The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)

Another film in the American Film Project released by Arrow Video, The Witch Who Came From the Sea was designated as a video nasty in the U.K. in the early 80’s. Close to fifteen years ago, I went through the video nasty list and watched every title i could get my hands on, including The Witch Who Came From the Sea. I remember the dvd had a terrible transfer and honestly I hated the movie. So, during the last decade or so, when this film came up in conversations or on lists, I always disregarded the positive comments. The film really didn’t work for me and wasn’t what I was looking for. In hindsight the film shouldn’t have been put onto the Video Nasty list. It’s likely it was only included because of it’s lurid cover art, not because the actual film was extreme. In the intervening years I’ve grown and matured and was ready to give the film a second chance. I’m glad I did.

The Witch Who Came From the Sea begins with Molly and her two nephews having fun at the beach. They run, they jump they play, and she tells the boys about how wonderful their Grandfather was. She tells them he was a sea captain, a gentleman, and a strong force on his ship. She tells them he was lost at sea but may return someday. She also stares at some beefcakes working out on the beach and then envisions them dead. From here we meet the boys’ mother, Molly’s sister, who tells the boys that their Grandfather was a drunk and an awful man. Molly gets mad and defends her father much to her sister’s chagrin. Here we learn that perhaps the world that Molly lives in may not be the real world but a world created by her imagination. She imagines killing two football stars and later we find out that the stars really are dead. Did Molly kill them? Or was it a coincidence? Molly works at a bar where her boss, Long John Silver, loves her and her co-workers like her. There she meets other men and has some bizarre interactions with them. Again it’s clear that Molly’s view on the world is one of her own making and not one that reflects reality. We as an audience don’t know what’s real and what isn’t and we hang out with Molly throughout the run time while she drinks and pops pills to bury painful memories.

The Witch Who Came From the Sea is very good. My younger self hated it but now I understand what the film was meant to be. I was hoping for a crazy witch killing dudes in gory ways, as the cover art suggests. Nope. This is a purely psychological film about a woman who has been damaged by her father and subsequently lives in a fantasy world that at any moment seems possible to bubble over into violence. I was simultaneously afraid of Molly and what she might do to each character and sympathetic towards her. The fear kept the suspense up for me, waiting to see how she would react to situations in the film, and the sympathy kept me from wishing someone would hurry up and catch her. The film is a psychological portrait of a damaged woman that isn’t played for gory thrills. It’s an uncomfortable film with a performance from Millie Perkins as Molly that really makes the film. It’s a tough role to play but she walks the line between dopey innocence and fericious danger very well. The performance allows the audience to simultaneously fear her and want to help her. Obviously this is not the typical thrust of a horror film and indeed The Witch Who Came From the Sea is not a typical horror film. It is a layered film populated with interesting characters, most notably Molly’s sister and her sometime lover/boss Long John Silver. It’s a film that refuses to use a broad brush when characterizing men (some are sleaze bags, others more sympathetic), or women (Molly’s sister is grounded in reality and honest but sympathetic). The film also isn’t one for young horror fans, much like The Premonition. It doesn’t rely on much overt violence and explores mental illness and abuse in a way that doesn’t lend itself to the cliche “psycho on the loose” horror plot.

Again, like with The Premonition, the film has never looked better. Lensed by John Carpenter director of photography Dean Cundy, the film is finally presented in a format that allows the compositions and camera moves to be appreciated. Again the print does have some wear and tear but the image is crisp and the colors solid. The film also features new and archive interviews with the cast and crew.

The Witch Who Came From the Sea requires an open minded audience that is willing to accept a film that while within the horror genre, does not lean on genre cliches in the way that we expect. It’s a unique film and one worth rediscovering.

The Premonition (1976)

A while back I received the American Horror Project, released by Arrow Video. The set includes three American horror films from the 70’s that were largely ignored upon release or had suffered from poor distribution on home video. The idea was that these were unique horror films that didn’t play by the traditional horror rules. These were horror films for adults that were more psychological in nature with no werewolves or zombies in sight. They were also independently made on modest budgets. The first of these films that I have watched is The Premonition.

The Premonition is about a woman who has a baby but that baby is taken away because she’s unfit to be a mother. The baby is adopted by a nice couple while the woman spends five years in an asylum. Upon her release, she wants her baby back. She befriends a carnival mime/photographer (played by genre vet Richard Lynch). The two hatch a plan to kidnap the girl and start a new life together. The little girl’s adopted mother begins to see mysterious visions that provide clues as to what will come, hence the title. Her husband, a professor of parascience, wants to believe in her visions but has his doubts.  The film becomes more supernaturally charged in the back end of the film but I won’t spoil it for you.

The Premonition is indeed a unique film the likes of which I haven’t seen before. The film focuses on mental illness from a realistic point of view and doesn’t turn the biological mother into a monster but rather a tragic character that is both frightening and sympathetic. Lynch’s character as well isn’t totally evil and his motivations are borne from his love of the troubled mother. The exploration of the adopted parents’ marriage and the strain the visions put on it is also unique. As I said, this film deals with adult themes and adult fears. What parent hasn’t feared that their child might be taken away? How terrible would the reality be? Both of those fears are explored in The Premonition from both sides: that of the adopted parents, and that of the biological mother.

The film does not have any overt violence, nor does it have any monsters skulking in the bushes, and the supernatural elements could also be either real or all part of the adopted mother’s visions. It’s hard to say. The villains of the film are somewhat sympathetic or at least not one dimensional monsters. The film is one that likely won’t resonate for viewers under 30. I know that if i had seen this movie in my youth I would have hated it. Seeing it later in life I can appreciate the themes explored and the fear that is grounded in familial worries. The Premonition is a film for older horror fans, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

The disc itself has some great interviews with cast and crew which is fantastic for such an obscure and underseen film. The image looks better than it likely ever has though the source print does have visible imperfections like scratches and general wear. Some of Arrow’s releases are ground up restorations that look absolutely pristine. This is not the case here, but don’t let that sway you. The image is crisp, the colors rich, and the sound is clear. I doubt the film will ever look better.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

Every now and then I get an itch that can only be relieved by a giallo. For the uninitiated, giallo films were murder mysteries made in Italy predominantly in the early to mid 70’s. They were often very stylish with bombastic soundtracks, lurid murder scenes, beautiful women, and impressive cinematography. They were often more about style that substance and there is no substitute for them. Director Sergio Martino made a string of them in the 70’s with The Suspicious Death of A Minor being the last one. Thanks to Arrow Video, I was able to scratch my itch with it, directed by one of the masters of Italian cult cinema.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (aka Too Young to Die) begins with a teenage girl at a dance who is terrified. She sits at a table in fear for her life. A rugged and handsome man (played by Claudio Cassinelli, Slave of the Cannibal God, Murder Rock) asks her to dance and she agrees. That is until she spots the reason for her fear: a hitman. She runs away and before the handsome man can catch up, the hitman slays her with a blade and runs off. As it turns out, this bespectacled handsome man is cop who is working for the department on an unofficial basis. He wants to know why she was slain and by whom. Such begins the mystery of the film that will eventually involve the help of a petty thief, a ring of child prostitution, regular prostitutes, car chases, roof chases, and shoot outs.

Now I know what you’re thinking, gee that doesn’t sound much like a giallo. You’re right. This film was made when the Poliziotteschi (Italian cop action/crime films) was starting to take over in the Italian box office so the film is really probably only 10% giallo, 80% Poliziotteschi, and 10% comedy. Still I found The Suspicious Death of a Minor to be a very satisfying watch. The score is heavily influenced by Goblin which I’m 100% ok with because it’s a great score. The plot  is well written with some interesting twists and turns, plus it was written with action in mind so the film never becomes dull. Our hero is tough, smart, and funny, which makes for a satisfying leading man too. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more films set in this universe with this unofficial cop that can break all the rules to get his man. The killer is stoic and almost inhuman which makes him a frightening antagonist but really he’s just a weapon for an even more sleazy and evil man. The film manages to hit all the sweet spots of both genres: it features beautiful women being hunted, it has a memorable gialli soundtrack, it has a murder mystery but it also has action, car chases, shoot outs, and a tough guy lead. The comedy in the film at times undercuts the tension, such as placing wacky music and slapstick elements in what would have been a suspenseful car chase, but thankfully the comedy does not ruin the film. At times it even enhances the overall fun of the flick, though the usefulness of the comedic elements may vary by viewer tastes.

While not a full-on giallo, The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a great Italian horror/action/comedy that manages to be very satisfying on all fronts. It was written by Ernesto Gastaldi who also wrote Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight which are two of my favorite gialli. He also wrote All the Colors of the Night, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have The Key, Torso, The Grand Duel, and many many other notable Italian genre films. Add The Suspicious Death of a Minor to his long list of successful screenplays.

It’s an odd duck of a movie but one that I found to be highly enjoyable. Well written, acted, and directed, it feels like a film that should have a better reputation (or a reputation at all) among cult cinema fans. The blu looks fantastic with a total restoration. The film is presented in original Italian and from what i could tell, all the actors speak Italian anyway. The film has a commentary track by Troy Howarth, and an interview with Sergio Martino and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando.

If you love Italian cinema of the 70’s, The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a a must see film. It’s a hybrid of genres that works very well, directed by a master of the genres.

Effects (1980)

About five years ago I rented Effects on dvd, released by Synapse. I saw that it starred Joe Pilato (Day of the Dead), Tom Savini, and oddly John Harrison (score, Creepshow) and was filmed outside Pittsburgh. It’s a Romero film without Romero at the helm, made by alums of his films. I watched it and didn’t quite know what to make of it. This brand new Blu release by AGFA (American Genre Film Archive), gave me a second chance to watch and digest Effects.

Effects is about a small crew making and independent film in a cluster of picturesque cabins in the woods. The film is a horror movie and the crew spends their days shooting and their nights drinking, smoking, and snorting coke. Pilato plays the everyman camera operator/cinematographer and the rest of the cast and crew are drugged out weirdos except for the chilly director (played by Harrison). The filming is chaotic and rife with conflict but every day they slug it out. One night Pilato and Harrison are hanging out talking while some other crew members are once again doing coke. Pilato, who is also doing special effects on the film, tells the guys that he feels that special effects are nothing without a good script that makes the audience care about the character. Harrison disagrees and shows the group a snuff film he claims to be real and later claims to be fake. It’s a nasty piece of work and Pilato is disgusted. The next day, early in the morning Pilato is woken up by Harrison and sent out on a mission to film. Then something happens and the whole film takes a 180 degree turn. I won’t spoil it for you here but Effects suddenly becomes very prescient of the type of entertainment that would become popular decades later.

The first time I watched Effects, I thought it was a cheap (it is very low budget) flick without much to say with only a little bit of horror thrown in at the end of the movie. It didn’t wow me. This time around however, I knew what to expect and so I was able to pay better attention to the slowly growing pressure and dark overtones that I missed the first time out. Effects is more of a slow sleeper of a flick that catches you off guard but if you are expecting something overt and gory, you will be sorely disappointed. It would be easy to miss the subtle elements of the film that make it so unsettling, until the very end when the plot finally becomes explicit. I know I did the first time I watched it. This time around I liked the film a lot more. The performances are natural and the film making aspect of the film feels real. I can believe that this is a real crew making a movie and the style feels very documentary-esque. This makes sense because the director was mostly doing documentaries at the time. This reality based documentary style turned me off the first time I watched the film but this time it made the movie feel more raw and real and thus more creepy.

According to the documentary on the disc, the film was never theatrically screened because of a bad distribution deal and never got a great home video release until the Synapse dvd in the early 2000s. Even that release wasn’t a big one so hopefully now this Blu will get the movie into more horror heads homes. The Blu itself looks pretty good. The print is apparently the only 35mm theatrical print that exists and the 16mm negative is currently missing. The 35mm blow up is fuzzy at times and does have some visible wear in the form of black lines. The image is as crisp as it’s ever going to be until the original 16mm negative is found. The disc includes the hour long documentary about the making of the film that was included on the Synapse dvd, the early short films of the director Dusty Nelson, a commentary track, and liner notes by Joseph A. Ziemba.

Effects is a small horror film with some big names from the era in which was made. It has largely slipped through the cracks over the last 37 years but deserves a second look.  It is creepy, disturbing, and prescient. The film is rough around the edges and ugly but feels real and raw.

The Creep Behind the Camera (2017)

Before I get into the review proper for this one it’s important to point out that this film is based on the making of The Creeping Terror. For those that don’t know (I didn’t), the Creeping Terror was a super cheap monster movie released in 1964 and quickly forgotten until in 1993 Mystery Science Theater covered it, turning the film into a cult favorite for the folks that love bad movies. Having never seen the MST3k episode, and since Synapse was nice enough to include a 2k scan of the film, I watched The Creeping Terror first. Clocking in at 75 minutes, the film still feels overlong and it certainly has a memorable and poorly constructed monster. The film is about a probe from another planet landing on Earth and the creatures inside running around eating people. The monster looks like an alien shrub with a big long body/tail that looks like carpet. I’ll agree that it’s a pretty cruddy movie, filled with heavy handed narration in lieu of actual dialog, workman cinematography, limited music, and zero terror. One thing the film does have is plenty of shots of the monster with lots of people being swallowed up.

After surviving the Creeping Terror, I fired up The Creep Behind the Camera. The film tells the story of how the Creeping Terror came to be and it’s a lurid tale for sure. Star and director A.J. Nelson was a sociopath huckster hell bent on making the greatest monster movie ever. According to the film he was other, far worse things as well. The film is a hybrid between a biopic and a documentary. Throughout the film, interviews with the crew, financier, and wife of AJ are sprinkled giving the film a weird reenactment vibe. It’s almost as if the interviews were there solely to lend credence to the crazy stuff that happens in the narrative film. The structure of the film bounces around in time from production of the Creeping Terror, to events that took place before the film was produced, to after. I kept track of must of it but the time jumping for me was a little jarring. The acting is solid and despite the fact that this was obviously a modestly budgeted film, the period settings feel authentic and the story engaging.

The film does feel long in the tooth however as it’s nearly 2 hours long. that’s an awful long time to spend with the scumbag AJ Nelson and there were sequences that could have been tightened up to keep the movie rolling. My main problem with the film however is with the events that take place in the film that are particularly vile but with no interviews to back them up. Was AJ Nelson rapist? We have support from his wife that he was psychologically and physically abusive as well as unfaithful and dishonest so it’s not too big of a jump i suppose to believe that he was sexually violent as well. The film seems to leer on these scenes too much, supported with goofy music that almost seems like the film makers were making light of these very serious and disturbing scenes. There is another scene in the film that suggests that Nelson filmed child pornography in order to pay a debt owed to a gangster. Again, this is a very serious allegation with no interview to back it up. I even listened to the commentary during this scene and the director gave no indication that any of the subjects interviewed said Nelson did this. It’s a particularly vile addition to the film and if no one mentioned him doing this, that means they made it up. Frankly child pornography is nothing to joke about or to hang on anyone’s head unless there is some kind of proof or at least a witness testimony. The film makers state in the commentary that they were unsure about including the scene and I can see why. After that point, i had no interest in the film. The scene disgusted me especially if the film makers made it up to further vilify Nelson and shock the audience. He was a scam artist, a wife beater, and an adulterer, I’m already on board with him being a total piece of garbage. I didn’t need further proof, especially if it was invented for the sake of the film.  There are other scenes in the film that are similarly questionable and that’s what makes enjoying this movie so difficult: i don’t know what was real and what they made up. Some things they have interviews to support, others, nothing. Where does the fantasy begin, where does reality end? I would have preferred if the interview footage was the majority of the film with reenactments to support what was said in the interviews. Instead we get a film that is supported by interviews but not fully which makes buying what the film is trying to sell difficult.

In the end The Creep Behind The Camera is a film that uncovers a seedy story of how a schlock movie was made. I can appreciate that. But it’s overly long, with a goofy tone that doesn’t suit the disturbing accusations the film makes. It seems to revel in the accusations which would be fine if we were talking about good old garden variety dishonesty and hucksterism. We’re not. The film accuses Nelson of rape, assault, and child prostitution. I can appreciate what the film makers were trying to do but the tone of the film is too light and deals with the considerably dark material with a cavalier attitude. If the child prostitution was thrown in for shock value, i was already shocked and it was unneeded. The scene pushed me to being outright disgusted, especially because the scene is just thrown into the film briefly and then quickly forgotten. The Creep Behind The Camera is hard to recommend though I can commend the film makers for what they set out to do, the result is one I can’t get behind, despite the obvious passion put into it.

I was hoping for a fun film about a guy who wanted to be larger than life and was willing to bend the rules to get there. Instead I got a portrait of a completely despicable man with no redeeming qualities and a film that lingers on his most sordid deeds with a jovial tone that doesn’t suit the subject matter.

Dillinger (1973)

The name John Milius is synonymous with terms like macho, violent, and male. Writer of Apocalypse Now and director of films like Red Dawn and the ultimate macho movie, Conan the Barbarian, Milius has made a name for himself as a master macho storyteller. Dillinger, made by American International Pictures, was one of his first films but it embodies his sensibilities and his love for ultra violence.

Dillinger is set in American in the 1930s and follows infamous bank robber John Dillinger as he pulls a string of robberies and evades capture by the FBI. A biopic of sorts, Dillinger is reportedly historically inaccurate but if we wanted accuracy, we’d watch a documentary right? Perhaps I’m lenient on the liberties taken by Milius because the resulting film is entertaining and has that special stink only he can put on a film. The film stars Warren Oates as Dillinger, Ben Johnson as Melvin Pervis, FBI, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Dreyfuss, and Cloris Leachman among other familiar faces. The film is a who’s who of great character actors from the era and each actor brings their tough A game.

The story of Dillinger is a familiar one that has seen other cinematic adaptations and appropriations since the ’30s. What separates this version from the others is the gleeful use of graphic violence. People are mowed down not by one bullet but by several with plenty of blood thrown around for good measure. The actors are allowed to be as intense as they want to be and everyone has a chip on their shoulder. While not as successful as his later efforts, Dillinger is still a solid 70’s film far more violent than most from the era. Milus was ahead of his time or perhaps he helped to herald the era of 80’s over-the-top super violence. Either way Dillinger is an interesting time capsule from a director that didn’t produce many films in his career but when he did, they were sure to put hair on your chest.

The film looks fantastic, once again Arrow has done a great job restoring this lesser seen film and has helped rescue it from obscurity. If tough 70’s cinema, Warren Oates, and/or John Milius get you excited, this is a great release to pick up.

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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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