Encounters In The Deep/Encuentro en el abismo - 1979 Italy d: Anthony Richmond (Tonino Ricci)

If you're young you have to remember that Fortean matters were big business for a time in the 70s. Charles Berlitz and Erich von Daniken sold millions of books, there were all kinds of TV shows about "unsolved mysteries", UFOs and the like, whilst Patrick Duffy flashed his webbed fingers as "The Man From Atlantis". Films were inevitable. The biggest of these was, of course, Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, but there were such things as Legend Of Boggy Creek (a surprise hit in the US that cost bugger all but took loads!), The Bermuda Triangle (actually two films called this came out around the same time in the 70s, one by exploitation legend René Cardona Jr), huge budget all-star Hollywood disaster film Airport '77 dabbled in adding The Bermuda Triangle to the story, and so on and so on. As I said, Fortean weirdness was big business.

As with any other trend, the Italian film industry could not ignore it. And so it was that - with very little money - Italian cult journeyman director Tonino Ricci made two films related to weirdness in the seas near Bermuda. The first of these films also managed to cram shark threat into the story (also big business in the 70s, of course!). This mish-mash of mind-controlled sharks, underwater people and The Bermuda Triangle was variously called Bermude: la fosse maladetta, Cave Of The Sharks or variations thereon, and it must have done enough box office for someone to allow Ricci to return to Bermuda to combine the Triangle myth with another of Spielberg's hits, this time Close Encounters instead of Jaws.

And so it was that the world came to receive Encounters In The Deep. Even by the standards of low budget Italian rip-off cinema this is something quite remarkable. It is one of the clumsiest, most disjointed, desperate, narratively thin and just plain bizarre excuses for a film Italy ever came out with. And it is marvellous for it.

The story is all over the place! Threads are started, ignored for ages, then suddenly remembered. Weirdly, it all actually comes together at the end! Astonishing! Technically everything is perfunctory, nothing excels, yet nothing is truly awful - kind of average 70s TV film quality. And then there's the acting and dubbing...the performances of the main cast are fine really, as you would expect for an Italian cult cast of the time, but the smaller parts...dear Lord! There are several people playing sailors who seem terrified to be delivering lines and look like they've been grabbed off the street and slapped into a white uniform! It is hard to believe that these were the best takes! And the dubbing doesn't help either. This is just awful! The dubbing actors are as bad as the actors on screen (or are trying to compensate!), with terrible delivery, weak voices and awkward mid-sentence pauses. But chief amongst the issues rendering this hilarious is the dreadful, dreadful dialogue written for this. Clearly poorly translated from Italian, the dialogue is joyously bad. I found myself rewinding to hear lines again. This redefines clumsy dialogue writing for me. There is a German Shepherd key to the plot who delivers one of the better performances in the film.

And then there is Gianni Garko. One of my very favourite actors from the Spaghetti Western era, this man was a charismatic and cool performer, handsome and brooding, but capable of lightness and humour - the perfect midway point between Franco Nero and George Hilton. Here he looks tired, his hair is receding and he suffers the indignity of a truly embarrassing pair of Speedos for far too much screen time! He tries to give his best - you can tell - but then all his efforts are crushed by the single most inappropriate dubbed English voice I have ever heard in any film. He is given the voice of a dim-witted American sidekick that makes him hilarious. You have never seen a voice less suited to the person from which it is coming.

So, the film stumbles along, treating us to some of the laziest special effects ever seen, as the characters investigate disappearances, until the end. Now I was not going to spoil the end, but I have to. This is not an easy film to see and it is so special. So spoilers follow...

A mysterious grotto is found and it turns out to be an uncharted island populated by aliens. Ah, the aliens! They only actually appear very briefly onscreen and they are magnificent. The alien design here consists of an attempt at Close Encounters-esque "grey" type extraterrestrials. However here, they are rendered through the genius idea of getting several slightly boyish figured women to wear skintight silver spandex catsuits and a head-encasing silver-grey crash helmet and then move in a slightly mysterious manner. Wonderful. Then in a stone cold rip-off of Spielberg, all the disappeared people are on the island surrounded by white light looking beatific and urging the heroes to join them. Then the island blows up and a spaceship flies out of the island into the stars.

I know I have rambled on about this film, but I feel like I have made a magnificent discovery. This is excellently bad. Ed Wood bad. Thoroughly enjoyable and often jaw-dropping to behold. I shall treasure my dodgy 23rd Century DVD of this film. I shall introduce it to the chosen. I feel like something very special has come into my life. I feel strangely honoured.


Insidious - 2011 USA d:James Wan

Insidious is the latest horror offering from Australian duo Leigh Whannell and James Wan, the writer/director team behind the phenomenally popular Saw franchise.  This time they take on the supernatural in this twisted take on the haunted house and possession genres.  Like Saw (at least the first film in the series) the accent is on suspense, but here their tale is comparatively bloodless and grue-free.

To cut to the chase, there is nothing new on offer here. The film is so reminiscent of its antecedents that for much of its length it seems like an uncredited remake of Poltergeist, right down to the team of psychic investigators made up of two bumbling idiot men and their kindly, concerned female superior (here melded with the Zelda Rubinstein medium character).  But this film is in no way in the same league as Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic, and comes off as a poor and clumsy rehash.  And there is considerable debt to recent money machine Paranormal Activity in the film's earlier moments (that film's writer-director is a producer here).

That is not to say that Insidious is an entirely bad film, exactly; throughout I kept wondering, if I was much younger (I would suppose the intended demographic for this picture is teens in the 15 to 18 age bracket), and had not seen as many films of this ilk as I have, might I have been more sympathetic in my appraisal? It's shot efficiently enough, the acting is more than adequate - indeed, Patrick Wilson is very good and the usually reliable Barbara Hershey is reliable, as usual - and the themes are eternally resonant genre staples. But it's not enough. There have been too many too similar yet far better films. The piece is shot through with a sense of the "second hand" and the glacial pace (these are 100 of the slowest minutes you will ever sit through) gives ample opportunity to ruminate upon the negatives.  Ultimately the film tries the same old hackneyed shock jumps and Halloween party make-up jobs as its desperate attempt at a winning hand.  It's a sad experience in the end.

And yet, for all that, it is probably Wan and Whannell's most accomplished film to date. Saw may have kicked off a phenomenon but it was, when all was said and done, merely a moderately efficient time-waster, and the less said about Dead Silence, the abysmal ventriloquist's dummy horror they made, the better. Insidious is better than that. It has a grander sense of scale, actual characters with personalities drawn up on screen and more assured style to the camerawork. It gives the inkling that here is a cinematic partnership beginning to "grow up".

I could imagine some audiences being won over by Insidious, audiences unfamiliar with genre history who just want a few jumps to knock the popcorn from their hands, but I feel that more seasoned horror fans will be left wanting and wondering what might have been.


Black Swan - 2010 USA d: Darren Aronofsky

It seems appropriate that I return to this blog with a review of a film which, like the last film I reviewed "Knight Moves", is in debt up to its teeth to the works of Dario Argento. However, this film is in a different league to "Knight Moves", indeed a different league to most of that which Argento himself has made in the last 24 years...

...much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot   - Poe, "The Conqueror Worm", 1843

With Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky has finally dived into the horror film after much toe-dipping in the genre with his previous films.  Whether consciously or not he has looked back to the work of past masters of the game for help with this venture; Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, Dario Argento. Most especially Dario Argento.  Black Swan is astonishingly unoriginal and derivative, yet that it feels so fresh and compelling nonetheless is testament to the skill behind and before the camera.

The film concerns a rising ballerina whose desperation for success and perfection leads to insanity and horror. That is pretty much it. This film is not about plot. It is about style and mood, and here it delivers in copious wonderful quantities. The film looks great, even if some symbolism is presented rather heavy-handedly, and a creeping air of menace and confusion is successfully sustained through to the finale.  There is nothing new to be seen, but the familiarity has been given one hell of a spit-shine.

The main area where Aronofsky leaves Argento in the dirt is in his handling of actors.  Perfomances here are excellent. Vincent Cassel, Natalie Portman and, especially, Barbara Hershey command their rôles, and very able support comes from Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder.  Aronofsky works this cast splendidly and never a false note is seen.  The performers "get" the spirit of the film and fit within perfectly.

There are occasions where the stylised camerawork feels a little intrusive, but for the most part the film is expertly and appropriately photographed.  Claustrophobic closeness and unnerving expanses of stage are danced between well, good editing further helping.  The colour scheme is mostly black and white (as you would expect considering the "Swan Lake" setting) but dashes of colour (gaudy wallpaper, red lipstick, sudden blood) appear on top of this background.  The film looks good.

Having praised the film, I do have to say I don't think it warranted the massive hype it garnered. It's a very good film, but it's no masterpiece.  It is efficient and does its job, but it does not go further.  Where, for example, to pick an obvious film of comparison, Powell and Pressburger took their tragic ballet story The Red Shoes and turned cinema on its head, stretching into magical imagery, Black Swan merely does its job. It does it well, but one feels it could have gone further.

So, a splendid film, and one I would recommend to anyone with the stomach and head for surreal madness. Could it have been more? I suppose we will never know. But at least we have a pretty damned good try.  It would be nice if Aronofsky could create a similarly powerful film without relying so heavily upon that which has gone before. Influence is one thing, so is homage, Aronofsky gets dangerously close to "rip off". Sheer skill, verve and gall deflect this. He's one to watch for sure, I suspect he has more to give us.


Knight Moves - 1992 USA d: Carl Schenkel

An under-rated thriller from a talented director whose career never lived up to promise of his 1984 film Abwärts and who died, sadly young, in 2003.  The film looks and plays like a Hollywood tribute to Italian gialli thrillers and liberally lifts from them - especially the works of Dario Argento who is "quoted" from freely throughout. However, rather than a rag-tag homage/rip-off, the film works as a slightly tongue in cheek Americanisation. I suspect having Europeans at the helm helped a lot here.

Christophe Lambert is probably not anybody's idea of a great actor, and though he seems out of his depth here alongside Diane Lane and Ferdy Mayne and so on, his performance is quite appropriate. There's a twinkle of menace to his eyes and he brings a looming shadow of darkness to his part as hero, which is entirely in keeping with the script. The rest of the cast are fine, but it is Lambert who - surprisingly - carries it.

Set against the unlikely (and amusing) backdrop of professional chess, this is a fine old whodunnit and howwillhedoitnext tale with murders a-plenty, red herrings, flummoxed police, beautiful camerawork and women/a child in peril. A full-on Giallo in all but nationality! If that genre interests you, then there will be plenty to enjoy here.  Well worth seeking out, if murder mystery thrillers are your bag.


Offspring - 2009 USA d: Andrew van Den Houten

In a world where lovelorn teenagers swoon over camp vampires in an effort to promote abstinence, Jack Ketchum is one of the most powerful providers of gut churning, rich, emotionally devastating horror literature.  His breakthrough novel "Off Season" updated the Sawney Beane myth and placed it on an isolated American coast in the present day. This tale of a savage cannibal clan spawned a sequel, "Offspring", and the film considered here is an adaptation of that sequel, the screenplay by Ketchum himself.

The director, Andrew van den Houten, had previously produced the excellent and harrowing film version of Ketchum's masterpiece The Girl Next Door, and like that film, Offspring is extremely successful in transferring the mood and tone of Ketchum's writing to the screen. It's a simple story really - cannibals terrorise citizens revealing the frailties of modern society as it happens. It's The Hills Have Eyes territory. But this is not in a far off desert, this is in your very back garden and your own living room. There is some police procedural stuff as the cannibal's cave is sought and it is handled well, not disrupting the action or flow.

The cast are good - especially Art Hindle and Polyanna McIntosh as retired cop and leader of the clan respectively. The film is shot in a bleak and dark style which compounds the air of hopelessness throughout. The scenes of horror are full-blooded and potent - plenty of gore and violence.  The lead protagonist ends up being a young boy which offers a nice change to "The Final Girl" and he is very ably played by Tommy Nelson.

This is a superior horror film. It tears into your eyes and brain unapologetically making a mockery of Hollywood franchise horror like Saw or Final Destination.  This is horror how it used to be done. And it is done very, very well.


La polizia chiede aiuto/What Have They Done To Your Daughters? - 1974 Italy d: Massimo Dallamano

This is an intense and compelling "corruption of the young" themed police thriller (the so-called Poliziotteschi genre) from the director of the masterful What Have You Done To Solange?.  After a teenage girl is found hanging naked in a rented attic, a tale of murder, enforced prostitution of minors and the involvement of citizens of regard unfolds as the police and Assistant DA investigate.  This is a straight thriller with no relieving humour, the whole enterprise is dark toned and bleak.

The leads are ably played with suitable intensity and conviction by Claudio Cassinelli and Giovanna Ralli and they are backed up by a cast who really seem to have been involved in this film. As also evident in ...Solange? Dallamano seems to be one of the best directors of actors within the Italian genre scene of the 1970s. He is a fine stylist also, and the film is a treat for the eyes with superb use of sets to heighten the mystery and unease (a chase through unnerving hospital corridors, stalking in an enclosed car park and so on). The film's action scenes are exceptional with a top quality car/motorbike chase that is real edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Shameless Screen Entertainment present this film on DVD in its longest form yet, and with excellent picture quality. A loving and respectful release that the film entirely deserves. it is truly a masterpiece of Italian genre cinema and, as close as it is to the excellence of What Have You Done To Solange?, further evidence of the talent of Massimo Dallamano, who would die at only 59, two years after this film was released.

For Eurocult fans this is absolutely essential viewing, but the film is strong enough to appeal to mainstream thriller watchers too. A fantastic film.


Pineapple Express - 2008 USA d: David Gordon Green

This is the Judd Apatow Comedy Empire's attempt at Stoner Schtick, though it does rather improbably veer into action territory later on.  Seth Rogen revisits his affable loser persona once again and James Franco appears as his pot dealer, the pair finding themselves in serious trouble with the bad guys after Rogen's character witnesses a murder. And so it goes.

The film is not up to the quality of other Apatow connected comedies such as Superbad, Get Him To The Greek or The 40 Year Old Virgin, indeed it seems rather lazy and desperate in comparison with those films, but it does have its moments. Sadly they are too few and far between to sustain a film nearly two hours in length.  There is little depth to the characterisation and the story is perfunctory.  The action scenes are well done (a car chase particularly) and seem to stand out with the rest of the film just sort of draped apologetically around them.

A lot depends upon Seth Rogen.  If you buy into his being adorable and funny no matter what then this film will probably work for you, but I couldn't help but think that his lazy laurel resting was simply too much to take here.  He just runs through what made him famous, there is none of the additional depth he would add to his standard character in Zack And Miri Make A Porno here.  It's strictly a run through of old ground.

It's not a terrible film - it is well made and has some decent enough parts, but it just seems not to try very hard.  There's an air of "OK, we're done, that'll do you".  And with Apatow and associates having given us much better and funnier films, that simply isn't good enough.


2011 Oscar Nominations

Washington Post's list of the nominees

I have slipped out of touch - I have only seen one of the films nominated for Best Picture and really don't think it is Best Picture material, fun though it was (Christopher Nolan's Inception).  I should catch up with at least The Social Network, Black Swan, The Kings Speech, and Toy Story 3 before the ceremony, I suppose...and have True Grit or Blue Valentine even opened in the UK yet?

Fingers crossed for the excellent Dogtooth though, which is nominated for the Foreign Language Film award.

Finally, good news about a possible sequel...

Sequels are often a tiresome affair, especially these days.  But there are rumours of a sequel that may well be worth catching: the splendid Michele Soavi seems to be making a follow-up to his excellent 1994 film Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man:


Les Raisins de la Mort/Grapes of Death - 1978 France d: Jean Rollin

As the above poster makes clear this is a film rife for misunderstanding. A film containing nudity, gunplay, "the infected" (living zombie types) and gore may sound like a tacky exploitation film but this is rather different. Perhaps even more so than Rollin's beaches and vampires softcore flicks, this is horror as art. The story is far more accessible than Rollin's other horror films due to the lack of clumsy surrealistic efforts, but nonetheless the film seems more of an art-film for this.

The film is stunningly beautiful.  The bleak desolation of the landscapes and ancient stone villages are lovingly shot with muted colours and Borowczyk-like static camera work.  The story is almost incidental - this film is in love with the landscape and the unease it can generate. The lead actor is perfectly cast - the breath-takingly beautiful Marie-Georges Pascal who gives a fine performance expressing confusion, fear, desperation and collapse into insanity with power and certainty.  Sad to think that she would commit suicide only 7 years after this superb performance.  Pascal seems at one with Rollin's intent and is the anchor at the centre of the piece as chaos unfolds around her.

There is some clumsy editing - music and picture - and some shots that go on a bit too long for no purpose and the whole affair recalls The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue a bit too much, but overall, this is the most satisfying of Rollin's films that I have yet seen - I am annoyed it has taken me so long to catch up with it.

Great stuff.

Il Mostro di Venezia/The Embalmer - 1965 Italy d: Dino Tavella

Although not an especially well made film this is a fascinating piece from a historical point of view.  A serial killer stalks Venice using the canals in frogman suit (Dick Maas - who uses the same plot device in his excellent Amsterdamned from 1988-  must have seen this film when he was growing up!) to surprise his victims and evade capture. Police are not entirely sure these vanishing girls are being killed at all, but a keen young reporter is certain a sex maniac is at large and is determined to make everyone realise this and stop the monster...

What is so interesting about this film is it's clear position as a work of transition within the European genre traditions.  It blends the Italian Gothics with the German Krimi displaying vividly the birth of the Giallo. As such it is a film that must be recommended to anyone with an interest in the family tree of European cult film.

The Demon - 1979 South Africa/Netherlands d: Percival Rubens

In many ways this is a fascinating film: a post-Halloween stalker flick made in South Africa during Apartheid* featuring a ripe Cameron Mitchell performance and some interesting ideas.  In many other ways this is an absolute load of badly made cobblers.  It is between these two viewpoints that The Demon flings you throughout its over-generous running time.

The plot is pretty much irrelevant, but what is interesting is that there seem to be at least two plots – barely connected – almost as if The Demon was shoehorned together from bits and pieces. Perhaps it was made/chucked together to use up abandoned film material?  Who knows...It bobs and weaves from psychic drama to slasher pic to romance all to jarring effect.  It is hard to get involved.  The poor editing complicates all this.

And yet...there is some effectively stark photography at times (when the film isn't too dark to make out – the DVD I saw was mastered from a worn VHS), and the acting is functional enough.  The killer him/itself is an inspired creation and quite chilling at times – with clawed gloves that pre-date Freddie Kruger by half a decade, grunting animalistic vocalisations, a penchant to use cellophane as a murder weapon, abnormal strength and apparent teleportation ability!  A particular aspect I liked is that although you do see some of the killer's home life – press-ups and girly-mags in a dingy room – there is no explanation as to what the being is, why it does what it does, where it comes from, even if it is definitely human or not.  This adds a nice frisson of confusion that, for once, I think was intended.

There is no escaping that The Demon is a complete mess of a film, but it does pass the time better than many and is worth seeing if only to witness the craziness unfold.  It's a shame that the UK DVD is such a poor transfer, as this twisted curio is worth a watch.

* It was this aspect that intrigued me the most. This is a very white South Africa we see here.  It is all posh suburban villas and American-style metropolitan bits of Johannesburg. There is one black face in the film - a servile Stepin Fetchit type doorman who obsequiously opens the door of a fancy restaurant, then the passenger door of a sports car for two of the characters.

Dead End Drive-In - 1986 Australia d:Brian Trenchard-Smith

After the worldwide success of George Miller's Mad Max it was inevitable that a swathe of grungy, punky, near-future SF flicks would appear to cash in.  Australia. of course, had to have a go at this and one result was this film.  This is where it all came together for Brain Trenchard-Smith - undeniably his masterpiece.  A superb story, good script, excellent casting and fantastic look all gel to provide a magnificent slice of SF exploitation.

The inspired story concerns run down drive in cinemas being used to attract and imprison society's "less desirable" elements. Concentration camps with burgers and cola, ready drugs and evening screenings of...well...Australian exploitation films!  The film expertly depicts how this situation wins over most of the apathetic underclass thus imprisoned until they just accept their fate.  Not so our hero, a superb turn from Ned Manning as an at first easy-going, nervous, under-sized bloke who loathes his internment and finds ways to fight the machine and hopefully escape.

This is extremely well done and thoroughly engrossing from the off.  Trenchard-Smith paints a convincing view of Australia in collapse as first unemployed layabouts, then Asian immigrants are blamed for society's fall and each group is locked in the drive-in, with the resultant explosion in racist reaction from the thugs and punks who see their microcosmic drive-in as "home".

See this film. It's that simple.  It is well made (excellent 'scope photography from Paul Murphy), thought provoking and utterly enjoyable.  A clear highpoint of Australian cult film-making...indeed, Australian film-making generally.

1408 - 2007 USA d:Mikael Håfström

Stephen King is not a very good writer, in this reviewer's opinion.  What he is/was, however, is a very good "ideas man".  At thinking up the basic premises of stories he has an astonishing gift.  It is, therefore, quite surprising that other writers have been so unsuccessful in honing and shaping these ideas for the screen.  Of course, there's Carrie and The Shining and Stand By Me and a few others, but the vast majority of King film and TV adaptations have been pretty damned awful, soon settling into a home in the bottom of the bargain basement. And so to 1408.

1408 is a strange film.  It aims to be the ne plus ultra of haunted room tales, and might well have succeeded had it run for thirty or forty minutes.  There simply is not enough material here to sustain an feature film and as a result often waffles, faffs and lays on the sentimentality to fill the running time. So, another King based disaster then?  No.

What 1408 does achieve is at such a high level that it is a film that has to be recommended despite its failings.  Firstly, the atmosphere is quite astonishing. The haunting/phenomena is presented like a psychedelic experience or like the collapse of of rational consciousness.  If ever there was a film that captures the moods and feelings of certain drugs it is this one.  The bulk of the picture is much like someone managed to film a ketamine trip.  A wonderfully novel and intriguing way to present a haunting story.  And then there's John Cusack.  I have always liked Cusack and found him to be a charismatic and likeable actor, but here he is simply breath-takingly remarkable. This is a tour de force of emotional acting - we're talking almost Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, Marlon Brando in Last Tango In Paris level stuff here. He really is that good.

The ultimate condemnation of 1408 is that is simply isn't scary or creepy. There is none of the stark breathless dread of The Haunting or the creeping unease of The Innocents. The affair is too fascinating to be frightening,really.  But if you wanted to be fascinated by the odd approach and mood then this is a must see.  Add to this the masterclass performance from John Cusack and you have a film worth seeking out.

Avatar - 2009 USA d: James Cameron

Pocahontalypse Now...

I expected to hate this film completely, but thought I ought to catch up with it as it's a big, key release.  James Cameron does not do it for me.  I like The Terminator and Aliens but do not rate any of his other films - actively despising them in the cases of The Abyss and Titanic.  And so it was that I expected so very little from Avatar.

Well, it surprised me...not a lot, you understand, but it did surprise me.  The film is monumentally flawed in so very many ways, but I did end up thinking it was just about watchable and probably Cameron's best film since Aliens.  It's certainly technically impressive (as you would expect) and does what it sets out to do.

But, as I said, there are flaws. Huge, unavoidable flaws that stop this being anything other than a third rate (at best) film.  Most obviously is the film's blundering unoriginality. This is a slight story you have seen many times before (Pocahontas, Ferngully and Braveheart spring to mind) here blown up into a massive, out of control monster of a thing that runs tremendously overlong and gives off the impression of looking down on you in the audience. This is a film that screeches, "Look how important and impressive I am! I have no need of good writing, decent dialogue, good soundtrack music or dramatic consistency! I am your God!"...well, near enough!  As this napkin's worth of script is pumped up to two and a half hours and tries desperately to be the next Star Wars, all you can really see is a thin script, entirely recycled, that doesn't know whether to concentrate on spiritual/ecological concerns, criticism of military/capitalist imperialism, mighty action sequences, character development, cartoon or live action...and so it tries them all, half-heartedly and occasionally cringe-inducingly.

But if you are able to turn down your critical brain enough to ride over these flaws and look beneath them, there is an entertaining, rollercoaster of a film to soak up.  Granted it's the kind of rollercoaster you'd find in a run down, under-funded seaside town stuck in the 1950s but with a nice fresh coat of paint.

A very poor film, but not as poor as it probably could have been taking everything into account. It may catch you unawares and drag you along with it.

Frankenfish - 2004 USA d:Mark A Z Dippé

Although I like the unapologetically schlocky and apt title, I suspect it has done little service for this film.  The film is better than this title probably suggests to most people.

A superior low budget Creature Feature, this tells of genetically modified Northern Snakeheads terrorising the bayous of Louisiana.  It has a solid, serviceable script, an excellent and attractive cast and a number of well pulled off set-pieces of piscine mayhem.

If Jaws, Piranha or Rogue are your thing, then Frankenfish will surely not disappoint. This is good stuff indeed, and I loved it as much this second viewing as I did when I first saw it five years ago.  Recommended.

Alien From The Deep/Alien degli abissi - 1989 Italy d: Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony M Dawson)

In some ways, this is almost a SF reworking of Margheriti's earlier Killer Fish. At least, the story follows much the same formula. Instead of criminals we have eco-warriors breaking into the Large Facility to expose eco-crime perpetrated by a splendidly stern and serious Charles Napier.  This goes on for over half the film: more like an action/espionage flick than a horror/SF.  Then, with no warning, an alien (rather than piranha) turns up and all heck breaks loose.

This is marvellous stuff for an idle afternoon. The story is actually pretty involving and in best Margheriti fashion there are lots of nice locations, helicopters and explosions.  The cast are solid enough (even if the English dub sync is not!) and it is wonderful fun playing "spot the low rent restaging from the bigger film" - such as Julia McKay's having to strip down to vest and panties in an enclosed space and retaliation against a large alien using heavy plant...and there's an Indiana Jones type, but here he actually hunts and befriends snakes.

Cheap, but not bad; this is an easy film to recommend to cult audiences.  Excellent entertainment and well worth catching.

Mausoleum - 1983 USA d: Michael Dugan

This is...a "special" experience. A phenomenally bad mess of a film: incoherent plot, bizarre shifts in tone, racist caricaturing, terrible dialogue and some of the worst acting you are ever likely to see on film.  But it is still strangely likeable.

The story is one of possession, with the central character (Bobbi Bresee - supposed to be 30 but looks a lot older) hosting some family demon or something causing her to black out and start killing people. Her husband (Marjoe Gortner, the ex-child faith healer/con-man) worries about her changes in personality (especially her sudden predilection for truly appalling fantasy art of the Frazetta/Vallejo kind!) and goes out to work a lot, allowing her to seduce and kill lustful, ethnic, working class types (the gardener, delivery guy). They have a maid/housekeeper who is basically a female Stepin Fetchit (her scenes are almost impossible to watch) and a doctor/friend who is played by the worst actor in the history of mankind. That's it really. Cue a series of cheap and increasingly weird set-pieces which lead to blood-letting.

This is a dreadfully bad film, but is great fun in the way that dreadfully bad films can so often be.  One cannot help but wonder if there was narcotic influence behind the writing and making of this very peculiar tale.  I find it hard to imagine this came from sober minds.  And so it is, that if one is in a similar state, Mausoleum could prove very entertaining, and if one is not drunk or stoned, then it will probably still be very entertaining as the thing is so damned weird!


Kick-Ass - 2010 GB/US d:Matthew Vaughn

A truly superior action bonanza of a film!  Teen film, action, tragedy, gore, comedy...this film takes them all on and more and comes up with a gold star on the other side.  Brilliant script, exceptional performances, some of the best gunplay scenes I've witnessed since Hardboiled back in 1992, often breath-taking camera work, and a step into 3-D comics rendering that fits the film and puts the risible anime sequence in Kill Bill to shame.

This film is a complete gem.  It's hard to file under one genre as it takes on so many different moods throughout (it certainly isn't just a comedy, despite its marketing), but the film-makers ease them together even as the film blisters along at breakneck speed.  It is the pinnacle of "superhero" film-making thus far.  Amazing soundtrack too!

Primeval/Primeval Kill - 2007 US d:Michael Katleman

A killer reptile film that quite surprised me. After the considerable joys of Rogue and Black Water I thought this third croc flick from the same time had to be bad, as the odds were against it.  But no, this is a decent and engrossing film made to high standards on a fairly low budget.

Here the croc is based on a true creature: Gustave, a giant Nile crocodile in Burundi who local rumour credits with hundreds of human victims.  The film follows an American team searching for Gustave and their unfortunate encounters with local warlord Little Gustave and his soldiers (this being at the height of the Burundi civil war with lawlessness and death abounding).

This is a tension wracked film, with Gustave one side and Little Gustave the other the central characters are put through an intense time and the film delivers this expertly.  The cast are more than up to the job and the film is well made, the photography, especially of the African country, is superb.

Don't overlook this film in your quest for watery monster thrills.  It is not quite as excellent as the aforementioned Australian croc films, but it is a lot closer than you might think, and the political aspects of the plot add another dimension to the story. Recommended.

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street - 2007 US/GB d:Tim Burton

A tour de force screen rendering of Stephen Sondheim's famous stage musical. This begins with an astonishing animated titles sequence then rarely lets up from there.  Johnny Depp smoulders and glowers in the rôle of vengeance obsessed Todd, whilst Helena Bonham Carter has probably never been better than she is here as maker of questionable pies, Mrs Lovett. To be fair the rest of the cast are superb too - Rickman, Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen as a conman rival barber, Ed Sanders as the boy taken in by Lovett and Todd - with the exception of the slightly insipid young pair of star crossed lovers, played by Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener who are both competent but out of their depth here.

The real star is the production design. A glorious, dark, crowded, Gothic vision of London that you can almost smell.  The setting is ideal for Todd and Lovett's nefarious deeds.  And nefarious they are! This is quite the most full-blooded musical yet made, with horror and violence to the fore.  Sondheim's songs are wonderfully performed by the cast and staged expertly by Burton.

A superb film that I liked greatly.

Train - 2008 USA d: Gideon Raff

Once upon a time, Thora Birch was a great hope for acting. She appeared in good films and gave exceptional performances within them both as a superior child actor in the likes of Hocus Pocus and Now And Then and as a young adult in such things as American Beauty and Ghost World.  But Thora had a darker side, Thora would also agree to appearances in less edifying material: Dungeons And Dragons, for example, or the film that seems to have warped her career, the truly awful Brit horror The Hole.  Now it seems that most of Thora's work is in utility grade Hollywood shockers like Dark Corners, Deadline and Train.

Train is a film hard to like.  It seems lazy in its writing, its execution and its performances.  It is almost amateurishly shot (with the occasional film school editing trick to add a semblance of style) and the thin and predictable story stretches way past breaking point.  Few of the characters are sympathetic and the film seems to have a quite unpleasant xenophobic air to it that is hard to pass off as being unintended.

Something could possibly have been done with the premise (though it's not exactly a winner) had more skilled film-makers been involved. One also wonders if had better film-makers been involved, might Thora Birch actually have given a performance instead of just going through the motions as she (and everyone else) does here.

Not a total turkey, but really not worth wasting your time over.

Once Upon A Time In The West/C'era una Volta il west - 1968 USA/Italy d: Sergio Leone

I must make clear my colours. I have seen this film many, many times - well into double figures.  I have travelled across the UK to see this film at cinema screenings.  Sometimes the sheer majesty of this film actually makes me shed tears of awe.  I have considered this film to be the greatest film ever made since I was about 15.  This will not be an objective review, this will be me selling it to you.

In many ways Sergio Leone was a most post-modern film-maker.  His was a cinema of looking back and reworking - most famously Fistful Of Dollars was a revisioning of Kurosawa's Yojimbo - and from the very start Once Upon A Time In The West was intended as a "greatest hits" package ode to the classic Western. Leone sat down with two leading Italian film critics (Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento) and the three of them watched classic Westerns and moulded them together to create the ultimate elegy to the Wild West - the über-Western.  The main body of ...West is practically a remake of Nicholas Ray's eccentric masterpiece Johnny Guitar but amplified to epic proportions. Added to this were healthy dollops of High Noon, The Iron Horse, The Searchers and others and much from epic European opera tradition. However, despite this, the end product is its own film. And what a film.

The basic elements of cinema are visual and sound. Leone realised this and thrust these elements to the fore. There may be a story, there may be characters, but these are secondary to the sensory experience. The film is awe-inspiring in its visual construction.  Shot choice, camerawork, light, shade, sets, costumes - all honed to perfection.

And the sound!  The music by Ennio Morricone is one of his greatest achievements.  Furthering the Wagnerian opera comparisons, Morricone and Leone use leitmotif, giving every main character a theme. Camera moves are synchronised to the music, at times the senses are almost overwhelmed.  Added to this, natural and background sounds are heightened almost to act as music themselves - especially in the legendary opening sequence.

The characters are really ciphers. This is opera, not soap opera. Each character represents something mythic and folkloric - the avenging angel/demon, the completely evil villain, the romantic bandit, the corrupt business man and the whore with the heart of gold who becomes the mother of a nation. This is heady stuff and Leone knew exactly what he was doing. He was tired of Westerns and desperately wanted to make Once Upon A Time In America (he would have to wait nearly two decades to achieve this) but the studio and the audience wanted more Westerns, so he decided to make the Western to top them all.  Which he did, and all at a stately, measured pace a far cry from the hurried action films to which people were accustomed.

Perfect is a dangerous word to use, but I cannot find flaw in this film. With each viewing my regard for it has risen, and seeing it as beautifully rendered as one can now in these days of DVD upsampling confimed everything I have felt for 25 years.  This is the greatest film ever made.  A perfect piece of cinema and a colossal artictic achievement.

There is nothing better.  I feel I actually owe Leone for what he gave me and the world. See this film. Experience this film.  Feel the awe.

Creatures From The Abyss/Plankton - 1994 Italy d: Massimiliano Cerchi (as Al Passeri)

This should, by rights, be branded one of the worst films ever made, but it's just so damned eccentric and messed up that one can't quite bring oneself to condemn it totally!

With something resembling a plot involving radioactive plankton, genetic mutation and lascivious, monster fish that can possess people! There is also a talking mermaid clock that makes sarcastic comments and a talking shower that wants everyone to masturbate. Seriously, this is one crazy, screwed up film!

Is it good or bad?  Well, it's efficiently made considering the tiny budget it must have had, but the best one can say of the cast is that they are enthusiastic! There is some bad, bad acting on display here, but then I guess you don't watch something about mutant killer fish for the finer points of the Stanislavki Method!  The special effects are clearly where the budget went and they are a rubbery delight. Tentacles, teeth, scales and fins are all flailing about here and the film is all the more fun for it.  If there is one reason why this bizarre mess is worth watching it is for a magnificent and utterly messed up sex scene in which the male half of the coupling changes into one of the fish monsters during the act. It is a jaw droppingly mental scene!

This film is rubbish by anyone's standards, but it is also much fun by a cult film fan's standards!  It is ridiculous nonsense but drifts into almost Surrealist moments of utter bizarreness that many will find as hilarious as I did!

House On The Edge Of The Park/La Casa Sperduta nel Parco - 1980 Italy d: Ruggero Deodato

That exploitation cinema was still - by 1980 - in thrall to The Last House On The Left does, I suppose, speak highly of the influence of Wes Craven's otherwise over-rated film.  Here, the star of Last House... is recycled along with the terrorising and torture aspects of the story, this time in a The Desperate Hours or Cold Eyes Of Fear type Home Invasion scenario.

Deodato's effort is undoubtedly a more polished and coherent affair than Craven's and features much improved performances and a more sincere attempt at plot.  However, it is not one of Deodato's better films seeming rushed and a little clumsy in comparison to his better efforts (Cut And Run, say) - apparently the film did suffer from a very low budget and pressed shooting schedule: sadly, you can tell.

Few of the characters are sympathetic, making it easier for the audience to accept the sadistic excesses on display, nonetheless it is an unpleasant ride.  Perhaps the most disturbing element is Riz Ortolani's often inappropriate score - a rape scene is accompanied by a lush romantic theme, something that turned my stomach far more than other more graphic parts of the film.

David Hess is good here, not as good as in Hitch Hike, but superior to his turn as Krug in Last House On The Left.  His changes in emotion are believable.  The revelation is John Morghen, here still Giovanni Radice, who makes his cinematic début with a complex performance as Hess's sidekick, a mentally challenged, confused and often unwilling participant in the horrific events.  The rest of the cast are solid enough, but seem a little disinterested in proceedings allowing Hess and Radice to shine and steal the film.

Still strong stuff today unlike most of the other "Video Nasties", House On The Edge Of The Park does not quite deserve the reputation conferred upon it by that dubious status.  It is one of the better films on the DPP list, but is not the exploitation masterpiece many would have you believe. Certainly watchable, it is still second rate Deodato and still inferior to other post-Last House films like Late Night Trains or Death Weekend.

August Underground - 2001 USA d: Fred Vogel

A fascinating experiment in horror realism. If one can get past the initial sense of revulsion and ugliness there is a skilled film to be seen.  It is very realistic and its lack of style is an accomplished style in itself. I suspect it was more difficult to make a film look like random snippets from a voyeuristic camcorder than one might think.  Whilst it looked like it was a camera in the hands of a non-professional, there seems to have been considerable planning to the shots and handheld movements.

So, in and of itself it is well made, but is it any good? This is harder to answer and herein lies the "genius" of the film.  The story is simple (two moronic anti-social psychotic metalheads continue a murderous crime spree before the all seeing eye of their camcorder) but deceptively subtle (unlike the visuals) in how it unfolds.  You see the killers getting increasingly blasé and falling foul of their own passions and stupidity, and this is all done very well.  However, the film is simply repulsive to watch - arguably undermining itself in its eagerness to bow down to The Great God Realism.  Unless interested as to the mechanics of making such a film, why would anyone watch it? It is not entertaining, nor does it have the dramatic foundation that makes a film such as Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer so rewarding and admirable.  It is a curious beast indeed.

I do not know what to make of this film, ultimately. I am glad I have seen it and admire what has been achieved, but at the same time I disliked what it showed me and will probably not watch it again anytime soon!  To achieve such a near paradoxical viewpoint in me only makes me admire it even more.  It has made me think, and surely that is something to be lauded.

Not for the squeamish or idly curious. You can not "unsee" what this film has to show you.

La Notte che Evelyn uscì dalla Tomba/The Night Evelyn Came Out Of Her Grave - 1971 Italy d: Emilio P Miraglia

A wonderfully silly and expertly made murder-mystery with a good cast and some glorious photography.  It's one of those Agatha Christie type stories about a family inheritance, blackmail, murder and deceit, but with added breasts, S&M and foxes (actual foxes and beautiful women).  There are some inspired murders and great lowlife characters, and it's always nice to see a Giallo set in Britain, especially if it was quite clearly shot in Italy.

Acquiring something of a a reputation in the USA as a B pic in a cut and dubbed form, it is worth seeing this in its full length version. It's actually a very good addition to the genre which flows quite well in full form, whilst remaining eccentric. I watched an Italian dub with English subs and sadly the audio did not match the joyous quality of the beautiful 'scope transfer - the dub sync was poor, the film shot in English and the dialogue sibilant and distorted.  Nonetheless, a vast improvement over the crap version I had previously seen on a VHS dupe.

I do like this film (and not just because of the stunning redheads!), it seems to sum up the core of the Giallo genre whilst adding plenty of wonderful Gothic touches. And although it is not quite as fantastic a blend of these Italian staples as the fairly similar Seven Deaths In The Cat's Eye, it nonetheless runs very close.

Just my cup of lapsang. Recommended.

John Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness - 1987 USA d: John Carpenter

I get the feeling that this film is an often overlooked entry in Carpenter's oeuvre. It's a solid, inventive piece with a great deal going for it. The story is balls deep in debt to the great Nigel Kneale, and Carpenter proudly wears this influence on his sleeve by using the writing pseudonym Martin Quatermass! It's an intelligent but fun story: that of a the revelation of a powerful Catholic sect who have been guarding a mysterious and ancient cylinder which contains something diabolical and of the scientific investigation into that cylinder's mysteries just as the time becomes right for the cylinder to open...

There are some big concepts bandied about here, but Carpenter refuses to let the film become po-faced, and for all the talk of the nature of evil and quantum physics this is a good ol' horror romp. There's a decent cast to carry things along with notable turns from Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount and Dennis Dun. Unfortunately the "hero" rôle is filled by the charisma free Jameson Parker who resembles a clean-living, camp Tom Atkins, you do tend to wonder when he's going to break into "YMCA"! This poor casting in the lead is the film's weakest issue, but if you can get past that you should be in for a good time.

It rattles along at a decent pace and there's plenty of action and tension. The whole thing is well made and the production just seems to gel nicely.  Although not Grade A Carpenter, this is a damned good film that probably deserves more attention and respect than it has thus far received.

Top notch fun and with a fine script paying homage to one of  la fantastique's great writers, Prince Of Darkness is a must see, really. Enjoy!

Die Screaming Marianne - 1971 GB d: Pete Walker

A clumsy, amateurish farrago from Pete Walker before David McGillivray came along and improved matters.  At the arse end of the Swinging Sixties scene, Marianne (a wooden turn from sour-faced horror Susan George) runs from then returns to her father The Judge (a sad, hammy performance from Leo Genn, here a long way from Henry V with Larry) and half-sister (Judy Huxtable - a dreadful performance here, looks OK in a second rate Ingrid Pitt kind of way) who want the money and evidence of The Judge's corrupt past she is due to inherit any day now (she has memorised a bank number for a safe deposit box or some such clichéd nonsense). Tedium ensues and a lovely Austin Healy is destroyed.  Oh and most disturbingly of all, Barry Evans wears leather trousers on more than one occasion.

This is a terrible film and extremely boring.  Only the lovely Algarve locations and sights of London in the early '70s really catch the attention. Susan George is just awful and is seen mostly putting on a succession of ill-fitting jeans and unflattering polo shirts with her customary about-to-burst-into-tears gob on her.

A waste of a superb title.  Avoid.

L'Iguana Dalla Lingua Di Fuoco/The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire - 1971 Italy/France/West Germany d: Riccardo Freda (as Willy Pareto)

Well, I've waited a long time to see this film, and I am delighted to say it was worth it!  Although not a top division Giallo like Don't Torture A Duckling or Deep Red this is certainly only a small step down from those classics. Freda here essays a fine murder mystery set in and around Dublin - and it's actually Ireland!

The film has a great cast with a macho Luigi Pistilli as an ex-copper called in to help with the search for the mysterious serial killer, Anton Differing snapping and barking his way through a fine part as Swiss Ambassador to Ireland who would rather be bobsledding and chasing the ladies than tending to his duties or his stoned, disturbed wife - Valentina Cortese in a fantastically over-the-top turn.  The female lead and she whose duty it is to provide nudity is the genre legend Dagmar Lassander, looking amazing with fine head of red hair. Rowr, etc.

The story is riddled with suspects!  It is unfortunate that everyone in Dublin owns the same sunglasses as the killer! Red herrings abound, swimming in Guinness.  And, in best Giallo tradition, you soon enough don't really care whodunnit, you just get into the howdunnit (acid and razors!) and the search for the killer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and I am pleased to add it to my ever expanding Giallo collection.  This stands out benefited by the wonderful Irish settings, the wonderful cast of eccentric types and ne'erdowells who may or may not be the killer and some inventive murder scenes featuring amounts of gushing blood that surprised me!

The German New Entertainment World release is a lovely hardbox package, but the print isn't the best.  It's an anamorphic presentation at 1.78:1 (which is nice) but is from a pretty poor source (which isn't!).  Either from an analogue tape source or a 16mm print for cinema club showings, I would imagine; this suffers from often impenetrably dark scenes, faded colours, a yellow tinge to the picture and some print damage.  The English audio track is fine.  Although not perfect, I have seen a lot worse releases in terms of picture quality. This is still perfectly watchable and you can get drawn into the film despite the picture, it's not so bad as to alienate the viewer.

I'm just happy to own it and to have finally seen it.  I would recommend the film to any lover of Gialli or eccentric Euro cinema.  It's a better Irish serial killer film than The Fantasist, but you are left with one burning question...who on Earth would call their dry cleaning business Swastika Cleaners? And yes, you can guess what the logo is

Small Town Folk - 2007 GB d: Peter Stanley-Ward

A dire, worthless, ugly film.  I think it is aiming to be a comedy in the vein of Bad Taste, but hasn't the talent involved in it.

This is without doubt the worst film I have seen all year - a year in which I have seen Children Of The Living Dead and Evil Breed: The Legend Of Sam Hain - and given that I would rather re-watch Highlander or Signs before seeing this again, it must also qualify as the worst film of all-time yet experienced my eyes.

Utter crap. Avoid like the plague. The worst film ever.

Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange?/What Have You Done To Solange? - 1972 Italy/West Germany d: Massimo Dallamano

A stone classic.  I'd say this was right up there with the very best of all Gialli.  A superb mystery set in London involving the murders of a string of Catholic schoolgirls. All the classic elements are here: a non-professional dragged into the criminal investigation and becoming obsessed, witnessed information revealed a bit at a time, a gloved killer with a purpose...this is a textbook Giallo mystery, yet it still seems fresh and inventive within the field.

Performances: great, particularly Fabio Testi, Camille Keaton and Christine Galbo. Story: excellent (Bruno Di Geronimo and Dallamano). Dialogue: well written (Bruno Di Geronimo and Dallamano). Camerawork: mostly good, not always up to the ultra-professional standards of the rest of the film (Joe D'Amato). Music: exceptional (Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai).

It's a visual feast too - perhaps not so much as a Dario Argento or Mario Bava film, but certainly noticeably lovely to look at.  Then there's the sound...

...ah the sound. Well, I watched the 01 Distribution DVD and the English soundtrack was essentially unlistenable.  It was thin and tinny and the dialogue was phasey and echoey. I could not stand it,. I restarted the film in Italian with English subs. Here the sound was superb for a film of its time and budget, but this was still unsatisfactory. The film was shot in English and the dubbing looked to be of extremely high quality in terms of synchronisation.  This is clearly the preferred manner of viewing this film.  Now, I have never seen any other versions, but I assume this is a fault of this release rather than of the English track as a whole.  So, I can't blame the film-makers, but must mention it.

That issue aside, my experience of watching Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange? was wholly positive. I loved this film and would recommend it passionately.

Un Bianco Vestito per Marialé/Spirits Of Death - 1972 Italy d: Romano Scavolini

A second rung Giallo that is nevertheless not without a fair amount of interest.  In best Agatha tradition a bunch of people are summoned to a remote castle and bumped off in different ways. Central to it all is Marialé, hostess and a troubled woman who in her childhood watched her father murder her mother and her lover before killing himself (shown in a superb pre-titles sequence).

The story is as slight as that, so Scavolini - as director and cinematographer - makes up for it with style. And this is a very stylish film indeed, reminiscent of Mario Bava's Five Dolls For An August Moon from the previous year in its use of bright colours against drab or monochrome backings and contrasting dark scenes with very light scenes...the basics of the storylines are not dissimilar either!  For all this style, there are moments of clumsiness in the framing - you wonder why everyone is gasping in shock at someone else, only for it to be revealed he is brandishing a gun when the camera is pointed properly! There is also a truly dreadfully done "death by dogs" scene in which a few clearly happy and friendly dogs play with the single most unconvincing dummy I have ever seen on film in an attempt to make it look like they are savaging one of the character!s.

Flaws aside though, the film holds the interest, primarily through the performances.  In particular, cult favourites Ivan Rassimov and Luigi Pistilli are magnificent, with Rassimov especially giving a superb performance. Evelyn Stewart/Ida Galli is perfect as Marialé too, bringing the right combination of frustration, paranoia and distance to a difficult part.  The whole ensemble are very good, and lift the film above itself.

Whilst not as weird and left-field as something like The Perfume Of The Lady in Black, this is the same kind of unusual curio that would probably find an audience if reissued today*.  I am not sure if an English dub was ever made for the film (it, rather unusually, appears to have been shot in Italian), certainly in Surf Film's catalogue it only mentions Italian and French versions.

Whilst I don't think it close to the quality of The Perfume Of The Lady In Black or Don't Torture A Duckling or The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, this Giallo is worth seeing (if you can!). That it is an early film by the director of Nightmares In A Damaged Brain and Dogtags surely adds more appeal to it.

*Although one brief and essentially unnecessary scene (it's merely there to set the weird mood, straight after the titles) features a caged monkey assaulting a finch or similar small songbird - could cause BBFC hassles.

Don't Torture A Duckling/Non si Sevizia un Paperino - 1972 Italy d: Lucio Fulci

This is one of the best films - quite possibly the best film - in Lucio Fulci's oeuvre.  A masterful Giallo telling the tale of child murders within and the effect they have upon a rural Italian town facing up to the encroaching modern world.   There is a real sense of assurance behind the camera here and the film features Fulci's best ever cast who give splendid turns - Tomas Milian, Barbara Bouchet, Florinda Bolkan, Irene Papas, Marc Porel.

It is hard to find fault with the film itself really, but it was treated to a dreadful English dub - the choice of voices used for the non-lead characters is appalling, more suiting a third rate Spaghetti Western than a thriller set in then modern Italy.  Sadly, the Blue Underground disk I watched had no Italian with English sub option, which I think it a real shame where this film is concerned. The English dub is most unsuitable and shows a misunderstanding of the material.  Other than that the disk was a beautiful transfer, and I felt as if I was watching the film for the first time, so far a cry was it from the fuzzy, multi-generation pan&scans with which I grew up.

On a personal level, I think this era was Fulci's peak as a film-maker.  I do love his 1979 - 1982 "second wind" also, but more for the experimental ideas and dabblings with surrealism. In a film like Don't Torture A Duckling you can see the artistry Fulci was capable of achieving - helped by the glorious photography of Sergio D'Offizi and what is probably Riz Ortolani's best soundtrack.

A superb film and a definite summit within the Giallo genre. And Barabara Bouchet never looked more beautiful or more sexy!

Pathfinder - 2007 USA d: Marcus Nispel

This is a pretty grim film, in all senses of the word "grim".  It's very dark looking, extremely violent and bloody and, yes, not very good!  It depicts the supposed conflicts between Viking invaders and native Americans on the East coast of North America around 800 or 900 AD. The hero is a Norseman left behind on an earlier raid and raised by the natives.

Whilst I did not like this film at all - I thought the story stretched beyond breaking point, the actors mostly wooden, the scenes of spirituality risible, the characters one-dimensional and so on - I could imagine it appealing to fans of extreme sword-wielding action. The battle scenes are fiercely violent and there is a lot of gore. All the film-making energy seems to have gone into these fight sequences. If that is enough to carry a film for you, then Pathfinder may be worth a watch...

...it was not enough for me. Violence and gore is all very well, but it's a rare film that can get by on this alone. And I felt that Pathfinder was definitely lacking.

Below - 2002 USA d: David Twohy

I recorded this out of idle curiosity as it is rare enough that BBC1 screen a horror film at all, never mind mid-week!  I had never even heard of the film, David Twohy had slipped from my sonar after Pitch Black (which was OK for what it was, but I really cannot bear Vin Diesel).

Below was a considerable surprise. I really liked it and its tale of a vengeful haunting on a WWII submarine (possibly the most spacious submarine ever!).  It builds suspense well and has a great cast (devoid of A-listers) who do really well.  There are a fair few British actors here (Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher...) and they seem particularly to shine, especially Olivia Williams as the sole female presence on the boat.

The Dunwich Horror - 1970 USA d: Daniel Haller

Haller's second Lovecraft adaptation is a far more accomplished affair.  As with Die, Monster, Die! it uses the source as a rough basis only and the film is a very loose retelling of Lovecraft's original story.  Quite what Lovecraft would have made of Dean Stockwell's turn as Wilbur Whately as some kind of hipster wizard one dreads to think!

It may stray from the source in its updating and condensing of the story, but it is done well and the film retains a lot of the sense of escalating dread found in the story.  Indeed, the film is really very atmospheric in this way with a peculiar mood of "something's not right" throughout.  Helping this greatly is Dean Stockwell's perfect performance as the central character, appropriately, there is a hint of otherworldliness to his manner. In strange but inspired casting, America's favourite virginal ingenue Sandra Dee is cast in the lead.  A long way from Gidget, she brings just the right vulnerability and innocence to the film, which would be one of her last, sadly. The rest of the cast are splendid also.

There is a real sense of budgetary constraints towards the end, unfortunately. You sit through the film with great expectations ("What's in the attic?", "What does Wilbur want with Nancy?"), the film building to a climax which is more than a tad anti-climactic.  To be fair, Haller and crew do OK with what they had. Using psychedelic optical effects to hide their dodgy monster works quite well, but the ultimate ritual to open the way for the Great Old Ones and occult battle between Stockwell and Ed Begley is all a bit underwhelming, though the film's final image is a chilling one, just about saving matters.

I have a soft spot for this film. I think it's a very decent and stylish attempt to film a story that doesn't immediately seem filmable - certainly not with 1969 technologies.  It is genuinely creepy and is well paced as it heads towards the rush of activity at the end.  Despite its flaws, I would rate this picture and recommend it to fans of the era and of Lovecraft. It's well worth a go.

Die, Monster, Die! - 1965 GB/USA d: Daniel Haller

With the surprise success of Roger Corman's Poe Cycle it was only natural to expect AIP to turn to the works of HP Lovecraft to be milked for their money-spinning Gothics. Indeed, one of the "Poe Cycle" (1963's The Haunted Palace) had actually been a - very good - Lovecraft adaptation made to resemble a Poe tale.

Rather than Corman (who had left the Gothics behind and was working on his legendary Biker film The Wild Angels - "We wanna be free...to do what we wanna do..."), AIP left their next Lovecraft production in the hands of Corman's regular Art Director, the man who gave the Poe Cycle its famous look, Daniel Haller.  Die, Monster, Die! was his directorial début.

The film took Lovecraft's seminal Science Fiction shocker The Color Out Of Space as its source, and loosely adapted it into a strange film indeed!  The leads are a wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff (giving a lovely turn, but hardly at his peak) and pixie-faced TV journeyman Nick Adams (who is direly miscast), whilst Suzan Farmer makes a winsome Woman In Peril.  There's also a small part for Patrick Magee, ideally cast as a gruff, resentful, drunken doctor!

The setting is moved across the Atlantic, with Arkham now a sweet little English country village, yet with the obligatory Crumbling Gothic Pile (TM) - ancestral seat of Karloff's family, source of diabolical rites and host to the film's action.  There are many familiar Gothic clichés but here with the added bonus of radioactive mutation!  Whereas Lovecraft's tale was a seamless blend of Weird Horror and proto-Science Fiction, the film presents rather a clumsy attempt to meld the two genres.  The result is a picture that never quite seems sure what it is trying to be.

It's not totally bad, it's an enjoyable enough curio if you can get past Nick Adams's cardboard blundering. It looks lovely, as you would expect from Haller, and is otherwise an affable if unchallenging way to pass the time.

When it was released it was shoved into a double bill (with Mario Bava's Alien blueprint Planet Of The Vampires!  What a weird SF horror double that must have been!) possibly indicating that confidence was low at AIP.  By the time it hit the UK it had a new title - Monster Of Terror - in a bid to lure an audience. I don't think it ever performed especially well!

So, not a great film, but interesting and worth a watch.  a shame really, as you can't help but feel there is potential within and that the old money/time issues let it down.  Lovecraft would fare much better with AIP and Haller's next attempt, The Dunwich Horror.

Incubus - 1981 Canada d: John Hough

When the world of lurid horror paperbacks first burst into my awareness in my youth, one that I never got around to reading but had many a teen giggling over it's massive cocked demon antagonist was Ray Russell's Incubus. Not sure why I never read it, perhaps I had too many Guy N Smith books to keep me amused (literally, some of them are laugh out loud bad!).

Anyway, I had a faint idea that there was a film version and sure enough it turned up on the VTC label bearing the startling and potent image seen above.  But as with the book, I somehow never got around to seeing it!

Well, now I have seen it.  And I am not sure what to make of it at all!  In many ways this is a cheap, tawdry, rushed piece of trash featuring a bunch of actors not really trying, presumably mentally counting up their paychecks and waiting for the shoot to end. John Cassavetes (a favourite actor of mine, who had previously worked with director Hough in the clunky, all-star assassination flick Brass Target) seems to be drunk though most of it, often looking through glazed eyes for too long before delivering his lines.  The dialogue is often excruciating and there is some decidedly clumsy editing and some strange shot choices and a plot that frequently slips into incoherence...but wait...that reminds me of something...yes, Incubus is strangely reminiscent of a Lucio Fulci film from the same time.

Had the Incubus been Italian, dubbed and on the "Video Nasty" list (which it conceivably could have been, there is some grim stuff in here - after all the subject is that of a demonic rapist so well endowed that he ruptures his victims' internal organs) I reckon people would be talking about it with terms of reverence, hoping a new, better DVD comes along and discussing the merits of the murder scenes.

So, why treat it differently because it is Canadian? Hough does pull off some style - as bad as some camerawork is there are occasions of beautiful skill - and the sheer intensity of the film draws you in.  The ridiculousness of the story and its strange, downbeat ending actually works to its credit, veering towards Fulci-esque surrealism and dreaminess (indeed, dreams are a key plot point).

So, although half an hour in I was ready to turn it off, I am glad I stayed with it. In the end I quite liked it, though its flaws are apparent to all.  Worth seeing, I reckon, especially if the likes of Lucio Fulci or Lamberto Bava appeal.  I'm glad I finally watched it...I wonder If I'll ever read the book?

PS: One thing to beware of in Incubus is the appearance in some very cheesy footage shown in a cinema scene of awful NWOBHM band Samson complete with a make up clad Bruce Dickinson screeching away in the band he headed before he left and ruined Iron Maiden.

I Ragazzi del Massacro/Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter - 1969 Italy d: Fernando di Leo

This is a completely mental police procedural from Fernando Di Leo that just has to be seen to be believed!  A teacher of illiterate teenagers is raped, tortured and murdered by her class of street kids and teen criminals, apparently fuelled by nothing more than absinthe and evil. But police investigator Lamberti knows there is more to it and sets about some crazy interrogations of the kids to find out what was behind this event.  It then gets weirder!

Let me get it out of the way first: this is a brilliant film.  It is filmed in such a claustrophobic manner (all sweaty close ups and handheld camera and focus pulls rather than moving the camera) that there is hardly ever an empty space in the frame and you start feeling you are in the same room as these people!  It is ferociously paced with lulls only where necessary to the story, you get grabbed and dragged along.  The story unfolds a little at a time getting more strange and confusing as each reveal takes place.  Though I did guess what was going on before the end, I nevertheless felt no disappointment, more I admired the film for actually going along with the craziness I had guessed!

Lamberti is played by Pier Paulo Capponi and it's a fine performance.  He seems to throw himself into the part and is utterly believable as the dedicated but flawed policeman.  The kids are often too stubbly and square of jaw to buy as genuine 16 year olds, and some of their wigs are startlingly badly fitting, but this doesn't hamper the story after the initial sniggering.  The key teenager parts are played by good actors who make themselves believable as youngsters lost in a world of crime bigger than them.

The Raro DVD release is a gem.  A beautiful print and transfer that I cannot fault. It is presented in 16:9 anamorphic and occasionally I found the "close up" look of the film so close that I wondered if it was shot originally in 1.33:1 or 1.66:1 then matted for the widescreen - there are lots of chins and tops of heads missing - but the close up nature of the photography serves the story so well that is hard to make a conclusion. Either way, it looks amazing and the audio is great - at least in the Italian track I selected.  A word here about the music by Silvano Spadaccino; it's a mixed soundtrack of lush light romantic strings one minute, harsh brass stab accents the next, then random electronic warbles and wibbles like something from an experimental Krautrock album!  It is superb!  The changing moods of the film are accurately reflected by the changing score and the music is a valuable part of why this film works so well.

I cannot recommend this enough. If you have even the tiniest interest in Italian crime films - of the 70s or any era! - then this is an essential view.  Just superb.

Edgar Allen (sic) Poe's The Haunted Palace - 1963 USA d: Roger Corman

Well, as you may know, this entry in Roger Corman's "Poe Cycle" is not actually based upon Edgar Allan Poe at all, but is a simplified version of H P Lovecraft's The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward dressed up in Poe-like trappings. It's actually a pretty faithful depiction of the core of the Lovecraft story and has been expertly adapted by the great screenwriter Charles Beaumont, who was behind many highly regarded Twilight Zone episodes.

The film looks magnificent and seems to have been visually influenced by  The City Of The Dead which had been released in the US in a shortened version a couple of years earlier (Horror Hotel).  In turn, one must wonder if The Haunted Palace was an influence on Mario Bava's Operazione Paura/Kill Baby Kill - there is certainly a strong resemblance!  There are lots of long shadows and swirling dry ice mists filling the shabby, deserted streets of Arkham. This is Gothic with a capital G!  All of this is captured in Panavision, the width of the frame often helping to emphasize the isolation and desertion of the strange little town and the titular palace.

Vincent Price does a splendid job here. He plays two rôles and does them well.  Often criticised for being hammy and having a limited range, the two personalities he portrays here are clearly distinguishable, sometimes the change from one to the other (possession by evil ancestor in case you were wondering!) is obvious before his dialogue comes in. This is a great performance by Price, one (two?) of his best.  He is supported by the always stunning Debra Paget (here perfecting her serious, confused and scared faces!) and a cast of favourite faces such as Lon Chaney, Elisha Cook and Leo Gordon.

I thought this was a tremendously fun film and couldn't help but wonder why this atmospheric chiller is almost forgotten in comparison to other Corman Gothics.  The Optimum disk is an absolute stunner - rich colours, perfect contrast between light and dark, excellent audio - the occasional tiny print jump aside, faultless.  Sadly, it seems to be only available as part of the Corman Collection box-set. I feel it deserves a release out on its own.

If this kind of thing is your bag, you are a Lovecraft completist or if you are a fan of Vincent Price this is a must!  I really loved it and must recommend it highly.