Relic


Viewed – 07 November 2020 online rental

A woman gets word that nobody has heard from her mother in a while, so concerned she decides to pay a visit, bringing her daughter along with her. However upon arriving at the elderly woman’s house, it transpires she is missing. As the elderly woman appears to be suffering memory loss and possible dementia going by reminder notes pinned around the house, concern for her safety quickly materialises.

This drama at first seems like a study of a family and the horrible effects of old age. However as it progresses, it appears something more supernatural could be occurring. This is a slow burner but well acted throughout, especially the often dependable Emily Mortimer. It takes its time to get going and much of the ‘horror’ aspects are in the final act, where things turn very weird. However it has a rather tense and creepy tone from the start, isn’t reliant on cheap jump scares to make the viewer uneasy, and plays with one’s imagination effectively.

However a lack of ‘answers’ is frustrating and what that ending is meant to mean, I couldn’t say. Yet as a debut feature, there’s enough promise here to make director Natalie Erika James one to watch.

Verdict: Good

An American Werewolf In London


Viewed – 31 October 2020 Blu-ray

Director John Landis’ 1981 classic remains one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s the perfect balance of horror with comedy and also works as a particularly tragic love story. it also has (still) the best werewolf transformation ever commuted to film, and in this age of CGI overdose I doubt it will ever be beaten. Telling the story of David, an American backpacking in England with his friend Jack, who following a strange encounter with the locals of the ‘slaughtered lamb’, wonders onto the moors, and gets attacked by a werewolf. Sometime later he awakens in a London hospital and begins to have strange dreams and visits from beyond the grave warning him he’s destined to become a hairy beast next full moon.

Beware the moon…

The setup is stuff of horror legend, and is a sort of loose remake of those classic werewolf movies from the 1950s, given a modern twist that still works today, almost 40 years later. The fact the effects work still stands up is very much down to the sheer skill of makeup wiz Rick Baker (who got an Oscar for his trouble). Jenny Agutter is here as a (particularly attractive) nurse who befriends and quickly falls for David and her relationship with the would-be monster is convincing and quite touching. It’s also a snappily paced ride, skilfully jumping from one event to the next, and when it’s funny (the bumbling cops, Jack’s deadpan line-delivery “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”) it never feels out of place. The same goes for when it delivers the horror – somehow it just all works. The music should also get a special mention, with each song title having some mention of the moon, and they are all delivered memorably. This is Landis’ best movie, the tone, those classic sequences (the tube station scene) and a simple concept brilliantly put together makes for not just a great horror movie – but one of the ‘great’ movies.

The Blu-ray limited edition I picked from Arrow Video is a collector’s dream. Housed in a hard case and with specially created artwork, a fold-out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet – that’s just the start. The movie, although grainy boasts a new restoration and is in great shape – with impressive detail along with good colour vibrancy and depth in dark scenes. The soundtrack in a choice of the original mono and 5.1. DTS Master Audio has clear dialogue and especially showcases the music cues. Surrounds also come alive during the climactic Piccadilli Circus sequence. Extras consist of two commentaries; one from actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, and the other with filmmaker Paul Davis. Add to this several making of/behind the scenes featurettes and interviews with John Landis and Rick Baker, story boards, outtakes etc and this is one impressive package.

Verdict:

(the movie) Essential

(the Blu-ray) Essential

Eraserhead


Viewed – 21 October 2020 Blu-ray

And the award for strangest movie I’ve ever seen goes to… yes, I’ve finally watched surreal genius director David Lynch’s bonkers 1977 debut. I went into this prepared for a strange and unique experience – but wasn’t expecting how entrancing an experience it was. Jack Nance (credited as John Nance) plays Henry, an oddball character in a rather awkward relationship with a girl, who has a baby who turns out deformed and premature.

Strange days…

Yeah it’s a weird story filled with surreal images that cover anxiety, nightmares and hallucinations. This is shot in eye-catching black & white, emphasising lingering shots, a creepy industrial setting and a constant soundscape of exaggerated effects from steaming radiators to grinding of teeth (and one unnerving moment of puppies suckling on a dog). Lynch’s eye for bizarre imagery, uncomfortable character interactions (including a very strange dinner table scene) foreshadow where he went with movies like Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. Clearly he was a unique voice in movie making from the start.

Not as scary as some of Lynch’s other work and a simpler concept overall, but the imagery is mesmerising, strangely amusing at times and quite revolting at others. An interesting, bizarre and strangely entertaining debut.

The Blu-Ray from the U.K. division of The Criterion Colection has a brand new 4K restored image, that although in black & white looks clean and atmospheric. The uncompressed stereo soundtrack especially showcases the often unnerving sound effects. However it’s in the extras where this release excels; archival footage with cast and crew, an 85 minute documentary from 2001, directed by David Lynch, and there’s also several of Lynch’s suitably strange short films, along with a second documentary from 2014. The release also comes with a comprehensive booklet that includes an interview with David Lynch, taken from filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book ‘Lynch on Lynch’. As a long time fan of the director, this is solid gold.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

The Babysitter: Killer Queen


Viewed – 17 October 2020 Netflix

I wasn’t exactly blown away with the surprise sleeper hit that was the first movie, but it was still fun if trashy entertainment with a break out turn from Samara Weaving. However it clearly was popular enough to spawn a sequel. Set three years after the first movie, nerdy kid Cole is now in High School and labelled a bit of a nutcase as he told a lot of people about his babysitter’s satanic blood cult. So yeah he’s having trouble fitting in. One day though his best friend invites him to a getaway on a boat out in the wilderness – yeah, isolated in the middle of nowhere, nothing bad is going to happen, right?

If looks could kill…

Directed again by McG (Terminator Salvation) this is trying sooooo hard to be a self-referential horror version of Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It has the crazy editing, video game references, and a funky soundtrack. Oh and plenty of CGI gore. The deaths in the last movie were a major plus, and the same goes here – even if they often look incredibly fake. This is not helped by a script that is painfully unfunny, which really needs to be funny. The cast, with many returning faces from last time, are constantly spouting what they think is clever, pop-culture fused dialogue but it has very forced delivery that just falls flat. It all screams of trying too hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed some of McG’s movies in the past, and his style can work given better material … but this just feels lazy. There’s times when it looks like it’s happening on a cheap sound stage, and I could have sworn one bit looked like terrible green screen, and it even has a jump scare that makes zero sense (a peeing gag). The ending was a slight step up, with an interesting twist – but overall this really wasn’t worth it.

Verdict: Avoid

Easy Rider


Viewed – 10 October Blu-Ray

Everyone knows the song… ‘Born To Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf – it’s probably the most famous thing about this 1969 classic road movie, and along with its cast of Hollywood rebels like Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson – the movie was destined for the history books. Yet does it deserve to be there? Fonda & Hopper play Wyatt and Billy, two bikers travelling across America to New Orleans to watch the Mardi Gras festival. Along the way they bump into hippies, smoke a lot of pot, annoy the locals and muse on life on the road.

Get your motor running…

There’s no real story here. It’s just two guys driving around, not really encountering much of significance, doing drugs and meeting folk. In fact I found it rather boring. I’ll admit some of the outback scenery is beautifully shot, the camera work is occasionally creative, the soundtrack has some memorable songs and Fonda & Hopper (who also directs) are likeable. An appearance by Jack Nicholson is a fun diversion but short lived and the ending pretty much makes everything that comes before rather pointless.

It’s frustrating as this is regarded as a classic, but there I found little evidence on screen to support that status. I’d heard it was one of a bunch of movies made outside of the ‘Hollywood system’ and is clearly all done on a shoestring budget – which I can appreciate, but when the movie looks like it barely has a script, I have to ask … why bother?

This release, from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection boasts a decent, newly restored image quality, that whilst grainy is colourful and has depth. The movie is presented in DTS HD Master Audio in both 2.0 and 5.1 options, and there’s also an uncompressed mono soundtrack. Dialogue is generally clear and the various music cues sound great. Extras as with many Criterion releases are plentiful: two documentaries, footage from Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper’s appearance at Cannes, as well as trailers. The cream of the crop though is two commentaries, one from Dennis Hopper, the other from Hopper, Fonda and production manager Paul Lewis. The release also comes with a fold-out booklet with a new essay from Matt Zoller Seitz. Pretty great for a movie that has a fascinating history which for me was more worthwhile looking into than the movie itself. This release is therefore a must for fans and probably still worth picking up for enthusiasts of cinema history. Yet, if you’re neither I’d give it a miss.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended