Prince of Darkness


Viewed – 20 January 2019

In my ongoing quest to watch and review director John Carpenter’s back-catalogue, we come to this 1987 somewhat ignored entry in his filmography.  Starring genre favourite and Carpenter regular Donald Pleasence as a priest who stumbles upon a decades long secret held by a church, that has been housing a sinister, mysterious force in it’s basement.  On the death of the priest last given the task of keeping the secret er…secret, Pleasence turns to a college professor (Big Trouble in Little China’s Victor Wong) who recruits a group of students to monitor and understand the strange discovery.

PrinceOfDarkness

I’ve been a fan of this movie for a while, having caught it on TV numerous times.  However on viewing it recently it dawned on me that it’s night quite the sum of it’s parts.  Firstly the acting varies from passable to pretty bad, and dialogue is delivered like the cast are reading autocues, with a consistent lack of feeling.  The setting is at least creepy and unnerving and acts as a character of it’s own, and the weird vat of green mist / goo is suitably is ominous.  Also in the final act the movie cranks up the freakiness and proves effective especially once the evil presence starts taking affect on various characters.  The idea is probably a bit too ambitious for it’s own good and doesn’t quite deliver either in scares or concept, feeling half-finished.  It also takes itself way too seriously.  Not one of Carpenter’s worst, but not up their with his best either.

I didn’t manage to pick up the also available deluxe edition of this Studio Canal release that comes in the same packaging treatment as the recently released Escape from New York and The Fog, but we still get some decent extras.  This includes the always essential John Carpenter commentary, as well as interviews, scene analysis, trailers, behind the scenes featurette and a photo gallery.  The movie itself is in decent shape, with Carpenter’s eerie score proving especially effective in DTS HD 5.1.  Dialogue is also crisp and the movie looks good, if a little smudgy and overly soft in places.  Overall above average treatment for a fun if ultimately unsatisfying movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

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The Fog


Viewed – 09 December 2018. Blu-ray

How am I only now just getting around to seeng this 1980 classic by one of my favourite directors John Carpenter? I think I actually saw bits of it as a child but it never really crossed my path since. So what’s this one about? A quiet fishing town hold an anniversary of the founding of the town following the fateful crashing of a ship against the rocks on its shoreline 100 years previous. However, on this anniversary an ominous fog descends on the town, bringing with it a supernatural threat.

This is a particularly eerie premise that’s done justice by Carpenters assured, pacey direction (hot off the heals of Halloween) and Dean Cundey’s very effective cinematography. A colourful cast of characters including screen legend Janet Leigh as a real-estate agent and real-life daughter Jamie Lee Curtis as a free spirited hitch hiker … bring plenty of personality to proceedings. I was soon intrigued by everyones varying situations, especially that of the town’s lighthouse based resident DJ. The ghosts who lurk in the fog were also unnerving and that thump-thump-thump they make as they knock on doors, only added to the tension and feeling of dread.

It’s all pretty tame by most standards and isn’t all that scary or shocking, but with a setting that resembles to good effect Jaws and even Hitchcock’s The Birds, this slight but effective genre-offering still proved very entertaining.

Studio Canal are releasing several of John Carpenter’s back catalogue in special editions and this one is very special. In deluxe gatefold packaging, this comes with a poster, art cards, a detailed booklet, with the movie on 4K UHD as well as Blu-ray. I didn’t get chance to sample the 4K disc, but the image quality on the Blu-ray, for a mostly night-set movie is very pleasing and offers up some good detail. The sound is presented in standard stereo or 5.1 DTS Master Audio which proves effective if naturally not a surround sound showcase. Extras are plentiful including an archive commentary from Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, along with another commentary from key cast and crew. On a second disc we get trailers, behind the scenes features, storyboards and a scene analysis by Carpenter amongst other bits and bobs. They even throw in the CD soundtrack. Exceptional treatment for a somewhat forgotten, but still worthy horror classic.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 5 /5

Escape From New York


Viewed – 25 November 2018. Blu-ray

Director John Carpenter remains one of my favourite directors of all time. That’s not to say all his movies are masterpieces, but he firmly places his signature on all of them and I usually come away enjoying many aspects. The same can said for this cult favourite from 1981.

Kurt Russell plays Snake Plisken, a legendary soldier who on his arrival at a maximum security prison facility thats taken over Manhattan island in a futuristic version of New York … is about to be incarcerated for armed robbery. However after the President’s plane gets hijacked and he’s forced to board an escape pod launched into said prison island, the government call on Snake to go on a rescue mission. I remember loving this concept as a kid and hell, nobody looks more bad-ass than Kurt Russell with an eye patch and a semi-automatic. However I also recall not really being that into the movie itself.

Not much has changed. This is a particularly moody piece disguised as an action-thriller. It has all the required ingredients of pure popcorn entertainment, but somethings missing. The movie takes its time throughout and lacks any real thrills (not helped by what appears to be a tiny budget). However Carpenter helps by sprinkling several colourful characters here and there (with a stand-out Harry Dean Stanton) and along with Dean Cundey’s atmospheric and gloomy cinematography mixed with Carpenters own synth score, this still held my attention. Donald Pleasance, a Carpenter regular also pops up as the President, although lacks his usual presence. Overall this is Kurt Russell’s show and he’s great as a character way cooler than the movie he’s in, and every second the character is on screen, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised. One of those cult favourites still worth a watch, but not as memorable as its reputation might have you believe.

This new Blu-ray from Studio Canal comes in deluxe fold-out packaging boasting a poster, art cards and a detailed booklet. The movie is in decent shape (offered up in both 4K and HD editions) boosted by two soundtrack options that includes a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that although far from a surround showcase, sounds heftier and sharper than the otherwise acceptable stereo score. The picture whilst understandably gloomy is detailed and does the job marred only by an overly soft presentation. I didn’t get to check out the 4K transfer as I don’t have access currently to a 4K screen. Extras consist of a 52 minute documentary, deleted scenes etc. and four commentaries – which round off a very impressive package. Oh and they threw the CD soundtrack in also.

Verdict;

(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5

Halloween


Viewed – 23 October 2018. Cinema

The prospect of a new entry in this long running franchise, for me would always come with a degree of trepidation . Previously Rob Zombie attempted to reboot it with his remake and then the ill-conceived Halloween 2, one of the worst horror movies I’ve seen. So we come to this latest attempt … how does it fair?

A sequel set 40 years after the events of the original 1978 movie has Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode now a paranoid recluse, estranged from her family and still planning for masked-killer Michael Myers’ return. Seems like on Halloween night she’s finally going to get her wish. With production overseen by John Carpenter himself yet directed by David Gordon Green, from the start this feels like familiar territory. However unlike the 2008 reboot it’s only trying to pick up years after, reintroduce characters, see where they are now … and then get on with being a straight forward yet slickly made slasher movie. Gone is some of the tension and stalking but in place is a ferocious force of nature Michael Myers, who doesn’t need analysing or figuring out … he’s just pure evil. So of course it’s time for Laurie to stop him.

The movie gives ample screen time to new characters, most welcomely Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter and there’s several subtle, clever nods to that original classic. Add to this a newly commissioned score from Carpenter and this really feels like the sequel we’ve always wanted. The important thing here is that the film-makers respect and understand the material and it makes for a thrilling, often unnerving and very effective experience. Granted, it could have been bloodier, some kills being hidden by (a little too) fancy editing, and that lack of slow stalking weakens the atmosphere early on, but considering what’s come before … this remains a triumph.

Verdict: 4 /5

The Thing


Viewed – 24 October 2017  Blu-ray

Growing up I must have seen this movie on TV several times, and always marvelled not only at the atmosphere and setting, but those incredible creature effects by makeup artist Rob Bottin.  Over the years CGI has taken over considerably, the recent ‘prequel’ being a noteworthy example of CGI not able to replace decent practical effects, and so despite this being over thirty years old, how does it hold up compared to today’s offerings?

The Thing-Kurt-Russell

Kurt Russell leads a cast of characters which bare at least thematically a resemblance to the crew of Alien’s Nostromo.  These guys, working at a remote research facility in the Antarctic are not marines, but simple blue-collar workers, not unlike what you’d find of an oil rig … who are about to get an unexpected and unwelcome visitor.  Director John Carpenter took inspiration from 50s b-movie The Thing From Outer Space, but brings his own personality and considerable directing chops to deliver probably one of the stand out horror movies of the 80’s.  Colourful characters bring a realism to the movie that works well and the cast all do a fine job with Russell proving a great lead.  The setting is also claustrophobic and well filmed; combining a mix of traditional cinematography with hand-held camera work.  Once the ‘thing’ starts imitating various characters, tension ramps up and it became pretty disturbing and scary, especially with how the characters convey their paranoia and fear for those they once called friends.  However the star of the show is the creature itself and it’s transformations and gory appearances are stuff of cinematic legend by now – and all these years later still impress.  The scenes with tentacles, spiders legs and all sorts of other things still sent shivers my way.  Yet Carpenter sensibly chose to make this as much a character piece as a creature feature and for that reason it excels.Thing Arrow VideoArrow Video once again deliver a stunning package with the movie’s latest treatment on Blu-ray, improving immeasurably over the previous Universal release which suffered from lip-sync problems.  Here we get a 4K restoration boasting a clean, detailed image free of dust or damage and in fine shape, even if it’s not the most vibrant movie you’ll see.  All those gory details certainly get showcased however.  Add to this a choice of original 2.0 Stereo, 4.1 and also DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio, and along with Ennio Morricone’s ominous score and clear dialogue – this is impressive stuff.  Now as usual Arrow don’t shirk on the special features and here we get two audio commentaries; firstly an archive Kurt Russell & John Carpenter one which feels like two old time buddies watching a movie together, complete with laugh-out-loud reactions to certain scenes.  The other is a commentary by a trio of podcasters that’s well worth a listen for endless titbits and geeky knowledge.  We also get several featurettes, some archive, some new that are well worth dipping into if you’re a fan (and let’s admit it, if you’re reading this you already are).  The Blu-ray limited edition I picked up also comes with a fold out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet as well as fancy slip case packaging.  Which makes this edition essential.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5