Archive for March, 2007

Maîtresse

1976, France, Directed by Barbet Schroeder

Colour, Running Time: 113 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Criterion, Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: Mono

Two door-to-door ‘art book’ salesmen (well, this is France), manage to get into the apartment of Ariane, an apparently normal woman whose bath is overflowing. Later on they’re snooping around the floor below (which Ariane claims is empty) and are perplexed to find some strange paraphernalia: 10 inch heel boots, rubber masks, gas masks, whips, rubber suits, a naked man in a cage (believe it or not, this isn’t Elton John’s place), etc. They’re interrupted by Ariane, all dressed up and ready to beat the caged guy - she seems to keep the lower level as some kind of dungeon. Trapped by her large and hungry looking dog the hapless pair are tied up and forced to watch an S&M spectacle unfold. She obviously likes Olivier (Gerard Depardieu) because she gets him to lend a hand by pissing on the face of her willing victim. Quite quickly Olivier and the Maîtresse (i.e. mistress) are pretty much falling in love and it’s not long before her double life as a dominatrix is causing all kinds of trouble between them.

Fancy a date, love?

An expertly shot film and obviously quite notorious given its subject matter. I find the characters difficult to identify with and therefore it leaves me a little cold, plus, the S&M scenes, whilst most would believe them to be incapable of being sexually stimulating anyway, are presented to the viewer in a rather cold and clinical way. Obviously this was Schroeder’s intention but it doesn’t help the film to find much appeal outside of critic circles. There’s also the genuine onscreen slaughtering of a horse which anyone who has any concern for animal welfare will want to forward through: Depardieu watches the killing, then walks over to the local horse meat shop, buys a slice before going home to cook and eat it - this doesn’t facilitate any love for the man. Overall a critically relevant film that’s difficult to enjoy.

 

Criterion present a digitally remastered, anamorphically enhanced 1.66:1 version of the film that looks amazingly sharp, clean, and boasting perfect colour schemes - it’s difficult to imagine an improvement; this is what you call a restoration. Extras are thin, with a 15 minute interview and a booklet containing an essay. Surprisingly the BBFC passed this uncut in 2003 when BFI submitted it, and not only that but the transfer was almost as good as the Criterion disc (albeit replacing the extras with inferior choices), so it will probably just come down to cost when choosing between them.

Posted on 30th March 2007
Under: Other | No Comments »

The Crazies

1973, US, Directed by George A Romero

Colour, Running Time: 98 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Anchor Bay; Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: DTS

A small town in Pennsylvania: people are inexplicably beginning to act abnormally to the point of becoming homicidal and before long the army themselves are brought in to seal off the area, indicating that the problem is worse than it first might appear. The problem is worse alright, because they caused it. Trying to sort out a ‘typical army f**k-up’ (in the classic words of James Karen in Return of the Living Dead!) the military become increasingly heavy-handed with the essentially innocent victims of what turns out to be an experimental government biological weapon - a small group of survivors attempt to escape the escalating bloody mayhem.

Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!

Following worldwide success with Night of the Living Dead (though strangely missing any financial rewards for its makers) and a couple insipid movies (the rather boring Jack’s Wife and the elusive There’s Always Vanilla) Romero proceeded to direct this low budget horror/thriller with a frenetic pace, nicely capturing the climbing tension that the situation arouses in both civilians and the military operatives that are forced to try to clean up the mess. Innocent people gradually descend into madness as they succumb to the virus (that is probably in the water), usually killing each other or, at one point, engaging in incestuous activity. As the army begin firing first and asking later a level of sympathy for the civilians is successfully built up by Romero, while the oppressive ambience that evolves as the army exacerbate their attempts to contain the problem hits poignant heights. The action, whilst clearly struggling to develop beyond its budgetary limitations, is fairly effective and nicely edited. Some of the performances come across as pretty convincing - Romero has often seemed adept at invoking good character acting from his players. This film comes across almost as a nice stepping stone between the aforementioned 1968 film and Dawn of the Dead, which later came in 1978 - if you replaced the ‘crazy’ people with walking corpses, it could easily be part of Romero’s Dead series. By the way, you may notice Richard Liberty turning up, who later played one of my favourite characters in Day of the Dead!

 

Any apparent grain or lack of definition with background detail of the image might betray the fact that it was shot on 16mm (being blown up to 35mm originally for theatrical presentations), but it looks superb considering (Romero even claims that some of it looks better than when it was shot, thanks to some modern digital restoration techniques). Plus, the 1.66:1 intended viewing ratio is retained in this anamorphic image with pillar-boxing: well done!! I’m sick of seeing 1.66:1 films cropped to fit a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Anchor Bay, as usual, provide DTS and DD5.1 ’surround’ mixes that are somewhat artificial but may suit individual viewer preferences - sound otherwise suffers from its original technical limitations. Blue Underground released this stateside and, whilst I’ve not seen that disc, I suspect it will provide a marginally sharper picture due to the probability that the AB version is an NTSC to PAL transfer, however the BU does not provide the 5.1 options. A fairly extensive extras roster rounds out an excellent release of an enjoyable film.

Posted on 29th March 2007
Under: Horror, Thriller | No Comments »

The Nanny

1965, UK, Directed by Seth Holt

Black and White, Running Time: 89 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Optimum, Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1, Audio: Mono

Some time after Joey’s little sister suffers a fatal ‘accident’ in a bath tub he returns home from the institution where he was sent after having been accused of causing the death. All is obviously not right with the family - his dad is uptight, his mom a nervous wreck, and the nanny that his parents employ is downright sinister. From there begins a series of abnormal occurrences such as poisoning of the mom, alleged attempted drowning of Joey, etc.; the ambiguity of which makes it difficult to directly attribute the problems to either Joey or the nanny. From the start Joey is revealed to be a mischievous little bugger who likes to play ‘jokes’ on anyone who will respond with horror (such as tricking one of the nurses at the hospital that he has hung himself), while the nanny herself is clearly missing tight screws here and there.

Cheer up you grumpy old bat!

This has been quite an elusive Hammer title for years but it was worth the wait to see. Having previously directed the brilliant Taste of Fear for Hammer, Holt shoots with flair composing some great images while the B&W cinematography is very attractive. Simpson’s editing is masterful and the film is briefly complemented by a nice introductory score by Richard Bennett. The relationship between Joey (William Dix) and the nanny (Bette Davis), around which much of the film revolves, is quite engaging and there is a dark edge to many of their interactions. The gorgeous and hugely talented ‘child’ actor, Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, Our Mother’s House), makes an appearance as the girl who lives upstairs, occasionally giving Joey lip or getting him into trouble - she tried to make it as an adult star I think but choosing stuff like Legend of Hell House was probably not the best career strategy. She ended up doing a lot of TV work, but her innate talent shows through here. Generally I liked the performances of all of the leads. This is an offbeat and pretty dark tale that’s worth checking out.

 

Not razor sharp but certainly very good looking on DVD, this is available as part of the Ultimate Hammer Collection from Optimum. It’s one of the better films in the boxed set and it can be purchased pretty cheaply by itself if preferred. Combined with a commentary and being exclusive to the UK I’d say this is recommended.

Posted on 27th March 2007
Under: Horror, Thriller | No Comments »

Reincarnation of Isabel (AKA Black Magic Rites)

(Original title: Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel trecento)

1972, Italy, Directed by Renato Polselli

Colour, Running Time: 98 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Redemption, Video: Letterbox 1.66:1, Audio: Mono

Several hundred years ago Isabel (Rita Caldana) was burned at the stake while her lover (the Italian Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Hargitay) looks on helplessly. In the present day a group of Satanists led by the descendant of Isabel’s lover attempt to resurrect her still rotting corpse through sacrifice of not-so-innocent victims, generally taken from some sort of gathering that appears to be taking place in a nearby castle (I think).

 Let me out! I'm still alive!

How do you sum up a plot that comes across as entirely incomprehensible? I’m not sure but I don’t think it matters so much in this case: it’s a psychedelic whirlwind of insane events and imagery that just has the viewer sitting there shaking his/her head at the fact that anything like this was ever committed to celluloid. There is plenty of nudity and some of the strangest characters ever created - one particularly potty woman is found hysterical on the stairs after supposedly being assaulted by a monster with ‘green hair, like all monsters’ (???) that nobody, including us, has ever seen. There’s something to do with vampirism in here too - apparently there are some family ties to Dracula even claimed along the way. Even as far as Euro Horror is concerned this film is bonkers, but sort of works as an escape into psychologically unbalanced surrealism and is helped if your perception is chemically manipulated at the time (in my case, inebriation). The late Polselli has done some interesting work to be honest - his film Delirio Caldo/Delirium (1972, also featuring Caldana and Hargitay) is pretty good and much more comprehensible. Previously he also made a more conventional Italian gothic horror with L’Amante del Vampiro/Vampire and the Ballerina (1960).

 

For this (now old) disc Redemption apparently ultrasonically cleaned the print before creating a new digital master - apart from an excess of dirt/damage visible throughout it doesn’t look too bad considering the source, being moderately detailed, and is probably as good as it will look (put it this way: I can’t see Criterion doing an extensive restoration any time soon). Plus we get the Italian language soundtrack with English subtitles.  If you like Euro Horror and don’t mind wayward plots that make no sense you might get something out of the film - it can be picked up cheaply from the US as Reincarnation of Isabel or in the UK as Black Magic Rites; the film is the same in both cases but the UK disc has a few more (unrelated) extras.

Posted on 26th March 2007
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Amazing Grace

2007, UK/USA, Directed by Michael Apted

Colour, Running Time: 118 minutes

Review Source: Cinema Screening; Image: 1.85:1 Spherical

In 18th Century England the slave trade is prosperous for the country and politically sensitive as a result. One man, William Wilberforce, who is questioning his spiritual place in the universe decides to take on the system in order to bring about an abolishment of slavery, facing seemingly insurmountable odds in the process. Along the way he has to deal with increasing personal illness, the arrival of a woman who equals his views with her own passion and intelligence, and politicians that initially refuse to budge from their narrow minded attitude.

Where's that money you owe me, mister?

Based on apparently true accounts of how England’s part in the slave trade was finally brought down by the moral drive and relentless passion for doing what’s right by a small number of people, this is a film I wouldn’t normally have watched due to becoming a bit sick of hearing about slavery, the reported atrocities of Nazi Germany, things like that. Obviously I personally have never been involved in slavery (and don’t agree with keeping thinking organisms captive unless they’re wrong-doers) and feel insulted that modern day politicians are apologising on my (i.e. as a native of Britain) behalf for ‘our’ part in the slave trade a hundred or so years before any of us even existed. A person can only apologise for what they themselves have done as far as I’m concerned and this makes the PC actions of councillors and politicians rather redundant considering they were not actually involved. In light of that Amazing Grace works well as a historical drama rather than a piece of political preaching (which I hope it’s not intended to be), constructing what appears to be a well balanced story, perhaps even educational, and can therefore be considered to be of value as a film.

 

Cinematography is very good with well composed and lit imagery casting a sepia tone on many occasions, this being supported by an appropriately emotional score and combined with excellent acting and script work. I found the jump from Wilberforce’s exploits by two years towards the end to be notably jarring and clumsy, plus the film is somewhat slowly paced so I feel that some tighter editing would have been in order (it’s interesting to note that foreign cuts are about seven minutes shorter so I’m wondering how they differ). It’s a good piece of work anyway.

Posted on 25th March 2007
Under: Other | No Comments »

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation

2003, US, Directed by Phil Tippett

Colour, Running Time: 88 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Columbia, Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Ah, the six million dollar ’sequel’ to Paul Verhoeven’s classic film, directed by Phil Tippett (who?). On an arachnid-infested planet a group of infantry fighting off the creatures are forced into holding up in an abandoned outpost where they join up with a rebel commander to face the threat of a previously undiscovered ‘bug’ - one that can burrow into humans and effectively take control of their new host. Following a brief (and unconvincing) outdoor battle with the primary arachnids the majority of the story takes place in this outpost as the soldiers are picked off one by one.

Right, so who left strawberry jam on the toilet seat?

It’s a potentially interesting though derivative idea - characters having no choice but to stay put in an outpost on an alien world while the threat outside is put into the background due to an altogether more sinister parasite inside the building taking over each of them. Actually if you take The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Aliens and Verhoeven’s original, mix them all together and reduce your available budget and resources substantially, you might get this film. It is unfortunately mundane at best: the outdoor battles are shot in darkness and smoke (i.e. hiding the fact that it’s a cheap studio set) with creature CGI that looks suspiciously reused from the first film. The outpost set is better and the new bug is quite creepy but the whole thing is put together in such a boring and pedestrian manner that you can’t help but become distracted by just about anything else (my wallpaper needed changing for example). Even the mock promotional army TV articles seem to miss the satirical point that was so well expressed by Verhoeven. Why should a successful (critically more so than financially - it only scraped back it’s original budget at the box office) and rather major production such as ST warrant a low budget shot-for-video sequel? Perhaps they were scared of spending $100 million again (understandably so I suppose but they didn’t need to stoop quite this low). Apparently the animated series (Roughnecks) was better, but I never got around to seeing that.

 

ST2 (shot on HD) looks okay on SD DVD but surprisingly grainy in darker scenes. Accompanied by a 5.1 track and commentary you have a better specified disc from Columbia Tristar than the film deserves. The movie kind of worked for me on some levels the first time I watched it but the second time around I was quite bored. There was a great franchise with ST but Hero of the Federation stamps it dead (maybe not? Another sequel has been announced continuing Rico’s exploits for a possible 2008 release).

Posted on 24th March 2007
Under: Science Fiction | No Comments »

Starship Troopers

1997, US, Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Colour, Running Time: 129 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Columbia, Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Set in the far future, Earth is under threat from an arachnid-like race that is capable of colonising other planets by releasing ‘asteroids’ into space that carry their seed. Mass recruitment takes place on Earth for military operatives to the point where people are pretty much indoctrinated with the idea that war is good and normal. The film follows Rico in particular who joins up for mobile infantry against his father’s wishes, losing his girlfriend in the process to a strapping pilot. Taking a structure not unlike Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket the first half of the film deals with introducing us to the arachnid threat plus primary characters, following their training through to war readiness. The second half takes place largely following a devastating alien attack on Earth that forms the catalyst for all out war on the planet Klendathu.

Starship Troopers

Verhoeven seems to have a knack for creating deliberately glossy, comic book style adult films, contributing several excellent pieces to science fiction along the way, for example Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers. The latter nearly didn’t become the product it was thanks to some terrible special effects work that forced it back for reworks - the resulting effects remain incredible to this day with near perfect examples of compositing and great CG model work/animation. Troopers is a satirical piece and has become all the more poignant in recent years because some of the material here bears uncanny similarity to what we have seen emerging from the political climate in America following 9/11. The propaganda news articles are both funny and strangely reminiscent of reality. As a science fiction film it works really well, the epic and very gory battle sequences being particularly thrilling: my favourite sequence is certainly the Outpost attack which results in one of the greatest battles and close escapes in Sci-fi history in my opinion.

 

Despite being a fairly early DVD from Columbia Tristar (released in 1998) and having a surprisingly low bitrate the film looks great, Verhoeven and Jost Vacano’s choice of colour schemes coming across vividly. Basil Poledouris composed a sometimes powerful score (occasionally recalling elements of his Robocop soundtrack) and that comes across well. Extras are plentiful; pretty much this is a two disc set but the extra material is placed on side 2 of the disc (i.e. before ‘2 disc…’ became a marketing attraction). Great film and, aside from the very first skimpy UK release, a brilliant DVD in any territory.

Posted on 17th March 2007
Under: Science Fiction | 2 Comments »

The Beyond (AKA L’aldilà)

1981, Italy, Directed by Lucio Fulci

Colour, Running Time: 84 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2 (Holland), EC Entertainment; Video: Letterbox 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby 2.0

One of Fulci’s most famous films, The Beyond introduces us to a near down-and-out woman (Catriona MacColl) who inherits a hotel that, continuing with her tradition of bad luck, was built over one of the gates to Hell (bit of a bummer for the market value I would imagine), the same hotel where a warlock was murdered by a lynch mob decades before. A series of supernatural events indicate that the gates of Hell are indeed opening leading to a climactic mass return of the walking dead in a hospital showdown.

Someone really needs to shake up the local council service...

Making up a Fulci quartet of zombie films between 1979 and 1982 The Beyond is an episodic horror that dwells on excessive gore at every opportunity, much like House by the Cemetery, City of the Living Dead (both of which also featured MacColl), and Zombi 2 did. These films have great merits for the horror fan and all had a strangely ethereal atmosphere that even Fulci himself couldn’t repeat several years later. Narrative-wise, Beyond is probably not a brilliant film, but the set pieces are quite mad, almost surreal at times, plus the conclusion is beautifully grim. The hospital-based climax with walking corpses appearing at every turn is rousing and should have taken the film into a more apocalyptic direction (hinted at with the deserted nature of the town during the final act) with an extra 15 minutes or so; however the short running time prevents any risk of it outstaying its welcome. A classic film from an era that can never be emulated.

 

This disc was the first DVD release of The Beyond back in 1998 and taken from a negative-sourced master that was originally used for the EC laserdisc in 1996. The non-anamorphic 2.35:1 image here was very good for its time but has since been superseded by discs from Anchor Bay US and EC themselves. I remember doing a direct comparison to an old VHS and being knocked out by the difference in clarity and contrast. Showcasing a memorable and distinctive score by Fabio Frizzi (who provided several notable scores for Fulci), sound is adequate but extras are fairly minimal. Once heavily cut (and indeed, banned on video) in the UK it was finally passed uncut for a Vipco DVD release in 2001, though their discs have never matched the standards of the likes of Elite, AB US, BU, etc., etc. A film that horror fans should own, one way or another, and one of my personal favourites.

Posted on 16th March 2007
Under: Horror | 2 Comments »

Lèvres de Sang

1975, France, Directed by Jean Rollin

Colour, Running Time: 90 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Redemption; Video: Letterbox 1.66:1, Audio: DD Mono

Obsessed with vague memories of a childhood nocturnal encounter with a strange woman, Philippe comes across some photographs at a get-together that remind him of the castle where the encounter supposedly took place. After forcing a photographer friend to tell him where it is, he manages to arrange a meeting with the mysterious woman but along the way comes across four female vampires. Philippe is on a strange journey to uncover secrets of his past.

Check out my lips...

In all honesty the plots of Rollin films are superfluous to the overall product - his films consist of recurring concepts contained within evocative visuals. His choice of location during the 60s through to early 80s was one of his strengths and facilitated the creation of incredible looking movies on miniscule budgets. He tended to utilise vampires, eroticism and gothic imagery to a great extent and with some often beautiful cinematography he was able to create dreamlike experiences for the lucky viewers who connected with the material. Many people who watch his work will find it unprofessional but I’m one of the fortunate few who can escape into the strange universes of Jean Rollin. Lèvres de Sang (or Lips of Blood in English) provides that opportunity nicely, although is not quite up there with my favourites (Requiem Pour un Vampire, and Frisson des Vampires for example). If you already like the work of Rollin then you will almost certainly like this; if you’re unfamiliar then this is a good place to start. Prepare yourself to be carried away to a unique world.

 

A nicely presented non-anamorphic 1.66:1 image from Redemption, the colours are strong and there is plenty of visual information to treat your eyes to. The French soundtrack is good and subtitles are perfectly legible. There are some cursory extras included but the primary draw here is a near-definitive Lips of Blood; not quite definitive - Encore (available from the continent) released an anamorphically enhanced (albeit incorrectly framed at 1.78:1) SE a year or so back, coming with a mountain of extras. If you’re not bothered about the extras, or you are concerned about the price, the Redemption disc is the way to go. Although the image quality itself is not quite as good as the Encore, at least it’s framed properly (a big plus). An enjoyable, fairly surreal erotic vampire film, something of a Rollin speciality…

Posted on 12th March 2007
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Straight On Till Morning

1972, UK, Directed by Peter Collinson

Colour, Running Time: 92 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Optimum, Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: Mono

The rather naive Brenda (or Wendy, as she’s later known) leaves home to head for London in search of someone to father a child. There she manages to get a job in a record shop and making one or two friends in the process. Meeting what she believes to be a suitable partner at a party (James Bolam!) she later finds him in bed with her friend and heads off outside, an emotional mess. There she sees another eligible partner in the shape of Peter. Formulating a plan to get to meet him (stealing his dog in order to take it back to Peter’s address after having ‘found’ it) she ends up moving in after revealing to him that she wants a child - he in turn apparently wants someone to do the house chores, cleaning, etc. But the silly girl doesn’t click on to the fact that’s obvious to viewers: he’s a complete psychopath who has a problem with beauty. This is temporarily fortunate for her because she’s actually quite ugly - a trip to the beautician later on doesn’t even do the trick (she comes out looking like a Wizard of Oz reject) - but, nevertheless and as others before her have discovered to their own disadvantage, her life is at risk.

Hey, you finished down there yet?

More of a thriller from Hammer and set in the modern day, the first 15 minutes or so setting up Straight On… is unnecessarily chaotic thanks to the erratic editing, but once the film settles down it becomes reasonably enjoyable and quite disturbing in some ways. Rita Tushingham’s performance as the child-like ugly duckling is good and endearing; Shane Briant as Peter comes across as decidedly odd, almost androgynous; the great James Bolam is underused unfortunately. The killer’s motivations seem like something out of an Italian Giallo, though, apart from the brief but admittedly horrible (despite no real gore being shown) ‘murder’ scenes, the film doesn’t stray too much into horror territory. However the final act (the tape playback scene) actually sent a chill through my blood, something that rarely happens with a Hammer film (it’s even got an 18 certificate here in the UK!). In some respects this oddity can be considered a successful venture.

 

The Optimum DVD picture quality is excellent with lots of detail and nice colours, and presented correctly at 1.66:1. It also features a commentary by Tushingham and is therefore pretty much identical to the US disc put out several years back, i.e. the film is better specified on DVD than you’d expect for such an obscurity. Worth checking out.

Posted on 11th March 2007
Under: Thriller | No Comments »

Severance

2006, UK, Directed by Christopher Smith

Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Pathe, Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

A group of Office-style (as in, the British TV series) characters who work for an international arms company are on a coach intending to embark on a team-building mission in the Eastern Europe outback where they’ll be staying at a lodge in the middle of nowhere. Getting stuck thanks to a fallen tree the driver refuses to take them on a detour, rushing off as soon as they’re all off the coach and leaving them to head the rest of the way on foot.  Locating what they believe to be the lodge they continue with their increasingly pointless team-building weekend until things start happening - someone or something is picking them off in surprisingly gruesome ways.

 

An emphasised mix of comedy-horror, Severance tackles a sub-genre that can be difficult to pull off, and hasn’t been successfully accomplished on many occasions in the new millennium. Therefore it’s refreshing and reassuring that someone (Smith) is capable of doing it, not only competently but brilliantly. The set-up is great for character building as they’re people we can warm to thanks to the fact that they’re stereotypes in many ways, i.e. instantly recognisable. The boss (Tim McInnerny) is almost David Brent, but manages it without ripping off Ricky’s famous character, plus there’s a joker, a snob, a nerd, etc. But Smith subverts expectations in so many ways his work can often be described as innovative. For example, a dream sequence (something I’ve come to hate in horror films) is revealed to be such so smartly that you can’t help but overlook the fact that such a thing is an over-used convention. The humour may not appeal to all but I was nearly pissing myself on many occasions, and it’s blended almost seamlessly with tension and outrageous violence/gore. A black-as-hell comedy-horror that functions incredibly well and shows Smith to be a director of note for the future, having significantly improved on his previous outing, the reasonably entertaining Creep.

 

The disc transfer is a bit softer than it should be for a new film (I suspect that it’s of digital origin rather than film) but looks pretty good, while the 5.1 mix is lively and powerful. The rear of the Pathe box suggests that the film is presented in a 2.35:1 ratio, but it sure looks like 1.78:1 to me. It’s loaded with extras (commentary with director and stars, deleted scenes, etc.) and, if you can take a bit of excessive gore and like this kind of insane humour it’s a film well worth picking up for a great time. A rare slice of smart film-making in an unforgiving genre.

Posted on 10th March 2007
Under: Horror | No Comments »

City of the Dead

1960, UK, Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey

Black & White, Running Time: 78 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R1, VCI; Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: DD Mono

In the secluded village of Whitewood a witch is burned at the stake in an opening similar to Bava’s Mask of Satan - but not before she summons satanic help that will ensure she returns from the dead and cause the village to be forever encompassed by the curse of witchcraft. 300 years after the burning a young college student who is studying the paranormal decides to take her research to a higher level by actually visiting a village that was known for its witchcraft in the darker ages - that of Whitewood. Upon arriving it seems to be a place that has stood still in time, where the denizens are given to acting abnormally and the church is out of bounds. It’s not long before she vanishes prompting concerned friends to retrace her steps to find out what’s happened to her. Something sinister is still going on in Whitewood it would seem…

This place gives me the creeps...

Apart from the fact that a few elements haven’t dated too well (e.g. the ‘hip’ college teens), this is a tremendous supernatural horror with mountains of beautiful atmosphere - the village itself is a joy to behold, with dilapidated buildings and omnipresent mist, populated by strange people who seem to be trapped in time somehow. Oh, and a demented priest. The B&W cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and I think this is one of the best genre films before the more violent and hard-hitting era that was to begin with the 70s.

 

There are low-grade releases of this film available both in the UK and US, but the US VCI disc remains the definitive presentation, effectively disposing of all others - you owe it to yourself not to view this film on one of those effortless public domain-type releases. For their 2-disc UK release Redemption ported everything here except the commentaries, though downgraded the image with an NTSC to PAL transfer. VCI’s correctly framed picture looks fantastic, the sound is well represented, and there are essential extras: a commentary with Christopher Lee (who has a smaller role in the film), another commentary with Moxey, an indispensable and riveting 45 minute interview with Lee that is pure talk and no unnecessary interruptions with movie clips - he’s lived a truly enviable life. Further to that there are shorter interviews with Moxey himself and Venetia Stevenson, plus more. A superb disc of a great film - get it!

Posted on 9th March 2007
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Login     Film Journal Home     Support Forums           Journal Rating: 5/5 (16)