Sunday, 13 August 2017

Electric Dreams (1984)

“Pure Electro Nostalgia”

Steve Barron’s charming mid-1980s computer-themed romance gets a new restoration release for the first time on Blu-ray courtesy of Second Sight.

Architect Miles (Lenny von Dohlen) is constantly late for meetings and is having trouble designing a new kind of earthquake-resistant brick. He decides to solve all his time-keeping and design problems by buying a top of the range (for 1984 - the monitor is still the size of an economy size cereal box) computer. 

Already more advanced than any computers of the era, Miles gives his new machine an extra boost by spilling champagne all over it, allowing it to acquire a personality. When pretty cellist Madeline (Virginia CANDYMAN Madsen) moves in upstairs, Miles' computer devises musical accompaniments to her solos and eventually ends up writing a song for her which Miles claims as his own.

Soon the computer is learning about jealousy and begins to wreck Miles’ life - his credit rating, his home and possibly his romance. Will Miles admit to Madeline that he lied? Will true love win through? What do you think?

Definitely the lightest, fluffiest version of numerous late 1970s 2000AD comic strips where the protagonist ended up dead  / a gibbering wreck / a shiny skeleton as a result of installing computer AI to run their home / car / office, ELECTRIC DREAMS is going to appeal most to those who grew up in the 1980s and will experience a serious nostalgia rush at the technology  - to kids today it will probably look like something from the Victorian era.

The leads are likeable, especially Madsen (with this and Sigourney Weaver in GHOSTBUSTERS, being a cellist was obviously Hollywood shorthand for ‘unattainable intellectual’ in 1984) and Steve Barron’s background in pop videos means the soundtrack - including a couple of very amusing muzak Culture Club covers as well as tracks by Jeff Lynne, Heaven 17 and of course the title song by Giorgio Moroder & Phil (billed here as Philip) Oakey - gets shown off to best effect.

Extras include new interviews with Barron, writer-producer Rusty Lemorande and stars Madsen and van Dohlen. You also get a slipcase. What you don’t get is a 5.1 surround sound mix which fans would probably have loved. Even so, ELECTRIC DREAMS really is an utterly charming slice of 1980s nostalgia. 

Steve Barron’s ELECTRIC DREAMS is out on Blu-ray from Second Sight from Monday 7th August 2017

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Transfiguration (2017)

“21st Century MARTIN”

A film that is as much social commentary as it is a movie about vampires (and vampire movies), Michael O’Shea’s THE TRANSFIGURATION is getting a Blu-ray and DVD release in the UK courtesy of Thunderbird Pictures.

In a rough area of New York, fourteen year old Milo (Eric Ruffin) is an outsider, small for his age and bullied by the gang members who patrol the estate where he lives. His mother has committed suicide and he lives with his older brother. Coping with his situation by sinking himself deep into vampire lore, his shelves are filled with VHS cassettes of everything from Murnau’s NOSFERATU to THE LOST BOYS, with his favourites are the one he considers ‘real’ - George A Romero’s MARTIN, Elias Merhige’s SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE and Tomas Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

But there are other aspects to Milo’s life that he doesn’t talk about, certainly not to his neighbour and prospective girlfriend Sophie (Chloe Levine). He attends sessions with the school psychiatrist who repeatedly questions him about potential psychopathic behaviour, and when he’s out on the streets alone the people Milo meets don’t always survive the encounter.

Michael O’Shea’s film does a fine job of being a gritty realist drama first, and homage to movies like Romero’s MARTIN second. Milo’s existence (and that of those around him) is pretty grim, and THE TRANSFIGURATION might be a bit too gloomy and oppressive for vampire movie fans while at the same time being a bit too gruesome for art-house audiences. 

Full marks to O’Shea, though, for achieving a thoughtful balance absolutely worth of comparison with Romero. The director is happy to wear his exploitation influences on his sleeve with guest victim appearances from both Lloyd Kaufman (in another surprise cameo after James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and Larry Fessenden. The acting from the young leads is measured, considered and appropriately affecting, and if you’re a fan of quiet, grim, tower block horror then this will do very nicely indeed.

Thunderbird’s Blu-ray comes with director’s commentary, making of, deleted and extended scenes and a trailer. THE TRANSFIGURATION received praise at Cannes and I’m not at all surprised. It will be interesting to see what Michael O’Shea comes up with next. 

Michael O'Shea's THE TRANSFIGURATION is out on 
Blu-ray and DVD from Thunderbird Releasing on Monday 14th August 2017

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Vampira (1974)

The ON THE BUSES of vampire movies

From the co-writer of ARE YOU BEING SERVED and ‘ALLO ‘ALLO (I know, it’s not looking good, is it?) comes this British vampire comedy movie (oh dear) from 1974. We all know what that means - it’s going to be dated, silly, and above and beyond all, somewhat Politically Incorrect.
Just warning you.

Dracula (David Niven, who apparently had a lifelong ambition to play the role) needs blood to bring his beloved wife, Vampira, back to life. Rather than embark on the kind of delicious, delirious and sexy bloodletting exploits we might see in a Jean Rollin or Jess Franco picture from the period, instead this Dracula invites Bernard Bresslaw to his castle.

Oh, and some models for a Playboy shoot.
Vampira gets transfused but something goes wrong and she turns into the (extremely presentable) Teresa Graves, who also happens to be of (ahem) African descent. Not happy with this state of affairs, Dracula travels to London with his faithful assistant (Peter Bayliss) in tow. Cue a series of ‘amusing’ encounters as they try to find the right blood type to change Vampira back to her normal caucasian self. Audiences of today will wonder why on earth they are bothering. 

There now follows the HMC list of ‘highlights’ in VAMPIRA so those of you still undecided about this one can hopefully make up your minds:
Dialogue! e.g. Playboy Model: “It’s so cold in here I’ve got goose bumps”      
       Mr Bresslaw: “Yes. I can see two of them from here.”

Acting! e.g.  Nicky Henson gurning. Peter Bayliss gurning. Jennie Linden in glasses. Freddie Jones on an aeroplane. Linda Hayden who is just lovely both before & after being vampirised but is totally wasted. Niven himself looking vaguely uncomfortable all the way through this.  Teresa Graves who is the only one who gets through this with any dignity. And Kenneth Cranham as a mugger! (See below)

The climax! An extended disco dance bit that goes on forever before the final, terrible punchline to the whole film that has to be seen to be disbelieved. 

Fabulous Films’ Blu-ray looks pretty rough, as if a projector-worn print has been slapped onto the high definition format and held there by banging a few nails through it. That’s probably being a bit unkind but I wouldn’t want to raise your expectations after all the build up I’ve given to this film already. There are no extras.

Clive Donner’s VAMPIRA is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Fabulous Films from Monday 14th August 2017

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD - Special Edition (2014)

Eighteen months after getting a release from the now sadly defunct Metrodome Pictures, Paul Goodwin’s excellent documentary charting the history and development of one of the most important and influential comics in the world gets a welcome re-release from Arrow Films, with a whole host of new special features. 

        I reviewed FUTURE SHOCK back in December 2015 but to save you searching through the HMC archives here’s the gist of what I said:
It’s difficult now to describe the effect 2000AD had when it appeared in newsagents back in the late 1970s. I can remember it because I was there, and I was the proud owner of the first 50 issues until my father decided they would be better off down the local market rather than cluttering up my bedroom. 

I was also a keen 8 year old reader of Action, the comic that preceded 2000AD but set the tone for its graphic, ultra-violent approach to storytelling. The story of Action provides a nice introduction to the subject of the documentary proper, which features interviews with many of the main movers and shakers including creator Pat Mills (who also gets the last word), a number of editors from the comic’s history, and some of the artists and writers who worked for the comic and went on to become superstars in their own right (Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison). 

We get some insightful and biting comments on the Stallone JUDGE DREDD movie and quite a bit of praise for the more recent Karl Urban-starring DREDD (Mr Urban is also interviewed). The influence of the comic on other movies us also touched upon - Nacho Vigalondo pops up to talk about his movie TIMECRIMES and there’s a bit of chat about Richard Stanley’s HARDWARE as well.

FUTURE SHOCK is an excellent documentary, both of the changing face of Britain through the 1970s and 1980s and how 2000AD became an unlikely voice for some of the angriest and most creative satirists in the country, even if they might not have known it at the time.
Arrow’s considerably extended and updated edition of FUTURE SHOCK comes with a wealth of new materials, including extended interviews with Pat Mills (84 minutes of him - hooray!), Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons and Karen Berger. There’s a new interview with Steve MacManus, extended chapter featurettes, strip featurettes, and even a blooper reel, all adding up to several HOURS of extra stuff. Fans should absolutely double dip for this one, and if you’ve not got this, now's your chance. Excellent stuff. 

FUTURE SHOCK is out from Arrow on both Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD from Monday 31st July 2017

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Orchard End Murder (1981)

“Obscure British Short Nicely Preserved”

The BFI continues its valuable work of restoring and preserving obscure British films those of us obsessed with this sort of thing thought we would never get the chance to see.

Of course, therein lies part of the problem with releasing something like THE ORCHARD END MURDER, a 50 minute short film that originally played in the UK as the B feature to Gary Sherman’s DEAD & BURIED. It’s unlikely anyone other than said obsessives are going to be overly bowled over by this one getting a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release.

It’s not that THE ORCHARD END MURDER is bad - in fact there are a few shots in here that are positively inspired - but nevertheless there’s not an awful lot of meat here in terms or either plot or performances to attract the casual disc buyer. It might be of interest to those who want to know what Clive (CASUALTY / GAME OF THRONES) Mantle and Bill (Ploppy the Gaoler from BLACKADDER II) Wallis were up to before they found greater fame on TV, but otherwise it will be fans of Pete Walker’s DP Peter Jessop, or those interested in the terminal decline of an era of the British film industry who will want to give this a watch.

We’re in Kent in 1966. Pretty Pauline (sexy but slightly wooden Tracy Hyde - sorry, Tracy) agrees to meet up with a chap she met a few nights before to watch him play cricket and ‘get up to some fun after’. She gets bored during the match and wanders off to the local railway cottage where a hunchbacked gatekeeper (Wallis) shows her his garden full of gnomes before plying her with tea and cake.

Ewen the handyman (Mantle) shows up and promptly strangles and skins a rabbit (this all looks real by the way so watch out rabbit fans). Pauline runs off but gets stopped by Ewen in the orchard. Driven to lust he kills her and covers her body in apples. The rest of the story details how the body is hidden and eventually discovered.

THE ORCHARD END MURDER opens with a breathtaking crane shot that, if nothing else, makes you wonder what writer-director Christian Marnham might have managed had his career been allowed to progress to features. The murder is both gruesome and fascinatingly shot and it makes for uneasy (in a good way) viewing. There’s also a creepy moment later as Ewen keeps Pauline’s body in his shed and talks to her. 

The BFI’s disc comes with 43 minutes of interviews with Marnham and a 12 minute interview with Hyde, as well as Marnham’s 25 minute short THE SHOWMAN from 1970. It’s a documentary about UK fairground Wild West entertainer Wally Shufflebottom. You also get a booklet with new writing from Josephine Bitting and Vic Pratt. All very much recommended for those interested in late 1970s / early 1980s British cinema. 

The BFI are releasing Christian Marnham's THE ORCHARD END MURDER on dual format DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 24th July 2017

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Der Mude Tod (The Weary Death) aka Destiny (1921)

“Splendid Presentation of a Silent Classic”

       Fritz Lang’s ambitious, exotic grown-up fairytale about love and death gets a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release of its 2k restoration courtesy of Eureka.

       A young couple (Lil CABINET OF DR CALIGARI Dagover and Walter Janssen) travel to a village where Death (Bernhard Goetzke) has built a wall around the land adjacent to the local cemetery with no way in and no way out. At the inn, Lil is distracted by kittens and puppies while her fiancĂ© leaves in the company of Death because it's apparently his time to go.

       Lil finds her way into Death’s walled-off cathedral, where Death admits he is weary of witnessing the suffering of men. He gives her three opportunities to save her lover by placing the two of them in three different stories which we see played out - one set in the Middle East, one in Vienna, and one in China. All she has to do is save her fiance’s life in one of these situations and he will be returned to her.

       Unfortunately, all three stories have unhappy endings. Back in his candle-filled cathedral, Death gives Lil one last chance - if she can find someone willing to die in her fiance’s place Death will restore him to her. Cue lots of old people refusing to part with even a second of their remaining life despite all her pleading. I’ll leave you to find out how it all ends.

       A remarkable piece of work (and Fritz Lang’s breakthrough film), DER MUDE TOD has been given a beautiful restoration job here, with every sequence tinted and the picture looks as great as one imagines it ever will. Extras on Eureka’s disc include a helpful video essay by David Cairns which contextualises the film within Fritz Lang's life and body of work. We get the kind of detailed factual commentary anyone familiar with the work of Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas has come to expect of him, and he makes an immediate second viewing of the film essential.

       The accompanying booklet features a detailed new essay by Philip Kemp as well as plenty of stills from the movie. My only complaint about an otherwise excellent package is that the music score (by Cornelius Schwehr and performed by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra) doesn’t really fit the action and often feels too upbeat and almost frivolous compared to what's happening onscreen. Next time I’m going to turn the sound down and put some James Bernard on. 

Fritz Lang’s DER MUDE TOD is out in dual format from Eureka on Monday 24th July 2017

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Life (2017)

Daniel Espinosa’s Sci-Fi thriller gets a digital download, 4k Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD release from Sony. 

A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station intercept a probe returning from Mars. The dust from the device contains a life-form. There is the usual excitement and optimism from the research team that you get in films like this as they poke and probe the tiny creature that the audience knows / hopes is soon going to be ripping heads off and painting the white space station walls with their intestines. Because why are the walls white if not for that?

The creature gets named ‘Calvin’ from a school competition in a nice bit that allows for the filling in of a little bit of background. Quite why the dust contains only the one organism is never explained, as perhaps if ‘Klein’ had been grown in another petri dish they might have combined to form the first extra-terrestrial fashion house.
This does not happen.

Instead, Calvin escapes, eats the only rat on board and then starts on the crew, who are faced with the dilemma of how to stop him / it and get back to earth without causing a  disastrous spread of Calvinism on a worldwide scale. 

A monster on the loose in space picture in the tradition of Edward L Cahn’s IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1957), Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979) or even Norman J Warren’s INSEMINOID (1981), LIFE comes up sadly lacking when compared to any of those three predecessors. It possesses none of the claustrophobia of IT!, none of the suspense of ALIEN and not even any of the gleeful splatter of INSEMINOID. Instead, everything feels horribly bland and by the numbers, with little evidence that anyone behind the camera is terribly enthusiastic about what’s going on.

This is neither the fault of the writing (which doesn’t need to be that clever) nor of the acting (both Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds are always watchable). No, where LIFE dies (sorry) is in the direction, which is so seriously mishandled that we neither care about the characters, nor their mission, nor their fates when they succumb to the monster on the prowl.

To be honest, it’s not actually a terribly scary monster either. A bit less obvious CGI and a few more real-looking tentacles and general all-round gloopiness would have been an immense help. Sadly it’s all too obvious that the cast are manfully trying to fight with nothing other than empty space to be filled by pixels at some later date. 

Admittedly the last couple of minutes have a good punch to them, almost to the extent that you wonder if someone else took over to give the film a decent ending. Sadly it is too little too late. If only the verve and nastiness of the last bit had been employed throughout, LIFE would have been a much better picture.
Sony’s Blu-ray and DVD release comes with three featurettes: ‘Creating a Thriller in Space’, ‘LIFE in Zero G’ and ‘The Art & Reality of Calvin’. You also get ‘Astronaut Diaries’ which are tiny talking head snippets to camera from three of the cast in character. 

LIFE is out from Sony on digital download from Monday 17th July and on 4k Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 31st July 2017