling in the annals of horror

Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast (Blu-ray) This set from Arrow Video – containing 10 Blu-rays and 8 DVDs – is supposedly exclusive to amazon, where it costs around £90 at the moment. It can usually be found on ebay too, for a little more than that. It’s a limited edition, so may one day sell out. The director Herschell Gordon Lewis was a legendary exploitation filmmaker active in the 60s. He churned out cynical movies for regional drive-ins. He's famous for inventing the 'splatter film' - horror movies that foreground outrageous acts of dismemberment, in which the plot is a mere afterthought. Lewis’s films are generally cheap, cheerful and short, and if none of them could be described as 'good' with a straight face, some of them are certainly fun. That said, it was a bit of a surprise to see Arrow release an expensive boxset of Lewis's work. It doesn't include all of his films, but there are 14 of them, along with a huge number of extras. The box itself is a hefty old thing, about the size of a cereal packet, but much heavier. (I guess the idea is that it contains a 'feast' of Lewis's films, just like a packet of corn flakes contains a 'feast' of corn flakes.) A more expensive, even more limited edition was also produced, but sold out very quickly - I did buy that, but it was preposterously large and unwieldy, so I sold it and bought the smaller one instead. Anyway, only six of the films are proper gore flicks, with the others being made up of Lewis's (generally less exciting) other work (some of which still have ...

Hell Drivers (Blu-ray) 30/03/2017

Roaring Down the World's Deadliest Roads!

Hell Drivers (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray from Network is £15 on amazon or HMV, but at time of writing is a more-than-reasonable £10 on Network’s own site, with free postage. Hell Drivers is a tremendous British thriller from 1957 about short haul lorry drivers ferrying gravel around. Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like the most exciting premise for a film, but it sure as heck works. It may well have been inspired by The Wages of Fear (1953), a classic French thriller about drifters and ne’er-do-wells driving trucks laden with explosives through the jungle in South America. Year: 1957 Director: Cy Endfield Stars: Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Sean Connery More information at: IMDB user rating: 7.2 Tom is fresh out of prison. He gets a job as a truck driver making runs between quarry and depot. Drivers have to make at least 12 trips a day, on pain of dismissal, and the more trips they make, the more they earn, speed limit be buggered. Tom is befriended by the Italian driver Gino and finds himself flirting with the secretary, Lucy. He also incurs the wrath of thuggish head driver Red, who jealously guards his daily record of 18 trips. Which still doesn’t really sound all that exciting. The actual thriller elements aren’t really all that prominent, apart from the climactic scenes of the film. It’s a bit too obvious that the footage of the trucks has been sped up, and there aren’t that many near-misses or crashes to enjoy. But the slow-burn rivalry between Tom and ...

Happy Birthday to Me (Blu-ray) 27/03/2017

Pray you're not invited!

Happy Birthday to Me (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray from Indicator is currently £15 on amazon and in HMV. I’m not a huge fan of slasher films, the ubiquitous American low-budget 80s horror subgenre. But some of the earlier slashers, before they became too formulaic and lazy, can be quite enjoyable. This Canadian offering is one of the better ones. Year: 1981 Director: J Lee Thompson Stars: Glenn Ford More information at: IMDB user rating: 6.0 At a posh school for rich kids, the most popular students are known as ‘the top ten’. A black-gloved killer starts to murder them in the usual novel ways. The focus of the crimes seems to be new girl Virginia, who will soon be celebrating her birthday… (Virginia is new to the school, and yet she is part of the top ten. Were they the top nine before she arrived, or did they have to kick someone out to make way for her? Is there a waiting list? And why are most of the top ten the usual objectionable jocks and bitchy girls, while one of them is a bullied nerd? What kind of exclusive high school clique allows a nerd into its ranks?) The film plays heavily on the mystery angle of the story, with almost everyone set up as a red herring – there’s a creepy nerd, a creepy peeping tom, a creepy psychiatrist, a creepy dad, and a creepy friend. And Virginia herself has a mysterious past, was the subject of experimental brain surgery, and has a tendency to visit her mom’s grave in the middle of the night. The midnight graveyard trips, like the fact ...

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 ...
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