Videodrome


Viewed – 22 August 2015  Blu-ray

Collector’s Edition

David Cronenberg has easily cemented himself as one of the most challenging and daring directors to have ever gained mainstream popularity.  Perhaps still most famous for the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly, this Canadian born visionary film maker has for me, made some of the most powerfully bold and disturbing interpretations of horror I have seen.  This 1982 effort saw him break out from obscure fair like The Brood and Shivers and finally deliver his own distinct voice.

Videodrome cassette

Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry (of Blondie) this follows the story of Max Ren, a sleazy cable TV executive on the look out for new material for his network.  One day he stumbles upon Videodrome, a broadcast that appears to be purely torture and violence – the exact kind of material he thinks his viewers will want.  Only thing is, Videodrome comes with a deadly signal that causes horrific and freakish hallucinations in anyone who watches it.

videodrome nikkiDespite a meagre budget and fairly basic production values, Cronenberg lavishes the whole movie in a visual style that presents television as a strange new villain in a way that the internet could be perceived the same today.  This movie was ahead of it’s time in it’s themes of living through another medium, and even one character refers to us all having different names that we’ll one day take on, sort of like avatars in a chat room.  It’s very cleverly observed.  Cronenberg tried to lesser extent to bring such ideas into the modern age in his sort-of sequel Existenz which explored videogames instead of television, but it’s here that his concept is at it’s boldest.  Deborah Harry is provocative, sexy and daring, not afraid to shed some clothing and portray herself as a self-harming adrenalin junkie, and Woods is perfect as the guy who takes a bite out of the forbidden fruit.  Acting isn’t exactly stellar though and supporting cast are amateurish at best.  It also get’s a little lost in it’s own hallucinatory world towards the end.  But with still impressive make-up work from An American Werewolf In London’s Rick Baker (bar the dodgy gun-hand-thing) and some creative gore along with a few ingenious effects (the breathing TV) – this still had the power to shock and creep this viewer out, even all these year’s later.

videodrome

This Arrow Video release comes in a limited edition collector’s packaging that has a detailed hardback book exploring the film and Cronenberg’s career with fresh interviews and archival text.  The movie has always been in great shape and the same can be said here in a very vivid and clear image with equally crisp sound even if it’s only in mono.  Arrow, swiftly becoming my go-to company for great treatment of genre classics, has once again pulled no punches with this release and the extras are simply exhaustive.  A commentary by critic Tim Lucas, a number of detailed featurettes and documentaries, behind the scenes footage, a deleted scene and in this limited edition set a few of the director’s early short films.  In a word: impressive.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night


Viewed – 15 August 2015  Online rental

The vampire myth has been explored in a myriad of ways throughout cinema’s history, from Max Shrek’s Nosferatu and Christopher Lee’s Dracula to The Lost Boys and Twilight.  So we come to this critically acclaimed Iranian offering.

a-girl-walks-home-alone-at-night

Shot in noir-ish black & white, this follows day to day goings on in Bad City where a young James Dean-like guy (Arash Marandi) lives with his drug-addicted father who owes a hefty debt to the local drug dealer.  At the same time a young woman (Sheela Vand) prowls the streets at night in search of her next feeding … because she happens to be a vampire.   These two lonely people seem destined to cross paths in what soon turns into a rather unconventional love story.

a_girl_photo3This has had a lot of good word of mouth, and on a purely aesthetic level impresses.  The black & white photography is lush, very artistic and atmospheric, whilst the soundtrack mixes jazz, opera and contemporary music effectively to convey emotion in a movie that only uses dialogue sparingly.  This is very moody stuff and the vampire girl is instantly iconic with her cloaked persona reminding me of Kaonashi (no face) in Spirited Away.  Yet these characters are not really explored.  We learn next to nothing about any of them and therefore its hard to care all that much.  Creative photography, lighting and mood can make up for a lot, and this does so in spades, but a lack of depth to anything going on meant I came away knowing as much as I did going in.  There are some stand out moments, including the vampire girl’s first kill and a decidedly effective ear-piercing scene, but overall this was largely (wonderful) style over substance.

I’d say there is a lot of potential here from debut director Ana Lily Amirpour who certainly knows how to frame a shot and create an effective mood, so I’ll keep my eye out for whatever she does next.

Verdict:  3 /5

It Follows


Viewed – 11 July 2015  Blu-ray

‘I see naked people’

Another recent horror that had gained praise from critics and seemed like something different amongst the slew of remakes and paranormal activity sequels.  This tells the story of Jay, a nineteen year old student who goes on a date with a local guy she’s been seeing.  Only thing is after they have sex he reveals he has passed a curse onto her of some relentless ‘being’ that has been following him.  It’s now going to be following her, and she should not let it touch her and try and pass the curse on herself as soon as she can.

It Follows

This is a cool idea for a horror movie.  It involves the viewer like I haven’t seen in a long time as I found myself watching every part of the screen for someone lurking and following our main character.  Also the frights are mostly well done with only a few being a bit predictable, and there isn’t an over-reliance on jump-scares.  Maika Monroe who was very good in The Guest once again proves herself an actress to watch.  Helps she’s pretty hot too (don’t judge me!).  Supporting cast, which apart from one guy don’t get a lot to do, still felt like real people.  It’s also obvious the whole idea is a not-so subtle metaphor of the dangers of teenage promiscuity (the ‘It’ being perhaps similar to an STD).  The movie also pays welcome homage to late seventies / early eighties horror movies like Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street with both it’s camera work and it’s intentionally old-school score.

That’s not to say it’s without fault.  Sometimes the actions of the main character are bizarre to say the least (sleeping on a car bonnet?) and at times the story gets awfully vague, leaving some puzzling moments to your imagination (the guys on the boat). That being said, this still delivered a genuinely unsettling atmosphere and some effective scares … making for a quality evening’s viewing.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Babadook


Viewed – 06 July 2015  Blu-ray

I wanted to watch this critically acclaimed Australian horror for a while, but could I find it to rent?  No.  So I decided it might be worth buying, and hoped it lived up to the reviews.  Amelia, a single mother bringing up a boisterous young boy Samuel, still mourns the death of her husband and the boy’s father seven year’s previous.  One day during a bedtime reading session, the boy takes a mysterious book from his bedroom shelf, which Amelia has never seen before, and subsequently starts to read it.  However the creepy fairy-tale soon sends shivers down her spine and she decides not to finish it.  But her son has other ideas and get’s obsessed with the character of The Babadook.  Is it real, or just in his imagination?

babadook

This effective, slow-burning movie was rich in atmosphere and aided well by some clever camera work and subtle visual effects that helped build plenty of tension.  I quickly got the impression that Amelia might be having a nervous breakdown, and the stresses of Samuel’s behaviour, that became increasingly difficult to control only added to her problems.  It’s a movie that can be read on two levels, that of a possessed book and a demonic spirit, or that of a woman cracking up and losing her mind.  Director Jennifer Kent doesn’t make either viewpoint definite and there’s a lot of clues and suggestions that could have various interpretations … but I’d personally steer towards the latter.  For a horror movie however this plays things overly safe, get’s quite creepy at times (The Babadook resembles various childhood ghouls) but nothing to keep you awake at night (or spill your popcorn).  The young actor playing the little boy drifts between intentionally annoying to quite likeable, yet Essie Davis as Amelia turns in a very powerful and layered performance that certainly made this movie for me.

It’s overall impact was lessened due to the lack of true horror (despite potential), yet with intelligent direction and a strong lead performance … I still got a lot out of this.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Tenebrae


Viewed – 14 April 2015  Blu-ray

When writer Peter Neal arrives in Rome on a routine promotion trip for his latest novel, he becomes the target of a deranged killer who starts murdering beautiful women in the name of his book Tenebrae.   Soon the lines between reality and fiction blur as Neal and the local detectives set out to catch the culprit and prevent more bloodshed.

tenebrae

Now going into a film by acclaimed, controversial Italian director Dario Argento (Deep Red, Suspiria), I will give a word of warning.  He’s not one for casting great actors in his movies and is much more focused on the technical aspects and the twisting narrative.  This 1982 entry is no exception as actor Anthony Franciosa and much of his supporting cast, including John Saxon and Argento’s then-wife Dario Nicolodi are amateurish at best, delivering lines in a particularly wooden and unconvincing manor.  Thankfully then, Argento distracts us with a series of gloriously staged murder set-pieces, arguably some of the best in his career (the stalk and slash of the lesbians especially) and aided by a hypnotic, creepy score by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin, this remains very much an Argento movie.  The look may be simplistic and the acting poor, but for style and a keep-you-guessing plot that throws in a few surprises, including an unforgettable ending … fans of early eighties slasher movies and of the Italian maestro’s work should definitely check this out.

The Blu-ray is packed with extras in this Arrow Video re-release, boasting two commentaries, several interviews and featurettes, a reversible sleeve with newly commissioned art and an in-depth booklet.  Add to this a decent treatment for the film itself.  The picture whilst nicely detailed, is a tad over-saturated (although the garish reds suit the tone of the story) and the sound although only in 2.0 Stereo, is uncompressed so the score sounds particularly good.  Overall, a decent effort for one of Argento’s most notorious movies.

Verdict:

(the movie) 3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5