Celebrate ALIENS with Fright Rags

On the 22nd June, horror and sci-fi T shirt specialists Fright Rags are delivering us some fantastic ALIENS 30th anniversary product to celebrate our collective love for those chest-bursting bastards.

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6 different T shirt designs will be produced, including this limited to 500 box set above which comes with the version 1 T shirt, a ‘Bug-Stomper’ sticker and a set of 4 8×10 lobby cards.

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Also, there will be a baseball T available, and what I’m most excited about is ALIENS socks!!!

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I’ll finally be able to retire my current favorite socks from Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.

I haven’t shown all the designs here because you should go to Fright Rags and check it out for yourself before it’s game over, man… GAME OVER!!!!

 

(all images Copyright (c) Fright Rags)

 

Dead of Winter (1987) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Dead of Winter (1987)

Film: There are several actors and actresses whose work I will watch no matter what, even if friends tell me not to bother, or if online reviews are low, or even if the tale suggested by the synopsis on the back of the DVD/ Bluray/ VHS/ whatever doesn’t sound to my taste. There are many different reasons why I like these performers: acting skills, appearance et cetera but I’ll always keep an eye out for them.

Scarlett Johansson would be one at the top of that list for reasons that I don’t necessarily want to go into here, but certainly in my top ten is a gentleman by the name of Roddy McDowall, star of films such as Planet of the Apes, Class of 1984 and Fright Night, not to mention the TV series The Fantastic Journey, which I loved as a kid, and many, MANY cartoon voices, like The Mad Hatter in Batman The Animated Series.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was in this flick, as the only reason I nabbed it was it is part of 88 Films’s Slasher bluray collection (number 8) and being an OCD completist wherever possible, I had to buy it. The bonus was Mary Steenburgen’s star turn: I’d only ever seen her, where she had been memorable, in Back to the Future 3, so I wanted to see if she was capable of something other than the gentle spoken, sweet wife of Doc.


Struggling New York actress Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) lands an opportunity for a job after an audition with the pleasant, but odd Mr Murray (Roddy McDowall) who seems to be quite captivated by her. He takes her to meet reclusive, retired, and wheelchair bound Doctor Joseph Lewis (Jan Rubeš) who is impressed by Murray’s choice.

Soon she finds herself with her appearance slightly changed and recording a scene on video to send to a director whose lead actress, the spitting image of Katie, has had a nervous breakdown and needs to be replaced, but Katie is uneasy… It feels like she is being held prisoner in Lewis’s house, a feeling which gets greater as time rolls on… And the winter snows kick in… And Murray and Lewis’s motives for her being there are revealed…

Unfortunately, my synopsis makes the film far more exciting that it really is. 


This loose remake of 1945’s My Name Is Julia Ross is dull and asexual and is like a very VERY ordinary midday movie, or even after school special. Steenburgen gets a go in multiple lead roles, but she is just so vanilla that every scene she is in droops terribly. Thankfully McDowell’s effete and submissive role lifts some of them, as does Jan Rubeš bonkers reclusive cripple, who seems to be almost emulating Lawrence Olivier’s role in Marathon Man… albeit a Diet Coke, toothless version.

This movie is slow paced and dare I say it, boring, but it’s nothing that a better director could repair, oh, and change all the cast except Roddy McDowall… And the soundtrack is quite weak… Actually, it’s quite terrible: purchase only if you need to fill the space between 7 (Nailgun Massacre) and 9 (X-Ray) in your 88 Films Slasher Collection

Score: *

Format: This bluray is region B, runs for approximately 100 minutes and is presented in a satisfactory 1.85:1 picture with a decent Dolby 2.0 soundtrack.

Score: ***

Extras


There aren’t many extras on this disc other than this stills gallery, which unless it depicts poster art or associated merchandise, I feel is a worthless extra. It’s an animated visual medium for Corman’s sake, don’t just stick a piss-poor selection of images from the film together with some music. It’s lazy and frustrating. This one does at least have one movie poster at the end of the slideshow/screensaver.

This disc also contains trailers for other 88 Films releases Puppet Master, The Pit & The Pendulum, Demonic Toys, Bloody Birthday, Two Moon Junction, Dollman, Blood Sucking Freaks, Puppet Master II, Puppet Master III, Tourist Trap and Castle Freak.

Now the packaging also claims that this has a collector’s booklet by Slice and Dice director and journalist Calum Waddell, but unfortunately mine did not come with this. I’d say I was just unlucky, but I do have another Bluray in this collection by 88 Films which suffered from the same issue. That’s some pretty terrible QC right there. The packaging also claims to have the trailer for Dead of Winter, but it must be extraordinarily well hidden as I could not find it.

It also has a reversible sleeve, but the hidden one is quite bland.

Score: **


WISIA: No. I wouldn’t have watched it once as nothing on the back cover sounds even slightly appealing, and IMDB’s synopsis isn’t much more alluring, but it being a part of 88 Film’s slasher bluray series, I thought I’d give it a go. That thought was wrong.

Phantom of Death (1988) Review

One from the re watch pile…
Phantom of Death aka Off Balance (1988)


Film: Also aka Un Delitto Poco Comune. What do you get if you take two of the writers of The New York Ripper, team them up with the director of Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato, attach two well known English actors in Michael York and Donald Pleasance and then drop in the gorgeous Edwige Fenech?

Why you get a crazy Italian production like this film, Phantom of Death, of course!!

Robert Dominici (Michael York) is an acclaimed pianist who has been invited to London to expand his career, but this is to the detriment of his relationship with his girlfriend, Susanna (Mapi Galán). This, along with flirtations from the beautiful Hélène Martell (Edwige Fenech) are causing him to become distracted, which is even interfering with his ninjutsu practice.

Yep: ninjutsu practice!


When his girlfriend is killed though, he becomes involved in an investigation being held by Inspector Datti (Donald Pleasance) as she appears to be the second victim in a series of murders. The murderer taunts Datti with phonecalls, and claims to be so good at his work that he’ll drive Datti mad! 

When Hélène is attacked though, Datti immediately suspects Robert just due to his involvement in both cases. Unfortunately for his investigation though, DNA found on her to create a profile of the person who assaulted her, doesn’t match Robert’s and nor does the identity sketch created after she was interviewed.

So if it’s NOT Robert, who could it be… Or does Robert have a secret than disguises his identity from such tests?


The film is an interesting mix of traditional gialli tropes mixed with Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera and Deodato’s choices of actors are quite fun here. You’ll see some great faces from other Italian horror films, my favourite being the ninjutsu master played by Hal Yamanouchi, who is also in such a variety of films like Umberto Lenzi’s House of Lost Souls and James Mangold’s The Wolverine, or maybe it’s the inclusion of Italian horror stalwart Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen as a priest.

Deodato drops in a few trappings of his contemporaries, like Argento, with stabbings to the neck, and a murder that sees the victim pushed through a window in an act of bloody violence, which echoes films like Phenomena.

I can’t let a review go by without pointing out that the murderer, when he makes his phonecalls, sounds like Billy Idol after a night with a carton of Marlboro Reds.  

All in all it IS pretty silly, but does a few unique things within the gialli environment like making the murderer a tragic figure rather than a selfish one, and some of the acting pieces have to be seen to be believed… Particularly Donald Pleasance taking the obsessive manic-ness of Dr Loomis from the Halloween series to the nth degree.

Score: ***


Format: This film is from Shameless Screen Entertainment’s ‘yellow’ series of DVDs from the UK. This particular film is number 2 in the series and is region 0. The film runs for approximately 88 minutes and is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. The image isn’t the sharpest it could be and it is quite artefacty at times, but not so that it’s distracting. I have to say though one real issue I have with the presentation of the packaging. The blurb on the back quite clearly states who the murderer is, so if you are watching this after reading it, then there are no secrets. For me, the synopsis on the back of DVD or bluray packaging shouldn’t be spoilery at all.

Score: ***

Extras: The disc starts with several trailers for other films from the Shameless Screen Entertainment line, including The New York Ripper, The Black Cat, Torso (Carnal Violence), Manhattan Baby, Baba Yaga The Devil Witch and The Killer Nun, which can also be accessed on the ‘Forthcoming Attraction’ button on the main screen. The only other extra is the trailer for this film.


Score: **

WISIA: This film is far from an example of great Italian horror cinema, but the inclusion of Michael York and Donald Pleasance’s hilariously overblown performance make it a rewatch must!

Dead Kids aka Strange Behaviour (1981)

One from the rewatch pile…
Dead Kids

Film: Growing up in the VHS era was awesome. To actually have movies that you could play whenever you wanted in your home was a revelation. I loved monsters already, from Famous Monsters, Marvel and DC comics, Saturday afternoon Godzilla flicks and late night creature features, but to be able to watch horror movie whenever I wanted was a revelation.

When I turned 16, I managed to secure a job as the afternoon clerk… I called myself ‘manager’… of a video shop in the NSW suburb of Sylvania. Basically my job was to receive returns from the Saturday night hires as very few actually rented on a Sunday afternoon.

I didn’t see that as my job: I saw it as being paid $30 to watch whatever horror films I wanted to, and during my time there, there were a few films that I always put on in the afternoon: Dawn of the Dead, The Neverdead (aka Phantasm), Dead and Buried and this film, Dead Kids (also called Strange Behaviour by countries who don’t think Dead Kids is the BEST exploitation title ever!)

Dead Kids was filmed in New Zealand, written by William Condon (who is also the first victim in the film) and Michael Laughlin, who also directs. The film was produced by Antony I. Ginnane and John Barnett, but don’t let that or the filming location fool you into thinking this is an ‘Aussie’ film. The film is based in an American country town, and NZ seems to act the part quite well.


Dead Kids tells of police chief John Brady (Michael Murphy) who is dropped into the middle of a series of murders that a small town like his has never seen before. About this time, his son, Peter (Dan Shor) volunteers to take place in a series of behavioural experiments made by a local psychology research institute, associated with the university, but do the two things have anything in common? Many locals have volunteered for these experiments, and maybe research lead Dr Parkinson (Fiona Lewis) has something to hide…


This film has a likeable cast. Dan Shor is charmingly cheeky, his best friend, played by Marc McClure, is a great foil for him, and they seem like real school mates. Shor’s love interest, played by Dey Young is delightfully flirty, and her boss, the mysterious Dr Parkinson, is played by Fiona Lewis with a cool sexuality that is breathtaking. The inclusion of Arthur Dignam is a fun addition too, as is Louise Fletcher as the police chief’s bubbly love interest. The only cast member who seems to be a little out of sorts is Michael Murphy, who is in an apparent state of ‘what the Hell is happening’ through the whole film.

Not a pillar of police investigative powers, for sure.

The films direction is beautiful. Laughlin has created a minimalistic look on the panoramic scenes that gives the immediate feeling of the remoteness of the town, but keeps the intimate scenes crowded and claustrophobic.

A special shout out has to go to the dance sequence… Yes, the DANCE sequence that takes place at a party when one of the victims is murdered. A catchy song danced to by a bunch of people dressed in weird TV series costumes… Odd, and brilliant!


It’s not a perfect film, far from it actually!! Flawed dubbing, dubious motives, blood effects that don’t quite go off as well as they should and an ending that really doesn’t hold up under too much scrutiny, but for me it has a charm that may be due to my personal nostalgia for it, but whatever it is, I love it like a brother.

Score: ****

Format: This release is the Australian, region B release from industry newcomer Glass Doll Films, who in their short career have released some genre classics like Eaten Alive and The Centrefold Girls, and are quickly becoming my favourite! This feature runs for 99 minutes and the picture quality of the 2.35:1 image is really clear and vibrant. The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono and is of a particularly high quality too.

Score: *****

Extras:


Some pretty cool extras on this disc.

First we have two audio commentaries, one (via Skype, which makes it a little tinny) with Director Michael Laughlin, which seems more like an interview edited into the film rather than an ACTUAL commentary which causes it to be quite sporadic, and the other with co-writer Bill Condon and actors Dan Shor and Dey Young, which is far more animated and fun and funny!

The Effects of Strange Behaviour is an interview with Makes up effects artist Craig Reardon where he discusses how he ended up on and what effects were used in Dead Kids.

A Very Delicious Conversation with Dan Shor is a really awesome interview with Shor where he presents his entire career whist sitting on a bench in New York. It’s a fascinating extra, especially if, like me, you don’t know much about Shor. I must admit to having to watch it twice as I was, for a second, distracted by a squirrel in the background. I’ve never been to New York and didn’t realise that squirrels were SO prevalent.. I mean, you see them always in the movies, but you don’t expect that to necessarily be a real thing.

The disc also has a isolated score track by Tangerine Dream. The score is actually really good, but it is so sparse in the film that you spend several minutes at a time watching people’s mouths moving with no sound between the music pieces.

There is also an interesting booklet, written by John Harrison, which explores the film, that has some great behind the scenes pics.

Score: *****

WISIA: Of course it has rewatchability: I’ve owned this film on every format that it been released upon in Australia!! I love it and Glass Doll have my eternal gratitude for taking so much care of the Australian release.