Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

I'd been aware of the original Manga and Anime for this film, but never seen them ... and so this 2017 live action version, starring Scarlett Johansson came as new to me.

It's a story that is very reminiscent of Robocop (1987) (Wiki says that Ghost in the Shell first appeared in 1989), and so one has to wonder if this was originally a Japanese response to that American film. The basic idea is that a woman is created as a cyborg to help the police with their work. The problem is that she retains some of her original memories and personality and these start to bleed through and drive her mad. So she sets out to find out what the truth is.

Along the way we get some superb action sequences, and the CGI is faultless in this 2017 edition. One element of note is that our heroine, Mira, has what is described as a Thermoptic suit, which allows her to become invisible. It also renders her as practically nude, it's so tight, and indeed she is wearing it on the cover of the DVD/Blu-Ray releases and in the trailer, and in much of the film's action set pieces.

I enjoyed the film a lot, but I think the familiarity with Robocop is very strong, and this robs the screenplay of some of its mystery - we know where this is all going. The effects are great, and the acting is also good. One complaint though with regards to Ms Johansson, as with Lucy she seems to be walking through the role in an emotionless fugue. I totally understand that both roles (Lucy and Mira) are intentionally 'blanks' and divorced from reality, so maybe this is what she's being asked to play by the director, but I feel that some actual emotion somewhere in the mix would raise the performance immensely.

It's also interesting, that Googling for photos from the film, there are next to none which don't feature Johansson ... seems that the studios are relying on her and her alone for the film to work!

Review: Don't Torture A Duckling (1972)

Way back in the dim and distant past, some of the masters of Italian Giallo were cutting their teeth on crime dramas, which, while having something in common with the horror fare we might be used to seeing from them, comes from a somewhat different angle.

Years before he rose to notoriety with Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), Lucio Fulci made Don't Torture a Duckling, a crime/giallo film which has one or two touches of his future horror fare included. In many ways, it's quite a straightforward film: three boys in an Italian village are messing about, as boys do, making trouble and tormenting the locals. One of them goes missing, and amid the press interest, one journalist (Tomas Millian) tries to help the police out.

The boy's body is discovered, and in a welter of red herrings and characters, we get numerous possible suspects for the murder. Was it the strange gypsy witch who has been making dolls of the boys and sticking pins in them? Is it Milan socialite Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) who is acting very suspiciously? Is it the local priest (Marc Poreli) or his mother (Irene Papas)? There are no end of suspicious activities until we find out at the end ...  and I'm not going to spoil it for you!

Overall, it's a pretty accomplished film, and sets out to do what it does very well. There's touches of horror in the deaths, and one very brutal and protracted and hard to watch killing by the villagers, which, if you replace said villagers with zombies, is almost a template for later films ...

The title is, I suppose, a play on duckling=children ... but there is some relevance to a mute girl who has a headless doll, and later a headless duck, as a toy ...

The Arrow release is beautifully mastered, with good colours and a clear picture. We watched the film in Italian with subtitles, not realising there was an English soundtrack as well!

And the extras are, again as usual, excellent.


• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
Giallo a la Campagna, a new video discussion with Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
• Hell is Already in Us, a new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
• Interviews with co-writer/director Lucio Fulci, actor Florinda Bolkan, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, assistant editor Bruno Micheli and assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes

Sunday, September 03, 2017

New from Warlord Games

Fans of metal miniature figures will be delighted to hear that several new three-packs have been released by Warlord Miniatures in recent months ... their range is building really nicely, and there's promise of all sorts of goodies to come!

Meanwhile, here's pics of the recent issues:

Finally, there's a free FISHER KING figure for anyone who spends more than £75 at their online shop - ... so check them out!

Review: More Mr Men/Doctor Who titles and Paper Dolls

Sometimes this crazy programme that we love throws up some brilliant things. The most recent are the 'Mr Men/Doctor Who' Mash-Up books from Penguin.

Four were published earlier in the year, and now we have four more!  Covering Dr. Second, Dr. Seventh, Dr. Eighth and Dr. Ninth.

In Dr. Second, the Doctor teams with Jamie and Victoria to solve a problem of Yeti in a museum ... Dr. Seventh is with Ace battling the Cheetah people and the Master ... Dr Eighth solves a problem between the Sea Devils and Silurians, and Dr Ninth sees an alternative first meeting between the Doctor and Rose, with Autons and Captain Jack thrown in for good measure!

They are excellent little books, nicely drawn and observed, and for fans of Doctor Who, of course a must-buy.  I heard that there will be actual models of the Mr Men Doctors available soon ... what will they think of next!

The other book which arrived this week is something of a curio ... back in the day, perhaps the most tenuous book to be released tying in with Doctor Who was perhaps the Doctor Who Pattern Book or the Doctor Who Cook Book ... well now there is a new contender with Doctor Who Paper Dolls!

It's a simple idea ... cut out, stand-up figures of various characters from Doctor Who with clothing choices to also cut out and apply to the standees. On the plus side, the book is well constructed from stiff card (so stiff in fact that I wonder how easy actually cutting the figures out would be) but it's a shame they are not perforated to assist removal.

There are 26 characters represented here: all twelve Doctors; Jo Grant; Sarah Jane Smith; Romana; Ace; Rose Tyler; Donna Noble; Martha Jones; River Song; Amy Pond; Rory Williams; Clara Oswold; Petronella Osgood; Missy; and Bill Potts ... and the outfits range from a cleaning lady that the third Doctor dressed as in 'The Green Death' to Sarah Jane's Andy Pandy outfit.  I feel that some opportunities have been missed though: Bill Potts does not have a Mondasian Cyberman outfit, for example, and Clara's red dress from her debut in 'Asylum of the Daleks' is missing (though arguably you could say that that character was not Clara but Oswin ... but wasn't Oswin meant to be one of the Clara 'splinters'?).  Donna doesn't get her Roman outfit from 'Fires of Pompeii' and Romana, queen of the outfit changes, has just three represented. It's interesting that Rory stands out as the sole male entry in the book (aside from all the Doctors of course) ... what about all the other male companions from Ian to Steven, Jamie to Harry?

Alongside the artwork images by Ben Morris, there are brief notes by Simon Guerrier about the costume elements which pull in facts from behind the scenes on the show. Thus the first Doctor's hat is said to be a karakul ... I always thought it was an astrakhan hat (Googling suggests they may be the same thing) and that Jon Pertwee's green velvet jacket sold for £8400 at auction in 2009!  There's also a caption to the cleaning lady outfit suggesting it's a milkman, which was a different disguise that the Doctor used in 'The Green Death'.

There's also a rather nice piece all about cosplay from Christel Dee, who presents the BBC's 'fan show' on Doctor Who ... and while I can understand the connection between a book of characters from Doctor Who as dressing up dollies, and cosplay, it does seem a little misplaced ... maybe a book actually on cosplay would be a better idea ... showing fans dressed up and explaining how they created and cobbled together their outfits.

Overall, I'm afraid it's a book that I just can't see the point of. There might be an audience out there for it, but I really don't know what age group they are aiming it at. It's certainly not me!  Sorry people ...

Review: The Target Covers of Jeff Cummins

This is the third in a series of portfolios published by Andrew Skilleter and Matt Doe from Who Dares Publishing. I have to mention that I penned the introduction to this, so have a vested interest.

However, this is a smashing collectors item, and limited to 50 copies only!

There are superb reproductions of Jeff's Target paintings here, and a pre-painting sketch of the 'Horror of Fang Rock' cover art ...  brilliant stuff.

The printing quality is amazing, and the whole thing reeks quality, from the little booklet all about the paintings, to the inclusion of a Target badge ...

If you're a fan of the Target cover paintings, then you'll want this in your collection!

Available from:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets (2017)

As a massive fan of director Luc Besson's work, I was looking forward to his new science fiction epic, Valerian, with great anticipation.  I have followed his career through films like Angel-A, Leon and of course The Fifth Element, and adored films like the very French The Extraordinary Adventures of Louise Blanc-Sec and the thriller Lucy ... so a new science fiction from Besson was very much appreciated.

And I adored it.

It's rich and clever, painting a tapestry of alien contact through the years (and any film which starts with David Bowie and 'Space Oddity' has to be loved!) and establishing Alpha, a vast inter-special space station let loose from Earth's gravity and sent off into the void, before we head to the very alien world of Mül, whereon the vaguely humanoid inhabitants live an idyllic and peaceful existence before their world is bombarded with debris from a space battle above, and their princess killed.

As she dies, however, she releases a wave of energy which is picked up by Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) who, along with Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), is working for the human government as special forces.

There follows a space-jumping adventure as Valerian and DeHaan are tasked to recover stolen goods -  a Mül Converter - from an awesomely conceived alien marketplace which takes place across two dimensions, and then to Alpha where there is a mysterious radiation-locked area in the centre which keeps expanding.

What this all has to do with the Converter which Valerian retrieved from the Market, and the people of Mül forms the core of the film, which is as bold, brash, funny, visually impressive and incredible as anyone might want their science fiction to be!

DeHaan and Delevingne play Valerian and Laureline well, with an on-off romance, and a nice line in wisecracks and humour. DeHaan is perhaps a little too one-note, but this doesn't seem to matter too much as the action keeps coming, and there are enough space battles, blaster fights and alien creations to keep Doctor Who in business for years.

One of the things I loved were the alien races. From the opening scenes of the Human Ambassadors greeting all manner of strange creatures, to those in the market place, vast underwater monsters, alien creatures 'fishing' using butterflies as bait, and of course the people of Mül, not to mention the Converter (which is a cute little creature itself), every element is thought through and works within the concepts of the film. And when we get to Rhianna playing a blue jellyfish-like creature which can mimic anyone or anything, well ...

I did try and see if I could spot any Mondoshawans or Mangalores (from The Fifth Element) lurking about but there didn't seem to be any ... a shame I thought, but then I suppose you can't have everything!

It's a long film, but you never feel that it overstays its welcome and I didn't look at my watch once. The bad guys are sufficiently bad, and there's always something to watch, admire, and smile about on screen.

Overall I adored it, and can't wait to watch it again as we are surely getting the Blu-Ray as and when it appears.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Final Recall (2017)

Final Recall (or just Recall in the USA) is a new film, and I managed to get to see a review screener of it ...  On the surface it looks like something that is exactly my cup of tea, blending horror with science fiction ...

The idea is that a bunch of alien spacecraft appear all over the world and start kidnapping people, for why we don't know ... And there's a bunch of teenagers, three guys (R J Mitte, Jedidiah Goodacre, Niko Pepaj) and two girls (Laura Bilgeri, Hannah Rose May), who are heading off for a weekend in a secluded cabin in the woods ... and at the gas station on the way. they meet a stranger (Wesley Snipes) who seems to have antipathy towards them.  So much, so Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale Vs Evil (not to mention Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and every other film which has a bunch of kids visiting a cabin in the woods).

Things ramp up when the aliens arrive and send in jellyfish-like drones to scout the place out ... we're now in Independence Day or War of the Worlds territory. Snipes' hunter turns out to be someone that the aliens previously captured and who has been 'returned' with strange psychokinetic powers, and some alien decal-like tattoos.

So the kids end up being captured and taken on board the spacecraft, which has a very alien-esque decor, straight out of the Alien franchise, and after some wandering about, one of the kids finds his friends lounging in vats of goo which seem to be either dissolving their lower parts, or turning them into something else ...  This reminded me of elements of The Matrix films with the cybernetic attachments and goo (when Neo wakes in one of the battery-pods).

Then, everyone is returned to earth by the aliens and they head off, only to be stopped by the army and shot!  Except that two of them use their new superpowers to destroy the army, and to heal themselves as well - seems they are immortal!  As are many others who have now been returned to Earth ...

As a film, it's not at all bad. and despite all the derivative elements I mentioned above, is very watchable and exciting.  It's pretty obvious that Snipes would turn out to be a - sort of - good guy, and the kids are likable enough.

The effects are excellent, and you get a sense of the alienness of the creatures and whatever their plan is, specifically because it's not spelled out for you. At the end, you still have no idea why this has happened - it's all part of some alien masterplan in progress.

The aliens are nicely realised too - probably because you don't see much of them. It's a case of less is more!  Though what we do see reminded me strongly of the alien hunter in Without Warning way back in the 80s.

I don't know about 'Cabin Fever meets Skyline' though.  The former is about a virus infection which wipes out a group of kids in a cabin ... the only connection I can see here is that there is a cabin!  And Skyline was about alien abductions ... so I suppose there's a connection there.

If you're into this sort of film: mixing and matching things from all over the place to create an enjoyable alien/horror romp through the genres, then this might be right up your street!

Directed by Mauro Borrelli
Writing Credits: Reggie Keyohara III, Mauro Borrelli, Teddy Wynne, Sam Acton King

Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: The Slayer (1982)

Arrow have a knack for seeking out all the most obscure little films from the eighties which flourished in the horror boom at that time. The Slayer is one of them.

Unfortunately time has not been kind to the film, and it plays today as being somewhat forgettable. A slasher movie in which there doesn't seem to be a killer, which is full of bland characters, and which, when you reach the end, you realise was all a dream anyway. Probably the worst plot 'twist' you could give to a horror film.

The plot is simple: two couples visit an isolated island for a holiday, and get killed off by an unseen killer. The main protagonist is Kay (Sarah Kendall), who has been suffering bad dreams all her life. So she and her husband David (Alan McRae), Kay's brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook) head away for a break. There's also a pilot, Marsh (Michael Holmes), who tries to warn them not to stay as there's a hurricane approaching ... Kay finds a deserted theatre at one point, and the deaths are gruesome and redolent with eighties gore.

It's surprising, none the less, that the film was classified in the eighties as a 'Video Nasty' and banned! It all seems way too tame for that ... But this alone probably elevates the film to something of a curio, and so fans of slasher horror should find something to appreciate here. I was interested to see in the extras, the makers explaining how it was the first horror film that any of them had made ... and on that basis it's not bad at all.

The transfer is good, and it's a fairly enjoyable watch and addition to anyone's growing library of horrors.

•        Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative
•        High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
•        Original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
•        Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
•        Audio Commentary with writer/director J.S. Cardone, actress Carol Kottenbrook and executive in charge of production Eric Weston, moderated by Ewan Cant
•        Audio Commentary with 'The Hysteria Continues'
•        Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Robert Folk
•        'Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer' – documentary featuring interviews with J.S. Cardone, Carol Kottenbrook, Eric Weston, producer William Ewing, director of photography Karen Grossman, camera operator/2nd Unit DOP/still photographer Arledge Armenaki, special creature and make-up effects ceator Robert Short and 'Slayer' performer Carl Kraines
•        'Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer' – featurette revisiting the shooting locations on Tybee Island, Georgia
•        'The Tybee Post Theater Experience' – join the audience of the Tybee Post Theater (one of the film’s key locations) for this very special home-town screening of The Slayer! Includes event introduction, feature-length audience reaction track and post screening Q&A with Arledge Armenaki and Ewan Cant
•        Still Gallery
•        Original Theatrical Trailer

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Lee Gambin

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

Oh dear. As life-long fans of the original Resident Evil films, this is one franchise which seems to have gotten worse and worse as the films progressed ... To be fair, it's often the way this sort of thing goes, and the number of film series where the second film tops the first can probably be counted on one hand ...

Resident Evil started life as a computer game in the era when graphics and sound started to hold sway, and the computer could present a realistic mileau for the player to kill as many zombies as they could while creeping through a deserted house ... it was an early success for the genre, and of course spawned a film starring Milla Jovovich as the heroine, Alice, joining forces with a bunch of soldier to descend into The Hive, a secret underground base beneath Racoon City, which has experienced the release of the T-Virus, which in turn has turned everyone down there into bloodthirsty zombies - including the dogs!  It's a simple premise, and one which has spun off through several films, making variations on the T-Virus infected humans, creating clones of Alice, bigger and more violent enemies, and ultimately brought the world to its knees in a zombie-infested, flying-monster-inhabited America ...

And now there's apparently the final entry in the series ... and it's awful.  For a start the film is so dark that it makes Batman look like it was shot on a sunny day ... we had to adjust the settings on the television to even begin to hope to make out what was happening. And then there's the editing. I'm actually surprised at director Paul WS Anderson (who also happens to be Jovovich's husband) as he has a good pedigree and has made some great films that we love (Event Horizon, AVP, the original Resident Evil). Here, however, in the action sequences there seems to be a cut every quarter of a second or so.  Sure it's fast and furious, but as a viewer you have no idea at all what is going on, who is where, where anyone or anything is in relation to each other ... it's just a seemingly random succession of fast moving CGI images which leave you feeling sick with motion sickness rather than caught up in the action. Really poorly done. There's also the return of Ali Larter's character, Claire Redfield, who still can't close her mouth ... and a host of bloodthirsty monsters ...
When you see this poster, you start to realise what
they are selling this film on ... and it's not the plot!

There's a good film waiting to be made here - Alice's return to the Hive to try and destroy the monsters once and for all, with a final stand-off with the computer, the Red Queen and all that she represents, but this isn't it.

The film even relies on the best and most imaginative sequence from the first film, the corridor of lasers, for part of the climactic battle ... there is a paucity of ideas here which makes this feel like a sort of 'best of' the rest of the films, but done so badly, that you really just want to go and watch the original films again ...

I feel that even if you are a fan of the games, then this might just leave you cold.

Review: Pulse (2001)

I first saw Pulse, or to give it it's Japanese name, Kairo, some years back and quite enjoyed it ... and with a new Blu-Ray release from Arrow now available, it's time to revisit it.

The idea is typical of the other Japanese horrors that I have seen, and that you are probably familiar with too. Films like Ringu (The RingJu-On: The Grudge (The Grudge) and Dark Water all present variations on hauntings which impact on the lives and sanity of those who, sometimes completely inadvertently, get in the way. In Pulse, it's to do with ghosts invading the human realm, causing those who see them to become distant and eventually to kill themselves, or to bleed into the walls, leaving black stains behind. I'm not quite sure what the title has to do with any of this as there is no 'pulse' of any kind referenced in the film.

There are two stories running in parallel. One follows Michi (Kumiko Asô), Junko (Kurume Arisaka), Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo) and Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) who work at a flower shop in the city ... first Taguchi, then Yabe vanish, leaving Junko and Michi to try to figure out what is going on, with rooms sealed with red tape, horrific deaths and ultimately Junko herself being caught and killed by the phenomenon.

The other story follows Ryosuke (Haruhiko Katô), an internet geek, who seeks help from Harue (Koyuki), an IT teacher, to try and understand a strange website which his computer keeps showing him. Eventually Harue commits suicide, and Ryosuke joins up with Michi to get away from the city with a small number of survivors of whatever this plague/disaster really is.

As films go, it's quite hard to follow and understand. If you had difficulty with Ju-On: The Grudge, then this is even more obtuse, but the visuals and unfolding sense of dread make it all worthwhile. There's an underlying idea that 'death was eternal loneliness', and that those people who encounter the ghosts cut themselves off and eventually become just an unwanted stain on the wall ... It's a cruel film in that regard, and the bleakness works very well indeed.

Well worth a watch if you like intelligent Japanese horror, and you're up for not having everything handed to you on a plate ...


  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original 2.0 audio
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • Broken Circuits: a new video interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
  • Creepy Images: a new video interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
  • The Horror of Isolation: a new video appreciation featuring Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (Blair Witch, You’re Next)
  • Original ‘Making of’ documentary, plus four archive behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival
  • Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket

FIRST PRESSING ONLY:Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Review: The Circle (2017)

The Circle is a film for our time. Very like the incredible Black Mirror series in it's treatment of modern technologies taken to their logical conclusions, it plays out a scenario where a Facebook-like internet site has taken everyone by storm ... but the people behind it aren't perhaps as squeaky clean as they might like to be seen as.

The site is 'The Circle' and you have friends on there and communicate and engage with them. Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is recruited to work at The Circle's HQ by her pal Annie (Karen Gillan) and quickly finds that just working a 9 to 5 isn;t enough. She is also expected to participate in Circle evening and weekend activities - all voluntary of course - and to post everything to the Social Media ... Eventually she starts to become more popular than Annie and is invited into the 'inner circle' where CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) rules the roost.

Mae comes up with more ideas for them, and eventually decides to 'go transparant' in that every aspect of her life is transmitted live to everyone around the world: that's everything including her bank accounts, private emails, letters ... everything.  She is soon the internet golden girl and a sensation ... But there's something lurking in the underbelly of the company ... and perhaps Mae is the one to uncover it ...

Overall this is a very enjoyable film, which draws you in.  The familiarity of the whole Facebook/Circle set up is part of it, as we can see exactly what the film depicts happening today, and can postulate, along with Mae, where this might lead.  There's also the idea of hidden corruption at the top here, again something which the people of Earth are becoming increasingly aware of: actions taken for the good of the few, not the many.

The acting is excellent, though Emma Watson's Mae seems at time a little too trained and self confident with it all. Hanks is also tremendous as the CEO, and Gillan seems to just play the same character as she did on Doctor Who ... perhaps this was a 'no acting required' role for her though.

Well worth a watch on Netflix as it's a very thought provoking scenario which really stays with you.

Review: The Visit (2015)

The Visit is an interesting little film which I suppose falls in the 'found footage' subgenre. A couple of kids are making a documentary film and so record everything ... In order to facilitate their mother getting back with their father, they go to stay with their grandparents, who they have never met ...

On arrival though, the grandparents seem somewhat ... unstable ... Pop Pop seems to go loopy during rhe day, soiling nappies and keeping them in a shed, while grandmother goes insane at night, stalking about in the nude and scratching at the walls ...

The kids try to make sense of it all, but as this is a M Night Shyamalan film, it's in the last act that we find out what's really going on - and if you've been paying close attention, it's not too hard to figure out - and the film ends with the mother racing to rescue them ...

Overall it's actually pretty good. The performances of all the leads are excellent, and the young kid's rapping aside, it's an enjoyable watch. Strangely for a director of Shyamalan's cachet it feels like a mega-low budget affair, with limited locations, a small cast, and not even much in the way of effects.

It has a very slow start and build up, but this sort of pays off towards the end ... even if you have guessed what's going on ...