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hogsflesh

hogsflesh

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So long Ciao. We had some times.

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since 19/04/2010

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Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) 28/11/2017

The Hammer fell

Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) This set is a more than reasonable £27 on amazon at time of writing. Hammer were the best known horror producer in the UK in the 50s and 60s, but they made their last film in the mid-70s (barring whatever modern company is trading under their name). In 1980 they tried to revive their fortunes on TV instead, the first result being this 13-episode anthology series. Most of the episodes feature the same mansion (is that the ‘house of horror’ the title promises?) They’re sometimes creepy, but more usually slightly funny, not intentionally. Pretty much every single episode could be the pilot for a slightly off-key sitcom. Almost all the episodes are a bit too long, and feel padded, but it’s one of the better series of its type. They’re also all very low-budget, often featuring about five speaking parts. The series’ spirit is probably best evoked these days by Inside Number Nine, which skirts the same horror-comedy line, but is a bit too clever for its own good sometimes. Anyway, 13 episodes: Witching Time We start off with a story about a witch (Patricia Quinn from Rocky Horror) time travelling from the 1600s to escape being burned, and ending up in the 20th century. She starts out as a kind of sexy Catweazle, being scared of electricity and so forth. But soon she’s seduced the guy who lives in her old house, a film composer (Jon Finch from Polanski’s Macbeth). His wife is having an affair with a smarmy GP (Ian McCulloch from Zombie Flesh Eaters), and soon strange accidents ...

Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One) 27/11/2017

Playing soldiers

Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One) This is currently £40 to buy on amazon. I suspect the price will fall quite sharply after christmas. It's been a long time since I played a Call of Duty game. The last one I tried was Black Ops 2, and the first story mission of that annoyed me so much I didn't go any further with it. But now the franchise has abandoned the increasingly fanciful futuristic warfare for a while, I thought I'd give it a go. Also, I hadn't really played anything online for ages, despite paying for an Xbox Gold membership. So here we are. This is the first time the venerable, liked-but-not-loved series has gone back to the Second World War since Worlds at War in 2008. As a mark of how much has changed since then, in that game one of the player characters was a Soviet infantryman. No one outside Russia would cast a Russian as a hero in a game nowadays (well, Trump or Farage probably would, but they don’t make video games). Story mode The story mode for the game sees you play ‘Red’ Daniels, a callow Texan farmboy sent to fight in Europe. There are only 11 missions, which take you from D-Day to the end of the war. Missions are very obviously based on Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and other war films (even The Bridge at Remagen, a creaky old 1960s effort). They also lean heavily on previous war-based first person shooters. There are good things in the game, of course. It looks and sounds spectacular, and I’m sure all the weapons and clothes are historically accurate. The noises that, say, ...

George Romero Between Night And Dawn (Blu-ray) 20/11/2017

No zombies here, sadly

George Romero Between Night And Dawn (Blu-ray) This boxset from Arrow Video is a rather excessive £50 at the moment. George A Romero is generally regarded as the director who gave birth to the modern horror film with Night of the Living Dead, made in 1968. It was gory, it was politically charged, and it was (and still is, for the most part) remarkably scary. It also invented the flesh-eating zombies which have infested modern horror. All those tired Hammer period gothics looked weak by comparison. So Romero has long been a revered figure in horror fandom. Night of the Living Dead was made in 1968. Romero also made the classic low-key vampire movie Martin (1978), and followed it up with Dawn of the Dead, possibly the most acclaimed horror movie of all time. But in the years between 68 and 78, he fared a bit less well. This film collects the three films he made in the early 70s in and around Pittsburgh, only one of which is a straight-up horror flick. Dawn of the Dead and Martin remain maddeningly out of print, with the current rights holder apparently not inclined to allow any new Blu-ray releases. It feels like Arrow have released this as it’s the best they could get their hands on. Romero sadly died this year, after this boxset was announced, but before it was released (the same thing happened to Herschell Gordon Lewis, and other recentish Arrow sets have been devoted to the recently-deceased Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven. John Carpenter and Dario Argento might have reason to be nervous, given that they’re the next on ...

Hammer Volume One: Fear Warning (Blu-ray) 13/11/2017

Hammer time

Hammer Volume One: Fear Warning (Blu-ray) This boxset from Indicator is currently £43 in HMV and at amazon. Given that you get four films, that’s pretty good – Indicator normally sell one film for £15. But is it worth it? Good question… Hammer was the most famous British horror filmmaker, whose gothic horrors pretty much defined the genre in the late 50s and through the 60s. Their films have a very distinctive look, with strong, almost over-ripe colours, which should have meant that Blu-ray would enhance and improve on them mightily. Unfortunately various botched releases and poor quality film materials have meant that a depressingly high percentage of Hammer blu-rays have been less than satisfactory. Indicator have made quite a name for themselves in their so-far short lifespan, and it’s encouraging to see them releasing some of Hammer’s movies. Unfortunately, most of the marquee titles have long since been released on Blu-ray, with most of the remaining important ones scheduled for release by Studio Canal in the new year. Unfortunately, Indicator’s boxset only has one film starring Hammer’s trademark duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and includes some obscurities. This was fine by me, as I’ve seen all the famous ones already, but I worry it won’t sell well enough for them to continue with their Hammer releases (they reputedly have the rights to several of Hammer’s non-horror movies). Maniac (1963) This is a black and white thriller set in France with lots of twists and turns in the plot. Hammer made a ...

The Magnificent Seven Collection (Blu-ray) 06/11/2017

One magnificent film, three also-rans

The Magnificent Seven Collection (Blu-ray) This collection is usually between £15 and £20 on amazon. The Magnificent Seven is certainly not the most critically acclaimed western ever made, but it’s probably my favourite. It’s a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (which in truth is a lot better), and is one of the great ‘Sunday afternoon’ films of my childhood. Naturally enough, when Hollywood made a successful film, they followed it up with sequels. This boxset contains the original film and its three follow-ups. It doesn’t include the recent remake, thankfully. The Magnificent Seven (1960) I’ve reviewed this film already on this site, and to be honest it was the sequels I was interested in, so I won’t say much about it. Seven gunslingers are hired to protect a poor Mexican village from an army of bandits. They’re led by Chris (Yul Brynner), who is probably just about the coolest, but with James Coburn and Steve McQueen also in the team, he has stiff competition. All the seven have enough time to let us get to know them, from Robert Vaughn as the coward to Brad Dexter as the greedy one. Horst Buchholz as the inexperienced kid is slightly annoying, but only slightly. The film caught a few actors – McQueen, Coburn, Charles Bronson – just on the cusp of stardom. (The director, John Sturges, recast all three in The Great Escape, which he made three years later.) It’s quite long, but is generally a lot of fun, with exciting (not very bloody) gunfights, occasional sad moments, and wonderfully redemptive character arcs ...

The Crunch and Other Stories (DVD) 02/11/2017

Old-time TV

The Crunch and Other Stories (DVD) This Network DVD is a tenner on amazon at the moment. Back in the olden days, there used to be standalone dramas shown on TV. These were generally described as ‘plays’ (British TV always owed a huge debt to the theatre), and provided a huge variety of writers and actors with exposure. It feels like we’ve lost something that modern TV can’t find room for such things anymore. Nigel Kneale is best known for his groundbreaking science fiction dramas for the BBC, especially the Quatermass serials, 1984 and The Stone Tape. But he also did a lot of work for ITV. This DVD contains three ITV plays written by Kneale, the first from the 60s, the last two from the 80s. They’re pretty obscure, probably because they stray away from the fantasy pigeonhole Kneale has been stuffed into. The Crunch (1964) A recently-independent former colony ruled by a mentally unstable dictator has revealed that it has a nuclear bomb in the basement of its London embassy which it will detonate unless the British pay a hefty sum of reparations for colonial exploitation. This is an interesting idea for the early 60s – this must be one of the first filmed ‘nuclear blackmail’ thrillers, pre-dating Thunderball by several years. The idea of a vengeful colony seeking revenge is intriguing, and may have been something that worried people rather more in the 60s, when Britain was slowly giving up its empire. The invented country – Makang – has clearly been left in a bad way by its colonial overlords, stripped of ...

The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Volume One: 1955-1960 (Blu-ray) 30/10/2017

Creature features

The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Volume One: 1955-1960 (Blu-ray) This boxset from Indicator is about £42 at the moment. It’s a limited edition, and there are plans to release the films individually later on. Ray Harryhausen was a legendary creator of special effects. These generally used stop-motion monsters which were integrated into live-action films remarkably successfully, especially given the times his films were made (from the 50s to the early 80s). Films were usually created as showcases for his work, and although he didn’t direct them, he had a lot of control over them. You generally don’t get star actors in Harryhausen films – the monsters are the stars, not the people. This boxset collects three of his quite early efforts. The first two films are simple-minded monster movies, with man in all his scientific hubris coming up against one of Harryhausen’s plasticine abominations. The third is a slightly more ambitious but somewhat frustrating adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels. It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) The first movie begins with a reasonably tense scene in which a state-of-the-art submarine is stalked by something huge under the sea, but sadly it doesn’t capitalise on it. Scientists have to piece together what happened to the sub, and to other boats which go missing in the Pacific, eventually concluding that a radioactive giant octopus is responsible (or squid, possibly; the script changes its mind fairly often, as if it believes the two creatures are interchangeable). Unfortunately the film spends the majority of its ...

Journey To The Center Of The Earth (Blu-ray) 23/10/2017

Subterranean stuff

Journey To The Center Of The Earth (Blu-ray) This Eureka Blu-ray is £15 on amazon and at HMV at time of writing. This is a big-budget (for the day) Jules Verne adaptation, made in the late 50s, after previous Verne movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days had made big bucks for Hollywood. I’ve never read the book, or anything else by Verne, but it seems the filmmakers added extra teen interest, intrigue and romance to the story. Year: 1959 Director: Henry Levin Stars: James Mason, Pat Boone More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052948 IMDB user rating: 7.1 An esteemed Scottish geologist discovers that an Icelandic explorer supposedly found his way to the centre of the earth a century earlier. He sets out to retrace the dead man’s steps, accompanied by an intrepid student (who is romancing his niece) and a sturdy Icelandic hunk they meet along the way. They are also obliged to take along the widow of a rival professor, as she has all the equipment they need, and they are being tailed by a villainous ancestor of the original explorer… This is a mostly good-natured adventure film (with one surprisingly mean-spirited moment towards the end) that never takes itself too seriously, has plenty of gently ‘battle of the sexes’ badinage, and some decent special effects for the time. It’s in the same ‘Victorian explorers’ tradition as Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, later, stuff like Warlords of Atlantis. Sometimes its whimsicality is a bit irritating, though, and at least one of its ...

The Day of the Jackal (Blu-ray) 09/10/2017

Fox on the run

The Day of the Jackal (Blu-ray) This blu-ray release from Arrow is about £15 on amazon and in HMV at the moment. This is a classic movie based on Frederick Forsyth’s novel about an assassin’s attempt to kill President de Gaulle. The director, Fred Zinnemann, hailed from the classic days of Hollywood, where he was generally known for worthier fare (High Noon, a suspense movie that is really about the evils of McCarthyism; the snoozefest that is From Here To Eternity; Oklahoma; that film where Audrey Hepburn played a nun; A Man For All Seasons). You really wouldn’t have thought he’d have something like this in him, but it’s a cracking good thriller; if it only shaved 15 minutes off, would be up there with the all-time greats. De Gaulle was a great hero of the French Resistance during the war. He escaped to Britain and pretty much appointed himself alternative head of state in opposition to the Nazi collaborationist regime of Pétain. However, when he found himself president of France in the late 50s, there was a war of independence raging in the French colony of Algeria. De Gaulle outraged the French right (and many French who were resident in Algeria) by granting the colony independence. This made him the target of several assassination attempts by the OAS, a French terrorist organisation. Year: 1973 Director: Fred Zinnemann Stars: Edward Fox More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069947 IMDB user rating: 7.8 Day of the Jackal is an account of what might have happened had the OAS hired an ...

Starcrash (Blu-ray) 02/10/2017

The stars are clear. The planets shine.

Starcrash (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray is currently £10 on amazon. There were lots and lots of Star Wars rip-offs released in the late 70s and early 80s, desperately trying to replicate George Lucas’s success on a fraction of the budget and with barely any of the creativity. Flash Gordon aside (I will actually murder anyone who says a word against Flash Gordon), they’re pretty much all dreadful. Most of the famous Star Wars imitators are American, and are either pretentious (Black Hole, Battlestar Galactica) or cheap and cheerful Corman-produced dreck (Battle Beyond the Stars etc). But inevitably the Italians had a go as well, just as they did with any passing exploitation genre. And amid a whole load of genuinely unwatchable dross, they made Star Crash, which is… watchable. Just about. Year: 1978 Director: “Lewis Coates” Stars: Christopher Plummer More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079946 IMDB user rating: 3.9 Stella Star is a… well, I’m not sure actually. Some kind of sexy space thief. She flies around the galaxy with her assistant/navigator Akton, and we have to assume they commit crimes, although we never learn much about them. They’re arrested close to the beginning of the film by a couple of space cops – bald Thor and robotic L – and thrown in space jail. Then they’re released and sent on a secret mission by the emperor of the first circle of the universe to track down the secret base of the evil warlord Zarth Arn, who is planning to take over the galaxy with his Doom Machine. ...

The Deadly Affair (Blu-ray) 25/09/2017

Carré on spying

The Deadly Affair (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray and DVD set from Indicator is £15 on amazon or in HMV. In spite of the lurid title, this is actually an adaptation of John Le Carré’s first novel, Call for the Dead, a rather downbeat spy story which introduced the character of George Smiley to the world. The 60s were the great decade for spy movies, with the Bond series proving insanely popular. Le Carré and Len Deighton gave a more grimy, realistic alternative, with Deighton’s Harry Palmer providing a popular antidote to Bond. Le Carré’s first great novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, was filmed very successfully in 1965. The Deadly Affair was presumably made to cash in on that. Year: 1966 Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: James Mason More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061556 IMDB user rating: 6.8 A foreign office civil servant, Fennan, apparently commits suicide following an investigation by the security services, who were anonymously tipped off that he was spying for the communists. But Charles Dobbs, the man who interviewed Fennan, smells a rat, and starts investigating. Meanwhile, Dobbs’s serially unfaithful wife has begun an affair with one of Dobbs’s old agents, an Austrian named Dieter. One thing you’ll notice is that no one in the film is called ‘Smiley’. This is because the rights to the character were owned by a different film studio – he appears fleetingly in Spy Who Came in From the Cold. ‘Dobbs’ is Smiley renamed. Some other characters are also renamed. Otherwise, though, this ...

Touch of Death (Blu-ray) 11/09/2017

Glass half Fulci

Touch of Death (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray from 88 Films is £15 on amazon and at HMV at time of writing. Lucio Fulci had been a mildly interesting jack-of-all-trades Italian director during the late 60s and 70s (he made a couple of good gialli), but he only really came into his own in the early 80s, when he discovered the zombie movie. His squelching, abrasive, nonsensical zombie flicks are essential viewing, and they sparked off the last great wave of Italian horror. By the late 80s, though, the Italian film industry was tottering, and so was Fulci. His last little cluster of films, many of them made for TV, are dismal, trying in vain to replicate the shock tactics of a few years earlier, and all-too-often falling back on witless humour. The only film from the era that offers even a modicum of enjoyment is A Cat in the Brain, a very silly compilation of murder scenes from other films (including this one). But Cat aside, Touch of Death is probably the best known of these late efforts. And that’s because it’s one of the films that is offered as evidence that Fulci wasn’t wildly fond of women. Violence against women is a staple of horror films, of course (so is violence against men). But the 70s and 80s offered a strain of horror that went a lot further in its depictions of what you might call gendered violence than had previously been the case. In Fulci’s oeuvre, the 1982 giallo The New York Ripper had featured some of the nastiest, most explicitly misogynistic violence seen on film so far, and is the ...

The Handmaiden (Blu-ray) 21/08/2017

The hand shandy

The Handmaiden (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray currently costs £15 on amazon – a two-disk ‘special edition’ is only one pound more expensive. This is a Korean adaptation of Fingersmith, a novel by Sarah Waters, which moves the action from Victorian England to 1930s Korea. It’s directed by Park Chan-Wook, who became famous about ten years ago when he directed the violent revenge thriller Oldboy (still an amazing film). Since then he’s made a decent vampire movie, Thirst, and tried to make it in Hollywood with Stoker (which I’ve not seen). Year: 2016 Director: Chan-wook Park More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4016934 IMDB user rating: 8.1 Sook-Hee has been raised to be an accomplished pickpocket and fence in a Korean city. She is chosen by the crooked Count Fujiwara as his accomplice in a scheme to seduce and marry the naïve Lady Hideko for her fortune – Sook-Hee must pose as Hideko’s handmaiden and ensure that she falls in love with Fujiwara. But all is not as it seems, to put it mildly – Hideko is forced to read pornographic literature to her vile uncle and his aristocratic friends, and she and Sook-Hee soon become very, very close… Fingersmith is a terrific novel, and one that was crying out for an adaptation. The BBC had a go, but the problem with the BBC adapting Sarah Waters novels is that posh actresses trying to do Victorian-urchin accents always put my teeth on edge. Although the film keeps some of the crazy plot twists that make the novel so much fun, it does simplify the story quite ...

2019: After the Fall of New York (Blu-ray) 14/08/2017

The year after next is looking grim…

2019: After the Fall of New York (Blu-ray) This 88 Films Blu-ray only costs about £10 at the moment on amazon and at HMV. Post-apocalypse films were big in the 70s and 80s. The Cold War loomed large, and while 70s films tended to be a bit more bleak and depressing, by the 80s things had lightened up. Plenty of films imagined a surprisingly fun post-nuke world of battling mutants, desert combat, urban gang warfare and mullets. The key films were John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, and the Australian Mad Max films (especially the second one, which was hugely successful in the States). And where American genre cinema went, Italian exploitation cinema soon followed, the proverbial low-budget seagull following the Hollywood trawler. An incredible variety of popular genres were imitated by the Italians, most famously Westerns and zombie movies. They made loads of post-apocalypse films, and one of the most enjoyable is 2019 After the Fall of New York. Year: 1983 Director: Sergio Martino More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085125 IMDB user rating: 5.7 The planet has been devastated by nuclear war (20 years before the film, so 1999; I guess Nostradamus was still popular back then). The survivors are infertile, with no new people having been born for 15 years. New York is a rather shambolic urban hellhole full of gangs of variously mutated survivors, who are regularly captured by the evil Euraks for their fertility experiments. The Confederacy (which seems to be the remnants of the USA) learns that the ...

Hitler - The Last Ten Days (Blu-ray) 07/08/2017

The banality of Alec

Hitler - The Last Ten Days (Blu-ray) This Blu-ray is currently £10 on amazon or at HMV. This is a bit of an oddity, and a surprising film to see getting a Blu-ray release. The film’s title pretty much tells you what to expect, and I guess spoils the story. If you’ve seen the German film Downfall (probably most famous for the ranting Hitler video meme), then this is kind of the same. But it’s cheaper, and instead of a Swiss actor who actually looks a bit like Hitler, it stars Alec Guinness. It’s hard to express how weird this is – Guinness was going through a barren patch at the time, with few of his films since the mid 60s having made much of an impact. Within a few years, he’d make Star Wars and Tinker Tailor, which are my favourite things he’s in. But to see him playing Hitler is… well, quite a surprise. (Guinness is not actually the least likely Hitler I’ve seen – that honour goes to Derek Jacobi in a TV miniseries of Albert Speer’s memoirs.) Year: 1973 Director: Ennio De Concini Stars: Alec Guinness More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070184 IMDB user rating: 6.7 The story holds no surprises. Hitler sits in his bunker in Berlin as the Soviet armies close in, ranting and fantasising to his loyal retainers and increasingly harried generals. It all ends exactly as you’d expect. The main question is, who on earth was this aimed at? It’s too low budget to be an effective war film. I guess it was just a vehicle for Guinness, an actor who seemed to love showing off his versatility. Actors like ...
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