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THE INNKEEPERS (2011) DVD/BLU-RAY

Out Now

Metrodome

Certificate: 15

The basic premise between haunted house and hotel movies is essentially the same, revolving around fatal tragedy and unquiet spirits. However, the claustrophobia is constricted in differing ways informed by the architecture: whereas Gothic mansions contain narrow mazes of gloom filled with nooks and crannies brimming with hidden menace, the brightly-lit avenues of hotel corridors go on forever, their empty isolation deafening. The rows of endless uniform doors belie the infinite possibilities of what may have transpired behind them. Whereas the private estate becomes a character in itself, the boarding house is by its very nature monstrously anonymous, spaces momentarily populated by fluid phantoms. It is only the end of the road for a few. Kubrick’s magisterial The Shining is the best example of the spooky hotel genre, 1408 the worst. Whilst The Yankee Pedlar of The Innkeepers cannot match the atmospheric grandeur of the Overlook, it’s a damn good alternative.

Amateur ghost-hunters Claire and Luke agree to look after the soon-to-be-boarded-up inn whilst the landlord goes away. Empty except for Gayle, a mother fleeing a domestic with her young son, and a washed-up actress attending a spiritualist convention (eccentrically played by Kelly MacGillis), they have the whole place to themselves to try and record some paranormal activity. When Claire discovers the sorry tale of Madeleine O’Malley, who hung herself when her fiancé jilted his bride-to-be on their wedding day before being locked in the wood cellar by the embarrassed owners, she begins to grow rather obsessed with making manifest acquaintance of the poor girl.

What marks The Innkeepers is its commitment to the fervent curiosity of its central character. Excellently played by Sara Paxton with a guileless warmth, Claire is a gawky adolescent who never grew up. Few friends save for computer geek Luke (whose internet research comprises such parapsychological sites as ‘Titslap Tubgirl Soup’), crippling medical condition (asthma), little ambition, less future. For her, getting evidence of Madeleine’s presence is less a “moral imperative” as she claims, but an opportunity for naïve achievement. A lot of the film’s deadpan comic relief (which becomes very welcome!) relies on her gauche social ineptitude: she tells the hotel’s horrific history to Gayle’s terrified boy with a torch unwittingly slung under her chin; when Luke comes on to her during a drinking session, she eagerly responds by dragging him to the basement to talk spectral tongue with Maddy.

This is why the film succeeds as a classically tuned, genuinely hair-raising ghost story. Whilst quick to establish affectionate empathy for this well-meaning loser, director Ti West (him of the superlative House Of The Devil) also subtly locks the audience’s consciousness into that of his character before they cannot escape. With the camera positioned either in line with Claire’s centre of gravity or from her point of view, and the soundtrack registering only what she hears, it does not take long before we are fully calibrated to her terrified perspective. Once the action picks up dreadful momentum, the tension is virtually unbearable. Heart-racing.

With Hammer’s much-vaunted Eel Marsh House running head to head against independent hotel The Yankee Pedlar in this issue’s most haunted stakes, both serve up an agreeably frightful experience. But for its unrelenting suspense and sustained style, The Innkeepers is the one to check into.

Extras: None on review copy.

Ghost Stories for Christmas

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Well our Hammer issue is now in the shops, and judging by the early sales from W.H. Smiths it looks like it could be our biggest seller to date, which is mainly thanks to Denis Meikle’s superb writing. I’m already speaking with Denis about doing an Amicus special sometime soon because I notice that quite a few Amicus films are being re-released on DVD. I just got four old Amicus titles from Canal Plus: Warlords of Atlantis, The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth’s Core, plus They Came From Beyond Space, one of the more obscure of their movies getting an official release for the first ever time – and in a really nice transfer too.

By the way, did I mention that Denis has his own site at www.hemlockbooks.co.uk? Check them out because they have “all your favourite filmbooks in one haunted place,” including The Dark Side of course. Look out for reviews of two great new Hemlock books, X-Cert and Retro Screams, in our very next issue.

But back to 148, and I nearly had a heart attack when I opened the first box of the Hammer issue after copies landed on our doorstep – because the copies had been printed wrongly and certain pages had been duplicated. This was a mistake by the printer but fortunately it only affected a small number of copies so the panic didn’t last long. It does, however, mean that we have slightly less copies to send out as back issues so if you’re a regular buyer please make sure you pick a copy up from the shops. Our friends at www.movietyme.com have just started supplying us with review copies of some choice American titles, kicking off with The Space Children, The Colossus of New York and two William Castle titles, Project X and The Spirit Is Willing, all on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Muchos gracias to Janine and Craig for this. We will of course be recommending you buy them from www.movietyme.com after you read our reviews in the next ish – or maybe even before that! Equally good news is that we hear the BFI will make all twelve of the classic BBC films from A Ghost Story for Christmas series available on DVD this year, with the first two volumes – each containing a double bill of chilling tales – released on 20 August.

As a Christmas treat during the 1970s, the BBC screened adaptations of the classic ghost stories of MR James, the Cambridge academic and author of some of the most spine-tingling tales in the English language. Most of the instalments, which were broadcast to terrified viewers in the dead of winter, were directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, who has been interviewed for new introductions on these BFI releases.

The first release features Jonathan Miller’s Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968), with Sir Michael Hordern, paired with the 2010 adaptation of the same chilling tale, starring John Hurt and directed by Andy de Emmony. Released alongside it is a pairing of The Stalls of Barchester (1971), starring Robert Hardy and receiving its DVD premiere, and A Warning to the Curious (1972), with Peter Vaughan, both directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark. Each set comes with numerous special features and illustrated booklets. One of these is Ghost Stories for Christmas with Christopher Lee – The Stalls of Barchester by MR James, in which Lee recreates MR James’ famous soirees, at which the antiquary would read his tales of the supernatural to eager undergraduates. With only three of the twelve tales previously released on DVD (by the BFI in 2002, and long since deleted), the films in this brilliant series have been high on many film and TV fans’ ‘most wanted’ DVD lists. With a subtlety and style all of their own, they have been a major influence on recent British horror films, such as The Woman in Black.

The release of the first two Ghost Stories volumes is timed to mark the 150th anniversary of MR James’ birth on 1 August 1862.

Two more volumes, the first containing Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and The Ash Tree, and the second containing The Signalman (Andrew Davies’ adaptation of the Charles Dickens story) Stigma (written by Clive Exton) and The Ice House (written by John Bowen), will follow in September, while the fifth and final volume, containing the more recent instalments View from a Hill and Number 13

Just got a press release from Greg Day at FrightFest with info about the titles they are showing this year over the late August bank holiday. This year sees a record 48 films including 15 world premieres, so the event continues to go from strength to strength. Films showing include Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke, the Sam Raimi produced The Possession and Jennifer Chambers Lynch’s Chained, which Alan Jones tells me is his favourite movie of the fest. Gore fans will love the Maniac remake even without Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro, and on the ultra-low-budget front there’s quite a buzz about American Mary, a VHS anthology.

The fest runs from From Thursday 23rd August to Monday 27th August at the Empire Cinema in London’s Leicester Square. Empire 1 will house the main event while the Discovery and the newly-created Re-Discovery strand will play in Empires 4 & 5.

The Brits may be crap at footie and tennis but we know how to make great genre movies and there are some brilliant ones on offer here. We already ran a feature on Paul Hyett’s The Seasoning House and the word on this one is very favourable, as it is with Tower Block, directed by James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson and written by Severance’s James Moran. Also showcased are Peter Strickland’s Italian horror deconstruction Berberian Sound Studio, Jon Wright’s Tremors-like creature feature Grabbers, the living dead romp Cockneys Vs. Zombies (how did Jonathan Sothcott miss this one?). Then there’s the human experiment warning Guinea Pigs, the killer clown comedy Stitches, the cannibal serial killer chiller Sawney, the psycho cop thriller May I Kill U?, the gory allegory Before Dawn, the fear of The Inside and the frightening Community.

This year the festival is giving a prominent focus to the past, present and future of the Italian genre scene with Federico Zampaglione’s much anticipated neo-giallo Tulpa and the Manetti Bros Paura 3D, which will be featured in issue 149 of The Dark Side on sale at the Fest thanks to our Cinema Store friends. Plus Total Film magazine’s guest Icon this year is the Italian Master of Horror himself, Dario Argento and there’s a screening of the documentary Eurocrime!, which celebrates the ‘poliziotteschi’ movies that ruled Italian 70s cinema.

From Spain come two of the country’s brightest talents with their recent blockbuster hits: Paco Plaza’s [Rec]3 Genesis and Jaume Balaguero’s thriller Sleep Tight. Also in the Spanish language is Hidden In The Woods, a Chilean chiller. Other International highlights include the Dutch Kill Zombie!, the Japanese Dead Sushi and Germany’s Errors of the Human Body and We Are The Night.

Currently under the radar but bound to get people buzzing are Steven C Miller’s Under The Bed, Ryan Smith’s After, The Butcher Brothers’ The Thompsons, Peter Engert’s Remnants, Stig Svendsen’s Elevator and Buddy Giovinazzo’s return to the genre, A Night of Nightmares.

Then there’s T2/The Abyss star Michael Biehn’s directorial debut The Victim, the gore documentary Nightmare Factory focusing on the work of make-up genius Greg Nicotero, the Nazi zombie romp Outpost II: The Black Sun, the latest in the mutant smash series Wrong Turn 4 and the ever popular International Short Film Showcase (line-up to be announced soon) and Andy Nyman’s Quiz From Hell, presented by Emily Booth and The Horror Channel. And showing for the first time in the UK will be the most-wanted retrospective of the decade, Clive Barker’s Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut.

Hammer fans are in for a treat at this year’s Frightfest too, because the Empire’s Re-Discovery Screen will be showing fully restored versions of three favourites from the studio: The Devil Rides Out, Rasputin The Mad Monk and The Mummy’s Shroud. James Whale’s 1935 The Bride of Frankenstein will also be screened, and if you missed Alex Chandon’s great new movie Inbred last year then you will get a chance to see it again here – the film is at last getting a release through Anchor Bay. The Manetti Bros.’ The Arrival of Wang and Paul China’s Crawl are also scheduled for screenings.

As for the guest list, well if you’re a FrighFest regular you’ll know that the screenings are usually packed with celebs anyway, such as Jonathan Ross and his wife, Woman In Black screenwriter Jane Goldman (who is interviewed in the next DS). If you want Festival & day passes, these go on sale from 30 June. Tickets for Individual films are on sale from 28th July. Bookings can be made on: 08 714 714 714 or www.empirecinemas.co.uk.

Man Of Mystery

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I recently got my hands on the first two volumes of Network’s Edgar Wallace Mysteries, and was going to review them in the next issue of The Dark Side. Unfortunately there are so many other new releases coming up that we seem to have run out of room to do them justice, so I thought I may as well discuss them here in my Blog instead.

It was certainly a trip down Memory Lane to see that revolving bust of good old Edgar again, accompanied by Michael Carr’s famed ‘Man of Mystery’ theme that was a chart hit for The Shadows back in the 60s. These Edgar Wallace programmers clocking in at around an hour each used to turn up regularly on ITV in late night slots when I was a kid, and there seemed to be an endless number of them. A bit of research now shows there were ‘only’ 47 and they were made between 1959 and 1965. Though I saw them on telly they were originally shown in UK cinemas as second features, and most were made at the tiny Merton Park Studios under the watchful eyes of producer Jack Greenwood.

One or two of the movies were also shot at Beaconsfield by Independent Artists, the production company owned by Julian Wintle and Leslie Parkyn that made Night of the Eagle. Other films also got added to the TV sales packages, and films like The White Trap and Urge To Kill, though not strictly part of the series, are included here anyway, sometimes as extras. All of the shows are in black and white and fairly talky. A lot of them seem to open with a burglar cracking a safe, some have complex ‘locked room’ plots, and in at least one of the tales the butler did indeed do it!

Volume 1 has eight movies in total. One of the better entries is Urge To Kill, which is not a Wallace story but was included in syndication packages nevertheless. This one’s set in a tiny boarding house run by a cheery ‘Auntie’ type who has a retarded son. Smoothy lodger Howard Pays is actually a homicidal maniac who would rather strangle women than make love to them and he sees an opportunity to pin his crimes on the backward lad. Quite an intriguing and entertaining tale, with elements of The Lodger, and it’s weird to hear Wilfred Brambell (Steptoe) talking posh!

The Clue of the Twisted Candle is classic Wallace, a twisty yarn of a dodgy, thick-bearded and Jewish dealer played by Francis De Wolff who frames his business partner David Knight into jail. Knight gets free just as De Wolff is found murdered in his burglarproof room, and as an added mystery it seems that the victim telephoned Scotland Yard AFTER his death! The solution is suitably ingenious, though we’d have liked to see the murderer get away with it because he seems a thoroughly decent chap for most of the show!

Marriage of Convenience has John Cairney (The Flesh and the Fiends) absconding from prison on the eve of his wedding, locking the inept cops who are supposed to be guarding him inside the Registry Office and zooming off on a stolen scooter. It seems the real love of his life has stitched him up and absconded to the coast with the proceeds of a bullion robbery, in company with a bent copper (John Van Eyssen) just to rub salt in the wounds. Can Cairney get his money before Scotland Yard’s finest catch up with him? Clive Donner (Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush) directed this fast-moving tale, which stars Harry H. Corbett as Inspector Jock Bruce. I’m not sure this is supposed to be a comedy but Corbett plays his character with the same comical air of bemusement as he did Inspector Bung in Carry On Screaming. There’s even a Frenchman in this who is known as ‘Onion Johnny’ and has onions strewn all round the handlebars of his bike. No stereotyping there, then.

The Man Who Was Nobody stars Hazel Court as a most unlikely female private investigator hired to find out why a guy buys an eight grand ring for his fiancée and then disappears, later to be washed up on the banks of the Thames. Obviously untrustworthy Paul Eddington (Yes, Minister) may have the answer, and the mysterious South Africa Smith (John Crawford) is around to both help and hinder Hazel’s investigations. Jack Watson’s stolid Scotland Yard man lets the others do all the hard work and steps in at the end with the handcuffs.

At the start of Partners in Crime, a middle-aged businessman returns home after a night out with his foxy wife (Moira Redmond) and the obviously crooked John Van Eyssen, his partner in a firm called ‘Cool Kups.’ He enters his lounge and catches a burglar in the act. Two seconds later he catches a bullet. Inspector Mann of The Yard (reliable Bernard Lee of the Bond films) is soon on the case and scratching his head as usual. Meanwhile Van Eyssen – for it is he behind the dastardly deed – pays off the killer, a lorry driver, and advises him to dump the murder weapon pronto. But when the driver stops at a roadside cafe the gun is pinched from his cab by a pair of motorbike kids, thus beginning a chain of events that will culminate in a shootout in a junkyard. More action than usual in this one, and Van Eyssen meets a pretty grisly fate rather than just being led off to the Big House.

The Clue of the New Pin is another nifty locked room puzzler, with Paul Daneman as the chief suspect in the murder of his miserly millionaire uncle, found shot dead in a sealed room locked from the inside with the only key. Scotland Yard is represented by Bernard Archard, who is obviously a bit more intelligent than your average plod because he doesn’t smoke like a chimney. An annoying James Villiers (of Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb) has a major role as a good-looking TV personality pal of Daneman’s whose efforts at playing amateur detective land him in trouble. The solution is simple yet ingenious, and this is definitely one of the better episodes.

Finally comes The Fourth Square, an episode that opens with a safe being cracked. The thief has his own calling card, leaving four square-shapes on the wall by the safe for Lily Law to puzzle over. In this case it’s Basil Dignam stroking his chin and wondering why the robber appears to have left empty handed. Meanwhile Private Investigator Conrad Phillips (William Tell) gets a visit from the female victim of the crime (Delphi Lawrence) because she wants him to track down a stolen emerald that was a gift from her lover. The thief who left the trademark squares actually died in Newport Pagnell, so no change there, but our hero gets to visit some tacky night clubs and chat up lots of showgirl-types so he’s happy to carry on looking. The villain when he’s eventually uncovered turns out to be one of the minor characters, introduced near to the rather abrupt ending. A bit dull, but Hazel looks great.

Another extra on the disc is October Moth, a rather slow-moving affair which doesn’t have the feel of an Edgar Wallace tale at all. Lee Patterson is a mentally retarded guy who accidentally causes a car accident and brings the female victim – whom he is convinced is his late mother – home to the farm he shares with his sister Lana Morris. The worried Morris enlists the help of Peter Dyneley, a telephone repairman, to try to convince her brother he’s deluded, but Patterson then thinks that Dyneley is his late father, a brutal tyrant, who deserves to be six foot under, so you know it will all end in tears. This is a dragged-out and depressing tale despite decent performances.

Quality-wise I reckon the Clue episodes are most fun, closely followed by Partners In Crime and Marriage of Convenience. The only real dud is October Moth, but that too has its interesting points. All of the movies are interesting to watch if you’re a fan of 60s London, and they are a reminder of a time when people smoked incessantly and Scotland Yard inspectors didn’t mind having a scotch or two at about nine-thirty in the morning, even when they were on the job. I’ll cover Volume 2 in my next Blog. Now, to quote the late, great George Dixon, ‘Evening all.’

Searching For Stanley

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South African-born filmmaker Richard Stanley achieved huge success at the age of 24 when he made the cult British sci-fi movie Hardware. The Terminatorish story of a cyborg going berserk in a decaying urban tower block was a big homegrown success for Palace Pictures and an equally commercial prospect in the United States. The film quickly paid back its meagre $1.5 million budget and Stanley went on to make Dust Devil, a serial killer thriller with an arty touch.

Unfortunately the release of Dust Devil coincided with the demise of Palace, and the movie got lost in the shuffle. But Stanley’s career continued to flourish and Hollywood came calling, snapping up his script for The Island of Dr. Moreau, a radical remake of the famed H.G. Wells tale (written in 1896) about a doctor on a remote island who manages to turn animals into humans. The film was due to star Marlon Brando and… for a time at least, Bruce Willis.

Stanley was signed to direct, too. But suddenly it all went pear-shaped. Brucie split and was replaced by Val Kilmer, a somewhat temperamental actor at the best of times. The studio chucked out Stanley’s script and he was fired from directing at the insistence of Kilmer, who reputedly refused to come out of his trailer for 40 days. Must have been luxurious in there, eh?

The resultant movie, directed by John Frankenheimer, contained about two words of Stanley’s dialogue and was nominated for a Razzie award as the worst film of 1996, only losing out to Demi Moore’s Striptease. What a shame Bruce ducked out – it could have been him vs Demi.

Then it was off into the wilderness for Richard Stanley, both figuratively and literally. There were reports he was offered the chance to direct Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd and Spice World: The Movie, but turned them down, wisely as it happens. He made some interesting documentaries, including The Secret Glory, which told of German officer Otto Rahn’s obsessive quest for the Holy Grail that came to a rather abrupt end when he was found frozen to death in the snow at the age of 35.

But now Stanley is back with a couple of interesting new feature projects, neither of which feature Val Kilmer. He was also involved with Optimum’s DVD and Blu-ray release of Hardware. The last time I chatted with Richard was way back in 1990 when Hardware was first released. That was a face-to-face interview, but this one is on his mobile, on what turns out to be a very crackly line.

“I’m in the middle of the mountains,” he says, “so it could be a bit rough.” It turns out that he’s in the Pyrenees, the rugged mountain range between France and Spain. He’s on the French side at Montsegur, which is famous for its fort, one of the last strongholds of the Cathars, a 13th century religious sect that was pretty much wiped out by the Catholics in a Masada-like massacre in 1244. Richard says he fell in love with the place when he went there to film some of The Secret Glory in 2001, but we doubt it will ever feature on Wish You Were Here?

My first question is, why has it taken so long to get Hardware onto DVD when the film was such a hit in the first place? Stanley responds, “I think it was a case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Over the last ten years everyone’s been trying to control the rights to the movie. Since Palace Films went under, it has passed from Polygram, Miramax, Buena Vista, MGM… virtually every corporate firm in the world have owned part of it for some period of time. But they’ve never owned enough of the rights to release it or actually produce a sequel.”

At the time of making the movie, Stanley was already a successful director of pop promos, having worked on music videos for bands like Fields of the Nephilim, as well as directing a 50-minute length video for Marillion’s concept album, Brave. But getting the dosh together for Hardware was a struggle. “It was really a perception thing,” he explains, “because nothing like that had really been made in England at the time. There was a strange perception that British films weren’t sci-fi action movies and that you couldn’t shoot a low-budget sci-fi action film in London.”

Stanley then realised that the only solution was to pretend that it wasn’t set in London. “I went to Miramax in the States and the film was largely funded by Harvey and Bob (Weinstein), which partly explains the kind of transatlantic limbo that it’s in. The movie was originally supposed to take place on a kind of futuristic British council estate but they basically Americanised the film in order to pick up the funding. It always saddens me that we couldn’t raise the money for it out of England. But the perception of it being an American film was what we needed to get it funded.”

And where was Richard Stanley when the filming of Hardware was due to get underway? Er… try Afghanistan! “Yeah, that’s true,” he chuckles dryly. “It was one of those ridiculous situations where in point of fact it only got made at the time when I wasn’t doing anything to try and get it made!”

“I’d spent years and years basically going around Soho with different scripts trying to get people interested and wasn’t getting anywhere, so I’d gone off to make this film about the Afghan guerrillas just when somebody decided to pick up the script. There’s some kind of Murphy’s Law thing involved here, where if you going around making phone calls and sending people scripts no one’s going to take your call, but if you are really unavailable then all of a sudden these things change.

“At the point of time when Palace greenlit the film, I was completely out of contact. It was a time period before cellphones and I was right in the middle of the Hindu Kush (a mountain range in eastern and central Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan). One of the producers at Wicked Films had already sold the option to Palace even though they didn’t own the option, so they had to find me in Afghanistan to secure my approval for the deal and sign off on the damn thing!”

REDISCOVERING DARIO

Watching the movie on Blu-ray recently was the first viewing I’ve had of it in many years, but Richard says he sees it regularly because he has his own print. What does he think of it in retrospect? “I’m pretty happy with what we managed to do under the circumstances,” he muses. “There are a few bits that got pulled out of the script to reschedule, and I shot the second half of the movie first so I ended up spending seventy percent of the budget on the second half of the movie which meant we had to shoot the first half of the movie quickly… so the overall style of coverage in the first half hour of the film is much more traditional. Its kind of close-up, close-up, master, not as many tracking shots, and the lighting and cinematography improve, I think, immeasurably in the second half of the film.”

The director is also enthusiastic about the performance of Stacey Travis in the movie. “She is just fantastic,” he enthuses. “She deserved so much better than she got because she really holds that film together in my opinion, the one person in the film who can really act! The droid was most of the time a head on a stick or a hand and Stacey managed to hold the whole thing together just through her presence.”

He seems generally much happier with Hardware than he is with Dust Devil (1992), in which a shape-shifting serial killer (Robert Burke) preys on his victims against the bleak backdrop of South Africa’s Namibian desert. “Dust Devil was pretty much last to get out of the gate at Palace,” he recalls, “and they were done by the time it was finished. It was scarcely distributed and had virtually no post-production. It managed to get out a couple of years ago and it is out in the States on DVD in a very nice transfer.

“I think that the subject matter in Dust Devil, obviously being of South Africa and apartheid, was less commercial. I also think I read too many bad reviews of Hardware, because at the time the perception was that Hardware was too much like a music video with fast cuts and loud music. I think that pushed me down the road of making Dust Devil with continuous tracking shots and keeping rock and roll out of the movie just to show we could do it. The net result, along with leaving scenes out of the script and not having the money to do action scenes meant Dust Devil turned into more of an art movie than we had intended.”

When I first talked with Richard all those years ago we touched upon his admiration for Dario Argento, the Italian maestro of macabre movies. I wonder how he feels about Dario these days in the light of recent disappointments like Mother of Tears. “He has gone off a bit,” Stanley says, “but I’m still very fond of him. We’re very hard on Dario because he’s so good. Lesser work by Dario is still better than most of the stuff I see, but the fans come down on it just because it’s not as good as his original material. His Masters of Horror episodes are among the best of that series and if I had to see those without it being Dario I’m sure I’d enjoy them immensely.

“People take issue with how mad some of his new films are, but you know films like Phenomena, when we first saw them we said, ‘My God, what is he on?’ But 20 years later we look back on them with great fondness, so some of the stuff coming out now we may feel the same about. I already like Mother of Tears better than I did a year ago!”

ANIMAL INSTINCTS

Moving on to The Island of Dr. Moreau, I wonder how Stanley feels about that somewhat traumatic experience nowadays. “Well,” he sighs, “I think it’s a damn shame that nobody has ever filmed the book properly, but I’ve now accepted that it’s never going to happen. More than anything else I hadn’t realised, going in, how ‘off-message’ the Wells book is for an American sci-fi movie, but I guess I hadn’t appreciated that most big budget US sci-fi movies generally tell the same story and it’s basically a pro-democracy story.

“They always want the Beast People to be the oppressed race and they’ve got to rebel against Moreau and there’s got to be a happy, pro-democratic ending, whereas the message in the book is that every attempt to create a better system for these people to live under is even more of a fiasco than what Moreau is doing. It’s way too dark for the American audience. Apart from anything else I was responding to Ruggero Deodato and the Italian cannibal movies, and when I look back on it now I realise he would never have got away with it.”

He admits that for a time it was looking good though. “When Marlon Brando was on board and initially Bruce Willis was on board, nobody was questioning the material in the script. But the moment Bruce Willis dropped out and Brando’s involvement became unclear, the powers-that-be started reading the script and realised they didn’t want to make that movie. I think if I’d been more powerful, if I’d had a major hit behind me I’d have had a better negotiating position. But nobody wants to make a $25 million Richard Stanley movie!

“When they got rid of me they basically remade the Burt Lancaster version. They went back to the previous AIP version. The original script was by myself and Michael Herr, who wrote Apocalypse Now, and Walon Green who wrote The Wild Bunch. Even if you left me out, it was a great script but not one scene or one word of dialogue made it into the Frankenheimer movie.”

NEW BONES

For years it has seemed like nobody wants to make a Richard Stanley movie at any price, but now, like London buses, two are coming along at the same time. First off the bat is Vacation, in which an American couple holidaying in the Middle East find themselves caught up in an end of the world scenario. Then there’s Bones of the Earth, the tale of a former U.S. Special Forces soldier framed for the mass destruction of a village in Afghanistan. He returns to his homeland in Scotland and plots revenge on his former commanding officer, who now supervises hunting parties during which rich people get to shoot deer.

Bones was one of the last scripts written by Donald Cammell, the co-director of Performance who committed suicide in 1996. “Yeah, I’ve got this cursed movie which is the last movie that Donald tried to make,” chuckles Richard. “It’s a bit like the Brando curse, but I enjoy the challenge.

“The Donald Cammell piece has been lurking since the late 80s somewhere. Like a raisin dropped into a glass of champagne, it kind of rises and falls continuously until the glass goes flat or whatever. There was a time when Richard Harris was connected to it, up until he died. It was his favourite script but he went off to play Dumbledore in Harry Potter instead and then he died. He didn’t get a chance to get it made. So it passed from Donald Cammell to Richard Harris and then myself. It does have a habit of killing the people but it’s a hell of a good script.”

Was he a fan of Donald Cammell’s work? “I actually didn’t see White of the Eye until very late,” he replies. “Then I realised that Demon Seed and White of the Eye run a really strong parallel with Hardware and Dust Devil… the main difference between me and Donald being that Donald got to make Performance which is a kind of masterpiece, which I didn’t do, and Donald’s dead and I’m alive (laughs) which means I’ve still got the chance to get one in there!”

Before Bones we’ll be seeing Vacation, which Stanley describes as “not so much a post holocaust romance as a during the holocaust romance. An American couple go on holiday to a Middle Eastern hotel and WW3 breaks out simultaneously. It’s kind of an upbeat end of the road movie. We’re in pre-production but we’re having a devil of a time trying to nail down the actual cast and get all the dates in order. Technically we want to start shooting at Ramadan in Morocco in August. We need to start shooting at a time when we can actually get access to the locations and Ramadan seems to be the best bet. At the moment it looks like Vacation will be British backed because it stars Americans, but our problem has been trying to get American actors to go to a location that is 100 km from the Moritanian border during Ramadan when they are terrified of terrorism and the African border in the first place. We’ll certainly look after them once we’ve got them.”

Why does he make life difficult by choosing such remote locations? “I’ve always had the desire to show people things they have never seen before,” he replies, “which is difficult, because Hollywood prefers things which are like something else. I want to find something that people have never seen before and put it on screen. The desire to bring people back something they don’t know about or haven’t seen is pretty strong. It’s the same logic behind going to Afghanistan or wanting to do a movie in Chechnya or somewhere. To me it’s much more interesting than trekking into suburbia.”

Richard Stanley’s Hardware is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Optimum.

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

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A billion dollars after Part Two, and the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s heavily anticipated trilogy finally arrives. Much like fans’ expectations, its aspirations are high.

Picking up eight years after The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse on an almost Howard Hughes level. Nobody bar his faithful butler, Alfred, has seen him since Rachel ( Maggie Gyllenhaal) died and the city believe him responsible for the death of Harvey Dent. It’s the appearance of Selina Kyle played by Anne Hathaway (oddly not referred to directly as Catwoman in the film) and a theft from Wayne Manor that instigates his return as the cloaked avenger.

His uncovering of a plot finds the very existence of Gotham City at risk from the psychotic musclebound villain, Bane ( Tom Hardy). Throw into the mix a young idealist cop ( Joseph Gordon Levitt) , an innovative Wayne enterprises employee (Marion Cotillard), Commissioner Gordon wrestling with his conscience about the truth behind Harvey Dent’s demise and you have a number of storylines competing for attention, and therein lies part of the problem. With four new characters as well as the regulars, some of them have little to do little to do, notably Morgan’s Lucius Fox who seems to have become Batman’s version of Bond’s ‘Q’.

With any comic book adaptation it’s the villain who sets the tone, and after Heath Ledger’s showboating as The Joker it’s Tom Hardy whose scarred physique and calm measured delivery provides, for the first time, both a physical and intellectual threat to Bale’s Batman. Where The Joker was an anarchist, Bane is an out and out terrorist. But as Hardy has a mask across his mouth for the film’s duration it’s clear his lines have had to be tweaked in post production. Frustratingly, at times he is nearly incomprehensible, which is a pity because this version of Bane is clearly head and shoulders above the cartoon buffoonery of 1997’s Batman & Robin’s incarnation. There really is a sense of dread when Batman first faces off against Bane. This is all further heightened by Hans Zimmer’s impressive score with its doom laden riffing of the chant heard in the trailer.

Other characters flesh out the storyline, most notably Anne Hathaway’s interpretation of Catwoman. Though nowhere near as overtly sexual as Michelle Pfeifer, she is still enjoyably duplicitious. Perhaps the most obvious missed opportunity is the hinted-at love triangle between Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon clearly has a protégé in Levitt’s cop with integrity, John Blake, but this is a role which initially seems to be one of little substance beyond that of an idealistic young man caught up in circumstances beyond his control trying to fulfil his self-perceived destiny.

Nolan’s sombre treatment of the trilogy’s caped crusader has always relied on complex storylines and he has used this final instalment to build and expand on the foundations of its predecessors especially part one – ultimately coming full circle to round off the saga. The politics of the film even touch on the morality of upholding law and order, the fallout from hiding the truth and the consequences for actions taken by characters.

Throughout all three films Nolan has concentrated on character and plot over spectacle and extravaganza (and there is an especially effective action sequence including a midair hijack the likes of which we’ve not seen since Stallone’s Cliffhanger). Each film has been successively longer than its predecessor and The Dark Knight Rises comes in at a bladder-challenging 165mins. Perhaps a little bit of judicious editing would not have gone amiss, but Nolan has delivered a fitting finale to the saga. Hopefully he will keep true to his word that this really is the end and won’t be tempted back to add a fourth film.

At one point a character says, ‘ We’re in for a show tonight!’ On this point, he’s dead right.

Review by Simon Hooper.

Review: Return of the Living Dead Blu-ray

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RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) DVD/BLU-RAY STEELBOOK

Out Now

Second Sight

Certificate: 15

Upon revisiting Return Of The Living Dead, it becomes apparent that there is an inconsistency in the history of modern zombie cinema. Whilst George Romero is pretty much considered its sole founding father, it could be argued, and it’s going to be, that Dan O’Bannon should share that accolade. Based on a novel by Night Of The Living Dead’s co-writer John Russo, the plot follows the classic set-up pioneered by that film whilst briefly providing explanation for it.

Turns out the epidemic of Night was the result of an army experiment gone wrong and a couple of containers of toxic waste were left over in the basement of UNEEDEM medical supply warehouse in Kentucky. When an employee called Frank accidentally unleashes the contents of a barrel, it’s not long before it gets in the air, a sudden downpour not only spoiling the graveyard party of a bunch of punks, but helpfully raining down some reanimation juice. The living fend off the dead by boarding themselves up in the local mortuary and it becomes a protracted game of hopeless survival.

After the project’s initial director Tobe Hooper left to make Lifeforce, O’Bannon, who had been brought in to tidy up Russo’s script, was asked to man the chair: he agreed on condition that he do a full rewrite. His strategy was simple- total revision of Romero’s cinematic tropes. When the initial cadaver comes to life whose (second) death will trigger the rising from mass graves, the hapless Frank and his colleagues panic over how they’re going to deal with it. He remembers about the headshot, but this jaundiced, bald ex-mortal keeps coming until they comically manage total dismemberment. “I thought you said if you destroy the brain it dies,” Frank’s boss hollers. “It worked in the first movie!” The head grins and wriggles on the floor.

This cheeky subversion permeates the film like a rogue infestation. O’Bannon’s creatures are fast, strong and intelligent, using CB radios to call for emergency back-up as one would order takeaway and winching doors off hinges when potential victims hide in lockers. Whereas Romero’s zombies were hordes of featureless stragglers occasionally differentiated by memorable make-up or costume, here they are characters in their own right: who can forget Tarman’s sticky putrescence or the overripe female half-corpse that articulates the pain of being dead? And this is O’Bannon’s most radical difference- humanity. The conscious undead feast on brains, the protein-hit providing fleeting respite from the excruciating process of decomposition, in contrast to the flesh-eaters that just greedily, inexplicably chow.

Return Of The Living Dead also disinters a swollen vein of anarchic humour that had been absent from the genre, alongside a fair amount of gratuitous nudity. O’Bannon’s rebellion against what had become the status quo is enough to define the term ‘splatterpunk’.

It has been well documented that Romero lost the rights to refer to his creatures as per the title of his 1968 classic, but this differentiation could be useful when thinking about zombie cinema. On the one hand, there are the Dead films, senseless apocalypses of shuffling unstoppability. On the other, the Living Dead, lively cataclysms of cadaverous insurrection, the creatures dangerously energetic, human, maybe even comic. Romero and O’Bannon. Founding father pioneers.

Extras: Everything you wanted to know about ROTLD (but were afraid to ask): two-hour making-of documentary that gives the sense of the production being like a battleground; Extensive looks at the two sequels; Music video; Interviews with Russo, the FX artists, music consultant and the laconic O’Bannon, one of the last he gave; Ernie’s Notepad, 20-page replica notebook by the character of embalmer Ernie Kaltenbrunner exclusive to Blu-Ray steelbook. So comprehensive you’ll want to eat brains.

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ABRAHAM LINCOLN : VAMPIRE HUNTER

Published in 2010, the comic book novel Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter was another mash up in the vein of the same author’s Pride And Prejudice and Zombies and even though the genre was, even then, arguably past its prime, Hollywood has decided to film it. With a Russian director. In 3D.

As a child, the later to be 16th President of America sees at first hand the effect of slavery, shortly followed by the death of his mother at the hands of a vampire – thereby instigating his lifelong fight against these twin evils. He is befriended by Henry Sturges ( played by Dominic Cooper) who tempers Abe’s lust for revenge and channels it into training him to use a silver-edged axe/shotgun combo for the purpose of decapitating vampires.

With Abe’s training complete (cue the tried, trusted and tired ‘training montage’) he ventures out into the world where he gets a job as a sales assistant in a shop (no, really) before sending Abe the names of vampires that he must kill. Along the way he becomes President (as you do) whilst at night he terminates vampires with extreme prejudice. At the same time a Vampire played by Rufus Sewell (looking increasingly like Ian McShane) attempts to lead all vampires to enslave the people of the US. His name casts fear and terror across the nation. For he goes by the name of…. Adam ( yes, really). Only honest Abe can end slavery and end the vampire invasion.

The film has regrettably been scripted by the source novels author , Seth Grahame Smith, whose slow narrative, superflous characters, ponderous plotting and nonsensical plot twists made Dark Shadows such a disappointment. The densely plotted novel has lost a lot in its transition to screen and for no discernible reason gained characters that weren’t in the book.

Thankfully a weakened script is enlivened no end by the Russian Director, Timur Bekmambetov, whose dizzying camerawork and truly insane set pieces made, Wanted, Daywatch and Nightwatch so distinctive. All the director’s flourishes are present, action lovingly caught in slo-mo, frenetic and gravity defying set pieces, gallons of blood liberally sloshed across the screen and inventively bloody deaths – all in 3D. In the past his setpieces have been nothing less than utterly bonkers but here he seems to be reining it in somewhat, although a Vampire chase amongst a stampede of charging horses will probably lay claim to being the most insane action scene we’ll see in this Summer’s releases.

But frenetic directing still can’t cover up a script which desperately needed polishing. It does grind momentarily to a halt about two thirds of the way in when the US Civil War, the Gettysburg Address and other such political gubbins rear their head . Using vampirism as a comment on emancipation doesn’t entirely work either. None of the actors get much scope to flex their acting chops here. Rufus Sewell comes out worst as Lincoln’s adversary and his role is so woefully underwritten that you wonder if there’s not a whole load of his scenes on the cutting room floor. Benjamin Walker has the best of it as Lincoln with more of a character arc, but even then it’s difficult to reconcile his displays of modest integrity with the savage blood letting that takes over his character when he’s beheading vampires in loving slo-mo with an ever twirling axe. The film covers 45 years but by the time he’s President, having donned that moustache-less beard, he looks very much like Liam Neeson.

As comic book movies go it’s certainly not Catwoman bad but neither is it Dark Knight good either and it’s saved purely by its frankly ludicrous but highly enjoyable set pieces which make better use of 3D than many of its ilk usually do. Blending a heavyweight historical figure with classic movie monsters is an entertaining enough idea and if it is a success then surely there must be more in a similar vein to follow. Mother Teresa: Bounty Hunter anyone?

Review by Simon Hooper

Cinema Review: Storage 24

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Since the success of last year’s Attack the Block we’ve now got a flurry of British monster movies coming our way. First out of the gates is Storage 24 from Noel Clarke – something of a one man film industry – and essentially his reworking of Alien. Except here no one can hear you scream in a industrial estate storage facility.

After a military plane crashes in London Noel Clarke’s Charlie finds himself and his best friend trapped in a self store warehouse with his ex girlfriend. The crash has short circuited the electrics and locked them inside. How do they get out of the facility that’s built to keep things in when there’s also a predator trapped inside too – and out to hunt them down.

P>It all starts well enough and even has the courage to start bumping off animals too, but as with all films like this there are only ever two questions: In what order do the cast get bumped off ? and How do they kill the monster?

The problem is that after Scream so candidly explained the rules of how to survive it’s difficult to try and subvert them. A little effort is made here but we still get characters going off on their own into shadowy corners and shouting out, ‘Hello! Is someone there?’ Oh, and of course there’s the obligatory, gibbering, soon to be victim who utters the legend, ‘We’re all going to die!’

That said there is a convincing depiction of 20-somethings breaking up, with Clarke showing what a good actor he can be with the right material as he pleads with his ex to rescue their relationship.

After the low budget F, director Johannes Roberts has got a bigger budget to play with and he does orchestrate some effective shocks as well as efficiently conveying a sense of doom each time a character goes off on their own. Ultimately, however, these scenes just peter out and become repetitious, and he does seem to rely a little too much on huge close-ups.

Despite these misgivings there are enough eviscerated carcasses to keep gore hounds content, and the last shot rounds things off nicely, if not a little too obviously, for a potential sequel.

Review by Simon Hooper.

DVD Review: You Only Live Once

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YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937) DVD

Out Now.

StudioCanal

Before Arthur Penn revolutionised screen violence by massacring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in a slow-mo paroxysm of bullet-riddled flesh, the Bonnie and Clyde story inspired in part Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once. Both films are suffused with a distinctly lyrical fatalism and treat their subjects as gutsy heroes tragically marked for death. But throughout the earlier noir hangs a cloud of irony like a bitter hangover from the recent Depression.

Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) is a three-time loser about to be released back into society. If he gets nicked again, he’ll spend a lifetime in the slammer, so determines to go straight, marrying his respectable girl Jo (Sylvia Sidney) immediately. When putting a deposit on a house causes him to be late for work, Eddie loses his job: with zero employability prospects, a mortgage and a baby on the way, will he be able to resist the temptation of another heist?

Cut to a bank in the pouring rain, a shifty eye staring through the sliver of an open car window observing a street packed with black umbrellas. Inside the vehicle a man wears a gas mask as precursor to an explosion of white smoke under which the loot will be robbed. Six corpses and a hat belonging to the ex-con comprise the aftermath. Despite peevish protestations refuting culpability, the death sentence is passed and the story gets stewed with further mordancy as Eddie becomes criminally desperate to escape the rap and sourly prove his worth to his devoted wife.

The second film that Lang made in America, You Only Live Once is a taut hall of mirrors, refracting and rendering its ambiguity through arch smokescreens. Take the robbery: a sequence made up of elements deliberately obscuring action and confusing vision. Who was the man behind the mask? Did he have an accomplice? Sardonically, the person who was probably in the best position to answer these is a blind beggar.

When Eddie is being tried, the image cuts to a headline pinned to a wall declaring his freedom. The camera then pans to two others- hung jury, TAYLOR GUILTY: we are in an editor’s office awaiting the verdict to decide which front page to run. Once again, a wry sleight of hand to steer the audience into assumption. Lang’s cinema often challenges the staid maxim that ‘seeing is believing’, effortlessly manipulating perception to sarcastically mock the desire to accept things at face value instead of looking deeper, in fear of confronting contradiction and nuance.

But, running parallel to this cynicism, there is charged romanticism tinged with irony. Eddie is often lit in strong key-light, almost angelic, that brightens as his situation worsens; after accidentally committing the ultimate crime in a foggy prison yard, the gates open for him to pass through, the swelling haze and sheer size of the doors making this an image perhaps of an admission to heaven. And the tenderness between the fugitive couple in the final scenes is as striking as an earlier sequence of their wedding night: looking down at two frogs on a lily pad in a night-time garden of almost Edenic beauty, Eddie says that the creatures cannot live without each other. A frog hops off his perch disturbing their reflection in their water. As it shimmers back to stillness, Jo replies, “Maybe they see something in each other that no-one else can see.”

Behind its many deliberate façades, You Only Live Once is a poignant tale of a man who cannot flip the cards that a tough, heartless society has dealt him.

It is classic film noir. audio interview with Lang from 1962, where the director’s terse, deprecatory wit is in full evidence, refusing to offer interpretation; Introduction by a USC philosophy professor that discusses key scenes as if a film studies lecture; Archive outtakes, where we get a hint of the tyrant that Lang could purportedly be on set: “I’ll call you when you should come!”

Review: Panic

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PANIC (1963) DVD

Odeon

Certificate: PG

With their confused plots and demoralized logic, it is hardly surprising that film noir has so often employed the amnesia conceit. A genre primarily concerned with fumbling in the dark (both in solving labyrinthine cases and sexual betrayal), a character trying to figure out his identity neatly aligns the form with protagonist. Plunged into a disturbed point of view, the audience are also seemingly at the mercy of fate.

One such outlook belongs to Janine, main squeeze of Johnny, an impetuous punk always on the lookout for get-rich-quick schemes with a couple of two-bit goons. Unbeknownst to her, one of these is to poach a diamond from the place where she works. Of course, the heist is bungled, the jeweller shot, and Janine thrown against the wall as the hoods escape, knocking her plain out. Coming to, she hesitantly steps around the office, spooked, as if there’s some sort of threatening presence in the air, the camera repeatedly pushing in on her questioning, perturbed face from different angles. Similar to Janine, it takes a while for us to comprehend what has happened: she has lost her memory, assailed from all sides by looming unfamiliarity.

Venturing out into the night, figures advancing toward her in high contrast to the featureless black surround, Panic approaches almost Expressionist agitation. Janine is a female totally adrift in a predatory world, every man she meets ready to exploit her naïve bewilderment into forced intimacy. Dodgy landlords, wild-eyed painters, sneering beatniks with intimidating jive-talk. But nobody puts this “baby” in the corner, and salvation arrives in the form of Mike, dispersing the trendies with his fists and offering to help. A boxer-cum-deckhand, he suggests that they go away to sea together, the fresh air hopefully prompting recollection. Mike may be gentler of manner, but his intentions are like the rest.

Directed by John Gilling, Panic is an atmospheric British noir in fear for the vulnerability of its central character, played with timorous fluster by Janine Gray. Each time she struggles to remember, his curious camera moves to her face and scrutinises, an apprehensive femininity at the mercy of lurching, leering eyes. Added to the ‘woman-in-peril’ drama, the amnesia conceit becomes doubly threatening.

Extras: None.