Archive for July, 2007

Four of the Apocalypse

1975, Italy, Directed by Lucio Fulci

Colour, Running Time: 104 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Anchor Bay, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Mono

In a town called Salt Flat, a passing outlaw, Stubby, is thrown into jail for his sins where he meets several other downbeats including the mentally imbalanced Bud, a man who may or may not be able to see ghosts, the alcoholic Clem, and an attractive young prostitute called Bunny. The town comes under a nocturnal attack by a horde of masked raiders who bloodily to wipe out a significant portion of the population but forget to invade the small prison before departing. Everyone in the jail is overlooked during Death’s brief visit and the sheriff decides to release his prisoners. The four mismatched associates set off into the desert, heading for some utopian place called Sand City. Along the way they come across a group of travellers who they temporarily bond with, later meeting a malevolent lone bandit called Chaco who invites himself into their party. He soon betrays them by drugging them, tying each of them up (using this opportunity to violate Bunny), and leaving them to die in the desert as he takes off with their transport and possessions. Chaco fails to acknowledge that the group are stronger than he expected: soon they’re on the move again by foot but it’s not long before they find the travellers they met earlier on during the trek - Chaco has slaughtered them all; Stubby vows that the bandit has to die. Increasingly encumbered with the disadvantages that his friends bring with them (Bunny is pregnant and weak, Clem has been shot and now unable to walk, Bud is rapidly losing his marbles) Stubby leads them on south through the blistering heat towards their near-mythical objective. Discovering and deciding to briefly stay the night in a deserted ghost town, Bud appears to be in his spirit-witnessing element and Stubby begins to realise just how far gone the black man is, Clem’s physically deteriorating condition adding significantly to these problems (not to mention Bunny‘s expanding belly). The group is falling apart but Stubby still has his vow to fulfil and Chaco is not far ahead.

The results of last night's teen party.

One of the last of the spaghetti westerns Fulci makes a distinctive mark on the fading genre. The characters exhibit problems that make their journey through hell even more difficult - Clem lives to drink, Bunny has been impregnated by one of her unseen customers, Bud can barely act sanely, progressively becoming more unhinged as the distance travelled increases. Stubby is the only one amongst them who can keep things moving and it makes one wonder why he even bothers tagging them along. Scenes of gore and violence punctuate the action sequences that were extreme for their period - not expecting them I found them all the more gruesome; a man is tortured by being skinned, the pregnant Bunny is raped, a bullet is graphically removed from Clem’s bloody wound, the horrifying revelation of Bud‘s insane attempt to find the group some food, etc. The impact of these scenes is enhanced by the respective character responses, which are quite convincing sometimes. Anchor Bay have done well to locate and reinstate the nastiest of this footage back into a print that was once excised of it. The landscape is appropriately photographed and utilised to create the backdrop of an almost surreal nightmare, this being underlined by the environmentally incongruous towns the group encounter - some blisteringly hot, one drenched in pouring rain, and one seemingly womanless place that’s covered in snow. The film does lose pace somewhat during the prolonged birth sequence, unnecessarily focusing on the effects that it has on the townsfolk and remaining primary characters, and shortening this could have improved the sombre pace (which sometimes drags for me) significantly in my opinion. Otherwise we’re left with something that may not appeal to fans of traditional westerns, but has merits in many areas for those willing to undertake its fairly harrowing voyage.

That's the last time I take a summer holiday in England!

As mentioned, AB have compiled the most complete cut retaining the Italian audio track in its entirety along with an English dub that covers 98% of the dialogue (one scene was never dubbed for English markets and switches to Italian with English subs for a minute or so). They’ve also put together a series of retrospective interviews with Fabio Testi (Stubby - the actor later also appeared in Fulci’s boring Contraband) and Stubby’s nemesis Chaco, played by Tomas Milan, the latter speaking in English for his segments. They’re quite revealing both in opinions and facts (e.g. the snow-town was shot in Austria; Lynne Frederick (Bunny) was the wife of Peter Sellers, etc.) and the 17-minute piece makes a worthwhile addition. Film image looks very good considering its age, being clean and free of damage, and this disc (along with its recently re-released identical brother on the Blue Underground label) can be looked at as the definitive rendition of one of Fulci‘s more interesting projects.

Posted on 29th July 2007
Under: Other | 2 Comments »

Day of the Triffids

1963, UK, Directed by Steve Sekely

Colour, Running Time: 94 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, BBC Worldwide; Video: Letterbox 2.20:1, Audio: DD Mono

A prolonged meteor storm initially seems harmless due to the fact that the rocks appear to be burning up through the atmosphere before any damage to the Earth’s surface is done. If anything it proves to be something of a spectacle as people everywhere stare in fascination at the light show far above the planet’s surface. But by morning the real damage that the meteor shower has caused begins to make itself apparent as most of the population of England has been blinded by the previous night’s star-gazing. An injured naval officer, Bill Masen, wakes up in hospital with his sight intact thanks to having his head completely bandaged, therefore rendering him unable to witness what was happening. Following the suicide of his now-blind doctor, the unmasked Masen leaves the deserted hospital to find the streets in chaos - people are staggering around unable to see, vehicles have crashed, communications have been lost, etc. As he enters the train station he realises that public transport may be out of the question when the next train fails to stop, crashing into the barriers before hundreds of confused people spill out onto the platform. Among the sightless Masen finds a little girl who had similarly missed the meteor storm and is still able to see. The second consequence of the meteor attack then provides an additional obstacle - it appears that some form of life has been carried to Earth on the rocks in the form of seeds that grow into flesh-eating plants, and these are quickly developing into as genuine threat as, not only are they numbered in the millions, but they can also physically uproot and move towards their intended organic victims. Together Masen and the girl set off towards the safety that he expects to be provided at a Naval base and so begins their expedition south through England and to France. Meanwhile, as they realise what’s going on, a couple of scientists are conducting their own studies in the confines of a secluded lighthouse in the hope of finding a solution to the problem that is threatening the very existence of mankind.

OK, who's been smoking in bed!

Bearing the production date in mind there are flaws with the film that are reflective of the period: the special effects are usually cumbersome and detract from the overall impact of certain scenes, some of the onscreen ideas can be lacking in verisimilitude (e.g. the blind railway ticket attendant still at his post?!? That’s what you call loyalty!), a ‘wild’ party bringing back fond memories of Carrie Fisher’s segment in Amazon Women on the Moon, the ice-cream van sequence near the end reminding me of the xylophone joke from Monster in the Closet, etc. But, strangely, for all that the adventure that ensues with the two heroes as they cross from one location to another, meeting various survivors on their trek, gradually becomes quite gripping partly due to the fact that the film focuses more so on the human drama that unfolds in the wake of the apocalyptic backdrop. There are snippets of activity here that remind me of things that turned up later on in more widely appreciated movies - the boarding up of the lighthouse for protection (Night of the Living Dead), the radio broadcasts gradually dying off (Dawn of the Dead), the hospital awakening of a hero who finds a devastated London outside (28 Days Later), etc. On the level of an end-of-the-world survival sci-fi drama it works pretty well despite its problems.

 

Released by BBC Worldwide through a label called Partner Entertainment the transfer is a bit of a mess. The print is well worn, faded, de-saturated, and lacking in definition (not helped by the fact that it’s non-anamorphic), though they try and get themselves off the hook with a statement on the back cover: “Due to the archive nature of this film the sound and picture quality may vary.” Too right it does - it alternates between bad and terrible. The one thing that it has going for it is the fact that it’s almost correctly framed, but otherwise this is not too much better than a VHS picture, though I found a noticeable improvement by boosting the contrast. It’s a point to note though that all DVD releases that I’m aware of are inadequate in this department so, although this disc is difficult to obtain these days, this will have to suffice until something better comes along (I did hear a year or so ago that some sort of restoration was taking place). Note that the John Wyndham novel on which this is loosely based was later adapted again in the 1980s for a BBC a television series, that being released a couple of years ago on DVD.

Posted on 24th July 2007
Under: Science Fiction | 2 Comments »

Onegin

1999, UK/USA, Directed by Martha Fiennes

Colour, Running Time: 102 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, EIV; Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DD Stereo

Eugene Onegin is rich, handsome, fortunate, admired, popular, and bored. He’s invited to gatherings, concerts and other social events hosted and attended by people that fail to interest him. Hearing of the death of a wealthy uncle who dwelt in a provincial state, a reluctant Onegin and his servant embark on a trip to briefly visit the place for the will reading. Attaining more land as well as a mansion from the deceased, his attention is almost immediately captured by the young, exquisite Tatyana, the naïve sister of the fiancée (Olga) of his newly acquired friend, Vladimir. Onegin decides to stay in the country location for a while, clearly his presumed-dead enthusiasm for life has been stirred into motion but unexpectedly Tatyana also develops an infatuation for him over the coming weeks and, possibly emulating something from one of the novels she regularly borrows from the Onegin mansion, she decides to write him a letter in an attempt to explain the increasingly powerful feelings that are afflicting her. But, invited to a nameday gathering in her honour, Onegin’s cynicism prevails and he outright rejects her affections. Seemingly as a means of concealing his own emotions from himself he dances with Olga at the party and then insults her in a conversation with Vladimir. Overwhelmed by the assumed threat that Onegin poses to the stability of their relationship, and the dishonour directed towards his fiancée, Vladimir declares that they must face each other in a duel at dawn. The rich noble is not entirely convinced this is the way to solve their personal problems but is culturally obliged to go along with it. Tragedy follows, forcing Onegin back to his abode in St. Petersburg, but a chance encounter later causes him to realise that his original acknowledgment of Tatyana’s presence may actually be evident of genuine love, this initiating a change in his attitude and behaviour towards the now-married woman.

Somewhere in Time

Based on a classic nineteenth century Russian serialised poem (later to be published in its entirety as a novel) by Alexander Pushkin called Eugene Onegin, the film follows previous adaptations going as far back as 1911. It’s a historically-set romantic tragedy utilising the skills of Ralph Fiennes as the titular character (pronounced onn-yey-gen), his sister Martha making her directorial debut, Toby Stephens as Vladimir and, surprisingly, Liv Tyler as Onegin’s soul mate. The cast and crew do a brilliant job of creating a lost time and universe inhabited by people who either are damaged or will be at some point. Onegin is not someone who is easy to sympathise with because his boredom has so encompassed his existence he has in turn become boring, appreciating nothing - not even the potential devotion of the beautiful and nubile woman he seemed destined to meet. There is indeed the suggestion that these people cannot escape their fate, no matter how doomed it may leave them. Despite his apathy there is passion remaining in Onegin’s soul somewhere, obviously evident in his eventual realisation of his love for Tatyana but also in his emotive response to the result of the duel with Vladimir. Martha Fiennes does an amazing job in directing her crew to delineate potent imagery, emphasising the cold and indifferent world that the characters are forced to reside within. The morning duel scene is a great example of her intuition, being set against the backdrop of a misty lake next to an old mill that is functioning incorrectly. The film is full of these powerful cinematic paintings.

 

Released before EIV really understood the DVD format the picture is slightly soft and the dull stereo track does little to embellish the score that should have enveloped the viewer with its inherent poignant beauty, but the film is strong enough to carry the average transfer. The on-set interviews are informative but didn’t add too much to my enjoyment. Almost a family effort with several of the Fiennes making a contribution, Onegin proves to be an appropriate representation of an unusual and revered book.

Posted on 21st July 2007
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The Fleischer/Paramount Superman Cartoons

The Fleischer studio was founded in the 20s by brothers Max and David, two innovators in both animation technique and technology (Max was responsible for the rotoscope process, something that allows the artist to copy the photographed movements of a live subject) who were experimenting with film and sound even before it was unleashed upon the general public and producing notably distinctive artistic styles in their drawn work, this being evident in things like Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. Gradually becoming more of a subsidiary to Paramount, who had been distributing their films and providing financing, it was a sad irony that Max and David were effectively forced to resign from their own company as the larger studio took control. However, before their departure, and at Paramount‘s request, they managed to produce a series of ten-minute cartoons based on the popular Superman comics (although it was actually Paramount who obtained permission to use the character), even managing to acquire an Academy Award nomination (“Best Short Subject“, only beaten by a Walt Disney/RKO Pluto short) for their work on the first film.

S4

Not seeing these animated films before I approached them with some trepidation, having recently caught some of the late 60s Spider-Man cartoons that I loved during childhood and realising as an adult that both the animation and artwork were of hopelessly bad quality (the drawings themselves were desperate; the movements seem to have been implemented at about four frames per second; the spider on his costume [during season 1] only had six legs! ‘Nuff said?) - for some reason I thought that these Fleischer films might have fallen into the same trap of being rushed due to budgetary constraints. How wrong. The first Superman animation (1941), despite only being ten minutes long, had a budget in the region of fifty thousand dollars (even the Popeye films were costing around fifteen thousand at the time). The remainder were made over the next two years, nine when the Fleischers were effectively in control, and the other eight after their dismissal and the transforming of their company into ‘Famous Studios’ by Paramount. There is a noticeable difference between the first nine and the remaining eight, the former predominantly focusing on threats of the fantastic kind while the latter featuring more down-to-earth storylines about war criminals and the like (acquiring propaganda overtones in the process) - the notable exceptions to this rule being The Mummy Strikes and The Underground World. The Fleischer narratives seem to progress at a faster pace as well as demonstrating greater intuitive creativity and, although the Famous shorts did a reasonable job of replicating the formula, I personally prefer the first nine.

S6a

One notable difference in the Superman mythology was evident in the first episode: after landing on Earth, baby Kent is taken to an orphanage where he grows up, this completely omitting the role of the adoptive Kents from the comics where, I believe, they initially dropped him off at the orphanage to collect him for upbringing a few years later (obviously, in the Christopher Reeve films it was the orphanage that was omitted altogether). They also changed the way he moved through the air from mere jumping (which he does in the earlier episodes) to genuinely flying, a convenient aspect that was then taken on by the comic book writers and subsequent film-makers.

S5

The voice talents for the two leads, Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander, were carried over from the radio series (that popularised the famous line, “it‘s a bird, it‘s a plane…”), while the 1940s news-style narration (as well as Perry White) was performed by either Jackson Beck or Julian Noa. The over-the-top musical score, kicking in every time Kent transformed, was always credited to Sammy Timberg. Dave Fleischer directed the first nine, following that episodes were shared between Dan Gordon, Seymour Kneitel, and Isidore Sparber. Various writers and artists were employed during the run.

S2

Executed utilising Technicolor the artwork itself is almost always quite stunning, extremely colourful and extravagant, making stylish use of shadows as often as possible. The regularly used rotoscoped animation is quite a joy to watch and, taking the visual style as a whole, it’s understandable why these shorts have taken on such a historically significant and influential status. Subtle facial expressions and other oddities are fantastically implemented on occasions where laziness or lack of imagination would have reigned with most film-makers. Bearing in mind that everything was hand-painted in those days, the amount of effort that has been put into the gorgeous and plentiful backgrounds is astounding - the series is a work of art.

S3

The stories themselves usually move at a lightning pace, barely wasting a second as each tale unfolds so rapidly the viewer must refrain from blinking if he/she doesn’t want to miss something - fast-paced storytelling is clearly not the exclusive domain of modern children’s entertainment. Kent is not the clumsy soul he became with Christopher Reeve’s definitive interpretation, but he is usually pushed to the sidelines as Lois relentlessly chases every potential story possible, invariably landing herself in mortal danger before Superman has to bail her out. One of my favourite examples of this occurs during The Magnetic Telescope - during a meteor storm that is devastating America people are running from the building that Lois is in before it collapses, but while everybody else is making for the door she decides to turn back so she can use the telephone to call in the story to the Daily Planet! Unsurprisingly she gets caught under the rubble as another meteor hits and Supes has to rescue her yet again. Each film tends to conclude with a newspaper article that Lois receives credit for - not only would she have had little to report if it hadn’t been for the alien hero, her overly zealous career drive at the expense of everything would have got her killed long ago. She does appear to be a feisty and rather foxy (for a drawing!) individual that makes her an appealing lead, though her life-endangering absentmindedness does make you shake your head at times. Her moral stance is often unscrupulous too - in order to capture the glory of an exclusive during Volcano, Lois actually steals Clark’s press card so she can gain access to the danger site forcing him to go back to request a new card. He still ends up saving her butt too. Kent does, however, pull a similarly crafty stunt at the beginning of The Mummy Strikes.

S1

Failing to renew the copyright on many of the original Fleischer works, including Superman, Paramount allowed them to fall into public domain and this resulted in the seventeen Superman shorts receiving a number of substandard DVD releases by various companies. Generally these have been transferred from video archives and it has shown. DC Comics ultimately came to own the original vault elements for these cartoons and Warner Bros. in turn purchased DC, this leading to the eventual restoration of Superman for inclusion on new DVD releases of the Christopher Reeve movies. They’re available in the complete four film (9 disc) UE box, or spread over the Superman The Movie (4 disc) and Superman II (2 or 3 disc) sets. Despite being available cheaply prior to that due their public domain status, these are the versions worth owning. There are negative scratches visible, sometimes abundant, but otherwise these are stunning reproductions. The aforementioned movies are worth owning just to pick up these cartoons.

S7

Episode titles followed by original theatrical screening dates:

Superman (26 September 1941)

The Mechanical Monsters (28 November 1941)

Billion Dollar Limited (9 January 1942)

The Arctic Giant (27 February 1942)

The Bulleteers (27 March 1942)

The Magnetic Telescope (24 April 1942)

Electric Earthquake (15 May 1942)

Volcano (July 10 1942)

Terror on the Midway (August 28 1942)

Japoteurs (18 September 1942)

Showdown (16 October 1942)

Eleventh Hour (20 November 1942)

Destruction Inc. (25 December 1942)

The Mummy Strikes (19 February 1943)

Jungle Drums (26 March 1943)

The Underground World (18 June 1943)

Secret Agent (30 July 1943)

Posted on 15th July 2007
Under: Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

Vampires

1998, US, Directed by John Carpenter

Colour, Running Time: 103 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Columbia, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Somewhere in New Mexico the Catholic organisation are funding a team of vampire hunters, a group of guys who travel around locating undead bloodsuckers and destroying them - their procedures now second nature, down to a fine art. During one particular heist of a nest that’s masquerading as a derelict house, the team leader, Jack Crow, is concerned when there’s no sign of a Master - the one responsible for immortalising his underlings. Later on the entire team and a group of hookers are attacked and slaughtered in their hotel suite by the hitherto absent Master, leaving only Crow, Montaya, and an infected prostitute to escape. It becomes clear that the Master knew more than he should have and there may be an informer among the Catholic administration but, not only that, the being may well be the supremely powerful Valek, the first vampire who has existed for hundreds of years and is now searching for a black cross that will enhance his powers and make him invulnerable in sunlight. Using the prostitute as a psychic link to Valek they decide to try to hunt him down and eliminate him before he finds the black cross.

M6 - rush hour

While no doubt a talented film-maker, Carpenter always seems to have found consistency to be a challenge, embarking on a duff project at approximately every second or third increment. The book that this is based on could hardly lay the greatest claim to originality (a simple glance at the title is indicative of that) but, despite the omnipresence of clichéd characters and dialogue, the material has been transformed into an entertaining adventure. A bit of a musician too, Carpenter provides the western-orientated rock score (this is not the first time he’s musically contributed to one of his own movies) and it brings a touch of laid-back anticipation to the proceedings. Another standout element is the efficient Panavision cinematography, a recurring constituent of the director’s work - many of the images created here are striking. James Woods as Jack Crow is a bit too old to be cool now (the last time he managed that was probably Videodrome in 1983) but he always makes an alluring lead, even if he is a little corny here. The suggestion that his parents were murdered by the undead is also too unimaginative to create any sympathy for his character’s motivations. There’s plenty of well-executed gore to get your teeth into (excuse the pun), as well as some welcome nudity and violence. For its shortcomings it’s a world that can be revisited and immersed in many times.

 

Columbia’s disc presents the film correctly framed with image flair in abundance. There is some question about the colours - releases in other territories seem to look surprisingly different chromatically, but until we see a ‘director approved’ version we won’t know for sure which is the most accurate. Detail could be sharper but Vampries is a good experience on DVD.

Posted on 13th July 2007
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Blood Sabbath

1972, USA, Directed by Brianne Murphy

Colour, Running Time: 82 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Pegasus; Video: 1.30:1, Audio: DD Mono

Travelling man David is wandering through the woods after being sprayed with beer by a passing hippy girl with her breasts out, when he finds a place to kip down for the night, unaware that a group of naked female hippies are initiating some sort of orgy nearby (how come that never happens when I sleep in the woods?). Before long several of the nubile young women are investigating his body (and that certainly doesn’t happen), generally disturbing his sleep. Waking up the next morning he finds the rabid women gone, but in their place is Yyalah, a quiet blonde (does this guy’s good fortune know no bounds?) who seems reluctant to reveal who she is, only departing after he forces her to promise to return. Soon unconscious again, he reawakens but in the home of an old beggar (okay, perhaps things are not looking so good now…) whom he joins for lunch. David can’t stop thinking about Yyalah and starts hanging by the lake hoping to see her again, not realising that she’s actually spying on him. He soon runs into her again but the melancholic girl seems socially distant and unlike anyone he’s ever met before. She leads him to a secluded cave where they begin kissing but there’s a crazy sorceress prowling around who we find out has some sort of deal going on with the old beggar: he is supposedly supplying her with victims for sacrificial rites and, having spotted him with Yyalah, now she wants a piece of David too. It’s not long before the witch, naked of course, is casting a love spell on David, but he’s already falling in love with Yyalah - the only problem is, she can’t fall in love with someone who has a soul, and thus begins his quest to lose his soul.

Fancy a ride?

Barely a few minutes can pass by in this film without the actresses stripping down to the bare flesh, and therein lies the film’s only attraction: naked women (and Western women never looked as consistently sexy as they did in the seventies), because the story or technical and artistic aspects certainly have little going for them. One point of minor interest is the appearance of Dyanne Thorne as the sorceress, later to star in the Nazi sexploitation Ilsa films. The general feel of this movie is of very obscure, low budget seventies genre films such as Till Death, Reborn, and The Child, but Blood Sabbath is bottom of the barrel no matter what you compare it to. Then again, there is the abundance of naked female beauties to consider…

 

I’ve noticed this has appeared on one or two cheapo DVD labels in the UK. The Pegasus disc is hardly a stellar example of the digital format but I suspect the others are no better - a rough, soft, washed-out, fullframe transfer is accompanied by a muffled soundtrack and some meaningless stills from the film. One for fans of fairly bad films and naked bodies.

Posted on 9th July 2007
Under: Horror | 1 Comment »

Night of the Demons

1987, US, Directed by Kevin S. Tenney

Colour, Running Time: 90 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Anchor Bay, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Halloween nineteen-eighty-whatever: a group of teens are invited to a night party in an ancient, supposedly haunted house by the college misfit, Angela. Arriving at Hall House in the middle of nowhere the group set about drinking, dancing, and generally trying to mate with each other. After the stereo batteries expire one of them suggests a ‘past life séance’: they have to stare into an old mirror long enough for them to catch a glimpse of what they looked like before reincarnation. This they do, but it’s not their past lives they see but some sort of monstrous being. Awakened from slumber the creature possesses one of the girls and a killing spree begins as each one of them becomes spiritually claimed by the demon. The survivors, however, can no longer find a way off the premises, and may be doomed.

You look FINE, baby... come as you are...

Plot-wise it’s not a million miles away from The Evil Dead, aside from both the group of teens and the house itself being larger. The house is quite a morbid joy to be whisked through with its decrepit state and labyrinth-like structure; apparently a derelict property in LA being used (requiring 24-7 security while they were on set due to the dangerous nature of the area). Even some of the camerawork here apes Evil Dead, with a sweeping move through the corridors to simulate the demon’s arrival. The characters are not the kind of people you’d really like to be friends with (unless you’re obnoxious yourself), but they do provide some amusement. My favourite character is unfortunately barely used - one of the girl’s has a sarcastic little brother who gets to utter some great lines. Linnea Quigley appears as Angela’s friend and predictably removes her clothes as soon as the opportunity arises (on one occasion allowing her to insert a lipstick tube into her nipple; a rather pointless but novel idea). The eighties this is, and there are a few gory moments (though not excessively so) along with demonically possessed creatures verbalising failed humour, teens going off to have sex, etc. The film kind of works as a moderately enjoyable piece primarily because the house itself is amazing, but also due to the hammy acting, which manages to entertain at times. The music during the brilliant animated opening credits is fitting but composer, Dennis Tenney, clearly had little idea about writing film scores - the electronic score gradually becomes incessant, periodically actually resembling the music from the old Capcom arcade game, Ghosts and Goblins. It’s a little bit nostalgic watching material like this, and that probably helps a viewer to cut it some slack and enjoy the movie for what it is.

 

Released in England back in the late eighties by good old Palace, the VHS was slightly cut and presented fullframe. Anchor Bay US have released this definitive uncut edition (almost identical to the Palace tape for content) by utilising a couple of sources (there is visible shift in quality on several occasions). Mostly it looks very good, but the alternate shots appear to be video-sourced. As this is not particularly frequent it’s not too distracting, and AB are to be congratulated for putting in such effort. Not only that but they roped Tenney in to record a commentary, plus filmed an interview with Ms Quigley herself, looking a bit rougher but having a few interesting tales to tell. The Dolby audio reproduces the original Ultra Stereo track quite nicely, though I needed to boost the bass somewhat. Amelia (AKA Mimi) Kinkade (playing Anglea) returned for two sequels, neither of which I’ve seen. If you like eighties teen comedy/horror trips then this is not a bad viewing experience if expectations aren’t too high, but it’s certainly no groundbreaking masterwork.

Posted on 7th July 2007
Under: Horror | 2 Comments »

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

1992, USA, Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Colour, Running Time: 123 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Columbia; Video: Anamorphic 1.75:1, Audio: DD 5.1

Setting off for Transylvania to sell English property to the enigmatic Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker encounters and ventures through a mystical land to the count’s castle. Dracula seems to be an ageing, ailing nobleman but, due to renouncing God several centuries before, he has become immortal and cursed to live off the blood of the living for eternity. Harker soon finds himself imprisoned by the strange man as he makes the property deal. Recognising the woman he loves (who committed suicide in his own natural lifetime) in Harker’s fiancée, Mina, as a possible descendent, the count proceeds to enchant the young lady upon his arrival in England having left Harker behind at the hands of three undead women (not a bad fate by any stretch). But Mina’s friend, Lucy, becomes a victim of Dracula’s blood-thirst and on the scene is summoned the eminent Professor Van Helsing, who suspects vampirism as the cause of Lucy’s rabid/anaemic state and, before long, the Romanian count himself becomes the focus of his suspicions.

Lost in Oldham...

It’s a story that hardly needs iteration, even to people who’ve never gone out of their way to read Abraham Stoker’s 1897 novel or watch one of the many cinematic adaptations. Those really started back in 1922 with Nosferatu (the unofficial version by Murnau whose prints were ordered to be burned for unauthorised use of material) through to famous versions from Universal and Hammer studios. The story also inspired some idiosyncratic interpretations in the shape of Blacula, Blood for Dracula, The Horrible Orgies of Count Dracula, crap like Zoltan Hound of Dracula and about a million others (presumably copyright control was lost years ago…). Coppola’s take on the story is sometimes maligned however I’d suggest that there is significant imaginative input here to feast your eyes and ears upon: consistently there are things happening both visually and aurally such as shadows moving across the walls in a physically impossible manner and whispers coming from all corners of the room (if you’re listening in 5.1 of course) as well as the delineation of generally thoughtful compositions and camera movement - the stunning visuals make this piece a moving work of art. Some viewers/Stoker fans may abhor Gary Oldman’s eccentric performance as the titular character but I think it’s an adequately chaotic and personal portrayal - who knows precisely what Stoker had in his mind really? I do, however, think that the casting of Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves as the Harkers was a problem (Reeves was made for The Matrix, Speed, and Bill & Ted but that‘s about it; Ryder wasn‘t even any good at shoplifting), but I’m reasonably able to overlook this, probably due to the fact that the editing whisks us around so many different locations and characters so rapidly. As a matter of interest the film was made just before the massive CGI revolution of movie special effects and most of what has been achieved appears to have been done in the traditional sense. Accompanying the omnipresent sound effects is a supremely epic and sweeping score by master composer Wojciech Kilar (The Ninth Gate), a constituent of the technical efficiency that pervades the production. Disregarding the occasionally excessive emphasis on romance (and it is only occasional), the aforementioned miscasting, and several unnecessary instances of ostentatiousness on the part of various crew/cast, the film is an example of a beautiful and fantastic world that one can allow him/herself to be absorbed into should they wish to do so.

Do you mind shoving that thing elsewhere?

Quite old now the Columbia disc was exemplary of the DVD format for its time. Nowadays, while it is still highly detailed, it lacks a little vibrancy compared to most modern releases. It’s still a pleasing (albeit slightly cropped) image and the 5.1 track itself serves the film well, enveloping the viewer in Stoker’s suitably recreated supernatural world (the later bonus-less ‘Superbit’ release contained a marginally more detailed image with a superior DTS soundtrack; Criterion also put out a 3 disc SE on Laserdisc years ago with many more extras than are contained on the DVD). Included is an excellent documentary looking at certain aspects of the film’s making and revealing actors such as Oldman taking the project surprisingly seriously. There is also a stills feature focusing on Eiko Ishioka’s amazing costume designs. Overall, a 90% wonderful piece of re-viewable and literate work with flaws that you can ignore if you‘re willing.

Posted on 3rd July 2007
Under: Horror | 4 Comments »

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