The Ghoul (2017)

Rare is the film that Arrow puts out that hasn’t been released somewhere else before. Arrow is almost exclusively a label dedicated to re-releasing cult gems from around the world but they have released a few new releases as well. The Ghoul is one such film that is getting it’s premiere on the label. Not only is it a premiere but it’s also the debut film from director Gareth Tunley, so it’s a double gamble for Arrow films. It’s a risky venture releasing a film from an unknown director but then again Arrow is a label that likes to take risks.

It’s difficult to summarize The Ghoul without spoiling the film. So I’m going to “borrow” the summary from Arrow. “From executive producer Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Free Fire) comes a mind-bending British psychological thriller to sit alongside such classics of the genre as Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell s Performance, David Lynch s Lost Highway and Christopher Nolan s Following.

Chris is a homicide detective called to London to investigate a strange double murder. Both victims appear to have continued moving towards their assailant despite multiple gunshots to the face and chest. On a hunch, and with the help of an old colleague and former girlfriend Chris decides to go undercover as a patient to investigate the suspect s psychotherapist, the mysterious Alexander Morland, who has a taste for the occult…”

The last thing i would want to do is to give anything away with this movie. The truth is, the reality of the film could be one of a few things and the movie isn’t spilling the beans. I believe the movie is fairly open to interpretation and I have my own theory about the movie that I won’t bore (or spoil) you about. If the description above sounds interesting then i’ll say the film delivers on the head scratching, though nothing as difficult as a Lynch film as the summary suggests. The acting is rock solid with lead actor Tom Meeten giving a multi-layered and difficult performance. His performance is what the film hinges on and thankfully he delivers the goods. He has to play completely different characters believably and does so very well. The film is filled with striking photography providing a confusing vibe of London which mirrors the confusion by our hero. The film is well edited using choice abstract visuals and a kaleidoscopic view of the fractured world that our hero lives in. In short, I liked The Ghoul. It’s an example of what a limited budget, talented actors, and a great script can produce. There’s no gore, no crazy special effects, just a good script delivered well. If you enjoy creepy flicks that deal with perception in a mind-bendery kind of way, The Ghoul will satisfy.

 

Dead or Alive (1999)

dead or alive

I discovered director Takashi Miike around the year 2002. I believe the very first of his films that I saw was Audition. A friend of mine brought it over to my house for a group viewing and told us nothing about it. What started as a mild drama quickly turned into one of the most eye-poppingly extreme and bizarre films that I had seen up until that point. That started a great hunt of more of his films that has mostly waned in the intervening years for me. I’ve probably seen at least a dozen of his films, but that’s not saying much for a guy that has made over 1o0. Somehow I had never seen the Dead or Alive trilogy despite it’s universal praise. I finally had the chance to sit down and dig in thanks to the recent Arrow Video set that collects all three films from the trilogy. I was revved up and ready for a night of hyper violence and any manner of nastiness.

Dead or Alive is about Ryu. He’s a gangster of Chinese/Japanese decent and he’s oh so cool. He and his gang of tough guys go around busting heads and snatching cash. Then you’ve got the leader of the Japanese Yakuza in the area and he doesn’t like Ryu much. He want’s Ryu dead. A renegade cop wants them all brought to sweet justice and so begins the battles between them.

I have to admit I was expecting this film to be super wild with lots of energy and insanity. The first five or ten minutes delivered this with lots of quick cuts, loud music, and graphic violence. Then the film settles down into a more moody vibe with lots of characters sitting and talking, discussing what to do next, or how to find someone, or discussions about life in general. Sure, we get some Miike shock sprinkled throughout the film but it isn’t until the last thirty minutes or so that the film comes to life again, dispensing with the mayhem I was begging for. The film ends with a showdown the result of which comes completely out of left field. It sets up what promises to be a very wild sequel. My problem with this film isn’t the shocking stuff, I expected that. My problem is that the film has a hellava lot of talking and not a lot of action, except at the film’s book ends. I understand that this is just the beginning of a trilogy and so perhaps the film was just setting up the chess pieces for what will be some fantastic sequels. I don’t know, i haven’t watched them yet. So what we have is a movie that features some pretty nasty scenes set amid lots of exposition and some really awesome violence at the beginning and end of the film. Dead or Alive is uneven but gives viewers a glimpse at what Miike would do later with films like Visitor Q and Ichi The Killer. I’ll have to check out the other two films in the series to give the trilogy a fair review but let’s just say I wasn’t blown away by the first installment.

Once again Arrow has done a great job with the film however. It was shot on film and the restoration is perfect. Everything looks crisp and pristine. There aren’t really any special features on this particular disc because it also includes the sequel but the second disc (which includes the third film) is stacked with features like interviews both new and archival, making-of featurettes, and a commentary track.

Phenomena (1985)

phenomena

 

About 15 years ago I discovered Dario Argento. I remember I was hanging out at my girlfriend’s house (she’s now my wife), and I was watching one of her cable channels I didn’t have. It was a horror marathon hosted by Tom Savini. He was showing Suspiria and had interviews with Argento and trivia each time the commercial break was over. I was riveted. I had never seen a film like Suspiria before. The colors, the style, the music, the dream-like plot. I was hooked. I sought out his films wherever I went and somewhere along that Argento odyssey I watched Phenomena. At the time, I was underwelmed. I didn’t bother re-watching the film and moved on. Since that time, I had only seen the film once and I was excited to give the film another try.

Phenomena stars Jennifer Connely plays Jennifer, the daughter of a famous actor that has been put in a Swiss school. Teenage girls in the area are going missing and the remains of one’s decapitated head have been found. There’s a murderer on the loose with a hunger for girls, including those that attend the fancy school. Already it sounds a bit like Susperia. A local etymologist, played by Donald Pleasance (Halloween, Escape from New York), is helping the police by using his expertise on flies and their love of decayed flesh. Jennifer has a strange connection to insects. They love her and are attracted to her. She meets the bug specialist and they strike up a friendship. You see, he’s paralyzed and can’t leave his home. He also has a helper chimpanzee, which is odd but hey, it’s an Italian flick. They work together to try to expose the killer. Then things get really weird.

Phenomena is spiritually similar to Susperia. It has a dreamlike quality where anything can happen, everything isn’t as it seems. Some questions go unanswered and some answers are totally bizarre in the context of the film. The film feels a bit more like a giallo than Suspiria does. Personally, I don’t consider Suspiria a giallo because of it’s supernatural components. Phenomena is more focused on the murder mystery and the killer doesn’t have supernatural powers (though Jennifer does). Stylistically, the film is more restrained than Argento’s previous work but it still has his love for graphic violence and unique camera setups. The music was supplied by Goblin, and though it isn’t one of their best, it still has a bit of the Goblin magic. Oddly the film also features Iron Maiden (Flash of the Blade) and Motorhead (Locomotive) in the film. I remember Argento saying something about how metal fit the chaos of the scene and that he wanted really aggressive music for the scenes the songs feature in. For a metalhead like me, it’s odd, distracting (how can I not sing along with Maiden?), but welcome. The version on this release is the full 116 minute extended cut. Phenomena was released in the states back in ’85 as Creepers and was heavily cut. Internationally the cut was 110 minutes. The extra six minutes come from footage included in Creepers but excised from the international cut. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this cut and I have to say that I enjoyed it.

Phenomena is not an entry level Argento flick. It’s a film that should be watched after seeing a handful of his films and preferably a handful of other Eurohorror movies. It’s dreamy vibe can feel slippery and frustrating for a fan looking for a cohesive, logical, plot-driven film. It can be better appreciated after being more familiar with Eurohorror. My opinion of Phenomena has changed in the intervening decade and a half. While it’s still far from my favorite, I better understand the vibe of the film and can appreciate it’s aesthetic. Phenomena was made right between Tenebre and Opera, which for my money are two of his best films. Opera being the last major film he ever made before the Italian film industry collapsed, forcing him to make far lower-budgeted movies.

Once again Synapse has done a fantastic job with this release. The image is pristine. I can’t imagine the film ever looking better than this. The package includes the extended cut as well as the Creepers cut and the international cut. So us fans get to choose which cut we like the best because they’re all there. The audio is great and the extra features are solid as well with a commentary track and a documentary about Argento called Dario Argento’s World of Horror. This release is well worth picking up for Argento fans, Eurohorror fans, 80’s horror fans, or those curious about foreign horror.

The Slayer (1982)

the slayer

 

In my journeys through horror I have come across praise for The Slayer in some far flung corners. Never attributed as being one of the best horror flicks of the 80’s nor a hidden gem, still it has garnered some accolades though quiet enough that I can’t remember where or when. One of the original video nasties, it’s one of those movies that gets occasionally mentioned in conversations about 80’s horror, but not often enough to dub it a “must see.” All previous releases have been very poor quality and hard to find. It’s one of those flicks that I’ve been meaning to see for a long time and thanks to Arrow and their amazing transfer, I finally had the chance.

The Slayer is about siblings Eric and Kay who get invited to a secluded island for a relaxing weekend of fishing, sex, and booze. Eric is a commercial director and Kay is a painter who was once a shining star but has fallen into enmity because her new work is too bizarre for her fans. She’s been painting her dreams, and her dreams are (no surprise) weird. Eric grabs his girl Brooke and Kay brings her mustachioed beau David and they take a private plane to the island to enjoy their weekend. Totally secluded, they have no phone, no cars, and no way off the island until the pilot comes back in a few days to take them to their fabulous homes. Once at the house they find the home well furnished and well stocked with top shelf hooch. Kay isn’t having any of it though. She recognizes one of the derelict buildings on the island from her creepy dreams and sees this as an ill omen. She stubbornly decides to be the stick in the mud for this trip much to the disdain of her fellow weekenders. Kay continues to be a bummer until David goes missing and Kay’s fears are proven valid.

Billed as a movie with a supernatural creature, The Slayer is a suspenseful slow burn. My problem is that I read the “supernatural creature” part and was hoping for some serious monster action. I love monsters and so i waited with excitement with my little monster pom poms but no monster. There isn’t really any monster action until the last 3 minutes of the film so if you’re going in hoping for some great creature action, you’ll be sorely disappointed like I was. Upon reflection, The Slayer doesn’t stink like i surmised last night when I watched it. As I said it’s a slow suspenseful movie with some slasher tropes, though I wouldn’t call it a slasher exactly. For one, there’s only 4 character (5 if you count the pilot) so there isn’t much opportunity for slasher mayhem. We do get some gory kills, but they’re pretty brief, and again, there’s only a handful. This film was made in ’82, right at the beginning of the slasher craze. This one tries to have it’s foot in both the slasher world and more high brow psychological thriller territory. So either it’s a gory thriller, or a weak slasher. It’s an odd duck of a movie but one that earns it’s mild reputation. Sure it isn’t a world beater, but it isn’t a dud either. For slasher fans, if you approach the film with reasonable expectations you’ll likely love this one. For 80’s horror fans in general, it’s a minor hit. It doesn’t stack up with Arrow’s other slasher releases, but I’m glad it’s finally available.

Previous releases were plagued with terrible transfers, cut gore, and poor distribution. Finally horror fans have a great release to add to their bursting shelves. The transfer is pristine, from camera negatives, and looks 100% perfect. If you like The Slayer, this is a must buy. If you love slasher flicks, this is a solid purchase. If you’re a horror fan in general, it’s worth looking into. While not a home run, it’s a solid piece of horror history and for some, it’s a treasure.

 

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Madhouse (1981)

madhouse

There was a time in my early 20s when I discovered the video nasties. These were films banned in the U.K. in the early 80’s for being too extreme. In some cases the films were merely banned because of the box art, not because of the film itself. In all there were 74 films that were either banned or heavily trimmed. Madhouse was one such film and at the time when I was watching the Nasties, I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of it. It’s been a long time coming but thanks to Arrow Video, I finally had the chance to give it a gander.

Madhouse is about identical twin girls. One of them becomes diseased and disfigured and subsequently is sent to an asylum. Growing up, the disfigured twin hated her sister. She didn’t want to share her face, her house, or her birthday. She wanted to be an individual, not a twin. She would torture her sister mentally and physically. Her disfigurement and committal to the asylum were a very good thing for the good twin. Fast forward to a few days before they turn 25 and the evil twin has flown the coop. Terrified the good twin spends most of the movie trying to convince her boyfriend that her sister is very scary and should be locked up. Those close to her start showing up dead, horribly mangled by a dog or stabbed with a knife. It’s only a matter of time before her sister comes to kill her!

Directed by Ovidio G. Assontis (Beyond the Door, Tentacles), Madhouse is an early example of the slasher genre. It has that strange vibe of films made from this era that doesn’t quite feel like an 80’s movie, but it isn’t a 70’s film either. This era was a turning point stylistically, and the film tries to have one foot in each decade. The plot is slow with heavy amounts of dialogue that don’t do much to create mood or move the story. Characters are slain in graphic ways so the film delivers on the “nasty” aspect for films on the list of 74. And yet the scenes feel somewhat out of place, almost as if the film was meant to be more psychological and “classy,” like Carrie or The Omen. The scenes of graphic violence seem pasted in, in an otherwise straight horror film. For me, the film wasn’t particularly exciting though the acting is pretty solid all the way around. I found myself being easily distracted in between the violent scenes, but then again I could have been in a particularly distracted mood.

The film looks great though. It’s another fantastic transfer from Arrow and by now I wouldn’t expect anything less. Fans of the film will be very happy with the visual presentation. Again the supplements are also good. We get an audio commentary, interviews with the cast and crew, and an alternate opening title sequence.

For fans of Madhouse, this is a great package. For fans of slasher flicks, this would also be a solid pickup. For the rest of us, it all hinges on how much you enjoy films from this era. Personally, I prefer films from the mid to late 80’s or more solidly in the 70’s. Madhouse was fairly entertaining for me but it won’t be a new favorite.

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Brain Damage (1988)

brain damage

 

I distinctly remember renting Brain Damage on vhs when I was in junior high. I saw it at the video store and honestly thought the movie was going to star Jeff Goldblum because of the box art. I also knew it was going to have a monster in it and I’ve always loved creature features so I gave it a view. I didn’t know what to expect and what I got was a grab bag of weird. It stuck with me for many years though I never gave it another watch. Until now.

Brain Damage is about nice guy Brian. He lives in an apartment with his brother and he’s got a cute girlfriend. Everything seems to be going fine for Brian. That is until his neighbors lose an ancient worm creature and it ends up in Brian’s bedroom. Alymer is it’s name and it’s an ancient creature that has been passed down through many centuries by powerful rulers from around the globe. Now, it’s Brian’s turn. The creature looks like a phallic worm with an exposed brain with suction cups scattered about it’s body. It has a large mouth and from within that mouth extends a special needle-like appendage that injects a mind altering substance into Brian’s brain. High as a kite, he takes Alymer outside where he feasts on the brains of a human victim. Now Brian is hooked on the drug and has to help Alymer get victims, otherwise the pusher-worm will cut him off. Conflicted, Brian doesn’t know what to do.

Directed by Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Frankenhooker), Basket Case is possibly his most polished and least strange film, if you can believe that. Watching it now many years later, I’m struck by how the film is able to make dramatic tonal shifts effortlessly. We go from the movie being just a silly monster movie, to a film discussing the ravages of drug addiction, to a suspenseful film filled with moral conflict. These major shifts feel totally natural and although they kill the party movie vibe of the movie, it’s not a let down. It’s almost as if the film lures the viewer in by promising a gory good time (which is delivers), but takes a moment to get serious as well. Speaking of the effects, they are indeed graphic but no disgustingly so. Aylmer looks pretty goofy and I have to say i’ve never seen a monster design quite like him before or since. Most of the time he’s an animatronic puppet, but the film manages to sneak in some stop-motion work here and there too. One particular scene involving a woman in a punk club is particularly gross and could potentially turn off sensitive viewers, but for hardened horror fans, it’s a memorable and goofy scene. If you’ve seen any of Henenlotter’s films, you know what to expect. It’s crass at times, but it never revels in depravity. I really enjoyed this re-watch and I’m looking forward to showing it to some of my friends. It’s a film that has a solid cult status but has been difficult to see until this Arrow Blu.

Speaking of the Blu it looks fantastic. The film is completely cleaned up with a spotless presentation. It’s a film that really shines on Blu and for fans it’s the presentation we’ve all been waiting for. From what I can tell, the film’s more infamous scenes are intact as well. I’m not sure if the film is considered an Uncut version but it delivers on scenes I certainly don’t remember from watching it on VHS. As always, the blu comes with great special features but this release in particular is thick with content. We get a brand new documentary about the making of the film that runs nearly an hour (!), commentary by Henenlotter, a Q&A with Henenlotter, an interview with a superfan of the film, and more. This thing has a ton of goodies to dig into for fans of the movie.

Again, Arrow has released a flawless Blu ray. The presentation is fantastic, the film is great, and the special features are extensive. If you dig 80’s horror, this one is well worth picking up. If you’re a fan of Henenlotter, then it’s essential.

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Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975)

Wolfguy

I have to be honest and say that before Arrow Video put this movie out, I had never heard of it. The cover art plus the title plus Sonny Chiba attracted my attention and I was excited to check out this slice of 70’s action.

Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope come from the same director as Sister Streetfighter and Wandering Ginza Butterfly 1 & 2. It stars Chiba as Wolf, the lone survivor of a clan of wolf people. At the beginning of the film he runsafoul of a yakuza looking dude who nearly gets hit by Wolf’s car as he runs screaming down the street. He fears a tiger, more specifically a woman who has turned into a tiger. Before Wolf’s eyes, the man is torn apart by some invisible force. Intrigued, he investigates the murder along with his newspaper associate and together they uncover a sleazy plot involving rape, drugs, the world of entertainment, politics, and that yakuza. Wolf infuriates the wrong people and they want him dead. Can he uncover the truth and destroy the bad guys before they get him?

Let me begin by saying that despite the title of the film, the movie is not a horror flick. Yes Chiba plays a wolfman but he never turns into a werewolf if that makes sense. There are no transformations and he doesn’t howl at the moon. He is more animalistic than a normal man and has bestial strength that grows until it reaches it’s apex at the 15th day of the moon where he becomes invincible. The film’s tone is one of action and mystery, not of horror. So, if you’re hoping for a 70’s horror flick with Sonny Chiba tearing people apart, you’re going to be disappointed. That being said, I really enjoyed this flick. It starts with a big bloody bang and the action continues through it’s tight run time. Chiba is at his roguish best and all the ladies in the movie can’t wait to make love to him. The camera work is shaky and raw which gives the film energy and a real sense of danger and menace. The music is super funky and could not have come from any other decade than the 70’s. It feels like a soundtrack that could have easily been on a blaxploitation film from the era. There’s no question the movie was meant to appeal to an audience that had a hunger for blood, action, sex, and a sense of cool. It has no airs and no pretensions. It gives the audience what it wants and does so in a fast and short run time.

The image is fantastic and so is the audio. Again, as always, Arrow has done a great job at presenting this film. From what i can tell this is a rare one and Arrow has saved it from obscurity looking like it was always well looked after. The film is supplemented with interviews with the director, producer, and Sonny Chiba, and a collector’s booklet. If you’re a fan of Sonny Chiba, Japanese cinema, cinema from the 70’s, crime, action, or the original Manga, you’ll have fun with this flick.

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Obsessions (1969)

Obsessions BD Key Art

Believe it or not, a film co-written by Martin Scorsese with music from Bernard Herrmann (Hitchcock’s main composer, De Palma used him too) went unreleased in the U.S. until now. The film, Obsessions, was released in 1969 and is considered the first Dutch horror film and was the first Dutch film sold in numerous territories outside of the Netherlands. It’s landmark film, one that helped to establish the presence of Dutch cinema in the international lexicon. It could be said that without this film, we wouldn’t have the wonderful films of Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers among others) among other Dutch film makers if Obsessions hadn’t made such a splash. There is no question of the importance of Obsessions in the Dutch film industry, but what’s it about, and is it any good?

Obsessions is about a young man whom is soon to become a doctor. He lives in a studio apartment and has many sexy lady friends. He also has a hole drilled in his wall that allows him to peep on his neighbor next door. Curious one day he watches his neighbor have sex with a woman but then things get rough and she becomes unconscious. The woman then vanishes and our doctor snoop becomes intrigued. He sneaks into the apartment and discovers the woman in the bathroom in a pool of drug spiked water. Hurriedly escaping, he becomes obsessed with the goings on in the apartment next door and gets involved in a situation outside of his comprehension. He’s joined by a lady-friend who works at a newspaper working on the disappearance of a woman and the murder of a man. She begins to suspect that there may be connection between the neighbor and her investigation and together they get embroiled in a strange and dangerous affair.

It’s hard to talk about Obsessions without point out the obvious: this movie reeks of Hitchcock. The score was made by Hitchcock’s maestro and the score sounds like something Hitchcock would have used. The story itself is too lurid and vague for Hitchcock’s razor sharp films but it still lives in the general universe created by Hitchcock. It’s a universe that De Palma would explore throughout his early career in a similarly vague fashion. With that out of the way, I can say that I did enjoy Obsessions. It’s plot was intriguing and characters, while not 3 dimensional, lived unique lifestyles that fascinated me. Aside from the mystery element and the score, the film is also Hitchcockian in its tight runt ime, with little time wasted on anything outside of the main thrust of the movie. The film’s plot starts from the very beginning of the film and thankfully we don’t get bogged down in melodrama between the characters, instead the lead of the film remains steadfast in his curiosity, in fact when extraneous elements enter the film, he’s pointedly distracted by his obsession with his neighbor. I don’t want to give the film away, but I will say the ending is rather shocking and the movie had me engaged throughout  its run time.

It’s a cinema miracle that this film can be released at all after many thought it was lost forever. Thankfully it’s been lovingly restored by Cult Epics with a sharp picture and clear audio. The Blu ray comes with some great special features including interviews with the director, actors, the original script notes from Martin Scorcese as well as a transcript of an interview with him about the film.

I really enjoyed Obsessions. It’s sleazy in places though not overly so, intriguing, unique and compelling. The special features are fantastic and the presentation of the film is rock solid. If you enjoy 60’s cinema, Eurohorror, crime, mystery, Hitchcock, or cinema obscurities, this one will be right up your alley.

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VHS Massacre (2017)

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I grew up in the glory days of small video stores with shelves stacked with wonderful (and terrible) films for me to salivate over. As a kid i spend my summers watching stacks of VHS tapes picked out from the local mom & pop video store so of course i’m a sucker for vhs era nostalgia. There have been a handful of interesting docs about VHS culture in recent years and i’ve enjoyed the ones i’ve seen like Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking. VHS Massacre bills itself as another jouney through the world of VHS and so naturally i wanted to see it.

VHS Massacre is a documentary produced in New York that isn’t really about VHS as it is about home video in general. The film interviews cult favorites like Joe Bob Briggs and Lloyd Kaufman and Debbie Rachon about the impact of home video as well as independent video store owners, distributors (like Vultra Video), and the film makers themselves who apart from making this doc have made a few features themselves.

Unfortunately VHS Massacre lacks focus. It feels like a hodge podge of ideas tenuously linked together with a general sense of warm fuzzies for the good old days. The film (running only 71 minutes) feels more like a grab bag of ideas and information. There aren’t any coheisve segues between subjects, one scene crashing into the other. It feels as if the film makers didn’t really know what the end result of the film was going to be and decided to shoot interviews and segments with little regard as to how they would fit together to create and interesting whole. It feels unpolished and unfocused but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some tidbits that are interesting and some solid content, especially in the back end of the film. VHS Mssacre isn’t without charm, but it does suffer from lack of focus. It felt as if it should have either been much longer to fill in the gaps where segments don’t fit together or it feels as if it should have been cut into pieces and released as individual shorts.

VHS Massacre isnt the slam dunk i was hoping for. I’m an easy mark for this kind of film but it’s lack of focus and general rough around the edges vibe didn’t work for me. I enjoyed some of the interviews and perhaps with more development and additional shooting it could have been something special. Here’s hoping the film makers learned from the experience and crank out another doc with a clearer idea.

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House & House II: The Second Story Blu

house and house ii

When I was a kid, I grew up watching a lot of T.V. I remember on weekends watching cheesy action flicks, sci-fi movies, and horror flicks that played on basic cable. Films like The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, the Puppet Master movies, and more would play on lazy Saturday afternoons when my folks were busy with other things. House and House II were films that I caught under those circumstances and I fell in love with both. I mention this because House and House II have never been highly regarded within the horror canon, often times they have been missed altogether by horror fans. It may be the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia speaking but i really love these films.

House (1985) stars William Katt, a popular horror novelist, who inherits his aunt’s home that he grew up in. Wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, he moves into the house to begin working on a novel about the Vietnam war that his publisher doesn’t want. Once inside the home he’s reminded of the painful memory of his son’s disappearance from the home, years before. His aunt told him that it was the house that stole his child but he never believed her. Strange things start to occur as the house comes alive, tormenting him at every turn.

I remember distinctly watching House on a lazy weekend while my mother slept. It scared the hell out of me and i loved it. The film doesn’t play by traditional haunted house rules, with creatures vomited forth by the house, strange rooms that lead to different times and places, inanimate objects with a mind of their own, and a general sense that anything could happen at any time. I loved the imagination in the film and to this day i feel that it stands alone in that department. The film was directed by Steve Miner who also directed Friday the 13th part 2 & 3 as well as Warlock. The film was produced by Sean Cunningham and the music was done by Harry Manfredini and the story was written by Fred Dekker, so it’s a great grab bag of horror favorites all working together to create this unsung gem of the genre. True the film doesn’t feature much gore and the effects are cheap by today’s standards but what it lacks in gore and pricey effects it makes up for with creativity and a genuine sense of identity. I like this movie so much that i’ve dug into William Katt’s spotty filmography from time to time, hoping for another hidden gem. If you like your horror films unique, strange, and filled with creatures, House is your jam.

House II: The Second Story (1987) is a film I caught every time it aired. A young artist inherits his ancient ancestral home and moves in with his talent agent girl friend. Accompanying them are his goofy dufus best friend and his singer girlfriend. Together they dig up an old grave and find the artists’ great great grandfather still alive (though mummified), through the power of an ancient crystal skull. Once returned to the house, strange things start to happen that lead the pair through a wild adventure that spans genres. House was 100% pure horror but this sequel is a different beast entirely. None of the cast return from the first film, nor does the titular house. This time around instead of a Victorian abode the house looks more ancient, being built out of stone. House II is part comedy, part adventure, part buddy film, part sci-fi, part western, with a smidge of horror thrown in. It’s as if the writer (who is also the director, and served as screenwriter on House), used horror as a general framework and explored the many genres that could live in that space. Make no mistake though: this movie is silly from the beginning. It features more unique creatures, great make-up work, goofy comedy, cliche characters, and many surprising twists that although do not exude scares, are filled with child-like exuberance and wonder. If you walk into the film thinking you’re going to get more scares, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you can get with the silly and imaginative vibe of the film, you’ll enjoy it plenty.

Both of these films are worth checking out. They both are unique within the horror genre and unique when compared to each other as well. Both are fun, creative, and inventive, something that can be lost when horror films decide to play by genre rules. The pair were followed by two sequels, in fact the U.K. release includes these films but honestly, they pale in comparison to the first two. The third film is available as The Horror Show, and it stars Brion James and Lance Henrickson. Sadly, it lacks the creativity and vibe of it’s predecessors and honestly has nothing to do with the first film either thematically or spiritually. The fourth film brings back William Katt from the first movie and tries hard to re-live the vibe of the first movie. It does have some inventive scenes and is certainly more enjoyable than the third film but is still inferior to the first two films. Unfortunately the fourth film has be stuck in release limbo and isn’t readily available in the U.S.

Again, Arrow has done a fantastic job of restoring these films, they have never looked or sounded better. I was able to pick up on little things that previously i had never noticed before. The supplementals are also impressive with interviews and making-of featurettes. I watched the 57 minute documentary for House II and it was a wonderful supplement chock full of great interviews and information about the film. This is the definitive release for a pair of films (a group of films in the U.K.), often ignored by horror fans. Hopefully this new release will allow a reappraisal of the films and their proper place in horror history will be secured.

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