Sunday, 30 December 2012

Retro Review: Keep It Up Downstairs (1976)

keep it up downstairs british sex comedy

UPDATED WITH INFO ON THE DVD RELEASE!

cock sausage
Made to cash in on the successful British TV series, Upstairs Downstairs, this 1976 British sex comedy tells the story of the Cockshute family, whose fortune is dwindling so much that they have had to get rid of the family jewels ("the glories of our past are now paste") and are at risk of being evicted until obnoxious Snotty Shutteworth (the fabulous Willie Rushton) comes up with a plan - allow him to move in, and they can all stay. This suits the family fine, despite some reservations that it may upset their rather unusual routine. The servants, headed by butler Hampton (Neil Hallett, Virgin Witch, Groupie Girl, Can You Keep It Up For A Week?) seem to be up to all sorts of shenanigans with the masters.

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The youngest of the bunch, Peregrine (Jack Wild, the Artful Dodger from the musical version of Oliver!) is more interested in inventing down in the basement and even spurns the advances of his sex mad step-mum, played by the glorious Sue Longhurst. They come up with a plan to marry him into some rich family, and invite them around. Francis (John Blythe) and his wife Daisy (Diana Dors) who just so happens to be a former showgirl who Hampton recognises. With them all there, and the nuptials all but arranged, they come up with a better plan - steal their jewelry in the middle of night, but things go awry when the midnight liaisons start, but could Peregrine's latest invention, a pliable rubber sheath be the key to a change in their fortunes?
sue longhurst jack wild sexfrancoise pascal sex comedy sue longhurst sex comedy
Full of familiar faces, and shot on location at the grand Knebworth house, Keep It Up Downstairs is a fun, if not quite hilarious film. Some amusing double entendres and visual gags and some surprisingly good acting. A cut above the usual 70s fare, largely down to the period costumes and the impressive cast.

francoise pascal mary millington willie rushton sex comedy

francoise pascal sex comedyThe lovely Françoise Pascal (The Iron Rose, Burke and Hare) appears as Mimi, the French maid and steals the scenes she is in. While she (apparently accidentally) slips a nipple out in one scene, she was adamant not to reveal anymore (despite having done photo spreads in some top shelf publications; she later said she was fed up of titillating men) and one scene involves her having to bend over out of a window, and have her bare behind seen to from the inside (giving Françoise the attention is Simon Brent, who was the lead in her first screen role, Norman J. Warren's Loving Feeling). Mary Millington, who appears as another chambermaid, provides Françoise's rear for this shot, amusingly as it doesn't match with Madame Pascal's Mediterranean complexion. In her fabulous autobiography, As I Am!, she tells how she asked Mary about her choice of career, "Why Not? My body is beautiful and sex is healthy" was the response. Françoise's next major project was the hit UKTV show, Mind Your Language. A show I remember watching at 7/8 year old, and loving. Barry Evans, himself a veteran of my beloved 70s sex comedies starred as the hapless adult eduction language tutor. I've just managed to purchase the complete series (3 seasons) on DVD, and look forward to re-watching soon.
 
Also appearing are Carmen Silvera ('Allo 'Allo), Aimi MacDonald (Vampira), who sadly keeps her clothes on, and some of those "I know their face" actors, Julian Orchard (Carry On Henry) April Olrich (The Skull) and Peter Halliday (Virgin Witch, Madhouse). It benefits from a great script by Hazel Adair, who also wrote (under the name Klaus Vogel) Brit horror Virgin Witch as well as co-producing it and Can You Keep It Up For A Week? Using her real name was a considered brave, as of course, women don't and can't think of any saucy or sexual. The director was none other than Robert Young, who had made the brilliant Vampire Circus for Hammer and went on to make the classic House of Horror TV episode, Charley Boy as well as the rather awful A Fish Called Wanda sequel, Fierce Creatures. He directs the romp well, the late night farce moments especially, making it far easier to watch than some of the genre, although reports from the set were that the actors had no idea what was going on from one day to the next! The film has disappeared from view, however. A late night screening on Channel 5 in the UK or second hand copies of the old VHS being the only chance to catch it, which is a shame as it's certainly better than a lot of the films that were re-issued in the "saucy 70s" DVD boom.
7 out of 10
UPDATE: 
The NETWORK DVD release has now been released, and I'm happy to report that, like their recent releases of The House In Nightmare Park, Spanish Fly and Konga, the results are brilliant. Transferred from the original elements, and presented in both it's theatrical ratio (1:66:1) and as-filmed 4:3, the film looks stunning, especially after having to put up with a dodgy VHS transfer previously. Although There was one scene (the first scene with Willie Rushton) which demonstrated a strange colour fluctuation, nothing too annoying - but noticeable. The film still holds up as a saucy postcard type comedy, helped by it's brilliant cast, especially Sue Longhurst (why she is not billed higher I don't know). A highly recommended release of a film from a time when British cinema had a sense of humour. DVD: 8 outof 10
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                        keep it up downstairs network dvd jack wildkeep it up downstairs network dvd francoise pascal
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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Review: God Bless America (2011)


If ever there was a film that put forward almost all my current feelings about the state of the world at the moment, it is this one. Surprisingly, it comes from the brain of annoying voiced reject from the Police Academy sequels, Bobcat Goldthwait. You may also remember him in the much more watchable Scrooged (1988), arguably one of the best versions of the Dickens classic.
God Bless America tells the story of Frank (Joel Murray, Hatchet), a regular Joe who is becoming increasingly pissed off with constant diet of reality TV, cruel 'talent' shows and the general way people are in the 21st Century. When he's diagnosed with a brain tumour, dismissed from his job for doing what he sees as a good turn, and distraught that his estranged daughter has become a spoilt brat, he decides enough is enough and rather than take the bullet himself, he begins gunning down all that he thinks is wrong with America. Along for the ride, and under false pretenses, is equally rebellious and opinionated teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Together they head across country with their shared hatred with what the world has become.
As biting a satire as you're ever likely to see, the first half of the film is spot on with its observations, and manages to create situations which, if seen on TV for real, you would have no problem with believing, and despising. Once the duo head out on their killing spree, it becomes a slightly different beast, almost coming apart at the seams before bowing out in a blaze of glory.
All the targets are worthy, the inane American Idol shows, with their willingness to mock those who desperately seek fame but don't have the talent to earn it. The glossy reality shows which follow  kids and their vacuous parents. Inane commercials peddling the latest 'humourous' ringtone.
The opening sequence, with Frank laying, Jesus Christ pose, fantasing about killing his inconsiderate, noisy neighbours, blasting their constantly screaming baby with a pump action shotgun, sets the films intentions from the outset.
While it's hard to justify the harsh actions of a man pushed to the limit, à la Falling Down, the verbal tirades make for hilarious, if often sobering viewing. Amusingly, Roxy has a rant at Diablo Cody ("the only stripper who suffers from too much self esteem") and her sassy teen creation Juno while being almost the same construct.
Without the killing spree, the film could have been a Network for the new Century, but as it is, as much as it is entertaining, it's hard to justify murder. The film is at its strongest when it's just the two leads discussing the ills of the world like adults.
Another major plus point for the film is the simply stunning soundtrack. Filled with great songs by fabulous artists, from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Beat The Devil's Tattoo, no less than three songs by Alice Cooper (who gets a fantastic tribute also) to the brilliant cover of The Kinks' I'm Not Like Everybody Else (the original punk anthem) by The Chocolate Watchband.
If you've sat down on a Saturday night and looked at your Facebook or Twitter feeds and seen nothing but imbecile comments on whatever crap is on TV and felt sick to the pit of your stomach, then this film is for you. If you watch those shows, don't bother because all you'll get out of this is "wow - those killings were cool"; which I doubt is the reaction Goldthwait wanted.
9 out of 10

Friday, 19 October 2012

Review: Inbred (2011)


poster gore dominic brunt chandon

Writer/director Alex Chandon came on my radar back in the early 90s when his cheaply shot on video shorts Bad Karma and Drillbit began doing the rounds of horror fans via illicit VHS tapes, swapped or sold via the small ads in fanzines. After his last film, Cradle of Fear hit big with the fans he's been a little quiet, so it's great to see him back behind the camera with Inbred, just out on DVD/Blu-ray after wowing fans at the festivals for the last year.
inbred alex chandon
A group of teenage offenders are being taken on a team/character building weekend by their two support workers, Kate (Jo Hartley) and Jeff (James Doherty). The big mistake they make is taking this obnoxious bunch of tearaways to a remote Yorkshire village of Mortlake, where outsiders are not particularly welcome, but do at least get to participate in the local's "show".
From the moment they set foot in the pub, The Dirty Hole, a place which makes the Slaughtered Lamb look like Disneyland, things are bound to go wrong. The only food on offer is home made pork scratchings; "The sign says hot food available here" quizzes Jeff to friendly but odd landlord Jim (Seamus O'Neal) "it says NOT food available here", this and the lack of Coca-cola (the group have to make do with a very suspicious looking homemade lemonade) means they don't intend to stay too long in the hostelry.
Setting about doing some "work"; salvaging copper from some abandoned railway carriages, two of the kids, Sam (Nadine Rose Mulkerrin) and Tim (James Burrows, also seen in Eden Lake) fall foul of three of the yokels, led by suitably creepy Gris (Neil Leiper). Jeff is accidentally injured while attempting to protect his charges, and while trying to get help from Jim, things suddenly get a whole lot worse for the group.
While on paper it may look like you've seen this all before, Chandon has surpassed all his previous output and made a wonderfully gory black comedy that is, and this is important as lots of films fail on this count, actually really scary. You just do not know how far these locals will go to "keep to themselves" From the bizarre shows that the visitors participate in (whether they like it or not); complete with a minstrel ringleader (PC? Not on Chandon's watch), which of course draws likeness' to that other insular village, Royston Vasey but my mind went instantly to Trevor Howard in the glorious Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, to the village's band of quite literally inbred folk - most with the same dental problems - strange peccadilloes (wait until you see the porno mags!) and their own village anthem, the surprisingly catchy "Ee by Gum" (written by long time Chandon collaborator Neil Keenan). The score (by Dave Andrews) is fantastic in itself, as is Ollie Downey's cinematography, who makes the stunning Yorkshire dales a foreboding place.
dirty inbred gore doninic brunt paddy podge chainsaw
An appearance from one of Emmerdale's most lovable actors, Dominic (Paddy) Brunt as the twitching, chainsaw wielding Podge is a highlight. (check out my review of his film, Before Dawn here) His Leatherface dance is brilliant, and he clearly having a ball, as are the other actors. Mat Fraser, the actor who thrilled us all in Kung Fu Flid, even pops up at one point. There is also a brief appearance from British scream queen Emily Booth which is hilarious. 
Despite the oddness of the locals, there is no attempt in the film to ridicule them or portray them as outcasts. They are just people with a different way of life. A homicidal, bestial and cannibalistic way, granted, but it is their way.
Full marks go also to the film's special effects, there's plenty of gore on offer here and it is surprisingly effective, with practical effects, polished off digitally.
inbred chandon minstrel
The Blu-ray release is topped off with an hour or so of on set video diary type featurettes, which are entertaining and show the fun the crew and especially Chandon had while making the film.
Highly recommended for those with both a strong stomach and a wickedly dark sense of humour. A cult classic already.
9 out of 10
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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Review: Before Dawn (2012)

before dawn dominic brunt zombies
Back in April I attended the rather ill advised (or at least badly organised/advertised) "MancMonCon". The highlight was seeing a 15 minute preview of Before Dawn, yet another indie zombie movie. I read the blurb and took the chance. Little did I know the director/star of said film was none other than TV soap vet Paddy from Emmerdale, Dominic Brunt. I was aware before this that he co-ran (with co-star Mark Charnock - Marlon) the annual Leeds Zombie Festival, but not about his aspirations as full blown horror star/director. Even from this short extract I was blown away by Brunt's take on the genre, and I finally managed to catch the full film at Grimmfest in Manchester, where the cast & crew were interviewed on stage afterwards by Starburst Magazine's Paul Mount (of Paul Mount's TV Zone fame).
before dawn dominic brunt zombies
Alex (Brunt) and Meg (Joanne Mitchell) are having marriage problems, and in an attempt to save their union have left the kids with Meg's mum, Eileen (Eileen O'Brien) and rented a cottage away from it all in the middle of the Yorkshire moors. Alex is trying desperately to have Meg to himself, even hiding her phone as the constant interruptions threaten their peace. When she goes out jogging and is attacked and bitten by what seems to be a rabid stranger, any thought of peace goes out the window as it becomes apparent that all is not right with the outside world.

before dawn dominic brunt zombies
before dawn dominic brunt zombies
The film marks Brunt's directorial debut and he does a fantastic job of creating a believable, real world scenario juxtaposed with a horrific zombie apocalypse. Hints that something is wrong are given from the very beginning; a distant scream, an abandoned car, but they are more than just clumsy plot pointers, they ease us into the nightmare scenario. The undead threat here are of the 28 Days Later rage filled variety - with a neat little twist in that they appear dormant until roused by anything nearby - and are truly terrifying. Alex's first encounter with one in the garage is brilliant - tense and exciting. An interesting development brought in later in the film (as well as plenty of exposition) by a cameo from Shameless star Nicky Evans (who looks like he's been transported from the set of a 70s grindhouse film) causes Alex to make a decision that can only be made by a man so desperate to save what he can of his life. Had this just been a regular marriage in crisis film it would have been powerful enough, the added zombies and gore (of which there is a surprisingly large amount) amps the tension. It is probably the scariest zombie film for a while, and it doesn't fall for the cliches of "oh here's a gun - blam! blam!" What we have here is more akin to kitchen sink horror, those involved have never had to fight for their lives before so wielding a weapon is not second nature.
The music compliments the visuals perfectly, idyllic then aggressive when it has to be, and everyone involved should be very proud and happy with the result. While I can't see it being a crowd pleaser (it is far too downbeat for that) it deserves a major release and success.
before dawn dominic brunt zombies
Grimmfest: Brunt, Evans, Mitchell and digital FX man Neale Myers
Before Dawn is expected to have a DVD release early next year, with a possible cinema run too but until then it is doing the festival circuit. Make sure go and see it. More than highly recommended.
9 out of 10

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Retro Review: Julie Darling (aka Daughter of Death, 1983)


Young Julie (Isabelle Mejias) loves her daddy. A little too much, unfortunately. They spend lots of time together, mostly hunting, and Julie, it seems, is quite a crack shot. After a string of fall outs with her mother (Cindy Girling) which culminates with her setting the teen's pet snake loose, Julie has a strop and puts her headphones on and locks her door. This coincides with her mom getting brutally attacked and raped by the local delivery boy she asked to help get rid of the pet. Just about hearing her screams in the nick of time, she grabs her rifle (every girl should have one) and aims it at her mom's assailant. Dawdling a little too long, and suddenly mom is dead, her head smashed against the wooden floor. Realising she now has her Father (Anthony Franciosa, Tenebre) to herself, she allows the assailant to make his escape.
Father and daughter adapt to live alone, the blossoming teen taking advantage of having the grieving father to herself, even going so far as to consoling themselves by sharing a bed. As time goes on, father  Harold meets a new woman, Susan (the marvelous Sybil Danning) who moves in along with her son. Julie isn't happy with this arrangement, but puts up with it until a chance comes that she must take. Playing hide and seek while the folks are away, the boy hides in the refrigerator that is conveniently lying around their garden, and Julie shuts the door on him. When the parents return, they find him just in the nick of time, and drop the bombshell that they have married. Susan has her suspicions about Julie, and has it out with her in a fantastic scene acted out over a game of chess. Julie must hatch a bigger plan to oust the pair and have daddy all to herself again.
This early 80s piece of nastiness comes (with the "help" of co-writer Maurice Smith) from Paul Nicholas, the director who brought us the best WIP flick, Chained Heat (1983). Although it is a thoroughly entertaining piece of sleaze, there are a few moments that are quite troubling. The homicidal child routine has been done before, many times, and better than this. The troubling moment comes when Julie awakes to the sound of her father and his new wife making love. She opens the door slightly to peek inside, and then imagines herself in the throes of passion with him instead. It's one thing having incest hinted at, or just under the radar, but to go all out and show it takes some balls as a film maker! I'm guessing Mejias was older than her character when she played this, as there is some nudity involved, and the film has not been impounded. The real problem with having this in the story, however is that is never mentioned, or hinted at again. Similarly, Susan has a tense heart to heart with Julie over the game of chess. Basically telling her that she knows she is trying to get rid of her and her son (who we don't see again after he's saved from the fridge) . Yet, a scene or two later, she asks the young girl to help steady a ladder she's working on, right at the top of some stairs! Talk about trust. Talk about a missed opportunity for Julie!  Although there are flaws - some of the younger actors are abysmal - it is a quite effect exploitation film, with plenty of nudity and well put together scenes of violence. The ending is fantastic, so I won't ruin it.
THE UK VERSION ANOMALY
I picked this up for £4 on a UK DVD release by Elstree Hill. They have, of course, got a reputation of putting out shoddy and awful prints on their DVDs, and Julie Darling is no exception. It's probably sourced from a VHS copy, full frame, not even pan and scan. The opening titles are actually "Ulie Darlin" and it's quite muddy and dark. There is a Code Red US release, but it's OOP and costs a lot more than this (although I wouldn't mind hearing the commentaries, as there are one for each of the two main actresses). The back of the box does warn "some quality may have been lost during the transferring process". No kidding. At least it's not as bad as some of their other releases. The real interesting (for want of a better word) thing about the UK release, is it has a PG rating. Considering what I have already said about the subject matter, the fact that there's plenty of violence, nudity (although no front bottoms, sadly) and one "F" word, I was surprised to say the least. After doing a check on the BBFC website, which has a great database search facility, I found not only had Elstree Hill not put the film through the board to get the PG certificate, but the film has NEVER been rated in the UK, making this release completely illegal. I'm pretty sure it would have had a pre-cert VHS release, but it was never rated for cinema or home viewing. Buy it now, kids before they get wise.

Apart from all that, it's a good, solid piece of trash cinema and Sybil Danning's boobs are always worth a look, ain't they? (No disrespect meant, as she is brilliant in this)
6 out of 10