Friday, 31 October 2008

HAPPY HALLOWEEN


Almost time to sign off for tonight, and enjoy a double bill fit for the spookiest night of the year. Our first film will be John Carpenter's essential HALLOWEEN which has been enjoying some excellent coverage on Jeremy's Moon In The Gutter blog. At this time of year, I always recall my first viewing of this film which - if memory serves me correct - was in 1978 at a cinema in Derby. This screening was actually part of a double bill with ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and served as a wonderful introduction to the work of John Carpenter. For me, this classic ranks as one of the finest genre flicks of the past 30 years and I hope this time next year to be able to enjoy it via Blu-ray(if my wife manages to work her magic on another competition, to add to the LCD TV she won earlier this year). And the other film on tonight's double-bill? CITY OF THE DEAD (aka HORROR HOTEL). A wonderfully atmospheric gem which will take us beyond the witching hour.
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I wish you all a fun and safe Halloween.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: A 4 DISC TREAT


While I'm usually reluctant to 'double dip' on DVD releases, I couldn't resist picking this one up to sit proudly alongside my Divimax Region 1 HALLOWEEN. This 4 disc special edition is still available, so grab yourself a copy if you haven't already. Here's the spec:

4DVD Set - Featuring 2DVDs Of Exclusive Content
Slipcase Sleeve Featuring Alternative Sleeve Artwork
Sleeve Notes Featuring A Discussion Between The Producer Anthony Masi And Moustapha Akkad
28-Page Halloween Comic Book - Entitled 'Halloween Autopsis'

Halloween (Original 1978 John Carpenter Version)
Halloween Unmasked 2000
Widescreen 2.35:1
Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 2.0 / Original Mono Soundtrack

Disc Two Contains:
Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest (87 Minutes)
On Location 25 Years Later
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Radio Spots
Poster & Stills Gallery
Talent Bios
DVD-ROM Screenplay
DVD-ROM Screensavers

Disc Three Contains:
Halloween: 25 Years of Terror - Documentary
Horror's Hallowed Grounds – An Exclusive Tour of the Halloween Series Filming Locations
Halloween II and III Extended Interviews
Extended Celebrity Interviews
Halloween 5 On-Set Footage
Halloween Convention Montage
Fans Of Halloween – Collections of Props and Memorabilia

Disc Four Contains:
Halloween Panel Discussion
Halloween II Panel Discussion
Halloween 6 Panel Discussion
Ellie Cornell Panel Discussion
Michael Myers Panel Discussion
Dean Cundey Panel Discussion
Halloween Producers Panel Discussion
Halloween Location Stills Gallery
Halloween Convention Behind-The- Scenes Gallery
Original Artwork Gallery

A real value for money package, with the panel discussions being a particular joy. Let's just say if you're a fan of P.J. Soles, you'll get your money's worth with her contribution alone.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: WEREWOLF SHADOW




Naschy's 4th outing as the cursed Waldemar Daninski is set in Northern France, where two young women are researching the legend of a vampire Queen named Wandesa (Paty Shepard). During the course of their work, Genevieve (Barbara Capell) and Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) encounter Daninski and, low on gas and miles from the nearest town, accept his offer of hospitality.Posing as a non-fiction writer, Daninski, armed with an ulterior motive, helps the girls to locate Wandesa's grave leading to a riff on that classic scene from Mario Bava's MASK OF SATAN (aka BLACK SUNDAY). Now the girls are faced with double jeopardy, in the form of Wandesa and Daninski's deranged sister who launches violent attacks on Genevieve.The likes of Naschy, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and Leon Klimovsky are often regarded as 'marginal' figures in the Euro horror hall of fame, but films such as VENUS IN FURS, THE LIVING DEAD GIRLl and WEREWOLF SHADOW possess more style and imagination than a good many of their more feted competitors. Naschy in particular, has never received the acclaim he deserves, yet his Waldemar Daninski is surely one of the most tragic figures in recent genre history: a werewolf doomed to live forever unless he is killed by the woman who truly loves him. Naschy's performance vivdly conveys a tortured existence and if he proves to be the pick of the bunch here, Paty Shepard's vampiric countess also scores highly. Although some 86 minutes pass before Wandesa utters her first line of dialogue, an intensely physical performance from Shepard ensures Wandesa dominates every scene she's in. There's a real love affair with the camera going on here - echoing the extraordinary visual appeal of Soledad Miranda and Barbara Steele - turning Shepard into a seductive black angel of death.Klimovsky, clearly relishing the talents of his two main players, delivers a mostly successful slice of horror hokum. Cliched it may be, but WEREWOLF SHADOW is a delicious mixture of vampire and lycanthropic folk lore, only losing a few points during the final act when Elvira's friend Marcel (Andres Fuerno) arrives, slowing things down somewhat in his role as police inspector.Anchor Bay's Region 2 DVD (identical to its American cousin) offers a spanking print taken from original vault materials. Interior and exterior scenes are usually sharp, with bold, undistorted colours and excellent shadow detail during numerous night scenes.The disc jacket proudly declares this is the first time WEREWOLF SHADOW has been available uncut, although those scenes involving sex and violence are by no means as graphic as legend may suggest; indeed, this film could easily play intact on late night TV.Anchor Bay has included a theatrical trailer, a splendid Naschy bio (penned by Mark Wickum) and a poster gallery with some terrific artwork for Naschy films, including THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK, FURY OF THE WOLFMAN and SCHOOL KILLER. Best of all, however, is a 15 minute Naschy interview where the man himself reveals how he came to play Waldemar; why the character was Polish, rather than Spanish, and the title of the film that inspired him to spend his life in movies.Naschy also discusses censorship, offers anecdotal memories of WEREWOLF SHADOW and holds forth on his friendship with, and admiration for, Leon Klimovsky (as well as highlighting a perceived weakness in Klimovsky's directorial style).It's the sort of featurette that makes DVD such a rewarding medium, and rounds off an essential purchase for followers of Spanish horror cinema.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK




Hallucinations, uncharacteristic behaviour and a decidedly strange circle of friends become fixtures in the haunted world of Silvia Hacherman (Mimsy Farmer); a chemist who finds her life is slowly turning upside down. When the subject of witchcraft is raised during a late-evening conversation ("A fear which has many names"), Hacherman begins a downwards spiral, where off-kilter sights and sounds propel her to the doorway of madness. An unstable relationship with her boyfriend ( Maurizio Bonuglia) underlines her profound insecurity, and his own abode is where Silvia experiences a terrifying vision: a scene which gave director Francesco Barilli his title for this highly-regarded film.Hacherman's personal twilight zone is littered with remnants from the past and present-day menace, perpetuated by people who are still very much alive: a psychic's account of Silvia's father's death; unnerving re-enactments drawn from her formative years; bloody acts of murder which may or may not be set in reality, and the presence of a Mario Bava-esque ghost child who plays an eerie music box melody ("What do you want it for? You're too old!") all combine to spin a terrifying web of conspiracy, with the dark arts casting the blackest of shadows over proceedings.Until now, the majority of Italian horror buffs had only encountered this film via grainy bootleg videos. Now, thanks to Italy's Raro Video, The Perfume Of The Lady In Black can be enjoyed and appreciated in an eye-popping 16:9 transfer. Here, Mario Masini's sumptuous photography comes alive, with vibrant primary colours elevating this film to a standard of visual design that matches the likes of Bava and Argento. While dialogue is not always easy to discern, Nicola Piovani's score encounters no problems regarding lack of clarity, and perfectly compliments Barilli's vivid brushstrokes. Full marks to Raro, who also dish up an appetizing 23 minute featurette: 'Portrait In Black' features Barilli - still full of enthusiasm for his film - who recalls Perfume was shot in 8 weeks; that his original idea for a screenplay received a less-than positive reaction, and how he decided to base his story on Alice In Wonderland: a character who comes alive, thanks to Farmer (though Barilli feels she never really got into the role). Perfect viewing on tonight of all nights!

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN

This quick-off-the-mark Mexican homage to Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY wastes no time in creating a haunted world that, on its own terms, comes close to giving the Italians a run for their money.As a coach bearing three travellers continues its journey through an eerie wood, a sightless woman, flanked by three hounds, silently bids her henchman to stop the coach and murder its occupants. Hell of an opening, and, for the viewer, things get even better when Emily (Rosita Arenas) arrives at her Aunt Thelma's spooky hacienda, a matter of hours before her 23rd birthday.As one of the most renowned films from Churubusca Azteca Studios, THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN certainly lives up to its reputation, with Rita Macedo taking centre stage as the black magic woman who plans to use her niece to help resurrect one Marianne Lane - 'The Wailing Witch.'Macebo and Arenas are both excellent here, pushing their compelling battle of wills to the limit, while Salazar (Emily's husband) and Moctezuma (Thelma's hired hand, rescued from the gallows) make for good opposing characters; the real deal, however, comes with some exceptionally unnerving special effects: haunted mirrors, decaying not-quite-dead bodies, Macedo's gobsmacking entrance through a window and a wonderful series of shots featuring satanic rituals, shot with negative film stock - think Benjamin Christenson meets Italian Gothic. Just a few of the highlights from a film which may have come under the scrutiny of a pre-BARON BLOOD Mario Bava and, possibly, Dario Argento: check out INFERNO again and note not only the finale, but also certain dialogue similarities. My first experience of this film came via Beverly Wilshire's DVD, which, while bearing the customary scratches and splices of their Mexican series, is more than acceptable though it does, of course, highlight budget restrictions (rubber bats on wires, etc). For an infinitely more pleasing presentation, interested punters are directed to the special edition from Casanegra, which features a pristine transfer taken from newly restored vault elements. I'm sure I'm not the only one to express sorrow regarding the demise of this enterprising label.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

COMING SOON: CASS



29th December sees the release of CASS on DVD in the UK. This film is a dramatisation of the events surrounding the life of Cass Pennant, who was one of the leading figures in the West Ham ICF (Inter City Firm); one of the most feared gangs of football hooligans.


Cass (played here by Nonson Anozie) was placed in a Dr. Banardos orphanage in London in the '50s, and adopted by a white couple. While growing up, Cass was plagued by constant racist bullying, but went on to become a terrace legend while attending West Ham football matches. By all accounts, CASS is a compelling film, charting issues of class, race and masculinity across almost four decades and is sure to be hard-hitting in its depiction of soccer violence. For sure, those who were around at the time will recall trips to Upton Park and vouch for the fact that Pennant and co could always be relied on to make life extremely uncomfortable (and that's putting it mildly). Expect a review early in the New Year.
While you're waiting for the film, check out Pennant's 'Congratulations You Have Just Met The ICF' book.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS



Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead swansong begins with a young woman being stabbed to death by flesh and blood Templars, who proceed to remove her heart and then indulge in ritual blood-drinking. The story then moves onto the present day where Dr. Stein (Victor Petit) and his wife (Maria Kosti) arrive at a remote village to begin a new life at a medical practice.His predecessor warns Stein not to go out at night or ask any questions, but refuses to elaborate. Of course, the doctor ignores this advice and comes up against a wall of silence from hostile locals, save for Lucy (Sandra Mozorowski), a young woman who offers to help with household chores, and a cripple named Teddy (Jose Antonio Calvo) who seems to be the whipping boy for the entire village.Stein witnesses some strange sights when darkness falls and eventually learns the legend of The Templar's who rise from their graves for 7 nights every 7 years, requiring the locals to leave (you guessed it) 7 virgins on the beach for the Blind Dead to collect, which must have been a difficult task to fulfil.
While de Ossorio’s tale bears certain similarities to the work of HP Lovecraft, it’s also reminiscent of other examples of rural horror in the 70s, with the unfriendly locals and a persecuted misfit taking riffs from Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS, while the scenes on the beach may well have been inspired by Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER MAN.Whatever, it’s good to see this series end on a high – particularly after the disappointing GHOST GALLEON and de Ossorio certainly catches fire on this one, with several scenes that make this the equal of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD for other-wordly atmosphere and graphic carnage. There’s also some rather wonderful mythology to savour – the idea that the seagulls are actually dead souls is decidedly creepy – and the cast run with it, turning in several very solid performances. Once again, the director returns to his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD siege scenario and this builds to a great finale, adding to the legend of those ghost riders of Berzano.
Anchor Bay’s Blind Dead box set offers a nice anamorphic presentation of this film, with strong colours and good shadow detail. Again, the disc comes with trailers and a poster and stills gallery but there is a 5th disc in this set which offers some excellent supplementary material.‘The Last Templar’ is a 24 min 54 sec documentary on Ossorio, touching on his formative years spent in business management, how he moved to Madrid aged 30 and started to make films, and features several film historians who give their views on the man and his movies. With contributions from Lone Fleming, Esperanza Roy and Jack Taylor, ‘The Last Templar' is exactly the kind of documentary that DVD was made for, offering an informative overview of the director and giving us valuable glimpses of some of his other work: check out clips of Anita Ekberg in MALENKA; his little-seen THE LORELEI'S GRASP and there’s an excerpt from LA BANDERA NEGRA (The Black Flag) which is basically a one-handed 90 minute monologue. Picture quality is excellent, so PLEASE will some enterprising company acquire the rights to this film? Soon! There’s also DVD Rom content via ‘A Farewell To Spain’s Knight Of Horror’, an essay in pdf format, and ‘Unearthing The Blind Dead’; a 10 minute interview where the man himself holds forth, voicing his appreciation of Franco and Naschy; lamenting the fact that financial constraints did not allow him to make more films (de Ossorio viewed his scripts as a way of making films), and revealing he planned a fifth Blind Dead movie featuring flying Templars!It’s a fine way to draw the curtain on a box set that has to be a contender for one of the best DVD releases of 2005. Full marks to Anchor Bay Entertainment and Blue Underground for treating British and American fans to the definitive Blind Dead showcase. Those same people will also relish the inclusion of Nigel Burrell’s updated ‘Knights Of Terror publication, which offers 40 pages of Blind Dead analysis and some terrific stills: a labour of love, beautifully written and presented.
Unfortunately, I have to close this review on a sad note. It’s inevitable that some of the participants in these films are no longer with us. One such person is Sandra Mozorowsky who committed suicide aged 18. Maybe it was the pressures of a career which began when she was 8 years old, or perhaps her actions were the result of other pressures? We’ll never know. Sandra could have turned out to be a good, great or indifferent actress but that’s not the point. It’s terrible to hear of young lives cut short for whatever reason, but it’s good that some 28 years after her death, Sandra’s light still shines in this film today

Sunday, 26 October 2008

007 HEAVEN: A NEW POLL

With the latest Bond film primed for relase on 31st October, I thought it would prove interesting to canvass opinion regarding who has proved to be the best James Bond to date. So, if you can spare a few seconds to cast your vote, head over to the poll on the right. While it may be a shade to early to judge Daniel Craig, I have to say I was enormously impressed by his performance in CASINO ROYALE . Craig also shone in the BBC drama OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH - a riveting nine-part series which still ranks as one of the finest slices of television screened on these shores - and it's particularly gratifying to follow his success here.

We're chomping at the bit to see QUANTUM OF SOLACE but work commitments (not for the first time) have thrown a spanner in the works. So, instead of catching this film on the opening day, we'll have to wait until 7th November to take our seats and engage in another bout of Bond fever. A disappointing delay, but all good things come to he who waits!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

SPOOKS: SERIES 7 BECKONS

I'd almost given up on terrestrial TV, when news came through that series 7 of SPOOKS will begin on BBC1 on 27th October at 9.00pm. The opening episode (1 of 8) is a two-parter, which will conclude the following evening, and concerns the kidnapping of a British soldier by an al-Qaeda cell who demand the cancellation of Remembrance Sunday in return for his release. Richard Armitage joins the cast for this series, playing an agent who has been held in a Russian prison for the past 8 years, and it will be interesting to see how this strand develops. As part of this series was shot in Russia, viewers can expect echoes of the Cold War, and a flavour of the old spy thrillers of the '60s. There has been a rumour doing the rounds that one of the major players here may well be leaving the series with a bang. All will be revealed over the coming weeks, so settle on the edge of your seat and prepare to be enthralled by another slice of one of our finest shows.

Friday, 24 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: CASTLE OF BLOOD

A smoky tavern somewhere in London plays host to a conversation between Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquili) and his friend Sir Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho). Poe's claim that his stories are all based on fact is overheard and challenged by English journalist Alan Foster (Georges Riviere), who will soon accept a bet that he cannot survive an entire night at Blackwood's haunted castle. Each year, on 2nd November, Sir Thomas makes the same wager, with the same end results: those who accept the challenge are never seen again.Thanks to the advent of DVD, we are now able to study the works of a number of influential directors with a heightened awareness of that wafer-thin barrier between the living and the dead. While the name of Mario Bava springs to mind as the prime mover in these haunted worlds of unquiet spirits, Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti both merit at least a chapter each in any self-respecting book of the dead.Of course, this trio of Italian directors had more in common than a talent for creating some of the most unsettling imagery in horror cinema; they also shared the services of some wonderful actresses, with the likes of Barbara Steele, Harriet Medin and Michelle Mercier gracing a number of their individual productions, including THE GHOST , BLACK SABBATH and THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK. Steele worked for all three directors, appearing here as Elisabeth; one of a quartet of ghosts who must replay their tragic deaths on the fateful anniversary. Once again, Steele's extraordinary features dominate the camera lens as she attempts to lure Foster to the other side, though fellow apparition Julia (Margarete Robsahn) almost steals the show as a spook with a score to settle. Regretably, Robsahm's acting career ended with this film, due to her embarrassment over a lesbian love scene with Steele. A similar red-faced reaction may also have been felt by one dithering G. Riviere, whose initial actions and reflexes seem governed by a 5 second time delay. Happily, Georgie boy eventually turns into a more than capable performer, complimenting a fine cast and Margheriti's atmospheric direction. By the time this film reaches a thoroughly downbeat conclusion, it's clear that Blackwood Castle has joined such undesirable residencies as The Villa Graps, Hill House and Lisa Reiner's mansion; part of a select group of properties that invite us through their doors for one night only.Synapse's splendid DVD release gives us the welcome opportunity of viewing the uncut CASTLE OF BLOOD, which includes "lost" footage of a topless Silvia Sorrente - one half of a honeymoon couple who accepted a Blackwood wager - together with the aforementioned love scene (which plays more like a rape, with Robsahn on top!). This particular incarnation was created from four different audio and video sources, in order to present the longest version possible. As a result, image quality is variable but, overall, gives a pleasing representation of Margheriti's macabre compositions, with bags of detail in darker scenes and crisp depictions of decaying corpses, haunted portraits and those gorgeous flesh and blood spectres. This DVD release was subject to a delay of several months, due to soundtrack-related problems. While it's true that Synapse have been unable to deliver a flawless soundtrack, any remaining glitches, while occasionally obtrusive, can easily be forgiven in the light of the reverential treatment afforded to this classic.

ELECTRIC PROMS

Now in its third year, the BBC Electric Proms is taking place in London and Liverpool from 22nd - 26th October. More than 60 artists will be taking part, aiming to create a fresh musical experience, with choirs and orchestra's joining forces with top bands and vocalists. While those able to receive Digital TV will enjoy the best coverage (as usual), BBC2 will be screening a number of programmes which will contain highlights of the shows. Tonight show will feature Nitin Sawhey and The Last Shadow Puppets, while Razorlight fans should check out tomorrow evening at 11.20pm. For me, the real biggie will take place on Sunday evening when England's finest, Oasis, present a night of classic anthems and material from their new album. The boys will be joining forces with the Crouch End Festival Chorus, and hope to do a cover of The Rolling Stones' 'We Love You' at some point in their set. Keane and Goldfrapp (the latter accompanied by strings and choir) are just a few of the other bands taking part.

Although we are currently unable to receive Digital channels, we did manage to view some of last year's highlights, with Bloc Party treating us to a blinding set and also recall The Good, The Bad And The Queen doing us proud in 2006. With a UK stadium tour beckoning next Summer , it will be nice to see Oasis onstage again so roll on Sunday! Of course, Liam and the gang have a brand new album out, titled 'Dig Out Your Soul'. While I don't yet own a copy, I have managed to listen to it once and it sounds like a very strong album. Check out this link for a review http://mooninthegutter.blogspot.com/2008/10/dig-out-your-soul-and-dont-be-afraid-to.html

Monday, 20 October 2008

OUR VERY OWN X FILES

Today, The National Archives made available newly opened UFO files from the UK government. These files contain a wide range of UFO-related documents covering the years 1986-1992, including a close encounter over Gatwick Airport. The files are in PDF format, and previous files (already released by The Ministry Of Defence) can also be downloaded, although there is apparently a small fee for access to the older material. Zip over to http://ufopressrelease.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ to peruse the information. Well, it makes a change from world recession and Joe the plumber!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A POLL FOR THESE TROUBLED TIMES

Just wondered how the current climate is affecting individual buying patterns, with regard to DVDs? With soaring utility bills, rising unemployment and sundry examples of recession, many of our leisure pursuits may have to go on the back burner for a while. At the moment, the delights of Blu-Ray will have to wait a while as far as I'm concerned and SD product (currently offering some v-e-r-y tasty new releases) is also not on the agenda. I'll be pleased if you can all find time to vote in my new poll, and record just where you stand with regard to any changes in your buying habits.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: URBAN GHOST STORY










"Ken Loach meets The Exorcist" is how Variety magazine greeted this 1998 feature from Genevieve Jolliffe. It's a worthwhile summing-up, as URBAN GHOST STORY is a throwback to those great British 'Kitchen Sink'dramas, with a dose of the supernatural combining to make this one of the most effective British dramas of the 90's.




When 12 year old Lizzie (Heather Ann Foster) is thrown through a car windscreen during an ecstasy-induced car crash, death takes her down a long dark tunnel towards a blinding light. Doctors manage to revive her after 184 seconds but did something/someone follow her back to the land of the living? After a series of disconcerting events, her single-parent mother - Kate,played by Stephanie Buttle - strongly suspects supernatural forces are present in their tower block flat, but finds her appeals to be re-housed are falling on deaf ears. In a desperate bid to enlist sympathetic help, she contacts the local press, resulting in an investigation by a journalist (Jason Connery) who swiftly decides her claims to be nothing more than an attempt to jump the housing queue. While mediums, paranormal investigators and devout Christians invade the flat to carry out their own investigations, Kate and her family must battle through a succession of decidedly earthbound obstacles, with the scent of psychic phenomena hanging heavy in the air. URBAN GHOST STORY is as much about the living as the dead, centering on many socially-driven repercussions that confront families who find themselves on the bottom of the pile: violent debt collectors; a family member destroying herself on drugs; the struggle to free oneself from squalid living conditions and authorities who are unwilling and, often, unable to offer a way out.




On the 10th anniversary of this film's release, things are even worse with our fucked-up society bereft of hope for the disenfranchised as the numbers of folks living in poverty climb ever higher. Jolliffe's film succeeds in capturing this depressing yet profoundly moving environment, while also delivering an understated, chilling excursion into the paranormal world where money and perceived status often overshadow those who genuinely place the frightened victim(s) at the top of their own unhidden agenda.




Inspired by the famous case of 'The Enfield Poltergeist', URBAN GHOST STORY never resorts to the bombastic assaults employed by many less successful spookers, instead opting to deliver less sensationalist methods of chilling the blood. In this instance, less is most definitely more, with a series of economically chilling sequences suggesting Lizzie's state of mind may not be creating these strange instances of unexplained noises, furniture movement and flying optics. Kudos to Jolliffe and producer Chris Jones for making such a full-bodied drama on a low budget, and also to a fine cast who do full justice to the literate screenplay. Amazingly, the most memorable performance comes from 13 year old Heather Ann Foster who belies her tender years with a mature turn as the frightened girl consumed with guilt over the death of her friend. With her tormented visage - contrasted at times by great serenity- fearful glances and accomplished script delivery, Foster goes through the whole gamut of emotions, and it's both surprising and sad that that neither she nor her director have really broken through during the 10 years since this film was released. I was lucky enough to catch URBAN GHOST STORY opening weekend at the Metro cinema in London's Rupert Street, snapped up the DVD when it came out, and remain mystified that it has yet to receive the recognition it deserves from the public at large.




The DVD contains separate commentary tracks from Jolliffe and Jones; a making-of documentary and a featurette titled 'The Real Urban Ghost Story' which looks back at the Enfield Poltergeist case. The haunting soundtrack can be found as an isolated score, and there are several deleted scenes with commentary explaining why they were left out. Although these omissions are not presented in a 'finished' state, they are worthy of inclusion here, and it would be an interesting exercise to debate the pros and cons regarding their exclusion.




Some 10 years on, URBAN GHOST STORY remains a powerful viewing experience, and it would be nice to think its value will be recognised in the fullness of time.

Friday, 17 October 2008

WEIRD ON TOP: SOME LYNCH STUFF



20th October sees the release of two DVDs which will delight David Lynch buffs. First of all, ERASERHEAD which will include an 86 minute interview with Lynch about the making of this film.


THE SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH is a collection of six films (all introduced by Lynch): SIX MEN GETTING SICK: 1 minute film projected onto sculptured screen. THE ALPHABET: 16mm 4 minutes. THE GRANDMOTHER: 16mm 34 minutes. THE AMPUTEE: Video - 2 versions 5 minutes/4 minutes. THE COWBOY AND THE FRENCHMAN: 35mm 26 minutes.LUMIERE: 35mm 55 seconds using original Lumiere Brothers camera.


ERASERHEAD will retail for around £11.99, while the short films are just under a tenner. Two essential releases. I've yet to see the shorts, and it will be nice to see Lynch's debut feature again with optimum picture quality.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: THE ST. FRANCISVILLE EXPERIMENT



In THE ST. FRANCISVILLE EXPERIMENT, a quartet of teens must spend the night in a haunted house, armed with video cameras and a collective IQ lower than your average super model's chest measurement. Right from the start, this ill-advised project Blairs to go where other, worthier films have previously trodden: the result is a mixed bag of tricks where participants on both sides of the camera emerge with little credit; at least, for the majority of the 78 minute duration.St. Francisville apes its illustrious predecessor by taking a mock doc approach, where historians and paranormal experts start proceedings by providing background information which, to be fair, succeeds in raising expectations. We learn of a house on Royle Street Louisiana, where the cruel mistress of the property kept one of her servants chained to the kitchen wall. When the servant deliberately set fire to the house, her employer took flight, leaving a subsequent investigation to discover an attic full of tortured slaves, including: a 12 year old boy - still alive - with half his face peeled off, and a man whose castration appeared to be part of a hideous sex change operation. There's enough here to match that memorable list of atrocities from SESSION 9, but this hugely perverse atmosphere soon evaporates when our quartet of ghost busters unpack their cameras and thermal scanners. Tim Thompson (film student), Madison Charap (psychic), Paul Cason (team leader) and Ryan Larson (history student) make up the gang of four who arrive in the house to be greeted by a falling chandelier that almost reduces their number. This staggeringly familiar ruse sets the tone for a dull 60 minutes containing a number of misfired attempts to spook the viewers, make them jump and, if all else fails, beg them to empathise with those poor souls inside the house. So, we get a cat jumping out from a wardrobe; overly-theatrical complaints about being touched by unseen hands; a seance which fails to inspire any feelings of dread or forboding and if you're looking for a gross-out scene, I can only offer you a roach sandwich. All of this arrant nonsense is punctuated by group in-fighting (always a pleasure) and any number of spurious claims, including Charap's declaration that they're dealing with a mentally unstable ghost! Apart from one halfway decent scene ( a chair is seen flying across the attic), there's precious little to keep the eyelids from drooping: that is until our friends decide to split up, with each being assigned a room to 'cleanse'. Here, the film really does begin to catch fire and if you can forgive Larson's ELM ST inspired encounter with a four-poster, you may temporarily forget the aforementioned opening hour and buy in to a dramatic sequence that is guaranteed to get your nerves jangling. Even then, the director seems determined to throw a spanner in the works, switching from a potentially sadistic scenario (think SESSION 9 again) to a speedy and unhindered evacuation that would make any health and safety exec postively blush with pride.High Fliers' DVD release is a bare bones, featureless affair, with picture quality ranging from pin-sharp during bright, exterior shots, to a more appropriately grainy look where conveniently placed cameras compete with hand-held shots to either enhance or stifle any sudden bursts of action.While this production comes over as a rush job, with emphasis placed on getting it down rather than getting it right, those fleeting moments of terror label it as worthy of investigation by horror buffs who have to see everything.

ANOTHER NEW BLOG TO CHECK OUT

Keith has just launched another new blog, titled SUGAR & SPICE. This, his latest project, will focus on a never ending procession of gorgeous women from the 60s and 70s. There will be reviews, pictures, videos and much more, covering movies and music. Another one to install on your favourites list. http://lotsofsugarandspice.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 11 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: A TRUE STORY

I'd always kept an open mind where ghosts are concerned. From an early age, I've been fascinated by the possibility of some kind of spectral DNA being deposited in the land of the living, by sight, sound or touch. While I'm aware that many reports of supernatural phenomena can be attributed to over active imaginations or fraud, it's none too easy to accept there are no genuine cases. Although some members of my family did encounter what they perceived to be manifestations at my previous home, I could make no such claim and continued to read and view anything with a supernatural theme without joining either camp of doubters or converts. In my late teens, something happened which I still don't really understand but it most definitely made me a little more sympathetic to the possibility of ghosts.
It was August, 1979. I was in London, staying at a small hotel just off the Tottenham Court Road. I'd previously pitched camp at this particular place maybe a dozen nights in total and my impression was that I'd hit the jackpot by finding a clean, comfortable place to stay that was centrally placed in relation to places I needed to visit and competitively priced. On this particular evening, I'd been to a gig at London's Marquee Club and arrived back at the hotel in need of a good nights sleep. While I sometimes got a room overlooking the busy Gower Street (with London buses and cabs providing a cacophony of sound all night long), I was given a room at the back overlooking the infinitely quieter Sussex Gardens on this visit, and soon got to sleep. After a while, I awoke and checked my alarm clock which showed me it was just a few minutes after 2.00am. Turning back to rest my head on the pillow, I was terrified to see a tall figure standing in front of the bed. He was dressed in a top hat, with a white scarf tied around his neck. While the room was pitch black, I could actually make out the features of this man, with his eyes, ears, mouth and sideburns being composed of what I can only term as gold braiding. Upon catching sight of this frightening figure, I stared for a few seconds before diving under the bedclothes where I remained for several minutes, heart pounding. When I resurfaced, the figure had gone, leaving me with a desire to see daybreak and get out into the streets, away from this room. I've stayed at the same hotel on many, many occasions since and have never seen nor sensed anything of a supernatural nature. To this day, I'm unsure if I did see a ghost in the accepted sense of the term, or maybe a recording of someone who once lived there that can be played back under certain conditions. All I know is that I did see something without a shadow of a doubt.

Friday, 10 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: HAUNTED DERBYSHIRE

My home county of Derbyshire is awash with supernatural lore, with the nearby city of Derby renowned as being England's most haunted city. The small market town where I live also has ghostly links with some of the families and characters who lived there many years ago, with tales of Roman soldiers who have been seen walking above the ground and the spirit of Lady Cockayne who can be seen on Winter's evenings walking across a large local pond. Cockayne Hall used to stand approx 200 yards from where we currently live, and the Cockayne family owned land here as early as 1372. One of the transepts in the local church contains a tomb dedicated to this family, and while ghostly figures have been reported on the local churchyard, Lady Cockayne has long been associated with the old Grammar School where her restless spirit has been seen on occasions walking the corridors.
You can find posts on the subject of haunted Derbyshire in the Ghosts section of this blog, but there is another local building which I haven't mentioned until now. Tissington Hall is a Jacobean mansion, built in 1609 by Francis Fitzherbert. In 1862, the hall was the scene of a tragic accident when the nightdress of Mina Fitzherbert caught fire. She died from her injuries a short while after. Her ghost has been seen by many members of the family down the years, and residents and guests have also reported the ghost of a man in black in the cellar, unexplained smells of tobacco and lavender, ghostly apparitions in bedroom 4 where people complain of being touched and of the bed moving, the sound of a woman humming, and a figure ascending the staircase only to suddenly disappear. The current owner is Sir Richard Fitzherbert, and October 31st will see the hall playing host to 11 guests who will each pay £75 to spend the night in a special ghost hunt. The evening will include a tour of the hall accompanied by a medium and there will be seances, vigils and paranormal investigations using state-of-the-art equipment. The ghost hunt takes place between 9.00pm - 5.00am and I only hope it becomes an annual event, as I'd love to take part next year.

Monday, 6 October 2008

NEW BLOG IN TOWN

Just learned of a new blog from Keith, who presents the 'Coolness Is Timeless' Blog. http://coolnessistimeless.blogspot.com/
His latest project is 'That Black Magic', which will focus on black entertainers in the world of cinema, television and music. Plenty to write about and plenty for us to enjoy so check it out! http://thatblackmagic.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 4 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: A TASTE OF FEAR IN WALES

Ok, this isn't an October event but The Abertoir Horror Festival is well worth publicising. From 12th-16th November,the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in Wales will play host to a rather special film fest. Here, over 20 films will be screened, with book signings, music, theatre and special guests joining forces over 5 frantic days.

HELLRAISER fans will want to look out for a special evening with Doug Bradley, who will present 'An Evening With Death'; a journey through horror, using classic works from HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. Fans of Goblin will want to attend the concert from Daemonia, with Claudio Simonetti including some of his most famous scores. Just to put you in the mood, there will be a 35mm presentation of SUSPIRIA beforehand. Some great news also for admirers of Gary Sherman's DEATH LINE, as Gary will be bringing a brand new 35mm print of his classic film, together with his latest film 39 for its European premiere. Also look out for HALLOWEEN, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, MACHINE GIRL, a mystery Grindhouse screening and much more!

The festival is in its third year, and looks set to be an out and out success. Click on the link for full details http://www.abertoir.co.uk/ Sadly, we won't be able to attend but hope everyone has a great time.

Friday, 3 October 2008

HALLOWEEN HORRORS: THE SECT



Following an impressive debut (STAGE FRIGHT) and a disappointing second feature (LA CHIESA/THE CHURCH), Michele Soavi enlisted the help of Gianni Ramoli and Dario Argento to construct a screenplay which, taken at face value, reeks of ROSEMARY'S BABY and other celluloid accounts of demonic offspring.Set in 1970, THE SECT makes Frankfurt it's base camp and begins by introducing two characters who will soon enter the life of schoolteacher Miriam Kreisl (Kelly Curtis). Damon (Tomas Arana) arrives at the makeshift abode of a hippie commune and after slaughtering his unwitting hosts, aided by several accomplices, welcomes the arrival of Moebius Kelly (Herbert Lom) who declares, "It is not yet time. Maybe not for years".When Euro stalwart John Morghen ( playing a character named Martin Romero!) figures in a gory, self-inflicted death scene, it's clear that an ancient evil is about to rise from the depths of history, driven by a loyal band of disciples. Kelly's part in the proceedings becomes more influential as the film progresses, gaining entrance to Kreisl's home after a road accident and displaying detailed knowledge of her personal life. Kelly's disturbing behaviour – punctuated by bouts of ill health leading to his disappearance – is beautifully rendered by Lom, and it's no coincidence that events do lose a little momentum during his temporary absence. Happily, Curtis establishes a grip on our senses, unveiling a pitch perfect range of emotions as the terrifying truth slowly emerges.It certainly doesn't seem like more than a decade and a half has passed Soavi's own loyal band of followers were upgrading third-gen bootleg tapes for Guild Home Video's official UK release of THE SECT. Now, those same people, together with a new generation of fans, can finally see Soavi's classic under ideal conditions, via a Region 2 Italian DVD, with optional English subtitles. Here, image quality is usually sharp as a tack, with only a few instances where the picture is a little on the soft side. On DVD, we can better appreciate those gorgeous colour schemes and gain a heightened awareness of some breathtaking camerawork: Argento-esque? Of course, though the work of Kieslowski also springs to mind. Individual performances benefit, too, from the increased image resolution: Lom's already impressive turn certainly grows in stature, while Kelly Curtis seems better than ever, delivering one of the best female lead performances in 90s horror cinema as Miriam is prepared for the ultimate occult desecration. Which takes us back to ROSEMARY'S BABY. Such comparisons are inevitable, but THE SECT reveals other sundry influences and also offers visual and thematic ingenuity which may have inspired more recent filmmakers. Genre buffs will spot acknowledgments to Hooper's TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, and Carpenter's HALLOWEEN where Curtis finds herself facing much the same sort of peril as sister Jamie Lee, some 15 years earlier. There's also a delightful tip of the hat to the films producer (sssh, you-know-who) during chapter 16; this time involving a key, rather than a brooch.Comparisons can also be made to a certain Peter Weir film, with Soavi anticipating THE TRUMAN SHOW where the central character is also placed under surveillance from birth and lives a manufactured life. A far more likely connection can be found in the excellent RING, where a close encounter down a well could have been inspired by the evil at the bottom of Soavi's long, vertical tunnel which turns out to be a birthing chamber for the chosen one.Due to its slow pacing, THE SECT may never receive the acclaim it so richly deserves, but a little patience will bring dividends; particularly if invested over multiple viewings where recurrent images and motifs take control over imagination: a white linen shroud that attaches itself to the heads of enemies and briefly covers Miriam's face to reveal the outline of Kelly's visage; dream sequences which prepare us for Miriam's unholy union, even the initially annoying presence of a pet rabbit forges a compelling link, representing not only a symbol of fertility but also reminding us that our four-legged friends have long been regarded as an emissary of the devil.When the wonderful DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE graced our screens, Michele Soavi seemed ready to sweep all before him, doubtless casting an eye towards the throne occupied by Dario Argento. Sadly, a serious family illness placed his career on hold and we can only hope that his re-emergence will lead to a renewal of his great talent.As a considerable triumph of style over substance, THE SECT is nothing less than Michele Soavi's INFERNO. It remains to be seen whether it's the film he'll be remembered for.

HALLOWEEN HORRORS


It's getting very close to that certain time of the year when horror fans really enter into the spirit of this famous festival, with all-night movie marathons taking them beyond the witching hour where the powers of darkness hold sway. I'll be doing my little bit with a series of posts involving films, books and haunted locations.

If, like me, you have a special fondness for John Carpenter's classic HALLOWEEN, head on over to Jeremy Richey's Moon In The Gutter blog where he's already underway on a rather special tribute to this film. http://mooninthegutter.blogspot.com/

Also highly recommended is Jeremy's new blog on Jean Rollin, titled Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience. http://requiemforjeanrollin.blogspot.com/