Posts Tagged With: Mayhem Film Festival

The Very Essence Of MAYHEM… 2019 Festival Report.

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Oh sweet mystery of Mayhem… how does the grooviest Horror Film Fest in Heaven, Hell or Hockley manage to outdo itself, year after year? Never formulaic, it must nevertheless be compiled with some sort of formula in mind. So what’s the secret? Well, I’m just back from four mind boggling, bum numbing (less so now that plush new seats – not to mention a state of the art 7.1 sound system – have been installed in Theatre 1 of Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema) days of Mayhem 2019 (10-13th October) and I was taking notes. Pay attention now, ‘coz here’s what I’ve managed to divine about the method in Mayhem’s madness…

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Some Horror Film Festivals are just more equal than others…

1) The “lure ’em in and settle ’em down with a Horror Comedy” film. Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman’s Extra Ordinary (2019) stars likeable stand up Maeve Higgins as Rose Dooley, a driving instructor in a sleepy Irish town, living in denial of her “talents” since the death of her father, who became a minor celebrity by popularising the paranormal. The werewolf she’s called on to investigate turns out to be a fox and although Rose gets to exorcise the odd wheely bin, she wants nothing more than to lead an ordinary life… all of which goes right out the window when one hit wonder Christian Winter (a hysterically foppy Will Forte) attempts to revive his flagging pop career by ritually sacrificing virgin schoolgirl Sarah Martin (Emma Coleman) and her widowed father Martin (Barry Ward) seeks Rose’s assistance. Romance blossoms, but the intermittently intruding shade of Martin’s jealous wife (herself apparently channeling Lily Savage) considerably complicates an already complicated situation. When Winter summons a demon to claim it’s virginal prize, there are awkward revelations about just who is and isn’t virgo intacto… with hilarious consequences (no really, it’s a hoot!)

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Co-director Mike Ahern introduced the film, subsequently discussed it with Chris Cooke and fielded audience questions, explaining how some genuinely impressive effects sequences (for such a low budget effort) were achieved and insisting more than once that the character of Christian Winter was absolutely NOT based on Chris de Burgh, OK? He and Loughman are currently writing stuff for Aardman Animations and hoping to develop Rose Dooley’s extra ordinary adventures into a TV spin off. Fingers crossed for that… or knock on wood… whatever superstition takes your fancy.

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2) The “is it all in the disturbed protagonist’s mind or is there really a monster?” film. Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) invokes the perennial Horror Film concern (think Dead Of Night, 1945… Psycho, 1960) about how to integrate (and usually the failure to integrate) undesirable / antisocial personality traits. Young Luke attributes his childhood attempt to poison his schizophrenic mother to an imaginary friend named Daniel, whom he locked up on a dollhouse after that regrettable little incident. The post pubertal and clueless in love Luke (Miles Robbins) releases Daniel (now played by Patrick Schwarzenegger) to act as his wingman but after initial successes as a lady killer he starts looking and acting increasingly like… well, a lady killer! Is Luke succumbing to hereditary mental illness or are his “demons” the manifestation of an actual demon? Mortimer plays his cards craftily until the denouement, when things get a bit too “David Lynch” (with “good” Luke confronting a nightmarish figure from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights) for my liking. No prizes for guessing Patrick Schwarzenegger’s parentage (I’m still trying to work out if he gave a good performance or whether playing a sneering son-of-a-bitch just comes naturally to such a Hollywood Prince) but Miles Robbins is Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon’s son… how cool must it be to have Susan Sarandon as your Mum?

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3) The disinterred Eurohorror Classic. What better way to kick start a rainy Friday afternoon in Nottingham than with Konstantin Ershov & Georgi Kropachyov’s 1967 adaptation of the Russian witchy classic Viy? Mario Bava’s seminal Black Sunday / Mask Of The Demon (1960) was, of course,  nominally an adaptation of the same Gogol story but really an opportunity for Bava to indulge his exquisite monochrome visual sense and explore the disturbing dichotomy of beautiful and evil potentials in the incredible face of Barbara Steele. Viy retains the satirical bent of its literary inspiration. Its ethnic sense of humour and pacing take a bit of getting used to but neither its colour palette nor the visual effects work during its pandemoniacal climax would have disgraced Bava himself. Watch out for this one on Severin Blu-ray.

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4) “It’s not exactly Horror, but it’s pretty intense stuff, all the same”. The programme lingered East of the ol’ Iron Curtain for the UK Premiere of Polish director Bartosz Konopka’s Sword Of God (2019, formerly known as The Mute). Christian missionaries Willibrord (Krzysztof Pieczynski) and his unnamed companion (Karol Bernacki) arrive on a small island to convert its pagan population before the arrival of their liege lord and his all-conquering army. Willibrord sets about his mission with personal bravery but inflexibility that ultimately crosses the border into fanaticism. The other guy goes native and becomes a saintly martyr figure, then the king arrives and (SPOLER ALERT!) kills everybody anyway! It’s a powerful portrayal of religious hypocrisy, man’s inhumanity to man and the betrayal of idealism. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear that the issue of historical intolerance still casts a long shadow over Poland…

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5) The Haunted House flick. Girl On The Third Floor (2019) plays out as though the ghost of Brooke Shields’ character in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978) is causing problems on the set of Tim Allen’s old sit com Home Improvement. Travis Stevens is clearly attempting to make some kind of statement about toxic masculinity but like the unquiet spirits in the house / former bordello that CM Punk (you heard me) is renovating, there’s an effective, affecting film struggling to get out of this one but never quite making it and in lieu of any dramatic resolution, matters are concluded with a tiresome torrent of gimmicky special effects. It didn’t exactly help that Mr Punk and his silly tattoos really irritated me. This kind of stuff must be the reason why I keep accumulating rejection slips from Les Cahiers Du Cinéma…

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6) “The Friday Night Psychedelic Apocalypse, preferably featuring Nic Cage going batshit crazy”… SpectreVision (also the company behind Daniel Isn’t Real) stole the show last time round with Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy so another film from them offering the opportunity to watch Nic Cage go barking mad in pulsating purple obviously made Color Out Of Space (2019) one of the most eagerly anticipated items in this year’s lineup. It’s other main selling point, of course, was the return of Richard Stanley, directing his first completed feature in 27(!) years. Stanley’s loose (aren’t they always?) adaptation of the hoary H.P. Lovecraft yarn examines the effect on an ordinary family of a meteorite hit that releases alien entities keen to make Earth over in the image of their home planet. Well, when I say “ordinary family”, I mean llama-farming Daddy Gardner (Cage), his stockbroker wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), his sexy daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) who spends much of her time getting witchy in the woods, stoner older son Benny (Brendan Meyer) and youngest sibling Jack (Julian Hilliard), a Milky Bar Kid type whose main plot purpose is to work on the maternal feelings of female audience members before they’re hit with the seriously bad shit that befalls him. I found the film overlong and questionably paced. The reality warp and Cage’s personal psychotic embolism (surely no spoiler, there) kick in too early and there’s nothing for the narrative to do after that than accumulate ever more rococo refinements of weirdness. COOS ultimately emerges as rather less than the sum of its parts, though many of those parts (e.g. Lavinia’s climactic trippy rhapsody) are very impressive indeed. I’m glad I saw it and hey, if you crave Andean mammal satisfaction, this one is packed with enough alpaca action to put your ass in traction (we thought it would be a good idea to ask the guy who wrote the voice overs for all those Dolemite trailers to contribute a guest sentence to this posting… obviously we were wrong!)

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7) The Creature Feature. Ping Lumpraploeng’s The Pool (2019… another Mayhem UK Premiere) is nicely shot and scored, with great visual FX, its mechanical suspense unfolds with admirable efficiency and all the actors do a good job but 99% of the work on this one obviously went into writing it. Having hit on a boldly minimalist premise (Theeradej Wongpuapan and his girlfriend Ratnamon Ratchiratham are trapped for seven days in an empty deep sided swimming pool with a pregnant, pissed-off crocodile), Lumpraploeng then adorned it with a succession of fiendish embellishments such that every time you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse for the protagonists, they promptly do. Endlessly involving and inventive (I’ll leave it to you to discover how a Dulux dog’s suicide fits into the mix), The Pool could be taken as a metaphor for the unremitting toughness of life in Thailand and it was nice to see the characters taking time out between crocodile attacks to debate the ethics of abortion. One of the investors in this one was Pizza Hut and you don’t have to wait long for the expected product placement, though the delivery dude arrives too late to render any significant assistance. Perhaps they should have told him to make it snappy…

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8) The “the protagonist is a monster but the guys she’s fighting are even worse!” film… Audrey Cummings Canadian effort She Never Died (2019) is apparently some sort of sequel to Jason Krawczyk’s He Never Died, a Henry Rollins Vehicle from 2015. I haven’t see that one but you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that protagonist Lacey (Olunike Adeliyi) is some kind of dewinged angel / demon figure, cursed with immortality and an insatiable appetite for human flesh and blood. Luckily she tends to dine on humanity’s worst elements. In this film that’s a seriously dodgy brother / sister team running a leisure empire whose business model is equal parts Hostel (2005) and Videodrome (1983), so you get to cheer Lacey on through all the splattery kill scenes and still believe yourself to be on the side of the angels. Or demons.

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9) The “is it all in the disturbed protagonist’s mind or is there really a monster?” film… slight return. The first real surprise package of this year’s festival, Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella’s Something Else (2019, previously known as After Midnight) was this year’s equivalent of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut Of The Dead from the previous Fest, a slowburn of a movie patiently received by an audience whose patience reaped rich rewards. Gardner stars as Hank, holed up in a one horse town wondering why his girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) left him (well, she’s fed up living in a one horse town, mate), drinking beer with his goony friend Wade (an endearing performance from Henry Zebrowski) and becoming increasingly convinced that some kind of malevolent nocturnal presence is lurking around , looking to effect entrance. This is Thirtysomething for soulful rednecks, with a little something else thrown in… effectively a film in the service of a looming punchline, en route to which the viewer is similarly well served and entertained.

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10) The Short Film Showcase Interlude (the beating heart of the festival, as Chris and Steve characterise it) proved, as ever, to be a pretty mixed bag of fare, much of it receiving its UK / European / World Premiere. Sheil’s own Unmade, in which a  scorned woman deploys black arts to take the ultimate revenge on her dead ex was among the better entries. Victor Català’s A Little Taste (Spain) turned out to be a nicely twisted (if not exactly unpredictable) vignette, sharing its woodland setting with Sekander Sharifi’s neatly executed little gag Limbus (Germany) and the multi-director French animation Wild Love, which plays out as a Disney Pixar effort gone bad. Canadian Calvin Lee Reeder’s The Procedure 2 proceeded, for all of its 3 minutes, along the frankly flatulent lines laid out in its predecessor, a big crowd pleaser here three years ago. “Brown comedy”, indeed… and  Kate McCoid’s It’s Not Custard (UK) did for acne what Reeder seems determined to do for farts.

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11) The Kick Ass Oriental Actioner (and another UK Premiere). In Lee Won-tae’s South Korean effort The Gangster, The Kop, The Devil (2019), ruthless crime lord Dong-Seok Ma (from Train To Busan, 2016) is so amazed that a serial killer known as ‘K’ (Kim Sungkyu) has had the temerity to try and off him that he teams up with reluctant cop Jung Tae-seok (Kim Moo Yul) to catch the guy. Predictable buddy bonding and violent spectacle ensue. I’ve seen better in this genre but y’know, Ringo Lam is no longer with us and John Woo is otherwise occupied so what you gonna do? Sylvester Stallone is credited as one of the producers and is apparently going to remake this one, Hollywood style. Hm….

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12) The “What The Fuck?!?” film…  indeed, introduced by Steve Sheil as “the what-the-fuckiest-what-the-fuck film ever”, Valeri Milev’s Bullets Of Justice (2019) emerged from nowhere (well, from Russia / Kazakhstan / Argentina, actually) to become one of this festivals’s most gob-smacking talking points. In a post-Apocalyptic scenario, the last remnants of humanity wage a life-and-death struggle with man-eating mutant pigs. An endless succession of ultraviolent action scenes? Check. Bizarre, self-consciously mannered directorial flourishes? Present and correct. Some of the most perfectly formed backsides ever captured on film? Affirmative. A cameo appearance by Cristiano Ronaldo? Yep. An ending which suggests that either a) macho post-Apocalyptic guerrillas harbour secret gay fantasies, or b) gay fashion models on acid fantasise about post-Apocalyptic guerrilla wars? You get that, too. Like the man said… what the fuck?!?

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13) The Suspenseful Tale Of Urban Paranoia. Yet another UK Premiere, Kwon Lee’s Door Lock (2018) pits its serial killer (South Korea must be crawling with them) against vulnerable office worker Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-jin) rather than a brutal crime baron. The flesh creeping extent of his night crawling activities are revealed to us but she only has the vaguest, increasingly worrying sense that something weird is going on. The police don’t take her complaints seriously and Lee relentlessly turns the suspenseful screws en route to a nail-biting finale. Seasoned viewers of these things (in fact most viewers) will have little trouble sorting the red herrings from the real murderous McCoy but this one is still worthier of a Hollywood remake (if, indeed, that would be doing it any favours) than The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil.

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Oh, those Russians

14) The Post-Tarantino Hipster Bloodbath. There’s definitely something going on in Russia, genre film wise. Chris Cooke introduced Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die! (2019) as “a Spaghetti Western that takes place in one room” and yeah, he’s pretty much nailed it (Morricone fans will find all sorts of interesting things going on throughout this one’s OST). A boy named Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) visits his girlfriend’s father (tough former copper Andrey, played by Vitaliy Khaev), intending to kill him with a concealed (but not for long) hammer. After a gruelling physical confrontation, Andrey calls in his former cop colleague Yevgenich (Mikhail Gorevoy) to dispose of the intruder. But what’s the secret he’s trying to conceal from Yevgenich? And why was daughter Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) putting Matvey up to murder in the first place? The back stories are separately introduced and intertwined in Tarantino-esque fashion, that is to say in the fashion that Tarantino pinched from Akira Kurosawa. It’s possible to construe the whole thing as an arch comment on post-Soviet Russian mores but a lot of people are going to enjoy WDYJD! purely on the strength of its black comedy and relentlessly brutal imagery.

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15) The Brilliantly Bleak Allegory Whose Co-Writer Insists It’s Not An Allegory. In Lorcan Finnegan’s rivetting Vivarium (UK / US 2019), a couple (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) move into a house in the suburbs and bring up a baby, whose demands gradually take over their lives. Mum resents never getting any time to herself, Dad throws himself into his work. The kid (played by Senan Jennings then Eanna Hardwicke) won’t go to bed and spends all his time watching TV. Dad comes to resent the alliance Mum and the kid seem to be forming against him. Dad works himself to death. Mum follows. The kid buries them and blithely gets on with his own pointless life. Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy move?!? It is, of course and one that resonates troublingly thanks to the respective contributions of director Finnegan, production designer Philip Murphy and co-writer Garret Shanley. The latter introduced the film, subsequently chatting with Chris Cooke and fielding audience questions… hey Garret, of course it’s a fucking allegory!

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16) The “blissfully complacent character obliged to undergo a blackly comic odyssey through unguessed at low life vistas” film. Two years ago it was 68 Kill. This time it’s Ant Timpson’s New Zealand effort Come To Daddy (2019). Former kiwi fanzine editor Timpson produced The Greasy Strangler, which rocked and shocked Mayhem attendees back in 2016 (just the words “hootie tootie disco cutie” still bring me out in a cold sweat). This significantly more “realistic” effort sees Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) attempting to reconnect with the dad who abandoned him in infancy, an intrinsically delicate exercise which turns into something infinitely more challenging for our boy when the big plot twist kicks in and turns his world upside down. I don’t feel like I should say too much more than that but believe me, this one is well worth catching.

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So these are just some of the ingredients that, when combined in exactly the right proportions and sprinkled with secret Mayhem spices, bring Festival ecstasy to The Broadway on an annual basis. Only Chris Cooke, Steve Sheil (above) and Meli Gueneau know the exact recipe. And they’re not saying anything.

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You probably also wanted to hear about those legendary inter-film quizzes and “mystery poster” giveaways, about the pulse pounding, nerve wracking test of man and mettle that is The Flinterrogation, about the general hobbing and indeed nobbing (OK, we’ll restrict it to the hobbing) with old friends, new friends and cyberfriends suddenly made flesh… all of this will be duly revealed in another, Darker place. Patience, my pretties.

(For the record I skipped the Friday and Saturday night revivals of – respectively – The Hidden and Vampire’s Kiss. We old codgers have got to sleep sometime, you know…)

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Stop Making Sense… TLE’s 4K Restoration Of SUSPIRIA on CultFilms Blu-ray, Reviewed (No “Green Puke”… Guaranteed)

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Cultfilms. 18.

Synapse have been trailering their Suspiria restoration for something like four years but TLE’s rendition kind of crept up on the rails to emerge in a dead heat with it. Before most people have enjoyed the opportunity to watch even one of these efforts (let alone both) there has already been a lot of online argy-bargy, involving screen grab comparisons, about the relative merits of each, not all of which has been politely conducted. Indeed, more heat has been generated than light, along with a certain amount of alleged “green puke”. I’ve already blogged about TLE’s version on the big screen. Suffice to say, I detected no green puke whatsoever and I’m speaking as one who’s intimately acquainted with the sight, smell and yes, the taste of verdant vomit, given that we’re still cleaning up the Doc’s basement here after last year’s House Of Freudstein office party. Now’s our chance to evaluate how well TLE’s big screen triumph has translated to little silver discs, courtesy of CultFilms…

… but first, a warning from the director himself: “I am Dario Argento. Welcome! You are about to see Suspiria, a film in full Dario Argento style. It’s full of emotions, fright and fear. I hope you are ready to receive all of this”. Bring it on, my sinister-looking, half-Brazilian pal…

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… and a hundred or so minutes later, to nobody’s great surprise, we’ve watched the release of the year, beating off such strong competition as Arrow’s own Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Phenomena and Don’t Torture A Duckling sets, a series of Sergio Martino gialli on BD from Shameless and any amount of tawdry Severin treasures. Suspiria will light up your TV to truly gob-smacking effect and sounds even better than it did at the Mayhem Festival back in October… if you’ve invested in a 5.1 set up you’ll be able to join Suzy (Jessica Harper) and Sarah (Stefania Casini) in following the footsteps of Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and co as they clunk around the hidden recesses of the Tanz Akademie, doing God knows what.

A few random thoughts that occurred while my senses were being battered “in full Argento style”. Doesn’t Pat Hingle (Eva Axén) have an… er, unusual walking / running style? Why does everyone make such a big deal out of her being so spectacularly murdered during the film’s most celebrated set piece without ever mentioning her friend, who was simultaneously bisected by falling glass and masonry? And does Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett) really believe that such grotesque carnage can be attributed to “questionable friendships”?

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“Nothing to see here, move along…”

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Joan Bennett in her Holywwod pomp.

Although people often moan about the alleged plotting implausibilities of Argento’s subsequent Phenomena, does the plot of Suspiria actually sustain serious scrutiny? The notion that a coven of witches could operate under God-fearing society’s radar by operating a dance school where they kill and possibly also (it is strongly suggested) eat the students makes about as much sense as Anton Diffring’s fugitive plastic surgeon opening a circus then shagging and killing all of his glamorous female performers in Circus Of Horrors (1960). Fortunately, the oneiric impact of Horror cinema has never turned on the dictates of logic or the banalities of “common sense”. Stop trying to make sense of it and just celebrate the arrival of Argento’s masterpiece in a format that befits its status as arguably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. At the same time, we are served a saddening reminder of how very far the director’s stock has slipped in the meantime. One very much doubts that, forty years after their original releases, fans are going to be buzzing over the prospect of e.g. Phantom Of The Opera, Giallo, Dracula in 3-D or, more pointedly, Mother Of Tears being revived and restored.

One question continues to nag at me, though… if it ever came to a knock-down, drag-out scrap, who would emerge victorious from a playground showdown between Suspiria’s knickerbockered Little Albert and Bob Boyle from House by The Cemetery? Readers views are welcomed…

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You calling my pint a puff, like?

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Is one talking to me or chewing a brick?

Extras wise, we get a couple of Cine-Excess featurettes that you’ll already be familiar with if you bought Nouveaux’s previous UK Blu-ray release of Suspiria, ditto the Jones / Newman commentary track. The original bonus materials comprise a 27 minute interview with the director and a fascinating hour(ish) long featurette on the actual restoration process.

In the interview, Argento sticks steadfastly to one of the taller tales he’s ever spun, the one about the uncredited actress playing Helena Markos requiring no make-up because she actually looked like that in the first place (sure thing, Dario!) While we can dismiss this as a mischievous bit of whimsy, it’s harder to forgive the way that Daria Nicolodi has, once again, been written out of history vis-a-vis the writing of Suspiria, reversing the trend in previous editions (notably Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary 3 disc DVD set) to increasingly acknowledge her input.

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“… she even came with that skewer through her neck!”

In the riveting restoration featurette, TLE’s Torsten Kaiser talks us through “before”, “during” and “after” samples from key (in the technical rather than narrative sense) scenes from the movie, giving us the merest glimpse of what a Herculean labour it was to render such cinematic beauty from what was a pretty ropey bunch of elements. Throughout Herr Kaiser talks about what was done without giving too much away about how it was actually done. Maybe’s he overestimating the degree of technical savvy  at which the average viewer (certainly I) is (am) operating. Perhaps he calculates (correctly, in my case) that the average viewer is incapable of getting his head around such technical stuff. There could also be an understandable desire to keep the more sophisticated tricks of his trade to himself…

… whatever, for further invaluable insights from Torsten, check out the upcoming interview with him in Dark Side magazine. One of the things we discuss there, of which there is no mention in this featurette, is the magic moment at about 1:17:24 of Suspiria (in this presentation) where Professor Milius (Rudolf Schündler) tells Suzy that you can destroy a coven by severing its head, cue the spectacle of Dario Argento’s face, popping up in a window reflection as he directs the scene. Very noticeable in the previous Nouveaux Blu-ray, its been significantly “dialled down” this time around… and I kinda miss it!

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SUSPIRIA At Mayhem 2017. It’s In 4K… On A Big Screen… And It’s A F**king Giallo, Alright?!?

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Suspiria, 1977. Directed by Dario ArgentoProduced by Claudio Argento and Salvatore Argento. Story by Daria NicoldiScreenplay by Dario Argento and Daria NicolodiCinematography by Luciano TovoliEdited by Franco Fraticelli. Production Design by Giuseppe Bassan. Musiby Goblin. SFX by Germano Natali. Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.

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… you wait forty years for a 4k restoration of Suspiria then two turn up at the same time! Over in The States, Synapse’s Don May has been struggling manfully with his for something like a tenth of that period but CultFilms have stealthily beaten him to the punch with their European release of TLE’s take on the most visually beautiful of all Horror Films. Before either of them had aired in public there was much internet discussion and comparing of screen grabs with the intention of establishing which version would prove most successful in correcting the technical errors (too fiendishly complicated to go into here) that have marred previous releases. May’s strongest hand all along has been that Luciano Tovoli, the film’s cinematographer, has supervised his Suspiria… then again the CultFilms / TLE rendering was overseen by Dario Argento himself, who’s presumably entitled to a view on how the film should look and sound.

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Ultimately we’ll all have to pay our money / take our choice and as long as each version is only viewable in its own territory, one of the first things we Europeans (semi-detached and otherwise) will have to go on is this October and November’s Cultfilms UK mini-tour.  After its premiere at the BFI during the London Film Festival on 06/10/17, the TLE Suspiria rolled into Nottingham on the 14th October for a centrepiece Saturday late night screening at the Broadway Cinema’s peerless Mayhem Film Fest (full Festival report now active on this Blog).

Kudos to Festival co-curators Chris Cooke (who had previously told me that presenting such a restoration was a personal dream come true) and Steve Sheil, who introduced “Argento’s masterpiece” by asking how many audience members had never seen the film before. As it happened, a significant proportion of the audience admitted to being “Suspiria virgins”…

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… and what a way to lose their cherries! If the Synapse version is going to look any better than this, we’ve surely got to be talking infinitesimal degrees of cinematic lusciousness. Miraculously, considering the extent of the repairs that were reportedly needed, not a hair nor a scratch now sullies the candy coloured phantasmagoria of Argento’s vision. As for those much called-for corrections to the film’s pallet… suffice to say, you’ll feel an overpowering urge to lean into the screen and lick the marzipan walls of the Tanz Akademie, hopefully grabbing a kiss from Jessica Harper before returning to your seat and getting beaten up by the ushers.

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Soundwise, the film (not least Goblin’s celebrated score) is every bit as loud and frantic as you knew it was going to be… if a little flat. Was there something up with The Broadway’s speakers? Nope, various films of varying quality (none better than Suspiria) made effective use of the venue’s surround sound speakers throughout the Festival. Is it just that Suspiria was conceived, reasonably enough, without reference to the state of audio technology 40 year’s hence? Was there a problem with the relevant elements? With the sonic aspect of this restoration? With my ears? Will the Synapse jobby sound a little punchier? Watch (or should I say listen to?) this space…

Don’t get me wrong… it doesn’t sound crappy, it’s just not quite the outright audio assault for which Suspiria is famed. No matter, I didn’t begrudge one iota of the expense required to get me home after leaving this particular late, late show with those virgins’ applause ringing in my ears. They now knew what they’d been missing and I was reminded, after years of video / DVD / BD over-familiarity, that Suspiria is quite possibly The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. I don’t imagine too many visitors of this Blog are going to give me to much of an argument on that one.

Now for the contentious bit…

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What constitutes a giallo?  Various definitions have been offered. From the get-go we’ll dismiss the philistine broad stroke one that encompasses virtually any Italian exploitation picture. We’re talking here about those thrillers, descended in equal parts from the yellow (“giallo”) covered paper backs published by Mondadori and co, German krimis and Hitchcock, whose rule book was developed by Mario Bava during the ’60s and upgraded by Argento throughout the following decade.

So if we were to have a, er, stab, at definition, it would look something like this. A  killer is at large (usually in an urban Italian setting) and the viewer is challenged to work out his / her identity. His / her motivation can be madness, sexual sadism, an inheritance… it scarcely matters (and the motives revealed, even in some of the genre’s classier entries, are frequently risible nonsense) because the style and severity with which the crimes are perpetrated and filmed are more important than who is killing whom and why. Subjective shots from the killer’s point of view will keep you guessing, anyway, as flashy visuals continue to be prioritised over narrative coherence. The cops generally take a powder in these films, leaving the sleuthing to some obsessive amateur who, more often than not, has half-glimpsed an all important clue but is struggling to make sense of it. Just in case this recipe isn’t already sufficiently un-PC, among the bloodily dispatched victims we will typically find a disproportionate compliment of attractive young women.

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You don’t have to honour every one of these rules to qualify as a giallo. Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987) throws the whodunnit element right out of the window (we’re aware of the killer’s identity even before he inaugurates the movie’s sequence of killings) yet is frequently cited as one of the genre’s last great entries. Some gialli do admit cops, e.g.  Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters (tellingly also known as The Police Require Assistance, 1974), Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975) and Alberto De Martino’s Strange Shadows In An Empty Room / Blazing Magnum (1976). Some of the grubbier gialli substitute smut for style (most notoriously in Mario Landi’s unpalatable Giallo In Venice, 1979) and setting their events outside of the Italian urban milieu has not discounted Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Womans Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), Umberto Lenzi’s totally barmy Eyeball (1975) or just about all of Sergio Martino’s powerful entries in the genre… so why should its Bavarian setting disqualify Suspiria, a film which in every other way adheres to the genre’s golden rules?!?

So it’s not contentious at all, actually… It’s a no-brainer. It makes no difference that the question “Who’s the killer?” is answered with a shrieked “Witch!” I always get slagged off for arguing this and no doubt will be again, but if it looks like a giallo, struts like a giallo and cuts its way through its victims like a giallo, then it’s probably a giallo… and Suspiria is a giallo. Yes, it’s a turbo charged giallo with heavy Horror overtones, supernatural schtick and cinematic style to burn. But hey, let’s try not to hold that against it, eh?

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You have been reading “SUSPIRIA At Mayhem 2017. It’s In 4K… On A Big Screen… And It’s A F**king Giallo, Alright?!?”

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At The Mountains Of MAYHEM (aka Dreams In The Art House / The Doom That Came To Broadway)… Nottingham’s 2016 Horror Fest Reviewed

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The 12th annual Mayhem Film Fest at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema (13th-16th October), as curated by Their Dark Lordships Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil, was a total triumph, tenebrously topped-and-tailed with spicy squirts of HP (Lovecraft) sauce. The gentlemen of The Duke St Workshop (a noted “Spooktronica Outfit”, Mr Cooke informs me) opened the proceedings in grand style, weaving a mesmerising electro web as Laurence R Harvey declaimed selections  from the “Tales Of H. P. Lovecraft” to a projected backdrop of unsettling imagery. Festival closer The Void (directed by festival guests Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski) plundered a grab bag of gory imagery from the glory days of Lucio Fulci and Stuart Gordon in the service of a crowd pleasing concoction that I can best characterise as “Assault On Cthulhu Hospital.”

Interstitial treats included Julia Ducournau’s much-hyped Raw (in which the cannibalism that’s allegedly had previous audience members carried out on stretchers was considerably less appalling to me than the conformity brutally enforced by the anti-heroine’s moronic fellow students) and a UK premiere for The Mo Brothers’ Indonesian actioner Headshot (“The film that puts The Raid In The Shade!”, doncha know.) I’m calling bullshit on Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are The Flesh, which aspires to avant-garde outrage but melts down into a sub-Jodorowsky mess… after which Steven Barker’s The Rezort got things back on track via its winning “Westworld with zombies” formula (Barker introduced the film and later fielded questions from the audience, none of whom had the nerve to point out that his film’s boffo climactic plot revelation had been pinched from Bruno Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh!) And so to Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, about which I would simply like to say… !!!!!!!??!

Gabriele Mainetti’s They Call Me Jeeg Robot garlands its familiar Italian cop film narrative with tropes imported from Japanese anime as its lowly-criminal-turned-accidental-superhero protagonist struggles to reconnect with the human race that he’d given up on… a similar tale, differently handled, in Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not A Serial Killer, your basic everyday story of a sociopathic slacker (Max Records… you heard what I said, Max Records!) and his up-and-down relationship with a superannuated serial killer (Christopher Lloyd, no less) that also boasts the most out-of-left-field plot twist in recent memory. O’Brien and writer Christopher Hyde did the Q&A thing, post screening. Carles Torrens’ Pet rang the changes on its basic The Collector storyline with a female captive who’s not what she initially seems… brief outbreaks of torture porn notwithstanding, this one was ultimately undone by the unbelievability of its lead characters (still not sure whether this was attributable to how they were performed or how they were written… possibly all of the above.)

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In the face of much ironic / post modern festival content, Sean (The Loved Ones) Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy played things straight, its classic take on demonic possession going down very well indeed with the assembled Mayhem revellers. Don’t Kill It is a sub-Sam Raimi offering from Michael Mendez, whose fiendishly simple plot conceit keeps the violent thrills coming thick and fast. It also boasts a wonderfully self mocking performance from Dolph Lundgren as demon hunter Jebediah Woodley. The narrative of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s much-anticipated return to the J-Horror field, Creepy, unfolds at a leisurely pace as its protagonist drifts gradually and inexorably into the (frankly unfeasible) trap set by his, er, creepy neighbour. I missed much of The Ghoul, so apologies to director Gareth Tunley, yet another of the festival’s star guests.

Mayhem began as a short films festival and honours its roots every year with a collection of the same. This year’s two-hour strand of promising cinematic sketches ranged from Tristan Ofield’s bonsai Sci-fi epic White Lily to the black comedy of Conor McMahon’s Stranger In The Night (not to mention the brown comedy of The Procedure!)

We were further treated to two late night retro screenings, Mario Bava’s Alien-inspiring mini masterpiece Planet Of The Vampires (remastered under the supervision of flavour-of-the-month Nicolas Winding Refn and – lest it be forgot – Lamberto Bava) and a timely, touching projection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s epochal Blood Feast with a special filmed introduction by The Godfather of Gore himself, so recently lost to us.

Incidental festival delights included the film introductions and knockabout musical-themed goody bag giveaways conducted by the redoubtable Sheil / Cooke double act and the chance to meet some social media friends in the flesh (great to spend a cozy hour or two with @CosiPerversa), coin a few new friendships and renew fond old acquaintances with the likes of David and Eva Reprobate, Carl Severin, the very FAB Harvey Fenton, the hot-rockin’ Morrows, Ewan and Mike from Arrow… big hello to the Shudder crew, too.

‘Twas particularly sweet to be in the team that won the traditional pre-closer quiz (nay, “Flinterrogation”) along with Carl, Eva, charming chanteuse Robyn Taylor and the agreeable dude whose name currently eludes me (sorry!) If I’ve forgotten anything or anybody else… well, I’m getting on a bit now! Still hopefully sprightly enough to make it to Mayhem 2017… see you there?

(Look out for my extended Festival report in an upcoming issue of Dark Side magazine…)

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Little Deuce Coup… DOCTOR BUTCHER AT THE BROADWAY

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It’s all very well (has been rather jolly, in fact) watching Scala-type screen filler on DVD/BD and posting Scala-related reviews, features and interviews online but it has its limitations. Imagine my disappointment, for example, on playing the outboard motor scene from Doctor Butcher to Mrs F who, instead of whooping enthusiastically and commenting on the finer points of Maurizio Trani’s FX work, opined: “Uurgh, that’s horrible! Don’t ever show me that again!” 😦

No, to truly invoke the spirit of Scalarama you’ve got to get up off your sofa, leave the house (I freely admit, I’m not a great advocate for either of those activities) and sit yourself down among the great unwashed to enjoy a trash film with a live audience. Admittedly Phil “Hedgehog” Tonge barely qualifies as “live” but it was nice to remake his acquaintance as we shared the awesomeness that was the aforementioned Doctor Butcher M.D. playing at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema under the Scalarama banner on the evening of Saturday, 17th of September, this year of Our Lord 2016.

Kudos to the mighty men of Mayhem, The Reprobate and Severin (whose incredible Doctor Butcher BD is reviewed elsewhere on the site) for bringing this bastard offspring of Times Square and the Tiber terror mills to The Broadway, a venue so uptight and PC under a previous regime that it banned Hong Kong knockabout fare for its perceived slights against the LGBT community and declared that De Palma’s Dressed To Kill would never sully its screens under any circumstances (it subsequently did, uncut!) Certain sensitivities must be observed though and I noticed that in advertising for the event the Doc’s C.V. had been amended from “depraved, sadistic rapist” to “depraved, sadistic maniac”… sounds like a much more agreeable chap now, doesn’t he?

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I was hoping that Severin’s Carl Daft might be manning the Butcher Mobile outside and handing out barf bags to punters, but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, Theatre 4 was just about sold out and in their introduction Chris Cooke, then Dave Flint did their best to whip up a little 42nd Street grindhouse atmosphere, while cautioning viewers that they probably wouldn’t get away with public sex or overt drug use. There was a rumour that somebody had taken a crap in one of the urinals, but this turned out to be a short lived and highly localised urban myth. Shame, really…

These provisos notwithstanding, the audience did guffaw enthusiastically along to their favourite scenes and lines of dialogue. “The patient’s screams disturbed my concentration so I performed removal of the vocal cords” and “I’m determined to have your brain!” went down particularly well and inevitably the most popular scene was…

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An unwholesome good time was had by all and before exiting into a Nottingham disfigured by the antisocial antics of alcohol addled townies (a spectacle that probably had more in common with the heyday of 42nd Street than anything which had gone on in the polite environs of The Broadway) we were thanked by Mr Cooke, who took the opportunity to plug the imminent Mayhem Fest (13th-16th October) and announce that they’ll be screening upcoming Severin release The Killing Of America in its newly discovered longer cut on the eve of the American Presidential election.

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Enjoy yourselves, it’s later than you think…

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