The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


Viewed – 20 June 2017  Blu-ray

Cult Italian horror auteur Dario Argento’s 1970 debut, has all the trade marks that have distinguished his career right through to the present.  The black gloved killer, beautiful female victims, superb camera work, an effective, characteristically unnerving musical score, and grand set-piece murders.  Tony Musante plays an American writer travelling in Rome with his girlfriend (the gorgeously photogenic Suzy Kendall, who resembles like a young Suzanne George), when he witnesses an attempted murder on a local female gallery owner by a dark figure dressed in a black raincoat.  He quickly becomes amateur sleuth after the local detective takes away his passport, and soon further murders take place and he grows ever closer to unmasking the assailant.

Although by no means as graphic as the director’s other works, this well told murder mystery harks back to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock in both the theme and iconic imagery.  Dario Argento has been often labelled the Italian Hitchcock, and with this thriller such a label is hard to deny.  Yet although his work has become more abstract and bizarre over the years, and such creating a style that is distinctly his own, with this effective film, the director made a mark in cinema that introduced the world to a bold and brilliant new visionary.  Engaging performances by its lead actors (especially Musante), several colourful, odd-ball characters and situations that really get your pulse racing create a distinctly classy thriller right up their with the director’s best.  

Bird with the Crytsal Plumage

This newly restored 4k transfer from the always dependable guys at Arrow Video comes in a deluxe box set that boasts a vintage poster, a detailed booklet and the movie itself on both Blu-ray and DVD complete with a plethora of extras.  We get an essential audio commentary by Argento expert Troy Howarth as well as a new interview with the director, featurettes, trailers and newly commissioned artwork with a reversible sleeve.  Add to this 6 art cards.  The movie itself is in great shape with a clean, grainy image that only suffers from somewhat garish colours (which I’ll admit suit the era the movie was made in).  The soundtrack may only be in it’s original mono audio but is still effective, especially with composer Ennio Morricone’s memorable, haunting score.  An impressive treatment for a genuine classic of the Italian giallo genre.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Split


Viewed – 06 June 2017  online-rental

It’s probably safe to say that acclaimed director M Night Shyamalan has been off his game for a few years, with such poorly received movies as The Last Airbender and The Happening.  However recently there seems to have been a slight return to form, what with the well received The Visit and now this much talked about thriller.  James McAvoy plays a disturbed man who suffers from dissociative personality disorder and claims to have 23 different personalities all vying for attention.  Told with a combination of visits to his psychiatrist and the kidnapping of three young women by his more sociopathic personalities, this sets the stage for a clever little thriller, held together by a demanding and often eye-opening performance.

Split

The initial impression I got from the trailer (and I tend to avoid trailers for the most part) wasn’t all that positive despite plenty of good word-of-mouth.  McAvoy you see delivers a myriad of different performances here, some menacing, others it has to be said rather absurd and silly (do we really need him to do a rather dodgy impression of a nine year old boy, complete with a lisp?) and less said about the campy female personality the better.  Which is a shame as Shyamalan’s direction is tight and atmospheric, full of eerie camera movement not unlike something from a Hitchcock movie and great use of claustrophobic locations.  The three turns from the kidnapped girls are also good, especially from The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy (an actress who continues to impress).  However a final twist involving a 24th personality throws the movie into schlocky horror, doing away with it’s otherwise semi-realistic tone … and well, we get a final scene that adds a connection to an earlier Shyamalan movie that just felt forced.

However with what has to be said is a colourful and impressive turn from McAvoy (his transitions from certain personalities are damn freaky) and bags of tension I still found myself entertained.  Just sad the idea promised much more than the movie could eventually deliver.

Verdict:  3 /5

I Am Not A Serial Killer


This relatively unknown, low budget indie thriller caught my eye due to it’s concept.  A teenage kid who believes he could become a serial killer due to an obsession with murderers and his own sociopathic behaviour, stumbles on an actual serial killer case in his home town.  That’s a (pun intended) killer concept right there.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Borrowing a tad from the overall plot of Dexter (takes a serial killer to track a serial killer) and with a ghoulish tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, I was easily along for the ride.  The idea of exploring serial killers and lending that knowledge to tracking one down is interesting, but my gripe with this is that it’s a movie that doesn’t entirely have the balls to follow through on it’s concept.  That being said performances are decent, especially genre legend Christopher Lloyd and young unknown Max Records (who clearly has to open a vinyl store).  I also thought the killer’s motives were strangely sympathetic and at times it did get pretty grim and macabre (the lead character also works in a mortuary, so is surrounded by death).   Now I’m going a little into spoiler territory in the next paragraph so if you want to go into this one totally fresh STOP READING NOW.

(mild spoilers).  My issue is that the killer is not human, but some sort of creature and like movies before it (Jeepers Creepers, IT) that began promisingly with an eerie villain but later descend into ‘its a monster or an alien’ when they’re finally unmasked is both lazy and rather contrived.  Why not make the serial killer a human being?  Or is that a little too close to reality?

Some out of place choices of rock music ruin the mood occasionally, and overall it came off like an extended X-Files episode (not a bad thing).  However I still managed to enjoy this despite it’s shortcomings and a reliance on horror movie convention.

Verdict:  3 /5

Phenomena


Viewed – 10 May 2017  Blu-ray

International Version

I went through a phase of collecting the movies of revered Italian horror director Dario Argento in the early-to-mid 2000s, and had nearly every movie he’d made on DVD, whilst always trying to seek out the most complete, uncut versions of his art.  With the advent of Blu-ray I sort of began collecting again, to a less obsessive extent but have been happy to see some of his movies get deluxe releases in recent times.  Therefore we come to one of his more bizarre and most mistreated works.

Jennifer Connelly

Just prior to finding world-wide fame in children’s fantasy ‘Labyrinth’ this stars a young Jennifer Connelly as a student who comes to stay at an elite school for girls in Switzerland and quickly befriends her rebellious roommate.   However at the same time there have been reports of a series of brutal murders involving female students and with the help of a paraplegic insect expert played by genre legend Donald Pleasence and Jennifer’s own ability to communicate with insects, an investigation ensues to unmask a killer.

This blends two of Argento’s favourite styles; dark-fantasy and murder mystery and is very similar in tone to his acclaimed classic ‘Suspiria’, sort of a spiritual successor you might say.  However unlike that movie this lacks the excessive style and garish colour pallet (despite a few visual flourishes here and there).  We also get some woefully amateurish performances, even from Pleasance who sports a dodgy accent throughout (is he attempting Scottish?) and dialogue is delivered for the most part personality-free.  The plot is also a bit messy and not very well written with some faintly ridiculous moments (Jennifer declaring to a bunch of bullying schoolgirls “I love you all” and Pleasence happily sending Jennifer to track down a killer).  However if you can look past such shortcomings you still get an entertaining and suitably-violent ride with several great set-pieces and excellent use of a pulse pounding score by not only Argento regulars ‘Goblin’ but also ‘Iron Maiden’ and ‘Motorhead’.  Far from Argento’s best, but with a b-movie schlocky vibe to it all, there’s still fun to be had and remains streets ahead of the director’s more recent work.  There’s also a chimp brandishing a straight razor – so what’s not to love?

Arrow Video

The Blu-ray, another impressive job from Arrow Video comes with three cuts of the movie, the International Version at 110mins, the slightly longer Italian Version at 116mins and the heavily cut Creepers U.S. release at 83mins.  My preference is the International Version even if it has some long drawn out moments of throwaway dialogue that could easily have been trimmed.  The Italian Version is pretty similar but has inserts of Italian-only scenes complete with subtitles but is great for completionists.  I haven’t watched the Creepers cut but hear it’s not good at all.    The new 4k restoration of the image is very good however.  Clean and mostly pretty detailed.  The soundtrack (in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo) is also very pleasing even if dialogue sounded a bit low (especially noticeable when the music kicks in) and surrounds are given some love with the various music inserts.  Extras are plentiful with a feature length documentary consisting of new interviews with Dario Argento, actors Daria Nicolodi and Fiore Argento (no sign of Connelly sadly) and with production crew and effects artists.  We also get a brilliant commentary on the Italian Version by author Troy Howarth.  Rounding out the release is a detailed 60 page booklet.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Dark Water


Back in the day I was confident that the Japanese version of The Ring (aka Ringu) was the scariest movie I had ever seen.  However in subsequent years the reputation of Jap horror and it’s uprising has been diluted by a series of inferior American remakes and over-use of some of its tropes (there’s always a dead girl with long hair over her face).  So my attention waned.  Yet recently I’d been craving that ‘something special’ I had originally stumbled upon, and so I found myself lured back when I saw this get the special edition treatment.

Dark Water

Coming from the director of the Ring movies, Hideo Nakata my hopes were high and although I’m aware of the U.S. remake of the same name I’ve never bothered to see it.  Here we have a fairly familiar story of a single mother and her little girl, who move into a run down apartment building during a messy custody battle between the woman and her ex-husband.  Whilst there, it becomes clear there’s a strange presence, seemingly linked to a patch of water coming through the ceiling of the apartment.  Set in an eerie pastel-grey coloured building, the atmosphere is one of stillness and gently growing dread.  Performances on a whole are decent but it’s the story that intrigues, helped in no small way by Nakata’s masterly direction that fills the rather slow pace with discomfort and genuine creepiness.  I’ve said it before but something that is sorely lost when such movies get remade, is a sense of their setting, something that works particularly well here.  Something about how Japanese actors portray themselves, their formalities and customs and how they interact with one another can be ‘eerie’ at times, and it’s no different here.  The mystery at the heart of this is a good one and builds to an intense climax with at least one truly terrifying moment.  It may not be that far removed from what Nakata did in Ring, but how he makes something as familiar as water, constant rain or an over-flowing bath unnerving, is an accomplishment in it’s self.  One of the other great Jap horrors you might have missed … that’s well worth seeking out.

Dark Water ArrowAs expected from Arrow Video this is another packed Blu-ray release.  Image quality is a little underwhelming whilst clean but very soft, seeming to lack fine detail overall but does it’s job for what is purposely a dreary looking movie.  I should add that on the whole the subtitles are good but occasionally white backgrounds can cause some of them to become less clear to read.  Sound is much more impressive and helps build up atmosphere with good separation to make things like running footsteps and dripping water very effective.  We also get a detailed booklet in the case as well as the Blu-ray & DVD.  Extras consist of several featurettes including interviews with cast, as well as a couple more pieces, one being a new interview with Hideo Nakata, discussing his work and themes.  No commentary isn’t all that surprising, and along with dual sided cover art, this is another decent release.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5