Wednesday, 31 October 2007


Happy Halloween to everyone out there. Time for a spot of movie viewing now, so I'll sign off with this review of a Mexican chiller. Have a good one!

SPIRITISM Benito Alazraki 1961

Nora Veryan, Louis Fernandez, Diana Ochoa, Rene Cardona jnr

A middle class dinner party takes a turn for the worse when Louis and Mary Howard (Veryan and Fernandez) take part in a seance. Their host, medium Elvira (Ochoa), warns the couple that April 8th will mark the beginning of a tragic period in their lives, and goes on to mention an encounter with inhuman creatures wielding extraordinary powers. The date in question happens to be their 20th wedding anniversary and at the end of an evening of celebration, their son, Rodolpho (Cardona jnr), asks for a loan of $4,000 to finance a new business venture. Sure enough, the first tragedy occurs soon after, eventually prompting the initially sceptical Mary to attempt to hold her family together by doing business with the ultimate loan shark.By the time we reach the one hour mark, Spiritism may come across as an overly-talkative piece that only moves on to crowd-pleasing familiar territory during the final act, which is based on W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw". This viewpoint, while understandable in some respects, actually does the film a great disservice, as this is really a quality drama about a family falling apart at the seams. Amongst a cast of performers who often leave a lot to be desired, it's Norma Veyran who takes centre stage, wringing every ounce of emotion from her role of concerned wife and increasingly desperate mother.The second seance is probably the main source of ammunition for critics of this film: it's a lengthy scene where Mary - now a commited believer following a wonderfully eerie vision on hallowed ground - attempts to halt the spectre of doom that threatens her family. The troubled abode of Elvira again plays host to a communication with the dead, beginning with some expanded theories regarding the dear departed, and moving to a shattering climax with an unquiet spirit who does not realise she's dead. Perhaps this scene is a little dialogue-heavy, but subsequent viewings may well reveal the script to be less ponderous than first impressions suggest. The only other gripe concerns some terminally dodgy less-than special effects, which suggest a two-way split between paucity of budget and lack of imagination; chief offenders being scare-free apparitions and a botched stand-off between Christ and Satan, though one has to at least applaud the audacious concept of the latter.Overall, Spiritism is a successful portrait of a family afflicted by the spectre of bad luck, and it's ill-advised attempts to use unconventional means as a way of stopping the rot. Jealousy, lifelong friendships put under intolerable strain, the pain of losing loved ones and the very real fear of growing old and dying poor will doubtless strike a chord with many viewers, while the last 20 minutes deliver the goods for anyone with a spine demanding to be chilled.The English dubbed version of Spiritism (directed in 1965 by Manuel San Fernando) was another K. Gordon Murray pick-up, and part of Beverley Wilshire's Mexican horror collection on DVD. Although B.W. were forced to cease trading, their back catalogue of Mexican magic can easily be acquired via ebay, and Spiritism is close to being the cream of the crop. As usual, B.W's disc reveals instances of scratches, splices and poor contrasts but the image is tolerable, and should not detract too much from your enjoyment.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 arrived today, all the way from the US.

Thanks to DVD Pacific for getting to it to me so quickly. I've had a busy day off work today and it's late now so I think I'll start checking out the contents tomorrow. Of course, it's October 31st tomorrow and my wife and I plan to watch John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN after I get done with work tomorrow evening. This may seem a predictable choice of film, but it was a particular favourite of my wife and I before we met and we've never watched this film together. After we've dealt with Myers and co, I think some Bava would be a good choice and BARON BLOOD will perfectly suit such an occasion. Whatever you're doing or viewing, enjoy your evening.



Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Lois Maxwell, Fay Compton, Rosalie Crutchley, Valentine Dyall

Borley Rectory, Epworth Parsonage, Glamis Castle……. names that will be familiar to students of British haunted houses. Film buffs could also volunteer Ettingham Park as an addition to a lengthy list. This imposing structure – now a hotel – features in Robert Wise’s take on Shirley Jackson’s famous novel, The Haunting Of Hill House.Richard Johnson fills the role of Dr. Markway; a psychic investigator who views Hill House as “The key to another world”, and assembles a team of assistants who may stimulate the house. Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris), Theo (Claire Bloom) and Luke (Russ Tamblyn) accomplish that little task in spades although their collective experience is hardly steeped in the supernatural: Theo has powers of ESP, Eleanor may have experienced (or caused) poltergeist phenomena as a young girl and Luke is a ‘doubting Thomas’ who only accepts the spirits found in bars and clubs.The history of their temporary (?) new home is a ghost-hunters delight: a 90 year-old New England abode, built by a man named Hugh Craine and host to scandal, murder and insanity. Before long, the history of this undesirable residence appears to cast its shadow over the land of the living: thunderous bangings, unearthly cries and whispers, footsteps in empty corridors, doors that bend inwards and a desperate message scrawled in chalk on the wall (“Help Eleanor come home”). There’s enough material here for a score of psychic conferences…… or is there?Eleanor’s precarious state of mind (fuelled by guilt over her mother’s recent death) and Theo’s jealousy regarding the attraction between Markway and her own intended provide a cocktail of emotions which trigger telekinesis and group hallucinations. Imaginations run riot here, generating enough electricity to power a small town, never mind a creaky old house where the deaths of previous occupants lie heavy in the air, and on the mind.The cast all run with Nelson Giddings’ screenplay, confirming that Robert Wise chose well: Bloom is terrific as “one of nature’s mistakes”, shamelessly pursuing Eleanor while injecting just the right levels of icy calm and near-hysteria while Lance slides further and further towards self-destruction. Johnson and Tamblyn – initially poles apart in attitudes and beliefs – gain in stature with each viewing; Tamblyn may seem to be overshadowed by the stately Johnson but he does get one of the best lines in the film (and earns it) and there’s a marvellous moment when he quite literally ‘bottles it’ towards the end of the film. Watch out too for Lois Maxwell as Markway’s wife, who could be excused for wondering just what James Bond would have made of it all.Maybe he would simply have run out screaming, because the house had enough tricks up its sleeve to scare even the hardiest of souls. Was it really haunted?Probably not, though I feel things had certainly changed by the end when Eleanor Lance deliberately drove her car into a tree, and passed from this life to the next. I can just picture her walking the corridors of Hill House, only to find it completely devoid of spirits.Alone again, naturally.Warner Brothers’ Region 2 DVD offers a 2.40:1 widescreen rendering, and is currently the best way to experience this film outside of any isolated theatrical screenings. Picture quality, in lieu of a complete restoration, is fairly sharp and the widescreen format really does open things up, giving us a far greater appreciation of the set design and cinemaphotography. Ardent fans will be delighted by the inclusion of an audio commentary track, featuring Wise, Giddings, Johnson, Tamblyn and, briefly, Bloom and Harris. Recorded separately, these six key figures provide plenty of anecdotes and observations: Harris revealing he worked on The Haunting by day and appeared in The Devils stageplay in the evenings, and generally meditating on his approach to acting (and how he turned his back on the chance to play James Bond before Connery got the role, while Tamblyn explains why he initially turned down the role of Luke and relates a ghostly experience that occurred one evening on the set.Giddings and Wise also make for good company, agreeing their film has not dated, clearly proud that audiences are still keeping Hill House alive.Perfect viewing for a cold winter’s evening. Just make sure your doors stay sensibly shut.


It's time to lock your doors, draw the curtains and settle back. The clocks have gone back here, and it's dark by 5.00pm. Tomorrow, it's the 31st of October where dark forces hold sway. Some folks will dust off those ouija boards and attempt to communicate with those who have long passed on. Some will attempt to spend the night in haunted houses, while others will indulge in The Black Arts. If your Halloween kicks are inspired by less radical activities, a night in front of the TV watching your own all-night movie choices seems a whole lot safer. Whatever you decide to do, spare a moment to consider your own locale and and any buildings that may come to life on this particular night of the year. I'm sure most of you live near to places that supposedly play host to supernatural phenomena. Here are a few of the myths and legends that surround the area where I live, and boy do we have a lot going on!


(The haunted Gaol in Derby)

(The churchyard where the ghost of a young girl is seen)

Halloween. Samhain. A time of the year when the worlds of the living and the dead are closest. Many years ago, bonfires were lit the length and breadth of England in the belief they would help guide spirits to their final resting place. Candles were put in windows with the same intention, and pumpkins could be found on many a windowsill, with the aim of warding off evil spirits. It's a good time to remind ourselves that England is full of supernatural lore, and the city of Derby, just 14 miles from my hometown, is officially the ghost capital of England.

With a population of approximately 235,000, Derby has just unveiled a £340 million shopping centre, with dynamic new stores and a 12 screen 3,000 seater cinema due to open Spring 2008. With well over 1,000 paranormal incidents recorded, it's the older part of Derby we need to focus on, with historical occurrences from as early as 1556 casting the darkest of shadows over modern day beliefs. Witches burnt at the stake, men hanged and then beheaded for crimes ranging from burglary to murder, legends of a vampire stalking the city by night, a ghostly choir who disappear into thin air, the spirit of a policeman murdered in 1879, ghostly figures in World War II regalia, a man in black who wishes people a merry xmas before fading from view... just a few of the reported sightings down the years.

The increasingly popular Derby Ghost Walk takes in many locations, from haunted pubs to the site of the old Derby Gaol which lies under the city streets. Prisoners who were executed are said to haunt the catacombs under the city, with the condemned cell being the centre of psychic activity. For a price, people are invited to spend the night in this cursed place, and as an extremely interested party, it's only the cost involved that scares me off taking part. One of my favourite cinemas - the old Metro Cinema - is reputed to be haunted, as is the old Bell Hotel where I enjoyed many a pint before stepping out to the Kings Hall to see the likes of The Clash play. Here, room 29 is said to be haunted by the ghost of a serving girl who died there many years earlier. The dead come back to life all over Derby if all those stories are to be believed, but a few miles outside the city, things are just as scary. On the borders of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, legend tells of a family who were executed for murdering and then eating poor unfortunates who had got lost on the moors, and there are multiple tales of ghostly sightings in church's, hotels and schools in the Derbyshire area. My hometown - population 10,000 - also boasts spooks in abundance. There was a local family of aristocrats who once had acres of land which is now covered by houses. The daughter of this family had a lover who quickly became disliked by her parents. When she was ordered never to see him again, she chained herself to the railings at the local pond and drowned. On winter evenings, a lady in white can sometimes be seen walking across the cold waters, and I know two level headed people who claim to have seen her ghost. There's also a story concerning a young girl who was buried alive in our local churchyard. Her unquiet spirit has often been seen amongst the tombstones, perhaps looking for her unborn child. There's no escape at local inns, either. One former coach house has guests reporting the sound of a horse-drawn carriage in the street outside, and ghost armies of Roman centurions have also been seen nearby, marching some 4 feet above ground level. One story which sticks in my mind concerns a stately home some two miles way. Here, a murder occurred many years ago, and the bloodstains in the bathroom are regularly scrubbed away, but always return. Another place on my to-visit list is an old airfield, 20 miles away. Local residents tell of lights on the airfield, accompanied by sounds of aircraft taking off and voices singing old war songs. Perhaps a psychic echo of aircrew about to embark on a mission from which some of them would not return? My wife and I recently took a walk down an old railway tunnel. The network shut down around 40 years ago, and there are tales of spectral figures who can be seen in the tunnel. Speakers positioned at various points replay the sounds of trains rolling along the tracks, which only adds to the atmosphere of unease. I used to go there in my childhood years, and a friend of mine swore he saw the figure of a man holding a lamp near the end of the tunnel. I wish I could say that I've seen something, anything, to substantiate these tales but I never did. However, for me, the most chilling location is a wood some half a mile from where we live. During my childhood, my friends and I heard tell that a witch lived in a cottage deep in the wood. The trees were so dense in this particular area that near-dusk conditions prevailed, even on the brightest summer's day. Sure enough, there were remains of what appeared to be a dwelling place for someone, something. Although we returned many times - usually for a dare - we never saw anything, but on a couple of occasions we did hear strange gutteral laughs that saw us take flight as fast as we could go.

If you're interested in the supernatural, then the county of Derbyshire has more to offer than anywhere else in England but, wherever you are, I wish you a Happy Halloween.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


Sport can often inspire extreme emotions amongst its followers, whether it's football, rugby, baseball or any other team game. My wife has often told me about the fan rivalry that exists between supporters of American football and baseball but she was certainly shocked by the terrifying off-the pitch violence that surrounds English football. I started going to games in the late 60s as a child and by the time the 70s were in full swing, following your local team could be a dangerous occupation. Whether you were attending a home game or travelling to see your team, there were almost always several fights between rival fans, sometimes numbering up to one thousand people on each side with harrassed police officers trying to keep both sets apart, often using police dogs and horses. Making your own way to and from games could be particularly dodgy, but travelling as part of a large group could also attract unwanted attention which meant it was more and more difficult not to get drawn in. Thankfully, things have calmed down over the years, thanks to surveillance cameras, longer judicial sentences and banning orders on suspected gang ringleaders and members which require them to 'sign in' at their local police station on the day of the game and forbids them from entering a certain area between designated times. When the conflict was at its height, rival fans would use bricks, bottles, fists and boots to sort out their differences which were often carried down from father to son. Now, the rival gangs, smaller in numbers, use the Internet and mobile phones to arrange meetings, often miles away from stadiums, and although violent encounters have diminished in number, the ferocity is even worse with knives, baseball bats and machettes being used on occasion. Practically every football team in the country has a 'firm'; a term which describes a collection of violent followers who seek to establish a reputation for being the most feared in the country. Although many older members have 'retired', a new breed is coming through and giving cause for concern to the authorities. Films such as THE FIRM, ID and GREEN STREET have all got to grips with the subject of football violence but, for me, Nick Love's THE FOOTBALL FACTORY is the most successful at telling it like it really was.


Danny Dyer, Billy Bright, Frank Harper, Neil Maskell, Roland Manookian, Jamie Foreman, Tarmar Hassan, Dudley Sutton, Anthony Denham, John Junkin

Boro's Frontline, Pompey's 657 crew, West Ham's Inter City Firm; just a few of the infamous gangs who established reputations as some of the most feared and active mobs in English football. Chelsea’s Headhunters and Millwall’s Bushwackers both played their part in the war on and off the terraces, and Nick Love’s film follows the build-up to an FA Cup tie between these fierce rivals.Based on John King’s excellent book, The Football Factory centres on a group of Chelsea fans, examining the comradeship and bitter feuds that exist between the ‘top boys’ and their troops. Here, the theory that football violence only attracts the disenfranchised is finally laid to rest, courtesy of solid characterisation. We have Tommy Johnson (Danny Dyer) – an average joe whose common decency is marred by his willingness to damage fellow human beings when match days come around.His best friend is Rod (Neil Maskell); another member of the firm, whose loyalty to the cause is threatened when love comes to town. No such conflict of interest for Bill Bright (Frank Harper) – a successful businessman who would pick a fight with himself in the absence of any willing/unwilling persons who find themselves within a 50 metre radius. Bright – a thoroughly nasty piece of work – resents the fact that Harris (Anthony Denham) is the leader of the firm, and sets out to terrorise Zeberdee (Roland Monookian); a younger member who seeks to rise up through the ranks and strengthen his bond with Harris. The older generation is also represented, with Dudley Sutton excelling in the role of Farrell – Tommy’s grandfather – a war veteran who is bound for Australia with his lifelong pal, each hoping to enjoy the time they have left.The Football Factory successfully explores the generation gap, taking in hopes, aspirations and the differing and changing attitudes of men who have literally gone to war, albeit for causes that lie poles apart. As an accurate depiction of football violence, Love’s film also scores highly. The opening assault on a pub full of Spurs fans; the violent revenge attack on a couple of Stoke supporters, en route to an appointment with the red half of Liverpool, and the shattering confrontation between Milwall and Chelsea, deep in ‘bandit country’. It’s all in there, together with ‘spotters’, ‘lookouts’, business transactions between rival thugs (a throwback to those clubbing nights when everyone mixed freely), and watch out for those famous Scouse blades! Granted, The Football Factory does tip its hat to Trainspotting in several areas, and Tommy’s fearful premonitions crop up a few times too many, but this should not detract too much from its overall effectiveness. Raw, violent, compassionate and often extremely funny, The Football Factory will appeal to all those who played (and still play) the game, whether they be old-timers who participated in those often brief 500 per side brawls in days gone by, or the current firms who use technology to organise smaller, more violent ‘offs’. In 2007, the problem still exists and, as this sort of thing has been present in our game for over 40 years, it's unlikely it will disappear anytime soon.


As I have a rare weekend off work, I thought I'd take time out to immerse myself in James Foley's wonderful GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and it's a real treat to be checking out the 2 disc Region 2 DVD.

However, the countdown to Halloween is well underway so it's perhaps time to take a look at a few movies that seem made for that particular night. Unfortunately, this celebration of the darkside is somewhat muted in the UK compared to the US and that's a crying shame. Nowadays, TV and radio seem to have diluted their coverage and programmes that would appeal to horror fans are few and far between. I'll be posting a few reviews of superior spookers throughout the week and thought I'd begin with a film that became a regular on UK TV in the 70s.

Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill,
Gayle Hunnicutt, Peter Bowles, Ronald Culver, Michael Gough

"May you find the answer that you seek. It is here, I promise" Emeric Belasco.Welcome to Hell House. The "Mount Everest of haunted houses" according to Dr. Barrett (Revill), who accepts a challenge from businessman Rudolph Deutsch (Culver) to produce evidence of survival after death. Accompanied by his wife Ann (Hunnicutt), and mediums Florence Tanner (Franklin) and Ben Fischer (McDowall), Barrett's party enter the house on 20th December, intending to remain there for 5 days and collect £100,000 for a positive result.I suppose it's entirely reasonable to compare The Legend Of Hell House to what could be termed the 'Mount Everest' of haunted house movies: I refer, of course, to Robert Wise's The Haunting. Both films pitch their audience into a house allegedly alive with psychic phenomena, where a team of investigators will attempt to deliver irrefutable proof that the spirits of the dead are often unwilling to depart from the land of the living. For me, the most fascinating similarity between the two films is that neither Hell House nor Hill House provide the aforementioned evidence. In short, the various events that take place may well have been unwittingly (The Haunting) or intentionally (Hell House) caused by the living, rather than the dead.We'll take a look at The Haunting some time soon, but let's concentrate on the house owned by Emeric Belasco which, years earlier, played host to vampirism, sadism, necrophilia, drug addicition, orgies and other unsavoury activities. In 1927, just 8 years after the house was built, Belasco disappeared without trace and Hell House was boarded up for over 20 years, with its master missing presumed dead. During two attempts to discover whether Belasco really was responsible for the reported ghostly manifestations, eight people died: on both occasions, Ben Fischer was the only person to emerge in one piece. As the film progresses, Dr. Barrett's expedition appears to encounter a barrage of supernatural phenomena, including a ferocious assault where the good Doctor has practically everything bar the kitchen sink thrown at him, and a spine tingling seance that really sets the nerves on edge when Florence begins to speak with a gruff male voice apparently belonging to Belasco's son, Victor. Later in the film, Florence is attacked by a supposedly possessed cat and allows Victor's spirit to have sex with her, while Dr. Barrett's wife - also seemingly possessed - invites Ben to get down and extremely dirty with her.As with The Haunting, there are some very strong human emotions gathered together here: fear, sexual repression, rage, jealousy.....enough to move mountains, never mind a few tables and sundry household appliances. The sexual angle is particularly interesting. Ann Barrett, who clearly suggests her husband is no longer interested in what lies beneath ("He's sleeping"); Florence, who likely experiences a wet fevered dream in lieu of her first (?) sexual encounter, with scratch marks from Victor's alleged violation probably caused by the feline from hell, and what about Ben? The only person to walk out in one piece from two previous investigations! In both cases, practically every male participant had their legs crushed in some form of 'accident', and either died or suffered permanent paralysis. Did Ben harbour some dark secret that turned his mind against both sexes? Was this self-confessed 'physical' medium compelled to use psychokinisis to kick up a real storm directed at his temporary companions, and were his powers sufficient to cause Florence to hallucinate,and to bring Ann's sexual urges to the surface? To put it bluntly, if Fischer couldn't get laid he'd make darn sure no-one else would. Dr. Barrett clearly believed his own brand of science - including a machine designed to 'drain' the house - succeeded in clearing almost every room, but maybe Hell House had always been devoid of energy.....until Fischer walked through the door. First-time viewers will have to see for themselves whether he makes it back to the outside world for the third time, or perishes during a showdown in the chapel - the nerve centre of Hell House, or so Fischer would have us believeWhether or not the Belasco place really was haunted is very much open to interpretation, but even the sternest disbeliever will surely agree that John Hough's direction realises many flesh-crawling moments, with every shadow, each creaking door bringing an icy chill that seems to reach out beyond the screen. Even the presence of one wholly inappropriate line, uttered during an ectoplasm display at the seance, ("Leave a specimen in the jar, please") fails to dispel the tension for more than a few seconds.20th Century Fox's Region 2 DVD delivers the best looking small screen version of this film, with a nice 1.85:1 transfer revealing that Hough and his team used every inch of the screen to explore the nooks and crannies of Hell House, turning damn near every room into a snapshot from some gothic hell. While this film retains its 70s look - due, no doubt, to the filmstock - colour reproduction is good and shadow detail is well rendered, making the £5.99 price tag for this disc seem like daylight robbery; in our favour for once.On a performance level, it's pretty much 'as you were' with McDowall and Franklin both excellent, Hunnicutt remaining an attractive piece of window dressing and Revill still struggling after all these years to draw any feelings of dislike or concern from either side of the camera. While The Legend Of Hell House was never quite good enough to enter the upper echelon of classic spookers, it does remain a fascinating film; possibly for what it may be, rather than what is has long been perceived as

Monday, 22 October 2007


Over at Cinebeats, Kimberly has just posted a great piece on Roger Vadim's BLOOD AND ROSES. Inspired by this, I thought I'd post a review of the DVD of one of my favourite vampire movies.

For many years, Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS played catch-me-if-you-can with a small, expectant audience who longed to witness the full, uncut version. Shorn of approximately 12 minutes of footage, this slow-burning tale of a vampire finally became available in all its original glory via a series of releases on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD. Blue Underground released a splendid special edition DVD which makes all previous versions redundant, though one aspect of this package proves a tad disappointing.Kumel's journey into darkness begins abroad The Orient Express where newly weds Stefan (Karlen) and Valerie (Ouimet) encounter their first obstacle in married life; an argument over advising Stefan's 'mother' of their tryst: later on, his telephone call provides an unsavoury revelation regarding the other person in his life.When the couple arrive at a deserted Ostend hotel, any hope of anonymity is shattered by Countess Elizabet Bathory (Seyrig) and her secretary, Ilona (Rau). Both the hotel concierge (Esser) and a police inspector- investigating a series of murders in nearby Bruges - remember the Countess from a previous visit some 40 years ago. Both men observe that she hasn't aged a day.There's more than a touch of Seyrig's beloved Marienbad at play here, though the beauty of a wintry Ostend (the film was shot during a chilly June/July) is close to the terrain captured in Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now. As Kumel's inspired direction weaves its spell, the two couples' become virtually a mirror image: Valerie and Ilona both desperately unhappy with their respective partners behaviour, while Stefan and the Countess join hands to relive past atrocities. While it's hard to pick out any one performance from a quartet of pitch perfect turns, Andrea Rau's portrait of despair takes top honours (just); a lady without a past and precious little future. Though we never learn how long she's spent with the Countess, it's probably safe to assume Ilona is the latest in a line of 20th century girls who are tossed aside when the next beauty arrives. Seyrig is excellent as her cruel employer, using her powers to manipulate Stefan and his wife en route to a couple of death scenes that pay homage to traditional vampire lore - water, sunlight and stakes.Blue Underground's special edition disc presents this film in its original aspect ratio (1.85:1) with image quality perhaps not as good as one would have hoped for. While interior scenes are often sharp and reasonably colourful, there are many instances of grain and some of Kumel's compositions come over on the soft side, with flesh tones occasionally veering towards pale. While the overall look can possibly be attributed to film stock, one can't help but wonder if BU and/or Kumel decided to leave things as they were, unwilling to alter the film's original look. This is the best looking version available for home viewing, but it perhaps could have looked a bit better. As far as extras are concerned, BU have done us proud, with two commentary tracks and a short Andrea Rau interview. The first audio track - Karlen in conversation with David Del Velle - has been ported over from the earlier Laserdisc release. All in all, it's an informative, often humourous talk, with Karlen in, let's say, playful mood. While his comments are totally devoid of malice, he does perhaps come down a little too hard on Danielle Ouimet, with little or no credit regarding her considerable contribution. We learn that Karlen and Seyrig became firm friends during filming, and this much-missed lady could do no wrong in his eyes: a striking contrast to his relationship with Kumel. According to Karlen, the pair did not part as friends and Ouimet is also said to have had problems with her director.The second commentary track ses Kumel himself take the microphone for an informative talk, moderated by BU's David Gregory. Here, Kumel holds forth on various directorial choices (including a minor difference of opinion with Seyrig); takes us through some of the more notorious scenes (including the "impossible sex scene"), and explains why he opted for the "Evil is eternal" finale. An absolute pleasure to listen to, with practically no 'dead air' - just a talented director speaking with pride about a "style exercise" that really does rise above the horror genre. Happily, Kumel doesn't have a bad word to say about his four splendid main characters, and ends his commentary with a friendly invitation to listeners, recommending the Hotel Astoria where we may just encounter the ghost of a beautiful lady who died too young.The Karlen and Kumel tracks rate highly at a time when every other disc seems to offer twin commentary tracks of varying levels of interest. It's worth pointing out that watching this film with the sound turned down does enrich the viewing experience. Without the wonderfully poetic dialogue, the senses are firmly fixed on the sumptuous sets and four brilliantly tuned performances: magical exterior scenes and action/reaction shots all come over stronger than ever as a series of paintings, whether in the artificial light of the hotel or the dusk and darkness of the world outside.Blue Underground's supplementary features also treat us to an 8 minute Andrea Rau interview, where this delightful lady touches on her training for classical ballet; her formative acting steps in soft porn and her thoughts on working with Seyrig and Kumel.This most special edition is rounded off with a nice selection of stills, posters and artwork, together with a theatrical trailer which looks sharper and more colourful than the main feature.It's good to see Kumel involved with this sort of project, and one can only hope he performs similar assists on the remarkable Eline Vere. For the time being, however, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is a fine showcase for his undoubted talents. DAUGHTERS is also available as part of a double bill on DVD with THE BLOOD SPLATTERED BRIDE., though I'm currently unsure as to whether image quality has been improved.

Sunday, 21 October 2007


Over at MOON IN THE GUTTER, Jeremy has reminded us that Volume 2 of The Mario Bava collection has just started shipping. I've had my copy on order for some weeks now and am greatly looking forward to seeing pristine transfers for, amongst others, LISA AND THE DEVIL and BARON BLOOD; two films that have not fared well on DVD in terms of visual quality. While I patiently wait for this set, I'm working my way through Tim Lucas' staggering book on this great director. This really is the year of the Bava, so I thought I'd post a review of my own favourite film from the vol 1 Bava set. It's a review I wrote a few years back and has been updated with regard to the gorgeous transfer from the aforementioned box.


That wafer-thin line between the living and the dead has been crossed by many directors but few, I'll wager, could walk the walk like Mario Bava. With the sole exception of Lisa And The Devil, Bava had to work with meagre budgets and tight schedules, relying on ingenuity, imagination and those painterly eyes that created some of the most vivid nightmares ever committed to celluloid.Kill, Baby...Kill! pits science and law against the forces of evil when Dr. Paul Eswai (Rossi-Stuart) and Inspector Kruger (Lulli) arrive at the small Transylvanian village of Kremingen; the latter in response to a letter from one extremely frightened girl who was found impaled on iron railings before Kruger could reach the village. Eswai is asked to perform an autopsy, aided by Monica (Blanc), an ex-local girl who returns home to find her birthplace gripped by fear. As Bava works his magic, we slowly discover the legend of Melissa Graps (played by a young boy , Valeri) , a 7 year old girl who, many years earlier, bled to death following an accident while drunken villagers ignored her cries for help. Now, those who catch sight of her unquiet spirit suffer a similar fate while her mother (Vivaldi) presides over the family villa, surrounded by memories and fuelled by hate.Although Bava is often cited as a master of style over substance, Kill, Baby...Kill! is a veritable feast for lovers of the macabre who like nothing better than a tale well told. A frightened coach driver who reluctantly delivers Eswai into a place of evil; terrified villagers who form a wall of silence; a sorceress (Dali', echoing Rada Rassimov's character in Bava's Baron Blood) who uses 'the old ways' to ward off the dead; wonderful mist-shrouded night scenes where a tolling bell signals another impending death.... a familiar storyline with stock characters? To an extent, yes, but even though we're on familiar ground, the soil seems firm and fresh, thanks to Bava's supreme technical skill, coupled with his unerring ability to get under the skin of what really scares us. Here, the spectral figure of Melissa Graps takes centre stage, emerging as one of Bava's eeriest and most imitated creations. This 'bambino diavolo' has inspired the likes of Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation Of Christ) and Federico Fellini (Toby Dammit, from Spirits Of The Dead), who took note of the images of a child clad in white, emerging from the shadows of half-lit corridors, peering through windows with a malevolent, death-dealing stare or, most chilling of all, perched on a swing, her laughter peeling through the cold night air: wish I had a gold coin (embedded in the heart, perhaps?) for every film that wheels on a child's ball bouncing down the stairs to land at the feet of the living.Melissa's evil mother also succeeds in quickening the pulse rate, at first commanding our sympathy and then moving to the other end of the scale as her part in this story becomes apparent. Long-time admirers/potential newcomers to this film can now choose between several DVD releases, though Kill, Baby...Kill! has yet to receive the red carpet treatment it so richly deserves. My first encounter ocurred several years ago, courtesy of a 3rd gen bootleg tape, followed by a poor quality print shown at London's NFT during their wonderful Mario Bava retrospective. The release of VCI's Region 1 DVD finally hinted that Kill, Baby...Kill! could turn out to be another piece of Bava eye candy. While it's nice to see a version of this film with acceptable colour saturation, it must be noted that flesh tones are on the dull side and there are many instances of grain and print damage. Brentwood Home Video's Fright Night collection (approx $15) contains 10 movies of varying a/v quality, but their presentation of Kill, Baby...Kill! was the best I'd seen. As one would expect, Brentwood have not delivered a pristine version, but the colours are much bolder than on the VCI disc with more detail in those macabre set designs. Unfortunately, both the Brentwood and VCI discs are pan-and-scan, hampering Bava's widescreen compositions.Happily, the situation was corrected earlier in 2007 via Anchor Bay's marvellous Mario Bava collection Volume 1. Here, you'll find a truly beautiful transfer, in the correct aspect ratio. This reverential treatment ensures we can at last be privy to Bava's original vision and the film look a good deal more eerie, thanks to this long-awaited release. Aka: Curse of the Dead, Die Toten Augen des Dr. Dracula, Operazione Paura

Saturday, 20 October 2007



While I'd have loved to attend the London Film Festival Gala opening of EASTERN PROMISES, a second screening the following day provided the opportunity for an early viewing of David Cronenberg's latest. So, at 3.45pm my wife and I settled back in our seats at the plush Odeon Westend cinema for the sold-out screening.

Based on a script by Steven Knight (who also wrote Stephen Frears' DIRTY PRETTY THINGS - another LFF fave of mine - EASTERN PROMISES slips into the twilight world of Russian organised crime in London's East End. The film begins with birth and death as nurse Anna (Naomi Watts) finds the diary of a Russian teenager who has just died after giving birth. Anna asks her Russian uncle (Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski) to translate the journal, and also engages the attention of restaurant owner Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who expresses keen interest in this diary of a lost girl. Semyon's son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and henchman Nikolai (Mortensen) make up a frighteningly real triumvirate of terror as egos clash and the object of their attentions becomes more and more important.

On the strength of just one viewing, I'm on the verge of naming this as Cronenberg's strongest film since the twisted love story that is CRASH. it's simply dripping with prime Cronenberg themes and imagery - birth, death, sexual tension and, yes, body horror - and boldly underlines the feeling that Cronenberg has to be one of the most brilliant director's of actors currently working. Watts, Cassel and Skolimowski are all excellent, but it's Mortensen and Mueller-Stahl who really excel: the former bringing light and shade to an extremely complex individual while the latter breathes life into a character who moves from outward charm to a terrifying persona of evil at the flick of a switch. Highlights are many: look out for an unbelievably brutal encounter in a Turkish bath-house (where Mortensen does battle in unconventional 'body armour'; a sex scene that brings DEAD RINGERS to mind (there's a very good reason for the chosen carnal position) and a brutal declaration of intent set in a trad barber's shop. This really is a treasure trove, both above and below its surface veneer with Peter Suschitzky's excellent photography showing our capital city at its most menacing. Indeed, as we stepped out into the mild London evening, I couldn't help but think that the London we had just seen was possibly closer than we dared to imagine. Another great cinematic experience, but there is an admittedly minor complaint attached to this event. The previous evening's Gala Opening saw personal appearances from David Cronenberg and Naomi Watts. Would it have been too much for at least one of them to introduce the second screening? Watts did make an appearance on the red carpet outside some 15 minutes after the film ended, so her no-show beforehand was doubly infuriating. Vincent Cassel was also in town, so I guess no-one thought to ask him. The London Film Festival is the biggest event in our movie-going calendar. With a little more thought and effort it could be even more memorable.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007



This is the first of a series of reviews where the film in question is possibly not one to show to elderly relatives


Based on Michael Houellebecq's partly autobiographical novel, Whatever (Extension Du Domaine De La Lutte) finds Philippe Harel on top form from behind, and in front of the camera, adding scriptwriter and actor to his directorial duties. Harel takes the role of a lonely man, simply referred to as 'Notre Heros' (Our Hero) in the voice-over narration, whose mid-life crisis arrived a good 20 years earlier. Apart from a romance with a woman named Veronique (possibly imaginary, as our only proof is a photo which could have been anyone), our hero has led a priest-like existence, with practically no contact with the opposite sex. A mundane job and weekends spent alone now threaten to finally push him over the edge, realising that this is how it's going to be for the long haul: tax returns up to date, bills paid on time and an empty house, with mild depression his only companion.For the opening half hour, Whatever is painfully slow and, in truth, barely increases pace thereafter. Given the extremely depressing subject matter, Harel's direction is exquisitely judged, painting a dark portrait of self-loathing and then introducing a character who is arguably even more screwed up than our hero. Raphael Tisserand - a 28 year-old virgin - (Garcia) enters the fray to accompany our hero on a business trip, aiming to finally break his losing streak; possibly with one of the students he's paid to teach. As the pair lurch from one bar to another, our hero realises his own life helps to ease Tisserand's pain; a final insult that threatens to turn one of them into a cold-blooded killer.With the exceptions of odious whizz kid Schnable (Simon), career girl Catherine (Reigher) and a cold-hearted psychiatrist (Mouchet), this is very much a two-hander with Harel and Garcia - both excellent - vying for our votes as their nooses grow ever tighter. Tisserand in particular is a bomb just waiting to go off, and it's a chilling moment indeed when our hero tells him a few home truths, and then charts the course to his colleague's one true desire.While Whatever does contain fleeting moments of humour - our heros' answer phone states, "Wrong number, but please leave a message"- it's largely a deflating experience and God knows what kind of a mood one has to be in to brave a second viewing. First-timers should be aware that while Harel's film is hardly one of those hot potatoes that draws outrage from our self-appointed 'moral guardians', it does carry some controversial baggage; including a few seconds of penetrative sex taken from a skin flick, and the sight of our hero masturbating to the image of a bald vagina. There's also a point where Harel seems about to emabark into even more graphic territory, with a nod to one Jorg Buttgereit. Ultimately, the joyless, totally downbeat subject matter is unable to fully engage our abilities to care for the two main players, and the hint of better times ahead at the finale is very much open to interpretation; I certainly didn't buy it, preferring to believe it was simply part of an ongoing fever dream. Quite scary, in a Travis Bickle kind of way.Aka: Extension du Domaine de la Lutte

And after that, it's goodbye from me for 3 days. I hear London Calling.

We May be Through With The Past #1


I was sorting through my book collection the other day, and came across a book I haven't read in many, many years.

THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE was the first entry in a series titled Alfred Hitchcock And The Three Investigators, which ran for 43 books.

The series' debut begins with an introduction by Hitchcock who agreed to allow three boys to attempt to find a genuine haunted house for use in his next suspense picture. The trio - Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw and Bob Andrews - bagged this assignment by way of sheer skullduggery and their adventures turned me into a fan for several years.

Although I didn't realise it at the time, Hitch's involvement was fairly minimal and his name quickly took second place to Robert Arthur's text. Sadly, Arthur only wrote 11 books in the series before he passed away, but his involvement created some exciting tales.

THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE sees our heroes investigating a castle located above Hollywood, which was owned by a popular silent movie star named Stephen Terrill who committed suicide when he reluctantly decided he could no longer star in movies. Now, Terror Castle is given a wide berth and no-one has dared to spend the night there for many years.

During their investigations, Jupiter and his colleagues encounter a 'fog of fear', a blue phantom and a ghostly apparition in a mirror (the books illustration of this phantom lady haunted me for years). With the introduction of Terrill's former agent, things come to the boil nicely and move towards a conclusion that sets us up for their next adventure.
So, here's a book that I haven't read for the best part of 30 years. I sit down, read the opening chapter and I'm hooked. Kids stuff, huh? Well, I'm too old for this sort of stuff, but so what? These books were a part of my formative years, and sometimes it's not a bad thing to go back. To remind yourself of who you were at a given period in your life, and to experience again things that brought simple pleasures, free of the stern challenges that were not too far around the corner. Jones, Crenshaw, Andrews, Worthington the chauffeur, headquarters in a 30 foot mobile trailer home. Characters such as E. Skinner Norris, Uncle Titus and Aunt Mathilda, Hans and Konrad. The famous Three Investigators card, Jones' Holmesian deduction powers... all these made this book a magical experience. Unfortunately, my other Three Investigators books have disappeared over the years, lost in the mists of time but this one was always my favourite. Perhaps I'll check out Ebay and see if I can track down THE MYSTERY OF THE GREEN GHOST or THE MYSTERY OF THE SCREAMING CLOCK. Or, maybe I won't. We'll see, though one thing is for sure. To quote a line from one of my favourite films; "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us". Sometimes, it's good not to resist too much.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Random Reviews #1


Following the death of husband Antek (a legal eagle, played by Bardini), Ulla Zyro (Szapolowska) is approached by a young woman whose husband faces imprisonment for his role in a labour strike. Antek was one of the few lawyers prepared to handle politically sensitive cases, and Ulla honours his memory by agreeing to find a new lawyer who will continue the battle.Labrador (Barcis) – a brief approaching retirement – finally agrees to help, but a presence from beyond the grave appears to be telling Ulla that she’s made the wrong choice.No End marked the beginning of a new chapter for Kryzsztof Kieslowski, as the first project in what would be a long-standing partnership with scriptwriter Kryzsztof Piesewicz - himself an ex lawyer. Although his film provoked hostile reactions from both the Polish state and church, the long-suffering public showed active support for Kieslowski who used first-hand knowledge and experience to depict life under martial law. The result is a compelling film which, ultimately, fails to engage emotions to quite the same degree as his subsequent features. Themes of courage, loss and moral dilemna are now familiar features of a body of work which ended with the astonishing Three Colours:Red. Here, they form a somewhat uneasy marriage, relying on directorial flourishes to stop proceedings from sinking under the weight of a script that pulls in too many directions.Kieslowski would go on to enjoy a number of flirtations with supernatural imagery in several films – The Double Life Of Veronique, Three Colours:Blue/Red – subtle, understated occurrences that serve to remind us we are never truly alone and that our lives are controlled by dead people. Here, the visual presence of Antek figures several times, and seems overplayed; particularly compared to a couple of beautifully constructed scenes involving automobiles, and a red marker pen. On the other side of the camera, it’s Grazyna Zapolowski (excellent in Kieslowki’s A Short Film About Love) who really excels, anticipating Juliet Binoche’s grieving wife in Three Colours:Blue and running the whole gamut of human emotions en route to an ending that will haunt you for weeks after. Praise too, for Barcis, who delivers a fine character study of a man back in the political arena under great duress.Artificial Eye’s Region 2 DVD boasts a more than acceptable transfer of this film: picture quality may be a little on the soft side, but colours are strong with no distortion. Short of a major restoration, it’s hard to imagine this film looking much better than it does here. Extras are limited to a 5 minute Zapolowska interview – during which she states politics and art should not mix and admits she had problems regarding a sex scene that’s crucial to the story – and a 27 minute interview with DOP Jacek Petrycki who generally chats about Kieslowski’s short films; one of which (The Office) is included as an extra on this disc.

31 Movies That Give Me The Willies

My Own Selections

Head over to Ed's excellent Shoot The Projectionist blog and peruse a list of classic chillers before making your own list of 31 movies.
Inspired by Jeremy's choices in his wonderful Moon In The Gutter blog, I've decided to add my own initial list here, in no particular order.

13/ CAT PEOPLE (original)
20/ NO END

Within this list, there are a couple of haunted house movies where I'm not convinced there really was a haunting, two set-in-London chillers that I'm always reminded of whenever I set foot on the London underground tube system and representatives from some of my favourite directors including Cronenberg, Kieslowski, Bava, Argento, Ferrara and Polanski.
As for some of the others... CASTLE OF BLOOD is the perfect film for Halloween, and would make for a beautifully dark opening movie in that all-night session some of you may well be planning. It's probably a toss-up between SESSION 9 and RING for my number one chiller; the former really does deliver the goosebumps and that eerie voice on the tapes reminded me of passages from that phone call in BLACK CHRISTMAS. RING was a terrifically inspirational film, doing very good box office in the UK which led to a less-than satisfying DVD release. RING and RING 2 have spawned a couple of (in my view) poor remakes, and kick started a glut of Jhorror movies, and many imitators. Indeed, images of a girl in white with black hair covering her face keep popping up in much the same fashion as the black-gloved killer of the giallo following the exploits of Bava and Argento. As is so often the case, the original is the best here and RING never fails to instill a feeling of dread in this particular viewer.
I'd also recommend the Scottish chiller AN URBAN GHOST STORY (make up your own mind as to whether there really was a poltergeist) and THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK contains one of the most frightening images I've seen on film, along with a possible career best from Mimsy Farmer. One film I'd love to have included but couldn't is THE STONE TAPE. It was made for TV and I'll be reviewing it here in time for Halloween.
Thanks to Ed for giving us the chance to take part in this poll. I await the final results with great interest. Come back next year, and I'm sure my own list will have changed. That's what makes movie watching such a great experience.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

It's That Time Of The Year Again

The London Film Festival

Every November, our capital city plays host to The London Film Fesitval where approx 300 films are screened, using several venues. Gala premieres, masterclasses with directors and stars, and the opportunity to get early viewings of the riches from world cinema ensures film buffs flock to London during the course of 14 breathless days.

This year, David Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES is the opening night Gala film, while Wes Anderson's THE DARJEELING LIMITED has been chosen as the festival closer. In between, we have onstage interviews with Steve Buscemi, Harmony Korine, David Lynch discussing Trancendental Meditation, Laura Linnney, Wes Anderson and the films include Richard Attenborough's CLOSING THE RING, Fassbinder-inspired social drama THE EDGE OF HEAVEN, the remake of FUNNY GAMES starring Naomi Watts, John Sayle's latest HONEYDRIPPER, Sean Penn's INTO THE WILD, Michael Moore's SICKO and many more.

The LFF holds many memories for me. It was at the festival that I first saw such personal favourites as KILLING ZOE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, SNAKE EYES (aka DANGEROUS GAME), THE FUNERAL, AUTO FOCUS, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and beautiful restorations of classics such as NOSEFERATU and THE LOST WORLD. I'll also cite the premiere screening of Cronenberg's CRASH as the highlight of my viewing there. Just 24 hours before the screening, the authorities were trying to get the screening banned. Full marks to The British Film Institute who stood up to enormous pressure and insisted the show would go on, and arranged for DC himself to introduce the film and conduct a marvellous Q&A after.

In those days, it was a case of booking 3 nights stay in London and cramming in 9 or 10 movies during my stay. Since getting married, I haven't had the spare cash to allow for a festival visit but this year, I'm back!

My wife is American and, as she's never been to London, I thought it would be nice to show her around and also take in a festival screening. So, on 18th October we'll be seeing the second showing of EASTERN PROMISES with front row seats.

I'm a big Cronenberg fan and will be taking a look at this and other films from his impressive cv over the coming months.

This event will also mark my return to one of my favourite London cinemas, The Odeon Westend in the heart of Leicester Square. This venue has been one of the mainstays of the LFF for many years, and also plays host to Frightfest, THE event of the year for fans of Horror Cinema.
I've made many good friends at film fests, and while I love the riches DVD has to offer, I firmly believe the big screen is the best way to see a film. The atmosphere of a film festival is rather special, and I can't wait to renew this long-standing releationship.

There's A Tower In The Heart Of London


Julien Temple's endlessly moving tribute to the late, great Joe Strummer has to be one of the most important releases in 2007.

Moving through his globe-trotting formative years - from Turkey and Cairo to boarding school in England ("A school where people hung themselves") - THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN unearths a terrible personal tragedy before moving onto the roots of Strummer's musical career.

Art School Rock with a band called The Vultures sowed the seeds for his first major band, pub rockers The 101'ers whose single 'Keys To Your Heart' still makes me want to get up and move. Soon, this not-so tiny acorn blossomed into a bigger and better league with a mighty oak called The Clash; a band who changed many lives with their music and lyrics.

Here, those monumental live gigs are recalled with meaty footage of a band on fire: 'Career Opportunities', 'London's Burning', 'What's My Name' and other choice cuts are presented here via concert and rehearsal footage, confirming their reputation as a high octane act.

Temple's film is punctuated by great live music, and input from the world of cinema and music: Scorsese, Matt Dillon, Steve Buscemi and Johnny Depp stand in line to pay tribute, but it's Bono and Courtney Love who make the most telling contributions: the former declaring "The words of Joe Strummer were like an atlas", while Love tearfully recalls the time when Joe and his wife took her in and treated her like their daughter.

There are many more emotional sights and sounds from these great campfire tales. The sight of poor old 'Topper' Headon in particular, brought a mighty lump to my throat, but perhaps one of the saddest things of all is to witness again how the band fell apart. Did they really turn into the people they tried to destroy? Why were they so hated for making it in America? Perhaps many of their critics wanted them to stay in their 'Safe European Home' and churn out multiple retreads of that amazing debut album, and couldn't or wouldn't accept the glories of 'Sandanista'.

The last time I saw The Clash in concert was at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. By that time, Strummer was flanked by two members of Bristol punk band The Cortinas, and sporting his De Niro Taxi Driver haircut. Sure, we kidded ourselves it was a good gig but, deep down, we knew The Clash were no more. They had gone. Forever.

My final live encounter with Joe was at a Pogues gig at Rock City, Nottingham where he strode onstage to deliver a blistering version of 'London Calling' and then he was gone.

Joe Strummer passed away 22nd December 2002, and the news of his passing ruined my Christmas.

He's still with us though. People like Joe never really die. They just go away for a while, re-appearing whenever their music is played.

THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN brings him back again, deepening our respect and admiration. Expect a review of the wonderful Clash film, RUDE BOY in the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading the opening post in my new blog. I'll be delving into the worlds of cinema, music and books to the best of my limited ability. I have virtually zero knowledge of computer know-how so I hope you'll forgive any failings and also hope you'll enjoy reading my posts.
I have a list of my favourite blogs and hope you will check them all out if you haven't already. They are all well worth visiting on a daily basis.