Viewed – 29 November 2013 Blu-ray
Growing up this was one film I kept catching on TV, and it left a long standing imprint on me as a movie fan. Brian De Palma’s 1978 thriller was sort-of his follow up to Carrie, exploring again psychic telekinetic individuals, this time two instead of one and bringing back Carrie’s Amy Irving now alongside screen legend Kirk Douglas.
Douglas is a secret agent whose son has powerful telekinetic abilities that his shady friend, John Cassavetes wants to take advantage of. After an explosive opening where Douglas is betrayed and his son kidnapped – we switch to 11 months later where we meet Gillian, a young woman only just discovering her abilities who seems to have a psychic connection with Douglas’ son – and therefore becomes of interest both to Douglas and Cassavetes.
With a haunting, eerie score by John Williams and several stand-out set-pieces (the fairground ride, the slow-motion institute escape) this is De Palma at full tilt. Strangely it remains one of the famed director’s lesser known efforts, but with a solid turn from Douglas and an emotional performance from the often underrated Amy Irving – I still got a kick out of this, even all these years later. It’s still scary, especially with Douglas’ son’s powerful, malevolent incidents (hovering in the air in a darkened room, the murder of a woman by making her body spin…) although at times it resembles a 70s cop show with unfortunate comedy bits – and for a movie often labelled as horror – gore and scares are infrequent. Overall though this is one 70s movie I highly recommend seeing again.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is decent. The picture is vivid if at times a little soft and over-saturated but in good shape mostly – and the sound punchy and fitting to the period. The 4.0 DTS soundtrack can jump about at times from clear dialogue to an echoey locked in a closet sound (?), so I found the 2.0 soundtrack the most pleasing. Extras are also plentiful with documentaries, interviews, an isolated music score, a nice booklet with a new write up on the movie, and a reversible sleeve with new art work. Again another stellar job from Arrow.
(the movie): 4 /5
(the Blu-ray): 3.5 /5
Viewed – 12 November 2013 Blu-ray
Amongst horror fans, this one movie has quite a reputation. Firstly it spawned the surge of extreme horror coming out of France, that unleashed such cult favourites as À l’intérieur (Inside) and the infamous Martyrs. It also kick started the career of director Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes). This tells the tale of best friends Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn) who travel to the countryside residence of Alex’s parents to stay for a holiday. However, amongst the idyllic surroundings, there lurks a serial killer, who drives a rusty old van and is waiting for the right moment to strike.
This atmospheric and nerve-shredding slasher movie is France’s answer to all those American genre movies that copycat Friday The 13th and Halloween – albeit with a brutal unflinching intensity that’s not easy to recover from. In America this was initially cut by several minutes to avoid the dreaded NC-17 certificate, but this unrated ‘directors cut’ restores all the blood and violence that the director intended. Rejoice gore-hounds, their is much to get your hands dirty with here – graphic throat slitting, beheadings, stabbings and even a chainsaw!! But I digress – above all else this movie is primarily about tension. Violence is spaced out, infrequent, but when it comes – it packs a punch … made all the more effective by intense build-ups. It’s clear why the movie’s title is High Tension (Haute Tension) when translated, as apposed to the less ideal Switchblade Romance as it’s known in the UK.
Now let’s get to why this movie has also divided critics. There is a twist, that is much talked about and is basically why this isn’t perfect … and for me ruins the overall effect. All I can say to Alexandre Aja is … why? My only explanation is that when this movie was released in 2003, there were many a movie that had a twist – it was the in thing, but the movie worked well enough without one. It’s a real shame because this is brilliantly shot, with a superb use of sound and music (especially Muse’s New Born) that regardless of such a fault – still manages to be a cut above similar horrors. After repeated viewings, I can’t forgive what direction Aja chose to take, which means it’s far from a masterpiece, but oh boy … will you remember it!
The Blu-ray from Lionsgate features the movie in eye-catching HD and although the muted colour pallet and the mostly night time setting prevent this from being a showpiece title – the movie is in great condition, and the 7.1 DTS French Soundtrack is superb and really effective. Some controversy has been labelled at the dubbed French voices, but I found it barely noticeable. There is also an English dubbed soundtrack (best avoided) if you just can’t do subtitles (shame on you!). Add to this several featurettes exploring the making of, as well as an English language commentary by the director and producer (well worth a listen) and scene specific commentary also – that for fans this is an essential purchase. Everyone else I recommend this if you’re after a really tense and brutal slasher that doesn’t hold back … but perhaps leave your brain on pause.
(the movie): 3.5 /5
(the Blu-ray): 4 /5
Viewed – 08 November 2013 Blu-ray
I remember loving this entry in director Wes Craven’s admirable output several years ago … its clever idea of suburban hell and enough gore and creepiness to keep your nerves thread bare. It tells the tale of ghetto teenager ‘Fool’ who with his mother dying of cancer, teams up with a petty crook (Ving Rhames) to break into the house of the local wealthy property owner and his wife. Yet a seemingly straight forward plan as you can imagine goes horribly wrong, and they stumble upon a very macabre secret.
Genre king Wes Craven delivers again. As the director of cult favourites A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream, you can expect a degree of skill to the chills and frights, even if for the most part this plays out more like an adventure, with Fool transported into another world, that of the labyrinthine house and its many traps and secrets – its like he’s entered an episode of The Crystal Maze at times. Playing the couple is Twin Peaks stalwarts Everett McGill and Wendy Robie who are both wonderfully nuts … and pretty much make the movie for me. Also as their nervous daughter Alice, A J Langer is quite heart-breaking and very believable. Yet Brandon Adams as Fool, a few corny lines aside is a revelation for such a young actor – did he go onto anything else?
This movie is quite silly in places, and sometimes its more funny than genuinely scary – but I’ll go on record as saying it remains one of the more inventive horror movies of the 90s, and for Wes Craven, possibly his most interesting creation.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is very pleasing. The image is detailed and colourful (Ving Rhames’ hat in the van looks astonishing…) and although at times a little softness rears its head – overall I was very pleased. Audio is acceptable in uncompressed 2.0 stereo and the many sound effects inside the house still work well. Extras consist of a (moderated) commentary by Brandon Adams, as well as several featurettes and interviews. Most interestingly we also get a collectable booklet and a reversible sleeve with specially created new art work. An impressive package by all means.
(the movie) 3.5 /5
(the Blu-ray) 4 /5
Viewed – 18 October 2013 Blu-ray
I have fond, if cloudy memories of this 1985 science fiction horror. I’ll admit straight up that as a hormonal boy, the site of French actress Mathilda May walking around naked certainly stayed with me. But thankfully with more mature eyes, I can appreciate this hoky but fun movie on more than purely teenage fantasy levels.
A group of Astronauts investigating the arrival of Haley’s Comet over Earth, discover a space craft hidden within the tail. On-board they stumble upon three pods containing three human-like bodies … two males and a female, and subsequently decide to take the bodies back to their own space shuttle. Cut to London thirty days later and the bodies have been recovered from the shuttle following an unexplained fire, and before long there’s a beautiful, naked female wrecking havoc and sucking the Life Force out of anyone she meets.
Directed by Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) this is an energetic crowd-pleaser of a movie, with that 80s lack of restraint and bags of personality. Effects work is decent with some quite cool make up effects and production values throughout are impressive. Acting honours, it’s a mixed back with a stand-out Steve Rallsback as a disturbed Astronaut and even Patrick Stewart turns up not looking a great deal different than he does now (?). It has an alarming tendency to jump around from quiet talking scenes to all out chaos, surreal dream-sequences and horror – but makes for an experience that is never dull. Performances are basically adequate, sometimes over-acted but stylistically this looks great and with a thunderous score by Henry Mancini it’s very hard not to get caught up in the sheer enthusiasm of it all.
Yes its a bit silly in places, the story is nonsense, but honesty in this particular movie – it doesn’t matter.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is impressive. Two cuts of the movie, the slightly trimmed ‘Theatrical Version’ and the director-preferred ‘International Version’, two commentaries, an engrossing documentary called ‘cannon fodder’, interviews, trailers, and a collectable booklet. The movie itself is in great shape. A very clear, often sharp HD transfer and a decent 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack (or uncompressed 2.0 stereo) both impress. This is a surprising but welcome treatment for one of the more obscure movies of the 80s, but as a fan I couldn’t be happier.
(the movie): 4 /5
(the Blu-ray): 5 /5
Viewed – 15 October 2013 Blu-ray
The Final Cut
When many people discuss favourite all time horror movies, often this much admired 1973 cult classic gets a mention. Edward Woodward plays a Police Sergeant following up a mysterious letter about a teenage girl going missing on a remote Scottish island. On arriving at the island that seems to have a close-knit community, overseen by the wealthy Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) – Woodward begins to suspect there’s more to the case than meets the eye.
I have always wanted to see this, being a long time horror enthusiast, and often try to seek out those old classics that you keep hearing so much about. Edward Woodward is a fine actor but is wasted here, given little to do than look relatively sane amongst a cast of oddballs. Christopher Lee offers up an imposing, charming performance, that’s creepy but so unashamedly mad, it comes off more pantomime than scary. Britt Ekland is clearly meant to be some sort of seductress, but with a Scots accent that was dubbed by another actress, and even a body double for her famously bizarre nude dance, she barely made an impact. Director Robin Hardy’s movie is meant as an exploration of strange religious beliefs, pagan rituals and isolated communities – which might have been fascinating if it wasn’t for such amateurish production values, and only passable acting, leaving this viewer puzzled as to the movie’s almost-universal acclaim. A twist towards the end was interesting, and I did find the final reveal of the enormous Wicker Man disturbing – but that was at the end – everything else was borderline laughable. And really, what was all that singing about?
This recently released 40th Anniversary Blu-ray holds 3 cuts of the movie, and although I haven’t sat through the other versions (I may take a look) this Final Cut is meant to be the most complete, fully restored version. Which is disappointing when presented with an often poor image quality that occasionally looked like an 8mm home movie, and a serviceable but sometimes muffled soundtrack in basic 2 channel stereo. I have seen movies older than this that look way better, but then again it could all be down to how well preserved the original negative was, and the low-budget of the movie itself. Fans will be happy to find a wealth of extras, including a documentary called ‘burnt offerings’ featuring and written by critic Mark Kermode, exploring the movie’s troubled treatment by the distributors. Add to this a commentary on the director’s cut, a restoration comparison (apparently the movie can look even worse!) and the soundtrack on CD (oh dear…) and this remains a flawed but bumper package.
(the movie): 2 /5
(the Blu-ray): 3 /5
- The Wicker Man – The Final Cut Review (thepeoplesmovies.com)
- A cult horror classic revisited (hispanicbusiness.com)
- The Wicker Man – review (theguardian.com)
- Robin Hardy’s interview following The Wicker Man: The Final Cut on Sept 17th (neilmcglone.wordpress.com)