Fear in the Night (1972)

One from the to watch pile…

Fear in the Night (1972)

Film: It seems to me that every time I reach a point where I think I have seen every Hammer film, ten more that I haven’t seen pop up. The best thing about these films is in general the reason I didn’t know about them is because I was a ravenous lover of Hammer’s monster movies, like the Frankensteins and the Draculas, but a lot of these thrillers and real fun and a great watch.

This film, Fear in the Night, is directed by one of the real creative forces of Hammer, Jimmy Sangster, who also directed Lust for the Vampire and The Horror Of Frankenstein. Being a prolific writer of Hammer films, he do-wrote this screenplay with Michael Syson, who also wrote the 1979 western, Eagle’s Wing.

Fear in the Night is a thriller starring Judy Geeson as Peggy Heller, a newly wed who is packing her things from the sharehouse she lives in so she can go with her new husband, Robert (Ralph Bates) at the boys boarding school where he is employed as a maths teacher.

On this night, though, she is attacked by a man with only one arm, and as she is someone with a history of mental issues, she is not immediately believed though the police are called and a report made.

She travels to the school where she finds it abandoned, as it is apparently end of term, and meets the headmaster, Michael Carmichael (Peter Cushing) and his wife, Molly (Joan Collins). Molly is immediately hostile towards Peggy, but Robert explains that she is apparently a bitch to everyone. Michael is a calm, studious type… WITH ONLY ONE ARM!!!!

DUM, dum, DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!!!

Is Michael the man who attacked her, or is there a highly detailed plot involving misdirection leading to MURDER?

Well obviously there is, this is a Hammer film for goodness sake!!

This is a beautifully shot film, with some cool cinematic subtleties throughout, for example, Geeson’s costuming changes as her state of mind becomes fractured.

Considering Geeson basically holds the film single-handedly, she is perfect for the role. Girl next door pretty and with a tragic demeanour she nails this mentally-unstable waif brilliantly. That’s not to disparage the others: Collins plays perfect bitch, Bates plays perfect cad and Cushing? Well, Cushing is Cushing, and what else would you want?

All in all, it’s a quality Hammer Horror thriller, but it telegraphs most of its surprises quite early, and whilst the pay-off works, the epilogue is somewhat lacklustre.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian, region B Bluray which runs for 94 minutes and is presented in a clear 1.66:1 image with a matching Dolby DTS-HD audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: There is not a great deal of extras on this, but what there is is quality.

End of Term: Inside Fear in the Night has various film experts from the UK like Jonathon Rigby, who wrote the amazing Euro Gothic, Alan Barnes, co-author of The Hammer Story, Kevin Lyons, the editor of eofftv.com and cultural historian John J. Johnston talking about the history and providence of the film. The only problem with this extra is it only goes for just over 15 minutes!

There is also a trailer for the film.

Score: ***

WISIA: Once the well-telegraphed twist is revealed, it doesn’t really lend itself to repeat watching.

The Champagne Murders (1967)

One from the to watch pile…

The Champagne Murders (1967)

Film: I’ve only ever been to Europe for three days… yep, you read that right: three lousy days! All that flying, exhaustively long stop-overs at other airports so I could get off a plane in England, be shuffled onto a bus to a place called Retford where I was involved in a three day conference and sales meeting, and then was shuffled off back to the airport and thrown back here to sunny Australia.

That was about 21 years ago and I have to say it’s been a constant thorn in my paw that I didn’t get to see more of Europe other than jolly old England. Why? Well I’ve always loved movies set in Europe, I guess mainly the ones from the 60s and 70s, and that probably started with things like Roman Holiday and even tripe like Gidget Goes To Rome, and even the Carry On films to some extent.

This affection continued to grow when I started to really get stuck into watching gialli and from there the films of Armando de Ossorio, Jorge Grau and other European directors of varying quality. I’m not sure if it’s the environments, the architecture, the women or just the fact that even the slimiest of bad guys still seems to be cooler than anyone in a Hollywood film.

This film, The Champagne Murders aka La Scandale is from this period I love, 1967 specifically, and was directed by prolific French director and member of Nouvelle Vague (the French film movement, not the band), Claude Chabrol and was written by Claude Brulé and Derek Prouse from an original story by William Benjamin.

To finish a deal to sell Wagner Champagne, Christine Belling (Yvonne Furneaux) requires the approval of Paul Wagner (Maurice Ronet) to continue to use his family name on the product. Paul has a few problems of his own though: after a violent incident a year or so ago for which he had treatment, he still suffers from an occasionally blackout, which is exacerbated by his chronic alcoholism.

After Paul and Christopher (Anthony Perkins). Christine’s conniving husband, go on a trip to Hamburg, Christine receives a blackmail letter with a newspaper article about a murdered girl, who happens to be the escort that Paul spent the night and had one of his blackouts withhold they were there.

Christine then decides to blackmail Paul into giving up his name, but very soon, another girl in Paul’s company turns up dead… but is it Paul committing these murders, or is he being set up by someone else?

I have to say I did really love this film. It has a deliberate pace so if big budget action films are your thing, this isn’t going to wash. This film doesn’t just convey a story, it is a series of carefully built scenes with amazing subtle and fluid camerawork and spectacular performances from all involved. The best thing about it though is it’s inconclusive ending: yes, the killer is revealed but the circumstances of their comeuppance are left in a delicious open ended finale that reveals that perhaps all problems in the world are just a microcosm, and maybe even insignificant and that the pursuit of money can reduce one’s humanity, and enslave.

The reviewed version was the English language one, so not all of the visuals match the sound perfectly, and the appearance of Perkins must be based on the popularity of Psycho give both the themes of duality, and the fact the score at times feels like it hits some very Hitchcockian notes.

I had never even heard of this film before this week, and it’s rocketed into being one of my favourite films of all time. Give it a look.

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release. Mostly, the 2.35:1 image is of a high quality though some of the stock footage of vineyards suffers from a few artefacts and some damage to the film. The sound is presented in 2.0 and suffers from occasional inexplicable peaks and troughs of volume, but for the most part is clear.

Score: ***

Extras: Not a single thing at all!

Score: 0

WISIA: As a matter of fact, one SHOULD watch it at least twice as the second watch will no doubt reveal several little tics and looks that make so much more sense.

The Skeleton Key (2005)

One from the re watch pile…

The Skeleton Key (2005)

Film: Every now and again, big budget Hollywood make an attempt at trying something new at the movies, and they will find a team of actors who are a mix of up-and-coming A-listers, and stars from years ago to deliver a movie that is inoffensive and never… NEVER… will be referred to as a horror movie. It happens so frequently even Fangoria once had a section called ‘It’s Not A Horror Movie’ so these films could be celebrated.

In this case, the attempt was made using Hackers director, Iain Softley from a script by Ehren Kruger, who adapted the J-horror film Ring to an English version, and more recently, wrote the Ghost in the Shell movie. The stars picked from the ‘little bit old’ column were John Hurt and Gina Rowland, and from the new, Kate Hudson and Peter Sarsgaard.

The Skeleton Key takes place in New Orleans and tells of a hospice nurse, Caroline (Hudson) who answers a wanted ad placed by a lawyer, Luke Marshall (Sarsgaard) on behalf of one of his clients, Violet Devereux (Rowlands) to nurse her husband Ben (Hurt) whose health is failing after he has had a severe stroke in the attic of their mansion.

Violet is protective of her crippled husband, as one would suspect, but the longer Caroline stays in the house, the more she thinks that there is MUCH more going on and that perhaps the house contains a secret… a ghostly secret… with its origins steeped in Hoodoo…

This is an interesting film in that it takes itself seriously even though the story is preposterous, and that’s what makes it work. The four leads perform their roles with a great deal of conviction, especially Kate Hudson, which is saying something when you consider she’s mostly known for being the femme foil for lunkheads played by Matthew McConaughey in totally moronic romantic comedies. In this, she is sensitive and as her character evolves, she changes her style of acting. She has an amazing gear shift during the film too and does it convincingly.

John Hurt needs some recognition too considering he does most of his acting as a semi-comatose stroke victim, but what he can do with a wide eye and a stretch of the neck speaks volumes of fear. Amazing.

The whole design of the movie is quite beautiful. The spooky places look decidedly spooky and the old house the majority of the film takes place in is ominous and doesn’t feel right from the start, which suits the general unsettling feel the majority of the film has.

I really like this film, even though it isn’t really ‘proper’ horror it still resonates and as I said, it’s wholly due to the convincing performances.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This multi-region Bluray copy of The Skeleton Key runs for about 100 minutes, and is presented in a clean and clear 2.35:1 image with a perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.

Score: ****

Extras: Speaking of skeletons, there is no extras on this disc. That’s a great disappointment too as the DVD release from 11 years ago was packed full of extras!

Score: 0

WISIA: I saw it first in 2005 and haven’t watched it since, so I guess any impact it may have left in zero for me not to bother with it again. That’s not to say it’s bad, there is just stuff I’d rather watch.

Life (2017) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Life (2017)

Australian Bluray cover


Film: Have you ever seen a trailer for a film and had it cause a horrible disorder called UERS also known as Unstoppable Eye Roll Disorder? For me, when I first saw the trailer for Life I thought, ‘wow, they have remade but not name-checked Alien’, which seemed to me to be a pretty brave thing to do, after all, Alien is a scifi/ horror film that is still relevant, and still resonates almost 40 years later!

Upon watching the film, however, I realised that yes, it is similar to Alien in two ways: one, that it takes place in space, and two, that an alien life form is at fault, but essentially this is another version of the Agatha Christie/ Ten Little Indians film (with people being picked off one by one) that has been done hundreds of times in the horror genre, and you can namecheck many giallo and slashers that use them. 

The difference with this was that this film adds in the threat of being in space, such as the film Gravity did. Sure, Alien had that same threat, but rarely were you reminded that the whole thing took place in space. It was about the isolation but that isolation could have been anywhere, and until the end and Ripley gets to the escape pod, you aren’t really reminded regularly about this taking place in space. Life constantly reminds you of its external environment, with large windows showing the external views of the space station in which the film takes place, and that exterior is both a threat and a weapon.

Anyway, what is the film about?

Well, a very exciting experiment is coming to an end on the International Space Station (ISS): a probe that has visited Mars has returned with a sample from the surface, and that sample contains the first evidence ever of life from another planet. 

Ryan Reynolds loses this Deadpool.


This single cell organism, nicknamed ‘Calvin’, evolves and grows at a typically science fiction rate, and when it is probed by Derry (Ariyon Bakare) it freaks out and attacks him, and sure enough starts its way through the rest of the crew (played by Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya), Hiroyuki Sanada, Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal).

It’s aggressiveness, both in evolution and attitude, would suggest that it should be kept of the earth, but how can the crew survive both the creature, and the oppressive nature of space…

The first thing I have to point out this film space-based environment is utterly convincing. This is not just due to the special effects and the practical effects, but also due to the cast’s performance. The constant motion they go through, even when ‘sitting’ together at a table is a clever acting mechanic to make sure we are aware that this all takes place on a space station. Honestly, it’s quite possibly the first film I’ve seen where no main character talks a single step, which makes for another great point insomuch as one of the characters is a paraplegic, but in space, it doesn’t matter as legs aren’t required to me mobile.

Jake Gyllenhaal abandoned is human suit for a space suit.


The tragedy of the film is Calvin isn’t realised as well. Sure it is difficult to do these kind of constantly evolving creature, but occasionally it looks flat: that doesn’t take you completely out of the film, and doesn’t effect the ultimately devastating ending, but my right eye would occasionally close in disappointment.

Another thing with Calvin is that he seems to work out things very quickly: whilst I appreciate the story needs to travel along at a clip, occasionally I did think that ‘instinct’ was replaced with ‘convenient, highly intelligent thought’ and this is my only real criticism of the film.

One thing I really did like though was a really spectacular directorial sleight-of-hand which did actually fool me, and generally I’m pretty savvy!

Life is a well executed film that echoes what has come before it without completely copying it, and has some great acting and cool effects.

Score: ***1/2

Life Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This review was performed on the multi-region Australian release bluray of the film. It runs for approximately 104 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.39:1 image with an amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track.

Score: *****

Extras: A bunch of extras appear on this disc:

Deleted scenes sees 6 deleted scenes that really weren’t necessary to the flow of the film and aren’t missed, though the ‘Tang’ scene shows the crew’s disappointment as to not being able to go home after the discover of the lifeform could have still slipped in.

Life: In Zero G shows how the effect of the cast being in ‘zero gravity’ for the film and how the casts acting skills, the stunt team and special effects crew achieved it.

Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin looks at the research that had gone into creating Calvin as a scientifically convincing creature, and the special effects execution of that.

Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space looks at the director’s objective on making a science fiction film that feels like it could be real.

Astronaut Diaries is a series of interstitials of the cast in character talking directly to the camera.  

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s a good movie with some great performances, but I can’t see myself revisiting it frequently, if at all.

Baby Calvin: he ain’t no Baby Groot!

Copycat (1995) Review

One from the re watch pile…
Copycat (1995)

The Australian DVD of Copycat


Film: There was a period in the 90s where it felt like horror was maybe-not dead, but starting to smell a little. Even Fangoria was sticking blockbuster films on its covers! In the post Silence of the Lambs world though, a few thrillers popped out that surprised me with their level of entertainment, this, Copycat, being one of them.

(Yes, the irony of after a film like Silence of the Lambs that a similar film called Copycat would be released is not lost on me)

Copycat: Sigourney Weaver


Copycat tells of agoraphobic abnormal psychologist, who specialises in serial killers, Dr Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver) who has become this way due to being captured and tortured by a killer named Daryll Lee Cullum (Harry Connick Jr.) who was apprehended soon afterwards.

Thirteen months later a new serial killer has started a reign of terror in town, and investigating officers Monahan (Holly Hunter) and Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) are stumped, but when Helen starts calling them offering them advice, she ends up involved… but perhaps she was already involved… perhaps the killer is working on her involvement, and maybe it involves Cullum…


Now it’s not the greatest thriller in the world, and the technology in it is laughably dated, and not yet kitsch enough to be cool, but solid performances by the leads, particularly Hunter and Weaver, both of whom I been a fan of for years. There are some other actors who pop up in this as well who add to the acting quality of the film: Terror at the Opera’s William McNamara, The Punisher’s Will Patton and Pollock’s John Rothman.

Interestingly though I am drawn to it, and it remains a film that I return to quite regularly, even though it’s not so great. I think it’s because it is easy to watch, and the story, whilst a little generic, does have a few surprises that drive the female leads on, though the motivation of Hunter’s character is more alluded to than confirmed. 
Maybe that’s when the appeal lies, in the fact that it’s like comfort food: easy to consume but not necessarily a proper meal.

Score: **1/2

Menu screen for the DVD of Copycat


Format: This film was reviewed on an (admittedly) older Australian, region 4 DVD version of the film which runs for just shy of 1 hour and 59 minutes. The video, present in 2.35:1, was of a below average quality but I imagine the age of the DVD may have something to do with that. The audio was presented in a functional Dolby 2.0.

Score: ***1/3

Extras: Only a few extras on this disc. The first is a ‘cat and crew’ text piece that looks like you are able to see the credits of a bunch of cast and crew, but when you go to select them, only Weaver, Hunter, Connick Jr. and Amiel are available! It seems weird to me to list everyone, especially when you consider Mulroney, McNamara, Rothman and Patton’s many and varied careers!!

There is also a commentary by Amiel that is accessible by the ‘languages’ option on the menu. It’s a fascinating commentary that explores filmmaking and serial killers, and really explores how important the score is to a successfully creating mood and tension.

Score: **

WISIA: I actually really like this movie, even though the story is little more than an extended episode of a police procedural TV show, and not necessarily a great episode either. I think it’s due to the quality of performance by all the actors in it. Whatever it is, I do seem to watch it once a year.

Copycat: Harry Connick Jr. as Callum and a future unfortunate cop

Scream of Fear (1961) Review

One from the re-watch pile…
Scream of Fear aka Taste of Fear (1961)

Madman’s release of Scream of Fear on Bluray


Film: I have mentioned regularly, not just here (such as in my review of The Nanny) but also in other websites I have reviewed horror films for, that I am a big fan of Hammer films, and that I love some of these earlier, less gory and more psychologically driven thrillers.

This film initially caught my attention for the same reason the aforementioned The Nanny did, it is written by Jimmy Sangster, who did a great job of adapting the book that The Nanny was based upon, but also gave us the Hammer versions of Dracula (in The Horror of Dracula) and The Mummy. It’s directed wonderfully by Seth Holt, who directed The Nanny, but also is responsible for my favourite Hammer film, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, which stars the stunning Valerie Leon.

Scream of Fear: Susan Strasberg as Penny


Speaking of stunning, this film stars Susan Strasberg as Penny Appleby, a woman who has an unreasonable fear of everything, and is bound to a wheelchair after an accident where a horse fell on her a broke two of her vertebrae. She is returning home to her estranged father’s (Fred Johnson) house in the French Riviera after not being in too much contact with him for 9 or 10 years, based on an invitation he sent to her.

Upon returning she is picked up from the airport by kindly chauffeur, Robert (Ronald Lewis) who takes her to her father’s house only to find that he has gone away, and she is left in the arms of her step-mother, whom she has never met, Jane (Ann Todd).

The two bond quickly, but Penny starts to suspect something is amiss when she finds what appears to be her father’s corpse sitting in one of the rooms. When she tells Jane and Robert though, the corpse mysteriously has disappeared.

Penny quickly suspects that something is going on, and enlists Robert in her quest for the truth, even though her step-mother, and her father’s friend, Dr Gerrad (Christopher Lee) suggest that maybe she is having flights of fancy… or do they have a more sinister plan in mind…

Scream of Fear: Christopher Lee as Dr Gerrad


Filmed in glorious black and white, Scream of Fear is a wonderful example of a thriller. It unfortunately didn’t find much success in the USA but was a hit in Europe and had several imitators, according to Marcus Hearn in his book The Hammer Vault (if you are a Hammer fan, this MUST be in your collection). 

The performances are melodramatic as one would expect from a film of this vintage, and Christopher Lee’s French accent is of dubious pedigree, but it really adds to the atmosphere of the film.

More twists than a strand of DNA, this film is a wonderful watch, and will keep everyone guessing almost to the very end. 

Score: ****

Madman’s Scream of Fear menu screen: no extras here!


Format: The version of this film reviewed was the Australian, region B bluray which runs for approximately 82 minutes. The film is presented in a grainy, and occasionally blurry 1.85:1 image with a Dolby Digital mono soundtrack which sounds pretty good. One can’t expect a film of this age to look perfect, but there are many films from this time and earlier which look much better due to various restoration processes.

Score: **1/2

Extras: None, which is a shame, though considering pretty much well everyone who worked on the film is no longer with us, not surprising. A film of this quality at least deserves some kind of commentary or featurette from Hammer enthusiasts, film critics or other directors who champion it.

Score: 0

WISIA: A beautifully shot film with a stunning lead, not to mention Christopher Lee, but as with a lot of these sorts of films, once the secret is out, the impact of the film is lessened. That, however, doesn’t make it an occasional rewatch pile contender as it is entertaining.

Scream of Fear: father’s locked piano!