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Thursday, April 29, 2010

May releases...

May is going to be a great month for Cult fans here in the UK, with a triple-bill of sleazy goodness coming our way from Arrow Video and Shameless Screen Entertainment!


One of the most revered zombie films of all time amongst horror fans, Lucio Fulci’s classic City Of The Living Dead gets the full Arrow Video treatment on DVD and Blu-ray in May 2010, presenting the film fully restored and uncut and complete with a host of unique and exclusive extras and featurettes specially commissioned for this must-have release.

Among the many extras are a newly recorded audio commentary with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice, an introduction to the film by star Carlo De Mejo, ‘Carlo Of The Living Dead’, a 17-minute featurette in which De Mejo reflects upon his time working with the Italian master of splatter, Lucio Fulci, plus ‘Penning Some Paura’ in which the film’s screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti shares his recollections of writing an Italian horror classic.

The 50-minute ‘The Many Lives And Deaths Of Giovanni Lombaro Radice’ presents an extensive biography of the legendary screen victim, who guides viewers through the making of his most famous gut-crunching classics including ‘House On The Edge Of The Park’, ‘Cannibal Apocalypse’, ‘Cannibal Ferox’ and, of course, ‘City of the Living Dead’.

In addition to providing an alternative audio commentary to the main feature, legendary horror actress Catriona MacCall recalls playing the role of Mary in the film in ‘Dame Of The Dead’ and reflects upon the film 30 years on. Catriona also appears alongside Giovanni Lombardo Radice in a 20-minute retrospective Q&A session exclusively filmed live at the Glasgow Film Theatre following a recent special screening of the film.

Filmed in the Profondo Rosso shop in Rome, ‘Profondo Luigi: A Colleague’s Memories Of Lucio Fulci’ focuses on director Luigi Cozzi (Contamination; Starcrash; The Killer Must Kill Again) who talks about his own memories of Lucio Fulci and the Italian boom in zombie horror, while in ‘Fulci’s Daughter: Memories of the Italian Gore Maestro’, Antonella Fulci, the daughter of the legendary filmmaker, reflects upon ‘City Of The Living Dead’, the experience of visiting her father’s sets and about his enduring legacy.

Both the DVD and the Blu-ray releases of ‘City Of The Living Dead’ also come with four sleeve artwork options, double-sided poster, six postcards and a newly commissioned booklet, ‘Fulci Of The Living Dead’, written by Calum Waddell and featuring exclusive new interviews with Sergio Stivaletti (Wax Mask), Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Fulci and Ian McCulloch (Zombie Flesh Eaters) among others, providing an in depth career retrospective on the Grand Old Man of Italian Gore.

Directed by Lucio Fulci (The House By The Cemetery; The Beyond; Zombie Flesh Eaters) and starring Christopher George (Mortuary; The Exterminator; Grizzly), Catriona MacColl (The House By The Cemetery; The Beyond), Carlo De Mejo (The House By The Cemetery; Alien Contamination), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Cannibal Apocalypse; Demons 3 and 4) and Michele Soavi (Demons; Phenomena; Tenebrae), City Of The Living Dead begins with the suicide of a priest in a church cemetery in the small town of Dunwich, New England. A sacrilegious act, the priest’s death mysteriously results in the opening of the gates of hell and, as fate would have it, it falls upon a reporter, a young psychic, a psychiatrist and his patient to team up and find a way to close the portal before All Saints Day, when the dead will rise and feed upon the living.

A hugely influential and much-admired work of horror cinema by one of the genre’s undisputed masters, City Of The Living Dead, taken purely as a stand-alone film, is a must-see horror classic. Now, this definitive special release from Arrow Video is, without doubt, a must-have for every horror fan.

City Of The Living Dead (cert. 18) will be released a two-disc DVD (£17.99) and single-disc Blu-ray (£22.99) by Arrow Video on 24th May 2010.

Special Features include: newly recorded audio commentary by actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice; audio commentary by actress Catriona MacColl and author Jay Slater; introduction to the film by star Carlo De Mejo; ‘Carlo Of The Living Dead featurette; ‘The Many Lives And Deaths Of Giovanni Lombardo Radice’ featurette; ‘Dame Of The Dead’ featurette; ‘Fulci’s Daughter: Memories Of The Italian Gore Maestro’ featurette; ‘Penning Some Paura’ featurette; ‘Profondo Luigi: A Colleague’s Memories Of Lucio Fulci’ featurette; Catriona MacCall and Giovanni Lombardo Radice Q&A session at the Glasgow Film Theatre; ‘Fulci In The House – The Italian Master Of Splatter’ featurette.

UK exclusive features directed by Calum Waddell and edited and produced by Naomi Holwill with associate producer Nick Frame.

Just so everyone knows here's the running time on these new extras:

Carlo of the Living Dead (17 minutes)

The Many Lives and Deaths of Giovanni Lombardo Radice (50 minutes)
Dame of the Dead (25 minutes)

Live from the Glasgow Film Theatre (20 minutes)

Fulci’s Daughter: Memories of the Italian Gore Maestro (27 minutes)

Penning Some Paura (18 minutes)

Profondo Luigi: A Colleague's Memories of Lucio Fulci (17 minutes)

Whilst the collector's booklet chips in at over 5000 words!

I was in attendance for the 'Live from the Glasgow Film Theatre' featurette and it promises to be a great watch.

Next up from Shameless is:



Horror, madness and fevered sexual tension build into a frenzy of unhinged lust and murder in Satan’s Baby Doll, a psychedelic slice of Eurosleaze madness that delivers all the twisted weirdness and cinematic insanity a cult movie fan could desire.

Now this cult classic from prolific porn director Mario Bianchi gets the full Shameless treatment on DVD, featuring an exclusive Shameless ‘Rebuild’ version of the film.

Satan’s Baby Doll features golden age porn diva Marina Hedman, trash movie queen Mariangela Giordano and, in her unique appearance, Jacqueline Dupré. The latter stars as a innocent teenage girl possessed by the wicked spirit of her dead mother; a slain woman who seeks revenge by driving her kin to the edge of sanity.

Now, in the crypt deep beneath a gothic castle, evil is stirring, ready to whip the residents into an orgy of carnal desire and bloody murder...

Satan’s Baby Doll (cert. 18) will be released on DVD (£15.99) by Shameless Screen Entertainment on 31st May 2010.

Special Features include: Shameless ‘Rebuild’ version of feature presentation with extra footage previously only available in XXX version; unique collector’s poster of the original artwork for the film; Mariangela Giordano biography (adapted from an article by Alan Jones and Mark Ashworth); alternate scenes; theatrical trailers; Shameless trailers; optional English subtitles

Reverse art:

This will be the third unique cut of the film, Severin Films is was just the softcore release while the X-Rated Kult release was the full-on hardcore version; this baby is somewhere in the middle!

Finally we have:

Caligula, one of the most notorious films in cinematic history, becomes the ultimate in high def decadence with Arrow Video’s release of Tinto Brass’ ludicrously opulent, multi-million dollar ‘porn epic’ as a spectacular two-disc Blu-ray edition, featuring the uncut version of the film in all its eye-opening glory.

Caligula – The Blu Edition comes complete with four alternate sleeves (including one especially commissioned for this release), a double-sided poster plus a special collector’s booklet.

Initially hauled over the coals (and drastically censored) in 1979 on the grounds that it was indecent and potentially obscene, almost 30 years later, in 2008, this uncut version of Caligula was finally granted an 18 Certificate by the BBFC. Notable for being the only major motion picture ever to star esteemed British actors of the calibre of Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole and Helen Mirren alongside scenes of extreme violence and explicit hardcore sex, Caligula is a true ‘porn epic', a veritable catalogue of depravity the likes of which have never been seen in one single film before or since.

A ridiculous and bombastic hymn to the decadence of the Roman Empire, this is definitely one movie that that has to be seen, if only to wonder, firstly, how the thing ever got off the ground, and secondly, how it was ever completed. Based on Suetonius's ‘Lives Of The Twelve Caesars' and scripted by celebrated author and historian Gore Vidal, the film was produced by ‘Penthouse' magazine publisher Bob Guccione, with the list of potential directors including the likes of John Huston and Nicolas Roeg. However, when Guccione chanced upon a preview screening of Tinto Brass's ‘Salon Kitty', he knew he had found the right man for the job. Unfortunately, Brass and Guccione's respective visions of what the film should be were worlds apart and no sooner had shooting started than the ‘artistic' bickering began with Vidal, Guccione and Brass all falling out with each other. Vidal was barred from the set and once principal photography was complete, Guccione banned Brass from the editing room and, after shooting extra footage of hardcore sex scenes, the ‘Penthouse' boss set about editing the film himself.

The result is the stuff of legend - an insane, pornographic orgy of a film that details the rise and fall of the titular Roman Emperor (brilliantly played by McDowell), his sexual passion for his sister, his marriage to Rome's most infamous prostitute (Mirren), and his spectacularly inventive ways of dealing with his enemies, all garnished with the totally inappropriate sexual rompings of a dozen or so Penthouse Pets. If nothing else, Caligula truly is cinematic madness on the grandest scale.

The two-disc Caligula – The Blu Edition (cert. 18) will be released on Blu-ray (£19.99) by Arrow Video on 3rd May 2010. Special Features include: deleted and alternate scenes; theatrical trailers; North American bonus footage; behind the scenes footage; ‘The Making of Caligula’; ‘My Roman Holiday’ with John Steiner; ‘Caligula’s Pet: A Conversation with Lori Wagner’; ‘Tinto Brass: The Orgy of Power’; stills galleries; DVD-ROM content.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Harlequin (1980)

(A.K.A Dark Forces)

Australian cinema wasn’t of interest to me until recently, sure I’m a fan of the current crop of new wave films such as Wolf Creek, Coffin Rock, The Proposition, Van Deimen’s Land and the like; but films from the yesteryear of Ozploitation really hasn’t appealed to me. Films like Stone and Felicity have entertained me greatly, yet I didn’t feel the need to actively search for further viewing, that was until I watched Not Quite Hollywood, which is essential viewing for anyone interested in exploitation cinema from around the globe. It’s an eye-opening experience that has left me kicking myself for not picking up the slack at the earliest opportunity as there is a goldmine of Ozploitation treasure to be found! One such treasure is Harlequin (Dark Forces) directed by Simon Wincer.

Basically a modern re-telling of the Rasputin story, the film stars David Hemmings as Nick Rast, a senator with friends in the right places and a shot at furthering his career. However, things aren’t all rosy for Nick as his wife, Sandra (Carmen Duncan) no longer loves him and their son is terminally-ill with leukaemia. When a mysterious faith healer named Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) shows up at the family home promising to cure the boy, Sandy accepts his proposal much to Nick’s objection. The boy shows signs of improvement and is soon on the road to recovery, Sandy soon falls for Wolfe and Nick’s friends start to worry that their poster boy’s image is going to be tarnished by these recent events. Wolfe is seen as a threat, and has to be removed, by any means.

Harlequin is a slow-burning pleasure from start to finish. The opening birthday party sequence features Powell in the most arresting of clown costumes, one that will surely send a shiver down the spine of the most hardened of horror fans. The most intriguing aspect to the film is the mystery that surrounds the characters, who is Wolfe? Why are Nick and Sandra in this loveless relationship? Just who are Nick’s friends and how much clout to they have? The film keeps your attention for 90 minutes of solid entertainment. I came into the film expecting an exploitation movie, but this is assured filmmaking with a great cast and was clearly a product of love. Granted the effect work is dated and now add a camp charm to the proceedings but the film still remains an engrossing piece regardless of its surface flaws.

Robert Powell gives a great performance as Wolfe; he’s clearly engaged in the role and delivers the goods as the mysterious, but loveable, stranger. He also rivals Tim Curry for the most sinister looking cinematic clown. David Hemmings also provides us with a likeable performance as Nick, he’s a flawed man but determined, as his life begins to crumble around him it becomes clear that maybe he isn’t the great man he’s told he is. Carmen Duncan also shines as the suffering housewife longing for some genuine affection and attention. They are three complex characters, who could have come across as complete arseholes, but thanks to the three main stars it’s a pleasure to get involved in their situation, seeing it play out and watching them feed off one another.

There’s also an alarming message for viewers in the films climax, I don’t want to give it away but it’s certainly as relevant and frightening now as it was back in 1980. Harlequin is quite the gem, it’s engrossing, well acted, well directed and well photographed, it’s let down by a few ‘signs of the time’ in regards to the not so special effects work, but other than that there is very little to the film that I can see spoiling the viewing experience. Definitely a great film to settle down with on a Sunday evening with a nice cold beer.

Purchase the British DVD here.
Purchase the superior R1 DVD here.

Day of the Dead (1986)

Much, much and much has been written about George A. Romero’s acclaimed … of the Dead trilogy, but there’s something at play here that brings fans back to these films and attracts hordes of new horror fans annually. So why shouldn’t I put in my five pence? I myself remember the first time I witnessed Night of the Living Dead on television in the mid 90’s, out in a cottage in the middle of nowhere in West Wales, late at night with some dodgy aerial reception that didn’t hinder the experience in the slightest, in fact it amplified the effect of the movie, as did my location. Luckily my mother was clued up and had friends with an equally fine taste in entertainment, so I was witnessing Dawn of the Dead within days of my first expose to this zombie outbreak.

That tape didn’t move from my VHS player for pretty much my whole stint in High School (except maybe for the occasional viewing of Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn or Usual Suspects – hey, it was the mid 90’s, who wasn’t watching them?) causing me nightmares on a nightly basis, it didn’t bug me, they actually made sleep more enjoyable. Living out my own zombie outbreaks in my head on a nightly basis, who could begrudge that?

Finding the final piece of the story didn’t come for a little while longer however, when cable station Bravo finally showed it late one night, needless to say I was ready, very ready. How was this going to live up to Dawn of the Dead? For me that was the pinnacle of horror cinema, if a kid would claim they’d seen the greatest horror movie ever, normally Wes Craven’s Scream during this period, I’d call them a liar to their face: What did they know?

I may only have been 13 but I thought I’d seen the greatest accomplishment in horror history; could the darkest day in horror really beat it? Back then I’d have said no, but now? I’m thinking it did.
The world has been defeated; the walking dead have claimed the world for themselves. Survivors are few and even further between; those who have made it through are gathered in an abandoned military silo. Risking their lives to venture into heart of Florida to look for stragglers, hope of finding further survivors is bleak to say the least. Sarah and fellow scientists, Dr. Fisher and the eccentric Dr. Logan, are conducting various experiments on the undead in hopes of finding a cure or reversal to the outbreak. Captain Rhodes and his men, including Sarah’s boyfriend Miguel, have other designs. They want nothing more than to get free of the silo and attempt to locate other military personnel. John, a helicopter pilot and Bill, the radio operative round out the group as a third party to the scientists and military bodies: keeping themselves to themselves in their self made ‘Rtiz’ cabin.

Rhodes has become a tyrant, claiming the clan as his property he barks orders and makes demands of everyone in the silo; even those not under his command. He’s unhappy that his men are taking fatalities due to the scientists requiring zombie specimens and demands evidence that their work is worth the risk. As anger boils, distrust runs high and hate is the only common bond between the inhabitants; it becomes apparent that being around other humans is just as destructive as being out there with the zombies.

Dr. Logan has a breakthrough with his pet experiment, Bub. A zombie that shows signs of emotion towards his captor and is even docile around other humans, it would appear he’s been taught to behave. Rhodes in none too please by the circus act and threatens to close down the project totally, however a tragic accident sets in motion a chain of horrific events that proves just as deadly as any zombies threat they were trying to protect themselves from.

‘The darkest day of horror the world has even known’ couldn’t have been a more fitting tagline for this movie. The bleak realisation that humans are their own worst enemy (which was touched upon in both Night and Dawn) never makes for an entertaining watch, but Romero ingeniously makes the villains of the piece so fantastically vile that you get some relief in seeing them perish. On the flipside, there’s also a humanity to them, at heart they’re scared little school boys resorting to bullying tactics as a result of severe hardship from their authority figures.

The most human of character however, and the irony isn’t hard to miss, is Bub. There’s so much to praise in Sherman Howard’s performance that it’s pointless discussing it, all you need to know is he’s possibly the most memorable character in all of Romero’s Dead movies. Having Bub as the heart to this otherwise heartless movie is also cause for more darkness, the tone is so bleak that you have to question whether or not humans are worth saving in a world were the lifeless show more care and compassion. Even the charismatic John and Bill show favouritism towards leaving other humans behind and taking care of themselves – though with Rhodes in charge of the show you can hardly blame them.
Much criticism was launched at the unsympathetic characters, this has always bothered me. Romero obviously wanted to do something different here, possibly due to his own observations on Regan-era America? Maybe he was just angry at the fact he had his budget pulled from beneath him and lashed out? Or it could be he just felt that it was the logical progression for the series? Nice guys finish last they say; so where does that leave mankind at the end of the earth? Whatever his reasons were, it was a brave decision that is only just starting to find its rightful place in the horror canon as the classic that it is.

Arrow Video has just released a 25th anniversary edition Blu-ray and it’s a thing of beauty. The film looks fantastic in 1080p resolution, with vivid colours and strong blacks making the final onslaught of blood and guts extra easy on the eye; just not on the stomach. They’ve also gathered plenty of extras for the fans; porting over various features and documentaries from past releases (Anchor Bay US and the previous Arrow DVD release), they’ve chucked tonnes onto a second DVD. On the Blu they’ve carted over a commentary from a previous release and they’ve also commissioned some new features exclusive to this release, by up and comers High Rise Productions.
Joe of the Dead is an in-depth interview with the obnoxious captain Rhodes himself, Joe Pilato. He discusses his roots in acting, how he met George A. Romero and how he came to be cast as one of 80’s cinemas finest villains. He also offers up his thoughts on the great man, a statement he’ll state himself in an entertaining 50 minutes of chin-wagging. Travelogue of the Dead is the second feature and it’s a fun 15 minutes of Joe at screenings of Day of the Dead in Scotland and Ireland meeting his fans and holding entertaining Q&A sessions. If you think he looks a little tipsy during some of these sessions I have it good authority that he actually was, rock and roll, Joe… rock and roll.
If that wasn’t enough we also get a miniature replica UK quad poster, four covers to choose from and a booklet entitled For Every Dawn There Is A Day written by UK journalist Calum Waddell, which features some great insights from cast members and his good self. There’s also a marvellous 24-page comic book produced exclusively for this release, Day of the Dead: Desertion a prequel of sorts that tells the story of the iconic Bub and how he ended up in the situation he finds himself in during the movie. Who could refuse such a loving package?

Purchase the Blu-ray here.
*Please note that the images contained within this review are not taken from the Blu-ray.

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

This might seem an odd choice to cover on a blog such as this, but it’s actually a polished exploitation movie from a director who has made some exciting genre films within his career, not to mention some great music videos but then again he’s also responsible for some pretty shoddy studio movies too. F. Gary Gray’s 1995 directorial debut was ‘hood’ comedy-classic Friday, starring Ice Cube, whom Gray had worked with on Cube’s excellent ‘It Was a Good Day’ video, and Chris Tucker as a couple of stoners who are about to get in over their head with a neighbourhood drug dealer. He followed that up with Set It Off in 1996, an underrated heist movie featuring all women bank robbers which was notable for Queen Latifah’s performance. His big break followed shortly with The Negotiator in 1998.

The Negotiator was Gray’s first studio movie, with a big-budget and big names attached. Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson star as titular hostage negotiators, the twist being that a hostage negotiator is actually holding hostages after a cover-up incriminates him erroneously and forces him to take desperate actions in order to clear his name. It’s one of 90’s action cinemas finest and holds up even today, Graeme Revell score is a thing of beauty I might add. Too bad it was all down film from there, with The Italian Job re-make, Vin Diesel disaster A Man Part and the terrible Get Shorty sequel, Be Cool taking up space on his CV throughout the noughties.

Law Abiding Citizen is a powerful return to form. It’s also very reminiscent of 80’s vigilante flicks that you’d expect Bill Lustig and Larry Cohen to have produced; only it benefits from modern technology and a greater budget. After the vicious murder of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton is devastated to learn that the lead perpetrator in the act has coped a plea with the prosecution, lead by Nick Rice, that will see him charged with 3rd degree murder for pinning the blame on his partner in crime. 10 years later and it’s execution time for Ames, the unwilling partner, however things don’t go to plan and his injection tank has been replaced with some sort of acidic chemical causing a violent death.

Baffled by the act, Nick tries to locate Darby, the man who made a deal with him 10 years previous. Unfortunately for him Shelton gets to him first, paralyzing him and slowly torturing him to death whole filming the act. Once the body is discovered Rice wastes no time in tracking Shelton down, who willingly goes with the police for interrogation. During the interview Shelton confesses that he did wish them dead, but does not give a full confession, if Rice wants that he has to bargain with him and meet a series of demands; demands that appear trivial but carry a heavy consequence if they aren’t, met as Rice will find out. Shelton is about to wage war upon the system that stole justice from him… and it’s going to be biblical.

Starting with the brutal home invasion of Shelton, it’s obvious from the get-go that the film isn’t going to shy away from the violence. It’s gritty, hard-to-watch and a horribly realistic depiction of barbarity that will offend, disturb or revolt the viewer; which is what makes the film so gripping, watching to see how far they will take it. One scene of violence will stun even the hardened of gore hounds, it’s a single-take bloodbath of crushing carnage that rivals the fire extinguisher scene from Gasper Noe’s revenge tale Irreversible for shock value. This is the stand-out piece however that towers over all the explosives that follow after it, it’s the shocking realism of violence that elevates the film and makes it memorable – explosions are fun, but they’re rarely memorable.

Gerard Butler steels the film as the vengeful Shelton, he’s a man pushed over the edge not but an act of violence, but by an act of injustice. Plotting his payback over a decade, he truly means it when he says that he plans on bringing down the justice system on those who thrive within it. It’s a full bloodied story that will have the majority of its audience on Shelton’s side for the opening half, the line begins to blur as it seems as if he has snapped and become no better than the animals that snatched his family from him. He may believe he’s doing the right thing, hell maybe some will agree that he is, but can the taking of innocent peoples lives ever be justified? To the films credit it remains unbiased in its depiction, allowing audiences to question the actions within the film and come to their own conclusion.

The film looses it’s urgency after the first 50 minutes as the film changes focus from Shelton executing his plans to Rice trying to prevent him from continuing his revenge; even though he’s in prison the whole time! The ending might prove frustrating for some, it’s not a gun-ho finale but a more restraint effort which deals more with the complexities of the characters actions and walks that fine line between right and wrong which again will depend on the viewer. It’s a great premise that provides its audience with two solid hours of bone-crushing entertainment. It’s a return to form for F. Gary Gray and it proves that Gerard Butler can find work outside of chick-flicks! Too bad Gray’s next scheduled film is a sequel to the re-make of The Italian Job. Here’s hoping he has some more quality genre films up his sleeve for us.

Purchase the DVD here or Blu-ray here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vice Squad (1982)

Chicago born Gary Sherman is an underrated man in my book; he’s produced more than his fair share of certified classics and remains somewhat unsung. His debut was one of British horror cinema’s greatest films of the 70’s, the Donald Pleasance staring shocker Death Line (or Raw Meat as it was renamed in the US), is as original as it is brutal. Pre-dating Chris Smith’s 2004 sophomore effort, Creep, by some 30 years, the films tells the story of Cannibals roaming the London underground. It’s a British horror classic that deserves space on any self-respecting horror fans shelf, as does his next foray...

Dead & Buried is not shy of infamy here in the Britain, after managing to land it self on the Director of Public Prosecutions list of ‘Video Nasties’ during the 80’s. Whether or not it deserved to be on that list is up to the viewer, I’m of the opinion it didn’t. It’s a confidently made piece with a true air of unsettling dread that deserved to be on top 10 horror movies of the decade and not one of the 39 titles deemed obscene and corruptive to the British public; along with schlocky titles such as Mardi Gras Massacre, Unhinged and Snuff which when compared, in terms of quality and overall goodness with Dead and Buried really does makes ones head ache. But I digress.

His third film was the lesser known, Vice Squad, a sleazy little number that focuses around the pimps, hoes, john’s and police who try in vain to maintain order in the shady areas of downtown Los Angeles. Princess is a struggling mother who has turned to prostitution in order to support her child once her business career comes to an abrupt end. Ramrod is a brutal pimp who is responsible for the death of a young hooker and detective Tom Walsh wants him behind bars and is willing to go to any length to accomplish this.

After busting Princess on an undercover sting he uses her as bait to get Ramrod, who is less than happy at being set-up and makes it his mission to exterminate the deceitful little hooker. Busting out of the cop car, he escapes and makes it his goal to snuff out the floozy that turned coat on him; it’s a race against time for Walsh and his people as they all attempt to hunt down Princess before Ramrod gets his grubby, but trusted, little coat hanger on/in her and ruins her already pretty shitty night.

Vice Squad remains something of an undiscovered gem, considering it’s made from a respected director, with the majority of his filmography available on DVD here in the UK, it’s saddening that this is the only early title yet to be made available to us; as it’s a hoot from start to finish. Wings Hauser, who plays the psychopathic Ramrod with a balls-to-the-wall performance, is one of 80’s cinemas undiscovered super-villains. His dedication to get what he wants is only matched by his need to brutalise women, and his dumb-as-a-hammer cowboy persona soon turns to unrelenting psychotic with terrifying glee.

Kurt Russell’s ex-squeeze Season Hubley does what’s required of her but she’s upstaged at every point by both Hauser and Gary Swanson, who plays Walsh, bringing an air of cool to his performance that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Paul Newman performance; though he too weans when sharing a scene with the mighty Hauser. Along with some top performances, Vice Squad also sports some great location shots; the neon strip of L.A. really gets it praise sung here. It’s as seedy and frightening as it is intriguing to watch, as people of the night stalk each corner and john’s approach pro’s for a list of shameless sex acts, from water sports to er… necrophilia.

Sherman handles the material with maturity and never exploits the situations that arise throughout the script, he also demonstrates a great knack for action set-pieces here, which would come in handy when he followed up Vice Squad with the 1987 Rutger Hauer shoot ‘em up Wanted: Dead or Alive. The fluidity of Vice Squad shows Sherman was well on his way to mastering the craft, which would then peek with his big studio horror outing, Poltergeist III, which remains as under-appreciated today as it was in 1988.

Years of slipping under the radar have obviously taken its toll on Sherman as since 1990 he’s made only 2 theatrical features, the obscure schoolgirls-in-peril movie Lisa and more recently, 2006’s 39: A Film by Carroll McKane which sees Sherman departing from genre filmmaking and branching into experimental media. He spent the majority of the 90’s working in television making movies and producing such Cult classic television shows as Poltergeist: The Legacy.
He’s now a full-time lecturer of Directing & Producing at Columbia University. He’s an unsung hero of the horror genre who deserves more acclaim than he has thus far, luckily with saturated DVD companies being forced to hunt down new material, maybe we’ll see this on British shores one day soon? Here’s hoping Sherman is given the chance to speak on his career and tell us his feelings on his time as a genre filmmaker. Do yourselves a favour and check out this mans great additions to the genre cinema, if you haven’t already began doing so.

Gary Sherman on DVD:
Death Line
Dead & Buried
Vice Squad
Wanted: Dead or Alive
Poltergeist III

Grizzly (1976)

When a small little movie by the name of Jaws hit big at the box-office in 1975, Universal Pictures cinematic landmark inevitably spawned a whole slew of rip-offs, some which were shamelessly ripping it, such as Italian schlock master Bruno Mattei’s infamous 1995 TV effort Cruel Jaws , which went as far as to steel the dialogue! Others however decided to camouflage its influence somewhat, such as William Girdler’s 1976’s Grizzly. Armed with a budget of $750,000 – compared to Spielberg’s $7,000,000 – Girdler decided to set his feature inland, and his chaos causing animal of choice was a ferocious 18-foot grizzly bear, hence the loving moniker ‘Jaws with claws’ being born.

Two young hikers are mauled at a National Park, Ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) is shocked at the destruction caused to the surrounding areas as well as the victims bodies and fears for the worst. The corner confirms his fears, the girls died after receiving wounds inflicted by a bear. The park’s supervisor, Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), pins the blame and Michael as all bears were supposed to have been cleared out before tourist season began and demands the corpse of the guilty bear. Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel), the parks naturalist informs that all bears were moved in time and none got by him, Michael asks Charley to close the park to allow him and Arthur time to locate the rogue bear but his request is denied.

Deaths in the park area are becoming more and more frequent, and they are starting to hit home as part of the Park Rangers are starting to perish, yet the park’s supervisor still refuses to close shop until the mauling of a mother and her child. As desperation mounts, Michael, Arthur and park guide Don Stober (Andrew Pine) launch one more ditch attempt to bring this bear down once and for all. The hunter is now the hunted, or is it?

Grizzly lives up to the name in more than one definition, what first impresses is the level of gore the film contains. It may have only a fraction of the budget the movie which inspired it has, but it sure-as-hell has more grue to offer. It doesn’t have the money to make a full animatronic bear, so opts for a real grizzly. Unfortunately for them, kinda, finding a tamed bear that big would be nigh-on impossible, so Girdler has to be creative with what he shows and which angels to shoot; some of these shots are pretty laughable in this day and age, but certain shots of the live bear raising on it’s hind legs do send shivers down the spine – the bear looks rather large, in real life it was 11-foot, and intimidating! You won’t envy the cameraman that’s for certain.

Christopher George does his best Sheriff Brody impersonation here; the character bears (tee hee) a little too much in common for it to be coincidental. In fact the whole dynamic of the three male leads is strikingly similar to that of Jaws, however the characters here aren’t as likeable and they’re lacking a Quint-like older character. Where it does excel over Jaws is in its brutality, grizzly is 2,000 tonnes of big furry anger and he sure-as-shit isn’t afraid of showing that off! Bloodily clawing peoples arms and heads off with ease and bear-crushing chumps like it ain’t no thang, Grizzly is one mean mother.

Though the film doesn’t have the same energy that drove its inspiration it does have the heart to match it. It’s a likeable little film let down by some sloppy pacing towards the final third, but small gripes aside, this is a modest classic in itself. It’s vicious, it’s funny (some times unintentionally) and it’s all entertainment! Those with a fondness, like myself, for the Jaws clones will find plenty to admire here and the films climax is truly legendary, it needs witnessing to be believed. Ignore the UK release however, there’s a lovely 2-disc edition from US company Shriek Show that’s more than worth your hard earned pennies. Overall Grizzly is certainly big, but it sure isn’t clever and it’s all the more loveable for it.

As an interesting aside, a sequel was to Grizzly was planned and actually went into production 1983. Grizzly II: The Predator was never fully completed, cast in minor roles in the movie were none other than George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen! After fund ran out in ’83, production restarted in ’87 and filming was completed, however now actual footage of the bear was completed and neither were all the effect shots. The film was believed to be an urban legend of sorts until a workprint for the film surfaced online in 2007! Apparently the film resolves around a rock concert in which the bear was due to come and terrorise, the title was also renamed to Predator: The Concert due to rights issues. Oh what could have been aye?

Purchase the 30th anniversary edition here.
Those without a multi-region player can get the UK release here. (Not recommended)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The House of the Devil (2009)

In 2005, a then 24 year-old, Ti West released The Roost, a low-budget fright flick involving teenagers under attack from rabid bats who turn their victims into blood thirsty zombies. As fun as it was trashy, the film did well on the festival circuit but didn’t make much impact on the horror community generally. It's a stylish piece that employees 16mm filmstock and looks all the better for it! His break came when he was hired to direct the follow-up to Eli Roth's smash-hit gross-fest Cabin Fever in 2007.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break was a troubled production for the young director, producer interference resulted in West wanting his name removed from the finished film and having it replaced with the now legendary Alan Smithee. Due to him not being a guild member the request was denied and his name has remained as director of that film, while all of this was going on however, West had set in motion another movie, a throwback to the good ol' 80's entitled The House of the Devil.

The House of the Devil tells the story of Samantha Hughes, a college student who is in desperate need of escaping the confides of her student accommodation. She has found the perfect apartment, the landlady (a nice little cameo from Dee Wallace) is taken by her and offers her the apartment without requesting the $300 deposit she normally would. All Samantha has to do now is find the $300 for the first months rent. Spotting an advert for a babysitter she contacts the number on the advert and registers her interest, she's asked if she can meet the man who placed the add, they agree a time and place but he doesn't turn up.

Later that night she receives a desperate call from the man asking if she is still available, she accepts and heads out to his house in the sticks with her buddy, Megan. Once there they're met by the ageing Mr. Ulman, his desperation is evident and he confesses that he doesn't require a babysitter, but someone to take care of his mother. Hesitant at first, Samantha refuses, in desperation Mr. Ulman offers her $300, Samantha agrees to do it for $400 and he agrees, half up front and half once he returns. Megan leaves Samantha and agrees to pick her back up in 4 hours, but as Samantha is about to learn, a lot can change within 4 hours.

Once again, West opts to shoot his film on 16mm and the results are fantastic. The essence of early 80's cinema is evident from the first scene, by the time the title card hits the screen you know you're in confident hands. This is a director that truly admires the era he's homaging and his ability to recapture the aura of these films is apparently effortless for him, he knows every angel and every technique from 80's horror and throws them at the audience one after another. If you admire this era of filmmaking then you'll instantly fall in love with the movie.

If the opening statement of the film is to be believed, 70% of Americans by the 80's believed in Satanic Cults and the other 30% believed this was a government conspiracy. This helps explain the rash of the satanic themed movies that hit screens through the 70's and early 80's, we've come along way since then and the demand for Satanic based movies has dropped significantly; so it's to West's credit that he's set about re-discovering an under appreciated genre for cult enthusiasts to get their teeth into, he just may also have made Rosemary's Baby for a whole new generation to admire and discover.

The biggest problem I can see the film facing, when faced with mainstream audiences, is its slow burning approach; in these days of relentlessly paced action-horror movies will the average movie goer understand the nature of the films pace? I'm hoping it doesn't hinder the films mainstream acceptance and the slow approach really does have a heart-stopping climax. Jocelin Donahue performance is also career starting material, she carries the film from the first scene the last and she moulds Samantha into a warm and likeable character that you'll find yourself attached to within the first five minutes of the film. Once the peril and jeopardy mount you'll be praying for her to make it out safe...

Ton Noonan, now a full-fledged Ti West regular, gives a great supporting performance as the unsettling Mr. Ulman. He gives us a man that is as frightening as he is likeable, he gives a performance that is oddly sympathetic; there's a sadness to it that suggests a man conflicted with the events he's setting in motion. On one hand he knows it's wrong, yet on the other he has to make this happen – it's his destiny and purpose in life. Needless to say he's a great asset to the movie, just as he was in The Roost and credit to Ti West for continuing to hire such an underrated actor.

The House of the Devil
may not become the modern classic that many are suggesting it is, it's certainly going to put Ti West on Hollywood's talent map, the atmosphere is menacing and the performances are gripping, but the uneventful first hour may alienate the majority of viewers, especially those unfamiliar with the genre in which this film belongs. Those who appreciate the genre will no doubt lap this gem up, it's a modern Cult classic and is up there with Dead Girl as the best of modern American horror production. It's also Ti West's greatest achievement to date. Lets hope he has more such achievements to come in his career.

Purchase the DVD here or Blu-ray here.