Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Amityville Horror (Second Sight)

The events that allegedly took place at 112 Ocean Avenue have inspired several films, documentaries, books and many thousands of column inches.
What is beyond dispute is the house played host to bloody murder when Ronald Defeo Jr armed himself with a shotgun and killed five members of his family. Defeo was subsequently incarcerated and the house lay empty for a short while. Or did it?
The house was put on the market for the knockdown price of $80,000, prompting George and Katy Lutz to take the plunge.
Their stay lasted just 28 days, with the family fleeing on 14th January 1976, never to return.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder play George and Katy, recently wed with a trio of kids in tow from Kathy's previous marriage.
Before long, unexplained events occur, involving the family and a local priest who becomes convinced that dark forces are present in the house.
Director Stuart Rosenberg chose to ground some of his film on the Lutz's claims, and used poetic license to fuel the rest. The result was an enormous commercial success, giving audiences a scary ride through all manner of tried and trusted shenanigans.
The fun begins early on, when Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) arrives to bless the house and is plagued by an unseasonal swarm of flies and told top leave the house by a demonic voice.
The Lutz family soon experience terrifying manifestations, with George - apparently a 'dead ringer' for Defeo - undergoing frightening shifts in his personality, with several episodes suggesting possession by an unclean spirit.
Kathy and her children also encounter strange phenomena, including glowing eyes looking into an upstairs window and a most upsetting episode regarding a window sill that slams shut on tiny fingers all by itself.

While there are times when proceedings enter the realms of the absurd, Rosenberg mostly manages to keep things sensibly scary, aided by a deliciously eerie score from Lalo Schifrin and a cast that certainly entered into the spirit of things.
Did the Amityville house really play host to a demon, or was the whole thing a giant hoax?
112 Ocean Avenue was actually built on an old indian burial ground and if you believe in the dead returning to life, that fact may well convince you that the Lutz's stories were true.
Whatever, you'll surely wish to check out the supplementary material on Second Sight's Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray presentation here is crisp and detailed, leaving viewers with an impressive home viewing experience.
First off on the extras front is a commentary track from professor Hans Holzer; a parapsychologist who was one of the first people called to the house when the Lutz's left.
Hans talks about exorcisms, hypnosis, religion, draws on the history of the house which dates back to 1928, and the grounds it was built on.
He points out no-one in the house heard the shots as Lutz went about his rampage (nor did the neighbours) and discusses the case.
He also has some interesting theories on ghosts and demons. It's a thought-provoking track, though many will disagree with some of his ideas.

"Brolin Thunder" (16m 1s)
A new interview with James Brolin who recalls "Mutiny On The Bounty"; his 7 years with Fox and "Marcus Welby MD". Stuart Rosenberg, Margot Kidder and Lalo Schifrin also
crop up in the conversation.

"Child's Play" (16m 39s)
Meeno Peluce chats about his fellow child actors in the film, and remembers he'd just finished filming on "Don't Go Near The Park" when Amityville came up.
He displays mostly excellent recall about the shoot and do listen out for his Margot Kidder story!

"Amityville Scribe" 16m 27s)
This is an interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern, who recalls how and why he was hired to do a script re-write.
Sandor shares his thoughts on the film, and relates his own experiences with the supernatural.

"The Devil In The Music" (14m 5s)
Here, Lalo Schifrin goes through his early musical influences; recalls his work on such films as "Dirty Harry" and "Enter The Dragon" and chats about Amityville,
explaining he understood perfectly what the director wanted.

"My Amityville Horror" (85m 11s)
Directed by Eric Walter, this is an extraordinary view of the world inhabited by Daniel Lutz, whose siblings refused to take part in this documentary
Daniel stands by his account of what took place at the house as a psychologist, demonologist's Ed and Lorraine Warren and trusted reporter Laura Didio file in to contribute.
After watching this, I was no nearer arriving at a conclusion regarding the truth surrounding the Lutz's tenancy, but it is completely engrossing.
One of the stories that often crops up is that George Lutz collaborated with William Webber (Defeo's lawyer) to dream up a convincing hoax: an insanity plea for his client, and a cash-in for Lutz could have been their targets? While it's an undisputed fact that none of the subsequent tenants of 112 reported any manifestations, it seems likely to me that Lutz really does believe his own version of events. If he is lying, why did he wait decades to give his own version of events? Perhaps George and Kathy took the real truth to their graves?

"For God's Sake Get Out" (20m 41s)
This comprises of separate interviews with James Brolin and Margot Kidder who talk about how they first got into acting; about the publicity behind the film, and reveal their was some tension between the pair.

The extras are rounded off with a trailer (2m 30s); a TV spot (1m2s) and two radio spots (3m40s).
There's also a 1m 18s introduction to the film by Hans Holzer.
"The Amityville Horror" will be available to buy on 26th June. The legend surrounding this film shows no signs of going away, and this Blu-ray disc will delight those who have followed this story.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Blu-ray Review: Long Shot (BFI)

The BFI's 'Flipside' collection of films continues to mine the archives, enabling us to view hidden gems; some of them barely seen for several decades.
Maurice Hatton's "Long Shot" is one such film, shot in 1977 and thrust into the home video spotlight some 40 years later.
"Long Shot" is a film about filmmaking; not the arduous process of shooting and editing, but rather the wheeling and dealing that goes on to secure finance and a name director.

We're in Edinburgh, with the world's oldest film festival drawing a wonderful carnival of actors, directors and audiences to this historic city.
Charlie Gormley and Neville Smith are producer and scriptwriter for "Gulf and Western": a film about the Scottish oil industry, which they hope Sam Fuller will direct.
Fuller is expected to be in town for the premiere of Wim Wenders' "The American Friend", and Charlie is confident Fuller's recruitment will seal the deal with regard to the supremely difficult task of raising finance for his project.
It's a serious business to be sure, but "Long Shot" is peppered with sharp humour; much of it centered round guest appearances from the type of name director they are desperate to enlist.
Wim Wenders is one such name, hilariously approached as second choice in case the Fuller gig falls through, while John Boorman provides a wake-up call regarding the script.
Stephen Frears takes the biscuit in a lovely cameo, and Alan Bennet appears as Nev's doctor, facing an acute case of the loneliness of the scriptwriter.
Throw in Susannah York - a distinct possibility for an underwritten part - and you have a lively cast all relishing the game.
Yet more humour is delivered with improvised taxis ferrying the hapless producer from pillar to post, yet with the sobering thought that creative control ebbs away with each and every mile.
Does Fuller ever show up? You'll have to experience this film to find out, but this is a glorious slice of on-the-hoof filmmaking, displaying initiative and enterprise and a love of cinema every bit as prounced as the festival that serves as its backdrop.

The BFI Blu-ray presentation has been scanned in 2K resolution using the original 16mm negative.
Because this low budget film was shot with mainly expired film stock, the image and grain structure are very inconsistent but this is what was originally intended.
All in all, you can be sure this is how the film should look.

The extras begin with "Scene Nun, Take One" (25m 57s)
This 1964 quickie, directed by Maurice Hatton, sets Susannah York as an actress storming off set, and thoroughly enjoying her newfound freedom.
A bank heist and a fashion show are just two of her adventures as, kitted out in full nun regalia, York rally goes out on the lam, culminating in an impromptu dance with two buskers before a delighted audience. Great fun!

"Sean Connery's Edinburgh" (29m 13s)
Made in 1982, Connery's journey through Edinburgh begins in up-with-the-lark mode as early morning milk carts wake a city from its slumbers.
Here, Connery invokes the spirits of Robert Burns, Queen Mary, Alexandra Graham Bell and, of course, Ian Fleming.
The growth of Edinburgh's new town is recorded; golf inevitably rears its head (going back to a time when both golf and football were banned in the city) and the cultural significance of this historic town is lovingly showcased.

"Hurray For Hollyrood" (39m 49s)
This 1986 production makes for a great companion to the main feature, bringing in Neil Jordan, Bill Forsyth, Stephen Frears, Sam Fuller and also includes memories from former Edinburgh film fest directors, including Lynda Miles.
We learn how the festival began - primarily screening documentaries at first - and how it evolved into a truly prestigious event. There's also the lowdown on the infamous "Bloody Mama" controversy, and clips from former fest faves include "Two Men and a Wardrobe", "This Sporting Life" and the wonderful "That Sinking Feeling."

An informative booklet is included with this dual format release, covering the film and additional features, containing new writing from Bill Forsyth, Dylan Cave (BFI)
and Vic Pratt (BFI).
"Long Shot" will be released on 26th June. For me, it's this year's nicest surprise.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Arrow Video 2017)

Shot in 1969 and released the following year, Dario Argento's debut feature inspired filmmakers to don black gloves, sharpen their knives and enter the bloody arena of giallo cinema.
The late, great Mario Bava had already kicked things off almost a decade earlier with "The Girl Who Knew Too Much", but it was "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" that really kickstarted this movement.
Here, Tony Musante plays Sam Dalmas, an American writer who arrived in Rome 2 years earlier, in search of tranquility and inspiration.
After exhausting the sights of this wonderful city, Dalmas signs off a book on the preservation of rare birds - anticipating an important discovery later in the film - written purely for commercial gain, rather than a burning interest in the subject matter.
Dalmas is walking back to his apartment one night when he witnesses a beautiful woman who appears to be stabbed by a black clad figure inside an art allery.
Dalmas finds himself trapped between two glass doors, and when the police arrive, the assailant has taken flight, leaving the victim with a serious but not life-threatening wound.
Sam is interviewed by the police, who link this assault to a trio of slayings that have terrified the city's inhabitants and has his passport confiscated in the hope he will be of further assistance. After going through events several times, Sam is troubled by an incomplete vision of exactly what happened. Something doesn't quite make sense, and the question of what we see and what we think we see would become a recurring theme in Argento's cinema.

Although "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" was not well received at the start of its life, the film went on to garner acclaim from audiences and critics and is, I believe, top-tier Argento.
With a score from Ennio Morricone that sets the scene beautifully, weaving the upbeat with the eerie, and inspired camerawork by Vittorio Storaro, "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" offers a delicious twist-and-turn plot, several exciting set pieces and a cast reacting well to a screenplay that's both gripping and punctuated with humour.
Musante excels, leaving his mark as one of Argento's best leads, his performance unaffected by the various tensions that were present between actor and director.
Enrico Maria Salermo makes for an engaging police inspector; Eva Renzi and Suzy Kendall handle their duties with aplomb, and watch out for two contrasting quickies: a gripping sequence involving Reggie Nalder, and a memorable meeting with Gildo Di Marco's pimp who makes us laugh with his 'So Long' character.
It's a wholly entertaining ride, shocking in places and thought provoking always.
Those of you unfamiliar with Argento's work will find this an excellent starting point, while 'old timers' will once again relish this landmark film.

My first encounter with this film came via a Betamax videotape, released, I think, on the Stablecane label, and cost me the princely sum of £40.
Arrow Video's release unleashes a 4K restoration from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, that boasts exquisite detail.
The supplementary material begins with "Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis" (31m 54s).
This is an excellent video essay from film critic Kat Ellinger, who manages to pack in a wealth of material. Kat explores Frederic Brown's novel "The Screaming Mimi", offering a detailed breakdown of book vs film, and covers the 1958 film "The Screaming Mimi" starring Anita Ekberg.
Impotency and gender are also covered in an enlightening essay that's beautifully delivered.

"The Power of Perception" (20m 57s)
This features the thoughts of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who reflects on the role of art and the theme of perception in Argento's films.
"Four Flies On Grey Velvet", "Tenebrae" and "Phenomena" - a key example of heightened perception - are just a few of the films covered, together with "The Stendhal Syndrome" which Alexandra labels his last great film. Once again, it's a stimulating essay, underlining the many comlex themes at paly in Argento's work.

"Crystal Nightmare" (31m 24s)
This is a new interview with Dario Argento, shot in 2017.
Dario talks about how Plumage was written after a trip to Tunisia, and explains why he was almost fired during the shoot.
We get plenty of background info regarding the making of this film, including the lowdown on the director's experiences with Tony Musante, together with memories of working with Morricone, Storaro and Reggie Nalder. We also learn about which city held the key to Argento's future career. Fans will enjoy this recent interview with the great man.

"An Argento icon" (22m 5s)
Here, actor Gildo Di Marco recalls his role of 'So Long' (Garullo, the pimp), explaining how he got into acting and of Argento's way of working with actors.
We are also privy to his memories of Musante and Storaro and his amazement that people ask him for interviews.
It's a joy to witness this humble man discuss his own involvement in a film that still delights almost 5 decades on.

"Eva's Talking" (11m 19s)
This is an interview with Eva Renzi, recorded in 2005. Eva talks about her career (including "Funeral In Berlin"); Klaus Kinski and Tony Musante also crop up in conversation and she's not shy on holding forth about what she really feels about Plumage and the effect she thinks it had on her career.

Last, but by no means least, we have an audio commentary track from author Troy Howorth.
Troy delves into Argento's background; enthuses over Musante's performance; talks about "The Screaming Mimi " book; Krimi films; how "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage evolved and still finds time to cover Reggie Nalder's involvement (who apparently passed on a role in one of Argento's most famous films) and Argento's fallout with Morricone.
It's an excellent commentary, beautifully delivered with a fair amount of humorous asides that reflect the playful moments in the film.
Arrow also includes a trio of trailers: Italian (3m 11s), International (2m 48s) and Texas Frightmare 2017 (55s).

The final extra comes in the form of a 60-page booklet (which I haven't seen), illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook.
This is a compulsory purchase for Argento buffs, and highly recommended for newbies curious to see what all the fuss is about.
"The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" will be released on 26th June