Forgotten Horror #3

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TheChangeling

#3 The Changeling

Director: Peter Medak

Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas.

Released 1980. 107 minutes.

The ghost/haunted house story has always been my favourite sub genre of the horror field. Ever since growing up and watching the BBC’s ‘Ghost Stories For Christmas’ and discovering, through those plays, the works of MR James and the like have I loved a good ghost story. I would supplement those all too rare television programmes by avidly devouring the Pan Books of Ghost Stories and The Fontana books of Ghost Stories. Nothing has changed. Whilst I love most, if not all, sub genres in the horror field the ghost story is the only one that still has the power to actually scare me.

I first came across ‘The Changeling’ in the mid 1980’s on VHS. I rented it out and dubbed myself a copy (naughty, I know) overnight without actually watching it and it took me another year to actually to get around to screening the tape. I remember the first time I tried I was so scared (give me a break, I was 13 years old) that I could not make it past the first thirty minutes. A week or two later I plucked up my courage again (this time in the middle of the day, with the sun shining brightly through the window, and a house full of people) and managed to watch it all the way through. Suffice to say it did it’s job well. Many years later I bought a region one DVD of the film put it on my shelf and then promptly forgot all about it.

That was about 15 years ago. A couple of days ago I found myself back in front of that same shelf (actually, it’s a completely different shelf in a completely different house) whilst looking for something to watch and ‘The Changeling’ caught my eye. My memory of the actual film was fairly hazy. I remembered the opening scene well enough, the bouncing ball, and the wheelchair, but not much else. So, without further ado, I slipped it into the machine.

What ‘The Changeling’ does really well is have good actors behaving in a believable manner. Usually in these types of films most of us would have packed our bags and left the second the ball bounced down the stairs once it had been thrown into the river but because of John Russell’s (George C. Scott) situation (his wife and child being killed in a accident four months previously) he almost has nothing to lose in regards to the haunting and being an intelligent man he is drawn to the mystery. This does not mean he is not frightened in certain circumstances, he clearly is, but is brave enough to tackle the problems head on. You would not have found me going back to a house in the dead of night to go down a disused well where a dead body had just been exhumed. The first hour of the film is a masterclass in suspense and slow build. ‘The Haunting’ (the 1963 film, not the 1999 remake) also does this very well. Layers are added. The first signs of a ghostly residence can, and often are, easily explained away, but as the film progresses it’s quite clear it’s not an air bubble in the heating pipes making those noises.

The film is let down in the final twenty minutes when it turns back to standard horror film cliches, most notably the child’s wheelchair chasing a character down a flight of stairs for no discernible reason. But don’t let this put you off. The film is extremely well made. The photography is beautiful, the direction unobtrusive, the script tight, and the acting understated and believable. It’s been mentioned, by more astute judges of films that me, that the Japanese film ‘Ringu’ owes a lot to ‘The Changeling’ and I can see that point completely. I would also say that Stephen King’s ‘Bag of Bones’ (both the book and the TV mini series) probably owe more than a nod to ‘The Changeling’ but I feel that ‘The Changeling’ is the superior work in both comparisons.

In a spooky coincidence after I finished watching the DVD I logged on to my computer and went to one of my favourite pages, ‘Trailers From Hell’ (check it out, it’s awesome http://trailersfromhell.com/) and lo and behold that days trailer was for…’The Changeling’. I felt a chill, I can tell you.

Recommended 4/5

Forgotten Horror #2

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frenzy

 

#2 Frenzy

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Alec McCowen, Billie Whitelaw, Bernard Cribbins.

Released 1972. 116 minutes.

Alfred Hitchcock’s second to last film had, until recently, completely passed me by. I’m a huge fan of Hitch’s work but his later material, quite frankly, bored me. I had tried, several times, to enjoy the likes of ‘Marnie’, ‘Torn Curtain’ and ‘Topaz’ but with little success. Blame me, not the Master. It’s for this reason that I had always been reluctant to give ‘Frenzy’ a go. I could always find something else to watch, even if I had seen it before, and when perusing the titles in my DVD box sets, and later the wonderful blu ray set, I would often opt for a third or fourth viewing of ‘Vertigo’, ‘The Birds’, or even a 20th viewing of ‘Psycho’ instead of giving ‘Frenzy’ a whirl.

All that changed the other night when my good lady Wife chose it from the box set. As the disc slipped in to the bowels of my blu ray player I did not hold out much hope but I was delighted to find, as the film unwound, that I could not have been more wrong.

‘Frenzy’ is Hitchcock at his most mischievous, his most playful and also at his most brutal. To witness the first on screen murder I was shocked at the brutality of it and even more shocked when it dawned on me that this was Hitchcock directing but I should not have been. Hitchcock was always a director who pushed the boundaries and was clearly revelling in the freedom that cinema was being allowed in the early 1970’s.

Not only is the film quite brutal but Hitchcock cleverly plays with his audience like never before. The murderer is a likeable fellow, someone who will help you out in a scrap, or so it would seem. Generous, caring and someone who quite clearly loves his Mother (but then again, so did Norman Bates.) The everyman in the film, the one Hitchcock usually gets us to identify with, is a bit of a brute. A womaniser, a drinker, and is shown to have a short temper. So instead of identifying with him Hitchcock gets us to identify with a serial killer and a rapist and that takes some doing but Hitch pulls it off masterfully and never more so that the scene in the potato truck. I am limiting my comments as I do not want to give too much about the film away. If you have already seen it (and I am sure that most of my three readers will have) then you will be able to identify my comments, but if you have not then I do not want to spoil too much.

As dark as this film is, it is also richly layered with some fine blackly comedic episodes, most of which are reserved for Chief Inspector Oxford and his Wife. Witness the scene when discussing the breaking of the fingers of one of the victims just as Oxford’s Wife snaps a bread stick. Funny and slightly sickening at the same time.

The film ends abruptly, but that is as it should. The ‘tacked’ on ending to ‘Psycho’ has always felt contrived to me and Hitchcock avoids making that mistake again here.

I watched ‘Frenzy’ on blu ray as part of the ‘Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection. I have read since of complaints regarding certain aspects of the picture but quite honestly I was astounded at the picture clarity. I’m no expert when it comes to blu ray images but it looked mighty fine to me.

So, if like me, you have overlooked this film then I urge to to give it a try. It’s rocketed into my top five Hitchcock films and I can’t believe I left it so long before watching it. Perhaps I should give ‘Family Plot’ a whirl next.

Highly Recommended 5/5

 

 

Forgotten Horrors

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1986 - Night Of The Creeps (VHS)

#1 Night of The Creeps

Writer & Director: Fred Dekker

Cast: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins.

Released 1986. Running time 88 minutes.

Forgotten Horrors is my occasional series looking at horror films I have forgotten or not seen for many years.

I was first aware of Night Of The Creeps through the pages of Fangoria magazine. Sadly the movie never made it to my local cinema but some months later promotional material started to appear for the movie in my local video shop. It would be promotional material that I would manage to procure from them (for free!) and would adorn my bedroom walls for many years to come. Sadly all of that stuff has now rotted away in various garages, or got lost in house moves. I remember one such item was a 3-D box of the cover of the VHS art (see above) with a cardboard hand reaching through a see through plastic door window. Such an item was fragile to begin with, and was clearly not designed to last the years, and this was the first item that succumbed to the rubbish bin.

I did, in later years, remember the film with fondness, especially the role played by Tom Atkins (Detective Cameron), but also a nagging feeling that the film would be bathed in neon and poor film quality as many 1980’s movies had been, and therefore be disappointing and ruining my memory of the movie. Consequently when the movie was finally released on Blu Ray in the United States I promptly dropped a copy into my Amazon basket but when the time came to make the purchase I would always find something else to spend my meagre film allowance on. Then, in August 2014, the Film 4 Fright Fest chose to screen the movie at their festival and also show the movie on their cable channel Film 4 in glorious high definition. I duly taped the movie but it was still some time before I managed to get round to watching it and yesterday I finally did.

First thing to say is that the HD print is wonderful. Crisp and sharp and better than I have ever seen it before. That 1980’s neon really does pop off the screen. The film starts with a prologue on a space ship with some strange, dwarf like aliens. Stranger still is that when they talk their alien language two sets of subtitles pop up on the screen. One in an alien language and one in English! The aliens lose an ‘experiment’ which falls to Earth as a meteorite type object in 1959 where is lands not far from Corman University in the USA (I’m sure you are all aware but look out for the names as I type them. The first being Corman of Corman University. You’ll soon see a pattern emerging). A couple out parked in a typical ‘inspiration point’ setting see the meteor coming down and the young fellow decides to investigate. At the same time there is an ominous warning over the radio about an escaped mental patient on the loose not far from their location. This is re-iterated by a passing cop who also happens to be the young ladies ex boyfriend. This is all played out in glorious black and white as a homage to the science fiction films of the 1950’s and the trend continues right the way through the film. Writer and Director Fred Dekker wears his passions on his sleeve in this movie, that’s for sure.

After the grisly prologue has concluded we are transported to the present day (1986 in this case) and two self confessed ‘lame-oids’ in Chris Romero and JC (James Carpenter Hooper) played by Lively and Marshall. JC is dragging his friend to a fraternity party when Chris spots a pretty young girl whom he instantly takes a lust to. That girl is Cynthia Cronenberg. Chris, who is a red head and shy, decides that the only way that he can get the girls affections is to join the fraternity but before they will be allowed in (which they won’t whether they succeed or not) they must steal a corpse and dump it in front of a rival fraternity house. And so we begin…

I won’t give away anymore of the plot but suffice to say that what we have here is a mash up of 1950’s horror films such as ‘The Blob’ and ‘It came from Outer Space’ with many cliches thrown in for good measure (and laughed at) such as the coroner who is always eating. As well as making fun of the cliches of the past Dekker has included some of his own. His two main characters, Chris and JC can be found in numerous films throughout the 1980’s such as ‘Weird Science’ and JC himself seems to be channeling the character of “Evil” Ed Thompson (played by Stephen Geoffreys) from the 1985 film ‘Fright Night’ almost directly. There are the prerequisite shots of young women’s breast that are a staple of of horror films of the 1980’s as well as the aforementioned neon, a jumping cat scare (I’m not sure if Dekker was poking fun at this cliche or just including it because everyone else did around this time) and standardisation of what college life was like in 1980’s America. And some horrible jumpers.

What saves this film from being an unremarkable entry into the horror genre of the 1980’s is Tom Atkins’ character Detective Cameron. Everything from answering his telephone in a bored manner with the line “Thrill me” to his now classic quote (and poster tag line), “Girls, the good news is: Your dates are here. The bad news is: They’re Dead.” As well as lamenting early on, “What is this? A homocide or a bad B movie.” Whilst Atkins’ character is played largely for laughs they are also some genuine pathos to the character. My favourite part is three quarters of the way through the movie and we see Detective Cameron seemingly relaxing on his sofa with a drink, listening to some old time tunes, and studying his Zippo lighter. There is a knock on the door, which he ignores, until the knocking becomes incessant and with anger he storms to the door. The he strips masking/gaffer tape from the door. At this stage I thought it was to keep the alien slugs out. There stands Chris in tears. He informs Cameron about the aliens and how they can be destroyed. Cameron then walks into his kitchen, closes the oven door, and turns off all the gas that was set to seep into the room. Finally he marches out of scene with a simple comment; “Great!” That scene alone makes the character and probably the movie for me.

So, finally, after more than twenty five years I finally got to watch Night of the Creeps again and it did not disappoint. From all the little nods from Dekker of past films and Directors, to the crackling dialogue of Detective Cameron, to the very good (for it’s age) special effects, to the Dick Miller cameo, Night of The Creeps stands up as a funny, creepy, and at times, sad movie. Much better than the average fare that came out around the mid 1980’s this film deserves a second chance.

Recommended 4/5

“The ‘Burbs” Blu Ray Steel Book Arrow review.

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the burbs 001

“The ‘Burbs” Steel Book

 

The film.

A wonderfully crafted, beautifully acted ensemble comedy directed by Joe Dante and starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman and Rick Ducommun.

Ray Petersen (Hanks) is looking forward to a week of putting his feet up at home when his plans are scuppered by the arrival of new next door neighbours the Kopeks whose behaviours and habits are just a little kooky.

This release by Arrow Video is one of the most eagerly anticipated blu ray releases of the year. Essentially a comedy with a dark side the film is a terrific ensemble piece with many stand out performances, most notably from Hanks, Fisher and Dern. Not well received by the critics upon it’s release in 1988, “The ‘Burbs” has garnered a large cult following since it’s arrival on VHS and DVD. Quite simply it’s a terrific, fun film. I love that street!

 

Video

I saw “The ‘Burbs” on it’s original theatrical run in the late eighties. Whilst my memory of the quality of the picture is hazy to say the least I can be pretty confident that the Arrow Video presentation is, at the very least, the same but most likely better. The film starts off in brightness and vibrant colours which are excellently presented on this disc. As the film progresses the colour scheme of the film darkens to blues and greys and none of this is lost on the disc. Watching it today on a 46 inch LCD high definition screen is as good, if not better, to watching it at the cinema over 25 years later

5/5

Audio

The uncompressed 2.0 stereo PCM audio soundtrack is crisp and clear. Dialogue is sharp and effects (of which there are many) are robust.

5/5

Extras.

As good as the presentation of the film is it’s the extras which will have the cult fans buying this in droves. The disc is jam packed with goodies. First off we have a new audio commentary with writer Dana Olsen. Then comes the 75 minute making of documentary ‘There Goes the Neighbourhood’ featuring Dante, Feldman, Wendy Schall, Courtney Gains, plus many of the crew that worked on the film. Next up, and probably the coup de grace of the disc, is Joe Dante’s own work print of the title which includes many deleted scenes and alternate takes. The quality was better than I was expecting (the source print was a VHS tape) but pails in comparison to the main features presentation. Still, it’s a fascinating watch. The next extra is ideal if you don’t want to watch the full work print of the film. It’s ‘A Tale of Two ‘Burbs’ which compares the theatrical and work print cuts of the film, often side by side. The alternative ending is also included, for the first time in high definition and rounding the package off on the disc is the original theatrical trailer.  A collector’s booklet with an article by Kenneth J. Souza and an article looking at the collaboration of Dante and composer Jerry Goldsmith completes the second half of the booklet which is illustrated throughout with archive stills and posters.

5/5

Final Verdict.

A wonderful, joyful film is presented with care, love and much expertise by the folks at Arrow Video. The whole package will keep any perspective buyer occupied for hours with all the extras but at it’s heart is a funny, wacky film beautifully presented. Highly recommended.

5/5