Thursday, 29 May 2014
Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna first met one year before collaborating on Re-Animator. Gordon, like most of his eventual cast, began his career in theatre and wanted to move into film. He was advised one of the easiest genre's to attract financial backing was Horror. Yuzna wished to move into this area and so 'Re-Animator' was born, after a friend of Gordon's suggested HP Lovecraft's 'Herbert West Re-Animator' as an ideal source. The film takes place at Miskatonic Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts, where Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) begins his tour of duty as a new student who accuses Dr Carl Hill (David Gale) of plagiarising the work of an old professor and exposoing his students to arrant nonsense. The arrogant West is experimenting with the aim of bringing dead bodies back to life via a luminous green serum, and soon hooks up with Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott) who is more dedicated than the average student to preserving life.
Driven by Richard Band's Herrmann-esque score,this fast-paced film really moves into overdrive as the everyday deceased are joined by medical colleagues and associates whose initial taste of the afterlife are measured in scant minutes, resulting in a crowd-pleasing orgy of re-animated beings, complete with buckets of blood and a side serving of wicked humour which breaks the tension until the next gross-out comes along to assault the senses. ''Re-Animator' is more than just a cult classic to be exhumed once a year at drunken all-night movie binges. It's a genuine Horror heavyweight, with drive, wit and some imaginative special effects. The cast score highly, too, with Crampton coming over a an intelligent heroine; Combs as the brilliant medical deviate and Gale and Abbott in combat as love and hate figures, while Sampson thrashes around and ultimately proves that the father-daughter bond can never be truly severed.
The Integral version is a combination of the unrated and R versions with television footage and is well worth a view. Additional footage includes a disagreement between Dan and Megan, Hill dreaming of winning the Nobel Prize and Dan talking about turning himself in. Image quality is slightly better on the unrated version which looks crisp with good definition and will delight fans of this film.
On the question of supplementary material, Second Sight's two disc set scores highly, beginning with two commentary tracks. On the first, Stuart Gordon takes the microphone, holding forth on both professional and personal levels. We hear that Gordon's father died while he son was in his teens, and how Stuart had a dream about his father coming back from the dead; he explains why Bruce Abbot's role was the most difficult to tackle, and why Barbara Crampton went ballistic at a Fangoria convention. We also learn that several crew members had just come back from working on 'The Terminator' (James Cameron's father is identified by Stuart in a brief appearance) and the fact that 'Re-Animator' was ahead of its time in certain medical procedures is amplified. It's a splendid commentary and joined by a producers and actors commentary, with Yuzna, Crampton, Sampson, Combs and Abbott. This track goes pretty much the way one would expect from such a gathering, with some great anecdotes and in-jokes. Not a track I'll be returning to anytime soon, but if you like this sort of thing, you'll be hooked.
A 10 minute Dennis Padi interview is next on the agenda, which covers his approach to script writing; the way the script evolved and a dream sequence that didn't quite work out.
Composer Richard Band is next out of the blocks with 2 interviews. In the first - which runs for 14 minutes - he tells of disagreements with Gordon, his decision to twist motifs and themes from the 'Psycho' score, and his thoughts on the finished product. In the second interview (16 minutes), Band selects 4 scenes and discusses his musical approach and the choices he made. Fascinating, and my current favourite amongst the extras. Fangoria editor Tony Timpone rounds off the interviews with a brisk 4 minute chat which includes memories of meeting Yuzna and his first week at the magazine which coincided with a screening of 'Re-Animator'.
'Re-Animator Resurrectus' follows, being a 68 minute documentary featuring Gordn, Yuzna, Crampton, Abbott, Combs and other cast and crew members. There are some nice visual touches such as make-up script directions, effects tricks of the trade and on-set photographs, together with recollections of how much DOP Mac Ahlberg assisted and advised Gordon, and why the opening scene was re-shot despite lack of funds. It's a fine documentary and is dedicated to David Gale who, sadly, passed away in 1990. The extras also include over 21 minutes of extended scenes, including Dan asking Megan to move in with him and Dr Hill warning Halsey about Cain and West. A deleted scene follows running for almost 3 minutes, with a naked Megan reacting to an injection. The package is rounded off with trailers and behind-the-scenes and production stills.
Sunday, 25 May 2014
Made in 1961, Roger Corman's 'Pit And The Pendulum' was shot on a budget of $270,000; $50,000 of which went to Vincent Price who turns in a gem of a performance as Nicholas Medina. A Spanish castle is the setting for this wonderfully atmospheric take on Edgar Allan Poe's story, as Francis Barnard (John Kerr) arrives in search of the truth regarding the death of his sister Elizabeth, played by Barbara Steele. Elizabeth died at the age of 29, and the cause of her untimely demise lie within the castle walls, and can only be conveyed by Nicholas, his sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and family physician Dr Leon (Antony Carbone). The initial explanation that Elizabeth died from "something in her blood" proves wholly unsatisfactory, and Barnard resolves to uncover the truth come what may. His quest is punctuated with flashback sequences containing fragments from the tortured past of Nicholas, who is locked in a public world of grief over Elizabeth's passing and who believes she has returned from the grave to wreak vengeance. Certainly, the strains of music coming from the harpsichord she so loved to play suggests her unquiet spirit resides in the castle.
Corman's film essentially plays out in three acts, with the third based on Poe's story which would have proved insufficient to fill and 80 minute feature. Richard Matheson did a fine job with the screenplay, which presented a considerable challenge and one he rose to admirably, throwing a dose of Freudian angst into the mix by painting a lurid picture of Nicholas' father whose personality will reach out to the living in a terrific final act. Matheson's work here is exceptional, and the same can be said for the art department and effects work, along with the skills of DOP Floyd Crosby. Those beautiful matte paintings, sumptuous set designs and macabre splendour of the halls and passageways really do make this film a feast for the eyes, while the cast - particularly Vincent Price - step off the pages of Matheson's script and mostly deliver. It's true that some reviewers have charged Price with a hammy, over-the-top performance, but I feel this is unfair as the range of emotions demanded by his two roles are perfectly conveyed.For me, John Kerr's performance is the odd one out, though I have tuned in a little better to his turn down the years.
'Pit And The Pendulum' is one of those films that induces a warm glow with each viewing. It's delights are many, and guarantees repayment of the admission fee tenfold; not least for a scene that culminates in one of the shock moments in horror film history.
'Evening' appeared on the American DVD of 'Tomb Of Ligeia' and is a nice bonus feature here.
A 5 minute added television sequence follows, shot in 1968 when this film was sold to television and found to be too short for its two hour time slot. Luana Anders was the only cast member available, and appears here telling her story in an asylum. Tim Lucas notes in his commentary that Anders, seven years on, seems a better actress and it's a good point.
The original theatrical trailer rounds things off as far as the disc is concerned, but Arrow Video have included a booklet contains photographs, notes about the transfer and a Jonathan Rigby essay titled 'The Waiting Pit Of Hell'. Jonathan's piece provides an excellent overview of production history, its influence on other films and concludes by recognising its place as "an enduring Gothic masterwork".
'Pit And The Pendulum' is available to buy now, and you can choose between a standard Blu-ray or a nifty steelbook. For sure, this will find its way on to many 'Best Of The Year' lists.
Sunday, 11 May 2014
In 1987, Paul Verhoeven's 'Robocop' assaulted cinema goer's with its savage, satirical vision of future law enforcement. Now, the ubiquitous remake train has arrived at this particular station, with the action remaining in Detroit but taking place in the year 2028. With almost every country in the world using robots to wipe out crime, America maintains its robophobic stance, thanks to the Dreyfus Bill which outlaws these crime fighting machines. Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is determined to gain acceptance for his Robocop prototype, but needs a product the public will love: a product with a conscience, so why not put a man inside the machine? A being with emotions that knows right from wrong, and can identify with the people it is there to protect. Dr Morton (Gary Oldman) constructs the first Robot/man hybrid when police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) arrives at his clinic, the victim of a car bomb planted by accomplices of crime lord Antoine Valon. Murphy suffered 80% 4th degree burns and his lower spine was severed. Wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son reluctantly bid farewell for now, as Alex undergoes a change that will threaten to decimate this tight family unit.
Of course, the remake is, in many respects, a different animal to its illustrious predecessor. Gone are the bloody impact squibs of the original, replaced by toned-down conflict, though rest assured there are plenty of hi-tech gun battles on display. We also get a more agile Robocop this time round, boasting an increase in hardware and a Cruiser 1 motorbike which gets from A-Z at a speed of 248 mph. Murphy's family is also more prominent here, with his wife and young son part of an emotional tug of war with a powerful and ruthless corporation on the other end of the rope. Director Jose Padilha has constructed a tightly-wound action picture that works well in its own right, and he's helped by an excellent cast. Gary Oldman as the genius who never loses sight of the human being inside the machine; Michael Keaton emerging as a man you'll most surely love to hate, scheming and double-crossing in a film that's packed with police corruption, political agendas and some nifty action scenes. The character of Alex Murphy is beautifully portrayed by Joel Kinnaman, and do watch out for Samuel L. Jackson who keeps popping up as the propaganda-flinging presenter on Cable TV.
It's inevitable there will be fans of the original film who dislike the remake for a number of reasons - including its very existence - but I believe it will win over a fair percentage of would-be detractors and certainly gain a new generation of fans who have yet to see Verhoeven's movie. 'Robocop 2014' is an intelligent, fast-paced modern action film, with some great chase sequences through rain-drenched neon-lit Detroit streets, impressive visual effects and ferocious gun battles: check out the frenetic training session where Robocop attempts to repel a crack squad led by odious Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Hayley) which plays out perfectly to the strains of 'Hocus Pocus'. I hope those yet to see the original will seek it out, and that die-hard fans of Verhoeven's film will check out the remake. There is ample room for both to flourish.
Studio Canal's Blu-ray presentation offers a splendid incarnation of this film, with strong colours, nice inky blacks and the detail and clarity one would hope for from a recent cinema release.
The extras begin with 5 deleted scenes which run for a total of approximately 4 minutes. While it's debatable whether any of those scenes would have improved the finished product, it's particularly interesting to witness the Mayor of Detroit expressing concern over possible re-election and to see yet more PR spin at work. The second batch of extras take the form of 10 information segments which run for a total of approximately 3 minutes. Here, the M2 battle rifle, the amazing Cruiser 1 motorbike and the TSR handgun are amongst the technology under the spotlight, reminding us of the technology at Robocop's disposal.
'The Illusion Of Freewill' follows, being a 7m 46s featurette where director Jose Padilha reveals he asked to direct 'Robocop' after being offered several other films. Jose - a trained physicist - wanted to reach a broad audience with his film, and producer Eric Newman and production designer Martin Whist are also on hand to talk about this process.
'To Serve And Protect' runs for 6m 5s and focuses on the weapons at Robo's disposal. Joel Kinnaman reveals he underwent intensive firearm training, eventually being able to hit a 3ft target from 135 yards with a handgun. The design of the Cruiser 1 is also discussed; an important string to Robocop's bow that underwent many changes.
The final featurette is 'The Robocop Suit' and runs for 14m 54s. Here, key personnel (including Kinnaman) chat about important aspects such as freedom of movement, and their collective desire to remain respectful to the original; an ideal that runs through the entire film.
Monday, 5 May 2014
Released in 1973, Brian De Palma's 'Sisters' remains one of his most deliciously voyeuristic outings, beginning with a nod do the title of Michael Powell's controversial film with a TV show named 'Peeping Toms'. The premise is setting up unwitting members of the public in a similar way to 'Candid Camera': in this case, the audience watch the victim watching an apparently blind woman getting undressed to see if he stays the course, or does the right thing and bales out early. Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson)shows chivalry is not entirely dead and exits stage left, going on to start a relationship with Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder); a French Canadian in New York who appears to be a sweet natured beauty with perfect sight. Danielle, however, comes with some rather sinister family baggage: ex-husband Emil (William Finley) is stalking her, and the suggested presence of her Siamese twin Dominique threatens to call time on her sisters new relationship.
'Sisters' has often been accused of being little more than a film full of Hitchcock riffs - a fate shared by other De Palma films. While it's true that 'Sisters' contains nods to 'Psycho', 'Rear Window' and 'Vertigo' amongst others, it successfully builds on visual and thematic links to emerge as a strong film in its own right. The concept of sitting in the dark watching people on a big screen is voyeuristic in itself, but here we have Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) watching a murder victim smear a blood message on the window opposite just before he dies, and teaming up with private detective Joseph Leach (Charles Durning) when the police refuse to believe a murder took place.
An uneasy sense of being privy to murder and madness in the lives of others is heightened by De Palma's use of split screen, providing additional information to scenes we'd maybe rather not witness but are utterly compelled to watch. The idea of Siamese twins containing a fiercely dominant personality in which darkness edges out the light works wonderfully well here, due in large part to Margot Kidder who turns in some of her very best work in this film. 'Sisters' is certainly not for the faint-hearted, with its bloody murder scenes, brilliant, deeply unsettling set-pieces and rousing Bernard Herrmann score, but it's one of De Palma's finest films and will doubtless win new admirers with Arrow Video's dual-format release.
I received the DVD part of the package (due to a Royal Mail foul-up), and can report that Arrow's presentation is the best I've seen of this film to date, with robust colours,a nice level of detail and grain in the appropriate areas.
Once again, Arrow have done us proud with regard to supplementary material, beginning with 'What The Devil Hath Joined Together: A Visual Essay'. This is a 45 minute feature where Justin Humphreys traces production history, and explores the themes of 'Sisters'. As well as the Hitchcock connection, Justin also highlights the influences of other directors, and goes into the De Palma/Herrmann relationship which yields quite a surprise.
Next on the agenda are cast and crew interviews, which run for over 45 minutes. First up is Jennifer Salt who recalls the roles of Grace and the twins were Christmas presents from De Palma to Kidder and herself. Salt goes on to recall the shoot, including a frenetic last day of filming which turned out to be quite literally a 24 hour shoot.
Louisa Rose, wo co-wrote the script, is next up. Rose charts her beginnings as a writer; her approach to her craft, goes on to declare there was no inspiration drawn from Hitchcock on her part, and remarks she found it interesting to write a script featuring a different kind of killer to the norm.
Paul Hirsch served as editor on 'Sisters', and reveals his first job (De Palmas' 'Hi Mom!')was gained through nepotism. He was actually hired fairly late in the day for 'Sisters', and can lay claim to being the one who suggested his director enlist the services of Bernard Herrmann. Hirsch also explains just why voyeurism is a central part of many of the director's films.
Jeffrey Hayes was the unit manager on 'Sisters' which became his debut feature, and recalls various aspects of the shoot, together with his work on De Palma's 'Phantom Of The Paradise'. Lastly, an excerpt from an audio interview with William Finley is included here, mentioning his early days; his friendship with De Palma and his character in 'Sisters'. All the video interviews were recorded and edited by the High Rising Productions team of Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill, and provide illuminating additions to this package.
'The Brian De Palma Digest' is a 29 minute excursion through Brian De Palma's CV, written and narrated by film critic Mike Sutton, who reveals 'Dionysus In 69' marked De Palma's first use of split-screen photography. Mike's appraisal of a fine body of work contains great insight, and is absolutely guaranteed to compel you to revisit old favourites and to seek out any titles you have yet to see. A theatrical trailer and gallery of poster designs round things off nicely. Arrow have also included a booklet containing a quartet of essays. The fist is 'The Reflecting Eye:Seeing Double in Brian De Palma's Sisters' by Kier-La Janisse. This beautifully written essay traces De Palma's film back to his earlier output and addresses its psychiatric and medical concerns, acting as a thorough overview of the key onscreen events. 'The Making Of Sisters: An Interview With Brain De Palma' is a reprint of a 1973 De Palma interview with 'Filmmaker's Newsletter', where De Palma discusses technical aspects of the production, including split-screen, his aim in making 'Sisters', the budget and other aspects of the shoot.
'Murder By Moog: Scoring The Chill' is a De Palma article that originally appeared in 'Village Voice on 11th October 1973. Here, De Palma explains how his editor jolted him by adding cues from 'Psycho' to the soundtrack and suggesting Herrmann should be approached to score the film. De Palma has some fascinating stories to impart regarding Herrmann, making this an immensely satisfying read.
'Rare Study Of Siamese Twins In Soviet' is reproduced from an article in 'Life' magazine, dated back to 1966. This tells the story of Masha and Dasha, the Siamese twins that inspired De Palma to make 'Sisters'.
This informative booklet ends with a few words about the transfer. Read the whole thing after you have viewed the film, and then watch the film again with increased understanding and appreciation.
'Sisters' is available to buy now, and is highly recommended as a solid purchase of a film that continues to haunt the mind some four decades on.
Friday, 2 May 2014
"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 ( Clive Revill), who accepts a challenge from businessman Rudolph Deutsch ( Ronald Culver) to produce evidence of survival after death. Accompanied by his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), and mediums Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and Ben Fischer (Roddy 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.
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.
Whether 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.