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CONTAGION OF FEAR (2023) Review by Steve Kirkham



3 stars
4DigitalMedia. Out Now – Digital in UK/DVD & Digital in USA

CONTAGION OF FEAR is a well made thriller with one of those poster/sleeve images that makes it look rather more exciting than it actually is and to try and show it has a much bigger budget than it does. As it is, it’s no better or worse than a lot of the sci-fi/horror/thrillers that turn up regularly on streaming services.

Set in Sydney, as this is an Australian production, it opens with worker ‘bees’ going about their daily lives, heading to work in the city. Their normal day is shattered when there is a deadly, catastrophic rail derailment on the underground. Chaos ensues as the walking wounded exit and the emergency services try to treat the injured. It is soon realised, that not only has there been the crash but there has also been an attack releasing a quick moving virus that very swiftly kills the people infected. The authorities swiftly move to try and contain the illness before it can spread citywide. These early scenes are well staged, intercutting news reports which fill in the story, with the bedlam and confusion at the actual location.

Yussuf Nassar (Harry Pavlidis), an older Middle Eastern gentleman, attempts to help one of the victims on the platform. As he is unaffected he is immediately suspected of being responsible for the release of the deadly vapour and is locked up by one the rail workers as a terrorist.

He manages to call his daughter, Leyla (Ash Ricardo) to try and free him – she is a cop but is currently suspended. As the sickness spreads, and more people die, she endeavours to prove her father’s innocence and find out what really happened and who is really responsible.

Whilst this may not be on the level of OUTBREAK (1995) or CONTAGION (2011), it does manage to be gripping throughout – clearly an extrapolation from Covid, it’s believably acted and the script encompasses government level corruption, racial profiling, the threat of terrorism and even the impact of social media influencers – plus it shows how fear can be just as dangerous as the spread of a killer virus. It focuses on both the personal level and also on the wider impact of an all too possible terrorist onslaught with a biological weapon.

Steve Kirkham

DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT (1970) Review by Steve Kirkham



4 stars
Radiance Films. Blu Ray. Limited to 3000 copies. Out Now


Donatella Berzaghi (Gillian Bray) has been missing for a month. Whilst she is 25, she has a mental age of a 3 year old and needs constant care from her father Amanzio (well played by famous Italian star Raf Vallone). Worryingly, she is also something of a nymphomaniac and will go with any man who pays her attention – so her dad normally keeps her locked in at their flat.

Getting nowhere with the local police in finding her, he goes above their heads and talks to Commissario Lamberti (Frank Wolff) and his underling Mascaranti (Gabriele Tinti – Laura Gemser’s hubby from 1976) to try and galvanise the authorities into looking for his offspring. Luckily for the distraught parent, the lead cop takes pity on him – despite there being numerous unsolved cases of missing people – and they begin to investigate.

Suspecting that she has been dragged into a prostitution ring, the cops shake down a former pimp Salvatore (Gigi Rizzi), who claims he is trying to go straight, as he knows where all the local sex establishments are to be found – in the potentially vain hope of finding some information. Interrogating many of the young ladies involved, they come across one of the workers (Beryl Cunningham) who seems to know more than she is letting on…

Ultimately they are too late as Donatella’s still smouldering, burnt alive body is found in a field. As the police race to try and track down the killer, her father is driven to investigate himself…

Whilst this more often than not is identified as a giallo, this is a mix of both that Italian genre and their poliziotteschi, leaning more towards the latter. Directed by Duccio Tessari – who also helmed the gialli THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY (1971) and PUZZLE (1974), this rather grim tale was co-written with Biagio Proietti (THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS – 1974), adapted from the novel Milanesi Ammazzano al Sabata (The Milanese Kill on Saturdays).

Lacking the stylistic excesses of the more famous examples of its oeuvre, this is a more realistic police procedural, that is until the burst of rage and violence near the end. The blu ray looks great for the most part, with a nicely controlled layer of grain, with only a few shots looking soft (which I suspect is as per the source – the original camera negative). Performances are strong, especially Vallone as the haunted parent. Eva Renzi (BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE – 1970) appears as Lamberti’s wife. The jaunty, jazzy music by Gianni Ferrio is an added bonus.

Steve Kirkham

Original title: La morte risale a ieri sera. Also known as Death Took Place at Night/Horror Came Out of the Fog

The disc contains both the Italian and English versions

2 stars
Audio Essay by Francesco Massaccesi on the importance of Milan in Italian noirs – narrated by Howard S. Berger (11 mins)
An enthusiastic intro (watch after seeing the film) from Fangoria Editor Chris Alexander (7 mins)
US Trailer

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1974) Review by Steve Kirkham



4 stars
Radiance Films. Blu Ray. 27th November. Cert 15

Messiah of Evil is one of those relatively obscure, little seen, independent horrors from the 70s with a reputation that increases with each passing year as more people discover it – I have to admit it was a gap in my own filmic journey. Handily Radiance Films have brought the film to Blu Ray in a spanking new restoration from a 4k scan of the best surviving elements – and it’s a ravishingly colourful presentation showcasing the use of dominant blues and reds in the imagery.

The film opens with a frightened man running from something or someone – collapsing in front of a young girl, she proceeds to slice his throat open! The victim here is played by one Walter Hill, before he was famous as a writer/director of such filmic fare as The Warriors (1979) and 48 Hrs. (1982).

Following the titles a voiceover from our protagonist Arletty (Marianna Hill), who is incarcerated in an asylum – speaking of Point Dune and what happened to her there. “They say nightmares are dreams perverted”. A good description of the film that follows…

The main story is a flashback, a surreal tale of a small town and the inhabitants there. But is Arletty a reliable narrator or are these the ravings of a madwoman? Does this explains the fractured, fascinatingly weird nature of the unfolding story? She is travelling to the coastal community she spoke of, after the letters from her artist father (Royal Dano) have become increasingly bizarre, as he speaks of some kind of impending doom. Stopping at a gas station to fill up, she gets the first signs of something amiss – the attendant (Charles Dierkop) frantically imploring her to leave after an odd looking tall man (the strikingly strange Bennie Robinson) arrives in his truck.

At her father’s house she finds it abandoned and discovers his journal in one of his sketch books, which is full of agitated entries and grotesque images of horror. Trying to track him down, in the nearby town, she meets Thom (Michael Greer) and his two female companions Laura (Anitra Ford) and Toni (Joy Bang) plus a rambling, somewhat freaky old man (Elisha Cook Jr.). Before long the trio have inveigled their way into her pop’s house. What is happening in the town? Where has her dad disappeared to?

Whilst this is often disjointed and slightly meandering plot wise it has a dreamlike ambience and is never less than hypnotically captivating. There’s a well staged attack by the townsfolk – are they zombies? – in a supermarket and a cinema and it all ends in a bloody finale. It is clear that Night of the Living Dead was a touchstone, though this would sit well with such films as Carnival of Souls (1962) and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971). Made on a shoestring by husband and wife team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, the fact that some of it’s funding was lost during production may go some way to explaining its fragmented nature – despite this, the movie has a compelling oddness as people bleed from their eyes as if afflicted by some kind of illness that turns them into flesh eating ghouls. And who doesn’t love a rat eating albino!

Shot in 1971 but unreleased for several years, the duo of Huyck and Katz are probably best known for their work for George Lucas including American Graffiti and Howard the Duck. Stephen Katz, Gloria’s brother, was responsible for the Bava-esque lighting and cinematography which adds to the eerie atmosphere.

This release is limited to 2000 copies.

Special Features
3 stars
Audio commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Thrower; Archival interview with co-writer-director Willard Huyck; Documentary What the Blood Moon Brings: Messiah of Evil, A New American Nightmare; Visual essay on American Gothic and Female Hysteria by critic Kat Ellinger; Booklet featuring writing by Bill Ackerman; Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow.

Steve Kirkham

INSIDE THE MIND OF COFFIN JOE. Box Set Review by Steve Kirkham



4 stars
Arrow. Limited Edition Blu Ray Box set

One of the films in this wide ranging box set is called Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind, which is a good as a description as any of what is on show here with these 10 films from the Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins (1936-2020).

I first heard mention of this director way back when, in a small snippet about a couple of his films in, if memory serves correctly, an early issue of House of Hammer magazine. I was intrigued, but resigned to the fact I would never get to see any of the productions from this maverick, featuring his creation Zé do Caixão, as he was known as in his native country.

Spin forward some years and he had been rechristened the now familiar Coffin Joe by Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video, who had started releasing the films to a wider audience and, at last, I was able to view several of these crazy outings.

Now we have Arrow to thank for bringing ten of the films out on Blu Ray in fantastic, brand new 4K restorations which, for the most part, look amazing. Any flaws present are, I suspect, a consequence of the low budget nature of the original productions.

Calling the set INSIDE THE MIND OF COFFIN JOE is something of a convenience as, whilst this has the trilogy starring that famous character, the rest are either peripherally connected or have different roles essayed by Brazil’s boogeyman auteur. I guess calling it Inside the Mind of José Mojica Marins would have meant nothing to most punters. The set is showing as Sold Out directly from Arrow at the moment, but I expect you can purchase it elsewhere.

It should be noted that the first five films featured here are available via Arrow’s streaming service.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to view the copious extras featured on the set but knowing Arrow they will be of the highest standards.

À Meia Noite Levarei Sun Alma
First up is the debut of the famous Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe. He is an undertaker in a small town, up to no good, as he is seeking the perfect woman, in order to sire a son to continue his bloodline – this seems to be his only quest in life. With his wife Lenita infertile, he decides he’ll instead have his wicked way with Terezinha, the girlfriend of his best friend Antonio. Inevitably this doesn’t end well for Joe.

Weirdly atmospheric despite being dated, this features (as most of these films do) over the top acting and an emphatic music score. The main character on show here doesn’t feel fully formed and the film itself tame compared to what is to come.

Determined to make the film Marins apparently financed it by selling his house and car.

Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver
The second outing for Coffin Joe – he has the much longer curling fingernails he is famed for and is more fancily dressed with a trimmer beard. He has clearly gone up in the world, but is still a nefarious undertaker. He even has a hunchback assistant in the shape of Bruno (Jose Lobo) to help him in his continuing quest to father a son – as he believes his offspring will be a superior man who will save the human race.

He kidnaps six girls from the village – there are astonishing sequences featuring spiders and snakes where the actresses are really put through the ringer.

The character here is much more coming into his own, showing himself to be a sadistic and driven madman determined to find the perfect woman who can give him what he wants. He even has a secret laboratory and acts like a mad scientist.

And look for those penetrating, Lugosi-style eyes (a re-occurring “motif” in many of the following films).

There is a freaky sequence in a graveyard just over an hour in and then the film bursts into colour as Joe finds himself in the caverns of hell in a nightmarish vision – when he awakens the film goes back to black and white.

Despite being made in the 60s these clearly cheap productions often feel like Universal movies from the 30s and 40s with added more explicit violence and gore (or the Mexican movies that aped them) – this was probably the intent or at least an influence.

O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão
This is the first of the peripheral Coffin Joe movies – he is only in it for a few minutes introducing it in his inimitable rambling style!

An anthology of three stories. First one THE DOLLMAKER (O Fabricante de Bonecas) has an old guy who creates eerily realistic dolls – it’s the eyes – and he uses his four daughters to draw men in in order to keep his dolls looking real… fairly obvious where this one is heading.

Second one TARA (Perversion) is a bit throwaway, almost comedic to start with. A hunchbacked street balloon seller becomes obsessed with a beautiful girl he sees walking by each day, but she has a boyfriend and remains unattainable – then things turns to tragedy as he sees her stabbed to death on her wedding day… what follows is something more sinister and creepy when he breaks into her crypt and opens up her coffin!

Third one IDEOLOGY (Ideologia). This one has Marins playing a Professor Oãxiac Odéz, who invites a TV interviewer and his wife to his weird home to prove his odd theories about love and instinct – they witness scenes of sadism and depravity. Shocked by what they see, they try to leave but find themselves trapped there as the Prof insists on showing them proof of his theories. More gory horror ensues as he presents various sick scenarios for their delectation. He may not be playing Joe here but he is a pretty depraved character and this is the best of the trio.

O Ritual dos Sádicos
This an odd one – which was banned in Brazil for some twenty years.

A psychiatrist tries to prove his theory about the influence of drugs on kinky sex and violence. He uses 4 people and gives them LSD and analyses how the films of Coffin Joe will affect them and thereby prove his hypothesis.

This has the usual jumble of imagery – especially scenes of a sexual nature (a seeming obsession of Marins) and much nudity. There is a surreal sequence featuring Coffin Joe where the imagery burst into colour with the rest of the production in black and white. Marins does this in several of his films.

Overall this was just weird and a bit pointless.

Finis Hominis

Here’s a departure for Marins, an odd drama with comedic overtones – a naked man walks out of the sea and things happen when people encounter him – like an old wheelchair bound woman walking again. He is called Finis Hominis (The End of Man in Latin) and he appears to be a messianic miracle man. But who is he really?

People begin to follow him – he is given some clothes by a woman after he saves her daughter and he ends up looking like some kind of guru from the East. No wonders the hippies embrace him.

Inevitably, this being a Marins film, it has random sex scenes to spice things up.

Groovy stuff with most of it shot in colour, though some scenes are mono. Is he some kind of prophet sent to save the world. A messiah? Or an escaped lunatic?

Completely different from the familiar horror films this is quite bizarre – is it meant as some kind of comment? Who knows…

Quando os Deuses Adormecem
This is another odd outing for Finis Hominis, in this sequel to THE END OF MAN, which starts off immediately where the previous film ended. Another mix of colour and black and white footage. Doesn’t look as good as some of the other films as it was restored from the only existing 35mm print.

Two factions one lead by Skull, one by Chico Swamp in a slum fighting over a girl. Then Skull’s small son is taken. Finis Hominis has kidnapped him – he somehow makes the two gangs make up.

Everyone is talking about the return of the weird man.

There is a gory sequence with people dancing at a ceremony of satan worshippers (or something) as if possessed and they start ripping apart and eating ‘live’ chickens with blood dripping from their mouths. This is prefaced with a warning just in case you might be distressed by it.

They then go to the cemetery to sacrifice a girl but Hominis turns up and stops them demanding different sacrifices. Chaos ensues and he leaves.

And so it goes – in an incoherent mish-mash of scenes where Finis Hominis wanders in and puts things right – often spouting cod philosophy.

All very odd.

A Estranha Hospedaria dos Prazeres
Back to more familiar territory – Unusually this was directed by Marcelo Motta, though no doubt Marins was heavily involved. Here he is playing a receptionist at a strange hotel – the character isn’t a million miles away from Coffin Joe, with lots of close-ups of his eyes or zooms into his face.

Beating drums. Men freakily gyrating. Seven scantily clad woman doing odd dancing. A coffin. Masked figures making noises. Lightning. Joe rises from the dead from the coffin and spouts his usual nonsensical philosophy to open the film.

An advert in the paper for a staff at a hotel called Hostel of Pleasures. Marins comes out in coat, purple shirt and bowler hat to make his selection – three women and one man are hired.

It is a stormy night with lightning crackling across the sky. Guests begin to arrive and the hotel starts filling up. There are four guys in their room gambling. A man on his own. A hippie biker gang arrive and are given room 13. Of course group sex ensues!

More guests arrive – a group of men. But four of them must leave as it is full… or maybe it isn’t. There’s a smoke filled room of bikini clad ladies serving food and drink to one of the guest. What is going on? Things just get more and more bonkers without any clear idea what is happening and lots of bizarre music overlays the colourfully shot action (with judicious use of coloured gels).

We start to learn more about these characters and what they have done before getting to the hotel – and why they might be gathered there…

Psychedelic and at times positively surreal.

Inferno Carnal

This time out Marins plays the scientist Dr. Jorge Medeiros, who has a much a younger wife Raquel (Luely Figueró). He is always busy in his laboratory on his research so she looks elsewhere and starts an affair with Jorge’s best friend Oliver (Oswaldo De Souza). It seems the good doctor is loaded, so the adulterous duo decide to kill him so she will inherit his wealth.

Raquel throws acid in his face then, whilst he is suffering, Oliver sets fire to the lab. With him hospitalised for months and seemingly on death’s door, they start living it up and burning through money believing that he will shuffle off and leave them minted.

Bad luck for them as he survives and he plots his revenge, whilst plagued by memories of the night of the acid attack and conflagration.

Probably the least weird and most straightforward film in this set – though there are some gruesome scenes of real eye surgery, this is a more muted affair compared the normal weirdness on show.

Delírious de um Anormal

Sort of a greatest hits cut together with scenes lifted from previous Coffin Joe movies (though apparently using sometimes longer uncensored versions) as a top psychiatrist Dr Hamilton (Jorge Peres), now in an asylum, is plagued by nightmares where he believes Coffin Joe is trying to takes his wife Tania (Magna Miller) away from him, as she is the perfect woman and can bear him a son. That old chestnut!

The doctors treating him hope bringing in the real Marins to talk to Hamilton might help – and he can use it as research for his movies. So a win win!

Jam-packed with strangeness from previous productions featuring the malevolent undertaker there is plenty of the expected weirdness, gore and nudity, screaming, strange noises, cackling and over the top music. The film features about half an hour of new footage with scenes from the black and white films tinted in colour.

Encaração do Demônio

This late in the day Coffin Joe sequel also features footage from the first two movies starring the famous character. This time out, despite protests he will go back to his old ways, our evil undertaker has been released from prison after 40 years, older and greyer. Of course he is soon renewing his quest to find the perfect woman who can give him a son… with his loyal manservant Bruno (Rui Rezende) in tow.

What follows is pretty much what you would expect if you have waded your way through the rest of the films on offer here. Gore, nudity, weirdness… the usual Marins madness!

Steve Kirkham

DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954) Review by Steve Kirkham



3 Stars
StudioCanal Blu ray. Out Now

Here’s a hokey slice of British B movie sci fi on StudioCanal’s Cult Classics label.

A plane is blown up before the chunky title credit comes up accompanied by Edward Astley’s bombastic score.

With reports of a meteor shower and a possible UFO, reporter Michael Carter (Hugh McDermott), of The Daily Messenger and Professor Arnold Hennessy (Joseph Tomelty) are in the wilds of Scotland investigating. They get lost, because the Prof may be clever, but apparently can’t read a map, and they end up at a remote pub called The Bonnie Charlie in the wintery highlands.

Also there are the owners the Jamieson’s (Sophie Stewart and John Laurie) with their young nephew Tommy (Anthony Richmond). There is barmaid Doris (a young Adrienne Corri, who I didn’t immediately recognise) who is trying to hide her boyfriend Robert Justin (Peter Reynolds). He is pretending to be one Albert Simpson, as he is a convicted murderer who has escaped from prison. Add to these, handyman David (James Edmond) and model Ellen Prestwick (the always fabulous looking Hazel Court), hiding away at this hostelry as she is running away from her life in London.

It’s all very quaint and cosy as they sit down to share scotch broth and have a drink or two from the bar.

It’s not long however before a flying saucer lands behind the pub (a quite cool model complete with a spinning section). Out pops the imposing alien Nyah (Patricia Laffan) who kills poor old David with her disintegrator ray gun and throws a force field around the area, trapping everyone there.

She has arrived from Mars, but apparently like the Professor isn’t so great with directions as she was planning to land in London. She reveals that women rule her home planet, and has come to Earth to replenish their supply of much needed men – if she had landed where she was supposed to she might have had a better pool to choose from!

A sort of distaff version of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, she also has a robot companion – though unlike the stylish Gort, this a tall, boxy affair, that would look more at home in a 40s serial starring Bela Lugosi. It does get to zap a few things, in a demonstration of power.

The script by James Eastwood is corny, and was apparently based on a play, though there is no evidence it was ever produced – the use of the limited location does give the film the air of a theatrical outing. Laffan tries her best, clad in her striking leather (or is it rubber?) dominatrix outfit, to be frightening and this is often tagged with the description of being campy, which it certainly is. A low budgeter, that can’t hope to compete with the bigger productions from across the pond, it’s still quite fun despite starting out a bit like a soap opera. The black and white photography by Jack Cox looks splendid on this Blu Ray

It should be noted that there are early reports of problems with the audio being out of sync – which I can confirm after trying it on two different players. StudioCanal have been made aware of the issue and are looking into it.

Kim Newman, in the suitably chatty but affectionate commentary he shares with Barry Forshaw, calls the film, with tongue in cheek I suspect, an “astonishing piece of cinema”.

Steve Kirkham

3 stars
Interview with novelist and critic Kim Newman
Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and writer & journalist Barry Forshaw
Stills gallery

Punch (2022) Review by Steve Kirkham


PUNCH (2022)

3 stars
Miracle Media. UK Digital 22nd January

In PUNCH, Frankie (the actually pretty good Alina Allison) has managed to escape the dead-end drudgery of her coastal home town by bogging off to University. She has returned to try and help her single mum Julia (Kierston Wareing) but can’t wait to get away again. Especially as she her mum has a creepy new boyfriend.

She agrees to one last night “out on the town” (such as it is) with her friends, including close buddy Holly (Faye Campbell) and her ex-boyfriend Daryl – or Dazzler (Macauley Cooper), both of whom can’t understand why she left in such a rush in the first place.

Meanwhile, a killer dressed in a black, hooded coat and wearing an immobile Mr Punch mask, complete with red cheeks, protruding, rosy, hooked nose and squeaky “that’s the way to do it” voice, is going about bloodily bludgeoning youngsters to death – he is apparently a local urban legend used by parents to keep their kids in line, who goes about cleaning up the community of miscreants.

Of course, before long, Frankie and her companions find themselves a target of the squawking slaughterer.

Apparently writer/director Andy Edwards (IBIZA UNDEAD – 2016) has said that there are no iconic British slasher villains a la Freddie Krueger or Jason and the like – and this is his attempt at creating such (though strictly speaking his creation is not really a slasher per se). Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be being placed in such esteemed company any time soon as the homicidal butcher lacks any of the wit of Freddie or the driving scares of a Jason. He is just a bloke wandering a decrepit seaside location, whacking teenagers with his big baton, merrily saying various lines that at times are frankly difficult to understand.

Plus Mr. Punch is such an intrinsically British character, I can’t see this travelling well (though maybe that isn’t the intent). Do any other countries have a puppet show featuring a wife beating clown?

The leading girl, Alina Allison, is believable in her role, some of the violence is brutal, and the rundown seaside locations are well used by the director.

This was, according to the credits, shot in various places around the UK – Hastings, Clacton-on-Sea, Brighton, Camber Sands, Croydon and Coventry. Perhaps optimistically, the end scroll declares that Punch will return.

Steve Kirkham

THE CIVIL DEAD (2022) Review by Steve Kirkham



3 stars
Bulldog Film Distribution. Select cinemas and on demand 19th January 2024

Sadly THE CIVIL DEAD isn’t a movie about a zombie uprising during the American Civil War but rather a slacker comedy with an interesting central premise along the “I see dead people” lines, which doesn’t do much with this conceit and goes nowhere fast, though it is fitfully funny along the way.

Clay (played by director and co-writer Clay Tatum) is an LA based, out of work photographer, who is not doing much to improve his situation – barring, bizarrely, cutting his own hair into a terrible look! His main claim to fame is knowing (does he really?) comedy actor Andy Samberg – who could potentially get him work as set photographer. But Clay would rather laze around.

When his wife goes away for a few days on a job she implores him to do something, anything, to further his career rather than just crack open a beer and do nothing in the living room. Of course, as soon as she has gone he does just that!

When he eventually hauls himself outside, to take some shots for a possible book project, he bumps into Whit, an old friend, who is desperate to hang out – despite the fact they haven’t seen each other for years. Then Clay learns that Whit is actually a ghost – and he is the only one who can see him.

Before long, instead of investigating crime a la Randall & Hopkirk (which would have been way more captivating), Clay finds he can’t get rid of his new, very needy, companion.

And that is pretty much it – whilst the relationship between the duo is well realised (thanks to the fact they are friends in real life) this just meanders along telling a shaggy dog story which isn’t half as clever or as funny as the filmmakers think is.

Steve Kirkham

HIGH TENSION (2003) Review by Steve Kirkham



4 stars
Second Sight. 4K/Blu ray Dual. 22nd January

Possibly best known as the slightly nonsensical but cool title Switchblade Romance in the UK, Second Sight have gone with the translation of it’s more appropriate French title Haute Tension in releasing it as High Tension.

The film opens with a badly injured woman stumbling through a forest – a car screeches to a halt as she runs in front of it. “Help me”… Marie (the striking Cecile de France) awakens – she has been dreaming – whilst being driven by her best friend Alex (Maïween). We also get a scene of a grungy guy in a dilapidated van who presents a new meaning to giving head! Pay attention at the back, this may be important later.

The duo are driving to an isolated farmhouse where Alex’s parents and little brother Tom live. They settle in and then late that night the van from earlier pulls up outside. The door bell rings and the bloody, brutal killings begin – we are talking full-on, no holds barred gore!

Who is this mysterious stranger (Philippe Nahon) and why is he targeting the household? The tension ratchets up as the relentless killer searches the house for victims.

Intense and powerful this brought director Alexandre Aja to the attention of the horror community – since then he has helmed such outings as The Hills Have Eyes remake in 2006 and Piranha 3D in 2010.

As the film progresses and the extreme bloodshed and arterial spray continues, you think the film is going one way and then something happens that takes things sideways – if you have seen the movie previously you know of what I speak. No spoilers!

A part of what became known as New French Extremity, this proved to be quite a divisive horror – best not to overthink it and just go with the genuinely gripping scares and bloody mayhem. Now whether what happens late in the storyline fully hangs together is open to question but I remember when I first saw it at FrightFest, back in the day, thinking it was an audacious idea – though I know many found it ridiculous. Watch and decide for yourself. Great make-up fx by Gianetto De Rossi.

Steve Kirkham

4 stars
Commentary by Dr Lindsay Hallam
Interviews with director Aja (35 mins), writer Gregory Levasseur (19 mins), cinematographer Maxine Alexandre (17 mins) and SFX artist Gianetto De Rossi (13 mins)
Only the Brave: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on High Tension
Archive ‘Making of’ featurette
Archive Interviews with Cécile De France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon

You also get Rigid slipcase with new artwork by James Neal; 70-page book with new essays by Anna Bogutskaya, Prince Jackson, Stacie Ponder and Zoë Rose Smith and Six collectors’ art cards with this limited edition.

LORD OF MISRULE (2023). Review by Steve Kirkham


4 stars
Signature Entertainment. Digital Platforms 8th January

Christopher Lee’s autobiography was also called Lord of Misrule – and inevitably any movie within the folk horror sub genre will be compared to a certain well known classic starring the famous actor. That being said, this new horror manages to peak out from behind the long shadow cast by The Wicker Man, despite unavoidable echoes.

Rebecca Holland (the excellent Tuppence Middleton), or Mrs Vicar, as the locals call her, has recently taken over the ministry of a church in the ever familiar small rural community. She has moved there with her husband Henry (Matt Stokoe) and their young daughter Grace (Evie Templeton). Pagan rituals hold more sway than her poorly attended church services.

Trying to fit in and ingratiate themselves with the villagers, they attend the Harvest Festival – especially as Grace has been chosen to be “Harvest Angel”, complete with wings. Despite Rebecca’s reservations they embrace the carnival atmosphere, with it’s Medieval trappings and masked characters.

But then their life is ripped apart when their precious offspring goes missing – lured away by a masked stranger.

With the police ineffective, Rebecca takes it upon herself to try and locate Grace, and finds herself coming up against ancient beliefs and residents more interested in local folklore than assisting in any way.

Building a growing sense of dread, director William Brent Bell (Orphan: First Kill) has crafted an unnerving, atmospheric and creepy chiller from a script by Tom de Ville (The Quiet Ones). The powerful and effective score by Brett Detar adds to the ambience.

As well as the already mention Middleton, Ralph Inneson is notable as the gruff voiced villager who knows more than he is letting on.

Will the Vicar’s Christian faith be able to overcome the deeply ingrained olde world belief system?

Steve Kirkham

BLANK (2022) Review by Steve Kirkham


BLANK (2022)

3 stars
Sparky Pictures. UK Digital. 8th January

With the ongoing interest in the use of Artificial Intelligence, it’s inevitable that filmmakers explore this new technology to hook their plot-line on to – though normally in a negative manner. Such is the case with Blank – an sf thriller set in the near future.

Claire Rivers (Rachel Shelley, The L Word) is a successful writer – problem is she is being hounded for her follow up book and she has a rather large case of writer’s block. Her agent is chasing her to complete and she has unpaid bills piling up.

With a deadline of a month, she decides the only thing she can do, so as not to lose her publishing deal, is to head to a high tech facility to cut herself off from the outside world and get her head down and write.

So off she goes to the flashy and remote retreat and finds herself alone in the big house except for a virtual holographic butler (Wayne Brady), who she decides to call Henry, plus an android assistant in the shape of Rita (Heida Reed) – who acts like a 50s housewife as she tends to Claire’s every need.

She is also given a device which is supposed to stimulate her creativity – though none of it seems to help her put her thoughts down on paper as she ends up quaffing wine and scrunching up everything she writes.

Of course it isn’t long before things start to go awry – malware spreads into the system running both the house and her robotic helper, with everything beginning to glitch and becoming progressively faulty – Claire finds herself trapped with the malfunctioning Rita refusing to let her leave unless she finishes her novel.

Playing out like a stretched out episode of The Twilight Zone (or Black Mirror for our younger readers!) this would have been more effective as a short than a feature film. The best part here is Heida Reed as the, at first, friendly automaton aide who becomes more frightening as her programming goes wrong and she starts to malfunction.

Shelley is okay, if not exceptional, in the central role, veering to the histrionic and whilst the story has its moments it never fully engages, with several sections quite dull. A passable, rather drawn out, cyber thriller time filler – nothing more.

Steve Kirkham