Posts Tagged With: Horror Comedies

A Warning To The Pure Of Heart… AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON On Arrow BD.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

Just a couple of weeks or so into 2020 and I’m happy as a pig in shit (Mrs F just suggested that I also look and smell rather like one… thanks, I love you too Darling!) Following hot on the heels of the beautiful new Shameless edition of Fulci’s The Beyond, Arrow’s 4K restoration of An American Werewolf In London (1981) revives further vivid memories of a time, something like 40 years ago, when life wasn’t running too smoothly for Yours Truly but, guided by Starburst magazine (the fantasy film fanatic’s bible in those days) I was able to take regular solace down at our local fleapit, catching the original theatrical runs of such classics as The Evil Dead, The Thing, Tenebrae, Phantasm, Blade Runner and Paul Schrader’s Cat People remake, not to mention any amount of seminal slasher flicks, an unstoppable flood of ferocious Fulci fare and… last but by no means least… the item under consideration here.

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John Landis was on a proper roll at this point (for a while there, my interest in his work rivalled my obsession with Dario Argento’s), AAWIL coming after Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980). Having attained pre-eminence as a director of Comedies, Landis now leavened the mix by indulging his fondness for the Horror genre, with such impressive results that countless subsequent British films (American Werewolf is sort of a British film… the final beneficiary of the Eady Levy, no less) have mixed the two genres… to generally woeful effect (though every so often there’s a welcome exception to the rule). Despite Horror and Comedy being proverbially two sides of the same coin, spinning them into a coherent movie is no mean feat. Landis not only managed the right blend of scary and funny, he also balanced elements of eroticism and yep, romance plus high octane action set pieces to supremely satisfying effect. Brilliant stuff…

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… and yet, in the absence of a review copy, I’ve been studiously avoiding Arrow’s recent Blu-ray edition, following my adverse reactions to previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray releases of this film. For all the past promotional puff of Universal’s contemporary featurettes (included among the plentiful extras here), how could they possibly think they were doing justice to one of my cherished movie memories with those grainy travesties? And was there any realistic hope of the Arrow job looking any better? Doesn’t 4K just automatically exacerbate any such pixillated imperfections? (City Of The Living Dead, I’m looking at you!) Well, Santa having slipped a copy into my stocking while I wasn’t looking (what, you think I’ve got nothing better to do all day than sit around looking at stockings? Depends who’s wearing them…) its gratifying to be able to report that this new restoration from the original camera negative, supervised by Landis himself, finally looks and sounds (in blood-curdling 5.1) every bit as splendid as it always should have. To think I hesitated… (what a schmuck!)

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Here’s why Griffin Dunne didn’t get the red puffa jacket…

2fed2fa912e1355ab1ccf4b7be5802cc.jpgMuch of the cocky genius of Rick Baker’s masterful FX work (so good they invented an Oscar for him to win and never bettered… many have tried, but only Baker’s protege Rob Bottin came remotely close) was that it stood up to brightly lit scrutiny and now you can watch it unfold under optimal conditions in the comfort of your own lair… ditto the sublime spectacle of Jenny Agutter, at her career loveliest, as the nurse (Alex Price) for whom doomed protagonist David Kessler (David Naughton) takes an understandable turn.

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From a sexy nurse in American Werewolf to a nun in Call The Midwife… pah!

… and of course there’s a woodshedload of extras for you to wallow in, some of them familiar from previous editions. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne’s audio commentary is a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes and reminiscences while Paul Davis, who authored the comprehensive guide Beware The Moon takes an appropriately “soup to nuts” approach. Davis beats Naughton and Dunne hands down for Landis impersonations and also contributes the feature length doc version of his book. Further documentaries, cast and crew interviews and featurettes (several of them dating back to the film’s release) reinforce each other in a compelling narrative of AAWIL’s Universal antecedents, its genesis in Landis’s encounter of supernatural beliefs while working as a runner on Kelly’s Heroes (1970) in Yugoslavia, his struggle to get it green lit, the simultaneous, synergetic emergence of The Howling by Joe Dante (one of the many luminaries interviewed here), its brilliant realisation, cult kudos / critical mauling and subsequent rehabilitation.

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It would have been nice to see wider acknowledgment of cinematic lycanthropy outside of the mainstream tradition (e.g. the Iberian exploits of Mr Naschy, above) though of course the werewolf is the only member of  the classic Monster pantheon whose rulebook is copped neither from some literary source (like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy et al) nor, contrary to popular belief, from ethnic folklore, rather from an earlier (Universal) film, George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941), whose Jewish writer Curt Siodmak fled Nazi Germany and had harrowing personal experience of reasonable looking people transforming into wild beasts overnight.

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In the video essay I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, Jon Spira labours a point that even the dimmest viewer must surely have got after the “nightmare within a nightmare” home invasion sequence, if not long before, i.e. that this film is an allegory of precarious Jewish consciousness in the second half of the 20th Century. Indeed it is, but Spira lays it on a bit too thick when he interprets Anne-Marie Davies’s line “I think he’s a Jew” as signifying her character’s barely concealed anti-semitism. By Spiro’s contention, Agutter’s Alex should have responded: “Why does it matter?”, but in the context of the nurses’ attempts to establish the origins of the mysterious patient, it’s by no means an inadmissible observation. And if Nurse Gallagher does have an ulterior motivation, is it really beyond the realms of possibility, in a film directed by the man previously responsible for Animal House, that it was the lascivious one to sneak a peek at a fit young guy’s dick? I would also suggest that if somebody as obviously smart as Landis wanted to personify privileged WASP bigotry, he’d have chosen a more appropriate avatar for it than a red haired nurse named Gallagher! Familiar with the expression “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish”, Jon?

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There’s  much discussion of the pre-CGI miracles wrought by Baker, of course (with fascinating “making of” and unused footage, plus SFX artist Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of The Prop Store drooling over precious props and costumes from the film. Out takes include the amusing (unfortunately soundless) encounter between Landis and the See You Next Wednesday cast (Linzi Drew and co). You get the original (and now somewhat cack handed looking) theatrical trailer plus teaser and TV spots, also a gallery of over 200 images and the option to display this one on your shelf sporting either original or new Graham Humphreys art work.

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It was great to see our old mucker Pete Atkins waxing eloquent about werewolf lore in one of the docs (I quoted one of his best lines earlier, for those of you paying attention), whereas David Naughton seems to have undergone an even scarier transformation that the one suffered by his character in the film, now bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to David Cameron! In a sadly ironic sidebar, during one of the contemporary promotional featurettes, while talking about running the three ring Piccadilly Circus climax to the film, Landis comments that “no movie is worth hurting somebody for”. Now there’s a line that would come back to haunt him.

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“What A Time To Be Alive!” ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE Reviewed…

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BD. Second Sight. Region Free. 15

We’re not renowned for our Christmas spirit here at The House Of Freudstein. As a matter of fact, we’re irredeemable hard core Grinches. It would take more than some soppy Xmas flick to put a smile on our faces since that messy business with the Petersons… and as for the Boyles? Don’t even go there (“No Bob… not inside!”) Rom-coms? Musicals? All things uplifting? Fuck ’em… and we reserve a special place in our bloody basement for Johnny come lately zombie movies! Yeah, you can make money out of any old tat now by bunging a few living deadsters into it… but where were you people in 1981?

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The auspices were not remotely favourable, then, but bugger me backwards with a candy cane if John McPhail’s gory zombie rom-com musical Anna And The Apocalypse (2017) didn’t win our hearts when opening Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival in October 2018. Mr McPhail even attended to introduce it, slag off Netflix and tell us what stand up people we were for still turning out to watch films on the big screen. Flattery will get you everywhere, mate…

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Plot is pretty much wot it says on the tin: schoolgirl Anna (the incandescent Ella Hunt, above) and her school friends / adversaries / would be lovers make a song and dance about their relationship issues and express their commonplace hopes, dreams and fears against the back drop of an unfolding zombie virus meltdown. It’s a saga of human persistence against the odds or a statement of futility, depending on whether you’re the kind of person who considers your glass of egg nog half empty or half full. In fact, while you weren’t looking, somebody slipped something bitter sweet into your  Advocaat… consider that a public health Warnink.

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McPhail does a stand up job taking on a project that was intended for its wrtier, the late Ryan McHenry (to whom AATA is lovingly dedicated), being as it is an expansion of his original 2011 short Zombie Musical. It helped that McPhail got (no disrespect intended to the original participants) a much better OST (some real ear worms here from Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly) and cast. Special mention for Sarah Swire who plays Steph (the mislocated nerd who ultimately saves the day… or part of it, anyhows) and also choreographed the whole shebang. Paul Kaye essays one of those teachers most of us have suffered (if you never did, lucky you), the kind of guy who takes out the sour frustrations of his own miserable life on the kids he’s supposed to be nurturing and here finds an appropriate canvas on which to fully reveal his true hateful colours.

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The axing of Kaye’s duet with Mark Benton, plus the transformation of an an animated title sequence into an animated credits sequence largely account for the two different cuts of AATA, both of which are present and correct on this double disc set. You also get that original short. McPhail, co-writer Alan McDonald and composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly chip in with an audio commentary and there’s assorted “making of” / “behind the scenes” / “at the Edinburgh festival” (lummy, was Ms Hunt aware of just how wispy her outfit was before stepping out in this bit?) which is so “feel good” that it nearly tips over into the sort of wholesome tweeness that the film itself lampoons. Nearly, but not quite.

What a time, indeed, to be alive. Or what passes for it…

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Uh Oh, Chongo! It’s THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE Next…

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DVD. Warner. Region 2. 18.

Now there’s a title that will baffle all but the most fossilised of our readers… as for the rest of you, try and imagine, if you can, a time without wall-to-wall children’s TV, when the biggest thing on your mind coming home from school was the new episode of Scooby Doo. Saturday mornings, meanwhile, offered the dubious delights of The Banana Splits…

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One day in 1967, Hanna-Barbera executives brainstormed a new kids show to be based loosely around the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In format. So far so good, but this was 1967 after all… who can guess what psychoactive substances had been slipped into the water cooler and what havoc they wrought on the neural networks of the participants as they fleshed out this promising premise to encompass a pop group comprising guys in furry mutant animal suits, apparently living in a basement that is besieged by little girls playing mariachi music and malevolent pre-teen go-go dancers? All sounds well dodgy now, but perhaps the tripping executives reasoned that such outré ingredients would distract from the utter lameness of the episodic cartoon series buried in the mix, the stiffest stuff ever to emerge under the esteemed H-B banner… I’m talking The Arabian Knights, The Three Musketeers and the justifiably short lived Micro Ventures (honourable mention though for the live action cliff-hanging effort Danger Island, starring a young Jean-Michael Vincent and featuring Kim Kahana as Chongo)… this  whole mess served up to the accompaniment of moronic bubble gum pop, corny sound effects and incessant canned laughter. Like it says in the song… lots of fun for everyone! So how come Scooby Doo remains an institution (regularly repeated / rebooted and now celebrating its first half Century) while The Banana Splits have ridden a Banana Bluggy to oblivion since the final episodes were shot in 1970? Perhaps Danishka Esterhazy’s 2019 feature can throw some light on what happened…

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… perhaps not. The Banana Splits Movie unfolds in a parallel universe where, according to writers Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas (who quite possibly  imbibed from that same water cooler), The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (to give the show its full original title) continued its run successfully into the present day. Of course this has necessitated a few tweaks along the way. The program is now shot in South Africa (no reason why not, I guess) and the cartoons, Chongo and co, those mariachi moppets and The Sour Grapes Bunch (who at least get a name check) have been expunged from the format in favour of an audience participation game show. Most radically, The Splits themselves (joined here by a human co-presenter named Stevie) are now animatronic creations rather than guys in flea bitten furry costumes, hard wired to fulfil their primary directive “the show must go on”.

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When spiteful Stevie breaks it to the ‘Nanas that an obnoxious new executive is cancelling the show, they go totally Westworld on his ass and those of all the other adults in the studio audience. The kids are chained to their seats and obliged to watch a procession of grown ups whom we’ve been egged on to dislike (of whom there are no shortage) being dispatched in inventive, Grand Guignol fashion. One guy has a lollipop rammed down his throat, another’s face is burned off with an improvised flamethrower, yet another is torn limb from limb on a wheel of fortune and the ol’ “saw the dude in half” routine takes a distinctly literal turn… fun for everyone, indeed!

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Needless to say, some partypooping do gooders ultimately put a stop to the Splits’ splatterfest but they’re murderous cyborgs so maybe, you know, they’ll be back. In the bonus featurette The Banana Splits: Behind The Horror various cast and crew members recall what a great laugh they had making the picture. Director Esterhazy does her best to convince us that it only expands on the inherent creepiness of the original characters. Really? Never mind, TBSM helped 90 minutes or so to pass in undemandingly enjoyable style and now that I’ve watched it I’ll put it right there on the shelf next to Zombeavers, so I’ll know where to find it in the extremely unlikely event that I’ll ever want to watch it again.

Whatever next? The Phantom Flan Flinger turns to serial killing? Or maybe…

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Yodelling In The Canyon Of Death… ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES Reviewed

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Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies. 2016. Austria. Starring Gabriela Marcinkova, Laurie Kalvert, Margarete Tiesel, Oscar Dyekjaer Giese, Karl Fischer, Kari Rakkola. Special effects: Tissi Brandhofer, Nikolay Mayer. SFX Make Up and Creature Design: Chris “Creatures” Kunzman. DP: Xiaosu Han, Andreas Thalhammer. Written by Dominik Hartel, Armin Prediger. Produced by Markus Fischer. Directed by Dominik Hartel.

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Romero was right… the zombies have taken over. I remember spending a lot of time writing about these deadfucks back in the late ‘80s, when they were a… er, niche interest, as a result of which I then “enjoyed” a very modest life style. Here we are, a quarter of a Century later, zombies dominate Hollywood horror product and their TV box sets are required viewing for any self-respecting hipster… but I’ve still got little more than the pot I piss in. You’ve got to laugh or you’d cry…

… good job then, that zom-coms were invented. But who precisely did invent this genre? Peter Jackson? Sam Raimi’s probably got a more compelling claim…  but what about John Landis… and arguably Bruno Mattei might just have initiated the whole cadaverous comedy schtick in 198o with Zombie Creeping Flesh, blissfully unaware that this is what he was actually doing. It was probably with Edgar  Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead (2004) that the zom-com attained critical mass at the box office, spawning the subsequent slew of zombie boy scouts, zombie strippers, zombie nerds, zombie ravers, et al… it’s an overcrowded market place and one that I’ve tried to avoid, though Mrs F did persuade me to watch Jordan Rubin’s Zombeavers (2014) which admittedly cracked a smile or two on the finely chiseled Freudstein features. Generally speaking, I tend towards the view that zombies = horror and that comedy should left to the specialists… like Owen Smith! Having said that, Alan Byron of Screenbound Entertainment Group (formerly Odeon) has graciously allowed us a sneak preview of their November DVD / Blu-ray release Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies…

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Feckless Ski boarding ace Steve (Calvert) blows a corporate event by boarding into the Tyrol, butt naked, to meet what turns out to be a nine year  old fan, terminating his sponsorship deal and seriously pissing off his long suffering girlfriend Branka (Marcinkova.) Surely things can only get better for Steve… in fact they take a distinct turn for the wurst when the local tourist board, their livelihood threatened by global warming, secretly trial a method of generating man-made snow, the by-products of when, when inhaled, turn anyone stupid enough to inhale them into ravenous zombies whose flesh eating rampage can only be stemmed by playing them music. Why any of this should be so is anybody’s guess but to distract us as the plot stretches credibility to point where it almost schnapps, we are treated to an endless succession of gory sight gags, mostly focussing on ever more inventive ways to insert skis, poles and other sporting parephenalia through bodily orifices… heads and limbs piling up in the snow as Paul Gallister’s pulsating score goes through its Goblin emulating paces… pity that Robocop remake already copped Hocus Pocus!

Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies isn’t exactly the subtlest film you’ve ever seen  (that particular penny will probably drop when you see the film’s title being literally vomited onto the screen) but writers Hartel and Prediger manage to pack in a few post modern cracks along the way, e.g. the guy who rings his zombie-obsessed cousin for advice and is advised that it all depends on which kind of zombie film he’s in. “We’ve gotta go all Chuck Norris on their asses” insists his friend, only to be reprimanded: “Chuck Norris? How old are you, dude?” My funny bone was lightly tickled by the micro-spectacle of the zombie virus travelling through its victims’ circulatory systems to the tune of The Blue Danube Waltz… and of course the film makers also throw in a herd of animatronic undead reindeer.

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The main thrust of the action though is Steve and Branca’s struggle to resurrect their rocky romance (and suppress the resurrected apres-ski revellers) with the aid of feisty innkeeper Rita (Tiesel), who deploys a snow plough during the final confrontation, in which our snow cross’d lovers sharpen the edges of their skis and boards, all the better to decapitate zombies.

Dialogue is generally lame and the actors delivering it are pretty stiff, but what else did you expect? This is a thigh slapping zom-com that takes the piste for an agreeably chucklesome hour-and-a-half. Snow joke…

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