Sunday, 28 March 2010

This Is Your Bloody Valentine Uncut !

Last year's remake of My Bloody Valentine (in 3D no less) seemed one of the more unlikely choices for the remakes mill, and while the 2009 film is mostly missable, Lionsgate marked its release by re-issuing the original on DVD and Blu-Ray in its complete, uncut version. My Bloody Valentine, a Canadian production from 1980, about a maniac pick-axing his way thru a small mining town, was always something of a marginalised film, it never quite made it to the inner sanctum of classic slashers, like The Burning or the early Friday the 13th movies, mostly because Paramount had allowed the MPAA to savage all of the kill sequences in the film, a policy which they extended to the Friday the 13th series as well. Worse still, Fangoria who covered the production of the film, ran some pictures of the gory effect shots which had failed to materialize when the film hit theatres in Spring of '81, leaving horror fans somewhat underwhelmed by what was a largely anaemic slasher film. Over the years, commentary on the film has centred on not what appeared on the screen, but rather what did not appear, and so My Bloody Valentine became unfairly dismissed as something of a half-assed film. It was there, but not quite there...


Now, all that has changed with the arrival of this most unlikely of film restorations. So, was it worth it ? Actually, yes... My Bloody Valentine now plays better than ever, with the re-instated gore amping up the horror, which the film badly needed. Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, but I always felt that My Bloody Valentine had a kinship, not with the proto-slashers of Halloween or Friday the 13th, but rather The Deer Hunter, with both films capturing well, the milieu of life in a small industrial town. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, one of the pivotal characters in My Bloody Valentine shares the name of one the character from the Cimino film.

As for the outlaw gore, the film is strong stuff indeed, surprisingly so, and fans of classic era-Tom Savini will be well pleased with My Bloody Valentine's retro-fitting. This seems a good point to mention the Blu-Ray itself. The gore scenes were taken from an early assembly of the film and are rather lo-fi compared to the rest of the film (which looks magnificent in HD). It hardly matters, and won't spoil any one's enjoyment of the film, but wisely, Lionsgate have included an option of watching the film in its "original" version (ie. sans gore) which I would recommend to newcomers to the film - the switch from high-def to low-fi often telegraphs an upcoming murder. Either way, My Bloody Valentine has finally made the long journey home, and this new edition (which sports some nice supplements) is easily the best way to fall in love with this film again.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Marilyn Chambers is rabid... I mean, Insatiable !

I won't spend say too much about this X-Rater I caught up with earlier - this being a family-blog etc, but Insatiable is well deserving of its status as a classic of the Golden Age of Adult Cinema. Insatiable, made in 1980 stars Marilyn Chambers as Sandra Chase, a wealthy jet-setting heiress cum (sorry!) fashion model with a craving for the carnal pleasures in life. The film is a series of vignettes about her sexual encounters. Very definitely a "couples" film as apposed to something strictly for the raincoats, Insatiable has plot (slim but it's there), production values (including a wide angle helicopter shot, no less) and rather decent direction courtesy of Stu Segall. And of course there's plenty of scorching hot hardcore action - a lesbian scene, a blowjob, three M/F scenes and an orgy at the film's climax (damn!). Thankfully, none of these scenes are drawn out like modern Adult Movies and will make you wonder why they don't make these kind of movies anymore.

Part of Insatiable's success is down to the cast who all do a fine job. Of course this is Marilyn Chambers' show and she's especially sexy here, performing her scenes with real sparkle. She also sings the catchy song "Shame On You", a sugary Carpenters-esque ballad. Look out also (actually you couldn't miss him!) for the legendary John Holmes, the King Dong of the Industry at that time, doing the business with Ms Chambers.

There's been several DVDs of Insatiable in the last few years. If you can track it down the definitive edition of this film is still the double-disc Media Blasters (which houses a TV version (?) on the 2nd disc). My copy is the "30th Anniversary" edition on the Dynasty label and features a far less striking transfer than the Media Blasters, but its adequate. Luckily, the two excellent commentary tracks found on the Media Blasters DVD are available on the Dynasty disc. The 1st track features Chambers discussing the film in great detail, while the second features an Adult Cinema expert who spins a lot of fascinating trivia about the Industry then and now.

For anyone interested in Adult Cinema when it was shot on film and made with plot, Insatiable (along with Behind the Green Door, The Opening of Misty Beethoven, The Devil In Miss Jones, and Neon Nights) is highly recumended (really sorry!)

A New Dimension in Crapness...

The thing is I wanted this to be good, but Friday the 13th 2009 is quite simply terrible. Announced as a remake/reboot of the franchise, the film is neither. In fact for the first half of the film, it could easily be Friday the 13th Part 11, but somehow the film actually winds up being a re thread of director Marcus Nispel 2003 remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, borrowing heavily from that film's visual aesthetic. More depressingly I actually liked that film but after wading thru Friday 2009, I may have to rethink my opinion of the Chain Saw remake. Its hardly worth going on, except to say this is ruined by New Line and Paramount's slavish devotion to a male teen audience who apparently want to see irritating teenage twenty-somethings drink beer out of a Nike sneaker before having their skulls machete'd. There's some meaty gore and some fine female flesh on show, but its just not enough. To end on a positive note, Friday the 13th 2009 at least makes Jason Takes Manhattan look like a masterpiece...


Sunday, 21 March 2010

Catching the Virus

The latest issue of Video Watchdog (#155 March/April 2010) features a superb article on one of the greatest films I've never seen, Kinji Fukasaku’s 1980 apocalypse epic Virus. The film which was reckoned to be the most expensive Japanese film of its time was a major flop despite the a large well known international cast - Glenn Ford and Sonny Chiba, no less. Anyone who frequented videoshops in the 80's will know well the old Intervision VHS (with its striking sleeve) which seemed to be everywhere. It certainly caught my eye, but it wasn't until many years later when I was seriously watching Japanese films that I discovered the film was directed by one of my favourite directors Kinji Fukasaku. The film is available on DVD in a number of editions, all running around the 100min mark and falling well short of the original 156min Japanese version. In 2006 BCI Eclipse sneaked the film out as part of their "Sonny Chiba Action Pack" boxset with little fanfare considering it was the full-length director's cut. Sadly, I missed out of this box because I already own the other two films that came in the set, and since then the box was deleted after BCI Eclipse went to the wall.



Still, its not impossible to see Virus in its long form. Apparently the film has fallen into public domain, and is available for download over at the Internet Movie Archive. Not the best way to see Virus, but until it appears again on DVD, it will have to do.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Brute Force

Jules Dassins' Brute Force is one of the American director's greatest films, beginning a magnificent series of classic film noirs - Brute Force in 1947, The Naked City (1948), Thieves' Highway (1949), Night and the City (1950) through to Rififi in 1955. The story follows 6 prison inmates (led by Burt Lancaster) planning on escaping the iron-fist regime of sadistic prison captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn) who has out-maneuvered a weak willed warden and locked down the prison with brutal discipline, terror and fear...

Some 60 years on, Brute Force remains a potent film. Back in the day, it must have seemed monstrously violent - one inmate is blow-torched into a machine presser, while another is bound to a chair and bludgeoned to death. Dassin makes no bones about comparing life in the Big House to a battleground, even staging the explosive climax of the film like a guys-on-a-mission war movie. Even Burt Lancaster's Joe Collins is unflinchingly tough, a man who has run out of freedom, and out of time, as he is forced to breakout to be with his terminally-ill woman. Strong stuff.

Brute Force would be Dassin's first venture into the style of film noir and already some key noir elements are established - moody camera lighting, brooding characters rushing towards certain doom, and intricate flashbacks. I suspect Brute Force's flashbacks, which are positively melodramatic compared to the prison scenes, were intended as some sort of let-up for the audience, for what is a harsh and edgy film. Lancaster, in what would be his second major film after appearing in The Killers the previous year, is excellent as Collins, playing it straight (no Lancaster "grin" here) but best of all is Hume Cronyn, in an inspired choice of unlikely casting, as the fascist prison captain. Arguably this is the first modern prison movie, it refuses to soft-pedal prison-life (like Cool Hand Luke did), and in terms of influence, it casts a long shadow over the prison genre, with echoes of the film appearing in such disparate movies as Alien 3 (the oppressive gloom and cavernous sets) and Natural Born Killers (the chaotic prison riot).


The best way to see Brute Force is of course the Criterion DVD (who have also put out stellar editions of Dassin's films mentioned above). The transfer is the standard Criterion excellence, and there's a very interesting audio commentary by two film noir scholars and authors. Well worth a listen. The film is also available as a R2 DVD courtesy of Arrow, but with a weaker (but watchable) transfer than that of the Criterion.

Ellroy

For a few years now, I've been meaning to pick up some James Ellroy. Shamefully I'm one of those people who discovered Ellroy after the movie adaptation of LA Confidential, but it wasn't until I saw the BBC Arena film James Ellroy's Feast of Death , that I became interested in his writing. My first Ellroy was his 2001 novel American Tabloid, a magnificent chronicle of Underworld USA in the late 50's, dazzlingly cast with smooth, suave FBI agents, vicious gangsters, and real-life figures from that era - Jimmy Hoffa, Howard Hughes, J.Edgar Hoover and the Kennedy's John and Robert. To spill the beans on the plot of American Tabloid would rob any reader of Ellroy's genius of invention so the book, and indeed all of Ellroy's books are highly recommended for their tough muscular prose, quickfire montage scene setting and incredible doses of violence and sleazy sex.

Ellroy's books have proven a challenge for film makers, with the exception of Curtis Hanson's excellent adaptation of LA Confidential (which was still something of a dilution of the original novel). Ellroy's plots and narratives may well be too dense for Hollywood to crack, and Ellroy himself knows it. Commenting about the LA Confidential film, Elloy said: "It was a fluke—and a wonderful one — and it is never going to happen again—a movie of that quality"

Anyone wishing to find out more about James Ellroy should pick up two fine documentaries currently available on DVD - the aforementioned Feast of Death and James Ellroy: American Dog. To hear some audio of the great man in conversation, click here for an mp3 copy of Ellroy's appearance on BBC Radio's Desert Island Selection ,(broadcast January 17th 2010, duration 40min approx) on which Ellroy discusses his life, work and plays a selection of some of his favourite music.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Strange Case of City of the Living Dead

Every time I catch a screening of Lucio Fulci's 1980 opus City of the Living Dead, I get the feeling I'm trapped in the gravitational tide of a dying star. Unlike say, Zombie Flesh Eaters or The Beyond, bona fida classics of Italian Horror, City of the Living Dead is best described as a sort of halfway house of different elements, which rise, converge and break apart leaving behind a strange ramshackle sort of a film which despite its shortcomings remains compulsive viewing. The plot concerns some business about a priest who commits suicide thereby opening the gates of hell. Or something like that. The international title of City of the Living Dead would suggest a close affinity to George Romero's archetypal zombie film, but Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti seem a little unsure of what the film is actually supposed to be. Generally, the film is spoken in the same breath as Fulci's other zombie movies, but there's something of an occult bent to the film - with its teleporting zombies, and the haunted spectre of the hanged priest, who literally drops in at the end of a rope throughout the film. Watching the film you get a taste of The Exorcist or a flavour of The Amityville Horror, and one sequence even riffs on Suspiria. And there is of course, the tip of the hat to the weird mindwarp horror of HP Lovecraft, with the naming of the cursed "city" Dunwich.

I first saw the film in the early 90's in a heavily cut UK VHS edition put out by Elephant Video who always pre-cut any contentious material to ensure a smooth ride past the BBFC. I always wondered what kind of mega-gore I was being cheated out of, but when I finally caught up with an uncut print, the answer was not much really. Unlike Zombie Flesh Eaters, City of the Living Dead is not so much gory, but disgusting, gleefully so. A famous scene in the film where Michele Soavi's girlfriend vomits up up her intestinal tract seems like a early prototype LP sleeve design for death metal band Cannibal Corpse, and there are numerous queasy moments when various cast members cry tears of blood. The living dead themselves are festering, diseased looking pus coloured creatures, and for no apparent reason one sequence has the lead actors caught in a blizzard of live maggots (with heavily amplified squirming sounds on the soundtrack for added effect). Two brilliant sequences in particular are now legendary in the annals of Italian Horror - Catriona MacColl trapped alive in a coffin, (homaged in Kill Bill Vol. 2) and Giovanni Lombard Radice's head being drilled in spectacular style (earning a place on the cover of Fangoria's September 1983 issue). Worth mentioning also the sound design of the film with its electronically treated jungle sounds gives the mise-en-scène a strange disorientating effect (the film was lensed in Georgia, USA)



My copy of City of the Living Dead is the old Dutch EC DVD, which I imagine is comparable to their earlier laserdisc edition. The transfer varies from scene to scene, in parts it appears like it was struck from a washed out, tired print, and other times it looks pretty good. I haven't seen the Anchor Bay DVD, but all previous editions should be put aside with Blue Undergound's Blu-Ray coming in May. Following on from their very fine high def edition of The New York Ripper, Fulci's reluctant masterpiece should look nothing short of stellar. Blue Underground are wisely using the artwork that graced the old Intervision tape (and the Danish tape above), rather than the dumb Gates of Hell design. A UK Blu-Ray release is also promised in May, courtesy of Arrow.



Stuart Gordon's The Pit and the Pendulum

Zone Horror, a cable channel transmitted in the UK and Ireland offers up mostly disposable trash (Mega Snake, anyone ?) but occasionally, something interesting gets washed up. A few nights ago I caught up with Stuart Gordon's 1990 film The Pit & the Pendulum, which is more Mark of the Devil, than Roger Corman, set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The story concerns a married couple who unwittingly fall into the clutches of the monk Torquemada, witchfinder general and torturer extraordinaire of the Inquisition (played by Lance Henriksen), when the beautiful wife becomes the object of Torquemada's Madonna/Whore complex.

The Pit & the Pendulum is not a bad effort from Stuart Gordon, certainly not in the league of his iconic debut feature Re-Animator, and the flawed genius of From Beyond. Still, the film is engaging, and with some tasteful nudity and a smattering of torture sequences (not especially gory but one or two will make you wince), its worth seeking out. Regular Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli's screenplay is good, importing ideas and themes from other Poe works, and there's plenty of sardonic humour along the way. Performances are variable, but Lance Henriksen is especially memorable as the monk tormented by black and secret desires, and look out for Herbert West, Re-Animator himself, Jeffrey Combs as one of Torquemada's judges; and Tom Towles, who's wasted in a non-role, hidden behind a silly Musketeers-style garb. Oliver Reed appears in a very fleeting cameo as a visiting Cardinal rallying against the Inquisition (a nod to The Devils perhaps ?). The film was shot in Italy, but suffers from a flat TV look, similar to some medieval documentary seen on the History Channel. And, yes, the titular torture device turns up at the end for the spirited climax.

There was a R1 DVD of The Pit & the Pendulum available a few years ago, but now it seems its only available in a 4-disc Stuart Gordon Collection (Amazon, priced at $117 no less!). There's also a R2 DVD which may be out of print but shouldn't too hard to find. Recommended.