There are horror franchises, there are horror franchises with a cult following, and then there’s Phantasm. One of the few properties of its kind to remain in the hands of the same creator right up to the present day (even if the most recent film was the work of another director), Don Coscarelli’s humble 1979 oddity somehow birthed a series which has endured for the better part of four decades. As an example of independent genre filmmaking done right, it might easily be mentioned in the same breath as such other titles of its era as The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, and yet Phantasm clearly stands apart inasmuch as it has arguably proved to be a genuine, inimitable one-off. Well, a one-off that’s spawned four sequels, but hopefully you see my point. Combining elements of simple drive-in horror movie thrills, mind-bending Argento-esque surrealism, apocalyptic science fiction, and all-American, gun-toting, muscle car machismo, there’s no mistaking a Phantasm movie, and there really isn’t anything else quite like it.
Ah, Paul Naschy. It’s entirely possible that I’m speaking for myself here, but the ratio of ‘how well I know his films’: ‘how well I feel I should know his films’ needs a little revision. His name certainly precedes him, and he’s instantly recognisable, but there only seems to be a handful of decent UK releases of Naschy films, even now. A cursory glance over at Amazon shows you still need to rely on imports; I’ve seen lots of Naschy stills, but haven’t stumped up the extra for many of his movies. Well, step forward Black House Films, who – in their recent release rota – have included Crimson (A.K.A. The Man with the Severed Head) and it’s an entertaining way to right this wrong. Is it wall-to-wall with false advertising, from the title right down to the plot and beyond? Yes, it damn well is, and you’ll sit there and bloody well enjoy it anyway.
I’d spotted the publicity for Catfight in recent weeks and hadn’t, from the images and basic synopses shared, twigged that this was the latest film from Onur Tukel. I’d seen two of Tukel’s previous films – Summer of Blood and Applesauce – and had not particularly enjoyed either of them. Then again, I don’t think I’m particularly the target audience of Tukel’s brand of low-key, cynical humour, styled after Woody Allen and the like. So, upon learning that Catfight – sold as a “brutal and darkly hilarious film” – was Tukel’s latest, my curiosity was piqued. While I’ve not been a fan of Tukel’s films, they’re certainly not bad films, and so what really drew my interest was seeing if Tukel could effectively manage to write a film led by two female leads, when his previous films have been, well, pretty damn masculine.
There’s something about a good comic fantasy that really speaks to me. The high octane adventure, the bizarre creatures, the musclebound heroes, the world creation; the list goes on and on. With almost unlimited freedom to create and play within a world of the creator’s imagination, rules need not apply when it comes to magic and mayhem. Rose #1, named after its red-headed lead character, brings both of those elements head on in a land ravaged by an evil queen and the one person destined to stop her. Following in the footsteps of such comic greats as Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, and Berserk, Rose doesn’t stray too far from the tried-and-true formula, but what it does with it is pretty damn fun.
As hard as it may be for some of us to believe, it’s now been a full decade since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse first opened, and, as I’ve discussed at length elsewhere, the big-budget box office flop wound up having a far greater cultural impact than anyone could have anticipated at the time. No, QT and RR did not single-handedly bring grindhouse exploitation cinema into the popular consciousness, but they did raise its profile significantly, to the extent that neo-grindhouse (if you want to call it that) has become a prominent subgenre in the indie/genre scene this past decade: on top of Grindhouse spin-offs Machete, Machete Kills and Hobo With a Shotgun, we’ve had Black Dynamite, Bitch Slap, Time To Kill, All Hell Breaks Loose, Run! Bitch Run! and Nude Nuns with Big Guns, to name but a few; but to my mind there’s no question that the big daddy in this field was James Bickert’s gleefully debauched 2011 bikers-versus-Bigfoot movie, Dear God No!
I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on Dear God No! when it first came to British shores. The post-grindhouse approach invariably hinges on a degree of artifice which is always going to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some viewers. However, with time and further viewings, not to mention holding it up alongside similar films that have been made since, it became clear that Dear God No! had a sincerity, a certain purity of intent (believe me, I’m well aware how wrong it seems to imply there’s anything ‘pure’ about it) that held it up as almost certainly the best film of its kind to emerge this past decade. As such, when Bickert announced plans to shoot an even more ridiculous sequel in Frankenstein Created Bikers, damned if I wasn’t anxious to see that right away, to the extent that I happily donated to the film’s Kickstarter fund – hence my contributor copy Blu-ray arrived at long last this past weekend.
It’s no secret that I adored the first Stake Land film. For me, it epitomised just how much you could do with familiar horror elements, if you had a clear idea of the importance of character, and an understanding that good horror stories depend on an awareness of the ratio of ordinary:extraordinary, whether that ratio be skewed greatly in one direction or another. For all of my enthusiasm for the film, however, I had absolutely no idea that a sequel had been made; I have since found out that actor/writer Nick Damici has hopes of getting a Stake Land franchise off the ground, but in any case, it’s a pleasant thing to get the chance of a screener which is – at least in promise – a very happy surprise. Now having watched the second film, I’m completely torn. On one hand, it’s immensely gratifying to again see characters on screen that (for me) work so well, in a film which re-captures some of the striking visuals and atmosphere of the first film. But in re-capturing much of what made the first film so effective, Stake Land II has seemingly re-trod a very, very similar story arc. This has led me to ponder – when is a sequel truly a sequel? And when is a sequel justifiable?
Ben has recently made reference to the on-going exploration of pregnancy in horror, and as a theme it certainly seems to be having a bit of a moment – from the last year or so, Shelley, Antibirth, and Prevenge have all tackled the issue, in quite different ways. Prevenge has perhaps been the most hotly-anticipated and highly-regarded of these films, at least in the UK, coming from accomplished comedy writer and actress Alice Lowe, making her feature film directorial debut.
What makes the debut all the more stunning is that Lowe directed – and starred in – the film while seven months pregnant herself. Impressive though that is from an endurance perspective, it also seems to have been quite vital to the success of the film thematically: a genuine portrayal of the psychological difficulties of pregnancy… with added murder.
Just in case you wondering, no, this isn’t some sort of sequel to The Bunny Game which you hadn’t heard about.
Originally released in the US under the title Beaster Day: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell, The Beaster Bunny is the first and to date only film credited to writer, director, producer and cinematographer team the Snygg Brothers, and as you might have already ascertained from the title and the still to the left, it’s about a sleepy middle-American town (is there any other kind?) which comes under attack from a giant killer bunny rabbit on Easter weekend. Absurdist monster movies of this ilk are hardly unheard of these days, most of them coming from SyFy, The Asylum and/or Roger Corman (although more often than not they centre on sharks rather than rabbits), and I’m sure I’m far from alone in having often thought while sitting through such feeble efforts that they would almost certainly be improved if they didn’t tone things down for TV, and piled on the bloodshed, swearing and gratuitous nudity. Well, The Beaster Bunny certainly tests that theory. It’s got tits, gore and F-bombs galore, as one of the most wildly unconvincing monsters you will ever see goes on a rampant killing spree. Whether this is enough to keep the joke from getting old for a full 80 minutes is another matter.
It can be tricky when you’re late to the party. Feverishly hyped in horror circles since its announcement, and one of the most talked-about films at the horror festivals in 2016, The Void has been on my radar for a good length of time, and all the signs indicated that it was something very much up my street. Publicity emphasised heavy use of old-fashioned practical SFX in favour of CGI, and a vision of otherworldly terror that drew heavily on HP Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Lucio Fulci, but at the same time reached out to do something new. Naturally, I went in with very high hopes… so when I say now that The Void is, well, just alright, it feels like a devastating blow. It really shouldn’t be at all, as this is not in any way, shape or form a bad film; it’s just nowhere near as great as I’d been hoping it would be, with far fewer surprises in store.
If there’s been one recent Blu-ray announcement that I’m most excited for it’s got to be Arrow’s upcoming The Bird with the Crystal Plumage set. Coming in June, the set promises a 4K restoration of the film, a host of new commentaries and analyses on the film, a brand new interview with Maestro Argento himself, as well as a 60-page collectors’ booklet, a poster and re-production lobby cards. Along with the Phenomena release (May 8th), it’s looks like Arrow are revamping their Argento collection, and if they’re all getting this lavish treatment then, well, my bank account’s going to be looking significantly poorer for a while!