Sunday, November 21, 2021

Review: Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989)

What is immediately unusual about this 1989 horror flick is that it plays as though it is a sequel to another film - perhaps called Phantom of the Mall? - but it isn't. This is a standalone film which riffs on The Phantom of the Opera, transplanting the action to an LA Mall, with the Phantom being Eric (Derek Rydall), a young chap disfigured in a house fire a year before, who is now stalking his girlfriend Melody (Playboy centrefold in February 1988, Kari Whitman) (who survived the fire) and her friends as they visit and work in the Mall, which has been built on the site of his old home.

It's a predictable setup, with one of the Mall guards (Gregory Scott Cummins) being the person responsible for the original fire ... and everyone who meets or tries to date or interfere with the girls gets killed by the Phantom ... Another security guard (Terrence Evans) who spies on the girls in the dressing rooms is electrocuted; the pianist (Dante D'Andre) turns out to be another stalker who tries to molest the girls in the carpark - he is shot with a crossbow and then bitten by a cobra introduced into the toilet system - and the Mall owner's son (Tom Fridley) tries to molest Melody only to have his head crushed in a trash compactor!

It's enjoyable hokum as the bodycount rises and Eric plants a bomb in the basement, intending to kill everyone, including the Mall owner (Jonathan Goldsmith) and the Mayor (Morgan Fairchild), both of whom were complicit in the fire.

There are some daft elements along the way, and the film seems to have half an eye on the humour of this sort of film ... an eyeball popped from a head ends up unseen in a tub of icecream! And there's a lot of chasing up and down Mall escalators and passageways!

If you're a fan of eighties horror hocum then this is for you. It's well made and nicely put together, the acting is OK, and there's even some boobies on show ... all in all a typical teens in peril horror film!

As always, the Arrow package is superb, with two disks of entertainment!

  • Three versions of the feature: Original Theatrical Cut, TV Cut and bonus composite “Phan Cut”! 
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed mono audio on all cuts
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all cuts
  • 60-page fully-illustrated perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by Brad Henderson and original press kit extracts 
  • Large fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
  • Six postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
  • Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn

Disc One – The Theatrical Cut (Blu-ray)

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the Original Theatrical Cut from original film elements (90 mins)
  • Brand new audio commentary with director Richard Friedman, moderated by filmmaker Michael Felsher 
  • Brand new audio commentary with disc producer Ewan Cant and film historian/author Amanda Reyes 
  • Shop Til’ You Drop!: The Making of Phantom of the Mall – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with director Richard Friedman, screenwriters Scott Schneid and Tony Michelman, actors Derek Rydall and Gregory Scott Cummins, filmmaker Tony Kayden and special make-up effects creator Matthew Mungle
  • Alternate and Deleted Scenes from the TV Cut 
  • Domestic and International Trailers
  • Image Gallery 

Disc Two – The Tv & Phan Cuts (Blu-ray)

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the TV Cut with Standard Definition inserts for the footage unique to this version (89 mins)
  • Composite “Phan Cut” combining footage from both the Original Theatrical and TV Cuts for the ultimate Phantom of the Mall experience! (96 mins)

Review: Mill of The Stone Women (1960)

I'd never heard of this early 1960 Italian horror film, so thanks to Arrow for digging it out from whatever vaults it had been languishing in!  It's actually a pretty decent film overall, nicely shot and with some good performances and intrigue to get you wondering.

Wiki informs me that this was the first Italian film to be shot in colour, and the third locally based horror film to be released in August 1960 (after Black Sunday and Atom Age Vampire) ... not sure what relevance any of that has though.

The plot concerns a writer, Hans (Pierre Brice), who heads to a remote mill to meet art professor and sculptor Professor Gregorious Wahl (Herbert A E Böhme). Wahl has created a strange and macabre carousel in the mill, on which statues of murderers and corpses process ... Wahl's daughter, Elfie (Scilla Gabel), has a mysterious sickness and must never become excited, but Wahl and her physician Dr Loren Bohlem (Wolfgang Preiss) are conducting experiments on local girls to try and find a cure - these experiments render the unfortunate girls into stone, whereby Wahl incorporates them into his carousel.

There are touches of other films in here, and the most obvious is House of Wax (1953) where Vincent Price plays the mad scientist preserving girls by dipping them in wax. There is a dreamlike sensibility to the film, enhanced by the cinematography, and that Hans is drugged part way through and experiences several hallucinations ... I found this similar to films like The Tomb of Ligiea and other Corman titles where the characters experience dream-like episodes in the course of the film.

Overall, it's quite complex, with a twisty turny plot which leaves the viewer guessing, and characters whose motivations are never quite to be trusted. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to, and will probably return to it at some point for another viewing.

The Arrow release is over two disks and has a wealth of alternate versions and extras:

  • New 2K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films
  • 1080p Blu-ray™ presentations of four different versions of the film: the original 96-minute Italian and English export versions, the 90-minute French version, containing exclusive footage, and the 95-minute US version, containing alternate dubbing, re-ordered scenes and added visual effects
  • Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, an in-depth comparison of the different versions by Brad Stevens, and a selection of contemporary reviews
  • Fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
  • Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction artcards

Disc 1:

  • Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
  • 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 Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
  • Mill of the Stone Women & The Gothic Body, a new visual essay on the trope of the wax/statue woman in Gothic horror by author and critic Kat Ellinger
  • Turned to Stone, a newly edited featurette containing archival interviews with actress Liana Orfei and film historian Fabio Melelli
  • A Little Chat with Dr. Mabuse, an archival interview with actor Wolfgang Preiss
  • Rare opening titles from the UK release, re-titled “Drops of Blood”
  • German opening titles
  • US and German theatrical trailers
  • Image galleries

Disc 2:

  • Restored original lossless mono French soundtrack for the French version
  • Restored original lossless mono English soundtrack for the US version
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the French soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Review: Halloween Film Series 1-5

'The Night He Came Home ...'

Thus ran the tagline for John Carpenter's Halloween, arguably the film which revitalised the slasher film. The film came out in 1978, and was, again arguably, potentially influenced by 1974's Black Christmas.

The beauty of Carpenter's film is its simplicity. Black Christmas is quite an involved affair, with several possibly culprits and red herrings thrown about to wrong foot the audience. Halloween just gets on with it and presents a single killer, we know who he is, and that he has escaped from an asylum and is heading back to Haddonfield to kill again ...

There follows a masterpiece of scene setting as we see the killer, now wearing a William Shatner Halloween mask, watching girls and generally being creepy, before Halloween night when he works his way through them, killing them systematically, and creating a shrine to his dead sister in the process ...

Carpenter's visuals are sublime and iconic, and the amazing Dean Cundey works wonders with the cinematography. The music too (also by Carpenter) is simple, effective, and utterly terrifying, defining the slasher film in the same way as Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells defined the possession film The Exorcist forever after.

There are two moments of absolute terror in the film, which, when I first saw it in the cinema, elicited screams from the audience. The first is when Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) pauses by a black doorway, and the Shape's face slowly looms out of the blackness beside her without her seeing it ... The second is when, exhausted, and thinking she has killed the Shape (Nick Castle), who is lying on the floor out of focus behind her, she slumps in the doorway. Again, unseen by her, but seen by the audience, the Shape sits up, gets up, and comes towards her as she also gets up and stumbles to the stairs, followed by the killer.

These are masterpieces of framing, lighting and performance and are perfectly judged in the film.

At the end of course, Donald Pleasance arrives and puts seven bullets into the Shape, sending him out of the window and down into the yard below ... of course when he looks back to check, the creature has vanished, leaving the audience, as Laurie, wondering if this thing was even human ...

Halloween was so successful, that a sequel followed in 1981 ...

Halloween II is not directed by John Carpenter, and although Carpenter wrote and directed and again did the music, and Cundey is again behind the camera, this sequel falls flat. It has none of the finesse of the first film, and the scare elements seem leaden and plodding by comparison. The director was Rick Rosenthal, and this was his first feature ... he had a lot to learn!

The action picks up right at the end of the first film, with Pleasance's Doctor Sam Loomis shooting the shape and sending him out into the yard. Laurie is taken to hospital, but the Shape is alive and well and continues his rampage through Haddenfield, killing more people before arriving at the hospital to try and again kill Laurie ... There's an odd element which suggests that Laurie's mother is not her real mother (which plays into the idea that she is actually Michael's, other sister, and that this is why he's stalking her, but it's not explained well at all.)

The gore is more overt here, in particular a couple of shots of injection syringe needles into eyes, and a charred and burned corpse, but this doesn't really help to sell the story, and perhaps misunderstands the appeal of the first film, where gore was for the most part sidelined ... In fact, Halloween II is more like the slasher film vein of Friday The Thirteenth, where the gore and effects are celebrated and the deaths of the teens are more like sacrifices on the altar of sensationalism, rather than playing any real part in whatever plot is unfolding ... 

Among the cast here is Dana Carvey as Barry McNichol. Carvey is perhaps better known as Mike Myers' character of Wayne's hapless sidekick Garth in the Wayne's World films. In a bizarre twist, Michael Myers is also the name of the killer in the Halloween films ... 

The film ends with the Shape apparently burned to a crisp in the hospital, and Laurie again in an ambulance, presumably heading for another hospital ... 

But viewers had to wait a while before catching up with Laurie and the Shape again, as 1982 brought Halloween III: Season of the Witch ... a somewhat strange entry to the series, which is basically a standalone film with no connection whatsoever to the previous two entries, other than that it is based around Halloween, and has mostly the same production team.

The film is written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace - who had worked on all Carpenter's previous films as art director/editor/production designer (he also played Michael Myers in the closet scene in Halloween, and was a Ghost in The Fog). The original script was actually by veteran screenwriter Nigel Kneale, but he had his name removed when the final film diverged in places from what he intended (for a full explanation of all this, I recommend this blog:

Apparently John Carpenter wanted the Halloween film series to be a franchise of unconnected films, and so this entry is just that! And to be honest it's not at all bad. Tom Atkins from The Fog is back as Dr Dan Challis, who is trying to find out about the strange murder of a patient of his at the hospital, by a man in a suit ... he hooks up with Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), the patient's daughter who is also investigating and end up in bed together (of course). Behind it all is the owner of Silver Shamrock novelties, a Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), who has placed slivers of a rock stolen from Stonehenge into the brand mark on a range of Halloween masks sold to children. These are somehow activated through an advertisement on television, and make the child wearing the mask emit spiders and snakes from their head (no, I've no idea how or why either). It turns out that the suited men are all robots, and Cochran has also created a robot of Ellie who tries to kill Challis (we never find out what happened to the real Ellie).

The film has shades of Dead and Buried, a 1981 film in which a doctor brings people back from the dead and keeps them 'alive' and 'perfect'. It also feels like a sequel to The Fog as Atkins' character seems identical to the character of Nick Castle (yes, the same name as the actor who played the Shape in Halloween!) he played in that earlier film. 

Unfortunately it has too many loose ends to really satisfy - why does Ellie have a sexy negligée in her luggage with which to seduce Dan? She didn't know she would meet anyone ... or was it just in case! I mentioned the snakes and spiders, but overall I'm not sure we know why Cochran wants to kill all the children wearing his masks ... what does that achieve? 

On to the next in the franchise, Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers ... and now the quality really starts to slide. Set ten years after the original Halloween, and Michael (George P Wilbur) is back to stalk the streets of Haddonfield. Quite why is the mystery here. Directed by Dwight H Little and written by Alan B McElroy, this attempts to pick up where number 2 ended, but ten years on. Apparently the explosion at the end of number 2 put Michael in a coma from which he has just recovered. He heads to Haddonfield to kill Laurie's daughter, Jamie (Danielle Harris) (yes, Laurie's daughter is confusingly called Jamie, perhaps after Jamie Lee Curtis, the actress who played Laurie ... but also there's no explanation of why Laurie is not present) who is living with foster parents and their daughter Rachel (Ellie Cornell). Jamie's surname is Lloyd, which suggests that Laurie got married ... but also, as hinted in number 2, as Laurie is apparently Michael's sister, this makes Michael young Jamie's uncle 

Anyway, Michael starts killing people randomly again, and Loomis is also around, valiantly played by Donald Pleasence, with facial scarring that varies from scene to scene. There's an awful lot of running about with Michael seemingly able to traverse distance with no issue, and appearing all over the place with ease (it doesn't help that some of the townskids are also dressing up as Michael, complete with masks, and confusing the heck out of the police!)

At the end of the film, Michael falls down a mineshaft having been shot multiple times by the Police, while little Laurie picks up a pair of scissors, and, dressed as a clown, kills her foster mother Darleen (Karen Alston) in the same way as Michael killed his older sister in the first film. 

It's generally something of a confused mess of a film, with not much logic in the progression. Michael seems to pop up everywhere and can get into a locked school with ease, and of course nothing touches him - he seems somehow immortal! The Carpenter music is great when it kicks in, but the rest is somewhat unmemorable, and the whole thing passes in a confused bundle of chases, killings, and escapes. There's a nice sequence set on a house roof as Rachel and Jamie try to escape from the killer, but one second he's on the roof, and next he's on the ground, chasing them again ...

Not a great film.

On to Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers and it starts all Bride of Frankenstein with Michael (Don Shanks) surviving the fall into the mine, and crawling out as the Police blow it all up. He makes it to the river and floats downstream before emerging and seeking refuge in the house of some hermit (Harper Roisman - I think) who takes him in ... a year later he wakes from a coma and kills the hermit before heading back into Haddonfield looking for Jamie (Danielle Harris), who is now mute from her ordeal and staying in a children's home. Michael stabs Rachel (Ellie Cornell) to death and starts going after her friend Tina (Wendy Kaplan).

The story, such as it is, continues with Michael killing more teens while trying to find Jamie ... Jamie regains her voice and is chased by Michael through the abandoned Myers house before Loomis (Donald Pleasence) traps Michael before shooting him with tranquilliser darts and beating him with a board ...

The Police arrive and take Michael to the cells ... but a mysterious man in black who has popped up a couple of times in the film, blows the police station up and releases Michael ... much to Jamie's horror!

Like the fourth entry, this is all action over substance. You don't really care about anyone in the film, and Michael's only motivation seems to be to kill Jamie (why?) but he also diverts and starts killing everyone else as well (why?). There's a great traumatised performance from Harris playing Jamie, but the other cast seem to be walking through it all. At least the trope of 'if you have sex you die' is fulfilled with several cast suffering that fate ... but overall you're left somewhat unsatisfied. There's a lot packed in though and after about an hour I thought it must be nearly over, only to find another thirty minutes on the clock!

It's somewhat apparent that they didn't really know what to do with the franchise, and in common with many of this ilk, the films were popular for reasons unknown, despite the apparent law of diminishing returns in the plot, acting and character departments.

That's where this part of the marathon ends ... the next few films in the series are not apparently available as free to view, and given the massive slide in quality so far, I'm not moved to pay to watch them at this point ... so maybe there will be a Part 2 to these reviews ... maybe Laurie will be back to battle the Shape again ... Only time will tell!