Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review: Love and Monsters (2020)

This film crept up on us ... and we watched it on Netflix the other night ... it's a revelation!

It starts with a nice Zombieland vibe with a narration and animations from our genial hero, Joel Dawson (Dylan O'Brien) who is living in a bunker with a group of friends. An asteroid has wiped out most life on Earth and caused reptiles and insects to grow to giant size and prey on the humans. In the bunker, all but Joel have paired up, leaving him lonely and with only kitchen duties to look forward to as he freezes up when attacked.

Joel decides that he needs to go and find a girl called Aimee (Jessica Henwick) who he was separated from when the humans first fled from the enlarged amphibians. So he sets off alone, armed only with his trusty bow and arrows. Along the way to the beach, where he knows Aimee is from her brief radio contact, he is rescued from a monster's nest by Clyde Dutton (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt) and makes a friend in a dog called Boy. There are monsters large and small and eventually he arrives at the beach only to find that Aimee and her colony have been 'rescued' by an Australian called Cap (Dan Ewing) ... but all is not as it seems.

What I liked most about Love and Monsters is that it presents a straightforward character in an extraordinary situation ... and just about managing to muddle through it all. There is a great deal of charm in the script by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, and director Michael Matthews makes it all sing. The monsters are superbly realised. They look real and horrific, and move in ways which make your flesh creep. It's a marvellous tour de force of CGI and really does not disappoint.

As the film progresses, so much of it becomes simply charming. I loved the sequence with the active robot, giving Joel a glimpse of his parents again; the dog is incredible, acting so well on cue and stealing the show; the giant crab at the end, echoing what Joel had been told earlier ... and so on. Everything is worked for here, and the characters and the effects mesh seamlessly together to create a very believable narrative.

It's a hugely enjoyable film, with a nice feelgood ending, and I can see that it's one which we might need to return to.  

Review: The Reckoning (2020)

It's hard to know where to start this review. Once upon a time, the name Neil Marshall was the best new hope in horror, with his debut feature Dog Soldiers being one of the top werewolf films ever made - up there with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London - and the follow up, The Descent, being a brilliantly claustrophobic creature feature of the very best kind.

Since those two classics, however, Marshall has struggled. His science fiction opus Doomsday was a flat re-telling of Escape from New York, and Centurion was a dull historical yarn. His segment of Tales From Halloween was disappointing, Hellboy was a bit of an improvement, and now we have another historical tale in The Reckoning.

Set in the plague-ridden 17th Century, Marshall tells the story of a woman, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk), who loses her husband to the plague, and who is then accused of being a witch by the local squire (Steven Waddington). The witch-finder Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) is called in, who proceeds to torture her to confess to being a witch, which she refuses to do.


It's all very predictable and hopeless, recalling the much better Witchfinder General, and, strangely, elements of Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, and although Pertwee is by far the best thing in it, the other main cast members are weak and unbelievable. Especially Kirk, who seems to walk through it all with something of a bemused air. Of the supporting cast, Emma Campbell-Jones is great in the brief time we see her as Charlotte's mother, before being burned at the stake, and the young lad (Maximillian Slash Marton - I think ...) who takes pity on her is likewise excellent. 

There's some nasty torture here which Charlotte seems to shrug off with indifference, and some sort of gruesome internal torture device - which is inserted into an unnamed cavity and then slowly opened - would have left her bleeding to death, and yet she seems unaffected by it. Perhaps she really is a witch.

It's such a shame that the plot is so unfocussed and rambling. It takes about ten minutes of screen time to see Charlotte's husband killing himself and for her to find him, dig a grave, and bury him, all interspersed with flashbacks explaining what happened. We should have opened with him dead, and then got on with it!

The visuals are excellent, though, with plague-masked villagers ganging up on Charlotte, and the scenes of death and poverty are well done. One thing I've never quite understood about the whole 'witch mania' which apparently gripped England, was why other men and woman were so eager to decry their neighbours as being witches, knowing full well that it could, and sometimes would, be them next. The film doesn't explore this, and instead seems to be more about how Charlotte can stay above it all, protesting her innocence, while Moorcroft tries ever-more painful and degrading tortures on her.

There's a very vague supernatural element as Charlotte seems to see the Devil (Ian Whyte) at various points, but this is not expanded on or explained - perhaps it's her hallucinating due to the pain? Perhaps it's real? Perhaps it's an allegory? There are no answers in the film.

Ultimately this seems to be a film with a weak script, starring an unimpressive lead, and telling a story which has been told many times before. As a viewer I was left wondering what the point was. It's a great shame as Marshall has a great sense of the visual, and yet he seems to be struggling to find the right projects to realise. I hope he can come back more strongly soon.




Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: Demons (1985) and Demons II (1986)


A couple of older films for the blog today, and the lovely people at Arrow video are releasing the two Lamberto Bava horror films from the eighties, Demons (1985) and Demons II (1986) on limited edition UHD 4K blu-ray. The films are notable as being produced by Dario Argento, and with music by Claudio Simonette (keyboardist from the band Goblin, who scored Argento's masterpiece Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead among others, and Simonette has also scored many other films under his own name). 

Of the two films, Demons is the better - not surprising as this tends to mostly be the case where sequels of diminishing effectiveness are produced following a successful initial movie.

There's a lot to like about Demons. It starts with something of a nod to films like Deathline and, indeed, Suspiria to an extent, where a lone woman, Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), finds herself in an underground station in Berlin. She makes her way out of the deserted place, seemingly hunted by a creep in a mask (Michele Soavi) ... but said creep turns out to be promoting a new movie theatre, the Metropol, in town and is handing out free tickets.

Thus Cheryl, along with her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo), and two boys they meet, George (Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny), attend the film. A mask is hanging on a motorcycle display in the foyer and one of the other attendees, a prostitute called Rosemary (Geretta Giancarlo), scratches her face on it before going in to watch the film.

The film they watch tells the tale of a group of kids who discover a coffin belonging to Nostradamus, one of them scratches himself on an identical mask found in the coffin, and he then transforms into a bloodthirsty demon and slaughters all his friends.

Meanwhile in the theatre, Rosemary feels ill and heads to the bathroom, where she transforms into a bloodthirsty demon and starts slaughtering those at the film show, transforming them into demons as she does so. There then follows action and gore and transformations galore as George and Cheryl try to escape unscathed ...

It's a fun film, and certainly superior to much of the comparable fare at the time - indeed many of them have also been released by Arrow over the years! This new print is clear and looks as good as new, and it's eye-opening how much watching a decent print improves the viewing experience.

Demons II follows a similar path, but makes much less sense. It's set in a tower block where some kids are trying to have a party. The party girl, Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni), locks herself away as she doesn't want to meet someone called Jacob who has arrived unexpectedly, and ends up watching a film on television where a group of kids are investigating a ruined city - or perhaps the destroyed movie theatre from the first film. One of the movie kids revives one of the dead demons by dripping blood into its mouth, and before you know it, all the demons are coming back to life and attacking the kids. One comes through the TV screen at Sally and infects her, and soon the whole tower block is infested with demons killing and transforming everyone else. Their blood seems to be like acid as well, and burns holes through the floors and ceilings! Shades of Alien!

In what seems to be a completely different and better film entirely, another group from the tower's gym manage to escape down into the underground car park where they barricade themselves in and try to escape while all around them the demons rage and attack. There's also something about a demon baby which appears, and also a couple (George (David Knight) and Hannah (Nancy Brilli)) who are expecting a child - she eventually gives birth in a television studio nearby ...

As mentioned, the sequel makes little sense. With the first film there's a tenuous logic that the mask scratches Rosemary which causes her to transform and kill/convert everyone into demons. But the film they are watching (apart from featuring the same mask) has nothing to do with the real life events. In the second, the cause of the demonic uprising seems to be the movie on television - and no explanation is given as to how or why one of the things can come out of the TV to infect Sally. Likewise there's a lot of running about and screaming and demon effects which take up screen time but don't really achieve much with regards to the plot. 

I liked the stuff with the gym people - very eighties with muscle men and girls in hi-cut leotards and leg warmers - as they at least seemed to have a plan and a plot progression about them. But the whole thing ends with a whimper ... a shame as the original film concluded somewhat differently.

Perhaps it would have been better if they had made Demons II as a carry-on sequel from the first film ... but this was not to be. And see if you can spot Asia Argento (Dario's daughter) playing Ingrid Haller somewhere in the second film ... I'm not sure I knew which girl she was!

Overall these two films have a firm place in horror history, they are entertaining and, for the most part, watchable examples of eighties horror fare coming out of the Italian Giallo scene.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand new 4K restoration of both films by Arrow Films from the original camera negatives
  • 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray™ presentations of both films in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
  • Limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
  • Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Roberto Curti, Rachael Nisbet and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • Double-sided fold-out poster
  • Exclusive mystery sneak preview movie ticket (admits one to the Metropol Theatre)

DISC 1 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) DEMONS

  • Two versions of the film: the full-length original cut in Italian and English, and the slightly trimmed US cut, featuring alternate dubbing and sound effects
  • Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks on the original cut
  • Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks on the original cut
  • Original lossless English 1.0 mono audio track on the US cut
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for both English soundtracks
  • New audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, co-hosts of the Hell’s Bells podcast
  • Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
  • Archival audio commentary by Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta
  • Produced by Dario Argento, a new visual essay by author and critic Michael Mackenzie exploring the legendary filmmaker’s career as a producer
  • 'Dario’s Demon Days', an archival interview with writer/producer Dario Argento
  • 'Defining an Era in Music', an archival interview with Claudio Simonetti
  • 'Splatter Spaghetti Style', an archival interview with long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi
  • Italian theatrical trailer
  • International English theatrical trailer
  • US theatrical trailer

DISC 2 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) – DEMONS 2

  • Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks
  • Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford
  • Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
  • 'Together and Apart', a new visual essay on space and technology in Demons and Demons 2 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • 'Creating Creature Carnage', an archival interview with Sergio Stivaletti
  • 'Bava to Bava', an archival interview with Luigi Cozzi on the history of Italian horror
  • Italian theatrical trailer
  • English theatrical trailer

Friday, January 01, 2021

Review: The Vigil (2019)

It's an interesting sign of a good film, that even a couple of weeks after seeing it (Christmas got in the way of writing this review!) I still have good memories of it ... but saying that, it's hard to recall any specific details of the plot - except the final scene which I appreciated the subtlety of ...

The film's basic concept is simple: a young Jewish man is persuaded by a friend to watch over the body of one of the community who has died. This is a tradition and the 'watcher' is called 'Shomer' ... in this case, there's a very real need for this watch as the dead man was possessed by a mazik - a malevolent entity - and it's next target is Yakov unless he can avoid it.

The film is a standout role for Dave Davis as Yakov, and he brings a vulnerability to the part as he sits and watches and remembers his own life, as the mazik postures and tricks to try and unseat him. There's some good jump scares too, and the overall soundtrack and sound design is excellent. But perhaps the film relies too much on these, rather than developing it's own set of scares.

As mentioned, one of my favourite elements is the very last shot ... and it's hard to discuss it without giving things away ... but when it comes, apart from wondering why we're holding on an out of focus image, concentrate on the doorway to the house ... it's a nicely creepy coda to the preceding film!

There's an element of Grudge-like retribution too as Yakov's girlfriend (Malky Goldman) gets 'taken' by the demon and it seems to infest the lives of the dead Mr Litvak (Ronald Cohen) and his wife (Lynn Cohen).

Certainly one to seek out and watch, and a very promising debut from the director Keith Thomas.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Review: The Blackout: Invasion Earth (2019)

The Blackout: Invasion Earth is a Russian film, dealing with alien invaders attacking the Earth. It's all a little muddled though, and while the military action on display is impressive, after a while you tire of the explosions, shouting and running.

Simplistically, the whole World is 'attacked' by some Alien means and plunged into darkness, all the humans dying instantly. This is, except for an area around Moscow ...

The army based there find themselves under attack from a huge pack of rampaging bears, and manage to escape. Then there's one of the aliens, Id, who 'speaks' telepathically (great make-up!) and is looking for his brother, Ra. Id claims to be on the side of the humans and will help them. Ra brings a load of humans back to life and uses them to attack Id and the army people ... but this fails and Ra is killed.

Then a vast spaceship descends, opens its entry/exit ramp and just sits there ... so the army group head inside to explore.

Reading that the film was originally intended as the start of a series makes sense, as the plot is very open ended and has much which just happens, making little sense, and just washing over you. The effects are pretty decent though, and I found myself wondering what they could have done with a better and tighter script.

The ending especially just hangs - the film seems to just stop - and makes little sense given what has happened before, and also relies on a massive coincidence, which is just not believable.

The characters all seem faceless and somewhat bland to the extent that I have no clue what any of them are called ... it just doesn't seem important!

As something to pass a couple of hours, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is distracting and diverting enough ... just don't expect anything on the par with films like Independence Day!


FILM DETAILS

4th November 2020, London UK -  A top recon team step in when an alien invasion shuts down the planet, in The Blackout: Invasion Earth, released by 4Digital on 28th December on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital platforms.

Imagine Chernobyl crossed with Battle: Los Angeles, with a touch of Predator, in this Russian sci-fi blockbuster that sees a future world teetering on oblivion. Featuring hi-tech effects, heavy-duty military equipment, bloody bear attacks and a suicide mission to end them all, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is a thrilling and chilling, action-packed epic that sees the fate of humanity resting in the hands of a group of heavily armoured, but massively overmatched soldiers (headed by Aleksey Cahdov, star of Nightwatch), and a lone female journalist. This is two hours of doom and destruction, intense firefights and mind-control mayhem - and a strange, leather-clad figure called Id, who holds the key to the blackout.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Review: Doctor Who: 'I Am The Master' & 'The Official Doctor Who Annual 2021'

Good old Auntie Beeb and Ebury have been doing a roaring trade in Doctor Who titles over the last few months, and short story collections seem to be the order of the day ...

I Am The Master is an eclectic collection of six stories about arguably the Doctor's greatest enemy - certainly the one he has known the longest ...

What's less clear is which Master is featured in the tales ... some are obvious while others are seemingly interchangeable.

We kick off with Peter Anghelides' 'Anger Management'. The Master is being held prisoner by a biomechanoid called Loge in a device which traps the prisoner for seemingly years from their point of view, while only minutes pass for Loge. 'Slow Captivity' it's called, and I loved the conceit of it. Loge wants the Master to help with the rescue of three alien warlords ... but can he outwit his captor?

I think the Master here is the first incarnation (Delgado) and all the trappings are included: rubber face disguises, tissue compression eliminator ... It's well written and a good kick off for the book.

Next up is Mark Wright's 'The Dead Travel Fast' which pits a decayed and decrepit Master (so either Pratt or Beevers) against the author Bram Stoker, who is visiting Whitby on holiday ...  There are lots of great allusions here to Stoker's novel Dracula and the whole piece is written through diary entries, again akin to the book. I enjoyed it a lot. Some great writing and description here.

Third is Jacqueline Rayner's 'Missy's Magical Mystery Mission'. Oh dear. I just couldn't get into this one and had to give up on it. The prose is simplistic and the story just not interesting. The characterisation of the Master, here in his/her 'Missy' persona (Gomez), is accurate to her television portrayal, but I found that hard to watch as well, being somewhat too eccentric and crazed for my liking. So if you liked Missy on television, then maybe you will get on with this story too.

'A Master of Disguise' is by Mike Tucker, and here we're introduced to a man, Moses, who makes all the Master's various rubber disguises. I'm not sure which Master this is though ... I'm tended towards the Delgado variant though as this seems to fit best with the story, though it could be the Ainley. It's nicely written and the ideas are good, with the Master even impersonating the Doctor at one point!

The next tale is unfortunately another disappointment. 'The Night Harvest' by Beverly Sanford is hard going. I think it's the Simm Master as the dialogue is wordy and the overall plot seems obtuse and hard to follow - the sort of crazed logic which this incarnation of the Master had in the TV show. I think my main issue, though, is that I don't really care about the other characters. Tala is the viewpoint character, and she's somewhat boring. Add to this lots of dialogue and the whole thing drags. Not top of the pile for me I'm afraid.

The final story, 'The Master and Margarita' is the best in the book. Matthew Sweet takes as his background Tsar-ist Russia and this adds a great backdrop to the story of spawning mushrooms and alien infiltrators. The language is intelligent and authentic, and the Master himself - I think this is the most recent Dhawan version - is nicely characterised.

Overall this is a varied collection with a couple of disappointments, but the remaining stories are certainly worth the price of admission.  

Moving to the latest Doctor Who Annual (for 2021), and this is a curious beast which must have posed enormous challenges for the publishers and the writer.

The Annual of olden days used to be an eclectic collection of original stories and artwork, comic stories and occasional 'factual' pages, all interspersed with quizzes, crosswords and other puzzles. But they were aimed at fans of all ages, so the stories were not 'dumbed down' and the writing was always entertaining, even if the stories were often about somewhat esoteric subjects which wouldn't be seen on the television variant.

Unfortunately Penguin, who now publish the book, decided to move completely away from original fiction, and now present a book each year full of photographs and features pretty much solely from the current or most recent series. Plus it's written for five or six year olds, with text so simple that it's almost painful for an adult to read. Likewise the quizzes and puzzles are hardly taxing ...

For this edition, then, they have decided to present 4 pages on each of the stories from last season, interspersed with 2 pages looking at other elements. There are 'fake' reviews of places the TARDIS has been from Graham, Mary Shelley (strangely with a Twitter handle of GothGirlMary1797) and the Judoon Pol-Kon-Don (the review is just 'Ko Fro Lo Bo' etc). Bits of the book are as though written by the Doctor (and read like some perky over-caffeinated junior school teacher telling her class what she did on her holidays). There's a few pages at the back dedicated to the overarching Time Lord Victorious project which are dull and of course this whole TLV project relies on people seeking out all the variant parts across multiple merchandise lines to get the complete story!

It's tricky to really be able to 'review' the Annual as it's a book which does not stand up to detailed scrutiny. It's purpose is a Christmas-stocking filler gift for kids, and as such it's a light and transient skim through television stories which the children might have seen earlier in the year.

This slightly older (but young at heart) fan, however, wishes there was more to challenge and entertain the younger reader. This year would have been perfect for some original fiction, some great artwork and some more in-depth factual glimpses behind the scenes. But that's unfortunately not where the publishers' or the BBC's head is at with the show. Such a shame.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Review: He Came From the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (2020)

I'm possibly not alone in never actually having heard of William Grefe, which is a little odd as I am something of an aficionado of the sort of ultra-low budget films he made ... but looking at the titles in this new collection and retrospective of his work from Arrow, I suspect that these are a little lower than even I usually go.

Kicking off the four disk set of seven films is Grefe's first feature, a charming little piece called Sting of Death (1966).

To even start to understand these films, you need to understand also that there was a subculture in the sixties of films which involved 'beach parties'. In fact, beach parties seem to have been really popular for a time as there are quite a few films which feature them. Basically a group of pretty young men and woman all strip down to their bikinis and swim trunks and dance on a beach to music, throwing their arms and bodies around in jerky movements, a little like a spider with St Vitus' Dance. The films feature a lot of this ... so be warned.

The plot, if it can be called that, of Sting of Death is that people are being killed by poison which seems to be coming from a Portuguese Man of War jellyfish ... but it's deadly! Cue a deformed handyman at a hip pad owned by some scientist-types. He seems to be turning himself into a jellyfish man (mainly by putting an inflated plastic bag on his head) and killing the hip cats who have descended on the house for numerous beach parties. They are dancing on the boat as it arrives, then they dance on the jetty, then they dance around the pool ... and somehow our jellyfish man gets into the pool unseen, and kills a girl before getting out again, unseen.

Grefe wisely keeps his monster to shots of flippered feet and wet-suited legs for the most part, only revealing the whole horror of the jellyfish man towards the end ...

It's a turgid affair, not even enlivened by the many shots of gyrating bodies and girls bottoms.

The next film is Death Curse of Tartu (1966), and this touches on the obsession with cannibals and curses which seemed to be around at the time. Unfortunately it has even less of a plot than Sting of Death and seems to revolve around people running around in the Everglades, being chased by crocodiles, finding caves with sarcophagi in, and a living mummy which inexplicably changes into a native American of some sort before it ends. 

It's obvious that Grefe had access to one of those swamp-boat things with a big propeller on the back as it's used here as well in the next film, The Hooked Generation (1968). The attention span of watching these things is growing less with each entry. The Hooked Generation looks at drugs: usage and trafficking. We have a group of unsavoury characters who are trying to smuggle drugs, but one of their number is already high and the rest are pretty hopeless too. They evade the Everglades police, killing them in a shootout, and hideout somewhere, taking captive a young couple who saw them.

It's slow and talkie, but does show a slight narrative step up from Death Curse. Again, this is selling into the obsessions of the time, with a girl in a bikini in trouble, bad drug traffickers, and drug taking.

The next film is even worse! The Psychedelic Priest (which is actually called Electric Shades of Grey on the print) had, as explained in a documentary/interview on the disk, no script, and this is painfully obvious in the film which basically follows a priest who is given some acid, and who then trips and wanders through various music festivals which feature the worst music imaginable. He picks up a female hitch-hiker and she falls for him, but he decides to return to the Church. It's a slow, motiveless and boring slice of cinema, and all I can assume is that it went down well with drive-ins where the viewers were similarly indulging either in drugs or in each other - either way paying no attention to the film at all.


I note that it was made in 1971 but not released at the time. It's release came in 2001 on a direct-to-video label ... perhaps it should have remained unreleased and forgotten.

The Naked Zoo (1971) has a little more going for it. For a start it stars Rita Hayworth in the twilight of her career! The plot has had more work done on it this time, and the film follows a writer who seems to have no trouble getting the girls, but he seems to have a preference for the older lady and is having an affair with Hayworth. Her wheelchair-bound husband is killed in an engineered accident, and then the writer kills her too with a combination of drugs and shock treatment!  But who exactly is the young girl he is also dating ...?  The drug use/party culture is still strong here, but it's more focused and better made than the previous films, and the acting is likewise notched up a rung or two.

Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) is a creature feature, but here the sharks are the 'good' guys! The film is set against a backdrop of shark-hunters and exploitation, and follows a chap who has befriended the sharks and has a tooth necklace given to him by some 'shark god' ... he decides to do away with all those who threaten the sharks, which strangely includes an underwater performer at a local bar. The plot again is better here, and the underwater footage is pretty decent. This was apparently the first 'homage' to Jaws which hit cinema screens and in some ways is testament to the success of the Spielberg film.

The final film in the Collection is Whiskey Mountain (1977). This follows two men and their wives who decide to head off to somewhere called Whiskey Mountain. The film seems to be mostly a travelogue showing them riding their bikes and crossing rivers and so on, but eventually it settles down to them finding a shack and being captured by a group of drug smugglers. The men are tied up in a cave while the women are raped. The men escape and try to go after the druggies, but the local sheriff won't believe them ... and the film ends with one of the men and the two women lined up in the sights of the sheriff's gun as he hovers above them in a helicopter.

It's a strange beast, and unfortunately a pretty poor quality print as well, and it looks like it was made in the sixties rather than the seventies.

What is very interesting about this set, and now I've watched all the films, is that, strangely, it's the first, Sting of Death which now seems to have the most appeal. Yes the monster is dreadful, and yes, it's corny and fairly loose in its presentation, but at least it has a plot and is vaguely enjoyable in the sense that you can marvel and smile at the wetsuit-clad jellyfish man ... 

I enjoyed the extras which pepper the disks. The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire  is a fascinating look at a very under-appreciated area of horror entertainment, the various live ghost and horror shows put on by theatres back in the 40s and 50s.

The documentary about Grefe is also interesting and illuminating, showing the lack of budget and issues which beset some of these low budget films, and how passing trends - go-go girls, bikers, sharks, cannibals - can be turned into films seemingly at the drop of a hat!

I also liked the little piece on Crown Distributors on the final disk - which is not mentioned in Arrow's PR.

As usual, Arrow have pushed the proverbial boat out with the visuals, packaging and production of this set, and it all looks stunning. I just hope that buyers coming to these films fresh aren't too disappointed by the no-budget thrills and spills that they contain.

DETAILS OF THE ARROW RELEASE:

Available now on the Arrow Video Channel: https://bit.ly/AVCUK

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Seven William Grefé films, all newly restored from the best surviving film elements: Sting of Death (1966), Death Curse of Tartu (1966), The Hooked Generation (1968), The Psychedelic Priest (1971), The Naked Zoo (1971), Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) and Whiskey Mountain (1977)
  • Brand new, extended version of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures’ definitive documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations on 4 Blu-ray discs
  • Original uncompressed mono audio for all films
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an extensive, never-before-published interview with William Grefé and a new foreword by the filmmaker
  • Reversible poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
  • Reversible sleeves featuring newly commissioned artwork for each of the films by The Twins of Evil

STING OF DEATH (1966) + DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966)

  • Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé
  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Sting of Death: Beyond the Movie – Monsters a-Go Go! – a look into the history of rock 'n' roll monster movies with author/historian C. Courtney Joyner
  • The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire – a ghoulish look into the early spook show days with monster maker Doug Hobart
  • Original Trailers
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968) + THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (1971)

  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with director William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage
  • Hooked Generation Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

THE NAKED ZOO (1971) + MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (1976)

  • William Grefé’s original Director’s Cut of Naked Zoo
  • Alternate Barry Mahon re-release cut of Naked Zoo
  • Original Mako: Jaws of Death Trailer and Promo
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) + THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: EXTENDED CUT (2020)

  • Whiskey Mountain Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery
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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Review: Doctor Who: The Monster Vault

2020's large format, full colour tome from BBC Books is called The Monster Vault ... but forgive me for a moment as it all seems very familiar.

It's a big book - 312 pages - with a £25 price tag ... but haven't we seen it all before? The content is an A-Z of the monsters and aliens that the Doctor has faced in the show. It's not complete in that it doesn't include absolutely everything, and it does not cover the 'reality' or 'behind the scenes' element except for a brief section at the back. For each entry there is the creatures' history as explained (mostly) on screen, with a couple of deviations from the facts we know into what the authors are making up and surmising - but unless you knew, you wouldn't know the difference as it's all presented as 'authoritative'.

For example, the first entry, for the Abzorbaloff, claims that the creature's entire body is in a constant state of suction ... I don't recall that from the TV episode ... Next up is Alpha Centaurians and there's talk of their home planet having an abundance of food and no predators, so the creatures developed politeness. This is pure conjecture ... and so the book goes on, mixing fact from the TV show with a large dollop of conjecture and extrapolation on the part of the authors.

But haven't we seen books about the monsters before? Indeed, there was Lesley Standring's Illustrated A-Z (1985); I myself wrote A Book of Monsters (1997) which focussed on the behind the scenes creation and development of them, again copiously illustrated. Then, for the new series, Justin Richards produced Monsters and Villains (2005), Aliens and Enemies (2006), Creatures and Demons (2007), The Ultimate Monster Guide (2009, updated 2010), Monster Miscellany (2011) and The Secret Lives of Monsters (2013). There was also 100 Scariest Monsters (2011). So a fair few books focussing on the monsters, using only the fictional material presented on television, and illustrated with lots of photographs.

The Monster Vault seems to be the latest in a never-ending stream of similar books from BBC Books. Indeed, it is illustrated with photographs, but each creature gets a rather nice full page 'visualisation' courtesy of Lee Johnson which often looks like a photograph or perhaps a collage of pictures - it's hard to tell what is a photograph and what is artwork.

I think if I'd not been aware of the plethora of similar titles over the years, this book would be quite impressive. It's beautifully produced and laid out, and has monsters galore to sate any appetite. It's also obviously aimed at the younger set, with nothing over and above the descriptions and potential background and pictures. There are some 'unanswered questions' dotted throughout. Like for example why the Chameleons kill people when they're 'high-minded'  - they do so using a slow moving laser, unsupervised. Which is a bit daft, a bit of a joke, and totally invented (though the sequence with the laser is decidedly strange in the story) - the text is included solely to 'explain' a rather weak plot point in the story in which they appear. This continues with somewhat strange 'explanations' of why a Draconian state room is coloured green, how Haemovores can shape metal with their hands, and why the Rutans lost interest in Earth as a planet of strategic importance.

The book covers the entirety of Doctor Who with entries for Sensorites and Monoids alongside Chameleons (2nd Doctor), Solonian Mutants (3rd), Ogri (4th), Tractators (5th), Vervoids (6th), Cheetah People (7th), Jagrafess (9th), Weeping Angels (10th), The Flesh (11th), the Teller (12th) and Zellin & Rakaya and Thijarans (13th) and many more besides. And of course the Daleks and Cybermen are here too.

Just as we think it's all over there's a very welcome final chapter looking at the behind the scenes elements. This again includes photos from all eras of monsters being created, worn, fitted ... there are design sketches and shots of them being built ... it's probably for me the best and most interesting ten pages in the book! 

Overall this is a smashing book, well produced and laid out, which will provide hours of interest for fans new to the show in discovering more about all the various creatures that the Doctor has battled over the years. 

Doctor Who: The Monster Vault
Written by Jonathan Morris and Penny CS Andrews
Illustrated by Lee Johnson (interior) and Ben Morris (cover)
Edited by Paul Lang
Published on 22 October 2020 by BBC Books, priced £25 ISBN 978-1-78594-533-5