Archive for July, 2008

The Child

1977, US, Directed by Robert Voskanian

Colour, Running Time: 83 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R1, Something Weird; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: DD Mono

Rummaging through the monolithic back catalogue of horror movie history you come across many films by directors who were never heard of before or after, plus a number of gold nuggets that have slipped to the bottom of the lake along the way. Sometimes alternatively known as Zombie Child or Kill and Go HideThe Child falls into both categories in my opinion, though it’s not a favourite among the majority who’ve seen it, either because my tastes are very exclusive or perhaps because it never found its target audience. Having said that though its target audience was never going to be large numbers of people. Exploitation specialist Harry Novak executive produced this (one of his last movies, but who the hell was Rob Voskanian?), and some may have come to this one having seen his preceding notorious work. Alicianne is on her way to move in with the Nordens as a housekeeper and babysitter. On her way the (vintage?) car malfunctions and she’s forced to make the rest of the route through the woods on foot, during which she runs into an old woman who delivers a few warnings about the locale. Once at the Norden place she meets the old man, his strapping son, and the young Rosalie. Immediately on arrival there’s something decidedly morbid about Rosalie - she seems to be humoured by stories of people suffering and apparently visits her mother’s grave in the cemetery next to the house in the middle of the night. There seem to be some eerie inhabitants in that cemetery too but it’s a long time until we get a clear look at them, though gradually it becomes apparent that they’re putrescent corpses - the walking variety - and Rosalie possesses some sort of psychic connection with these creatures. As it’s revealed that she’s using these monsters to kill off anybody that causes her any kind of irritability Alicianne and the Norden son are forced to make a run for it but the corpses rapidly close in on them, trapping them in an old industrial plant.

Alicianne

It’s apparent from the beginning that the atmosphere of The Child is a little bit different to that of your average film. I mean, there are relatively conventional plot points in there that could have been considered unoriginal - it’s obviously the product of a post-Night of the Living Dead era, with elements of The Bad Seed in there as the rear of Something Weird’s cover rightly acknowledges - but the feel is offbeat and appropriately supernatural. There are two factors that I believe contributes most significantly to this. One is the overall look of the image. Possibly it has been shot on 16mm given the appearance of the film used (though the IMDB lists it as 35mm, so I can’t be sure), and the cinematography is quite stark. Secondly, there’s the amazing sound design - the score and sound effects are extremely imaginative and unique. I know it also utilises looped dialogue and that can be considered amateurish itself if not conceived under highly professional conditions but I think here it possibly adds to the idiosyncratic feel of the world being created. It is also, however, undeniably cause for some amusement as Rosalie in particular blurbs her lines in such a strange and emphatic fashion. Creature design is quite excellent too: Voskanian makes the smart move of only partly revealing them in earlier scenes rather than adopting the show-all ethic of many such films, but later when we get full sight of them they’re strikingly eerie things. The assault on the old building with the two protagonists trapped inside mounts progressively in tension, almost resulting in a worthy successor to Romero’s Night…. Perhaps if it had been made ten years earlier though The Child might have been recognised in the same light. As it is, few people have seen it and many of those few have simply disregarded it as an amateurish rip-off, which is a shame because I think it has much more to offer than that and has stood up well over a number of viewings too.

 

After discovering The Child in the early nineties on a horrific looking video cassette whose image alternated randomly between colour and B&W (that’s not a feature of the film itself, rest assured) it was fantastic to find the Something Weird DVD with a comparatively incredible transfer. It appears to be a slightly cropped version of the full negative but essentially looks balanced. There is excess print damage at reel changes but this settles down after each intermittent bout, although at one point during a fade-to-black the screen is an absolute mass of speckles and scratches but I really don’t mind being reminded that I’m watching the product of ‘film’ in this digital day and age and the fact that it’s only of periodic concern should make it quite bearable for all but the most anal of fans. As was the tradition with SW there is quite an entertaining arrangement of extras, though few of them actually relate specifically to the feature film itself. There are some funny short documentary films made around the fifties about ‘creepy kids’, lots of insane trailers for movies you never knew existed, some great radio spots for flicks like Invasion of the Blood Farmers (played over an amazing collection of exploitation movie posters) and an entire feature film as added bonus. I Eat Your Skin is pretty bad all round - I used to own the SW video cassette of this one and here the disc transfer is actually more than acceptable in comparison, though somewhat lacking in definition by modern standards. SW have managed to fit all of this on one side of a DVD too - you get your money’s worth there’s no doubt but it’s a cool disc to buy just for The Child for fans of the more obscure zombie film.

Posted on 31st July 2008
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Fascination

1979, France, Directed by Jean Rollin

Colour, Running Time: 78 minutes

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

Among those that have seen and dislike Jean Rollin’s work his skills behind the camera are undoubtedly in question. His movies may sometimes come across as clumsy or amateurish with his performers usually only vaguely aware of what constitutes good acting. But he made films over a three decade period with regularity, and aside from stopping off at one or two other genres along the way he generally drifted between porn and fantasy horror often amalgamating the staples of his two specialist areas with wanton disregard for established trends. Could there have been something more to this man and his material than tits and cheapo vampire teeth? By 1979 he had established himself as a prolific director in both porn and erotic vampire cinema, and Fascination would seem like a collision of the two at times with less overt emphasis on the latter than his earlier works. In the middle of rural France there’s a castle where two attractive females waste away their days, apparently waiting for some initially unspecified event. Elsewhere a group of bandits have robbed some poor sod carrying a fortune in gold and are about to make off with it when an argument splits their group and Marc makes off with the bag having betrayed his fellow criminals. After a struggle with his hostage he is located in the woodland by the other thieves and is forced to take refuge in the aforementioned castle, where he meets the two girls. Threatening them with his, er, gun the women appear to be distinctly unperturbed by his aggressive attitude towards them. Meanwhile the other bandits are keeping a safe distance from the castle effectively preventing Marc from leaving while waiting for their chance. It becomes apparent that Eva and Elisabeth are awaiting the arrival of a posse of bourgeois females in the middle of the night for some sort of ritualistic meeting. Unable to leave due to the gun-toting bandits outside and now unwilling to leave anyway due to a notable degree of sexual enticement from Eva, Marc is destined to be swept up in the strange activities that are about to take place in the castle.

Cover yourself up, you're a bloody disgrace!

While Rollin’s commonly used theme of vampirism is evident in this film it’s not visible to the point of fanged, blood-sucking people being present as it was in movies such as Le Frisson Des Vampires. This serves to provide both an interesting new slant to his favourite subject as well as removing one of the things that newcomers may have previously found hard to digest: very odd looking vampires. It takes a subtle backseat as Rollin crafts a surreal world which Marc becomes enslaved in, notably signified by the meteorological shift that takes place as he gets closer to the castle - the area is surrounded by mist. Eva and Elisabeth are gorgeous young women and obviously reflective of his regular theme of two female companions as protagonists that invades almost every Rollin movie. That Marc is trapped in a house with these two indicates that Rollin is purely recreating his own sexual fantasies on film and I think it’s this exhuming of the creator’s own omnipresent dreams that helps lend the work its share of artistic authenticity - beneath the surface there’s a tangible beauty here that’s difficult to fake. Eva is of course played by Brigitte Lahaie, star of a large number of porn flicks during the seventies including a few of Rollin’s, and her range of ‘skills’ is utilised in Fascination wherever possible without descending the story into outright hardcore. Her relationship with Elisabeth is slightly more complex than what we see on screen, this being hinted at when the latter displays a certain amount of suicidal jealousy upon Eva’s demonstration of sexual affection for Marc, though who she’s actually jealous of is quite ambiguous - perhaps it’s anybody when attention is not being directed at her. Marc himself is essentially a fool, a man who’s devoted himself to crime even to the point of stealing from other criminals and he wades into the girls’ world with a sense of arrogance that will eventually be stripped, and as such there is also an air of morality about the story that is flimsy but lurking nonetheless. Possibly more important than individual characters though is the surreal ambience that surrounds the situation that they find themselves in - it’s an odd world that has the boundaries between itself and reality blurred. Rollin’s landscape photography and exceptional use of locations here is, as ever, exemplary. Whether that’s a happy accident is for the viewer to decide I suppose. It’s also worth noting also that the music used in this film is among the best used for any Rollin venture and aids the visual material in several significant scenes. The most suitable approach to Rollin’s work is to forget about cinematic convention, remove expectation of complete verisimilitude, and sit back to witness the strange events of a place that surely can’t exist. Fascination is actually a better starting point than many of his other films and one of his best all round.

 

Releasing Fascination on video cassette during the nineties was something that helped Redemption become a respected distributor of lesser seen genre material. Many of the flicks they unleashed on their niche audience were almost impossible to see at the time and they quickly became a favourite of those who could appreciate cinematic obscurities. Unfortunately they failed to grasp the possibilities of the digital era when DVD arrived and their disc releases were consequently difficult to admire with companies like Blue Underground and Synapse appearing on the horizon. Fascination was their very first UK DVD some time near the format’s infancy so most issues can be forgiven considering DVD took a few years from conception to be perfected. The problem is that even years later their discs had hardly evolved and thus the only thing going for them was their obscure content - hardly an accolade in a new era. Things may be looking up for them, however, with what looks like a sparkling new anamorphic transfer of Lèvres de Sang materialising soon in the US. Anyway, Fascination in particular is correctly letterboxed though without enhancement. It looks reasonably detailed with copious print damage and some washing out of colours. Audio comes in MPEG format, something that was adopted to a small extent at the birth of DVD but quickly became overshadowed and eventually snuffed out all but completely by the much more marketable Dolby Digital. It serves its purpose but is at least in native French with functional subtitles for those of us whose grasp of continental tongue extends only to bon jour. Dark Side magazine later joined forces with Redemption to release the film on a double pack (limited to availability through the magazine) with another of Rollin’s greats, Requiem Pour un Vampire, though the claimed anamorphic enhancement provided no benefit due to the fact that it was from the same master. All in all there is a much better disc of Fascination to be sold to us at some point and I’m sure I’ll be one of those shelling out for it when it finally appears.

Posted on 26th July 2008
Under: Horror | No Comments »

She-Wolf of London

1946, US, Directed by Jean Yarbrough

Black & White, Running Time: 59 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Universal, Video: 1.33:1, Audio: Dolby Digital Mono

Despite the similarity of title this has nothing to do with Universal’s earlier and infinitely better film Werewolf of London, aside from perhaps the setting. It opens with a pair of detectives discussing a recent spate of alleged werewolf attacks on innocent strollers when they’re called out to another killing in the park. Meanwhile a love-smitten couple are riding horses around the same location discussing their marital future when the detectives arrive and are overheard discussing the deaths and possible nature of the perpetrator. Phyllis seems suspiciously perturbed by the discussion and her fiancée Barry promptly whisks her off back home. There is the hint of some sort of curse at the beginning of the story that appears to have afflicted Phyllis: after each night of mutilations in the park she wakes up with dirt and blood on her hands - is she transforming into a wolf and providing the papers with their sensationalist stories? She gradually becomes convinced she is and deteriorates mentally as the stability of her world collapses around her.

I'm sure there's a Netto around here somewhere.

A glance at the running time will reveal that this was a quickie for Universal, something that dragged few ideas of worth out of its writers. In the cinemas (released on a double bill with The Cat Creeps back in 1946) this only just about qualified as a feature film, being barely an hour long, and with PAL speed-up (i.e. 25 frames per second) it doesn’t even reach that. The actors approach their scarce material with what may be a reasonable attitude but they can’t turn dung to gold and their efforts are ultimately wasted on what eventually reveals itself to be an almost entirely pointless exercise. What’s worse, without wishing to give anything away, is the fact that it cheats its intended audience and disrespects the genre that its masquerading under - the trailer and title suggests that it will be something that it’s not, probably grasping at the only attempt possible to sell this to an unsuspecting public. Pretending you have a product of a certain nature on your hands simply to get people through the doors is hardly commendable. However, it’s relatively easy to spot early on that this isn’t really a horror movie, but that just turns the film into a rather boring way to spend an hour. In its favour there are one or two nice shots of the mist-enshrouded woodland, with the visually unthreatening cloaked female wondering through. The conclusive explanation of what’s going on and why it’s going on lacks solid logic and once again insults its audience, therefore I cannot recommend this.

 

A sharp and detailed image is joined by clear audio on the DVD release, though there is an odd anomaly that occurs: at the beginning of many shots there is a very brief soft focus effect that only occurs for two or three frames but is noticeable nonetheless, and somewhat distracting. This is no great loss, however, because the viewer will invariably become cataleptically bored to molecular solidification by the experience of watching She-Wolf of London. Find something else that will have some sort of effect on you other than hypnotically induced slumber.

Posted on 17th July 2008
Under: Other | 2 Comments »

Werewolf of London

1935, US, Directed by Stuart Walker

Black & White, Running Time: 72 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Universal, Video: 1.33:1, Audio: Dolby Digital Mono

After the success of Guy Endore’s 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris Universal missed the opportunity to hire the author as a screenwriter (MGM beat them to it - he went on to work on Mark of the Vampire, Mad Love, and Devil Doll for them), so they set about putting together their own wolf-man story. Appearing several years before the more commercially viable The Wolf Man the first real lycanthrope outing for the studio brought in Cornish actor Henry Hull as botanist Wilfred Glendon in search of a rare moonlight driven plant in Tibet. The scientist is mauled in an attack that occurs during an excursion through a valley that’s populated, as locally hypothesised, by demons - actually people that turn into wolves under moonlight. Having brought the plant back to England and now recovered from the vicious attack with only scars apparently remaining everything seems back to normal as he goes about studying the nature of his unusual find. Soon London is in the grip of terror as a series of murders and monster sightings threaten the safety of its inhabitants - Wilfred himself is afflicted with the Tibetan curse, transforming into a homicidal wolf-like man under full moon.

Okay, who's smothered me in Pritstick and rolled me around in a barber's shop?!?

This is quite a different beast (excuse the pun) compared to Universal’s Larry Talbot series. It didn’t have any major stars, though reportedly there was to be a werewolf film around this time starring Karloff - something that was ultimately abandoned. Hull had the opportunity to wear make-up similar to what Chaney would later adopt in The Wolf Man, but found the process arduous and too uncomfortable to endure so a modified version was developed by make-up artist Jack Pierce. The creature as a result is quite unusual, sort of a less monstrous cousin of Oliver Reed’s titular monster in Curse of the Werewolf. One thing that’s quite unique to this film is the fact that the transformed beast actually resembles its human alias to a point where it can be recognised by those who know him, such is the similarity of facial features. Also, the werewolf here is less animal-like than is often the case: this creature doesn’t so much as shed clothing as he does actually getting dressed up to go out - leaving home after one transformation the werewolf grabs his hat and coat on the way out! At a glance the roaming monster could be mistaken for Mr Hyde and even utters some words later on during the film’s closing sequence. One nifty little idea comes when Wilfred begins realising there’s a problem: experimenting with simulated moonlight in attempts to stimulate the Tibetan plant into growth his hand gets caught under the lamp and promptly begins growing hair. It’s difficult to say whether Hull’s monster would have been more effective with Pierce’s full blown make-up as I never thought Chaney’s equivalent looked exactly threatening, but Hull is not the most frightening werewolf to be put on screen. He is, however, quite an eccentric creation and very eloquent along the way. A nice plus is the presence of the beautiful Valerie Hobson as his wife. She played alongside Colin Clive as the baron’s wife in Bride of Frankenstein and a notably different character too - while in Whale’s film she was of a slightly melancholic disposition here she is bubbly and perpetually effervescent. She brings some unwanted complexity to Wilfred’s life when she begins flirting and going out with an old flame, a situation that possibly evokes some of the darker feelings that reside within Wilfred. The werewolf myth has always seemed like an expression of the cathartic manifestation of man’s less desirable emotions and thoughts - the literal revelation of the primordial animal that’s buried beneath evolutionary layers to the point of almost complete suppression, at least in those of us that generally abide by the law. Thus there is much going on underneath Wilfred’s uptight exterior that can be contributing towards the creation of a beast.

 

This DVD presents a sharp image and mostly solid greyscales, along with quite a degree of grain in darker sequences. Generally it’s very agreeable. The audio track has plenty of hiss that does not detract from any enjoyment along the way - on the contrary, I actually prefer to hear some of this on particularly old films so I have little problem with it as long as it’s not excessive or obscuring dialogue, etc. Extras are non-existent also my DVD shares its nine gigabytes with the decidedly inferior She-Wolf of London, an unrelated borefest and possibly the nadir of Universal’s monster series (if it even qualifies as such). Werewolf of London is well written, competently acted, and features some unique ideas that elevate its value as a movie, despite the fact that it’s not especially frightening or challenging.

Posted on 15th July 2008
Under: Horror | 3 Comments »

One Hour Photo

2002, US, Directed by Mark Romanek

Colour, Running Time: 92 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Fox, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

People who process film in photography shops are probably the most harmless you can imagine - I should know because I worked in one myself about twenty years ago. We were all pretty geeky and quite feeble for the most part and that’s almost exactly how Sy Parrish could be described in the early stages of One Hour Photo. He’s obsessively meticulous about his responsibility for customer’s photographs, ensuring their quality is maintained to (largely unnoticeable) high standards and the machines kept up to required specification. The only trouble is that he also takes extra sets of prints for himself to place on the wall at home, mostly of a family he has become enamoured with to a point way beyond mere fascination. He envies the beauty of their togetherness while his isolation is almost suffocating, therefore he develops a coping strategy imagining that he’s actually part of their family. Then his grip on things begins to slip: his boss finds out that the figures aren’t matching the number of photos that have apparently been produced and, in attempt to protect him and his own family, he lets Sy go telling him to finish off the week. To add to Sy’s turmoil he finds that Nina, the mother of the family he’s become fixated with, is being cheated on by her husband Will - a young woman brings some photos into Sy’s store that give the game away. Making efforts to get the secret out, perhaps so Nina might take more than a platonic glance at him, Sy swaps the prints brought in by Nina with those of the young whore who Will is mating with. When things don’t quite go as he expected them to his conscious torment is externalised and some sort of personal revenge on Will is executed.

You won't be smiling later, mate

The film is almost exclusively a character study; an analysis of Sy’s interaction with a world he’s internally at odds with, a glimpse of the immediate world around him and how it affects his life whilst simultaneously outlining the effect that he attempts to have on the world. In most respects he simply wants what’s considered to be normality, to be part of a family and actually be loved in a conventional manner, but the whole idealistic dream is evasive in the extreme and destined to be unattainable. Sometimes perhaps the faults hardwired into a brain cannot be repaired, such is the delicacy of our upbringings. He has also possibly allowed himself to fall in love with Nina, this fuelling the anger he feels when he finds out her husband is having an affair - something he’d never do. Plus Nina and Will have a young boy who he imagines himself being an uncle to and an unfulfilled attempt to give the boy a gift only adds to the anguish that builds towards his eventual loss of control. By the film’s conclusion we come to understand a little about Sy’s history and why he is psychologically unstable and desperate to the extreme, this delineation of character putting the viewer in a situation where they face empathising with a person who would have caused abhorrence had they been merely read about him and his crime in the newspaper or the like. The fact that such sympathy is elicited (at least in those capable of such a response) should send an appropriately sensible message about the nature of human evils: monsters are less likely to be born than made, usually by other monsters. Undoubtedly it will still be difficult for some to accept something which prevents them from expressing narrow-minded hatred for that which they don’t have the time, patience, or capability to understand but director Romanek makes a very potent point and this social commentary is in no small terms aided by Robin Williams’ riveting performance against expected type as Sy.

 

The Fox DVD presents an image with strong colours that’s consistently attractive to view. Alongside that is a 5.1 track that is subtle for the most part but making extremely effective use of the pulsing score. A sentient movie that makes a powerful statement while weaving fascinating character observation and evolution along the way.

Posted on 4th July 2008
Under: Thriller | 1 Comment »

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