Thursday, 16 May 2013

DVD review: Slice & Dice: The Slasher Film Forever documentary

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Over the past few years, the documentary film has gone from being a tacked on DVD extra to the more standard  long-form. Although the slasher film subject has been tackled before (2006's Going To Pieces), director Calum Waddell, a brilliant genre journalist and behind many of the fantastic extras on the Arrow Video releases, does a good job of avoiding re-hashing the same subjects. He also utilises his much lower budget by using mostly trailer footage and interviewing some of the rarely seen genre figures, such as British legend Norman J. Warren (who is a fantastic bloke, as anyone who has ever attended The Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester will attest), Scott Spiegel (Intruder), Christopher Smith (Severence/Creep) and Alex Chandon (Inbred).
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The film is well edited (by Naomi Holwill) so there's no repetition in the talking head soundbites and there's a unique visual style to the presentation.We don't miss the lack of actual film footage either, due to prudential use of trailer footage. Most people who will have any interest in this will no doubt have seen most of the films anyway, and there's not many spoilers for those who haven't.                         slice & dice slasher documentary calum waddell tom hollandslice & dice slasher documentary calum waddell felissa rose
While the film itself is a brisk but packed 75 minutes, there are more than enough extras spread over the two discs to make up for it. Among the best sections are an engaging commentary from Waddell and Justin Kerswell (author of the fabulous Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Film Uncut)  a Q&A with Norman J Warren and James Moran, from the Glasgow premiere of the film. The bonus 'out-take' interviews are an extended look at some of the interviews used, which vary in length, but are still of interest; Corey Feldman especially coming across a lot more informed than you'd expect (despite his dodgy hairstyle).
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Disc two is just as packed, with its own 37 minute documentary, Don't Go In The Backwoods, a look at the sub-genre within the slasher genre, and over twenty trailers (covering most of the famous slasher films and some obscure ones) with optional commentary.
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For horror fans, this is a wonderful package, with plenty to dip in to, and lots to spend your time absorbing.  And there's even a reversible sleeve, which is hidden away behind the standard packaging.
8 out of 10

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

DVD review: KONGA (1961)

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Returning from Uganda, a year after he was considered dead when his plane crashed, Dr Charles Decker (Michael Gough) brings with him a small chimpanzee, Konga (with no trouble with customs nor quarantine) which he is to start his experiments. He uses a serum he found in the jungle which mutates plant life into being carnivorous giant plants. He injects Konga who instantly begins to grow, and when the good Doctor begins to be looked down upon at this college for his experiments, he uses the now gigantic Konga to exact his evil doing.
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Micheal Gough was one of those actors who could make even the most ridiculous dialogue (such as the nonsense he has to spout here) sound earnest, and as such what could be a complete piece of tripe is transformed into a camp classic. It doesn't matter (or maybe it's because) the gorilla costume is shoddy, nor that the optical effects have a matte line an inch thick, the mutated plants are merely inflatables the quaintness of the affair makes for an enjoyable experience.
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For the younger viewers, raised on modern effects in the likes of Peter Jackson's King Kong, will no doubt have little time for the japes on display here, and even fans of the original Kong and the work of the late Ray Harryhausen, will balk at the ineptitude of the effects, especially when you consider the work done in Japan on the Godzilla films at the time, using a similar man-in-a-costume style.
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The rest of the cast are just about serviceable, with Jess Conrad as the possessive student Bob being the best of the bunch. Conrad became a heart-throb as a singer, but also appeared in Peter Walker's slasher The Flesh and Blood Show, and the brilliant Cool It Carol (both 1972) and a brief self-mocking appearance at the end of The Great Rock n' Roll Swindle (1979). Margo Johns plays long suffering scorned housekeeper and Claire Gordon the object of both Bob and the Doctor's affections. Gough, a respected and fabulous actor, made a niche for himself in these low budget, campy films (the nadir being Horror Hospital) where he effortlessly reads through the parts, staying the right side of over the top, but is completely compelling nonetheless.
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By the time Konga has grown to uncontrollable proportions, along with even dodgier effects the film has given up trying to be credible. The police chief's line "There's a huge monster gorilla that's constantly growing to outlandish proportions loose in the streets", said with a straight face says it all..
The new DVD release from Network is the latest in their line of British films, and looks better than I remember seeing it on TV (back in the days when they used to show films like this on prime time BBC2) and is a welcome addition to any cult sci-fi/horror or kitsch fan's collection.
7 out of 10

Monday, 13 May 2013

Blu-ray review: The Telephone Book (1971)

Following their release of Massage Parlor Murders!, the good people at Vinegar Syndrome have come up trumps again with their new Blu-ray release of obscure 1971 film The Telephone Book.
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Alice (Sarah Kennedy) is exercising in the nude when she receives an obscene phone call, which happens to be the best obscene call ever, prompting her to seek out the man behind the voice. "My name is John Smith. I'm in the book" The caller, (voiced by Norman Rose, whose voice over work has graced everything from cartoons to Woody Allen films; he was the announcer in Radio Days and only appears onscreen wearing a pig mask) is a little harder to find than Alice expects and along the way she meets the strange and the depraved of the New York scene, including a porn actor looking for his comeback (the brilliant Barry Morse, pre-Space 1999), a psychoanalyst (Roger C. Carmel, who also had an extensive TV career including voicing several of the Transformers) who offers dimes, dispensed suggestively from his coin changer, in exchange for stories, and when she is mugged, she is offered the use of a phone by a lesbian who attacks her with vibrators.
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Not only that, there's appearances by Jill Clayburgh, Lucy Lee Flippin (Little House on the Prairie) who has one of the best, apparently ad-libbed, lines involving the unique use of a banana and William Hickey (the old Mafia Don in Prizzi's Honor) as a man who wakes with an erection that won't go down. There's also Arthur Haggerty (better known as dog trainer Captain Haggerty, and even better known to genre fans as the fat bald zombie on the boat at the beginning of Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters) as a district attorney giving a press conference about the perils of obscene phone calls. 
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Surprisingly, the film is not overly erotic, (despite their being plenty of flesh on display) but rather arty, and bursts from black and white to colour for the last ten minutes with the inclusion of some Robert Crumb style animation by Len Glasser. It was this animation that gained the film its X rating when it was released in 1971. The humour of the film is not as broad as the standard sex comedy, but there's plenty to enjoy. 
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Once Mr Smith is actually on the scene in his pig mask mid way through it does become a little talky but the frantic editing and bizarre situation keeps the interest. Sarah Kennedy, (not to be confused with the British one who appeared on Game For A Laugh)  is a delight to watch and very likable, and went on to be a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh In and appeared with a young Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) in The Working Girls (1974). 
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The film struggled to get a distribution deal at first, being turned down by Hugh Heffner and all the major studios until it was picked up by Avco Embassy, who in a display of cold feet, put the film out under a false company name, Rosebud Releasing Corporation (the same name used to later distribute the unrated version of Evil Dead 2!)
Director Nelson Lyon would go on to be a writer for Saturday Night Live, and would end up being blacklisted from the industry for his involvement in the massive drug binge that killed John Belushi. 
The disc contains an interesting, if a little off topic at times, commentary by producer Mervin Bloch, who also worked cutting trailers for some major films like Polanki's The Tenant and the Pacino movie Cruising
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If Vinegar Syndrome keep unearthing these 'lost' classics, our shelves will soon look like a massive homage to 42nd Street (well, even more than they do already). Keep them coming, is what I say. The Telephone Book is far from mainstream and that alone is a good enough reason to seek it out. The Blu-ray is region free, and it comes with a DVD copy too and looks better than a film this rare ever should. 
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If you like your sleaze to be a touch arty without being too pretentious , you should not hang up on this one. 
7 out of 10

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Blu-ray review: Black Sabbath (1963) Mario Bava Arrow Video release

Long unavailable in the UK without importing,  Mario Bava's superb Black Sabbath is finally released, in a stunning high definition transfer to boot! 
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The film takes the form of three macabre tales, with an introduction by Boris Karloff, who also appears in one story. The order of the stories depends on which version of the film you watch; both the original Italian language and AIP US dubbed version are included on this release. The original, entitled I tre volti della paura (The Three Faces of Fear) arguably the better, despite having Karloff's dialogue dubbed into Italian, robbing us of his luscious, lisping voice. There are several other differences between the two cuts, a comparison is given its own featurette, and features in the impressive accompanying booklet.  
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"The Telephone" is a story of revenge, with Rosy (Michèle Mercier) being threatened by her ex partner, Frank, whom she assumed was in jail. This story is the one that suffers the most in the transition to the international version, becoming a supernatural tale, and the interesting sapphic sub-plot being removed completely.
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"The Wurdalak" has Karloff as Gorka, returning home to his family home a changed man, as he is now a vampire. This is one of Karloff's greatest performances, certainly of his later period. and full of horrific images which still disturb and terrify today. 
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"A Drop of Water" winds the film up, and in a truly startling and nightmare inducing way. Jacqueline Pierreux plays a nurse, called out in the middle of a thunderstorm to tend to the corpse of a medium, as her maid is too afraid to do it. Taking a shine to her expensive looking ring, she pockets it for her trouble, causing a series of terrifying events that will leave your nerves shattered. The image of the dead woman alone is enough to keep even the most hardened horror fan awake.
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In the AIP version, the order is A Drop of Water, The Telephone then TheWurdalak, no doubt to finish on a high with the star of the film. Karloff aslo has more introductions in the English language version.
With the current crop of Bava films being released by Arrow Video in the UK (and the ones put out in the US by Kino), it's fantastic to see the great director finally receive the kind of praise and treatment he deserves. Black Sabbath, in which ever version you choose to watch, is a superb piece of film making. Glorious to look at, well acted and, importantly for a horror film, genuinely terrifying. It's interesting to compare the two versions, as the US overplays the shocks with a sensationalist score (by the fabulous Les Baxter) while the original is more about sound effects, and a more subtle (yet no less effective) musical accompaniment by Roberto Nicolosi. 
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Arrow Video  have once again come up trumps with a stunning release. Along with the Blu-ray, there are two DVDs with a version on each, the aforementioned booklet, which itself is fabulous, the comparison featurette and a commentary by Bava expert and the brains behind Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas. 
I can't recommend it strongly enough. Buy it now, and savour forever. Personal message to Arrow Video: Could we please have Blood and Black Lace on Blu-ray soon?
10 out of 10