Blu-Ray Review: Carnival of Souls – Criterion Collection

Director: Herk Harvey
Screenplay: John Clifford
Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt
Country: USA
Running Time: 78 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 12


Once in a while, a film that was initially deemed a failure finds a new lease of life several years later, becoming what is often referred to as a cult classic. One such film was the 1962 horror Carnival of Souls, which was originally released as a double bill with The Devil’s Messenger, to little fanfare. Over time the film found its fanbase though, leading to a re-release in 1989 which helped cement its cult-status. What’s particularly sad about this very long road to recognition though was that the director Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford never made any other feature films, as they were retired by the time people’s love for Carnival of Souls finally appeared (and they have since passed away). The pair worked for Centron Corporation, an industrial film company that made corporate and public information films. They made Carnival of Souls in their holidays, then went back to their day jobs at Centron, which is a real shame as it’s a fantastic film and I’d have loved to have seen what else they could do.

Carnival of Souls opens with a car full of young women, including Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), getting into a road race with a car full of young men. What starts as a bit of fun ends in tragedy when the girls’ car careens off the side of a bridge into the river below. The car can’t be found, but hours later Mary appears from the river, dazed but physically healthy. She’s so traumatized by the event, she feels she has to leave town to escape the memory of what happened. So she heads off to Utah to be a church organist. On the way, she drives past a strange abandoned pavilion on the Great Salt Lake and finds herself strangely drawn to it. It triggers visions of a strange, pale-faced man though who keeps appearing and drawing ever closer. As no one else seems to see him, she begins to question her sanity. Being a strong-willed woman, she feels the need to face the problem head on.

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Blu-Ray Review: Blood Feast & Scum of the Earth

Herschell Gordon Lewis, who died last year, was a genre film legend. Although he worked in most realms of exploitation films, from ‘nudie-cuties’ to juvenile delinquent films and even children’s films, he is best known for creating the ‘splatter’ sub-genre of horror movies. The first title of his that bludgeoned open the horror mould, was Blood Feast, which Arrow Video have released on Blu-Ray alongside another of Lewis’ 1963 features, Scum of the Earth.

Blood Feast

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Screenplay: Allison Louise Downe
Starring: William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason
Country: USA
Running Time: 67min
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: 18


Blood Feast sees an Egyptian caterer, Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), butcher up attractive young women in order to extract the ingredients required to put on an authentic Egyptian feast as had been previously ‘enjoyed’ 5000 years ago. The feast is an offering for the Egyptian goddess Ishtar, who Ramses worships. The mother of Suzette Fremont (Connie Mason) foolishly thinks the feast sounds like a great way to put on a party for her daughter, so Ramses busies himself in preparation, hacking up a handful of women in the lead up to the ‘big day’. Meanwhile, two inept cops, including Suzette’s boyfriend Pete (William Kerwin), try to figure out who’s responsible for the spate of murders around town.

Despite his reputation and my love of genre movies, I’d never actually seen a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie before now. He certainly lived up to his reputation as the “Godfather of Gore”, but his limitations as a filmmaker are also evident. Luckily I was prepared for this and I actually had a lot of fun with Blood Feast, even if I’d never call it a great film. It’s generally a case of ‘so bad it’s good’, where I enjoyed laughing at some of the daft dialogue and frequently shoddy deliveries. Writer Allison Louise Downe and Lewis know their limitations though, so never take things too seriously, with some lines knowingly ridiculous. “I was thinking about those murders. They just take the joy out of everything” was a standout for me.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Howling

Director: Joe Dante
Screenplay: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless
Based on a Novel by: Gary Brandner
Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens
Country: USA
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1981
BBFC Certificate: 18


Hollywood has a history of releasing two similarly themed films to fight for an audience in the same year (memorably, 1998 had a double bill of double bills with A Bug’s Life competing against Antz and Armageddon up against Deep Impact). Back in 1981 it was the battle of the werewolves, with three films released that featured the mythological creatures – An American Werewolf in London, Wolfen and The Howling. Wolfen was the most expensive of the three but bombed and is largely forgotten these days. An American Werewolf made the most money, but The Howling hit theatres first and was still fairly successful (particularly as it cost far less to make than the other two). It certainly went on to spawn the greater legacy, with its seven sequels and a remake coming soon. That said, it’s always stood in the shadow of An American Werewolf, especially since both films take a humorous approach to the subgenre. I couldn’t help but compare the two either, so my review is definitely affected by the fact that I’m a fan of John Landis’ film and have seen it quite a few times, whereas this viewing of The Howling was a first time watch.

The Howling opens with newswoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) being tailed by police as she goes to meet a possible serial killer, Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), who is obsessed with her. The killer is shot dead whilst he tries to sexually assault Karen, who is left disturbed by the experience. It affects her marriage and work, so she is sent to a retreat called The Colony by her TV station’s resident doctor, George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), who runs it. Once there, her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) gets bitten by a wolf and starts acting strangely. Meanwhile, a couple of Karen’s colleagues, Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski), investigate Eddie for a story, but find his body missing from the morgue and uncover links between him and the Colony, so Terry heads over there to warn Karen. As more werewolves crop up, it becomes difficult to say who’s in danger from who.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Director: Nicolas Gessner
Screenplay: Laird Koenig
Based on a novel by: Laird Koenig
Starring: Jodie Foster, Scott Jacoby, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman
Country: France, Canada
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1976
BBFC Certificate: 15


Jodie Foster had quite a year in 1976. Only thirteen when the year came around, she’d already enjoyed a successful career with dozens of TV credits and a couple of films under her belt. 1976 marked the beginning of her transition from child actor in family shows and Disney movies to a truly accomplished actress though. Within one year she starred in the cult classic (at least in more recent years) Bugsy Malone, family favourite Freaky Friday and, most notably, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which she played a pre-adolescent prostitute. With these films she cemented her place in cinema history in one fell swoop. There was another film released that year though that is less talked about, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (plus Echoes of a Summer, but I know little about that). It won awards for best horror film and best actress for Foster at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, so within genre circles it was well regarded, but it certainly doesn’t share the reputation of the three other 1976 titles I mentioned earlier. Signal One Entertainment felt the need to address the balance a little though and gave the film a decent Blu-Ray release in the UK a couple of years ago. I recently got my hands on a copy and here are my thoughts on it

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane sees Foster play Rynn, a thirteen year old girl living on her own in a small town, but hiding the fact to her rather nosey neighbours. She tells them her father is a poet that is always working upstairs and doesn’t want to be disturbed. One neighbour, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), is a sleazy man, known by the townsfolk for having a taste for young girls and he sees Rynn’s isolation as an opportunity. Frank’s mother (Alexis Smith), who owns the property Rynn rents, is also suspicious of the situation and continues to snoop around, until she is accidentally killed after discovering a dark secret in the house. Rynn hides her body, but local teenager Mario (Scott Jacoby) bumps into her and can see something isn’t right. As the two develop a strong bond, Rynn decides to let him in on her secret and the two do their best to keep on top of things.

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Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Torture a Duckling

Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, Gianfranco Clerici
Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Marc Porel
Country: Italy
Running Time: 105min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 18


The Italian genre movie writer/director Lucio Fulci is probably best known for his ultra-gory horror movies, such as Zombie Flesh Eaters (a.k.a. Zombie), The Beyond and City of the Living Dead, so he’s often considered a rather trashy director by more mainstream critics. However, he actually wrote and directed a range of material over his long and prolific career (largely earlier on in it), including a number of comedies. His most well respected films touch on the horror genre, but fall more accurately into that of the giallo (Italian murder mystery thrillers, basically). The most acclaimed of these, and the one Fulci named as his personal favourite, is 1972’s Don’t Torture a Duckling, which Arrow Video have brought out on Blu-Ray in the UK.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is set in the rural Italian town of Accendura (which is fictional as far as I know) where young boys are being killed off one by one. After the first murder, a local ‘simpleton’ known as Barra (Vito Passeri) is arrested and thought to be the killer after he is caught trying to ask for a ransom from the boy’s parents, pretending he is alive and hiding the body. The police aren’t too sure he’s the right man though, despite this evidence, and after the second child is killed they know for certain they’re barking up the wrong tree. From then on a couple of oddball characters are suspected, including a local ‘witch’, Maciara (Florinda Bolkan), and a young attractive woman, Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), who is believed to have moved here to recover from a drug problem. Whilst the police struggle to find the culprit, a journalist from the city, Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian), makes his own investigation. As each new suspect is made public, the locals react in vicious outrage before the truth eventually comes out.

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Blu-Ray Review: Diabolique – Criterion Collection

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: René Masson, Frédéric Grendel, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jérôme Géronimi
Based on a Novel by: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Country: France
Running Time: 117 min
Year: 1955
BBFC Certificate: 12


Diabolique seems an odd film for Criterion to choose to release in the UK as part of their collection of exquisite Blu-Ray re-releases of classic films. That’s not to say Diabolique doesn’t deserve to be part of the Criterion Collection. It’s a highly respected film from an equally respected director. However, another boutique Blu-Ray label, Arrow Academy, turned their hand to it only three years ago (albeit under the film’s alternative title, Les Diaboliques). I haven’t actually watched that release, so can’t compare, but knowing Arrow’s reputation, it’s probably equally as well remastered and seems to have a couple of equally as decent special features included. Nevertheless, it’s a film worthy of attention and I’d not seen it for a few years, so I didn’t hesitate to request a copy to review for you all here.

In Diabolique, Christina (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) are an unlikely pair who plot to kill Christina’s husband, a cruel headmaster named Michel (Paul Meurisse). They’re an odd couple because Nicole was Michel’s mistress and Christina is perfectly aware of this. The twisted Michel makes no secret of it and this, on top of his constant belittling and humiliation of Christina, drive the women to the drastic measure of committing murder. Their plan, driven largely by the cold and calculated Nicole, seems to go relatively smoothly until Michel’s body goes missing. As Christina’s fear of being caught builds on top of her mounting guilt, her sanity and already weak heart are tested to their limits.

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DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Wolf Guy

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Screenplay: Fumio Kônami
Based on a Manga Series by: Kazumasa Hirai
Starring: Shin’ichi (Sonny) Chiba, Kyôsuke Machida, Saburô Date
Country: Japan
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


Wolf Guy is a Japanese action movie based on a manga series of the same name. Starring Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba at the height of his fame, it’s a low budget B-movie attempt to fuse western mythologies with Japanese genre sensibilities. Being a lover of trashy action and all things Japanese, this description sounded good to me, so I thought I’d check out Arrow Video’s new release of the film, which has never previously been available outside of Japan.

Chiba plays Akira Inugami, the last survivor of a clan of werewolves, now living in the big city using his lycanthropic skills to solve crimes. One night he witnesses the brutal murder of a seemingly crazed man at the hands of what appears to be a tiger demon, only semi-visable to Akira. When he looks further into what happened, he finds that the man was one of a group of thugs who were ordered by gang boss Manabe to rape a young woman called Miki. He finds both of them and tries to help Miki and stir up trouble with Manabe. This unravels further into a wacky plot where the bad guys try to get Akira’s blood to make their own werewolf and use Miki’s anger to assassinate people using the tiger demon acting out her vengeful thoughts!

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Review: Personal Shopper

personal-shopper-640

French critic-turned-filmmaker Olivier Assayas has always had a knack for combining verité, day-to-day life with stylish genre elements. His previous film, The Clouds of Sils Maria, coaxed a assured performance out of Kristen Stewart as a confident personal assistant to a French movie star; to the point where she almost overshadows the glamourous lead of the film, Juliette Binoche. Assayas collaborates once again with the young star in Personal Shopper – again in the employ of a famous actress – but here, he places her in practically in every shot.

Mixing the abstract with the mundane, Stewart plays Maureen, a budding amateur medium who is trying to commune with her recently deceased twin brother. The movie starts almost like a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, with Maureen attempting to make contact with the beyond by spending the night in a dark old French country manor. Her day-job involves buying insanely expensive clothing and jewelry for a wealthy young movie star. It is clear that Maureen hates this job, she confesses this outright to her employer’s sleazy boyfriend, but it pays the bills while she tackles her unfinished spiritual business.

Not content with just restless spirits and luxury goods, Assayas also drops in an anonymous sexual stalker and murder-mystery to boot. And yet, Maureen spends nearly the entire film alone, in shops, on her scooter, or on the train between England and France. Her boyfriend is in Morocco and occasional talks to her via skype. Her boss is always in one city or another, for a film shoot or a fashion show, and communicates with Maureen via notes left in her upscale Paris apartment. And the stalker sends copious amounts of anonymous text messages. I mean a LOT of text messages. For a film that has its lead spend a good chunk of its run time glancing down at her phone, one would think it might get boring, but it is not so. Processing our existence through screens is very much on the artistic agenda of this film.

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Blu-Ray Review: Train to Busan

Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Screenplay: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jung
Country: South Korea
Running Time: 118 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve been enjoying a glut of East Asian genre movies of late with Creepy and The Wailing both impressing me. I hoped to continue this winning run with the South Korean zombie film Train to Busan, which has been gathering a lot of acclaim from critics and horror fans alike. I’m a bit tired of zombie movies these days to be honest, but I have faith in the Koreans to inject a bit of fresh blood into the genre and from what I’d heard, Train to Busan had done just that.

The film sees a zombie outbreak tear through South Korea after a leak at a biotech site. We don’t witness the beginnings though, instead we follow the hard-working hedge fund manager Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) as he takes his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) on the train to Busan to see her mother. The two parents have separated and Seok is struggling to spend enough time with Soo-an, so she wants to go live with her mother. Circumstances around the pair cause Seok to have to step up as a father though when the undead start attacking in hordes and the two are trapped on the train along with a few other survivors and the hungry remnants of the less lucky passengers.

I’m not sure it quite lived up to all the hype, but I did enjoy Train to Busan quite a lot. Pitching closer towards action than horror to some extent, the film played more towards my tastes in that aspect. Instead of jump scares and a reliance on gore (this is bloody, but not gross-out) we get pulse-racing chases as waves of zombies launch at our protagonists. This style of fast paced zombies attacking in great numbers is reminiscent of World War Z, but the scale is kept just about small enough and less CGI-heavy to seem more realistically threatening.

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Review: The Wailing

Director: Hong-jin Na
Screenplay: Hong-jin Na
Starring: Do-won Kwak, Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim
Country: South Korea, USA
Running Time: 156 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


I caught Hong-jin Na’s debut feature The Chaser at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2008 and was very impressed. He followed that up with The Yellow Sea in 2010 and although I had a couple of issues with it (my review can be found here: http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2011/10/the-yellow-sea/), I still thought it was exceptionally well made. So when his next film, The Wailing finally emerged, it sat high on my wish list of films to see. Luckily for me a screener link was sent my way to review the film, so I can let you all know whether it met my high expectations.

Before I do that though, let me tell you more about the film. The Wailing sees a rural South Korean village plagued by violent murders committed by villagers who seem to have turned savage. Incompetent local cop Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) tries to get to the bottom of what’s causing his neighbours to lose their minds. The authorities think it’s a dodgy mushroom tonic being sold, but Jong-goo and several other locals suspect a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods has something to do with it. When Jong-goo’s young daughter (Hwan-hee Kim) becomes inflicted by the psychosis and dark supernatural forces seem to be to blame, he enlists the help of a shaman (Jung-min Hwang) to eradicate the problem. This only makes things worse though as the bodies begin to pile up and nobody knows who’s to blame or who they can trust.

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Blu-Ray Review: Creepy

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenplay: Chihiro Ikeda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Based on a Novel by: Yutaka Maekawa
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yûko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryôko Fujino, Masahiro Higashide
Country: Japan
Running Time: 130 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Japanese cinema was in vogue among cineasts. J-horror was making big waves with Ring and Ju-On leading the pack and Takashi Miike was blowing our minds with his array of wild and disturbing films. Somewhere along the way, not helped by the devastating earthquake in 2011, the crowd of Japanese titles thinned out though and audiences started looking towards Korea and elsewhere for their foreign language fixes. Some directors have remained relevant though and one of these is Kiyoshi Kurosawa. He gained fame during the Japanese film boom directing horror films like The Cure and Pulse and crime thrillers such as Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider. Then, as many of his contemporaries struggled to stay relevant in the West, he found acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, entering into the various competitions numerous times and winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize in 2008 for Tokyo Sonata and the Un Certain Regard – Directing Prize for Journey to the Shore. The two titles mentioned showed he was as adept at writing and directing drama as he was thrillers. Last year however saw him return to his roots to co-write and direct Creepy, an unnerving thriller about not trusting your neighbours and family dynamics. Eureka have added it to their Masters of Cinema collection, so I thought I’d check it out.

The film opens with an exciting face off between police detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and a psychopath who escapes from his interrogation. The stand-off ends messily with Takakura getting stabbed, a bystander possibly being killed and the suspect having to be taken down in a hail of bullets. We then fast forward a year and find that Takakura has moved out of the city with his wife to lead a peaceful life teaching criminal psychology rather than practising it. However, when a colleague at the university and a former partner of his on the force approach him about a missing persons case that went cold 6 years ago, Takakura is drawn into a dangerous investigation once again. Meanwhile, his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) is struggling to settle into the new area as her neighbours aren’t very approachable, particularly Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a creepy characters who lives with his daughter Mio (Ryôko Fujino) and wife, who is always mysteriously absent. As we follow both storylines, you get the sneaking suspicion they’re going to converge somewhere along the way.

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