Monthly Archives: May 2020

Train In Vain… SNOWPIERCER Reviewed.

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BD. Region B. Lionsgate. 15.

Now here’s a queer thing… I’m posting a preview of a film that makes its UK disc debut tomorrow but right around the time I post it, you’ll be able to watch Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer on Film4. Released to wide indifference in 2013, this one has, of course, been given a new lease of life by the phenomenal international success, in 2019, of Bong’s Parasite, just as artist Jean-Marc Rohette and writers Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand’s graphic novel saga Le Transperceneige was rescued from obscurity after the director discovered bootleg Korean editions and brought it to the silver screen as Snowpiercer. The film has been shunted into the sidings for so long that its re-emergence coincides with a new Netflix serialisation starring Jennifer Connelly, bumped up in their schedule due to the spike in demand for new TV product amid Covid confinement, which itself adds another layer of topicality to its oppressively trainbound narrative.

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Before we proceed, let’s get the gratuitous Jennifer Connelly shot done and dusted.

The remarkable thing is that Snowpiercer needed any such helping hand. This is a truly monumental slab of epic Cinema which addresses the same themes as Parasite with a similarly acute satirical eye but over a significantly larger and more expensive canvas. Nobody involved in the production puts a noticeable foot wrong but special mentions must go to DP Hong Kyung Pyo, the production design of Ondrej Nekvasil, Stefan Kovacik’s art direction, set decorator Beata Brendtnerovà and Catherine George’s costume designs. His imagination unfettered by budgets, it’s easier (and a whole lot cheaper) for a comic book artist to create such an impressive alternative reality but under Bong’s assured hand, his team match anything that Rohette has come up with. I keep thinking of Brazil (1985), no doubt nudge-nudged in that direction by the naming of John Hurt’s “revolutionary philosopher” character as “Gilliam”.

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At some point in our not too distant future, world governments finally agree on a serious stab at sorting out global warming but bungle it so badly that the Earth is plunged into an Ice Age that no living being can survive. “Luckily”, the Elon Muskesque Wilford (Ed Harris), foreseeing exactly such an outcome (or was he in some way implicated in it?) has devised a futuristic train that circles the frozen globe perpetually, sustained by the water converted from the snow it ploughs through but also by the ruthless exploitation of the plebs confined to its rear carriages, while the elite live out their first class lives in luxury and dissolution, protected from the great unwashed by elaborate security systems and battalions of thuggish guards. Mind the gap…

John Hurt, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in Snowpiercer (Lionsgate UK)

Inspired by Gilliam and attempting to exorcise his own personal demons, Curtis (Chris Evans) leads his pissed off people on an epic battle through the train, traversing a succession of carriages with their own distinct social stratification and associated Hogarthian vignettes, gradually accepting the mantel of leadership as the bodies pile up all around him… and finally the much anticipated meeting with the superficially charming but self-evidently amoral and monstrous Wilford. Think Willard and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now… Tyrell and Batty in Blade Runner. When Curtis is offered control of the engine room, will he succumb to temptation or stay true to his revolutionary principles?

Chris Evans in Snowpiercer (Lionsgate UK)

Like Boon’s crew, his multi-racial cast are uniformly excellent. By this point Hurt just had to stagger on to a screen looking ruffled and he had your undivided attention, but special mention must be made of Tilda Swinson’s astonishing turn as the loathsome Mason. Swinson’s is a personality I’ve never particularly, er, warmed to (and her participation in that bloody Suspiria remake did nothing to break the ice with me) but credit where it’s due, this is a remarkable performance.

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A double bill of Snowpiercer and Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan (2016) would go a long way towards alleviating the ennui of your next Lockdown evening. Described as a “visionary director” in the film’s publicity blurb, Bong is the biggest Far Eastern talent to cross over since John Woo and I’m genuinely excited to ponder what might be in the pipeline from him. Let’s hope he can thrive without recourse to some of the artistic compromises that were forced upon his illustrious predecessor.

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Extras comprise a handful of short teasers and the hour long Transperceniege: From The Blank Page To The Blank Screen, following creators Rohette et Legrande as they witness their neglected baby’s cinematic baptism / transformation.

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Robert Ginty On The Rocks… WHITE FIRE Reviewed.

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Don’t get Ginty’s goat!

BD. Region Free. Arrow. 18.

“C” grade Action Star seeks 2,000 carat diamond…

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Hold on to your hats, ’cause this is a wild one… White Fire kicks off with a man (played by director Jean-Marie Pallardy) and woman being killed in a forest (we never find out exactly why) by paramilitary types, their two children rescued and adopted by a guy (Jess Hahn) in a dodgy pullover. Fast forward 20 years and the kids have grown into Ingrid (Belinda Mayne) and Boris ‘Bo’ Donnelly (Robert Ginty). She works at a diamond mine outside of Istanbul which is run like a prison camp by an oaf named Olaf (Gordon Mitchell), who summarily executes any sticky-fingered employees. Ingrid still manages to smuggle out plenty of gems for Bo to fence to interested parties. A criminal trollop named Sophia (Mirella Banti) and her gang are trying to muscle in on the Donnelly’s action (cue some rather lively fight scenes) and things are further complicated by the discovery of the legendary White Ice, a beautiful but radioactive diamond. In the ensuing kerfuffle, Ingrid is killed (with a blow pipe dart) during a bungled kidnap attempt. Bo picks up Olga (Diana Goodman) during a bar room punch-up. She bares a vague resemblance to Ingrid, so Bo persuades her to undergo plastic surgery to complete the illusion, in order that she may enter the diamond mine and help him half-inch that hot ice. About an hour into the proceedings, Pallardy wheels on Noah Barclay (Fred Williamson) and his own gang of desperadoes as further contenders for that diamond… why deny Fred his chance to beat the kitchen sink into this already overcrowded narrative?

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Admirers of well-proportioned narrative and thespian finesse are probably best advised to steer clear of White Fire but you should be sprinting rather than running to pick up a copy if your tastes run to brainless action, ludicrous dialogue, inept dubbing, gratuitous tit’n’ ass, ’80s fashion crimes (Gordon Mitchell is probably in his bloody eighties and should never been allowed anywhere near that red jump suit, below) and random outbreaks of violence involving aikido, flame throwers, bandsaw castrations, dynamite tossing and chainsaw duelling (the sound you’re currently hearing is that of James Ferman rotating in his grave at high velocity). Action fans certainly won’t consider themselves short changed by White Fire, though I reckon its running time could comfortably have been reduced by about 20 minutes.

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If the aforementioned weren’t sufficiently outrageous for you, it’s worth pointing out that all of this sound and fury is arguably intended to divert your attention from the spectre of incest (I know, White Fire is the second Arrow release in succession where I’ve had cause to raise this taboo subject!) Bo seems very fond of his sister, punching out anybody who talks disrespectfully of her and shamelessly ogling her after ripping her towel off when she gets out of the shower. “Don’t look at me like that” she protests (a little half-heartedly), to which Bo responds: “You know, it’s a pity you’re my sister!” (?!?) You get the impression that he would soon have consummated his illicit lust, had the bad guys not bumped off Ingrid. At least he drew the line at necrophilia but subsequent scenes in which he grapples amorously with a character who’s been surgically transformed into his sister’s double (and is now played by the same actress) are pretty stomach churning.

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If this is one of his mainstream efforts, Christ only knows what stuff went on in Pallardy’s earlier skin-flicks (I’m told that he made one called Erotic Confessions Of A Lumberjack, though that sounds just too good to be true). The director, a former male model, comes across in his bonus interview as a kind of low(er) rent Jess Franco and certainly share’s Franco’s eye for free, more bang for your buck locations. He talks about how the diverse cast was assembled to attract financing from various territories and it’s interesting to learn that his “human torch” stunt in the film’s prologue was every bit as misfiring and life threatening as it looks. Other bonus materials include interviews with Williamson (expounding the familiar Gospel about Fred according to Fred) and editor Bruno Zincone. The first pressing only comes with an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Julian Grainger.

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In Kat Ellinger’s commentary she takes issue with the whole concept of “so bad it’s good” Cinema, putting herself on a collision course with Williamson, who describes White Fire as “a bad film that’s good”. Careful Kat, you might be the fastest wordslinger in the West but in a no holds barred, dynamite tossing “jeet kune do with explosive arrow heads” showdown between you and The Hammer, there could be only one winner…

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Credited as this film’s music supervisor we find no less eminent a personage than Deep Purple’s Jon Lord (ask your grandad), though the late Hammond-meister’s supervision seems to have extended no further than mounting the eponymous theme song on a loop… and White Fire is (cough, cough) no Burn (could have gone for Smoke On The Water but hey, way too easy!)

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Virgin On The Ridiculous… BLOOD TIDE Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Arrow. 15.

Arrow’s ongoing quest to bring you every possible Nico (Island Of Death) Mastorakis-related movie they can lay their hands on gathers pace with this 1982 effort, which Nico co-wrote (with its director Richard Jefferies) and produced.

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A doomed virgin models seaweed earrings. Yesterday.

Neil Grice (Martin Kove, just before he became a fixture in the Karate Kid franchise) and his new bride Sherry (Mary Louise Weller) sail to a remote Greek island in search of Neil’s sister Madeline, who’s been mysteriously incommunicado. They experience little trouble finding her (in the luscious shape of Deborah Shelton) but can’t persuade her to leave with them because she’s become obsessed with local mythology about the sacrificing of virgins to placate a fearsome sea monster. Neil and Sherry investigate various mysterious goings on, in the process incurring the wrath of the town elders, principally José Ferrer, who takes great exception to outsiders meddling in the Islanders’ ancient customs. There’s also a chapter of creepy nuns (presided over by Lila Kedrova) which made me wonder if Blood Tide had been an influence on the conception of Mariano Baino’s  Dark Waters (1993) though that film’s co-writer / associate producer Andy Bark assures me that this was not the case.

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Is Shelton being prepared as a human sacrifice? More pointedly, are we honestly expected to accept that a woman who’s so alluring that Craig Wasson felt compelled to fish her discarded panties out of a bin (in Brian De Palma’s Body Double just two years later) is a virgin? Yes, I know it’s theoretically possible but she’s hardly the most obvious casting choice. Such considerations are soon rendered academic anyway, as James Earl Jones’s Frye (a bang on portrayal of somebody who thinks he’s “a bit of a character” but whom everybody else regards as a total dick) dynamites the island’s undersea caverns in search of some obscure treasure and ends up releasing that sea monster. To say it doesn’t quite measure up to the Kraken from Clash Of The Titles would be a significant understatement, nevertheless it starts noshing its way through the local population, virgo intacto or otherwise.

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Ooh, scary!

Jefferies keeps this preposterous “Wicker Man with a side order of moussaka” concoction bubbling along engagingly enough (until the appearance of that risible monster) and it’s beautifully shot by Aris Stavrou (though the undersea cavern scenes, inevitably, look a bit grainy in this 4K restoration from the original camera negative). There’s a bonus interview with the indomnitable Mastorakis, conducted by one Ari Gerontakis. Although the latter is billed as an “actor / voice over genius”, this feaurette is directed by Mastorakis himself so you just know this isn’t going to be some kind of Paxman-style grilling. Instead, our man talks up his friendship with John Carpenter and his clashes with the late Don Simpson at Paramount. Just when you think he’s going to skirt around the subject of his notorious “video nasty” Island Of Death, he remembers it as his attempt to “out-Texas Chain Saw Massacre the Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. You also get a new audio commentary from director Jefferies, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and (in the first pressing only) a collector’s booklet featuring a new appraisal of the film by Mike Gingold.

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OK, I accept that Shelton’s character could be a virgin. But I’m still troubled by the er, over enthusiastic kissing between her and her brother after he’s rescued her from that monster. What the fuck was that all about? Shelton also sings (pleasantly enough) over the closing credits. Cor, what a gal!

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Such a pretty present for a Christmas cracker Kraken…

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Blow & Arrows… Psychedelic Stone Age Sword & Sorcery In Lucio Fulci’s Completely Crackers CONQUEST.

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DVD. Region Free. Anchor Bay. Unrated.

A long time ago (or some time in the future), in a galaxy far, far removed from any traditional notion of narrative coherence…

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As anecdotes of decadent rock star lubriciousness go, there are few fruitier than the one involving Marianne Faithful and a fast-melting Mars bar, though for me even that is topped by the rumour that at the height of Fleetwood Mac mania, Stevie Nicks retained the services of an assistant whose sole duty comprised blowing cocaine through a straw and up her bum (imagine the feverish response, down at your local DWP premises, to the news that Stevie Nicks was handing out blow jobs!)

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“Break out that tit tape Pablo, it’s the new Lucio Fulci film!”

Both ladies have wearily denied said stories and I bet if you asked Ocron  (as portrayed in the film under consideration here by Sabrina Siani) whether she deployed members of her werewolf entourage to blow cocaine through her metal mask and up her nose she’d deny that too, though irrefutable evidence to the contrary is clear for all to see in lucio fulci‘s completely crackers Conquest (1983), where we also find her sucking the brains out of severed heads (“I shall open his temple of secrets”), writhing around ecstatically while wrapped up in her pet python and ordering her minions (those werewolves, augmented by a troupe of Village People rejects) to seek out and destroy the heroic Ilias (the New York Ripper himself, Andrea Occhipinti) who’s on some ill defined quest to clean up her mystical realm.

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Flushed by an Indian summer of career success after his ultra-violent horror / giallo collaborations with Fabrizio De Angelis but irked by the latter’s increasingly parsimonious production style, Fulci jumped at a two picture deal being waved by Giovanni Di Clemente, the fruits of which where this picture (co-written by Clemente) and (hardly a novel experience for Fulci) another contractual dispute.

16665350_10211026433731202_7271214655543610993_oConquest is an object lesson in how “high concept” drove spaghetti exploitation films of this period and how those concepts themselves were ransacked from whatever movies had recently done well at Italian box offices. John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian (1982) had been a predictable success, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire (1981) a rather less predictable one. Conan… Quest… put ’em together (follow me closely here) and what have you got? Conquest! But what about a story to live up to this toweringly high concept? Well, the film is an Italo-Spanish-Mexican co-production and one could be forgiven for thinking that maybe Fulci, Di Clemente and the other writers chewed a few peyote buttons (second review in a row where I’ve mentioned mescaline) while dreaming up its narrative. God only knows what DP Alejandro Ulloa (who had already lit Perversion Story and on whom Fulci would call again for The Devil’s Honey) was on when he came up with the look of Conquest, i.e. washed out colours viewed through a haze of smoke and a lens liberally daubed in vaseline. Claudio Simonetti’s Techno OST only compounds the confusion of the bewildered audient.

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Sorry, where were we? Trying to capture the elusive storyline of Conquest? Well, Ilias is dispatched from the primordial arse end of nowhere on his equally elusive mission by tribal elders who equip him with a magic bow (which seems to shoot sun rays) and pack him off to the opposite arse cheek of this smoky, vaselined dimension, where he hooks up with the extravagantly muscled Mace (Jorge Rivero), who’s built like a brick shithouse, is an early adopter of animal rights consciousness (Conan the Vegetarian?), boasts an Eibon tattoo on his craggy forehead and is a dab hand with stone age nunchuks… good job really, because Occhipinti’s Ilias is a bit of a weed in comparison (I’m lovin’ that heavy Bronx accent, though).

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Together they take on those coke-snorting werewolves and their fetish clad mates, mummies, jelly tot like zombies (Fulci hedging his bets, there) who crucify Mace and throw him off a cliff into the sea (don’t worry, he’s rescued by friendly dolphins)… Mace even gets into a nunchuk duel with an evil version of herself, who turns out to be the dreaded Zora (Conrado San Martin), some kind of demon dude in a terracotta warrior outfit who’s been summoned up by Ocron. She also broils her underachieving werewolf lieutenant and other random “highlights” include cave chicks being ripped limb from limb and some of the most nauseating “weeping bubo” make ups in screen history. Much of this was excised by those killjoys at the BBFC for Conquest’s video releases on the Apex and Merlin labels, but this Anchor Bay edition is completely unexpurgated. You have been warned. A closing caption advises us that “any reference to persons of events is purely coincidental”. Yeah, no foolin’…

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Considered a disappointment on its release – when none us could have guessed just how bad things were going to get for Fulci – Conquest now looks like one of his last consistently entertaining films. It’s a crowded field, but in the competition for loopy Lucio’s most breath-takingly bonkers offering, I’ve got this one dead heating with A Cat In The Brain. What’s not to like?

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Sucking The Juice Out Of A Clockwork Orange… Coralie Fargeat’s REVENGE Reviewed.

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BD. Region B. Second Sight. 18.

“If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil.” A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

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When is a rape / revenge flick not a rape / revenge flick? When you remove the “rape” part of the transaction from the film’s title? Director Coralie Fargeat says she had something more like Rambo than Last House On The Left in mind when she conceived Revenge and the film is undoubtedly, unashamedly slick, looking like nothing so much as a near two hour glossy TV commercial. Is such a presentation of this subject matter more or less reprehensible (if either are) than the traditional, fly-on-the-wall rawness of Wes Craven’s “video nasty” and its many imitators? That’s just one of the tricky questions posed by Revenge. Fargeat has cracked open a right old can of worms here, stuffed a bomb inside and hurled it into a minefield where critics (especially those with the temerity to have been born with “male privilege”) can only tip-toe with trepidation. Wish me luck…

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Richard (Kevin Janssens), some kind of big deal hotshot in business or politics (what’s the diff?) and a crashing macho boor, has planned a hunting mini-break at his designer desert getaway but before his equally tedious hunting buddies turn up, he helicopters in his trophy mistress Jen (that’s not Jennifer Hills, is it?), for another kind of foraging around in the bush. Played by (deep breath) Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Jen is presented to us as a walking wank doll in Lolita shades, Claire’s Accessories earrings, flimsy top and cut-off shorts. She sucks vacantly on a lollipop for which, as soon as they’ve landed, she substitutes Richards’s gobstopper. In the unlikely event that they’ll come up short with ways to amuse themselves, the chopper pilot thoughtfully gifts them a packet of peyote before flying out.

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Madonna and Whore?

When Kevin’s hunting buddies Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) turn up early they enjoy the show too and as the party heats up, Jen treats Stan to an upfront and very personal private dance. Next day, while Kevin’s away attending to some macho business or other, Stan propositions Jen and on being turned down, casually rapes her. Dimitri turns up the motor racing on TV so Jen’s cries of pain and protest won’t disturb his holiday. When Richard returns, he’s not best pleased. He offers to make it up to Jen by pulling a few strings to further her career prospects (it’s vaguely hinted that she’s some kind of modelling / acting wannabe) but she insists on legal redress. Contemplating the damage that this would do to his career and marriage (we only hear Richard’s wife on the phone, so this actress literally phones her role in… a piece of cake for Barbara Gateau), he coolly pushes Jen off a cliff  and the boys leave her impaled on a gnarly tree to go and do their day’s hunting. They’ll clean up the inconvenient mess later. Which turns out to be a major miscalculation…

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While they’re out slaughtering animals, Jennifer frees herself from that tree (and the ants that were trying to eat her) by setting fire to it with a cigarette lighter then crawls into a cave to pull the branch out of her midriff, against the pain of which she numbs herself by munching down on that mescaline… hm, not sure about this, but just in case you missed the spiritual symbolism of Jen’s crucifixion and resurrection, things take a turn for the Carlos Castaneda here as she acquires an eagle spirit guide, which ties in nicely with the avian tattoo she gets on her belly after cauterising her wound with an unravelled Mexican beer can that she held in the fire. On the downside she suffers a nightmare within a nightmare within a nightmare that significantly ups the ante on a comparable sequence in An American Werewolf In London (1981). Whatever, these spirit guides sure don’t fuck about because Jen is rapidly transformed from (critically injured) bubble headed Barbie to avenging Amazon, mysteriously less blonde and more versed than was previously the case in firearms and survivalist techniques. Stan and Dimitri each track her down, only for the Miraculous metaphor of the hunter being captured by the game to be manifested as brutal reality.

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After they’ve had their just desserts served up out in the desert, all that remains is the final showdown between Jen and Richard (who ludicrously attempts to charm her into forgiveness). After that’s been satisfactorily concluded Jen, standing tall like the warrior she now is as she awaits the incoming helicopter, turns and fixes us with newly wise eyes. You can almost hear Fargeat shouting: “Look! I’m usurping The Male Gaze, here! Get it?” “Fancy raping me now, huh?”, Jen seems to be asking. Privileged as I am, I seem to find myself replying: “I had no desire to rape you in the first place”.

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Fargeat claims during the supplementary materials on this limited edition set that she had difficulties raising finance for Revenge, with the implication that the French industry which has bequeathed us the confrontational likes of Baise-Moi (2000), Irreversible (2002) Haute Tension aka Switchbade Romance (2003), Inside and Frontiers (both 2007), Martyrs (2008) and most recently Raw (2016) found Revenge just too hot a pomme de terre to handle. I suspect such difficulties had more to do with the relative expense and risk of staging such a gorgeous looking, hi-tech piece as this (and before I get into my philosophical and ethical differences with Ms Fargeat, let’s give the debutant feature director fulsome credit for that) relative to e.g. Baise-Moi, which looks like it could have been shot on somebody’s phone.

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At the risk of repeating myself, Revenge is an incredible looking film (props to DP Robrecht Heyvaert and production designer Amin Rharda, too), its lush imagery punchily edited by the director and her collaborators. Robin Coudert (Rob) kicks in a killer, Carpenteresque score and the cast are uniformly committed to their roles. This is an adrenalised thrill ride and a hugely enjoyable one, but Faregeat’s aspirations for it to amount to any more than that, to be some sort of profound statement, are sabotaged by her own script, which is both eminently predictable and philosophically questionable. Revenge is comparable to Rambo (Deliverance also springs to mind), but no less to those grittier rape / revenge dramas by the likes of Wes Craven and Meir Zarhi and perhaps more pointedly, to any amount of Most Dangerous Game / Hounds Of Zaroff adaptations (yay, even unto Jess Franco’s The Perverse Countess, 1974) in terms of its alleged intellectual sophistication.

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At the heart of Revenge is Fargeat’s Big Idea (though it’s hardly a new one, having become a long running trope in drippy Liberal circles), an idea to which Lutz, as she  reveals during their bonus joint interview, initially objected. The actress questioned why her character felt the need to pour herself all over Stan… and didn’t this undercut the validity of her sacred revenge quest? No, argued the director… the whole point is that a woman has the right to be as sexually provocative as she wants in any circumstances and never suffer any adverse consequences from it. Well, in a fallen world your rights rarely coincide with what life doles out to you and as well as Lutz, I’m sure Jen’s Mom would have advised her, before she took a ride on repulsive Richard’s chopper, that it wasn’t the greatest idea to sexually stimulate a bunch of high testosterone / low IQ scumwads in a remote location… while holding their class A drugs, to boot. And no doubt Jen’s Mom would have derived scant consolation for what happened from some right on nitwit telling her that it shouldn’t have happened. Neither Lutz nor Jen’s notional Mom could reasonably be dismissed as patronising, paternalistic mansplainers, though doubtless I will be.

So. “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

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Special features include the aforementioned chat with Fargeat and Lutz, also interviews with Guillaume Bouchede, Cinematographer Heyvaert and OST guy “Rob”. There’s an audio commentary with Kat Ellinger (it would probably save me a lot of ink or pixels or whatever when reviewing these things to point out the discs that don’t feature Kat’s thoughts). The limited edition boasts a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Adam Stothard, new poster art and a soft cover book with original writing by Mary Beth McAndrews and Elena Lazic.

And now, the House Of Freudstein guide on how to subvert The Male Gaze in two easy steps…

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The Decline Of Western Civilisation, Part IV… WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Signature Entertainment. 15.

Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come, when you do call for them? Henry IV, Part 1: Act 3 by William Shakespeare.

“Summon demons? I have a hard enough time summoning myself out of fucking bed every morning!” Ozzy Osbourne.

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The coronavirus lockdown has had minimal effect on life here at Oak Mansion, given that we hardly ever go out anyway. Here’s another reason to be grateful for the fact that I haven’t been invited to any wild parties since some time during the middle of the last Century, in the shape of Marc Meyers’ We Summon The Darkness (2019).

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A trio of Little Mix lookalike rock sluts (Alessandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth) drive around Hicksville USA (actually Winnipeg in Canada) en route to a “Soldiers For Satan” gig in the late 1990s, which means that mobile phones can’t necessarily be relied upon to rescue them from any kind of jam they night get into. Cute girls have been getting into trouble going to shock rock gigs ever since Phyllis and Mari’s ill advised trip to see Bloodlust in 1972 but this trio seem oblivious to the mounting radio and TV reports of recent ritual slayings (“a Satanic cult burning its way through America’s heartland” according to media evangelist Johnny Knoxville). They even ignore the warnings of the “Crazy Ralph” type guy in the convenience store (below), who tells them that they “seem like nice girls”. Yeah, whatever…

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At the gig, the girls are picked up by a seemingly amiable bunch of Beavis & Butthead types (Keean Johnson, Logan Miller and Austin Swift) and everybody adjourns back to Daddario’s parents’ place for a bit of alcohol and drug-enhanced hows-your-father (“… a night that we’re going to remember for years!”) The big twisteroo kicks in at about the half hour mark, though if you’d been paying sufficient attention to the clues accumulating in the film’s dialogue, you probably saw it coming. The revelation of the bad guys’ motives scores a satirical point or two while making nary a lick of narrative sense. Alan Trezza’s screenplay oscillates uneasily between Horror and Comedy but Meyers keeps the improbable action rolling along engagingly enough. It’s beautifully shot by Tarin Anderson (whose work would look even better on BD release, though there’s no sign of that) and the leads are sufficiently photogenic to hold your attention.

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Daddario just has to unleash those big peepers and… well, “the dreams of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime”, to quote the lyrics of an obscure Pink Floyd track. I’m always quoting the lyrics of obscure Prog Rock tracks, a personality trait that’s probably not entirely unconnected with the fact that I don’t get invited to parties anymore. It would be a fine thing indeed to reconnect with the lithe limbed, loose livin’ lovelies of one’s youth… but will they come, when we do call for them? Nah, didn’t think so…

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Extras: None that I’m currently aware of. But you might find the following instructive…

 

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The Case Of The Bloody Irises… THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES Reviewed.

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BD. Second Sight (appropriately enough). Region B. PG.

There are certain films, youthful viewings of which leave you indelibly marked for life. In my personal experience these have tended to be films with crushing climaxes. There was Psycho… Peeping Tom… Onibaba… and Roger Corman’s The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (1963) fits no less (un)comfortably into that slot (or should I say socket?) The most unforgettable evening I ever spent with this film (I’m not convinced it was even the first time I saw it) was during a visit I paid to my sister in Durham in the mid ’70s. I attended the Miners’ Gala, took in a couple of rousing addresses from Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner, then downed a couple of pints and what turned out to be a dodgy pie. Later that evening the queasy physicality (and even more disturbing metaphysicality) of Corman’s film, screened on the BBC, was exacerbated by a vigorous vomiting session. Nearly half a Century later I’ve forgiven Corman enough to welcome this stonking UK BD debut of arguably his finest cinematic hour and a half… I’d still like to have a word with whoever baked that bloody pie, though!

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“If you could have one super power…” has been the opening gambit in many aimless and often alcohol oiled conversations between adolescents of all ages. Well, my own preference is easily deducible (time travel, so I could have that word with the pie man) but for many an over-excitable young fellow, the traditional answer has been “X-ray vision!”  Take a cold shower then viddy well, little brother and you might have cause to reconsider…

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Dr James Xavier (Ray Milland) is an idealistic research scientist, frustrated (aren’t they always?) by the limitations of human understanding. He’s working on a solution that, when applied to the eye, will allow it pierce superficial surfaces and perceive what’s going on beneath. The potential benefits for e.g. surgical procedure are easy enough to see, but Xavier’s friend Dr Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone, below) warns him that certain things are best left to the Gods. Xavier’s hubristic response (“I’m closing in on the Gods!”) illustrates just how close he is to the thin line separating idealistic scientists from mad scientists.

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TMWTXRE was made in the midst of Corman’s Poe period and in the same year as he directed The Haunted Palace, often cited as a Poe adaptation but actually based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. There’s definitely something Lovecraftian about the scene in which Jimbo tries to impress his sexy colleague Dr Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis, above) by administering his solution to the eyes of a lab monkey, which becomes terrified – fixated on something – before dropping dead. “What did it see?” agonises Dr Di (a question answered with overly literal banality, albeit to riotously entertaining effect, in Stuart Gordon’s 1986 Lovecraft adaptation, From Beyond).

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Undeterred, Dr Xavier throws caution (not to mention scientific methodology) to the wind, soaking his eyes in the stuff. The fringe benefits soon become obvious, as Diane takes him to a hep drinks party and he gets to see more of the groovy twisters and swingers than he’d probably bargained for. Elsewhere, he saves a little girl’s life by hijacking her operation but the surgeon he supplanted huffily pulls rank and gets him suspended.

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Dr Brant tries to reason with the increasingly agitated Xavier, then to sedate him, only to be accidentally (and hilariously) defenestrated. On the lam, our hero is drawn into sideshow hucksterism (where he really pisses of Corman staple player Dick Miller) then a phoney healing racket by Carney barker Crane (Don Rickles). When Diane tracks him down he quits and accompanies her to Las Vegas, with the intention of making money on the slots and tables (why did it take him so long to think of this?) He’s so successful that the casino management challenge him, ripping off his dark glasses to reveal eyes now resembling puss-encrusted piss holes.

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Again Xavier bolts, crashing his car fortuitously close to a bible-bashing revivalist tent show. He tells the redneck preacher that he can see God… more significantly, God is looking back at him and Xavier is withering under the Divine gaze. Advised by the pastor to pluck out the eyes that offend him, our man obliges and his cautionary tale ends on a freeze frame of his screaming face and gory, empty eye sockets…

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“Loads of laughs and fun at parties!”

… or does it? It was in his genre survey Danse Macabre (1981) that Stephen King floated the notion that this film originally ended with Milland screaming: “I can still see!?!”, a line subsequently excised on the grounds that it was just too damn horrible. Various contributors to the extras on this impressive set have differing takes on whether that ever actually happened and not even Corman’s own accounts of this are consistent. The film’s “real” title (it’s rendered as simply “X” on the credits here) remains similarly elusive.

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Other bonus materials include a prologue that has always been an integral part of the picture in my previous viewings of it. This cut starts instead with a long static shot of an eyeball, which seems to puzzle even Corman on his informative commentary track. Elsewhere on that he relates how he first conceived this one as a story about the periods of recreational drug use by a jazz musician and concedes that in many ways it’s a dry run for his The Trip (1967). Although Corman first experimented with LSD while researching the latter, I would contend that TMWTXRE is in many ways a truer “acid movie” than its more literal minded successor. Corman closes his commentary with the arch observation “Classical Greek drama on the cheap!” as Ray Milland extracts his aching orbs. Great stuff. You also have the option of an alternative talk track from Tim Lucas, who’s characteristically on top of his brief (e.g. refuting the received wisdom that this is Don Rickles’ feature debut).

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Still not seen enough? There’s a featurette with the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger (somebody else who seems to have seen everything) in which she connects the film to traditions of American Gothic and Romanticism… Joe Dante delivers his appraisal… a trailer and even a commentary on the trailer from Mick Garris. The limited edition boasts a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys, reversible poster with new and original artwork and a soft cover book (which I haven’t set eyes on) with new writing by Allan Bryce and Jon Towlson). Oh, and of course there’s a new interview with Corman, who turned 94 about a month ago and still insists that he he wants to remake The Man With The X-Ray Eyes to take advantage of today’s improved FX technologies (personally I find the whole “Spectrama” thing a cherishable cheesey chuckle) and more relaxed attitudes towards onscreen nudity. But really, why bother? The original is a certified cracker with a splendid central performance from Milland (who never plays down to the material and later cited TMWTXRE as his strongest screen outing alongside the one that won him the Oscar for The Lost Weekend in 1945)… and why haven’t I mentioned Les Baxter’s emotive “eerie” score already? This is a pulp cinema treatment of profound themes…. what more could you possibly aspire to?  If The Man With The X-Ray Eyes teaches us anything, it’s that hubris isn’t the greatest idea…

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A Lot Like Lucifer… CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Anchor Bay. 15.

On April 5th, Roger Willian Corman turned 94. He’s still producing films, though at nothing like the intimidating rate at which he used to churn ’em out. I won’t bore you with his stats, which are anyway quite difficult to take in and comprehend. If you know anything about Corman, it’s that he’s been prolific… that his films are intended to entertain and usually do… that they’re all made on improbably low budgets… and that over the years they’ve provided the breaks for an equally improbable number of people who went on to become Hollywood Royalty. As George Hickenlooper observes in  Alex Stapleton’s 2011 documentary, “You couldn’t imagine The New Hollywood without Roger Corman”. Among the alumni of “Corman University” who appear here to pay tribute and offer thanks are Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda, Jonathan Demme, Bruce Dern, Pam Grier, William Shatner, David Carradine, Irvin Kershner and Gale Ann Hurd. Perhaps Messrs Stallone and Coppola weren’t asked to participate. Perhaps they were and declined. It’s their loss. Admirers such as Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth have their say. You can bet Dick Miller does, too.

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The documentary’s opening places us in ringside seats for the shooting of 2010’s Dinoshark, before rewinding more than 50 years to an earlier, less agreeable nautical encounter, a two year stint in the Navy (“the worst two years in my life”), which convinced the young Corman that he didn’t like being told what to do. Nor did he care very much for what director Nathan Juran did with the first script he managed to sell in 1953 (The House In The Sea, filmed by Juran as Highway Dragnet the following year). In response, our Rog produced Wyott Ordung’s Monster From The Ocean Floor (1954) himself, likewise the same year’s The Fast And The Furious (directed by John Ireland and Edward Sampson). The latter involved Corman with the fledgling American International Pictures and he took on the direction of the western Five Guns West in 1955. The first steps had been taken on that proverbial journey of a thousand miles.

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It Conquered The World, 1956

Corman’s monster mashes, crime epics and juvenile delinquent sagas were sure fire drive in smashes and indeed, none of his pictures ever failed to turn a profit with the notable exception of his 1962 anti-racism message movie The Stranger aka The Intruder, starring Bill Shatner. The failure of the film that came closest to the European Arthouse movies that tallied with Corman’s personal viewing tastes sealed his subsequent dedication to e.g. mad science, motorbike marauders and those much admired Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. As Alan Arkush remarks on the series of Women In Prison flicks that our man produced in the Philippines: “They don’t need plots, they need girls shooting Filipinos out of trees”. Producer Gene Corman talks about The Stranger and other collaborations with his big brother and it’s good to see him and that other key Corman, Roger’s wife Julie, having their say and getting some of the credit that’s due to them. Julie (below) contributes some priceless deadpan observations on being romanced by somebody as monomaniacal and driven as Roger. Yet Polly Platt recalls another side to him, that when she was abandoned by Peter Bogdanovich and everybody else in Hollywood stopped taking her calls, Corman was the only one who rallied round and offered his support.

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Corman comments that round about the time of his biker movies and The Trip (1967), he felt like “the straight guy in a pretty wild movement”. Eli Roth describes RC, with his old world elegance, diction and manners, as an apparent square who’s actually supercool. More than that and even more so than Rene Magritte, to whom it is often applied, Roger Corman is the personification of Flaubert’s injunction to “be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”. “Clearly, my unconscious is a boiling Inferno” reasons Roger. Long may it continue to bubble…

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Corman’s World climaxes with Roger receiving an honorary Oscar in the presence of his collaborators, peers, friends, admirers and those over whom he has exercised such an ineradicable influence. The big studios they work for have long since muscled in on the exploitation territory over which he used to rule. The question inevitably arises, why has he never made it into Hollywood’s toppermost tier? Martin Scorsese remembers Corman turning down Mean Streets because Scorsese wouldn’t mount it as a blacksploitation picture. Jack Nicholson gets a bit yah-boo petty, winding Corman up for being too stingy to get behind Easy Rider (Corman’s account of why this didn’t happen differs radically) but later we find him sobbing when he recalls everything that Corman has done for and means to him (yeah Jack, we’ve all seen Five Easy Pieces!)

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A more pertinent question than the one previously posed might be, if there’s no room for somebody like Roger Corman in Hollywood’s toppermost tier, then how much value should we apply to it anyway? The plain truth is that Roger Corman is a lot like Lucifer. He might as well re-enlist in the Navy as “go upmarket”, where he’d have to comply with the edicts of a buch people whose collective IQ is not remotely close to his own… Roger Corman will not serve!

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Death Of A Salesman… NOT OF THIS EARTH Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Nouveaux Pictures. PG.

“You are about to enter into the dimension of The Impossible. To enter this realm you must set your mind free from the Earthly fetters that bind it. If the events you are about to see here are unbelievable it is only because your imagination is chained! Sit back, relax and believe… so that YOU may cross the brink of time and space… into that land you sometimes visit in your dreams”.

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One of the many self-aggrandising tall tales Don Van Vliet liked to tell concerned an alleged stint as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Finding himself demonstrating said appliance to a clearly underwhelmed Aldous Huxley, no less, the flustered future Captain Beefheart forgot his carefully prepared patter and after mumbling a few non sequiturs, blurted out: “Sir… this thing sucks!” to the bemused American Academy of Arts and Letters laureate. Or so the story goes…

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I’m always reminded of this fabled encounter when watching a particular scene in Roger Corman’s hugely entertaining Not Of This Earth (1957). Dick (here “Richard”) Miller, as salesman Joe Piper, talks himself into the basement of the mysterious Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) to demonstrate the superiority of the Airwaves vacuum cleaner. Joe’s not at all flustered, in fact he’s kinda pushy and obnoxious. No problem for Mr Johnson, who whips off the shades that he wears throughout the movie and kills the uninvited caller with a single look, then siphons off his blood before sending samples through a Star Trek-like transporter to his home planet Davanna, where Johnson’s kinsfolk are all dying from blood diseases triggered by an ongoing nuclear war.

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Johnson is acting under specific and somewhat harsh instruction but, y’know, “Davanna must endure!” His mission, as imparted by a Davannian big wig who sometimes materialises in that transporter, is “to be accomplished in 5 out of 6 phases”. I’m still not quite sure what that means but Johnson seems clear enough. Phase 1 is to study the characteristics of the Earth’s subhumans (that’s us). Phase 2 is to increase the quantity of blood he transmits to his home planet (so far he’s managed only 30 measly cupits, whatever they are). Phase 3 requires a live Earthling specimen to be transmitted to Davanna for vivisectionary research. Johnson himself apparently is Phase 4, which means that his survival or death from imbibing Earth blood will determine the mission’s success or failure. If he does thrive on that red, red krovvy, Phase 5 will involve the conquest, subjugation and pasturing of the Earth’s subhumans. If at any point Johnson anticipates the failure of the mission, Phase 6 will kick in, i.e. the utter obliteration of planet Earth.

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Realising that 30 cupits is hardly gonna cut it, Johnson steps up Phase 2 by extracting blood from, among others, the aforementioned Joe Piper, various vagrants and a teenage girl who it’s difficult to feel too sorry for on account of the following jive-talking exchange with her lame-ass boyfriend (“I think it’s time I cut out now” “Don’t be a drag, you know how you flip me” “I’m hip” “So?” “If my father dug this scene, he’d put small round holes in your head!”) He even visits the local blood bank in an attempt to buy some but sassy nurse Nadine Storey (Beverly Garland) advises him that “we don’t just hand it out like gasoline”. After Johnson has brought her boss Dr Rochelle (William Roerick) under his psychic control, Nadine is redeployed as Johnson’s personal nurse. Her cop boyfriend, Harry Sherbourne (Morgan Jones) finds all of this not a little fishy…

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Johnson also has a hipster driver / manservant / whatever, Jeremy Perrin (Jonathan Haze). Christ knows what agency he was recruited from but after a bit off ill-conceived “comic” business with him, things pick up again when Johnson decides that Dr Rochelle has outlived his usefulness. As well as blood draining equipment, his bag contains a dessicated thingy which, when water is added to it, transforms into… well, into a rubber bat / lampshade kind of thing which flops over the doc’s head and suffocates him.

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A Davannian female (Anne Carroll), in mandatory shades, is sent to assist Johnson in his mission but after she scarfs down some rabies infected blood (what were the odds on that?) the hospital report on her death blows things wide open. With Harry in hot pursuit on his police bike, Johnson drives away and perishes in an auto crash, just in time to break his psychic hold over Nadine, who was about to transport herself to Davanna for a spot of vivisectional research.

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At Johnson’s graveside, Harry expresses empathy for this stranger in a strange land but Nadine’s heart is hardened against him.  Both are relieved that the Earth is no longer under threat. Or is it! As they reflect on what has happened…

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“He’s behind you!”

A meaner spirited Man Who Fell To Earth, this is reportedly among Corman’s least favourite of his own movies and an uncharacteristically sloppy spot of admin (the copyright year was not mentioned on the release print) saw it consigned to the public domain, hence this exploitive bare bones edition from Nouveaux, who went to a lot more trouble with their editions of Fellini and co. It can’t even boast a menu and the only other DVD in my collection missing one of those is the DVD, Ltd (yes, “DVD, Ltd”) release of Joseph Ellison’s Don’t Go In The House (1979), one of the first discs I ever acquired. Still, Corman’s caveats notwithstanding, the film is enough fun to stand on its own considerable merits. I’ll certainly be watching it again, which is more than I can say for Jim Wynorkski’s 1988 remake, starring Traci Lords in her first “legit” role.

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Not Of This Earth is great fun but also has an indisputably melancholy quality to it. Occasionally misfits and marginals (e.g. Don Vliet / Don Van Vliet / Captain Beefheart, in his final incarnation as an avant garde painter) manage to parlay their perceived “weirdness” into financial gain. The rest of us have to muddle on as best we can. Still, I can think of worse epitaphs…

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