Playbirds (1978)

Playbirds (1978)

Film: Mary Millington is best known for being the UK’s best know striptease artist, and, along with Fiona Richmond, was labelled ‘the two hottest sex stars of the seventies. Millington started her career as a glamour model and eventually graduated to sex films and reels. In her life she was contacted pursued by the police, which eventually resulted in her committing suicide at age 33.

(The is a review of Respectable: The Mary Millington Story elsewhere on this very site)

This film, Playbirds, tell of a serial killer who is targeting girls from the men’s magazine Playbirds. The police, Holbourne (Glynn Edwards from Get Carter) and Morgan (Gavin Campbell from On The Buses) investigate the murders, interviewing the magazines owner, Dougan (Alan Lake from Blake’s Seven) before deciding they need a ‘man’ on the inside… you know, putting a female officer in danger by posing as a stripper/ glamour model… standard police procedure.

Speaking of ‘standard police procedure’, the way they decided which WPC should be used in the undercover work is to get a bunch of them to volunteer to strip and show their bodies, the ‘winner’ being an officer named Lucy (Millington), new so she goes undercover to infiltrate the business and try to find the killer… but will she a victim herself?

It’s such a weird film as it really does appear to attempt to be telling some kind of giallo-ish thriller! It’s written by George Evans, who worked on Carry On films and several 70s tv series like Bless This House and the Dick Emery Show, and Willy Roe, also the director, who wrote mainly soft core porn films, including Millington’s Come Play With Me. The combination of TV comedy writer and a porno writer don’t make for a gripping story.

It being 70s soft core though, I expect the story isn’t was the viewer was supposed to be ‘gripping’ – nudge nudge wink wink.

The weird thing about this film is the attempts to be a ‘legitimate’ film, with actors like the aforementioned Edwards, Campbell and Lake, also joined by such well known actors as Dudley Sutton, Alex Mango and Windsor Davies!

It’s little more than a quaint and kitschy curio, but it’s an interesting look at the attempts to legitimise soft core porn as ‘proper’ entertainment. I warn you though, it’s not in the slightest but PC, so it’s not for the easily offended… but I guess the easily offended wouldn’t be watching this sort of thing anyway!

Score: **

Extras: Honestly, I was surprised by how many extra they are on this disc:

Mary Millington’s Striptease Extravaganza is a 45 minute featurette from 1981 celebrating Millington’s life via a striptease competition. It reminds me of Varietease and other strip reels. It’s a quaint, and occasionally awkward when you think these women would all be grans now, look at stripping.

Response (1974) is an 8mm ‘short’ of the type that were sold in sex shops in the 70s. Soundless (because it’s a reel) soft-porn shenanigans.

Still gallery featuring the artwork and media marketing for the film.

Lastly, 4 trailers for other ‘adult’ films: Cool It Carol, Intimate Games, Spaced Out and Secrets of Sex.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I don’t think I would watch it again, except to show someone else.

Video Nasties: Draconian Days aka Video Nasties The Definitive Guide: Part 2 (2014)

Film: I wonder if Jake West realised that his first documentary about banned films, called Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Video Tape, was going to be such an amazing piece of work. I have to say that there is probably only two documentary films series that I really could watch as much as I watch regular cinema, they are these two films, and a Gary Hustwit series of three films called Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanised (a loose series starting with regular things we see every day, but looked at from a design point of view (if you haven’t seen them, give them a watch!))

The first film in this series, reviewed elsewhere on this very site, dealt with the banned films of the so-called ‘video nasty’ era in the UK, whereas this film deals with the fallout; the censorship and movie classification under the direction of the Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), James Ferman.

It’s an interesting look at the pointlessness of having both censorship and classification, as they don’t work together: why have an age related classification of (18) if you are then going to cut it?

It makes no sense.

The reasoning behind it damaging people psychologically wasn’t proven then, and nor is it proven now… and if these films are so bad, why do the censors get to watch them? What makes THEM above us… and why is age a level for censorship? I know immature 50 year olds (I am one) and I’ve observed 20 years old far more mature than me… and hang on, what is maturity anyways?

It also steeps into the specifics of ridiculousness of some decisions. For example, nunchucks and ninja stars were seen as problematic weapons for films, so those films were rejected or edited. This led to cuts made to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

Yep.

It would seem that Ferman’s rule seemed to become an excuse for him to exert his lost career as a director and re-cut others films. One of his criticisms claims he made ‘censorship by stealth’.

This film features interviews with everyone involved, from ex-BBFC employees, government officials, film-makers, film journalists and so many others that it presents a quite an even discussion about censorship, especially considering some of the interviewees have such varied opinions about what is ‘good’ censorship, and when does it become borderline fascism? There is also a lot of supplementary material from the time that shows how moral panic can lead to dangerous societal results.

This documentary seems to be far more relevant now with the rise of the so-called ‘cancel culture’. Is it right to delete art because it doesn’t stand up to current standards? If we delete prejudice and violence will it change our state of thought or are those things printed on some of our DNA strands?

I’m just a guy who likes movies so don’t look at me for the answers!

All in all it’s a fascinating look at archaic laws, how some politicians who believe themselves to be better educated than you DECIDE what is good for you, and just how quickly power can corrupt anyone.

The image and sound on this disc aren’t great, but it’s just talking heads so the need for hi-def, 1080hp with super duper surround sound probably isn’t needed.

Score: ****

Video: **

Audio: **

Extras: Oh did you want extras? Well, buckle up, sunshine!

Disc 1 has a series of slideshows: the first is a selection of fanzines who traded in illegal video tapes, then we have DPP72 and DPP82 which show the covers of films banned/ almost banned.

This disc also has trailers for The Playgirls and the Vampire, Grindhouse Trailer Classics 2, Night of the Bloody Apes, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Dead of Night, Cannibal Girls, Teaserama, Varitease, Ghost Story, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Fausto 5.0, Gwendoline, Between Your Legs, Cruel Passion, Escort Girls, Some Like It Sexy, Fantasm, Fantasm Comes Again, The Good Little Girls, Justine’s Hit Nights, Scandalous Photos, Dressage and Education Anglaise. (Though both Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again attach to the same trailer, which is a bummer)

There is also a couple of Easter eggs that feature images of programs and passes from various film festivals, and a short film “It’s Just A Movie’.

Disc 2 and 3 have, in total, about 10 hours of trailers (which for length-of-review reasons I won’t list them all) of the Section 3 video nasties, with introductions.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s fascinating and a great supplement to the first documentary, but meanders a little. That hasn’t stopped me from giving it several watches.

A Bay of Blood (1971)

A Bay of Blood (1971)

Film: Truly, in English speaking countries and outside of the fans of horror or cult cinema, the name of director Mario Bava, unjustly seems to be ignored.

Bava was the son of a filmmaker and started as a cinematographer, and was also adept at screenwriting and special effects, but really, as a director is where his talent lies. In his career he directed over almost 40, with genres including horror, fantasy, science fiction and comedy… even a movie based on a comics character (yes, Marvel didn’t do that first OR best), and many directors including Dario Argento, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Joe Dante, Lucia Fulci and others claim to have been influenced by his work.

This film, A Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Ecologia Del Delitto (and many others) tells the tale of a series of murders that take place by the titular Bay.

The worst haircut ever gets it’s due punishment

First, the disabled owner of the bay is found hanging in her house in what was a murder made to look like suicide, but almost immediately, her murderer is also dispatched by a mysterious assailant. These events lead to a series of murders that all appear to be a cover-up for a real estate scam and an inheritance issue that just seem to escalate.

This film is clearly one of the templates for the slasher movies that came ten years later in the eighties: really just a series of gory murders, intercut with some images of boobs/ butts and a barely incoherent story to link it all together.

Not sure about the rest of you, but I don’t really have a problem with that!

Clearly, Sean Cunningham was inspired by this scene

Honestly, the story is REALLY stupid and doesn’t feel at all like any attempt has been made for any type of legitimacy for the story, and it assumes the viewer has NO understanding of how police investigations go. One could never remake this film now as the perpetrators of the film left fingerprints everywhere and even a rock with a slight understanding of forensics would have the ‘mystery’ solved within minutes. Also, so many unnecessary scenes drag on for far too long, and characters whose back stories we really don’t need to know are over-explained to the point of slowing down the story.

I say all that but it the end it is still charming, and the scenes of violence, considering this came out in 1971, are quite shocking and occasionally sophisticated in their execution. Sometimes the victim’s death scenes are just dumb though… for example, Brunhilda is clearly still breathing after her demise… for them not to ring too true, but they are excusable as not much of it feels realistic at all.

Island of Death director Nick Mastorakis said (and I paraphrase) that in making his film that he asked members of his team to come up with a bunch of horrible ways to die, and a bunch of perversions and he wrote a script around those parameters: this feels like it was made similarly.

This film also boasts the worst haircut ever seen in the history of cinema. It’s a pseudo-Afro-mullet that looks like a fake artist tried to flock a motorcycle helmet. It’s both the most horrifying and funniest thing in this film.

Having said all that, this film has a weird endearing honesty about it that makes it a joy to watch, even if the final scene is one of the most ridiculous things you’ll ever see.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the Arrow films multiregion Bluray release from 2010. It is presented in a clear, but artefact-filled 1.85:1 image with a fairly decent mono audio track.

Score: ***

Extras: Oh boy, it’s a smorgasbord of extras on this disc… are smorgasbords Italian? Do I mean tapas? No that’s Spanish… Buffet? Whatever: the point is there’s heaps of extras!

The Italian Version of the Film, with or without subtitles is included in the extras.n

The Giallo Gems of Dardano Sacchetti is an interview with the story writer of A Bay of Blood, Sacchetti, and his experiences in the Italian/ giallo film scene, including working with a Bava on this film.

Joe Dante Remembers Twitch of the Death Nerve sees director/ film enthusiast Joe Dante talk about Bava and his reception in America.

Shooting a Spaghetti Classic looks at how A Bay of Blood was shot through the eyes of assistant cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia.

There are also two Trailers from Hell narrated by Shaun of the Dead director, Edgar Wright, which are both for A Bay of Blood, but under two of its other names, Carnage and Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Finally there are two radio spots for the film.

Also, the review edition is the Arrow Films release from about 2010 and it has a choice of 4 different covers, a poster and a booklet about the film by Jay Slater.

Score: ****

WISIA: It’s kitschy and cute, and gory as hell! It’ll get watched again, for sure!

Humongous (1982)

One from the rewatch pile…

Humongous (1982)

Film: Everyone, even non-horror fans, remembers the ‘superstars’ of 80s horror. The Jasons, the Freddys, the Michaels but not often does someone pay any creed to the ‘second stringers’, the ‘reserve grade’, the ‘wannabees’, the ‘try hards’: the ‘almost rans’ whose films didn’t become franchises, and in actual fact at times were lucky to get release at all!! They were like the guys and girls in high school who wanted to be cool, but their Best and Less leather jacket wasn’t anywhere near as cool, or bona fide, as the one you got from the Salvos that had a spew stain on it and stunk of ganja, and like those people, the B-list of horror drift into the backs of people minds, except for the occasional exception, like The Burning, but that is just because it is shit-hot.

This film was one of those that didn’t quite make it, even though it played the formula as close to the rulebook as it could. As a matter of fact, Humongous steals quite liberally from Anthropophagus The Grim Reaper as the core idea of the film is almost exact, and not so liberally from the Friday series, with the malformed son and occasionally a scene feels like it was lifted from one of the Friday films, but I guess if you wish to steal from other films, they are a good place to start!!

This release of Humongous is under the sub-title of Katarina’s Nightmare Theatre. The Katarina in question is Katarina Leigh Waters, a multi-franchise wrestler, including the WWE, who has in her sights, aspirations to be a second rate Elvira, which in turn makes her a third rate Vampira. The slick for this DVD claims to be ‘uncut’ and I have no reason to discount this claim.

Now I apologise for the way this reads, but the film IS as generic as what this sounds. Five teens, the jock, the nerdy little sister, the dickhead, the slut and the girl who obviously survives and an older man, the guys who ‘warns them of what may happen’ take refuge on a mysterious island when their boat is run into rocks and sinks. The island used to house a strange old lady who didn’t associate with the local community and kept wholly to herself. Why did she do this? Well in the 1940s, she was raped at a party and the rapist killed by her beloved dogs, but his seed laid purchase and she gave birth to a deformed freak, who, when she died, became like a giant, wild cannibal roaming the island looking for his next meal, and tasty teens sound delicious…

Ever since I got my first DVD player in 1998, I have longed for this film, and this may be my biggest problem with it. I had such high expectations as when I saw it originally on VHS in the 80s I was somewhat of a horror neophyte, and wasn’t even of AWARE of half of the stuff I have seen since, so my teen brain kept telling my adult brain how good it is.

It isn’t.

It is competent and well filmed, but hardly gory and unfortunately the script feels like someone sat down and created a ‘franchise’ rather than a complete film. It really does feel like a ‘best of’ of other horror films of the time. Thankfully one thing this release of the film offers is the rarely seen in America, extended rape sequence, which is shot from the woman’s perspective, which makes it quite harrowing.

Basically, 80s horror fans have a ‘must have’ for their collection, but only for completion purposes, other horror fans may look upon it as an OK distraction offering NOTHING new to the table.

It tries to be good, but it just doesn’t try hard enough. Why watch something TRYING to be Anthropophagus or Friday the 13th when you could actually watch them instead. If you really feel the need to watch a second string 80s horror film, watch The Burning instead… or Madman… or anything. Joy Boushel has nice knockers though, so an extra point for that.

Score: **

Format: This film is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen and is a slightly below average image due to it pixelating quite frequently and the abundance of artefacts. That’s not to say it isn’t watchable, but it could be better. The soundtrack is in mono and it is what you’d imagine it would be.

Score: **

Extras: The film can be watched in two different ways. One is just with the film just directly starting and the other is with an introduction by wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters, who is provided with a pun filled script that is about as funny as constipation. Even Elvira would have rolled her eyes at some of these apparent jokes. I am not sure what wrestling has to do with horror films, but she delivers her lines with a professionalism that would make Triple H proud.

The extras on this disc are not too bad.

Audio Commentary with director Paul Lynch, Writer William Gray and Horror Historian Nathanial Thompson – moderated by Katarina Leigh Waters is a decent look at the making of the film and the Canadian ‘horror industry’ in general.

R-rated beginning scene is the ‘nice’ version of the rape scene, which contains no thrusting of the rapist, just violence and an implied rape. The quality is really quite bad though, very foggy.

Original Trailer is obviously the original trailer for Humungous. It’s a speccy, artefacty affair, but a nice inclusion.

Katarina’s Trailers are a series of random trailers though I am not sure if they are future releases on her ‘label’. They include Final Exam, Nothing but the Night, The Devil Within Her, The House on Sorority Row, The Incubus and The Pyx.

Score: ****

WISIA: I have to admit that even though I’m not the biggest fan of this flick, I do find myself rewatching regularly. I think just because it’s an easy watch.

The Hills Run Red (2009)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Hills Run Red (2009)

Film: One of the joys of being a VHS/ DVD/ Lazerdisc/ BD/ Betamax collector is the hunt. Thinking you know everything about a certain type of film, but then discovering, either through research or, thanks to the internet, a group interest that there is more to buy, more to collect. The most satisfying moment is when you get your hands on that rarity: though the joy is generally shortlived as you quickly discover yet another missing treasure. 

If this sounds familiar, The Hills Run Red is the film for you.

Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is a film fanatic who is obsessed with a missing film called The Hills Run Red, a horror film about a killer nicknamed Babyface (Danko Iordanov), which was directed by notorious reclusive filmmaker Concannon (William Sadler). He has plans of making a documentary about it, along with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and best pal Lalo (Alex Wyndham) but all he needs is a lead in.

This lead comes when his research brings him to Concannon’s daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk), a heroin addicted stripper who he helps get cleaned up. After Alexa dries out, she takes the three to the backwoods town where the film was made, but what they find is a lot worse than anything they could have possible imagined.

What they find is that Babyface is a real creature and not a fictional character at all, and maybe film and reality aren’t so different from each other.

This film is directed by Dave Parker, who was also responsible for The Dead Hate the Living and written by David J. Schow, a fairly well known name in horror as he wrote 2 Critters films (specifically 3 and 4), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and probably most famously, The Crow.

This has some interesting Scream type elements that appropriately get turned on their head. One of the characters whilst venturing into the woods talks about horror film conventions, and shows his mobile phone is working, he has back-up flares in case the torches don’t work and a gun in case they get into trouble. Brilliantly, these modern back-up plans backfire and are used against them.

This is a thematic constant in the film as well; just when the bitter old horror fan inside you goes ‘I know what will happen next’, it doesn’t. There are some great extra creepy moments in this film that are all based around this idea of being atypical.

The film is only quite short, and the I believe that even so, this films bangs along at quite an appropriate pace. At no time was I bored, except maybe during the five minute long closing credits and the film had my attention at all times, especially during any scene of Babyface- driven carnage or of Sophie Monk supplying anything contained within her knocker locker.

I honestly think this is the best 80s styled slasher that wasn’t made in the 80s, and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Score: *****

Format: Whilst the film is only a fairly recent one and maintains a fairly good level of detail, I did find on occasion that the picture was a little soft. Also a few CGI effects weren’t blended into the color scheme of the film and stuck out like dogs balls in mouse ball soup. The Hills Run Red was presented in  2.40:1 widescreen.The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The use of the subwoofer in jumpscares is so great that I must admit I almost blasted excrement from the depths of my bowels on at least two occasions. A grand time was had by all… well except for the lounge I was sitting on.

Easily my favourite slasher film in years. Perfect sized doses (all lethal) of beatings, brutalizations, babes and breasts all make for a great film, but don’t think this film is light on story either. I love it.

Score: ***

Extras: Only two extras on this:

Commentary by Director Dave Parker, Writer David J. Schow and Producer Robert Meyer Burnett  is a quite animated commentary from the three. It covers a hell of a lot of stuff about of the film, and one gets a greater appreciation of the film when one hears how deliberately they avoided referencing other films directly, even though the film is about film fans falling afoul of filmmakers.

It’s Not Real Until you Shoot It: The Making of the Hills Run Red is a great look at the filming of The Hills Run Red. It has a selection of interviews with almost all the cast and crew and is both funny and informative.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh goodness, yes.

Maniac (2012)

One from the rewatch pile…

Maniac (2012)

Film: Maniac is a loose remake of Bill Lustig’s classic 1980 horror film of the same name starring Joe Spinell and Caroline Monroe. He it’s retooled by Alexander Aja (who also remade The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D) and Gregory Levasseur and directed by P2’s Franck Khalfoun, the updated story goes like this:

Mannequin restorer Frank (Sin City’s Elijah Wood) has a few problems: no friends, migraines, Oedipus Complex and a penchant for murdering and scalping women, and then using their removed hair as wigs for his shop dummies.

His life may be changing though as he has met a young photographer Anna (Safe House’s Nora Arnezeder), with whom he strikes up a friendship, but will his deadly urges allow this friendship to flourish?

The most remarkable aspect of this film is the POV aspect in which it is shot. This isn’t Blair Witch Project, shaky-cam stuff either; this is genuine, internet-porn styled POV that takes place from the standpoint of the antagonist, rather than the stock standard ‘found footage’ style which requires the addition of a hamfistedly inserted video camera. In this film, you are IN the murderers head, and seeing from his eyes, not as a witness, but as the perpetrator. In seeing his life through his eyes, we also see his mental point of view, and the way his unhinged brain interprets events. This device adds a touch of realism to the film, and the style is like the third person writing seen in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho which tells you everything that YOU DO. It was so effective that New Zealand’s censors banned the film saying a wider release would be ‘injurious to the public good’.

Now THAT’S the type of notoriety horror movie makers used to enjoy!

The soundtrack has some impressive subtleties to it as well. First I have to praise the synth score that occasionally kicks in which felt like a nice nod to the original. The real treat comes from Wood’s performance combined with the sound engineers. Listen closely when he is arguing with himself and you’ll hear an ‘extra’ voice coming trough the speakers. The combination of this and Wood’s POV performance makes for a disturbing yet sympathetic lead man.

Speaking of the 80s, there are a few other nice nods to the original: a description of an online sleeve bag that may fit Joe Spinell’s appearance may have been a little offensive, but in one scene the killer sees a reflection of himself in a car door, and it emulates the original ‘erection’ poster nicely.

Wood’s performance as Frank is amazing too. When you consider he is really only seen in reflections or in flashbacks or on occasion to show time lapse or to see the release he gets from Murder, he has a genuine presence in this film. Even when he isn’t seen, he is generally heard, as there is a constant sound of his breathing which weighs heavily in every scene. It seems he was made for this role as his sudden acts of violence, which won’t disappoint gore fans, are completely offset by his almost child-like looks and mannerisms.

When this came out I thought this was an effective thriller that was given a greater identity with its unusual way of telling the story.

Score: ****

Format: Its impossible to fault the picture and sound quality of this bluray. The 2.35:1 image is crystal clear and the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD audio is immersive a necessary for the effectiveness of the film.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc starts with trailers for Lovely Molly, Come Out and Play and Room 237. Extras offered include a series of interviews with Kalfoun, Aja, Woods and Arnedezer which reveal some of the ideas behind the remaking of the 80s classic.

Disappointingly there is no documentary revealing the way the film was made, which I would have liked to have seen

Score: **

WISIA: Whilst it is a good movie, I can’t see me watching it again.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

One from the rewatch pile…

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Film: The history of cinema has had a rocky road with remakes, generally fans of an original story will immediately talk against their ‘holy grail’ being polluted by a modern team’s tinkering, but sometimes it works. Most horror or science fiction fans will name John Carpenter’s The Thing as an important movie within both genres and Carpenter was successful as he didn’t just remake it, he ‘re-imagined’ it. He took it’s basic premise, but told a different story. It worked with 1988’s The Blob, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and here with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The usual ‘It shouldn’t be done!’ rubbish surrounded it when it was first announced, but scriptwriter Scott Kosar (The Machinist) and director Marcus Nispel’s (music video director for Faith No More and Cher, amongst others) proved that you can take an idea, in this case Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s, and tell a vastly different story with similar elements. This film won many awards upon its release (BMI Film Music Award – Steve Jablonsky, Catalonian International Film Festival Best Art Direction – Scott Gallagher, Teen Choice Award – Choice Movie Thriller) and was nominated many times as well at many respected film festivals.

The premise may sound familiar, but this story is much different to the original 1973 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is August 18th, 1973, and five youngsters (Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Jonathon Tucker, Erica Leerhsen), are traveling from Mexico through Texas to see Lynard Skynard, when they decide to stop and pick up a hitchhiker. Meeting this hitchhiker causes a chain of events that will have them meet the Hewitt family of Travis County, and their lives will never be the same again.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, like Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, is loosely based on the serial killer Ed Gein, who kept the tanned hides of women around his house, and occasionally dressed in them. What helped to give this remake some credibility was the involvement of original Texas Chainsaw Massacre cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl and the fact that original screenwriter’s Henkel and Hooper acted as co-producers. Unlike the original, cannibalism is only suggested in this redux, but the cruelty of the family seems much more extreme. A special mention goes to R. Lee Ermey’s portrayal of the Travis County Police’s Sheriff Hoyt. Redneck through and though, this is a great example of both inspired casting and brilliant acting.

Marcus Nispel and Daniel Pearl also deserve much respect for creating a very claustrophobic sensation, even in the scenes that take place in wide open fields, there is a sullen feeling of oppression that cannot be shaken.

As far as a bluray package is concerned, this Texas Chainsaw Massacre release is amazing!! A combination of a good movie, with great commentaries and relevant extras that don’t appear to be sales propaganda, that sets a standard for others to aspire to.

Score: *****

Format: The transfer for Texas Chainsaw Massacre is crisp and clear and sensational and is presented in a 2.35:1 image which is a real delight to behold. A choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1, and the subtleties of both are breath-taking. Every drop of water heard in the background feels like it is running down your back.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s an absolute cornucopia of extras on this disc:

Photo Gallery and Art Gallery have pre-production drawings of both Leatherface and the set design.

The Alternate Beginning and Ending have footage that was originally to book end the feature, with an interesting look into the future of one of the main characters.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Redux documentary is a 1 hour 17 minute look at every aspect of the remaking process. Interviewing Nispel, Bay and others associated cast and crew, not to mention fan favorite and favorite fan Joe Bob Briggs, also looks at the origins of the original and the crowd reactions both before and after the first screening.

Ed Gein: The Ghoul of Plainfield is an informative, if not incomplete (they completely overlook the death of Ed’s brother in a forest fire and his grave digger assistant) 24 minute documentary about the ‘real Leatherface’ Ed Gein. Interviews with various historians and psychologists, this is not only an interesting look into the origins of Leatherface (and Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill), it is also a fascinating insight into the mind of serial killers.

Deleted Scenes are the usual gambit of alternate takes and additional scenes. I must say though, the alternate Morgan Death scene is very visceral.

Severed Parts has us take a deeper look at the deleted scenes and bookends and why they were deleted and trimmed for various reasons.

The Cast Screen Tests are the screen tests for Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour and Erica Leerhsen.

Art Gallery looks at some of the preproduction sketches for the film.

The theatrical Trailer is one of the best cut trailers I have ever seen, with Leatherface not seen until the very end and there is also a selection of TV spots.

The Music Video is a track by Motograter called Suffocate.

Finally, there are three of quite possibly the best and well organized commentaries I have ever heard. Every speaker states his or name before they speak, therefore removing and misunderstanding with regards to who is making what comment, although Marcus Nispel’s German accent makes it quite obvious when he speaks, and no-one talks over each other or interrupts each other. All are given a fair go with comments appropriate to the scene. Nispel has a voice on all three commentaries so occasionally he repeats himself, but from different points of view. There is a Production commentary where Nispel is accompanied by Producer Michael Bay and Executive Producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form to discuss the foundation elements of the film: the casting, the locations and the general ideas behind the look and tone of the film. Nispel is joined on the Tech commentary by Daniel Pearl, Greg Blair, Scott Gallagher, Trevor Jolley and Steve Jablonsky to discuss everything from the score to the cinematic elements of the film. Finally, the Story commentary has Nispel along with Bay, Fuller and Form, scripter Scott Kosar and also cast members Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Jonathon Tucker, Erica Leerhsen and old Leatherface himself, Andrew Bryniarski, discussing character motivations and backgrounds.

Score: *****

WISIA: As you might be able to tell, I love this movie so it sure does get a re-spin quite regularly here at the To Watch Pile Mansion.

Monster Party (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

Monster Party (2018)

Film: Occasionally I’ll peruse my local entertainment retailer just to see if anything jumps out at me, be it a lurid cover or a ridiculous title or a ‘produced by’ credit (you know, because the sign of a quality film is if someone PRODUCED a previous hit) or a couple of names of actors whom I like.

Today was a lucky day, as I secured a film that ticks all those boxes: the cover to this film (as you can see) has the back of a couple covered in blood facing some people who look well-to-do, the name ‘Monster Party’ is immediately evocative of something awful, it’s ‘produced’ by ‘The Producer of SINISTER’ (golly, it MUST be good… actually, I did like Sinister, so I’ll cut it some slack) and finally, it stars Robin Tunney (from The Craft and End of Days) and our very own Julian McMahon (Fantastic Four and Bait): this all sounds like a winner to me!

I’ll of this was also helped by Australia’s awful classification badge, which screamed at me ‘R18+ Restricted: High Impact Bloody Violence.

I’m in.

Monster Party tells of three burglars, Iris (Virginia Gardner), Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall) and Casper (Sam Strike) who are on the hunt for a big haul, as Casper’s father, a gambling addict, has been grabbed by a local gangster and is being tortured to pay off his gambling debts.

Luckily, Iris manages to secure the boys some work waiting on guests at a private party in a mansion, which they decide will be the object of their thievery, and the hosts, Patrick (McMahon) his wife Roxanne (Tunney) and their kids, Eliot (Kian Lawley) and Alexis (Erin Moriaty) seems nice, if not a little… well, strange.

As the guests arrive, an even stranger bunch of characters, our thieves become even more unsettled, until one of them is murdered by one of the guests, and the remaining two discover that the entire party is a ‘Murderers Anonymous’ meeting, as killers attempting to shake their addicting to killing.

With a little blood spilt though, the addiction kicks off, and our remaining heroes must do whatever it takes to survive… even become killers themselves!

As you may be able to tell from that synopsis, this film finds its influences from things like Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and more recently, Fede Alvarez’s excellent Don’t Breathe. What the film does is take that and mix in a little Tarantino-styled revenge, some kooky plot devices that go nowhere and an occasional bizarre choice of lighting schemes straight out of Bava or Argento films.

There is a few other strange choices as well. The casting is straight out of American soap opera so there’s this air of falsity to the whole film, which makes it feel somewhat insincere. One thing I did really like was establishing that the private party was VERY private so the mobile phones of the main characters were confiscated for privacy reasons. They could have very easily used that common nowadays trope of setting the film in the 80s (which I reckon is a cop out, but also better than a character tapping their phone and saying ‘mmmm, no reception’) but to actually have them hand over their phones was refreshing.

This film, though, is actually highly entertaining despite those couple of gripes. I don’t believe the ‘R rating’ is needed as even though there are some pretty violent acts, they take place just out of camera with just the results seen, and those effect that are clearly visualised are either really fake or very quick, the film does however take lots of twists and turns that all in all make for an entertaining jaunt amongst serial killers.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This movie was reviewed with the region 4 Australian DVD which runs for approximately 85 minutes and is presented in a mostly clean 2.40:1 image with a matching 5.1 audio. I say mostly as occasionally the colour seems washed out but that may have been a deliberate choice.

Score: ****

Extras: Empty plates all round, here.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was just entertaining enough for it to warrant repeat viewings.

Us (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

Us (2019)

Film: Looking back it was obvious that Jordan Peele, during his days as part of the comedy team Key And Peele, had a sense of humour that learnt more towards the horrible. A lot of the humour that he and Keegan-Michael Key did together had horror themes, from Racist Zombies to parodies of Saw, but even in their more straightforward comedy there were darker elements (they did one who two friends were moving house and one introduced the other to dub-step, with bloody results)… seriously, if you haven’t watched Key And Peele, you need to change that immediately.

This film is Peele’s second horror movie effort, the first being the well-received and successful Get Out, which he both wrote and directed, and just like Get Out, Peele has filled the film with a bunch of subtle, and not-so-subtle, nods to horror that he loves, like CHUD, Friday the 13th, The Lost Boys, Hitchcock’s films (whose style he occasionally emulates to great effect) and many others.

Us starts with a family outing in the 80s which sees the young Adelaide (Madison Curry) go missing from her parents for about 15 minutes whilst visiting the Santa Cruz fun pier… but what happens whilst she went missing remains a mystery as she refuses to talk about it.

We flash forward to now and are re-introduced to Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), who is happily married to Gabe (Winston Duke) and have two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) and about to enjoy a beachside holiday not far away from where she was abducted all those years ago.

The family visit the beach so they can catch up with their friends, the Tylers; Josh (Tim Heidecker), his wife Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) and their children, Becca and Lindsey (Cali and Noelle Sheldon), but Adelaide being at the place where she went missing as a child, she is on edge the whole time.

Much later into the night, back at home, they find a family standing in their driveway just looking at the house. When Gabe challenges them, they attack the house, and our family discovers that these intruders are doppelgängers, or shadows, of them.

These doppelgängers are part of a much greater conspiracy though, and the truth, once unleashed, is scarier than what this small family unit is encountering…

Peele has created a fascinating story that can only exist within the confines of its universe as to question its logic perhaps makes it fall apart. To approach this film as just a ‘home invasion’ story is a mistake as there is so much more and the conspiracy elements of the tale are far more interesting in their mystery.

The performances that Peele gets from his cast are nothing short of spectacular. All the actors’ character and appearance are SO different between the two roles that it’s as if different actors are playing them. I’ve watched a lot of films that have doppelgängers as a theme, from The Sixth Day to Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a personality shift from the original to the copy. Nyong’o is especially fearful from one character to the other. Especially seeing as how her double is like some kind of insane messiah with a speech pattern straight out of a nightmare.

Peele has namechecked Hitchcock as an influence and it’s quite clear by both the way he sets a scene, and with some of the violence being just out of eyeshot, so no dwelling on blood or gore here. That’s not to say the film isn’t violent though, it is! Not just physical but also from a psychological point of view as well.

I am sure that Us is full of hundreds of allegories that an uneducated dunce like me doesn’t pick up upon, and maybe there is some political agenda disguised in its frames, but don’t care about that. What I came here to do was enjoy horror movies and with this film, mission accomplished.

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian multi-region Bluray which is presented in a perfect 2.39:1 image with a matching Dolby Atmos 7.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: A really nice bunch on this disc:

The Monsters Within Us is a look at the performances of the actors in both roles they play, and the variation on the same character that they brought to it.

Tethered Together: Making Us Twice looks at the filming of the same scene twice with the originals and the doubles, and the visual effects used to stitch them together.

Redefining a Genre: Jordan Peelers Brand of Horror looks at what Jordan Peele brings to genre films, and his approach to making these films.

The Duality of Us sees Peele discuss some of the symbols used within the film to tell the story.

Becoming Red is a little bit of ‘between take’ footage on Nyong’o who maintained her doppelgänger persona on set during the filming of all these scenes, even when question the director about things happening within the scene. Honestly, this extra was almost as scary as the film: as beautiful as I find Nyong’o, if I’m ever confronted by her doing this schtick, I’ll run in the other direction at full speed.

Scene Explorations breaks down three scenes into their bare bones and dissects their messages.

Deleted Scenes and for me it’s the usual story: there’s a reason why some scenes are excused from a film and it’s usually for the better.

We’re All Dying is kinda-sorta a gag real but it’s a freestyle conversation between Duke and Heidecker that’s occasionally funny.

As Above, So Below: Grand Pas De Deux shows the full performance of the ballet by both versions of young Adelaide, cleverly a dance made for two that the character chooses to dance by herself whilst her tethered version does it somewhere else. Another example of Peele’s symbolism.

Score: *****

WISIA: There is so much more to this film that I’m sure I need to watch it again.

Hatchet (2006)

One from the re-watch pile…

Hatchet (2006)

Film: Writer/director Adam Green is one of us. He was shown Friday the 13th Part 2 when he was 8, and has never looked back. Thankfully, that movie fermented in his brain, and while at summer camp, a story about a murderer who dwelled in a cabin that was forbidden to the campers turned into something else, something that 20 years later evolved into this film, Hatchet.

Hatchet tells of lovelorn Ben (Joel Moore from Bones and Avatar) and his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond aka Token Black Guy from Not Another Teen Movie) who are visiting new Orleans for Mardi Gras, but Ben, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, isn’t into the idea of seeing a bunch of drunken women showing their boobs for beads.

Pfft, idiot!

So, instead of enjoying the frivolities these two friends decide to take a tour of the Louisiana swamps, in the ‘Scare Boat’ run by local Shawn (Perry Shen), and perhaps see where local legend Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), aka Hatchetface, once lived. Once on board they meet kindly older couple Jim and Shannon Permatteo (Richard Riele and Patrika Darbo respectively), titty filmmaker Doug Shapiro (Joel Murray), his flashing females Jenna (Joleigh Fioraevanti) and Misty (Mercedes McNab) and mysterious, gun-toting honey Marybeth (Tamara Feldman).

Unfortunately, and of course, the boat comes to a crashing halt, and the gang of tourists and their guide become stuck in the woods, wet, cold, lost, and now with Victor Crowley, whom they realise is no legend but instead a horribly malformed mutant killing machine, hunting for them.

How many will make it out… if any? Will the survivors be horribly maimed and psychologically scarred? And where exactly did a mutant hillbilly get a petrol-powered sander?

The script is a fun adventure into 80s styled horror, and even though it has a few great and funny lines, at no point did I think ‘horror comedy’, which I believe to be the scourge of the genre. I think the reason that the comedy never overpowers over the horror is because the violence is just so damned nasty: spine rips, head splits, axings… a veritable treasure trove of blood spraying and sputum spewing gags that should keep most fans happy, and their non-horror friends crying ‘Ewwwwwww!’

One thing I have to pick on this film about anything it is the costume of the creature that is Victor Crowley. Rubber suits and appliance rarely look 100% perfect, but unfortunately this one doesn’t look as good as the worst of the Jason Voorhees ones.

The other is its biggest problem: this film has to live up to a expectations that started as hype on the internet after a teaser trailer oozed out, and those expectations were that it could be horror’s salvation. It isn’t, but what it is a bit of gory fun and what the DVD cover says: “Old School American Horror”.

It’s got gore, boobs, gore, violence, gore, Robert Englund, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder in it, and those elements make it alright in my book. While I don’t think the character of Victor Crowley has the longevity of Freddy or Jason it is a fun example of what a slasher film is supposed to be: gory, unpretentious fun. With boobs.

Score: ***1/2

Format: Nice clear picture presented in 16:9 with no artefacts or apparent damage. A really good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is clear as a bell, with the rear channels coming to life whenever Victor Crowley terrorises his victims.

Score: ****

Extras: Straight off the bat we are given a commentary by writer/director Adam Green and his Director of Photography Will Barratt, with a few do-drop-ins (specifically actors) here and there to add more colour to the proceedings. It is a full commentary that is both entertaining and informative. Yes, it is inforcational.

The Making of Hatchet is one of the better making of docos I have seen. It discusses the origins of the film from conception to … heh… execution. Mainly features interviews with Green, Barratt and producer Sarah Elbert (who I admit to having a micro-crush on) but also chats with most of the cast and a fair bit of the crew. This is the type of doco that makes me want to grab my video camera and go and film stuff.

Of course, no decent extras package is complete without the trailer, so here it be!

Also there are four behind the scenes pieces, which are all around the ten minute mark:

Meeting Victor Crowley is a look at Kane Hodder’s performance and substandard make-up. What it lacks as a visual though, he made up for in terrorising the cast with his on camera and behind the scenes routine.

Guts and Gore looks at the red stuff… which is why a lot of us are here. Well, this and boobs.

Anatomy of a Kill dissects the ‘pop top’ scene, from the original idea to John Carl Buechler’s effects teams result.

A Twisted Tale looks at the moral support that Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder has given Green over the years, both before and after they had met.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: There is far too many super slashers from the 80s that I could rewatch rather than give this another look.