Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Retro review: The Vault Of Horror (1973)

From the wonderful Amicus studios, another crazy 70s portmanteau film. This time the luminaries include Curd Jurgens (before his Bond stint in The Spy Who Loved Me), Terry Thomas, a pre-Doctor Who Tom Baker, Michael Craig and Daniel Massey (who appears with his real life sister Anna in the opening story).
Trapped in a basement of a large office block, with only some complimentary alcohol to break the ice, the group begin to re-count their individual recurring dreams, or as they turn out, nightmares.

The five stories are all based on the old EC comic 'Tales From The Crypt'- except one, the Thomas story - which has a brilliant turn by the lovely Glynis Johns and a cameo by the only other actor to play Dracula for Hammer Films, John Forbes-Robertson - comes from 'Shock SuspenStories'.
Like most of the Amicus films, they are quite light on horror and suspense, and go more for tongue in cheek gallows humour, and shocks with the twist in the end. The most horrific part of all is Terry Thomas getting into Glynis Johns' knickers (literally). Never the less, they are fun and never grow boring, as the short story format means you don't have to wait too long for a new tale if you're not enjoying this one...
Also worth watching out for are Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davis, who were big UK TV stars in the Doctor In The House series, playing student doctors. It was a brilliant touch which reminded me of the classic Ealing anthology, Dead Of Night (1945) which re-united Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who were synonymous together, after appearing as Charters and Caldicott in  Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). - Also in the Ealing film was Mervyn Johns, father of Glynis, but maybe I'm making far too many loose connections...
Small parts also go to Denholm Elliot, Carry On regular Marianne Stone and the ever reliable Arthur Mullard. A true British institution! Add to that the brilliant Roy Ward Baker's direction they don't make them like this anymore.

While Vault is not the best of the Amicus anthologies, it is a fun one. I just hope one day someone will discover some footage of the original ending, as seen in the old horror film books I used to read back in the 70s, with the cast (minus Jurgens who is unchanged) with their zombie/corpse faces. We can only hope and until then, keep on having the recurring dream... I know it's not much of a review, but I wanted an excuse to put a load of ace screen grabs up.
8 out of 10.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Retro review: Expose (1975) (aka The House On Straw Hill, Trauma)

linda hayden video nasty expose

Famed as the only British made of the original 'video nasties' of the 80s, Expose is still very hard to find in a full uncut form. The version I watched here was a copy of the original Intervision VHS release, the most uncut version that has ever been made available so far to my knowledge. The UK DVD release (as part of the Fiona Richmond collection, and the one given away with DVD world magazine a few years ago are both missing about 51 seconds).

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Paul Martin (the wonderful Udo Kier) is a successful writer, who is about to start on his second book ("which is in line for a Pulitzer"!!). He is also very paranoid, and suffers hallucinations of violence and slit wrists, which really is a downer as these happen while he's getting down to 'business' with his girl, Suzanne (Richmond). Part of his love making routine also involves wearing rubber gloves. VERY paranoid Mr. Martin!
linda hayden video nasty exposefiona richmond video nasty expose
He rents a cottage in the country and hires Linda (Linda Hayden) to assist him and do all the typing. He goes to pick her up from the train station in the quintessential British country, complete with Salvation Army playing and two roughians on peddle bikes. When Linda comes from the train, Paul thinks he has seen her before, which she denies, and he makes sure she is "quite used to a strict routine of course"
A little later, she gets unwanted attention from the two lads (Karl Howman 'Jacko' from Brush Strokes in a T-shirt that says ' I am a vampye'  and Vic Armstrong - who would later go on to be a prolific stuntman and assistant/second unit director - he apparently directed the opening scene from Terminator 2!!), but is saved by Paul who dispatches them with a swift kick to the balls.
As soon as they get back to the cottage they are to get to work on his book, but he lets her have a few minutes to unpack, where we see she has a photo of Paul in her bag, and one of an unknown man. This second man is obviously something special as she can't resist a quick dirty rummage.
Bringing Paul coffee soon after, he barks "you've been a long time!" to which she quips back "in coming?" Zing!
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During a break in the heavy writing schedule "this is my second book and the first time I've ever had to work to a deadline!" Linda goes for a walk in the straw fields which surround the cottage, where she can't resist another rummage. Unluckily for her, the two youths from the station are having a walk in the field with a shotgun. We suddenly jump to ol' Jacko's bum jigging about on top of Linda (this jump isn't from it being cut, it just goes that way). Foolishly, they allow her to get the gun, and blam!!
Meanwhile, Paul is rooting through Linda's drawers - literally - and finds her 'Saturday' knickers. Linda returns, and doesn't see fit to mention her abuse at the hands - and other parts - of the guys. The pair do a little more writing then Paul starts drinking heavily and is suddenly having his hallucinations again, and Linda has her third rummage of the film. This time Paul has a crafty listen at her door.
The dear old housekeeper of the cottage Mrs Aston (Patsy Smart - you might remember from the famous interrogation scene in Pink Panther Strikes Again "I said murder because you said murder!") is murdered in the night, by an unseen assailant. Has Jacko come back from the field or is it worse?
udo kier video nasty expose
Expose plays like Last House On The Left meets Straw Dogs, but without the rawness and impact of either. Some of the acting could be better (I'm looking at you Fiona Richmond, who looks like she uses the same tanning salon as David Dickinson) but it's an enjoyable (or sorts) romp and quite violent, but it's very debatable if the cut scenes are any worse than what we've seen in other films and especially recently, it's certainly nothing compared to films like Haute Tension (2003) or any of the Saw films. I'm guessing it's just the old BBFC no no of blood on breasts that keeps it from being released uncut.
A remake is due out very soon, directed by Martin Kemp (yep, the Spandau Ballet guy) called Stalker. It's being screened at the Manchester Grimmfest in October so hopefully I'll go and see that then and see how it measures up to this one.
As it is though, it's an Udo Kier film, and that's always a good thing even when it's bad. It does seem as though they've dubbed his voice, as it doesn't have that wonderful accent, but who ever did it, actually did a very good job for once (unless I'm wrong and Mr Kier reigned in the accent) Add in Linda Hayden, a stalwart of British 70s horror (naked as well) and it's reputation as a nasty, and it's a fun 80mins. It's worth noting also, that it has played on UK terrestrial TV at least once (although I've no idea on what was cut, if anything. Someone please get a good uncut version released!!
7 out of 10.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Retro review: Orgy of the Dead (1965)

From the pen of Edward D.Wood, Jr comes the marvel of Orgy of the Dead. Or something like that. Directed this time by the preposterously named Stephen C. Apostolof (under the alias A.C. Stephen), but no more adeptly. The film opens with the legendary (no really) Criswell, rising from his coffin to read his cue cards (not very convincingly of course)

"I am Criswell. For years, I have told the almost unbelievable, related the unreal and showed it to be more. Than a fact. Now I tell a tale of the threshold people, so astounding that some of you may faint. This is a story of those in the twilight time. Once human, now monsters, in a void between the living and the dead. Monsters to be pitied, monsters to be despised. A night with the ghouls, the ghouls reborn from the innermost depths. Of the world."
Almost every word is given the wrong emphasis. That, of course, is the joy of watching The Amazing Criswell (and indeed almost any 'performer' who worked with Wood).

Bob and Shirley (William Bates and Pat Barrington) are driving at night trying to find some inspiration for Bob's next horror story, or at least it is night in some shots, when they crash (denoted by screeching tires and a spinning freeze frame). They then find a misty studio graveyard watched over by 'The Emperor' (Criswell) and his minions, a Morticia/Vampira-a-like (Fawn Silver), and a group of dancing topless girls. Or ghouls. A mummy and a wolfman are there too, almost like C3PO and R2D2, passing comments over the (sadly) rather dull dancing. You know, I never thought I'd get bored watching a steady parade of jiggling and bouncing boobs (Barrington herself appears as one). One of them is whipped while dressed as a big cat ("a pussycat is born to be whipped") , another has a Bettie Page in the jungle type wig (and comes complete with stock footage rattlesnakes) , and one blonde just basically flops her knockers about. All fun for a few minutes, but it goes on... and on. Until sunrise, of course when they they all turn to skeletal dust.

More convoluted dialogue from Criswell breaks up the boobage, but it's still far too long. If they'd have made it under an hour it would have been quite enjoyable in a so bad it's good sort of way, but at almost 90mins it drags...

The DVD quality though, is just brilliant. No low budget bad film like this deserves to look this good! One for the fans of Wood (the writer/director, not as in 'getting wood' - because despite the titillation there's no chance of that) and bad films in general, but probably best 'enjoyed' in small chunks, or in the background of your groovy beatnik party. As with 'bad movies' it's impossible to rate 'fairly'.. I enjoyed it, though, for all it's 'charms'
5 out of 10

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Red State (2011) and Kevin Smith Q & A in Manchester, UK!

Note: Red State posters used were released because Gavin Ap’ Morrygan (@Tearsinrain78), Darryl Clarke,Jamie Calder (@jamiecalder), Dan Duffy (@TheHalfFund), Heath C. Ice (@hcice) and FilmThreat.com (@filmthreat) bid $2050 to earthquake and tsunami relief for Japan. Go to http://www.redcross.org for more info, and to donate and help save lives.

Wed 14th September, and the legend that is Kevin Smith - he of Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma, Chasing Amy, and er.. Jersey Girl is in town to show us his new film. Silent Bob is in the his-house!
OK, so I'll try and reel in my fanboy glee at finally getting to see the man in person, and get to the event.
The film, Red State has been toured by Kevin exclusively for the past few months in the States, since he famously, and quite controversially,  told the gathering would be distributors at Sundance what he was going to do. Add to this his lack of "press screenings" (meaning someone who is going to tell you whether to pay to see a film or not seeing the film for nothing) and Kevin has not made any many new friends in the press/distribution companies. Does he care? Not one jot. As it turns out, he probably made the exact right decision, because in the hands of a big company, I don't think Red State would have stood a chance. It would have been buried as a straight to DVD flick. Why? Is it that bad? No, quite the opposite. It's a relentless, take no prisoners film. I'm reluctant to even go into too much detail about plot, etc.. because I think that would take the experience of seeing it away from the viewer. Unless you have had your head buried in the sand and haven't heard anything about the film, all I will say is it revolves around three smalltown school friends who want to get laid (so far, so Kevin) and a religious group, The Five Points Church, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) who are the sort of organisation that protest at gay kid's funerals. Parks is superb. As is all the cast, and Kevin quite rightly sings the praises of all involved in his post film talk. If there is any justice (and lets be honest, we know there isn't) Parks and a number of other cast members (even John Goodman) should get at least a nomination nod come awards time, and if Parks is not up for an Oscar, then it would be the only negative thing to come from the way Kevin is distributing the film.

Kevin himself calls this a horror film, on paper you wouldn't think it was. However, in Abin Cooper, Kevin has created the ultimate monster. A man who believes the downright nasty, evil things he does and says are true, righteous and worse still, moral.
The film becomes a tense, nerve racking drama almost as soon as you begin to get settled into the characters, and it's not too long before you realise that as well as using their First Amendment Rights to free speech, the Cooper clan are also stock piling on the Second. Of the 90min running time, you are on the edge of your seat for the majority, and completely absorbed in this Waco style situation. If you want laughs, watch the trailer. All the 'jokes' you're going to get are there. In the context of the film, they, as Kevin says, give you a very brief moment to breath before being dragged back to that seat edge. Also, do yourself a favour, and see the film in a CINEMA. It has been released on the Video On Demand market in the States for a limited period before good old Lionsgate release the DVD, and as such, it's all over the place if you know where to look. But do yourself the favour this time, and wait for it on the big screen, the film will be back in UK cinemas at the end of September (minus Kevin, but please don't let that put you off). I'm pretty sure I'll be going back for more. 10 out of 10.

After the film screening, @That Kevin Smith (his Twitter name) made his appearance. Drawing our attention immediately to the monk style bald patch on the top of his head and expressing his knowledge of Factory Records and Tony Wilson (even giving a a little of Love Will Tear Us Apart before his a brief 'Manchester, England...')  Going straight into a monologue about the film, it's influences and the actors. Kevin loves these performances. He is proud of them. He has every right to be. Sadly, I can't go into detail about a lot of what he said, as there would be a lot of spoilers for the film.
Kevin tells us that this is his 'grown up' film, and he's right. Also, despite this being his second religion based satire he has his own beliefs, which no doubt confounds the zealots even more. The stories of his infiltration of the demonstration outside a screening of Dogma are well documented, and Red State did not go unnoticed by these plaque waving idiots either, and we hear how he got a bunch of people to make their own signs to wave back at the Phelps Westboro Baptist Church organisation who had come out to protest at this 'fag enabler', A tag Kevin actually liked.

We got a great story about his wife, Jen Schwalbach getting a role in the film (cos he wants to keep getting laid) despite her - A. being an atheist playing a religious nut, B. being totally against firearms and having to shoot a gun, and C. not really being an actress. She is really, though. And a very good one at that. We got a great story about the original ending to the film, thankfully it was re-written but it still would have been something amazing! There was a question from the audience asking what was the first horror film that scared Kevin. The answer, probably unsurprisingly for anyone who knows Kevin's films was Jaws. He was even scared of toilets after, "because there's water down there." A priceless night, and a splendid film. Roll on February and the Jay and Silent Bob Get Old UK Tour...