Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Shallows (2016)

“Sodding Shark”

Jaume Collet-Serra’s woman vs shark movie gets an every possible format release (DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and digital) from Sony Pictures.

Nancy (Blake Lively) is in Mexico to have fun, surf, come to terms with her mother’s death and work out what she’s going to do with her life now she’s dropped out of medical school. She seeks out the secluded beach that her pregnant mother visited back in 1991 in the hope she will find some inner peace. 

Instead she finds a great big hungry shark and not just that but a great big hungry movie shark - one of those creatures that, even though there’s a massive meal of dead whale floating right there, would rather chase our scantily clad and injured heroine into a horde of jellyfish, eat a lifebuoy to get at her, and demonstrate those jumping out of the water skills movie sharks usually employ to pull down helicopters, passing eagles and stray asteroids.

THE SHALLOWS isn’t that daft, thank goodness. In fact the opening hour isn’t bad at all. The info dump at the beginning is all a bit clunky and actually somewhat unnecessary - Nancy’s character would actually be more interesting the less we knew about her. Where the film does score is once she’s out in the sea, bitten on the leg, and struggling to survive too far from land to swim for it.

Jaume Collet-Serra gave us the interesting remake of HOUSE OF WAX (2005) and the very entertaining ORPHAN (2009). With the plethora of Daft Shark films out there, he does well to rein in any desire to go full SHARKNADO. 

Sony’s disc comes with some deleted scenes, and four short featurettes featuring Blake Lively (thank heavens she’s charismatic or that surname would be receiving all kinds of abuse from the unkinder end of the critical spectrum), entitled ‘Shooting in THE SHALLOWS’, ‘How to Build A Shark’, ‘Finding the Perfect Beach’ and ‘When Sharks Attack’.

THE SHALLOWS has been described as ‘The best shark movie since JAWS’. In fact that quote is on the box. It’s nowhere near as good as JAWS (that would be difficult). It’s also nowhere near as bad as virtually any film with the word shark in the title that you can pick up at the DVD shop at the moment. If you like shark movies, Jaume Collet-Sera’s other stuff, or Blake Lively in swimming gear then THE SHALLOWS should pass a Saturday evening quite nicely. 

Jaume Collet-Serra's THE SHALLOWS is out on Blu-ray, DVD, 4k Ultra HD and digital download on Monday 5th December 2016

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Cohen & Tate (1988)

“The antithesis of buddy-buddy movies”

Eric Red’s directorial debut (he followed it up with BODY PARTS in 1991) gets a UK dual format DVD and Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Films.
Nine year old Travis Knight (Harley Cross) has witnessed a mob shooting. He and his family are under the witness protection programme. But the mob want to talk to Travis and they employ Cohen (older, deafer Roy Scheider channeling icy Peter Cushing-ness) and Tate (younger, more unstable Adam Baldwin).

Got that? Because all of that is given to you in the very first few seconds of this film (credit roll included) and if you blink you might miss it. What then follows is one of the best, fast-paced, well-acted, stripped down to the bone road thrillers of the 1980s. The ‘safe’ house gets raided, everyone gets blown away and Travis is kidnapped to endure a long night drive to Houston. He tries to escape, and manages at one point, only to fall back into his captors'  hands. Realising Cohen and Tate don’t get on, Travis contrives to turn one against the other in the hope that building tension will lead to one of them killing the other.

As well as plenty of great bits of suspense, director Eric Red earns points for some imaginative set pieces, especially during one protracted scene near the end set in the Texas oilfields. With the sun rising and the weird automaton-like pumps presiding rhythmically over the violence, this could easily be something from a Paul Verhoeven science fiction film.

Red gives us a great ending, too, which I won’t give away if you haven't seen it, suffice to say it still feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the number of contrived and overly saccharine endings movies like this tend to go for. 

Arrow’s Blu-ray looks great. For extras we get an Eric Red commentary track ported over from a previous release. There’s also a twenty-minute ‘look back’ at the film with Red, director of photography Victor J Kemper, editor Edward Abroms and actors Harley Cross and Kenneth McCabe. There are two extended scenes, trailer and a stills gallery. If you get the first pressing you’ll also get a booklet with new writing on the film by Kim Newman.
        From an era when buddy-buddy cop movies were all the rage, Eric Red’s COHEN AND TATE remains a refreshing, fast-paced, unique not-at-all-buddy movie that’s well worth a look in this new edition. 

Eric Red's COHEN & TATE is out from Arrow Films in a dual format Blu-ray and DVD release on Monday 5th December 2016

Sunday, 27 November 2016

UFO (1970)

                                              “UFO is Go!

Gerry Anderson’s 1970 live-action science fiction TV show comes to Blu-ray in this gloriously restored edition courtesy of Network.

         Coming after world-famous shows like THUNDERBIRDS and CAPTAIN SCARLET and paving the way for SPACE:1999, UFO was an ambitious project for Gerry Anderson. The basic plot is that in 1980, after ten years of developments, SHADO (the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) goes live, headed by Commander Straker (Ed Bishop) and assisted by Colonel Alec Freeman (George Sewell until he left three quarters of the way through) and Colonel Paul Foster (Michael Billington who was up for James Bond) on earth, where their base is disguised as a film studio. A moonbase is staffed by purple-haired ladies led by Lt Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake). The aim of SHADO is to defend the earth from a dying alien race who want our organs to replace theirs.

         Remarkably adult in its plots and denouements (hollow victories, downbeat endings, and a fair bit of serious violence), UFO was nevertheless marketed as a children’s show in many ITV regions, often being shown on Saturday mornings. Dinky toys and bubble gum collector card sets also undoubtedly added to the turn-offs for what could have potentially been a solid adult audience looking for something a bit more serious that THE PERSUADERS. 

         Of course, those of us of a certain age (and certainly younger than the 12 certificate this set has been given) didn’t mind at all. Here was an SF show that was anything but childish. The lead characters smoked and drank, had affairs and got divorced, all among the backdrop of some smashing special effects including exploding flying saucers and all manner of great bits of battle equipment.

         I reviewed Network’s ‘preview’ Blu-ray, INVASION UFO, back in August. That disc consisted of edited bits of six episodes in 1.85:1 aspect ratio (boo!) but the restoration job boded well for the forthcoming series release. Here you get all 26 episodes over six discs, with the option of either mono or 5.1 sound (you really do need Barry Gray’s music in 5.1, you know). Most importantly, it gives me great relief to report that the episodes are all in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (hooray!).

         Extras on the set include From the Earth to the Moon - a brand new feature-length documentary with plenty of archive video. The Women of UFO is another new documentary, and there’s a new SHADO briefing film narrated by Matt Zimmerman.
         There are audio commentaries on two episodes: Identified with Gerry Anderson and Sub-Smash with Ed Bishop, plus an archived Ed Bishop interview from 1986. Tomorrow Today is a look at the series fashions with Sylvia Anderson, and there’s a SID voice session complete with outtakes.

         You also get textless episode title backgrounds and end titles, stock footage, extra footage from several episodes (Identified, Exposed, Timelash and The Long Sleep) and Italian trailers.
         Finally, in addition to all the video material, Network’s UFO set comes with a 600 page book on the making of the series by television historian Andrew Pixley. It’s hard to believe there will be a better presentation of UFO on Blu-ray and, for the quality of the transfers if nothing else, Network has done the fans proud.

Network's Blu-ray restoration set of all 26 episodes of Gerry Anderson's UFO is available now. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

              “Excellent Presentation of a Carpenter Classic”

        The film that, along with HALLOWEEN (1978) earned John Carpenter the moniker of ‘the Cut Price King of Hollywood’ gets a UK 40th anniversary DVD Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight. 

        After gang members are killed in an LA ghetto shoot out, more of their kind make a blood pact of vengeance on the local police force. Converging on a police station that is in the process of closing down, it falls to just-promoted cop Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) to defend the building and those within it with the aid of convict Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston). 

          Very much a cross between a Western (John Carpenter has never been shy in citing the influence that John Ford’s RIO BRAVO has had on his body of work) and a horror picture (the gang members hardly speak and are very much in the mould of the devil worshippers in PRINCE OF DARKNESS or the ghosts in THE FOG), ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 still works well despite its low budget. There are good acting turns from both Stoker and Joston, as well as Nancy Loomis in her first movie role, and Kim Richards as the little girl who gets more than an ice cream in a gunshot scene that has become infamous in exploitation cinema. The assault doesn’t actually take place on precinct 13 at all, but it’s such a good title, and the film really does live up to a fine exploitation tradition, that it can hardly be criticised for that.

          Second Sight’s presentation of John Carpenter’s pre-HALLOWEEN action thriller is second to none. The transfer looks excellent and the DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix is great - crank up the volume to hear Carpenter’s score at its best. There’s also a wealth of special features, including two commentary tracks - one from John Carpenter and another from Tommy Lee Wallace.

          There are new interviews with star Austin Stoker, producer Joseph Kaufman and future HALLOWEEN III director Tommy Lee Wallace. There’s also a new 12 minute talking head piece from Nancy Loomis where she discusses her career and why she gave up acting.

          You also get archive interviews with Carpenter and Stoker, a trailer and radio spots. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is John Carpenter’s student short CAPTAIN VOYEUR and a 53 minute French documentary on Laurie Zimmer. The limited edition box set also contains five art cards and a bonus CD of the movie soundtrack. A great package for a great film. 

John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is out on Blu-ray, DVD, Download and On-Demand from Monday 28th November 2016

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day 5

A talk by all-round exploitation expert Stephen Thrower on Lucio Fulci and free hot dogs were among the things on the menu today. Here are the films:


An original, working class, and very modern take on the idea of invisibility as disease. In the grimmest of grim logging towns in Canada, a man travels home to reconnect with his troubled daughter. There's the suggestion of mental illness in the family, but that's not nearly as dramatic as what's actually going on. THE UNSEEN is so slow those with less stamina may well give up on it after half an hour, but it's worth sticking with because by the end it's actually rather clever.



He's not, you know! Or is he? To find out exactly why that's such a very good title for this one you'll have to watch the film. Young John Wayne Cleaver is worried he is a psychopath. Meanwhile someone is killing the inhabitants of the small north American town where he lives. I can't say much more than that or I'll be spoiling some neat surprises. This new feature from ISOLATION director Billy O'Brien is just as quirky and worth watching at least twice.


With live score performed by Fabio Frizzi and his band! A European premiere and quite fabulous. Frizzi had rewritten and rearranged the music so there was lots more of it in this, a performance that was as much about the music as it was the movie. Encores included music from Lamberto Bava's BLASTFIGHTER and DEVOURING WAVES. If anyone had told the much younger me that one day I would be sitting in a packed auditorium listening to a live performance of any of this I would have said there was about as much chance of that as there being a horror film festival in Aberystwyth,

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day 4

The day kicked off with a retrospective screening of Lucio Fulci's SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK, then it was onto the new stuff! Here we go:


An Abertoir exclusive! DEADMAN INFERNO deservedly won the audience's 'Best Film' award at last year's Abertoir. This was a bit of a curiosity - an hour-long 'prequel' to the events in that Yakuza Vs Zombies picture. Because it's a prequel it features plenty of yakuza antics but no zombies. It was still extremely entertaining and came with subtitles specially translated for Abertoir by co-organiser Gaz Bailey's wife!


This hour-long documentary on the life and career of movie director Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH, CONTAMINATION) was an affectionate look at a film-maker who, as well as having had his own career, has been intimately involved in that of Dario Argento's as well.


Luigi Cozzi's first fiction movie in 27 years is an absolute delight. Cozzi himself is the star as he gets embroiled in a hugely ambitious plot about parallel universes, the entire history of film and science fiction, and the earth in mortal peril. Shot for 1000 Euros and taking two years to make, there's a bit of a home made feel to it, but that should by no means stop you from checking this out. A serious contender for my favourite film of Abertoir 2016


A live performance in which Laurence R Harvey read the short H P Lovecraft tales FROM BEYOND and THE HOUND while Lancashire-based The Duke St Workshop provided musical accompaniment with some pleasingly retro-sounding bubbling synthesised music influenced by plenty of great movie composers including Morricone, Stelvio Cipriani and Lalo Schifrin (according to the quick word I had with them afterwards). Fans of Les Baxter's early synth work for THE DUNWICH HORROR would have spotted some similar sounds as well.


A very French look at cannibalism that could easily have the word 'Metaphor' burned into the corner of every frame, this tale of a pretty young vegetarian girl starting veterinary college and finding she has a taste for human flesh is probably going to divide audiences. Lots of people love it, I have to say I found a lot of what was portrayed faintly ridiculous, and not in a good way. It's possible it's intended to be taken a great deal more light-heartedly than I viewed it, but the words 'French-Belgian Coproduction' and 'Comedy Horror' have never been easy bedfellows.


See that poster up there? This film's nowhere near as good as that. It's about par for the course in a kind of tired Part VII of a franchise kind of way, though. There's a bit of humour in the first act, and a fun bit with a medium and her helpers twisting their own heads off, but the promised smackdown climax isn't very smacky and doesn't last very long, either. One for franchise completists and the very curious only.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day 3

This year's traditional Abertoir off-site screening (which ended up back onsite after 92mph gales put an end to any ideas of showing a film anywhere other than inside a reinforced concrete bunker) was John Carpenter's THE FOG, which I decided to miss because I'd seen it on the big screen earlier this year during the Bristol Watershed's Carpenter retrospective. Other highlights of the day included Gavin Baddeley's talk on Sin Cities (which Mrs Probert and I attended) and the midnight premiere of KARATE KILL (which we didn't, the option of getting a good night's sleep before tomorrow's marathon being preferable). Which leaves these, the movie highlights of Abertoir Day 3:


A film from Laos that gave us plenty of background on Laotian culture and a woman's place in it. Unfortunately it's also staggeringly slow and has precious little to really warrant calling it a horror film. Twenty-something Nok gets sent by her family to look after the similarly-aged Ana in the big city. Ana is losing her eyesight, has an incompetent Estonian husband (which is where I think half the budget for this one came from, with some of the rest from a Laotian brewery) and can (possibly) see the spirits of the dead every now and then who give her lottery numbers. I'm not sure why. Nok uses the lottery numbers to buy a nice phone and a hairstyle. The servants in the house are not very nice. Nothing much happens for long periods. Then very close to the end something does. A bit. DEAREST SISTER will probably do well on the art cinema circuit but I think it will be a mistake if they market it as a horror film. As such I can't honestly recommend this one.


This was much more like it. The latest film from KAIRO and JOURNEY TO THE SHORE director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. CREEPY isn't like either of those, but it would be spoiling it if I told you much about it. Suffice to say the film is all about identity, and manages a terrific atmosphere of insidious building dread as the movie progresses. It's getting a limited cinema release from Eureka from next week and will be turning up on Blu-ray after that. I may even give the disc a fuller write up on here then.


David Durston's rabid hippy zombie picture shown as part of the Abertoir retrospective strand. I've reviewed this one before so if you fancy reading my thoughts on it click here.