Monday, 28 February 2011

Onibaba (1964)

Country: JAPAN

Devil Woman
The Hole
The Ogress
The Witch
The Demon

Legendary Japanese filmmaker Kaneto Shindô directed his 45th feature film Ichimai no Hagaki in 2010 at the tender age of 98. Born in Hiroshima in 1912 Shindô has also written some 158 screenplays, making him easily one of the most prolific filmmakers in world cinema. Shindô’s failure to secure the type of distribution enjoyed by Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu remains a mystery. His early films are slightly more visible in the West. In recent times we have enjoyed pristine DVD presentations of The Naked Island (1960), Onibaba (1964) and Kuroneko (1968) and they have afforded us a glimpse into a highly stylised and expressive formal style that is both challenging and invigorating. The latter two titles have also illustrated Shindô’s ability to meld this formal eloquence with popular genres and past theatrical traditions. However the unavailability of Children of Hiroshima (1952) still remains a mystifying aberration. It is certainly the case that as the 1960’s wore on Shindô’s work became less distinctive and his interest in social purpose took a back seat to explorations of sexuality. But as we saw in Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976), sex in its purest form can be a potent political and social weapon. The success of his quasi historical horror film Onibaba isn’t particularly surprising as it retains just enough generic signifiers to satisfy western audiences, and possessed the added draw of an unusually frank exploration of frustrated sexuality.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Hammer Historical Adventures Poster Gallery

MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST (Val Guest, 1954) - UK poster


THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (Terence Fisher, 1959) UK poster


Sunday, 20 February 2011

Day of Anger (1967)


I giorni dell'ira

With his cold steely eyes, predatory angular features, and icy determinism Lee Van Cleef cuts an apocalyptic swathe through the dust and disharmony of the Euro-Western. Van Cleef possesses an aura and a smile that would have coffin makers rubbing their hands in glee. More than any other actor Van Cleef embodied the feral cynicism of this distinctly European vision of the American west. It is only appropriate that the breakdown in distinctions of good and evil should coalesce around an actor that was adept at playing both roles and everything in between. In the remarkable and quite brilliant Day of Anger Van Cleef is given the opportunity to explore the full range of this territory. His expert gunslinger Frank Talby is slick and ruthless and possessed of a burning intelligence and ambition. Talby represents a kind of justice, but the justice he metes out to the corrupt leaders of Clifton, Arizona is poetic, and not at all motivated by an innate sense of moral justice. In reality Talby is entirely interested in feathering his own nest, making plenty of money, and eventually taking control of Clifton. He does this through a combination of guile, gunfire and blackmail. When Talby takes Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) under his wing early in the film we are deceived into believing Talby is a good man outraged by the disrespect and injustice Scott endures, but this is a spaghetti western and Talby’s motives turn out to be selfish and self serving.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Warlords of Atlantis (1978)

Country: UK

Warlords of the Deep

The inconsistent and uneven Warlords of Atlantis was the fourth and final collaboration between producer John Dark, director Kevin Connor, and square jawed actor Doug McClure. The first three period set fantasy adventures The Land that Time Forgot (1975), At the Earth’s Core (1976) and The People that Time Forgot (1977) were all produced under the auspices of Amicus Productions and were based on works by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Warlords of Atlantis broke with this tradition in both its means of production and its writing. The screenplay was concocted by Brian Hayles who spent most of his career writing for British television. He contributed six serials to Doctor Who (The Celestial Toymaker, The Smugglers, The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Death, The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon) and many of these adventures had strong socio-political allegorical undertones, this narrative dimension bleeds into the screenplay for this film. Hayles’ screenplay emphasises action over plotting and character development, and the result is energy and excitement at the cost of effective storytelling. The film also differs in its stress on science-fictional elements and in its interest in the future of mankind. However Warlords of Atlantis still celebrates unlikely feats of engineering and places its trust and support in the unshakeable symbol of the eccentric Victorian scientist. The result is a film that maintains the iconography of the Amicus pictures, but develops a series of themes that offer an altogether darker vision than that presented in the earlier films.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Vampire Circus (1972)

Country: UK

Thanks to the efforts of the DVD distributor Synapse Films Vampire Circus (1972) became the second Hammer film to be released in the High Definition Blu Ray format. It joins Paranoiac (1963) which was released on Blu Ray last year by Eureka Entertainment. These are unlikely titles perhaps, but Vampire Circus has over the years built itself a steady cult following, largely based on its unusual and offbeat approach to the clichés of gothic horror. By 1972 Hammer were willing to take greater risks in order to reverse their fading fortunes, and although Vampire Circus has plenty of conventional and predictable moments, it also possesses a sensibility, structure, and tone that makes it a unique entry in Hammer’s vampire lore. It is not an experimental film as such - but perhaps the relative inexperience of key personnel such as the director Robert Young (this was his second film) and the screenwriter Judson Kinberg (this was his first screenplay) and the producer Wilbur Stark (who had never produced a horror film before) led to a freshness of approach that accidentally created moments of peculiarity that at times border the modes of art cinema narration. However this isn’t entirely a fresh slate - the name of George Baxt as an uncredited contributor to the story is an important one. Baxt had a long history in the genre - providing uncredited additional dialogue for The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), and screenplays for City of the Dead (1960), and Circus of Horrors (1960). In front of the camera we do at least have Thorley Walters and Dave Prowse to offer a link to past Hammer's.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead (2005)

Country: USA

First Transmitted - 11/11/2005

One has to admire the bravery (or possibly outright gall) of series creator Mick Garris in inviting several washed up has-beens to contribute direction to the first season of Masters of Horror. There is a certain amount of back slapping and arse kissing endemic in a project like this, because if one were to be entirely objective it about there is no way that in 2005 Tobe Hooper would qualify as a ‘Master of Horror’. Hooper has made lots of horror films yes, but he hasn’t made a single good one in my lifetime. In fact I would argue that Hooper has only made one creatively successful horror film and that was his astonishing debut picture The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Unlike his contemporaries in the 1970’s Hooper peaked instantly. His career since has been a pallid and depressingly dreary attempt to recapture the ferocity and creativity of his first film. In this respect Hooper’s later career must surely rank as the most disappointing in horror history. The promise of his first film was destroyed almost immediately with his lacklustre thematic follow up Eaten Alive (1977). Somewhat surprisingly though he did manage to direct an excellent television mini-series adaptation of Salem’s Lot (1979), proving that he could adapt to the strictures of television with aplomb. Unfortunately Salem’s Lot has proven an exception in Hooper’s career, and though some horror fanatics might cite The Funhouse (1981) (I’d prefer to watch the grass grow) and Poltergeist (1982) (Hooper pimping himself out to Spielberg whose themes dominate the film) the reality is that these films are largely inconsequential and bereft of ideas and intelligence. But based on thirty years of shocking mediocrity Mick Garris invited Hooper to take part in Masters of Horror. So we have thirty years of cinematic garbage from Hooper, what would his episode Dance of the Dead be like?…believe it or not its utter garbage!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Dirty Harry Poster Gallery

"Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That's my policy." (Harry Callaghan, Dirty Harry, 1971)

DIRTY HARRY (Don Siegel, 1971) #1 US poster

DIRTY HARRY #2 US poster

DIRTY HARRY #3 - US poster

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Permissive (1970)

Country: UK

The British Film Institute’s ‘BFI Flipside’ DVD imprint continues to dig out some fascinating and neglected films from the history of British cinema. Each title is presented in both standard and high definition, and offers an absorbing journey into avenues of British cinema that have remained overgrown and mistreated for decades. These titles (most of which I’ve never heard of) now have the opportunity to spring from the soil and enjoy a moment or two in the sunlight. A good number of these releases so far encompass the lusty traditions of British sexploitation, and while Permissive would nominally be categorised as such, it is a far trickier proposition when viewed. The director was Lindsey Shonteff, a Canadian who began making films in Britain in the early 1960’s. For genre fans his most famous film is probably Devil Doll (1964), a lacklustre and dull retread of ’The Ventriloquist’s Dummy’ story from Ealing’s chilling portmanteau film Dead of Night (1945). Although Shonteff’s twenty three directorial efforts were plagued by low budgets and received patchy to non-existent distribution, his films (even the James Bond spoofs) possess an energy and a strange magnetism which make them eminently watchable. Shonteff is a director of some generic savvy and utility, and in many ways Permissive is atypical in his filmography.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Devil (2010)

Country: USA

The stock of writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan couldn’t be much lower after a series of feeble and derisory films that have contrived to make his first two (The Sixth Sense [1999) and Unbreakable [2000]) seem half decent. The reality is that Shyamalan has yet to direct a good film, and a film that has his name attached to it is only fit for the trash collector. That is until the release of Devil, which was based upon a story by Shyamalan, and is refreshingly bereft of his normal posturing and pretence, and has a narrative which isn’t totally reliant on tricks. It is still recognisable as its authors work because of a central gimmick which entraps five total strangers in a malfunctioning elevator. If the claustrophobia, proximity, and fear of this situation isn’t enough, one of the occupants also happens to be the devil. This central proposition is intriguing enough to carry the whole film, and the film is blessed with a director who approaches the material with economy and a briskness of pace. I’m not sure how John Erick Dowdle got this assignment, because his previous film Quarantine (2008) was so appalling that new adjectives had to be invented to describe just how bad it was. But Dowdle emerges as the unlikely hero of Devil because of an efficient and smooth filmmaking approach that mirrors the simplicity of the story. The screenplay by Brian Nelson - the ‘brain’ behind moronic flotsam such as Hard Candy (2005) and 30 Days of Night (2007) offers levity to the restricted confinement of the elevator with two other narrative strands offering a police investigation, and the efforts of various professionals to free the unfortunates who are trapped. But Nelson does make one decision which almost destroys Devil before it has an opportunity to get going.

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