Wednesday, 30 October 2013

DVD Review: The Stone Tape

When it comes to the paranormal, the written word so often triumphs over the moving image. Sometimes, it's nice to sit back and let imagination take you through some dark places, away from over-zealous film directors showing you more than you really need to see. Sometimes, however, we encounter celluloid chillers that succeed in establishing an icy grip on the senses: The Haunting, The Changeling, Session Nine, The Others and The Woman In Black are just a few examples of films that can lower the room temperature and freeze the blood. The Stone Tape is another worthy member of this select group of spookers.

First broadcast on 25th December 1972, The Stone Tape must have ruined Christmas for many viewers, adopting a 'less is more' approach which delivers a handful of spectral apparitions, and a series of blood-curdling screams - the rest is down to Nigel Kneale's screenplay and several fine performances.

Director Peter Sasdy's declaration of intent is unveiled right from the word go as Jill Greely (Asher) - a woman clearly on the edge of a nervous breakdown - almost comes to grief with a large truck bearing the name 'Ryan Electronics'. Jill recovers from what could have been a fatal crash to begin work at Taskerlands - a building that dates back to the 18th century - where she will oversee the installation of computers and sundry data equipment.

A crack team of electronics experts - led by bombastic Peter Brock (Bryant) - hope to design a revolutionary recording medium, and confound the market leaders, affectionately known as 'old nippon'. With an eager team wanting to press ahead, the schedule is thrown off-kilter when workmen down tools, refusing to renovate one room in particular. A general feeling of unease appears to be their main cause for concern, though matters come to a head when Jill - blessed/cursed with mediumistic powers - sees the ghostly apparition of a young woman at the top of a flight of stairs that lead...... to nowhere.

The discovery of 30 tins of spam and a letter to Father Christmas ("All I want for xmas is please go away") become pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that includes a maid named Louisa Hanks; two attempted exorcisms back in the mists of time, and the reluctant testimony of a frightened local who mentions "the others".
As the unquiet spirit screams and screams again, Jill is joined by several of her colleagues who can now see and/or hear what may be a psychic echo of a past tragedy. Peter eventually joins the ranks of the believers, and embarks on a ruthless pursuit towards self-advancement, with no thoughts for the safety of his team or his mistress.

Approached from a purely supernatural perspective, The Stone Tape hits the back of the net on many occasions, with its aura of evil practically reaching out from the confines of a television screen to suck you into that infernal room where past events intrude on the present. The aural and visual manifestations are frightening enough, but Sasdy's film reaches its peak when a solitary figure enters the time-slip vacuum, breaching the darkness to confront a silence that is deafening.

It's a scary trip, and maybe Sasdy hasn't received the credit he deserves: due, no doubt, to another visionary screenplay from Nigel Kneale. Just witness the animated conversation regarding the possibilty of history in the making; a new recording device that will condense hours of audio material onto a tiny piece of software, and 13 channel TV - "Porn channel 1, porn channel 2, DIY...." Kneale even extends his take on the shape of things to come into a sidebar concerning brusque businessman Crawshaw (Marsh) who fights for a piece of Taskerlands to aid development of his own invention - a self-programming washing machine capable of sorting its own load. Together with Kneale's Year Of The Sex Olympics script, The Stone Tape casts an eye to the future with more than a degree of accuracy, and creates a foundation for Sasdy and his cast.

On the debit side, there are several scenes which grate a little - mostly in the form of OTT performances from some of the largely male cast, and the sight of 'ghostbusters' attempting to 'clear' the room by using primitive outside broadcast equipment looks a tad amateurish. Still, many films (with the advantage of state-of-the-art resources) have cheerfully cribbed from The Stone Tape's ghost-laying technique, and its desire to move on from the bell,book and candle approach should ultimately be applauded. Some dodgy FX scenes near the end momentarily threaten to undo the good work, but a late rally puts things to right, taking us into the haunted room which may be about to welcome at least one new occupant.

Sasdy's film is available in the UK on VHS and DVD. While I don't own a copy of the latter, I have viewed the disc and, given its age and the source material, picture quality is as good as one could hope for. The BFI disc includes a commentary track from Kneale and writer & reviewer Kim Newman, and there's also a DVD Rom extra in the form of a Kneale script, 'The Road'.

I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of The Stone Tape at London's National Film Theatre, a few years back. Afterwards, Kneale was interviewed onstage and briefly discussed 'The Road'; a ghostly tale of Roman centurians returning from the grave. Kneale lamented the fact that the tape of this film had been wiped by a BBC employee, and is lost forever. A crying shame, but think of it as an unfilmed gem that may see light of day from one of the UK's rising young directors. Until then, stoke up the fire, sit back and let your imagination take hold.

Friday, 25 October 2013

BFI Classic Horror Trailer

The British Film Institute have just added a trailer to youtube featuring clips from Robin Redbreast, Dead Of Night and Classic Ghost Stories. I hope you have enjoyed reading my reviews of the DVD's and will check out the trailer for a taste of classic horror from the BBC.

DVD Review: Classic Ghost Stories

Picture, if you will, a cold December evening. Outside, a thin layer of snow has formed over the expansive lawns of a college. Inside, a small gathering of students take their seats in a candlelit room waiting for M.R. James to begin reading a slection of his classic ghost stories, Montague Rhodes James - 1863-1936 - was a medieval scholar who enjoyed a distinguished career, and wrote ghost stories in his spare time for friends and colleagues to enjoy. His terrifying tales - often involving a scholar who unwittingly invokes supernatural horrors- have thrilled generations of readers who demand atmospheric chillers that leave you constantly jumping at the slightest sound or movement in a half-lit room.
In 1986, the BBC screened Classic Ghost Stories on 25th, 26th, 28th, 29th and 30th December, with renowned actor Robert Powell filling the role of M.R. James. Here, Powell tells five of James' ghost stories from the confines of a study, using his wealth of experience to convey the absolute dread that legions of fans have experienced when reading the books.The first tale is 'The Mezzotint', which involves a university scholar on the lookout for topographical drawings to add to his employers collection. An ordinary (on the surface, at least) drawing is sent for his perusal, depicting a view of a manor house, the identity of which is unknown. Before long, this unremarkable work of art begins to change with a figure appearing on the boundary of the lawn. Overnight, the Mezzotint continues its terrifying downwards spiral as the mysterious figure has moved closer to the house. Is this heading towards a tragedy about to unfold, or has it already taken place? 'The Mezzotint' is, for my money, one of James' finest tales and 'The Ash Tree' - the 2nd ghost story in this collection - is just as essential. Suffolk is the setting as the 1690 Castringham witch trials reach into the present day. Something terrible resides in a huge ash tree, and a number of unexplained deaths can be traced back to a convicted witch's forecast that "there will be guests at the hall". With a finale that will surely turn your stomach, 'The Ash Tree' is bone-chilling fare indeed, and is followed by 'Wailing Well'. Here, two boy scouts are strongly dissuaded from entering a red-ringed field that local legend has placed 'out of bounds'. One of the boys ignores these grave warnings and encounters a trio of other-wordly beings who were characters of ill-repute during their former lives.The famous 'Oh Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad' is the next story on offer here, featuring a college professor who takes a short vacation in order to improve his game of golf, and also to check out local sites of interest. Professor Perkins had been asked by a friend to visit the site of a Templar preceptory, and unearths an ancient whistle; a discovery that inspires a ghostly presence to claim it back. 'Whistle' is a prime example of James' ability to place his audience in a world of academia where strange forces hold sway, gradually building an atmosphere of fear and loathing that will set your nerves a-jangling. The final story is 'The Rose Garden', involving the haunted site of an old summer house set in Westfield Hall, Essex, where a gardening project is directed towards the aforementioned piece of land. Soon, horrifying nightmares of past events are accompanied by sight and sound that relate to the death of a disgraced Lord Chief Justice. This is a subtle, remarkably effective tale that amrks the end of Powell's involvement. James' stories are beautifully read by Powell, who uses books, manuscripts and letters to add colour to proceedings which also benefit from the use of dramatisation during some of the stories. It's a genuine pleasure to view once again these very special broadcasts, and immensely pleasing to discover The BFI has added three stories from the 'Spine Chillers' series to their DVD.
The 'Spine Chillers' series contained readings from major writers including James and HG wells, and was broadcast by the BBC in 1980. Here, Michael Bryant takes on the role of James and begins with a reading of 'The Mezzotint', which contains a different edit to Powell's version. 'A School Story' is next on the bill. This wonderfully chilling piece concerns two men talking about their schooldays, and involves some extremely unsettling classroom experiences. The final story, 'The Diary Of Mr Poynter', sees a book auction lead to the pruchase of four volumes written by the titular character. A piece of cloth is found in one of the diaries, which becomes the pattern for new curtains. Of course, subsequent events prove this to be a wholly unfortunate decision as, once again,the past returns to haunt the living. Bryant is admirable in his role of the famous writer, and this generous extra feature gives real added value to this essential purchase for lovers of tales well told. The BFI have also included an informative booklet with essays on the tv series. Perfect uneasy viewing for cold winters evenings, this BFI DVD is released on 28th October.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

DVD Review: Dead Of Night (BBC TV Series)

For the BBC, 1972 would prove to be a classic year of small screen Horror gems. Fans of classic ghost stories thrilled to their adaptation of M.R.James' A Warning To The Curious and Peter Sasdy's Nigel Kneale penned The Stone Tape. Dead Of Night was originally seven 50 minute stories but, alas, four of the tales were wiped. Now, The BFI have released the three surviving episodes on one DVD, and kick off with one of the most unnerving slices of television drama ever transmitted.
First broadcast on 5th November 1972, Don Taylor's The Exorcism places two couples in a restored cottage, aiming to celebrate Christmas with an abundance of food and drink. Edmund and Rachel (Edward Petherbridge, Anna Cropper) welcome Dan and Margaret (Clive Swift, Sylvia Kay) to their home and the men's conversation soon turns to the subject of money and how they should not feel guilty about their wealth. So far, so middle-class, and this cosy gathering get a taste of things to come when Rachel plays a tune on her clavichord and becomes extremely nervous, claiming she's never heard this piece before. When dinner is served, events really take a nasty turn for the worse when Edmund declares the wine to taste of blood, and their first mouthfuls of food have a burning nauseous effect on all four members of this well-to-do group. Add to this a mysterious loss of power, Rachel's vision of a child's skeleton in the bedroom upstairs and doors that won't open, windows that refuse to break mean the quartet are stranded with no way out and can only wait to discover the awful truth that will soon come to the surface. Here, the land of plenty becomes a barren wasteland, as past events return to haunt the living with a terrible vengeance. I was lucky(?) enough to witness the small-screen debut of The Exorcism and the screening damn near ruined Xmas for me later that year, with an extraordinary turn from Anna Cropper (who also appears in Robin Redbreast) staying with me for many long months after, and leading to the most downbeat of endings. This Holy Grail of tv terror has stood the test of time so very well, and will now greatly disturb a whole new generation of viewers. It's interesting to note that Cropper took over the lead role in the West End play of The Exorcism when Mary Ure dies of an overdose the day after the opening night.

Return Flight is the next episode on offer, and concerns one Hamish Rolph (Peter Barkworth); a recently widowed pilot who is hauled in by his superiors to explain his sighting of an unidentified aircraft with no navigation lights. The problem is, air traffic control recorded no other plane within an eight mile radius. Although Return Flight is possibly the least of this trio of tales, it does leave its mark; especially when we learn the first husband of Rolph's wife was killed in a bombing mission. Rolph's wish to move on with his life, coupled with professional and personal insecurities are beautifully drawn with a strong performance from Barkworth, and the script - penned by Robert Holmes - leaves one with an awful lot to consider. Return Flight was first screened on 12th November 1972.

The final episode, A Woman Sobbing, was first broadcast on 17th December 1972 and stars Anna Massey as Jane - a housewife kept awake by the sound of a woman sobbing in her attic during the hours of darkness. Husband Frank (Ronald Hines) can hear nothing of these deeply unsettling nocturnal events, and Jane's sanity is called into question by her husband and his friend Sandy (Julian Holloway). With their meagre sex life bubbling away in the background (sometimes foreground), the couple are gradually drawn apart leaving Jane very much alone in her battle with a perceived supernatural entity. A Woman Sobbing is a wonderfully understated chiller, using sound rather than vision to install an overwhelming sense of dread that could well come from the mind or from another world. Paul Ciappessoni's direction is finely tuned to John Bowen's script, and their collaboration really gets under the skin to leave a lasting impression: do listen out for the line, "Where'd you get the holy water from, duckie?" - the malevolent voice uttering that line stayed with for years after.

It's a genuine cause for regret that over half of the Dead Of Night episodes are no longer available, but this BFI DVD does include a gallery of stills from two of the missing episodes and there's a PDF of downloadable scripts for the four episodes that were wiped. The DVD also includes a booklet featuring beautifully written overviews from Lisa Kerrigan.This DVD is released form the BFI on 28th October, and is an essential purchase for devotees of uneasy viewing.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

DVD Review: The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill

Situated in the county of Bedfordshire, St Mary's church in Clophill has more than its fair share of supernatural legend.The church was said to have been built over a leper colony and dates back to 1350, while a newer church was built on the same ground around 1840. In the 1960s' and 70s', it was the victim of grave desecration and black magic rites, and its altar was constructed facing the west (which, according to legend, means it's facing The Devil). As well as satanic worship, the church is also reputed to be a site where unquiet spirits walk amongst the shadows - more than enough activity for a whole army of ghostbusters. So, Kevin Gates got together a film crew and a few psychic investigators to shoot The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, aiming to record their findings on film to establish whether Clophill really is haunted. A three-day shoot was decided upon, and the result is a fascinating and decidedly spooky documentary that mixes fact and fiction.
The Paranormal Diaries runs for 88 minutes and is the product of editing many hours of footage to provide an absorbing account of the techniques employed by modern-day investigators. The opening minutes include establishing shots of packing for the trip and departing for and arriving in Clophill before we move onto several interviews with bona fide eyewitnesses who once ventured up to the church and were privy to possible psychic activity and the aftermath of devil worship. By the time darkness falls, the scene is set nicely as the church and surronding area assume a much more forbidding look, illuminated by the light of the full moon. Here, night vision cameras follow shadows mvoign quickly across line of sight, and sound recording equipment catches rustling in the trees and bushes and all manner of noises that could well point to company from beyond the grave.Add to this spine-tingling seances, and a 'Ghost Box' that works in a similar way to a ouija board (but with sound) and you have a quality production that's refreshingly bereft of all the hysteria and amateur dramatics that so often plague televised ghost hunts.
With several jump out of your seat moments and instances where the crew can see something that we can't, The Paranormal Diaries is certainly not for the faint-hearted and fully deserved its inclusion in the 2013 Frightfest film line-up. After watching this nerve-jangling, often quite disturbing film, you're sure to have many questions about its content and the whole filmmaking process, and Second Sight's DVD is well served by two audio commentary tracks. In the first, co-director Kevin Gates goes solo, confessing the film was "as much an experience as a filmmaking process", and going on to adopt a mostly scene-specific approach. Gates explains why the film took three years to make; tells a wonderful story about a local pub that's straight out of a Hammer film, and explains that a surprisingly high percentage of the footage was reality rather than digital manipulation. Refreshingly, Gates points out certain ideas that simply didn't work - and they are few - and neatly separates fact from fiction. The second commentary track sees Gates back at the wheel, joined by Craig Stovin (documentary co-ordinator) and Creselda Cabitac (interviewer). Inevitably, there is some overlap with the first commentary, but it's an absorbing experience and contains a few surprises. This DVD also includes 23 minutes of deleted scnes that didn't make the final cut. While there's nothing that really sceamed out for inclusion, there is a story about a black cat seen prowling around the grounds that would have linked in nicely with the heart-stopping finale.

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is out now on the Second Sight label, and just in time for Halloween. Don't watch it alone!

Friday, 11 October 2013

DVD Review: Robin Redbreast

Directed by James MacTaggart, Robin Redbreast was originally broadcast by the BBC on 10th December 1970 as part of their 'Play For Today' strand. Inspired by the murder of a farm labourer as a blood sacrifice in 1945, John Bowen's script takes a city girl - Norah Palmer, played by Anna Cropper - and deposits her deep in the country where superstition and the old ways hang heavy in the air. Norah has just come out of an eight year relationship and is hurting badly, so a break from her life as a television editor appears to be a sensible move to make.
Upon arrival at her dream cottage - Flanethan Farm (The Place Of Birds) - Norah encounters a sinister gum-chewing individual who introduces himself as Fisher, and begs permission to look in the garden for Sherds (fragments of prehistoric history). Fisher is just the first in a succession of strange characters whose dependency on the success of the crops drive them to do unspeakable things.
Prior to leaving London, Norah confessed to feeling randy, and her state of arousal eventually propels her into the arms of the local gamekeeper who becomes smitten with this attractive stranger.
Before long, Norah falls head first into a crazy world where a marble split in half sits on her windowsill, a contraceptive cap disappears and then re-appears before and after her night with the gamekeeper, and her escape routes to the relative sanity of London are cut off at every turn.

During Robin Redbreast's debut screening, a series of powercuts meant parts of the UK audience were denied the chance to see its conclusion. After a barrage of complaints, the BBC were compelled to add a second screening to their schedule, and it's easy to see why folks were so enraged at being denied to see how this riveting drama ended.
MacTaggart's film is hugely important - not least in historical terms - with its central theme surely inspiring The Wicker Man which was still three years away. In fact, Robin Redbreast stands proudly with Hardy's film at the pinnacle of 'Folk Horror', along with Blood On Satan's Claw and Eye Of The Devil, and its various religious motifs make for a rich story indeed. With a beautifully tuned-in performance from Cropper (an inspired suggestion by John Bowen) and the overpowering presence of past rites reaching into the present, Robin Redbreast fully justifies its presence amongst the BFI's 'Gothic The Dark Heart Of Film' line-up.

The DVD features a monochrome presentation of what was originally a colour production, and is taken from a 16mm telerecording. As a result, picture quality does suffer but at no point took me out of the film. The BFI have included a valuable 12 minute interview with John Bowen who reveals his script included some of the characters he'd met at the house (his own home served as Flanethan Farm, and recalls the uproar that surrounded certain aspects of his script, together with memories of his work for the BBC.
There's also an 11 minute short film titled 'Around The Village Green' that examines the changing face of village life with regard to agriculture, social activity and education. Fittingly, there's also mention of the Harvest Festival. The BFI have also included their customary informative booklet featuring an essay on the film and an overview of John Bowen's work.

So, the film that built up a strong cult following is now available for the first time on home video, and packs a considerable punch as a potent, highly disturbing essay on what can happen when an outsider breaches the walls of past tradition. With a strong replay value, Robin Redbreast should prove to be a highlight amongst a BFI series of releases that celebrate a golden age of television classics.
Robin Redbreast will be released on BFI DVD on 28th October.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Coming Soon: Classic Ghost Stories

From the cosy confines of his study, a learned professor (award- winning actor Robert Powell – Jesus of Nazareth, Mahler, The Detectives) tells five terrifying tales. Inspired by M R James’ legendary readings of his own works, these vintage ghost stories were originally broadcast over the Christmas of 1986.

In The Mezzotint a haunted picture slowly reveals the horrors of the past, whilst The Ash-Tree tells of the execution of a witch and the dreadful curse she places on the Fell family. Wailing Well involves a troop of scouts who find that curiosity can be fatal, and Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad concerns itself with an academic who gets more than he bargained for after he finds an enchanted whistle. Finally, in The Rose Garden, disturbing visions upset Mrs Ansthruthers’ gardening plans.

Special features

Spine Chillers: The Mezzotint, A School Story and The Diary of Mr Poynter (1980, 36 min in total): acclaimed actor Michael Bryant reads three of M R James’ stories adapted for the BBC’s Spine Chillers series – produced by Classic Ghost Stories producer Anglea Beeching and the team behind the BBC children’s series Jackanory.
Fully illustrated booklet with a newly commissioned essay by BFI TV Curator Lisa Kerrigan.

This will be released by The BFI on 28th October. Look out for a review soon.

DVD Review: My Amityville Horror

In the 38 years since 112 Ocean Avenue first hit the headlines, this supernatural phenomenon has spawned 10 films and 13 books on the subject. In 1975, the Lutz family moved into a house in Amityville, New York, fully aware that 13 months earlier, Ronald DeFeo jr had shot all 6 members of his family while they lay sleeping. The Lutz's tenure lasted for just 28 days, culminating in a 'night of terror' that saw them fleeing the house and leaving their belongings behind. Claims and counter-claims have since divided both investigative and public opinion as to whether the events really did take place or were simply a giant hoax. While George and Kathy Lutz both went to their graves upholding their claims, son Daniel Lutz has never publicly delivered his side of the story. Until now.
Directed by Eric Walter - responsible for the web site - My Amityville Horror takes Daniel Lutz back to the tenth year of his life on earth, with a series of revealing interviews allowing the short-fuse Lutz to state his case. The first questions we really need answering are why Daniel waited until now to divulge his experiences, and why he felt the need to do so? Lutz states the saga had been following him for over 35 years and that it had finally caught up with him. The time to stop running had arrived, and he decided to present his case. So, we get to hear of Daniel's family background, his parent's divorce, and the fact that he was unwilling to accept George as his stepfather: a man, who according to Daniel, had an interest in the occult. Although Daniel's domestic life was unsteady to say the least, he recalls moving into the Amityville house full of expectation that his time there would be happy. Then, the disturbances began. Lutz remembers the presence of 4 or 500 flies in the a bedroom during December; the infamous 'pigs face' at the window; the numerous cold spots with drops of 20 degrees inside 5 steps; the time when his fingers were trapped under a window that left bone on bone and his had swollen to the size of a baseball glove before mysteriously healing, and the sound of a marching band on the stairs. These and many other claims recorded here will be mostly familiar to students of this controversial story, so how does Lutz handle their re-telling? Well, in a confident, unfaltering manner though detractors will doubtless argue he's had a long time to get his story straight and polished. My own reaction is that Daniel's state of mind where his parents are concerned would not compel him to uphold their version of events out of loyalty, and so it's not a great stretch to conclude he really does believe the recorded events did happen.

Joining Daniel in the documentary are Dr Susan Bartell, a psychologist who approaches the troubled waters with caution, and Laura Didio, an investigative reporter who worked on the case as a journalist used to exploring pyschic phenomena. We also see Daniel meet with Lorraine Warren; the surviving half of a demonologist husband and wife team who visited the Amityville house following the Lutz family's departure. Warren really seems to believe something evil resided in the house, at least for a while, and as the investigator of more than 4,000 cases, she'd obviously encountered more than her fair share of fakes during her time. Naysayers have all sorts of theories up their collective sleeves, believing the Lutz's concocted their story to make money to ease financial pressures which may or may not have existed, and there's even a story that the whole affair was dreamt up by George, Kathy and the attorney of Ronald DeFeo.
None of the families who have since lived at 112 have encountered any supernatural phenomena (at least, none reported), but the story lives on with sightseers still visiting this 'house of horrors' which, incidentally, no longer resembles the building of 1975.
Daniel Lutz himself comes over as deeply pyschologically scarred, and various claims such as his witnessing George moving objects without touching them are said with such conviction, it's not too difficult to believe he's describing things as he actually recalls them.

My Amityville Horror is a thoroughly gripping documentary, and a quite remarkable chapter in a story that will run and run. Part of me - ok, a large part of me - wants to believe the events of 1975 really did take place. After viewing this documentary, I'm still not sure, but there is a scene near the end that further adds to the legend when Daniel is asked if he would be willing to take a lie detector test. It's worth noting that George and Kathy Lutz both took polygraphs. Both passed.

My Amityville Horror will be released by Arrow Films on 28th October.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Coming In December: Joe Strummer Month

I've written a brief acknowledgement on the anniversary of Joe Strummer's death every year since he passed away. This year, I want to do something different. To play just a very small part in a celebration of his life and the great music he was a part of. I was lucky enough to see The Clash play live on many occasions, and those golden memories stay with me. Always will. So, this December will be Joe Strummer month here on Wonderland. I'll be including reviews, video clips, concert memories... and hope to see you here.

Coming Soon To Blu-ray: Streets Of Fire

Looking forward to Second Sight's Streets Of Fire Blu-ray, which will be released 18th November.

DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM Stereo

A brand new 80 minute documentary featuring new interviews with Walter Hill, Michael Paré, Amy Madigan and James Allen produced for us by Fiction Factory.

Featuring ‘Rock and Roll Fable’, ‘Exaggerated Realism’, ‘Choreographing the Crowd, ’Creating the Costumes’ ‘From the Ground Up’, ‘Personality Profile’, Featurette, Teaser Trailer and On-Air Promos

‘Tonight Is What it Means To Be Young’
‘I Can Dream About You’

Look out for a review soon.

Like Father, Like Son. Official UK Trailer

Take a look at this trailer for Like Father, Like Son which debuted online 1st October ahead of the films London Film Festival premier. Kore-eda-Hirokazu's film is in competition for the Best Film award at this years London Film Festival.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

BFI Player To Launch 9th October

Exciting news from the BFI regarding the launch of their BFI Player. 9th October will see this new venture launched nationwide,offering seven channels of choice for the millions who enjoy independent and specialist cinema.

BFI Chair Greg Dyke today unveiled the BFI Player, a brand new video-on-demand platform for the millions that enjoy independent and specialised film and who will now get the full BFI experience, wherever they live. Available nationwide from 9 October, the BFI Player will support the UK’s film industry by offering new distribution opportunities while making great film accessible to the widest possible audience across the UK.

Launching to coincide with the BFI London Film Festival, the BFI Player is a pioneering new way of taking cultural assets into the digital age and will offer a mix of seven new channels, or ‘collections’, including behind the scenes at the festival, contemporary and archive films – including GOTHIC and Cult cinema –and, for the first time ever, the full 28 hours of rare Edwardian film footage from filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon.

Offering a mix of free (approx. 60%) and pay-per-view (approx. 40%) content that includes over 1,000 items of content, including hundreds of feature films in the launch period, the BFI Player will go further than current VOD platforms by offering deep exploration and understanding of film content, chosen and contextualised by the experts at the BFI, all in HD quality. The BFI Player will evolve and grow as new partners and increasing content come on board over the coming months with Phase 2 of the BFI Player set to launch in early 2014.

Special events will be a feature of the BFI Player. Today it is also announced that Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant will launch on the BFI Player simultaneously with its UK theatrical release on 25 October and the BFI restoration of The Epic of Everest on 18 October will launch on the BFI Player on the same day as its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival and UK release on 18 October

The BFI Player will launch with seven different collections:

London Film Festival Presents; exclusive red carpet action, talent interviews and special behind the scenes access to the UK’s most important film festival
Backed by the BFI; the best of British cinema – a showcase of some of the finest films, many funded by the BFI Film Fund
Edwardian Britain; for the first time ever all 28 hours of the extraordinary films of pioneering filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, c.1900 – 1912
GOTHIC: The Dark Heart of Film; The BFI’s blockbuster project featuring four compelling themes Monstrous, The Dark Arts, Haunted and Love is a Devil
Cult Cinema; a passport to an exciting and surprising world of cult British cinema from the BFI’s Flipside DVD label
Inside Film; films about filmmaking for filmmakers and all those who love cinema
Sight and Sound Selects (from their Greatest Film poll); a growing selection of the best films of all time.

As far as I'm concerned, launch date cannot come quickly enough, and this important addition to the BFI should prove a huge hit with the nation's film buffs.

Blu-ray Review: Creepshow

Borne out of a shared love for those great E.C. comics, Creepshow - directed by George A. Romero - has endured for more than 30 years, and continues to delight old school admirers while gaining a legion of new fans. The film contains five stories, each linked by an animated interlude and begins with Stan - an overbearing father (played by Tom Atkins) - slapping his son (Billy, played by Stephen King's son, Joe) for the ownership of a comic book that neatly ties in with his love of the macabre. The first story, 'Father's Day', peeks in at the annual get-together of the Grantham family.
Each year, the clan meet on Father's Day, and Sylvia (Carrie Nye) is joined this year by a motley crew, including Cass (Elizabeth Regan), her new husband Hank (Ed Harris) and Aunt Bedelia ( Viveca Lindfors) who avenged the death of her lover by slaying the family patriarch with an ashtray. Now, it's that time of the year again and the in-fighting is rudely interrupted by the re-appearance of a figure from the past who wants more than just a slice of cake. It's a lively opening from Romero, and neatly takes us into 'The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill'. The titular character - played by Stephen King - starts dreaming of a dollar windfall when a meteor crashes near his rundown abode. Kings plays his character straight out of a cartoon, and his hilarious attempts at cooling and then breaking in half this foreign object
leads to his surroundings becoming a green and unpleasant land. Interspersed by the most inane daydreams, this episode of Creepshow works best with a few bottles of beer and a benevolent attitude, though Verrill's gradual demise and the vision of his dead father - a Bava-esque face at the window do linger long in the memory. The third instalment, 'Something To Tide You Over', is, for my money, the most effective of the bunch. Here, martial infidelity and its fatal consequences are on the menu. Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson) receives an unwelcome visit from Richard Vickers
(Leslie Nielson)who has learned of Wentworth's affair with his wife Beckie (played by Gaylen Ross). Vickers, a techno-junkie, devises a unique way of punishing the two lovers, only to discover the dead sometimes don't stay that way. It's a tale supremely well told and not for the first time in this movie, Tom Savini's effects and make-up and effects make a huge contribution. 'The Crate' is the next item on the menu, with a janitor (Don Keefer) discovering a crate
under a basement stairwell dating back to a 1834 arctic expedition. This is pure guilty pleasure entertainment, as Fritz Weaver and Hal Holbrook play major parts in proceedings; the latter keen to dispose of his loud, hard-drinking spouse, played by the wonderful Adrienne Barbeau. A rampaging monster may well prove to be the answer to his prayers, but at what price? The final segment is'They're Creeping Up On You', in which EG Marshall's Upson Pratt character shows himself to be a particularly odious man, who celebrates the suicide of a former employee, and laughs at a grief-stricken phone call from a distraught widow.
Pratt soon finds his sterile apartment invaded by an army of roaches, and it's a genuine pleasure to see him get his just desserts. Creepshow is a successful attempt at bringing comic book excess to the big screen, combining some finely tuned performances with humour and the ability to tap into some of our deepest, darkest fears.

Second Sight's Blu-ray release contains some excellent supplementary features. First off, we get two commentary tracks; the first of which features Romero and the legendary Tom Savini, moderated by Michael Felsher. Here, Romero mentions on several occasions his deep appreciation and respect for the calibre of his cast, and explains why he went with well known faces and of the ingenuity of Savini's effects and make-up. The two of them share some wonderful anecdotes - listen out for the border guard story - and also record the production was in grave financial straits when the cash temporarily ran out. The second track features DOP Michael Gornick, property master Bruce Alan Miller, make-up effects assistant Darryl Ferrucci and actor John Amplas. This brand new track is a little different to the norm as Michael Felsher conducts interviews with cast and crew who missed the boat during the 'Just Desserts' documentary. Gornick recalls his excitement at being chosen for the film, of the challenges posed by some tricky lighting and ambitious camera angles while Miller Ferrucci and Amplas chat about the effects and the real world and comic book world combinations. Comic book artist Bernie Wrightson also gets airtime, revealing he had three months to complete his part of the project, and how a phone call from Stephen King set him on the road. Felsher himself signs off by cataloguing the number of times he spots the famous ashtray during each story, and also invites eagle-eyed viewers to see if he's missed any.

Of course, no special edition would be complete without a deleted scenes section, and Creepshow realised some twelve minutes from all the stories. 'Father's Day' is the most significant beneficiary, and the background info on Bedelia and Nathan could possibly have made final cut. The Verrill segment includes a fantasy visit to the loans office and extended visitations from his father, while 'Tide' delivers additional dialogue and test footage of Harry's disembodied hand. 'The Crate' and 'Creeping' offer just a couple of additions, but nothing that suggests it should have been inserted into the finished product. 'Behind The Screams With Tom Savini' is an informative 26 minute account of some extraordinary make-up and effects work, with 'The Master' holding forth on the methods used to create some very effective sequences. Savini also features on 'Just Desserts', a 90 minute documentary that rounded up key participants from the movie, such as Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Harris and Tom Atkins who reveals he originally wanted the Verrill role. We also hear from composer John Harrison who provided a wonderfully atmospheric score to a film that originally contained library music. Cast and crew clearly had a ball shooting Creepshow (Savini labelled it "5 months of Halloween"), and we get to hear of Danson and Nielson's antics onset - do watch out for Ted's "Can we use your phone?" entrance! Of course, many of you will be familiar with this documentary from the UK 2 disc DVD release, but it does have real replay value, and of course superior image quality in this edition. TV spots, a trailer and photo gallery round off this release, and the high definition picture beautifully showcases the ingenious lighting and macabre effects creations. In terms of image quality, Second Sight's presentation is easily worth an upgrade from your DVD, and is released in the UK on 28th October - just in time for Halloween! This Blu-ray is Region B, and is part of a mouth-watering roster of titles coming soon from Second Sight, including Streets Of Fire, the wonderful Betty Blue and one of the gret American movies, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate.