Monday, 29 April 2013

Review: The Lords of Salem (2012)

Following Rob Zombie's somewhat disappointing take on Halloween, comes a all out assault on the senses, in the form of witchcraft horror flick The Lords of Salem.
 A major plus point for the film is the use of often overlooked but brilliant genre actresses, especially Judy Geeson (Goodbye Gemini, Inseminoid) and Patricia Quinn (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). It's, of course, always a pleasure to watch Dee Wallace too. Not to mention there's an almost unrecognisable, nude turn from Meg Foster.
Recovering addict Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) hosts a late night talk show on a local Salem radio station, aided by two Hermans, played by Jeff Daniel Phillips and genre veteran Ken Foree. When she plays a record left for her by an unknown band called The Lords (dubbed The Lords of Salem by Foree's Herman) during an interview with local author and authority on the witch trials, Francis Matthias (the brilliant Bruce Davison), it has a strange effect on the women of the town - and Heidi herself. Her landlady, Lacy (Geeson, who is fantastic and downright terrifying in one particular scene) and her two sisters, Megan (Quinn) and Sonny (Wallace) take a little too much of a shine to Heidi, and she starts to hallucinate as her life begins to spiral out of control, and she resorts back to drugs to deal with the haunting visions she is being confronted with. Meanwhile, Matthias researches both Heidi's past and the music of The Lords with startling results. The band themselves, are due to play an invitation only show in the town as the anniversary of the infamous witch trials approaches.
The Lords of Salem provides the kind of experience you would expect from David Lynch had he made horror films, and is both beguiling and bewildering, intriguing and repulsive. With numerous surreal, nightmarish sequences and an oppressive sound design which underlines the visuals. It's such a shame that this has not had a proper cinema release (a few one off screenings is just not enough) as the bass in some scenes is almost bowel shattering! The choice of music is stunning, too with The Velvet Underground, Rush and Rick James alongside the original score by Marilyn Manson/Zombie guitarist John 5 and producer/composer Griffin Boice. It would have been nice to hear the full "Lords Theme" on the soundtrack CD though!
Zombie has created, once again, a film that will polarise opinions, but it certainly one which requires more than one viewing to do it justice and to absorb the barrage on the senses. While his detractors accuse him of just re-hashing other tropes and films, the homages that pepper his work show a great deal of love and even more knowledge of the genre. The horror world needs someone like Zombie, and while he hasn't quite found the perfect recipe, with The Lords of Salem he has certainly gone in a different direction to his earlier crowd pleasing flicks, House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil's Rejects (2005). This film will confound the casual Saturday night horror crowd, those who are only out for some visceral scares (although they will no doubt get off on Sheri Moon's lovely behind, the aforementioned appearance by Foster will put them off their stroke), but for those who like it completely off the wall, there's plenty to devour here. If there's one major criticism, it's why is there no Blu-ray release, and no extras? We need to see the cut scenes filmed with Udo Kier, Camille Keaton, Clint Howard, etc.. in the promised film within a film Frankenstein and the Witchfinder. Someone please make this happen!

8 out of 10

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Retro Review: Hollywood Boulevard (1976) Joe Dante/Candice Rialson

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Candy Hope (Candice Rialson, of infamous talking vagina film Chatterbox) has come to Hollywood to make it as an actress. She is taken with the town, and hangs about under the famous Hollywood sign pondering her future. She drops in to agent Walter Paisley (the legendary Dick Miller - and if you don't get the reference in his character name you have no right to be reading this blog. Or indeed, anything on the internet. You're dead to me) who instantly advises her to change her name "that's what we do". "But I like my name; it's what people call me" This simple, yet humourous exchange is the kind of quick fire comedy we're going to get, and for the most part it works.
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So, with her new moniker, Candy Wednesday is told to walk the streets, get her face out there, and be discovered. Her first job soon comes, unfortunately it's as a getaway driver in a bank heist.
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Paisley does get her work, though and sends her to Miracle Pictures ("if it's a good picture, it's a Miracle") where she is put to work on the latest action caper from director Erich Von Leppe (the wonderful, much missed cult actor Paul Bartel, Eating Raoul) and she falls for the writer P.G. (Richard Doran). Things are not going well on the shoot though, as various stunt women and actress' fall victim to 'accidents'. Could someone have it in for them?
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The star of the picture, Mary McQueen (Mary Woronov, who often appeared with Bartel and popped up in Ti West's The House of the Devil) seems to getting more and more worked up at the pretty young starlets getting the limelight. All of which leads up to a climax under the aforementioned Hollywood sign.
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Hollywood Boulevard is a heart felt spoof of the industry of low budget film making, itself made up from stock footage and clips from various New World Pictures that the directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush could get their hands on. If there's any action scene in the film, you can guarantee it's from something like  The Big Doll House, Caged Heat or Death Race 2000 (Frankenstein's car and costume is even used in newly shot footage). All this adds to the charm of what is essentially a look behind the scenes of Roger Corman's empire, and the Hollywood 'dream factory'. While the laughs come thick and fast in the first half of the film, (Miller's character being brilliant and Rialson displaying more than her psychical charms to show she should have been a star) the slap dash of styles (probably not helped by having the two directors off filming separate scenes) doesn't quite gel, and the attempted rape sequences (once while being filmed) are more uncomfortable to watch than the much more graphic one in I Spit On Your Grave. More offensive to some may be the inclusion of a musical interlude in which a no mark hippy band (Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen) play one of their 'ditties'. Fans will rejoice in spotting the many references and nods, to films as diverse as A Hard Days Night, Robot Monster and even the smoke filled atmosphere of Mario Bava flicks. The one eyed, oafish cameraman (whose patch changes from side to side) is amusing too.
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We all know what Dante did after this, but Arkush wasn't such a directorial slouch either, going on to direct many TV shows including St Elsewhere and Heroes, but also was behind the often overlooked android romance, Heartbeeps (1981) with Andy Kaufman and The Ramones film, Rock n' Roll High School (1979).
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For the most part, it's a fun ride with in jokes a-plenty and and some quite irreverent humour. Keep an eye open for a Godzilla character apparently played by future Oscar winner Jonathan (The Silence of the Lambs) Demme, and a party sequence whose guests include Famous Monster creator Forrest J Ackerman, Lewis (Alligator) Teague, Joe Dante himself and Forbidden Planet's Robby The Robot (OK you're not going to miss him, not least because he has a great scene with Miller who is trying to sign him as an actor - "do you do pictures?"; "not recently, I don't do nudity" ).
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The US DVD has a great commentary track in which Dante, Arkush and producer Jon Davison discuss the various footage they plundered from other films, working for Corman in the 70s, and the usual behind the lens gossip (during the shoot, one of the actress' threw their only prop grenade and lost it in some mud, so the grenade thrown onscreen is a rock)
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Forrest J. Ackerman and Joe Dante (as the waiter in the background)
7 out of 10.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

DVD Review: The House In Nightmare Park (1973)

house in nightmare park film poster

Foster Twelvetrees (Frankie Howerd) is failed actor ("the greatest master of the spoken word" according to his poster), with more ham than the cold counter at Tescos, and ideas above his station. So when he is invited to perform a reading at the imposing country home of Stewart Henderson (Ray Milland), he jumps at he chance. And the money. When various members of the Henderson family turn up demanding their regular allowance from the family patriarch Victor, they discover that he has, in fact died, and that the bumbling Twelvetrees is in the rightful heir to the family fortune, and may unwittingly know where some valuable diamonds are hidden. They must do away with the actor to stand a chance of collecting what they consider to be rightfully theirs, as well as all other competition for the diamonds.  
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Long unavailable in the UK (and pretty much elsewhere) this early '70s comedy horror was the perfect vehicle for the jittery Frankie Howerd. Much in the same vein as the Bob Hope haunted house comedies of the '30/40s (The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers), this, like the Hammer/William Castle remake of The Old Dark House, benefits from a brilliant cast, and great performances. Howerd essentially plays the same character we are used to, and ones enjoyment of the comedy does depend on whether you find his routine funny (I personally love it), but the script doesn't go over the top on his idiosyncrasies, so even his detractors could bear it.
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There is certainly more threat and creepiness than the usual films in this sub-genre, helped by the surroundings of Oakley Court, the go-to location for many a Hammer film (being situated next door to Bray Studios), with the lavish interior sets built at Pinewood. A sequence by the family of the house where they perform "The Dance of the Dolls" is both hilarious (Milland in a sailor boy's outfit is a something you don't often see) and incredibly bizarre. The double twist ending plays with the audience's expectations, displaying a shrewd knowledge of the genre.
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Director Peter Sykes had just made Demons of the Mind, an often overlooked film, for Hammer, and would return to their fold to helm their last feature before resorting to TV, To The Devil.. A Daughter (1976). Co-writer/producer Terry Nation was most famous for being the creator of the Daleks in Doctor Who, but he also was co-writer of the 1970 horror film And Soon The Darkness.. (recently remade). The other co-writer Clive Exton had adapted Ludovic Kennedy's book of 10 Rillington Place to a screen.
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Harry Robinson's score is given it's full due here, with a bonus section on the DVD of 30 minutes without any dialogue or effects. Robinson worked on Hammer's Karnstein trilogy, and his score here is geared towards the horror aspects rather than highlighting the comedic.This is due to Network DVD having access to the original negatives and tracks, and will be a feature on several of their upcoming DVDs where possible.
The film is presented in a widescreen (1:75:1) format, plus an option to view it in 4:3 Academy ratio, as it was filmed, which as you would expect, reveals much more information at the top and bottom of the screen, and show Maurice Carter's glorious sets to great effect, and doesn't hurt the composition too much.
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This release is among the first in a new range of British films, some upcoming releases that are of particular interest to myself (and, hopefully, readers of this blog) are Spanish Fly (Leslie Phillips and Terry Thomas), Keep It Up Downstairs (which I reviewed a while back,and look forward to seeing again) and a Blu-ray release for The Man Who Haunted Himself (Roger Moore). For more information, check out the Network DVD website. They also do a great range of TV classics, and I have many of their box sets in my collection.
I must say though, I'm not a big fan of the slimline case, as it brings back the memories of those 99p public domain collections found on market stalls. There's nothing cheap about the presentation, though, although with a new transfer, a Blu-ray would have been nice.
9 out of 10
house in nightmare park dvd cover

Friday, 5 April 2013

We Belong Dead Has Risen From The Grave!

we belong dead issue 9 magazine

For the past few months, on the Facebook group for his fondly remembered '90s fanzine, We Belong Dead, Eric McNaughton has been teasing about the return to print, for its 9th issue, of the magazine.
Well, this morning the finished product dropped onto my doormat. To say I was blown away wouldn't be an understatement. A high quality in the writing, presentation and content in the digest sized 80 pages is mouth watering.
Focusing on the much overlooked, but burgeoning classic horror scene this taps right into my interests. As regular followers for this blog may know (yes, there is at least one - thank you Mr. Leach) I write a regular piece in Starburst Magazine, in which I try to open the eyes of the younger readers to the forgotten or bygone days of horror films. Well, after reading this issue, I seriously will have to up my game to compete. And, thanks to the marvelous piece on Amando De Ossorio's Blind Dead films by John Llewellyn Probert, I will have to shelve a piece I was planning on writing for a while.
A "best of" the previous 8 issues is planned for later this year, and I do hope the magazines success will spur Eric (and, indeed, all the brilliant contributors who deserve all the praise in the world) to get cracking on issue 10.
You can purchase the mag (which I strongly advise you to do sooner rather than later as it's a limited run) from The Classic Horror Campaign website, Hemlock Books, and some of the better comic/film stores (I believe fabulous The Cinema Store in London will be stocking it among others) for £5.99
The mag is also available as a digital E-book from this site for a mere £3.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Review: John Cooper Clarke - South of the Border live DVD

john cooper clarke live from london's south bank
Recorded at a sell out show at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 2010, this is the first official recording of a full John Cooper Clarke show. John has been a cult figure on the British music and cultural scene since he burst onto the punk circuit in the mid '70s, with hits such as Gimmix! Play Loud! (released on coloured triangle shaped vinyl) and I Married A Monster From Outer Space.

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During 2010 was the subject of a documentary, eventually screened on BBC3, and released on DVD - Evidently, John Cooper Clarke - which is in itself well worth checking out (available on Amazon) and while following John about the makers filmed the London show among others.
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If you are unfamiliar with John, he was billed as the "punk poet" (a title he doesn't like), and had hit albums and singles with his poems set to music. He is a former heroin addict, (who shared a house with the Velvet Underground's Nico at one point) and appeared opposite the Honey Monster on the Sugar Puffs adverts (a accolade also shared by Henry McGee). John's shows are just him a microphone and a plastic bag of notebooks with his prose on. More a stand up comedian now than straight poetry recital, and genuinely funny in a way modern so called comics could only dream of.
Coming on stage to the Saint theme tune, his Salford twang still present, and uncompromising in his observations, which range from child like wordplay to highly intelligent prose. His poems appear on the National Curriculum, and it's about time he got the recognition he deserves.
With an 85 minute running time, and with a machine gun delivery there are more gags per second than any slick stand up desperate to peddle their DVDs of their tightly honed shows every Christmas. You know, the ones that appear in the pound shops a few months later.
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As well as the full show, which you will find yourself re-watching over and over to catch the lines you missed while laughing too much, there are two short extras; a clip of the soundcheck and, more importantly (especially if you are familiar with my interests) a recording of the classic song 36 Hours, recording in Sheffield with Frank Sidebottom on keyboard and guitar. Frank toured with John in 2009 and 2010, and it was his last major appearances before the untimely death of Frank's creator, Chris Sievey. This alone is worth the price of the DVD.
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Anyone of a certain age will remember John and enjoy this, those too young to be around during punk, should buy this, and the documentary and learn how comedy and word play can be done.
10 out 10.