Thursday, 31 May 2012

Poll Results - June Film Reviews

This month’s poll to decide two of the films to be reviewed in June was an incredibly close affair, and it seems only appropriate that it ended in a tie. From day one Umberto Lenzi’s notorious departure into the ‘Green Inferno’ Cannibal Ferox (1981) led the way, much to my horror and disgust. I was hoping it would fade quietly away and I wouldn’t have to pack my bags for a sojourn into the jungle, but it powered on throughout the month to finish comfortably in the top two. The more interesting race was for second place; with Cannibal Ferox strutting effortlessly ahead, a battle of epic proportions broke out between Night of the Hunter (1955), Django (1966) and Frogs (1972). For the majority of the month it seemed that Charles Laughton’s disturbing western/noir, replete with Robert Mitchum’s powerhouse acting display would take the plaudits, but in the last week Franco Nero’s spaghetti western anti-hero Django, dragged his coffin into contention and blew away the competition with the Gatling Gun concealed within. In the end Django tied with Cannibal Ferox and the result was an unlikely double for Italian cinema. I’d like to say thank you to all those who took time out to vote, and I hope you enjoy the reviews that will be forthcoming. Here are the full results for the month of May;

01 Cannibal Ferox (1981) - 11 votes (32%)
02 Django (1966) - 11 votes (32%)
03 Frogs (1972) - 7 Votes (20%)
04 The Night of the Hunter (1955) - 7 votes (20%)
05 Marathon Man (1976) - 6 votes (17%)
06 Serpico (1973) - 6 votes (17%)
07 Alice in the Cities (1974) - 5 votes (14%)
08 Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? - 5 votes (14%) 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Telephone Box (1972)

Country: SPAIN

La Cabina

Original Transmission Date - 13/12/1972

The Telephone Box was a short film made for Spanish television in 1972. Its origins are humble, but its status as a cult film is incontestable. It is incredibly unusual for a short film, especially one from a director who is still largely unknown outside his native Spain, to acquire such a following. It would almost be impossible for it to happen now, but in the early 1970’s when short films were often screened as support features (quite often they were educational or public safety films) and on late night television, the chances were slightly improved. The majority of these films were seen once, left an indelible and haunting impression, and were then the subject of nostalgia, word-of-mouth, and ultimately a long (and often fruitless) quest for a second view or even ownership. The relative obscurity and unavailability of The Telephone Box has been of paramount importance in its development as a cult object. The significance of the film has grown in proportion to its descent into the gloomy netherworld of a distribution limbo. This isn’t entirely the only reason for its cult status however; one of the key signifiers of a cult film is generic hybridity, and The Telephone Box has this in abundance. The film opens as a kind of anarchic surreal comedy, before subtly shifting into a realm of puzzlement and mystery, and then concluding in outright horror. Three generic shifts in thirty-five minutes may seem unwieldy and problematic, but the filmmakers pull it of with such confidence, that the cumulative effect is quite devastating.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ladyhawke (1985)

Country: USA

With the success of such films as Hawk the Slayer (1980), Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), and Krull (1983) fantastical and mythical movies of sword and sorcery enjoyed an hitherto unseen commercial success in the early 1980’s. The cycle wasn’t to last long, but proof of its appeal was confirmed when the Italian’s got in on the act with a series of low budget rip offs such as the Ator series (1982, 84, 86, and 1990), Lucio Fulci’s dreadful Conquest (1983), and almost unwatchable crap like Throne of Fire (1983). As an index of box office appeal and success there was none greater in the 1970’s and 1980’s than the inevitable cycle of cheap Italian imitations. In many ways Ladyhawke (which strolled to No 1 in last month’s film review poll) is one of the most atypical of the cycle. There is no doubt in my mind that it would not have been made, were it not for some of the films previously mentioned, yet in an act of craven gutted cowardice, the filmmakers behind it chose to jettison the violence, and the special effects in favour of a soporific, sickly-sweet, saccharine, gag-inducing romance aimed at teenage girls. This is low calorie sword and sorcery (the sorcery element is also non-existent), but the filmmakers and producers are not beyond drawing from the genre (or should that be jumping onto the bandwagon) in order for their sugar coated medieval yarn to appeal to the widest audience. I can only imagine how mystified and disgusted male sword and sorcery fans were when they went to see this in theatres back in 1985.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Midnight (1982)

Country: USA

John Russo's Midnight
Backwoods Massacre 

John Russo will be a familiar name to any self respecting enthusiast of cult horror cinema. He co-wrote the screenplay for Night of the Living Dead (1968), a film that turned out to be a clarion call for a new and vital form of modern horror expression. His contribution to this film and its resulting influence on the wider landscape of the horror genre affords Mr. Russo generic immortality; but what of his other contributions to cinematic history? I have to confess seeing the name John Russo attached to a film would not inspire me to watch it, in much the same way that George A. Romero’s wouldn’t either. For me this is a seal of mediocrity rather than excellence. I’ve always recognised the importance of Night of the Living Dead within its genre, and it is within the terms of generic discourse (or theory if you like) that the film signals its innovation and radicalism. But I don’t like the film - instead of going into the reasons here, check out my review. In Romero’s defence he has at least gone on to make a number of important additions to the horror genre; Mr. Russo has done nothing of consequence. His follow up (if you will) to Night of the Living Dead marked his directorial debut, and the movie was called The Booby Hatch (1976). I think the title alone tells you all you need to know about Russo’s post Night of the Living Dead credentials. In addition to a career as a screenwriter (sixteen credits to date), and director (nine credits to date) Russo was also something of a novelist, and one of his novels Midnight made it to the screen in 1982.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Red Circle (1960)


Der Rote Kreis
The Crimson Circle

The Red Circle was the second Edgar Wallace krimi produced by Preben Phillipsen under the auspices of Danish studio Rialto. The surprise commercial success of The Fellowship of the Frog in West Germany necessitated a continuation of the series, and by and large The Red Circle faithfully follows the formula set up in the previous film. The novel was published in 1922 under the title The Crimson Circle, and has proved one of the most durable and oft adapted of Wallace’s crime novels. The first version appeared in the same year the book saw print, and was a British film directed by George Ridgwell. In 1929 a second version appeared, an Anglo-German production helmed by Frederic Zelnick. In 1940 another sole British venture appeared directed by Reginald Denham. These three treatments remain obscure and hard to find, and the 1960 version directed by Jürgen Roland is the most successful and visible. In saying that though, the Rialto film can still be a pain in the arse to track down for a reasonable price, but part of the fun of researching an area such as this is the leg work involved in securing a decent print. I may be in a minority in thinking that this is a culturally significant movie, and the poverty of critical thinking, or even cursory reviews in the English language on the internet, would seem to confirm my minority status. It’s a status I share with fellow scribe and krimi enthusiast Holger Haase, and I doff my hat to him for treading the dark and shadowy streets of Wallace’s London before me.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Panic in Needle Park (1971)

Country: USA

In recent weeks I have found myself, by accident rather than design, walking the putrefying urban rot of New York City in a series of offbeat cinematic outings. The first from 1982 was Lucio Fulci’s abhorrent monstrosity The New York Ripper, the sort of film that has you reaching for the carbolic soap on the way to the shower after a screening. The second from 1980 was James Glickenhaus’ returning veteran/vigilante flick The Exterminator, although far more enjoyable than Fulci’s menagerie of mindless depravity, it was still grimy and grubby enough to leave one feeling soiled by its decaying atmosphere. I’d like nothing more than a holiday from this mucky milieu; even Summerisle seems an attractive option. But Summerisle, and their delicious apples will have to wait, instead we have The Panic in Needle Park, and it's time for me to don my waders once again to traverse the effluent of New York City. Of the three films mentioned in this paragraph Needle Park is certainly the most worthy. It is regarded in some quarters as an art film, though the sensationalism of 20th Century Fox’s promotional campaign, which luridly emphasised the exploitation elements, makes it a curious hybrid of art and exploitation film. In the US it was these protracted and unflinching multiple sequences of junkies shooting up that created both scandal and box office success, in the UK it resulted in the film being refused a certificate from the BBFC for four years.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Celluloid Sounds - The Long Good Friday (1980)

A few years back I was asked by a fellow academic to decide upon my favourite British film of all time, and then write an appreciation of it, for a book that unfortunately never saw the light of day. I chose The Long Good Friday and as I think about it now, several years on, my decision would probably remain the same. My interest in British genre cinema goes far beyond horror; indeed at one time I had a greater interest in home-grown gangster, noir, and science-fiction films than I did with a lot of generically retrograde horror pictures. The challenge of a genre film is in providing something innovative and new within a restrictive narrative and iconographic environment; this is made even more challenging when that genre then has to be adjusted to the meta-narratives and cultural concerns of a national cinema. In some genres, such as the western, this is impossible. But the syntactic concerns of the American gangster film seem to fit the gritty social realism that marked large swathes of British cinema like a glove. The Long Good Friday is an innovative gangster picture that isn’t concerned with the rise of the criminal, but instead completely focuses on his fall, and it is a fall that is made supremely entertaining by Bob Hoskins’ apoplectic and bemused rage.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Guest Review - Outlaw (2007)

Country: UK

What is wrong with British Cinema? Nick Love, Outlaw and er... Danny Dyer.

“‘ee’s a facking nonce now put ‘im dahn!”

For my sins, I’m somehow drawn to write on the rather horrible but somewhat fascinating Outlaw. This is for two reasons. Firstly, it sits well outside the remit of Videotape Swapshop. Secondly, in conversation with the author of this fine film site, I was asked how I managed to live (and work) in London. I began to think about the cinematic representation of life in England’s capital – all the more relevant, I guess, with the current overwhelming and ongoing public image exercise at hand in the city with this summer’s Olympic Games preparations. Once upon a time, we had Mike Leigh to paint the picture of life in England, and often of life in and around London. It usually involved familial disputes over mismatching tea cups and Hygena kitchen sinks, and usually, intentionally, stretched no further than the semi detached landscape of the suburbs. Then, from the steaming afterbirth of the artful (Madonna) dodger Guy Ritchie and his pop grot hooliganism, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), emerged Nick Love.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Country: UK

Like most horror anthologies the Amicus production Tales from the Crypt is a patchy and uneven affair; at times sublime and highly entertaining, at others rushed, predictable, and unsatisfying. This hasn’t stopped it becoming the most immediately recognised of their numerous portmanteau movies, a situation no doubt aided by the films tremendous commercial success. My personal favourite will forever remain The House that Dripped Blood (1971) for its blend of comedy, self-referential satire, effective scares, and the stylish and intelligent direction of Peter Duffell. Duffell clearly impressed Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg for he was offered the job of directing Tales from the Crypt, but he chose to turn it down. So they turned to Freddie Francis, a safe but dull pair of hands, a man capable of churning out serviceable genre movies, but ones almost entirely lacking in inspiration. Fortunately the decision to turn to the gore soaked pages of EC Comics offset this somewhat. Writers such as Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, and William M. Gaines excelled at creating short sharp morality plays overflowing with poetic irony, black humour, and disreputable characters. EC Comics still had a whiff of scandal attached to them, and one must credit Subotsky for toning down the savagery, without compromising the overall message of each story.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Phantasm Poster Gallery

"You think when you die, you go to heaven. You come to us!!"

Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1979) - US Poster

US Poster #2

French Poster

Japanese Poster #1
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