One of the first video sleeves I ever saw was for The Amityville Horror which just so happened to be on one of my favourite video labels, Guild Home Video (the people who have ever seen the opening ident for Guild will know why I love it so much) in one of the first video shops that opened in my area. The eye-popping visuals were so intoxicating as it looked like Margot Kidder was going to be attacked with an axe. After my family rented the movie, I then tracked down Jay Anson’s paperback that the movie is based on.
The film concerns a young family who move into a house where a young man had killed his entire family. And they wonder why the house price was so low.
Cue all manner of haunted house shenanigans- flies, crucifixes being turned upside down, the kids suddenly acquiring imaginary friends, red eyes being seen through the window at night, black ooze overflowing from the toilet…the list is endless.
The Amityville Horror is one of those films that divides my opinion. Sometimes I love it and find it really sinister with an ability to get under my skin. But on other occasions, it feels like every camp and childish haunted house cliche has been poured into a movie that is actually just based on a hoax. I realise that a lot of these ingredients weren’t cliches when the film was released but there are so many ‘scary’ and unnatural things that we see happen in the house (and sometimes outside it) that it feels like the filmmakers over-egged the pudding. The sheer volume of such incidents is so vast that after a while they stop being shocking or horrific.
Saying that though, I love the captions that show how long the family endured the house and its horrors. I always love it when I read the caption ‘The Last Day’. But I always think that if I had been in their situation I would have left a long time before. Like on the first day.
There are some funny moments though- watch out for the vomiting nun and the worst teeth brace you’ll ever see. It looks like some kind of torture device. Apparently, they used wire coathangers to correct wonky teeth back in the day. Who knew.
Also, Margot Kidder seems to have some kind of naughty schoolgirl, proto-Britney Spears vibe going on in this film. She’s all pigtails and short skirts with thigh-length socks. A bit pervy. Keep your fantasies in the bedroom, hun. Her husband is played by James Brolin who is here in uber-bear mode, all beard and flannel shirts. Look out for the scene of him in his tighty whiteys. Also, look at how he becomes more unhinged as the film progresses and how his physical self dramatically changes because of this.
Lalo Schfrin’s score is excellent. On the surface, it sounds like the most cliched theme ever to be written for a film about a haunted house, all children’s voices la-la-la-ing their way through a children’s lullaby. But listen to how with each reprise of this theme throughout the film it’s made more distorted and off-kilter by the use of a water phone and electronic trickery. Also, check out the use of subsonic rumbling sounds that are actually present on the film’s soundtrack too. The music score is a lot more innovative and nuanced than on first listen.
I love it when sequels include the ending of the previous film as a recap for the audience. It’s very considerate.
I had forgotten nearly all of what happened in this film but it all came flooding back as I started to watch it. The last time I watched Rocky 2 was on VHS in the early/mid-80s.
Rocky goes from fighting Apollo Creed to trying to become a star of commercials rather than stepping back into the ring but this doesn’t work out (completely due to the dickhead director rather than because of our Italian hero). He then decides to try and get an office job. When this fails he then tries to get any kind of job. He eventually finds employment in a slaughterhouse. As they are so strapped for money, Adrienne decides to go back to her pet shop job part-time even though she now has a bun in the oven. Rocky then decides to a rematch against Creed but Adrienne disapproves. She then overworks herself in her job which then brings on premature labour. Whilst she gives birth and the baby is fine, she slips into a coma through complications to do with her working when she should have been relaxing.
We see that Rocky’s training for the rematch is very sloppy before Adrienne’s hospitalisation. The scenes in which Rocky sits by his wife’s side as she lay in her coma are gorgeous. I also love that when she awakens from her coma she says she wants Rocky to win in his rematch against Apollo. This sparks scenes of Rocky’s training for said match with him now giving 110% and with the famous Rocky theme playing. These scenes are genuinely uplifting as the same kind of montages are repeated from the original with Rocky as a kind of Everyman who has come from nothing but worked hard to get to his lofty heights- the embodiment of The American Dream. Under anyone else’s direction these sequences would be as corny as hell but under Stallone’s direction (yes Sly wrote and directed this film) they work beautifully.
Again, uniformly brilliant performances as the beautifully drawn characters are again brought to life by their respective players. Again, Joe Spinell is in this film and again, I smiled when I saw his name in the opening credits. That’s enough of me using the word ‘again’.
Stallone as Rocky is such a great performance with him being just as lovable, full of heart and tenacity as he was in the original. But, Burgess Meredith has more airtime in this film and he turns in a terrific performance as the gnarled old boxing trainer Mickey who has a huge part in Rocky getting his head together and getting back in the ring to win.
This isn’t a sequel that is better than its original film but that’s only because the first Rocky was so good. Rather, this is a sequel on a par with the original. Rocky wasn’t just a fluke. Rocky 2 became one of the three highest-grossing films of 1979 and was also critically acclaimed. And deservedly so.
I love the low-budget horror curios that I stumble across. Drive-In Massacre, Spawn of the Slithis and The Incredible Melting Man are three such examples of this sub-genre. I watched The Demon (aka Midnight Caller) from 1979 last night and can add it to this category.
I actually thought the film was based in California but it’s actually Johannesburg! There’s a broad range of accents within the cast too with Americans, Brits and South Africans here.
A man seemingly without a face is stalking women (he’s actually wearing a thin white rubber mask which makes him appear completely expressionless. Yes, there are more Halloween reference points to come within the film).
I actually chose to watch this film as I saw that Cameron Mitchell from the great Toolbox Murders starred in this. And his character of Colonel Carson who is employed by the parents of a missing girl to use his psychic powers to find their daughter is terrific. He produces sketches of the killer for them which completely exclude his face which is very eerie and unsettling.
Another thing that I love about these horror curios is that anything can happen meaning that we get some crazy shit to watch and lap up joyously. The demise of Mitchell’s character is a complete curveball and I was left thinking, ‘Damn! I didn’t see that coming!’
And then there’s the ending that involves a shower nozzle, a bottle of shampoo and a pair of scissors. This is a booby trap foreshadowing A Nightmare on Elm Street by 5 years but probably influenced (again) by Laurie Strode and her resourcefulness. There’s also another ANOES foreshadowing as the killer wears gloves with metal tips at the end of each finger.
If you decide to watch this film, please don’t think that this is some kind of forgotten horror masterpiece. It certainly isn’t. But if you want to watch a left-field curve ball of a film that is full of quirks then there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. You know the film is low budget right from the start as the titles are VERY cheap looking. The filmmakers run out of music during the closing title sequence and so the last half of the credit crawl is completely silent. I love that.
There’s so much I love about 1979’s Alien. This is a film I feel like I’ve grown up with from watching its first TV screening with my Dad when I was about 6, through to renting it on video through to watching it on the big screen either in its original form or it’s excellent Director’s Cut. It was also the first THX film I watched and the first Blu-Ray. It’s been quite a journey.
The plot goes like this- a mining ship stops off on an unknown planet after receiving an SOS signal (which is, in fact, a warning signal). Whilst exploring this new terrain, an alien life force attaches itself to the helmet of one of the crew members. He and it are brought aboard (against the wishes of Ripley, the crew member who is in charge at that point and who wants quarantine regulations to be adhered to). Ash, another crew member lets them in any way. And so the nightmare begins for the crew and the space vessel.
I love H R Giger’s design of the alien, the spaceship Nostromo and the elephantine Space Jockey that is witnessed on the alien planet. I love the penis-like aspect of these designs, especially the alien as it bursts from John Hurt’s chest and then when it is fully grown. It’s all steel teeth (two sets) and huge curved jelly head. It’s magnificent. As Ash says later ‘I admire its purity’. I agree.
And how it grew! Another aspect of Alien that I love is that the alien really was a man in a suit. In these days of appalling CGI effects, my love of practical effects and *shock horror* real living, breathing adversaries is unswayable. The alien in Alien was played by 6ft 10in (you read that right! He was actually 7ft in the alien suit) Bolaji Badejo. Alien wouldn’t have been scary or real if made in the era of CGI. Period.
Alien is also a film of extremes and contrasts, another aspect of the movie that I love. There are the clean white lines of the Nostromo’s interior as opposed to the noise, wind and turbulence of the alien planet and the dank and dark boiler room noir of the air shafts of the cargo vessel. There’s also the tranquillity of the hypersleep juxtaposed to when the crew are awake again and going about their everyday lives or when they’re confronted by the extraordinary and fighting for their lives. I love these extremes and contrasts as they juxtapose within the film amazingly.
The cast is another reason why I adore Alien. In this present era with its almost incessant need for diversity (whilst certain members of the media narcissistically scream ‘LOOK EVERYONE! WE’RE BEING DIVERSE!’ ), the cast of Alien is very diverse but without it being something that was a major strategy when the film was being cast. We have male, female, black, white, tall (and not just the men) and short. We even have a cat! And a xenomorph. And an android. That’s fantastic diversity right there but with the added bonus that each player contributes massively to the production and makes their mark. This is diversity but it brings talent to the table rather than being merely a demeaning box-ticking exercise.
This ensemble cast is another one of Alien’s trump cards. We don’t know who will survive by the end of the film. Sigourney Weaver wasn’t publicised as any kind of leader of the cast and so her being the survivor really is a big surprise. In fact, Dallas as played by Tom Skeritt is/was the Nostromo’s captain and so it can be presumed that he will be the valiant male lead to be the sole crew member to survive and heroically do battle with the alien. But, as with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the person who we expect to survive until the final reel is cruelly taken from us much sooner. When Dallas is killed in the airshafts whilst trying to track down the alien, there truly is a sense of ‘WTF!’ and a genuine feeling that ANYTHING can happen within the film. Which is great cinema. This is also one of the tensest scenes in a film full of tense scenes. Ridley Scott’s direction is masterful.
My favourite character within the cast (apart from the alien and Jones the cat, obviously) is that of Lambert. She seems to psychically sense that all is not right early on in the film as if she can see into the future and knows that they are in grave danger even though the rest of the crew can’t see it yet. This reminds me of a theory that Carol J Clover writes in her book about slasher movies, Men, Women and Chainsaws. She asserts that within the groups of teens in slasher movies, there is almost always one person, usually female, who is very much attuned to any negative events that will almost certainly befall her and her friends and can foretell that their lives are in grave danger (Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s masterpiece Halloween is a glaring example of this). Lambert very quickly ascertains that they are up shit creek without a paddle and that their chances of survival are minimal at best. This is why we see her as extremely apprehensive very early on.
Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic soundtrack is another component that is vital to Alien. The eerieness of the events leading up to the alien’s unleashing of menace on the Nostromo and its crew is met with quiet, unsettling music of impending dread and distorted echoes. When the shit hits the fan, this is paralleled with noisy, discordant orchestration that perfectly matches the apocalyptic events we see unfurling on the screen. It is perfect. The soundtrack is just as extreme and schizophrenic as Bernard Herrman’s for Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver.
The ending of Alien is frankly genius and utterly brilliant. I love the fact that Giger’s sets play a role in this vital scene. And if you haven’t seen Alien then please don’t expect me to give away the ending. I would never ruin such a cinematic treat for anyone. If you haven’t seen Alien, I recommend you see it NOW!
Add to this a frankly genius marketing campaign (minimalist trailers full of foreign, disconcerting sounds and fast-moving images and no dialogue whatsoever. It all invokes an utter feeling of dread), a poster and merchandise campaign that was just as intriguing and based around the idea that less really is more and a tagline that would go down as one of the very best in film history (‘In space, no-one can hear you scream’.) Even the tagline would be ripped off, adapted and referenced by taglines used for other films.
But whilst all of this adds to Alien and its legacy and why I love the film, there is one reason more than any other as to why I love Alien so much- it’s two hours of cracking entertainment.
I remember the first time I ever saw any scenes from The Brood was in the excellent documentary, Terror in the Aisles. I then went on to see the film from start to finish in a Film Studies lecture at university.
There’s a sinister institution within The Brood that’s called The Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmatics. Guess who the director is. It’s David Cronenberg, of course.
I love Cronenberg’s early films and his riffs on topics that were in the popular consciousness of the time and how he transforms them into body horror. The Brood is his riff on the then-new forms of therapy (The Primal Scream springs to mind) and how it could have disastrous and horrific consequences.
I also love that this was Cronenberg’s own version of Kramer Vs Kramer which he had seen and hated because of its positive view of divorce and child access procedures. The director was going through this hellish process in his own life at the time and his take on it was The Brood. You could say that The Brood is the anti-Kramer Vs Kramer which, of course, is a massive recommendation to me.
The plot could only have come from the fantastic mind of Cronenberg. Oliver Reed plays Hal Raglan, a therapist who practices psychoplasmatics whereby patients with past traumas are encouraged to let go of their suppressed emotions through physiological changes that occur to their bodies. One of his patients is Nola (Samantha Eggar) who is battling for custody with her ex-husband Frank (Art Hindle) for custody of their daughter, Candice. Nola has her own past traumas involving her mother. But then Nola has lots of secrets and revelations to reveal, not just to the other characters in the film but to the film’s viewers also.
I love the fact that an all-star cast which includes Reed, Eggar and Hindle can turn in the kind of distanced, cool and aloof performances under Cronenberg’s direction that are expected in his films. These are the kind of performances that Cronenberg wants and he knows how to elicit these from his actors, whether they’re big names or not.
Samantha Eggar’s performance is deliciously mannered one minute and then completely unhinged the next. The scene in which she lifts up her robes to reveal all (if you’ve seen The Brood, you know what I’m talking about! If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out…) has kept film writers and analysts writing about it in relation to body horror and femininity since it was filmed. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Eggar licking a foetus’s head.
There are also the toddler, dwarf-like creatures who do Eggar’s bidding for her which mainly includes disposing of those she feels animosity towards. I will never look at a metal-toothed meat tenderiser in the same way again. But then again, I will never look at a toddler in a padded all-in-one in the same way again.
The film is referenced in the song Orgy by The Glove on their album Blue Sunshine. In fact, the same track also references the film, Caligula. How cool is that!
I can still remember the first time I watched The Warriors. It was one of my brother’s favourite films and I was captivated from the first frames showing the neon of the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island and the following nocturnal subway scenes. Then we see different gangs from different boroughs travelling to a kind of ‘big gang summit meeting’ if you will, each with their own identities, uniforms and threats of danger. Utterly intoxicating.
The soundtrack is a mix of the actual pop songs that several key scenes in the film hinged upon such as ‘In The City’ and ‘Love is a Fire’ and the dark, twisted psychedelia incidental music composed by Barry De Vorzon that was also a huge part of the film. Tracks such as The Fight and Baseball Furies Chase feature on the original soundtrack tracklisting and illustrated their respective scenes perfectly.
But luckily for Warriors fans, La La Land Records released a remastered and expanded edition of the soundtrack that features a huge amount of De Vorzon’s music that featured in the original film but wasn’t included on the tracklisting for the original soundtrack. There are also tracks unused in the film that are just as brilliant and released for the first time.
Hence, we finally get the music exactly as it features in the film for the opening scene (this has been unreleased until now), the sinister and disquieting music used for the scene in which the rollerskated Punks and The Warriors confront each other in the Union Square subway station and the music used when The Riffs learn the truth about The Warriors and that they didn’t kill Cyrus.
This music is absolutely essential to the film and makes this expanded edition just as brilliant as the original release. Bask in the glory of this nightmarish score that perfectly accompanied this tale of a crime-ridden Big Apple that was rotten to the core, full of criminal delinquent youth but more exciting and brilliant because of it.
And to finish, here’s some pictires of The Warriors soundtrack on 8 Track!
Donny is a very damaged person. After an incident at work sees one of his colleagues set himself on fire, we see Danny freeze with terror at the incident. This is explained through flashbacks. We see that as a boy his mother used to punish him by burning his forearms.
When he returns home from work he finds that his domineering mother has actually passed away. We then see her throughout the film in different stages of decomposition.
Donny then constructs a flame-proof room in his house and lures women back there to strip them naked and set fire to them using a flamethrower whilst they are hung up.
As a study of mental decay this is closer to Maniac than Repulsion. Lurid, sleazy and generally unsettling, this shocker deserves it’s notorious reputation.
The original title of the film was actually The Burning (the print I saw actually had this title card) but when the filmmakers found out that another film was being made using this name they quickly changed it.
The BBFC cut three whole minutes from this film for it’s cinema release and then banned it outright for video. Most of the cut material was from the first murder involving the florist Donny tricks into coming back to his house. And this sequence is VERY full-on! Theres shades of Ed Gein to Donny’s MO. But without Gein’s flair for interior decoration.
The first three victims he torches to death he then dresses in his dead mother’s clothes and places in armchairs. He rants to them as if they’re still alive which gives us a very darkly entertaining glimpse into his twisted psyche. He sometimes hears their voices.
As you can tell from the plot elements I’ve described above this certainly isn’t a film to put on in the middle of a family get together (unless you want them to leave of course). But if you love deranged, unhinged and off kilter horror then you’ll love this Check out the new Blu Ray release. The print is gorgeous.
I learnt about When A Stranger Calls after seeing the excellent horror film compilation Terror in the Aisles. I then saw the full film and was blown away. I bought the bare bones American DVD release years later and thought that was the best cineastes would get regarding this film.
So I was thrilled when I learnt that the amazing company Second Sight Films were releasing the movie on Blu ray with a ton of extra features. These include the sequel. And the original short film The Sitter that director Fred Walton made prior to the feature length film. And the soundtrack. This sounded like one hell of an amazing package. Does the reality live up to the specs?
A young babysitter receives phone-calls asking if shes ‘checked the children’. After numerous calls to the police she learns that the calls are coming from inside the house (this plot device had only been used one time before in film terms with that film being Bob Clark’s Black Christmas in 1974).
After this extremely tense first 20 mins the film shifts gear and the second act of the film involves the killer, the cop determined to catch him and a bar patron the killer first rather clumsily tries to pick up and when that fails, stalks.
The last act of the film involves the babysitter years later again with the killer trying to kill her again.
Lazy critics and film fans will have you believe that the first and last acts of this film are great, with the middle act (and majority) of the film being boring and pedestrian. This is utter rubbish. My thoughts on the film and particularly the middle act of the film can be found here.
When a Stranger Calls is a masterpiece and I believe one of the best horror films ever made. Really. It should be mentioned in the same breath as Halloween, The Shining and Psycho but isn’t. Maybe this Blu ray release will help to rectify this situation.
The transfer on Second Sight’s Blu ray is amazing. The picture quality is flawless and visuals crisp even though the intended look of the film is quite soft. I compared this release to the Region 1 DVD I mentioned earlier and this transfer represents a significant step up in terms of visuals especially in the scenes that happen at night or where shadows are involved. One scene that nicely demonstrates this is the nocturnal walk home the character Tracey takes from the bar.
The audio is just as great as the visuals. Previous releases had a tendency to sound muffled and flat in places. Second Sight’s release rectifies this to such a degree that both music and dialogue are crystal clear and easy to hear. There no need for a manual sound mix using your remote with this release as with so many other releases from other labels.
This release is jam-packed with special features and the kind of features that fans of the film were waiting decades to see.
Firstly, we get director Fred Walton’s short film The Sitter that was made as a short film with Walton hoping to expand this into a full-length feature after the success of Halloween. It’s interesting to see that a lot of the nuance and detail that are present in the When a Stranger Calls are already a part of The Sitter. The ice maker as a source of terror, Dr Mandrakis’ funny line about ‘we even have low fat yoghurt’ and the opening of the front door to reveal a detective are all in place in The Sitter showing that attention to detail was there from the very start. These elements weren’t added as an afterthought into the full length feature. I’ve waited years to see The Sitter and the wait was worth it. It certainly feels like the embryonic streak of genius that would later be more fully realised in the later film.
The Blu ray also includes the TV movie sequel When A Stranger Calls Back. It was great to finally see this film after hearing so much about it. The character arcs of Carol Kane and Charles Durning’s characters feel realistic and authentic and this is a worthy continuation of their stories. As with the main feature the video and audio on this movie are both top notch.
Also included are interviews with director Fred Walton, stars Carol Kane and Rutanya Alda and composer Dana Kaproff. For a film of which little was known, fans suddenly have a treasure trove of information about the film’s genesis, it’s production and it’s reception. Walton’s interview is the most revealing and is full of anecdotes which shed considerable light on the film. One such is how actor Tony Beckley felt massively insecure about acting with an actress as great as Carol Kane. Colleen Dewhurst said something to him that instantly remedied the situation beautifully and restored his confidence in his abilities.
And if these special features weren’t brilliant enough we also get the film’s soundtrack on CD (a great addition as Dana Kaproff’s score is a massive part as to why the film works so well), a booklet including an excellent essay on the film and a replica of the original film’s poster.
Of all of the Blu rays I’ve bought this year this is by far the best. A great film has been given the treatment it truly deserves. But I have come to expect this kind of product from Second Sight Films as they were responsible for the amazing package released for The Changeling. I look forward to their release of Boys in the Band early next year.
A young family move into a house where a young man killed his entire family. And they wonder why the house price was so low.
Cue all manner of haunted house shenanigans- flies, crucifixes being turned upside down, the kids suddenly acquiring imaginary friends, red eyes being seen through the window at night, black ooze overflowing from the toilet…the list is endless.
It feels like every camp and childish haunted house cliche has been poured into this movie that is actually based on a hoax. This sets the tone for the film.
There are some funny moments though- watch out for the vomiting nun and the worst teeth brace you’ll ever see. It looks like some kind of torture device.
Also, Margot Kidder seems to be have some kind of naughty schoolgirl, proto Britney Spears vibe going on in this film. Shes all pigtails and short skirts with thigh length socks. A bit pervy. Keep your fantasies in the bedroom, hun.
A boat sails into New York but the only person onboard happens to be a morbidly obese zombie who seems to be pissed off and hungry. The daughter of the boat’s owner decides to venture to where her father had been, a Caribbean island called Matul. She takes along with her a journalist who smells a story.
This film was butchered by the BBFC on its initial release. The distributors decided to release a stronger uncut version that then lead to the film being banned and placed on the DPP video nasties list.
This film is reknowned for going the extra mile. Ever wondered what would happen if a zombie took on a shark? Of course you have! This film features it. Add to the mix a revolutionary eye-gouging scene, a great score by Fabio Frizzi and one of the most iconic ending scenes in horror history. Oh, and some of the most annoyed zombies with especially bad attitudes and you have a great movie.
This Italian shocker directed by maestro Lucio Fulci actually billed itself as a sequel to the Argento cut of Dawn of the Dead in Italy. Is it a masterpiece like Dawn? No. But its still one hell of a ride.