Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: Zardoz (1974)

Let's get the elephant in the room out the way immediately: Zardos doesn't make a lot of sense. Director John Boorman has infused with a very hippy-esque sensibility and the science fiction trappings just serve to heighten the feeling that no-one really knew what was going on, but just went with it. Once you get past this, however, the film is lush and beautifully shot, with some great ideas at play: and of course there's Sean Connery in those red trunks!

The film is actually all about Connery, playing a character called Zed, and he's in most scenes as we follow him from his life as a horsebacked Exterminator, killing humans seemingly at random, to his plan to get inside the giant floating head of their god Zardoz, whose effigy arrives through the sky and spews guns and ammo out through it's mouth.

Once inside, Zed kills the head's operator, a man called Arthur Frayn, and arrives in a place of tranquillity and peace, where humans live in comfort and are well fed and watered. But all is not as it seems, as these people are unable to reproduce, and they punish each other by enforced ageing (otherwise they live forever). So poor Zed is made the subject of a hunt, and is used for his seed, while they give him their knowledge in return (and these scenes are rather nicely done, with projected images onto the players moving to show the transfer of the knowledge and skills).

But Zed has a plan and that is to bring his fellow Exterminators in and to breach the barriers which keep them out ... and thus they arrive and kill everyone (however they want to die, so this act is welcomed).  Zed then runs off to the crashed giant head with Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) who is pregnant with his child ... and they sit there then for the rest of their lives as the boy grows, leaves them, and they crumble to skeletons and dust ...

It's a bleak ending, and provides no answers or real conclusion. But then the whole film is like that. Overlong (it's 105 minutes apparently, but feels closer to 120!), it plods majestically along, showing us scene after scene, we meet people who have no meaning ... John Alderton as Friend seems out of his depth, Consuella is all for having Zed killed until he shares his seed with her, and then she's happy to run away with him ... there's decadence and boredom for those who are immortal, and death through slavery or by the Executioners for those not inside the protected area ... A very puzzling film indeed.

As usual the transfer on this Arrow release is excellent, and the detail really helps to bring Boorman's visions to life. Connery is great as he moves through the film, and the sets and imagery is unique and often startling (if inexplicable).

In terms of extras, there aren't that many this time - maybe Arrow were limited in what could be included.

  • New 4K digital restoration by Twentieth Century Fox, supervised and approved by John Boorman
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with writer-producer-director John Boorman
  • Brand new interviews with Boorman, actor Sara Kestelman, production designer Anthony Pratt, special effects creator Gerry Johnston, camera operator Peter MacDonald, assistant director Simon Relph, hair stylist Colin Jamison, production manager Seamus Byrne, and assistant editor Alan Jones
  • Newly filmed appreciation with director Ben Wheately (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Radio spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
  • Collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Julian Upton and Adrian Smith, plus archive interviews, illustrated by original production stills.
  • Tuesday, September 15, 2015

    Review: Nightmare City (1980)

    The 1980s gave birth to so many gonzo films, and Nightmare City is among the craziest of them all. Directed by Umberto Lenzi as a sort of pastiche on films like Zombie Flesh Eaters which were themselves drawing on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the film is a crazy mish mash of a zombie virus spreading across America while the army and medical staff try to work out what's going on.

    It's got all the right ingredients for a great Italian horror film: bad acting, terrible dialogue, zombies that look like they have had their faces covered in honey and then plunged into a box of breakfast cereal ... oh, and it also has some 80s leotard-clad dancing girls, and lots of blood and gore ... what's not to like!

    The plot, such as it is, starts when an army plane lands, and disgorges a cargo of flesh eating zombies, who seem impervious to bullets, and who slaughter all the soldiers who come to try and stop them. Filming this are a couple of chaps from a local TV station, who head back there and interrupt some sort of disco dance-off which is being recorded ... before they are all interrupted by another hoard of zombies who kill the girls (one gets one of her breasts sliced off in a moment of true pointless schlock) and anyone else they can find.

    And so the film continues in this vein ... hospitals get overrun with zombies, there are zombies at a fairground who chase a couple of our heroes up a helter skelter ride (and the woman falls to her death there), there are zombies in a church, and a zombie priest who attacks our heroes with a large candle ...

    In many ways, you can see possible antecedents here to more modern films. It feels a bit like Planet Terror in the schlock horror of the zombies attacking, and there's a flash of Zombieland with the fairground setting ... but really it's nothing like them, just as it's nothing much like the films which inspired it.

    It's basically great fun, but you really have to disengage your brain and go with it ...

    As usual on the Arrow disks, there's a host of extras. What's especially interesting is the inclusion of two different prints/transfers of the film: one which is clean and sharp but which has some bad damage to the film; and one which is not so damaged, but which is a lot softer by comparison. There's a short featurette which explains the challenges they had in trying to source the best quality print.

    I loved an interview with the director in which he seems to speak non-stop for the duration, barely pausing for breath, and talking about the film, the influences, the effects, the films that came later, and the remake of it which is apparently on the cards at the moment ...

    All in all, a great addition to your Blu-Ray library of rubbish Italian horror films which are so poor they are great!


  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • Alternative High Definition transfer from the 35mm reversal dupe negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Newly translated subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker, Fangoria editor and Nightmare City fan Chris Alexander
  • Radiation Sickness – a brand new interview with director Umberto Lenzi
  • Sheila of the Dead – a brand new interview with star Maria Rosaria Omaggio
  • Zombies Gone Wild! – director, producer and actor Eli Roth on Nightmare City and the wild cinema of Umberto Lenzi
  • Nightmare City and The Limits of Restoration – featurette looking at the differences between the two transfers included on this release
  • Alternate Opening Titles
  • Original Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin, author of Seduction of the Gullible: The Truth Behind the Video Nasty Scandal, illustrated with original archive stills and posters 

  • And there is indeed a remake on the cards ... checkout the Web pages all about it here:

    And the fundraiser for it is here:

    Friday, September 04, 2015

    Review: Videodrome (1983)

    The work of David Cronenberg deserves a place in every film fan's collection, and here Arrow release one of his most intriguing films, Videodrome, along with a package of extras which is guaranteed to set film fans on a high.

    First of all, the film. It's a strange beast, and continues Cronenberg's obsession/interest with transformative body horror. In Rabid it was a blood-drinking barb under the armpit, in The Brood it was babies being born outside of the body as extensions of rage, and of course The Fly is all about the change ... but in Videodrome, it's about how television waves can make you develop a brain tumour and give you hallucinations ...  It's poor James Woods who gets the brunt of it. He plays Max Renn who runs a television station and he stumbles across what appears to be a pirate broadcast of a show called Videodrome wherein young women are tortured and killed. He becomes more and more fascinated by the show, and is also intrigued by Nicki Brand (played by Debbie Harry) who he starts a relationship with and discovers has a propensity towards masochism. As the story plays out, so we (and he) discover that Videodrome doesn't really exist, it's been targeted at him by a company called Spectacular Optical run by Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson). He hallucinates his own television coming to life, and a video tape slot opens in his stomach into which tapes can be inserted to 'programme' him ... Convex programmes him to kill all opposition to Videodrome and he murders his own colleagues at the television station. He also tries to kill Bianca O'Blivion (Sonja Smits) (who runs a mission wherein homeless are made to watch television) but she manages to reprogramme him to kill Convex.  It all comes to a head on a deserted boat, where Max finds he must sacrifice himself for the sake of 'the new flesh' ...

    It's a rocky ride, and the effects (courtesy of Rick Baker) are quite astonishing. But the film's narrative is hard to follow as you're never sure what is hallucination and what is real. This was also explored in Cronenberg's later eXistenZ, and one ends up wondering if even the Director knew ... or whether it really matters anyway. James Woods is great in the lead, starting as a television executive looking for the next big thing, and ending up as a controlled puppet of those who want to try and spread their own 'religion' via their hypnotic neural network.  Debbie Harry, lead singer with the band Blondie, does well here too, playing a seductive pawn to James. It's not clear whether she is in on it all, or indeed whether she really exists at all ...

    In addition to the main film presentation, the package also contains a set of four of Cronenberg's early films. There's Transfer (1966) and From the Drain (1967) which are short films, and Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970) which are longer. I'm not a film historian, but I'm sure these are very interesting to those who like to study and look for themes in a director's work. Personally I found them a little raw - they are mostly silent, with narration and sound effects added, and in all cases are fairly impenetrable to understand. I totally understand why they have been included though, and applaud their release.

    Overall, it's another great package from Arrow, with lots of love and care on all aspects of the release of one of Cronenberg's most acclaimed films.


    • ·         Restored high-definition digital transfer of the unrated version, approved by director David Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin
    • ·         Audio commentary by Tim Lucas, the on-set correspondent for Cinefantastique Magazine and author of Videodrome: Studies in the Horror Film
    • ·         David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme – A documentary programme featuring interviews with Cronenberg, George A. Romero and Alex Cox on Cronenberg’s cinema, censorship and the horror genre
    • ·         Forging the New Flesh – A documentary programme by filmmaker Michael Lennick on Videodrome’s video and prosthetic make up effects
    • ·         Videoblivion: A brand new interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin
    • ·         A brand new interview with producer Pierre David
    • ·         AKA Jack Martin – Dennis Etchison, author of novelizations of Videodrome, Halloween, Halloween II and III and The Fog, discusses Videodrome and his observations of Cronenberg’s script
    • ·         The complete uncensored Samurai Dreams footage with additional Videodrome broadcasts with optional commentary by Michael Lennick
    • ·         Helmet Test and Betamax – Two featurettes by Michael Lennick on effects featured in the film
    • ·         Camera (2000) Cronenberg’s short film starring Videodrome’s Les Carlson
    • ·         Fear on Film: A round table discussion from 1982 with Cronenberg, John Carpenter, John Landis and Mick Garris
    • ·         Promotional featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Cronenberg, James Woods, Deborah Harry and Rick Baker
    • ·         Original theatrical trailer


    • ·         High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of four Cronenberg films
    • ·         Transfer (1966) & From the Drain (1967), Cronenberg’s previously unavailable short films newly restored by the Toronto International Film Festival [7 & 12 mins]
    • ·         Stereo (1969) & Crimes of the Future (1970): Cronenberg’s early amateur feature films, shot in and around his university campus, prefigure his later work’s concerns with strange institutions (much like Videodrome’s Spectacular Optical) as well as male/female separation (Dead Ringers) and ESP (Scanners). Newly restored from original lab elements [65 & 70 mins]
    • ·         Transfer the Future – Author and critic Kim Newman discusses Cronenberg’s early works


    ·         An illustrated 100-page hardback book featuring new writing including Justin Humphreys on Videodrome in a modern context, Brad Stevens on the alternate versions, Caelum Vatnsdal on Cronenberg’s early works, extracts from Cronenberg on Cronenberg featuring Cronenberg’s reminiscences of getting started in filmmaking and shooting all the films in this collection, plus more, illustrated with original archive stills

    Thursday, September 03, 2015

    Review: The Time Lord Letters

    Hot off the presses from the BBC, is (one of) the 2015 hardback(s) tying into Doctor Who. This time, author Justin Richards has thought laterally, and has compiled together over one hundred 'letters' which the Doctor has apparently written, or which have been written about him, over the course of his many incarnations and adventures. And it's a fascinating selection.

    Some are fairly 'obvious' in their existence - letters from the first Doctor to Coal Hill School asking them to take on Susan, and an application form for the same ... plus one from the twelfth Doctor applying for the post of caretaker ... but others are a little more esoteric in nature.  For example, one from the ninth Doctor to the parents of Adam Mitchell, or letters from and to the eleventh Doctor based around the events of 'Amy's Choice' ...

    But possibly my favourite one, which stretches reality in every which way, is from the twelfth Doctor to Agatha Christie, apparently written while he was on the space-going Orient Express. Quite when during that adventure he had time to sit down and write is a little perplexing, but here is a letter.

    From a design perspective, the book is a delight, with the letters on created notepapers with little logos and designs for all manner of places and corporations, from the aforementioned Orient Express to ESGO (the gas drilling company from 'Fury from the Deep'), International Electromatics (from 'The Invasion'), Brook House Theatre (from 'Planet of the Spiders'), The Palace Theatre (from 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang') and of course UNIT.  I love this level of detail, and the overall impact that the book has is excellent because of it.  I also like the various paper and parchment effects, the coffee cup rings, sticky tape marks, stained corners and edges to the photographs ... an awful lot of effort has gone into making this book look and feel like a true scrapbook of the Doctor's letters and correspondence over the years.

    Some of it lifts directly from the show: there's sequences from 'The War Games' and 'The Mind Robber' for example, and other words and phrases echo dialogue from the show (as in the second Doctor's letter to Victoria).

    Overall, it's a rather nice picture book, beautifully designed, and interesting to flick through. However like most of the books being produced for the show these days, it's also a little esoteric, falling between the stalls of a factual book (it's not that at all - the majority of these letters don't exist in the context of the show itself) and a fiction book (it is closer to this) and an art book (it's certainly packed full of images). But well done to Justin and the designers for coming up with a new take on the show, and managing to pull it together!

    The Time Lord Letters is published by BBC Books. £20 rrp. ISBN: 978-1-84990-963-1

    Tuesday, September 01, 2015

    Classic Monsters of the Movies

    It's not often there's a new horror magazine to go all gooey over ... but Nige Burton has just released the first issue of a new mag called Classic Monsters of the Movies and it's lovely!

    I met Nige at a convention in Rotherham called HorrorCon earlier this year, and he had a stand promoting the magazine, and selling copies of two other magazine-format publications, all dealing with similar subjects: classic Horror Movies ...  I snapped the two he had available there up!

    First off is Dracula 1931 and as you might predict, it's looking at that classic Universal horror film starring Bela Lugosi.  While this is a magazine, the production quality is simply superb! Printed on quality paper stock, with a nice sturdy cover, and spot UV varnish, it is just superb. Inside is a comprehensive history and overview of the film, punctuated with facts and figures and biographies of the main players.  It's superbly illustrated in black and white for the most part (though the printing is actually full colour throughout) and even takes in Castle 8mm films, the Aurora model kit and the stage play ... there are stills from the film, of the cast and crew, and of course posters galore. It's a magnificent publication!  And what's good is that there are further editions planned, each looking at different classic films!

    The second publication was The Monsters' Almanac and this has the same super-high quality production standards of the first.  This is a neat idea. Taking a year as it's timeline, it chronicles, day by day, the key Classic Monsters happenings as they occurred. So to pick the day I am writing this for example, September 1, I can see that Sandor Eles died on this day in 2002, and that Isle of the Dead was released in 1945 ... just endlessly fascinating to dip into and to find out random facts and information about the golden age of horror film ...  As with the Dracula magazine, the photographic content is superb, with lots and lots of excellent images in black and white and colour, many of which seem new to me.  It's a brilliant and unusual gift for the horror lover!

    Finally to the new magazine, and it's perfect bound, and up to the same quality printing and paper stock as the other magazines.  In look, it's probably closest to the classic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine from the sixties, and I suspect this is deliberate. Inside there are interesting articles on Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, where Nige Burton argues the validity of this entry into Universal's 'Monster Mash Up' series, there's material on Hammer too, and all their Dracula films go under the spotlight; there's an overview of Zombies in cinema, and a piece looking at the life of Boris Karloff.  All are superbly illustrated again, and the whole magazine is beautiful.

    I admire what Nige Burton is trying to do here, and I really hope he gets the support he needs to keep these publications going. I've really not seen anything as quality as them for many years.

    If I've piqued your interest, then head here to find out more and to buy copies, and even to subscribe if you can afford to: