Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review: House: The Complete Collection

House is an interesting little set of horror films, all produced by Sean S Cunningham who found fame with his Friday The Thirteenth franchise. They’re the sort of low budget, often gonzo style of filmmaking which sadly would not happen today (unless a producer had a vast budget and wasn’t afraid to spend it).

The series starts well with House, in which a writer, Roger Cobb (William Katt), separated from his wife as their son had gone missing while at the house, decides to live in the house owned by his recently deceased aunt. Strange events start to happen, culminating in Cobb being pulled through a bathroom cabinet mirror into a strange hinterland wherein his son is trapped ... he rescues him and escapes as the house burns to the ground.

The film is fun and irreverent in many ways, with some good ideas and effects to keep the shocks coming ... you can see, as with nearly every film which goes to spawn sequels, why it did so.

House II however is a mess. It seems to have nothing to do with the first film, being far more of a comedy into which a zombie old timer is thrust, as well as a search for a crystal skull, and John Ratzenberger as a ‘part time adventurer’ who heads off through a time portal ...

This installment fell flat for me. Trying to straddle comedy and horror is a fine art, and this film failed.

House III however is much better, even if it has even less to do with any sort of series continuity. It’s actually very similar to another film called Shocker (released the same year). Lance Henrickson plays a cop who put bad guy Max (Brion James) into custody, but as the killer faces the electric chair, he seems to survive it, transported into the electric grid and inhabiting Henrickson’s family’s house – eventually intending to kill them all!

For this one, I’d say forget the House tagline (which doesn’t appear on the uncut USA print on the disk – it’s just called The Horror Show) and enjoy the film!  There’s some great effects courtesy of Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero, a great performance from Henrickson, and James plays bad guy Max to perfection. Very enjoyable.

And finally there’s House IV, another film which seems to have become confused as to why it’s part of this series ... It stars William Katt (from the first film) but as a man who gets killed in a car accident which also cripples his daughter. His wife decides to stay in his old house, which is haunted by ghosts. An old Native American spiritual guide  says that there’s a ‘seal’ in the basement which is keeping the spirits trapped ... At about the half way point, the film tips on its axis and becomes a comedy where Burke, Katt’s brother, wants to sell the house to diminutive gangster ... There’s random effects like a shower of blood and a talking pizza, but ultimately the film falls flat as it really doesn’t know what it wants to be. The ending where Katt’s ‘spirit’ heads off into the sky to become a star is just awful.

If you’re a fan of these films then you’ll snap up this set. As always Arrow have added a host of extras, including audio commentaries, documentaries, stills and other items of interest.

Directed: Steve Miner (House, 1986); Ethan Wiley (House II, 1987); James Isaac (House III, 1989); Lewis Abernathy (House IV, 1992)

Created: Sean S Cunningham; Screenplay: Ethan Wiley (House, House II); Allyn Warner (as Alan Smithee) & Leslie Bohem (House III); Geoff Miller & Deirdre Higgins (House IV)

Arrow DVD (Released 27 March 2017)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: Regeneration Art By Andrew Skilleter

I've been sent a second of Who Dares' art portfolios for review, and this time it contains the work of Andrew Skilleter.

The theme is obvious from the title: with many pieces of Doctor Who art to choose from, Andrew has gone for six pieces which cover the Regeneration stories.  So we have The Tenth Planet, Planet of the Spiders, Logopolis, Castrovalva, The Caves of Androzani and The Twin Dilemma. All the art (except The Tenth Planet) was originally used on the BBC VHS Cassette releases of the stories in question.

Making this portfolio more special, for each of the finished pieces, which are presented on a nice thick paper stock, there is also the initial submission sketch, produced to show the BBC what the finished piece might look like. These are printed on a thinner parchment paper. One of the nice things about seeing initial sketches is to see what changed between them and the finished art. It's a shame in a way that every one of these are pretty much exactly the same ... Nothing significant changed at all.

Along with the paintings there's a little booklet with some notes about the artist and the paintings, and in the signed edition, an A5 limitation sheet signed by the artist.

As with the Evilution print set, a lot of work has gone into the design and presentation of this, and if you appreciate Doctor Who artwork, then this will probably be a must-have!

One oddity is that the back of the folder it states 'Paintings (c) 2017 Colin Howard' ... of course they're not, they're by Andrew Skilleter, and the copyright dates would be whenever the paintings had already been done, a detail that is included on each print.

Available from:

For full disclosure, I have written the introduction to a future portfolio, and this one was supplied to me for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

Dario Argento is one of the most important names in Italian giallo cinema and some of his films are classics of the genre. This new release from Arrow gives everyone the chance to see where he started, with a crime giallo which is as stylish and convoluted as one might expect from Argento.

The plot is based on a Fredric Brown novel called The Screaming Mimi, and follows an American writer, Sam (Tony Musante) who witnesses a stabbing in an art gallery. The assailant escapes, and the victim, wife of the gallery owner Monica (Eva Renzi), is only injured. There is a serial killer at large, picking off women in Rome, and the police are interested in this latest attempt. The film then follows Sam as his girlfriend Julia (Suzie Kendall) is attached, and he himself receives death threats, until the mystery is unveiled at the end ...

As with Argento’s later films Deep Red and Suspiria, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage plays on reflections and brilliantly set up visuals. There are touches of genius here as we see things in plain view which turn out to be misdirections. There’s a smashing art deco staircase which echoes Suspiria’s scenic design, and the murders are a panoply of close ups and terror. Even the score, from Ennio Moricone, echoes future films with human sounds mixed in with the disjointed jazz tempos as the killer chases their victims.

It’s a hugely enjoyable film, with a plot that makes sense, and good performances from all concerned. It’s actually hard to believe that it’s Argento’s directorial debut, it’s that accomplished.

As usual on the Arrow release there are interviews with all the major players, including a new discussion with Argento himself on the film, and a very insightful narrative from critic Kat Ellinger.

Directed: Dario Argento

Writer: Dario Argento

Arrow DVD released 19 June 2017

Review: Doctor Who Memorabilia (Paul Berry)

Being the voracious collector that I am, when I spotted this new book from Paul Berry being mentioned on various Doctor Who sites, I had to pick up a copy. Unlike several other Doctor Who merchandise-based endeavors, I had nothing whatsoever to do with this one, and so came to it completely fresh. The book doesn't even reference any of my own previous books or works on the subject (which I thought a little strange, as something like this really cannot exist in a vacuum, or perhaps it can?) although a copy of Doctor Who: The Sixties is shown along with other factual books, so I was interested to see what approach the title took.

Getting the most obvious thing out the way immediately, this is not and is not intended to be, a comprehensive guide to Doctor Who memorabilia and collectibles ... if anything it's a sort of 'starter' book, breaking the subject down into categories and then presenting pictures and a narrative to some of the items released in those categories over the years. Thus we have Books; Toys, Models and Games; Audio Visual; Comics and Magazines; Sound; Cards; and Collectors' Items. Thus the book doesn't touch on things like Clothing or Confectionery, Computer items or Sundries (Posters, Stationary Items, Postcards, Mail Items etc) ... but then with only 96 pages to play with, something had to give somewhere.

The text provides a basic overview of each of the areas chosen, and explains that the book really only covers up to the end of 2004, so just before everything exploded when the show returned in 2005. This would seem to be a sensible cutting off point, but perhaps disappointing for anyone coming to the book in the light of the new series, only to find that it doesn't cover what has been released for later Doctors. To be fair, there are some more recently released items pictured, like a bust, a WETA statue and some of the Character Options figures - but these are all releases of characters from the first eight Doctors' eras ... there is nothing from the ninth Doctor onwards.

The text is straightforward and charts the notable releases through the years in each category. I didn't notice any major errors, but there are a few little blips For example, mention of 'a one-armed Davros' from Dapol as being inaccurate ... it was the two-armed Davros which was the incorrect one. The Magazines section claims eight different titles being published at the time of publication but seems to list six: Doctor Who Adventures (stopped in June 2017 - they were not to know this one!); Battles in Time  (stopped in May 2009); Monster Invasion (stopped in April 2013); Doctor Who Insider (stopped in October 2012); Doctor Who DVD Files (stopped in October 2014) and The Doctor Who Figurine Collection (still ongoing) ... The actual current magazines being published in 2017 are: Doctor Who Magazine (and also The Essential Doctor Who range and the Special Edition range also from Panini); Doctor Who Adventures (though this stopped in June 2017 - this month's is the last!); The Doctor Who Figurine Collection; and of course all the different ranges from Titan Comics. There's 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Doctor ranges, but also other things like the Summer Specials and so on, but we can perhaps call those 'one-shots'. So that's something like 12 different ranges being currently published!

In the Audio section, Berry claims that a 7" release of the Doctor Who theme was the first piece of bona fide merchandise ... I hope he means the Eric Winstone cover which was released in January 1964, with the Radiophonic Workshop's version following in February of that year? Unfortunately bona fide isn't defined ... but I think I'm right in saying that neither of these releases were licensed by the BBC as they didn't own the music - Warner Chappell have always owned and control the rights to it. Indeed, whether something is licensed by the BBC or not is not really a means to define what is 'valid' in terms of Doctor Who merchandise anyway ... several things have been licensed by their legal owners, who happen not to be the BBC, and this in no way diminishes their validity as a genuine collectible, and other things don't even need a license to be done in the first place - indeed this very book states that it is 'unofficial'. As I say, the book doesn't talk about or define this element at all, which is probably wise.

The section on Cards talks about the BBC's 'character cards' being sold and sent out by the Doctor Who office at the BBC during the eighties, but doesn't point out that these cards had been available since the sixties for all manner of TV shows, and indeed Hartnell, Russell, Ford and Hill had them available. These may well be the actual first examples of Doctor Who merchandise as the images on those for the initial TARDIS crew are all taken from the first story. Unfortunately no actual release date for them is known.

In the Collectors' Items section, it's notable that the Robert Harrop statues are not mentioned - these are primarily of characters from the classic series, and started production in 2015, so it's strange that they're omitted.

Overall this is a really smashing little book, providing a concise overview of Doctor Who collectibles. It's puzzling why the main title calls it a guide to 'Memorabilia' as this usually refers to props,scripts, autographs and other unique items rather than mass-produced ephemera, but this is a minor point.

The reproduction is good, if a little heavy on the colour side, and the book is nicely printed and bound. All in all, if your starting out collecting and want something to guide you a little through the classic series items, then this is a good starting point.

By Paul Berry
£14.99 Amberley Publishing

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Brain Damage (1988)

Frank Henenlotter is well known to horror fans as the director and writer of Basket Case and Frankenhooker, both somewhat gonzo looks at aspects of the horror genre. In Brain Damage, his third feature (and released after Basket Case) he continues his love affair with animation and strange creatures and presents a talking, quipping creation which looks a little like an eel, except it has eyes and a mouth and a head which looks like a tiny brain. This little fellah was being kept in a bath by a couple of senior citizens until it escapes and finds solace in the home of Brian (Rick Hearst), a somewhat hopeless lad who cannot win at anything. So this creature, called Aylmer, attaches itself to Brian’s brain stem and feeds him a narcotic substance so that Brian will continue to supply fresh brains for Aylmer to feed on.

It’s another crazy film, and whether you enjoy it or not will depend on your penchant for Henenlotter’s other films ... So if fairly obviously animated monsters are your thing, and very 80s plotting and acting, and a denouement which doesn’t wholly make sense ... then you may love this. I found it somewhat hard going, but then I also wasn’t a great fan of Basket Case and its sequels.

One plus point is Aylmer’s voice – provided by John Zacherley, one of the USA’s ‘horror hosts’ – and this works well, the gore effects are also nicely done ... but overall ... As I say, perhaps something of an acquired taste.

Directed: Frank Henenlotter

Writer: Frank Henenlotter

Arrow DVD released 8 May 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959)

Sometimes a black and white film can surprise you ... and such it is with Caltiki The Immortal Monster. In some respects this is a reworking of The Blob (1958) and X The Unknown (1956), as it features a flesh-eating amorphous blob which goes on the rampage. Here, it’s an ancient Mayan god called Caltiki which rises from an underground pool when an archaeologist called Max (GĂ©rard Herter) falls onto the creature trying to get some gold (a supreme moment of daftness) and it attaches itself to his arm. The lead archaeologist, Professor Fielding (John Merivale) cuts a bit of the monster off trying to rescue his friend and takes it back to the USA where it grows when subjected to radiation. As time passes, the creature (a single celled organism apparently) splits itself into multiple copies and they go on the rampage until the army stops them with fire.

What’s great about the film is that the effects, by Mario Bava, are pretty gruesome and impressive, with a face eaten away by acid, an arm reduced to a skeleton, and the blob-things themselves growing and moving at impressive rate. There’s a lot of model-work in the film too, something only revealed by flames being the wrong scale, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

There’s even a bit of sexy dancing for the dads, where the dancer has a torn off skirt and flashes her knickers far more often than an American film would usually allow at this time.

Overall it’s a superior example of the Italian horror/science fiction film, even if it rips off the ‘hungry blob’ movies mentioned above.  I also felt that perhaps Island of Terror (1966) had been ‘inspired’ a little, with its radiation-created blob monsters.

Directed: Ricardo Freda, Mario Bava

Story by: Philip Just

Arrow DVD Released 10 April 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: Pieces (1982)

Pieces is a crazy little Spanish horror film, dubbed into English, and containing so much randomness that trying to make sense of it is hopeless. It is, however, charming in its insanity, and if you like eighties slasher fare, then this is certainly one to add to the list!

The director went on to make Slugs, which is a far superior film, but in Pieces he cuts his teeth on the horror film, and manages to come up with something that is original whilst also being very derivative.

We open with a kid called Timmy doing a jigsaw ... except it’s a jigsaw of a nudie lady. Timmy’s mother arrives and is cross, taking the jigsaw from him and soundly telling him off. So Timmy does what any normal kid would: he gets an axe and chops his mum up into pieces. Flash forward forty years, and a masked and mysterious person is putting together the same jigsaw ... but before he completes each piece, he heads out with his chainsaw, and cuts a young, female, co-ed into pieces, taking away the part that corresponds with the next piece of his jigsaw ... he then completes that part of the puzzle, and moves to the next girl ... and the next ...

It’s a familiar concept perhaps, but I wonder in 1982 how original this was. Is there an earlier film which riffs on this idea? Sometimes we can forget that films which seem derivative today, were actually the first to do certain things.

The film therefore trots along at a pace, throwing up potential suspects as to who the killer actually is, with police who haven’t a clue, college girls who strip off at the least provocation, and even a random kung-fu dude who appears in one scene, never to be heard from again! And the acting ... oh the acting ... there’s so much scenery chewing and ham here that the filmmakers could have dined out for months. But as with this type of film, it seems not to matter ... what matters is the fun you can have with some buddies and some beer, counting the corpses as they pile up.

As usual the Arrow release is chock full of extras, as well as a CD of the incidental music, which primarily comes from CAM (Creazioni Artistiche Musicali), an Italian Music Library service. The main theme is particularly good, sounding like Goblin crossed with A Nightmare on Elm Street!

This Special Edition release also contains: two versions of the feature: Pieces, the US theatrical version; and Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche, the original uncensored director’s cut, presented in Spanish with original score by Librado Pastor; alternate re-score by composer Umberto; collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold; soundtrack CD featuring the entire original score; limited edition 180 gram 12” vinyl of the original score; and finally a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle replica!

Directed: J Piquer Simon

Written: Dick Randall, John Shadow

Arrow DVD/Blu-Ray Special Edition. Released: 27 March 2017

Review: Evilution: The Conceptual Art of Chris Thompson

I've always been a sucker for artwork! Whether it be art books, prints, posters ... book covers, film posters ... the art always draws me in. Unfortunately to reproduce it well, and to do it justice requires some outlay, as I know only too well from Telos Publishing's forays into that area!

Enter Matt Doe and Andrew Skilleter, who together have revived Skilleter's 'Who Dares' company from the 1980s, and are now publishing a variety of items which showcase artwork. They did a new calendar featuring Andrew's art last year, and now have embarked on a new venture: limited edition art portfolios. And they're not all about Skilleter's work!

Just sent for review is Evilution: Variations on a Theme: The Conceptual Art of Chris Thompson. I was not aware of Thompson's art before, but I had seen the beautiful stained glass Dalek which adorned the cover of one of Big Finish's audio releases. Part of the confusion is perhaps that there is also a Chris Thomson who is an actor and does unofficial Who audios ... and Chris Thompson was a BBC designer on Evil of the Daleks in the sixties ... and there's even a Chris Thompson who works at Titan as their Brand Manager for the Who comics they produce ... so it's easy to get confused!

This Chris Thompson is an artist who was working for Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry, on some of the Anderson spin off material, and it was Jamie who directed the Big Finish Audio and got Chris in to do the cover ...

After that, it seems that Chris decided that Daleks were good to create, and so went off on various tangents to bring us 'what-ifs' of five other Dalek potentials, all based around different designs, materials, and concepts which were in force in the periods he was working with.  Thus Dalekzarkov postulates if the Daleks had been designed a few years earlier, and takes inspiration from Forbidden Planet and the Flash Gordon serials ... Dalekyuri is a what if the Russians designed a Dalek ... Dalekvinci postulates a casing created by Leonardo daVinci ... while Daleksan is a Japanese themed casing ...

All the images are reproduced on top quality A4 stock, and as a nice extra, there's a Dalekstainly image reproduced on tracing paper as well, so that light can come through it. I like that touch.

As well as the six prints, there's a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist, and a smashing little booklet which explains and guides you through all the artwork.

It all comes enclosed in a lovely A4 thick card folder, and the whole package reeks of quality, from the choice of materials to the foil stamping on the certificate.  Strangely, the cover, booklet and certificate all call it 'The Conceptual Art ...' but on the prints themselves, it says 'The Concept Art ...'.

The only gulp factor might be the cost, but as I said, to do something like this at a low quantity costs a lot per unit.  Thus the 'Artists' Limited Edition' costs £69.95 (this brings you everything I have discussed, including signed limitation certificate) and is limited to 50 numbered copies.  And the 'Collectors' Limited Edition' omits the signed limitation certificate and costs £49.95. This is limited to 100 copies.

Who Dares have plans for further Portfolios featuring different artists ... and I assume as long as they can sell them, they will keep producing them ...

For more details and to buy copies;

For full disclosure, I have written the introduction to a future portfolio, and this one was supplied to me for review purposes.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: City of the Dead (1960)

City of the Dead is a surprisingly good little film from 1960. It’s in black and white, unlike Hammer’s horror fare which by this time was in full colour, and the director makes best use of his palette of greys, creating a brooding, hypnotic landscape through which the characters stumble ...

The plot is tried and tested: a witch, Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) is burnt at the stake in the past, and curses the village and those who killed her ... flash forward to the present, and Christopher Lee plays a creepy professor, Driscoll, who recommends that one of his students, Nan (Venetia Stevenson), heads off to the village of Whitewood to investigate the myths firsthand.  The village seems constantly wreathed in low-lying mists and darkness, and of course everyone is behaving suspiciously ... until all is revealed that creepy Mrs Newless (Patricia Jessel again) is the reincarnation of the original witch. And that Nan is the next sacrifice ...

Except this isn’t the end of the story ... It’s somewhat shocking that Nan is killed half way through the film – shades of Janet Leigh in Psycho, which also came out in 1960. It’s up to Nan’s brother Richard (Dennis Lotis) and boyfriend Bill (Tom Naylor) to come looking for her ... retracing her steps, right down to discovering the underground tunnels and witches’ lair ... before all is resolved by a neat bit of invented legend, that the shadow of a cross causes witches to burst into flame!

It’s a fun film, and the performances are all pretty much first rate. Christopher Lee is great as the professor, and the rest of the cast seem to reach for the bar that he sets. The film also seems ahead of its time in terms of the look and feel of the settings, and the handling of the witchcraft element is similarly well done.  A superior example.

Directed: John Llewellyn Moxey

Story by: Milton Subotsky

Screenplay: George Baxt

Arrow DVD released 24 April 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: The Santa Clarita Diet (2017)

Netflix does it again with this quirky ten part series starring Drew Barrymore. Barrymore plays Sheila Hammond, an every-Mom housewife living in Santa Clarita, California. She’s married to Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and they have a somewhat dysfunctional daughter Abby (Liv Hewson). One day, Sheila undergoes a transformation – involving projectile vomiting a copious amount of yellow goo ... and a strange red organ-like object – into a flesh-eating zombie.  The series basically follows how her husband and daughter cope with this, and how she herself manages to survive the rigours of modern life while needing to chow down on corpses each day.

It’s a comedy, and so not to be taken too seriously, and it’s also supremely entertaining. The gore effects are strong indeed, and occasionally you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve strayed into the gorehouses of Jigsaw or Leatherface, but that adds to the impact. All the leads are brilliant, and play their parts to the max. Oliphant is especially good as the husband who has to come to terms with the fact that his wife now eats the living, and wonders whether he will become the next meal!

Thematically it’s similar to I Zombie, with its zombie teenager, and it has the same likable feel to it as that show.

Really enjoyable, some great moments, and a good setting make The Santa Clarita Diet another winner from Netflix.