Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 28 October 2013

Distributor: Second Sight

Director: George A. Romero

Writer: Stephen King

Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Stephen King, Viveca Lindfors, Leslie Nielson, Fritz Weaver

USA 1982

120 mins

Stephen King’s first original screenplay, directed by George A. Romero, ought by rights to have been a major piece of work. The fact that it remains defiantly minor perhaps points to Romero’s excessive respect for King, and King’s lack of respect for cinema. ‘I like moron movies,’ he declares in his otherwise smart study of the horror genre, Danse Macabre. And so he set out to write a silly movie, inspired by EC Comics, but actually dumbed down the material. Romero’s own idea, described in the extras on this fine new Blu-ray, was to create an anthology that tracked the development of the horror flick, beginning in black and white 1:1.35 and expanding to colour and widescreen as it went on. With his lack of sensitivity to the formal elements of cinema (see also his preference for his TV mini-series version of The Shining over Kubrick’s feature film), King wasn’t interested in that.

So Romero was saddled with a script that often doesn’t seem to make sense or to satisfy on a basic level of plot. He entertains himself by chopping the frame into comics panels and using lurid coloured lighting, which often changes mid-shot as if in a stage show, to create an analog of the four-colour comic strip experience. He also gets some very lively performances from a disparate cast, some of whom hit just the right note of frenzied caricature.

The problems and benefits of the approach are immediately obvious in the first episode, which follows from a remarkably thin framing structure (a nasty dad is upset about his kid reading anachronistic 1950s monster comics). King seems to have written the film rather quickly, and I don’t think he spent much, or any, time polishing it, so the first section, Father’s Day, is certainly the weakest. A zombie rises from the grave to get his cake, and kills a bunch of relatives along the way. Said crowd include a cigar-and-scenery-chewing Viveca Lindfors, and a young Ed Harris, whose disco dancing may be the most disturbing thing on show. No really strong reason is given why the characters have to die (though Harris’s funky moves arguably warrant a capital sentence) and indeed the deceased dad seems to have been a nasty piece of work anyway.

However, one benefit of the anthology film is that if you don’t like one episode, another will be along shortly, and Creepshow stands to gain fresh bursts of energy from its ever-changing cast and its team of editors, who give each instalment a subtly different rhythm.

Unfortunately, episode two, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, features Stephen King himself, gurning and going cross-eyed as an unlucky yokel infected by some kind of alien fungus he contracts after unwisely handling a meteorite. Borrowing the horror premise from William Hope Hodgson’s classic tale ‘The Voice in the Night’, King rides roughshod over the eerie and tragic potential of the story with his cack-handed performance. It’s one thing to say he’s deliberately over-the-top, but his buffoonish act is not just broad but totally unskilled. Bad acting is best left to the professionals. Again, the basic cause-and-effect of a horror retribution yarn is garbled, with Jordy fantasising about making a fortune from his falling star after he’s already been tainted by it. So we can’t even interpret his horrible fate as an excessive punishment for greed, nor can we see it as a manifestation of his lifelong bad luck, since the script doesn’t get around to mentioning that until later.

Leslie Nielsen comes to the rescue in Something to Tide You Over, a blackly comic revenger’s tragedy in which he gleefully buries a pre-Cheers Ted Danson up to his neck in sand to await high tide. Nielsen, though very funny, is nevertheless giving a true performance, unlike King. He had done Airplane!, and was just about to appear in Police Squad!, but was still more of an actor than a clown. His ebulliently nasty millionaire, obsessively recording his crimes on tape, can be seen as an avatar of the coming video-horror age, but truly embodies the spirit of EC, making sadism funny. The zombie climax hasn’t really been prepared for in any meaningful way, but the execution (with typically gross Tom Savini makeup effects) is so enthusiastic it seems forgivable.

Less forgivable is The Crate, boasting the strongest cast of all (Fritz Weaver, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau) and an amusing conceit, in the form of a still-living specimen from an arctic expedition discovered in a box at a university, and eating its way through the faculty. But Romero struggles to make the misogynistic fantasy palatable, working with a very crude pastiche of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? provided by King, in which we are invited to root for Holbrook to dispose of his shrewish wife using the crated creature as assassin. Weaver renders a typically detailed and funny study of male hysteria, Holbrook does his best to keep up, and Barbeau gamely surrenders to the role of hate-object, but it’s all very poorly worked out, and even the monster is unappetising.

Fortunately, the final episode produces authentic shivers of revulsion, and again centres on a zesty performance, this time from E.G. Marshall in clown-hair as a Howard Hughes-type nasty obsessive. The slender logic of EC is delivered intact for once: he’s mean and he hates bugs, so he’s assailed by masses of cockroaches. If you’re not itching by the end of this one, you’re already dead.

Somehow mostly likable in spite of its casual approach and occasional reactionary excesses, its lack of logic and its excess of high spirits, Creepshow benefits from lush presentation on Blu-ray. Romero’s tinted scrim effects and wacky panel shapes have never looked so good, and some of the accompanying cutting is authentically snazzy in an almost avant-garde way. It’s a shame he never found a pleasing style for the more conventional moments, and it’s a shame the good episodes are just outnumbered by the bad, but somehow, on balance, the film comes away more winning than otherwise.

David Cairns

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The Taste of Money

The Taste of Money
The Taste of Money

Format: Cinema

Release date: 25 October 2013

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Im Sang-soo

Writer: Im Sang-soo

Cast: Baek Yun-shik, Kim Hyo-jin, Kim Kang-woo

Original Title: Do-nui mat

South Korea 2012

115 mins

Im Sang-soo’s follow up to The Housemaid (2010) details the decadent, bitter and corrupt lives of an exceedingly wealthy modern-day South Korean family and their desperate attempts to control the insular world around them as it slowly falls apart. Cruel, deluded, manipulative, selfish and calculated, Sang-soo’s cast of scheming millionaires is an unsympathetic gallery of caricatures that are as vacuous and cold as the vast interiors they constantly inhabit.

There’s the callous and slightly insane grandfather, who’s well aware that everyone is waiting for him to die, so holds on to life out of spite. The controlling mother who even stoops to secret surveillance in order to keep her family in place and shift the balance of power. Her philandering husband who married her for money and spends most of his time seducing the female staff. Their sensitive daughter who pines for a more fulfilling existence that hopefully doesn’t involve being poor, and their emotionally inept son who has become the public face of their dubious business transactions.

Into this fold comes a relatively naïve and subservient, newly appointed personal secretary, who becomes conflicted over what he feels is morally correct, and his dutiful service to the family and his eagerness to be accepted. Can he resist the lure of money and power? Or will he become instrumental in bringing one of South Korea’s most powerful families to their knees?

After an interesting and inventive use of time lapse during the impressive opening scenes, director Sang-soo certainly establishes how adept he is at expertly filling a frame. But his brilliance at filming shiny floors and fancy furniture wasn’t enough to hold my attention with a narrative that is less than gripping, and left me feeling somewhat drained and indifferent after the film’s 115-minute running time. One aspect that I found particularly distracting was the sudden use of stilted English dialogue that randomly pops up throughout the film, creating seriously odd moments of wince-inducing unintentional humour. There’s a bit of Shakespearean plotting from time to time, a bit of Greek tragedy here and there, elements of a corporate thriller thrown in for good measure, unconvincing melodrama and a vague murder mystery towards the end of the film that’s never fully fleshed out and only seems to serve an over-the top-climax.

The Taste of Money seems to be trying very hard to be a shocking, subversive, controversial and unrelenting expose of Korea’s ruling class, but the result feels more like a glossy, heavy-handed soap opera with all the complexity of a four-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Robert Makin

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Format: Cinema

Release date: 31 October 2013

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: Wes Craven

Writer: Wes Craven

Cast: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp

USA 1984

91 mins

Released in 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street was a wide-ranging critical and commercial success, establishing the faltering young studio New Line – nicknamed ‘The House that Freddy Built’ – and revitalising the career of writer/director Wes Craven, as well as introducing the cinema-going public to the enduring horror/comedy icons, Freddy Kreuger and Johnny Depp, who together must have inspired a significant demographic of fancy dress and Halloween costumes. Returning to the original film in the wake of the increasingly bizarre sequels, culminating in Wes Craven’s meta-mad New Nightmare and Samuel Bayer’s dourly unnecessary 2010 remake, I was surprised by how much fun it is. For some reason, I had retrospectively given the original film a patina of respectability in the light of the daftness of what was to come, but that daftness was right there from the beginning, and Nightmare is best enjoyed as a pulpy B-movie that sneakily delights in its own absurdity.

Although Robert Englund is credited in the opening titles as playing ‘Fred Krueger’, he really is Freddy from the get go. Forget any contemporary neuroses about the ubiquity of paedophilia; Freddy, the disfigured knife-clawed child murderer, is a cackling, malevolent clown figure who delights in the fear and disgust he causes his victims. His costume is circus-tent red and green, and in an early appearance, his arms stretch out from one side of the street to the other, both ludicrous and genuinely frightening. He’ll happily lop of a finger for a giggle, and his murders are gruesome jokes on his victims, involving peek-a-boo chases and Johnny Depp’s Greg getting sucked into the pit of his bed to be spewed out, like the gushing spill from the elevator in the Overlook Hotel. ‘You’re not gonna need a stretcher,’ a cop tells the rushing medics. ‘You’re gonna need a mop.’

Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, Freddie’s target and adversary, has a goofy awkward innocence and a weird dreamlike nonchalance. Everyone in the film behaves with an odd dreamy logic, though the dreams themselves are never really that dream-like, with the exception of the gooey staircases that melt under Nancy’s running feet. The dreams are more like Hollywood-digested Freud, with the boiler room as the steamy, ready-to-blow site of repression, rage and dark history, in stark opposition to the pastel-coloured suburban life on show. Freddy himself is a product of Nancy’s parents’ crimes, and they are as much a danger to her as Freddy, with Ronnee Blakley as Nancy’s booze-drenched mom and B-movie legend John Saxon as the absent police detective dad.

Ultimately, Nancy will try to inhabit Freddy’s sado-comic world and play by his rules. Anticipating the Home Alone antics of Macauley Culkin’s Kevin, Nancy improvises a series of Wile-E-Coyote traps – a hammer falling from a door, exploding lightbulbs – but these manoeuvres and her attempt at psychological release will be dubiously effective against a cartoonish figure who, like all cartoon heroes, simply won’t die.

John Bleasdale

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My Amityville Horror

My Amityville Horror

Format: DVD

Release date: 28 October 2013

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Eric Walter

Writer: Eric Walter

Cast: Daniel Lutz, Laura DiDio, Neme Alperstein

USA 2012

88 mins

This fine, puzzling documentary by Eric Walter consists largely of interviews with Daniel Lutz, who is, nowadays, a worker for the UPS, but who was, back in the 1970s, the oldest son of the Lutz family, who were at the heart of the ‘Amityville Horror’ paranormal case study/ media franchise. Walter gets to film Daniel playing guitar, riding around in hot rods, visiting a therapist and meeting up with various people who had a connection to the original case in some kind of quest to attain closure and peace.

The film lets everybody speak for themselves, with no editorial voice-over or evident bias, which is fair enough, though it does kind of assume that you’re familiar with the AH phenomenon, in which the Lutzes were supposed to have endured 28 days of supernatural assault after moving into a house that they picked up as a bargain after it had been the scene of a nasty mass murder (Daniel was 10 at the time). I, for one, could have done with a few more subtitles spelling out the facts where the facts are known. But this is a case where hard facts are hard to find. AH is a battleground between those who believe that it was all a hoax and those who believe the Lutzes’ account, with the waters further muddied by Jay Anson’s decidedly dodgy bestseller and the 1974 film, with its various sequels and remakes.

There are some great characters and strange ideas revealed along the way, and a visit to a psychic’s house (dozens of occult carvings, twin roosters crowing in cages, a piece of the ‘true cross’ revealed) that is weird comedy gold. But the main reason to watch My Amityville Horror is Daniel, clearly scarred by the dysfunctional home life that erupted into a media sensation. He fled home at 14 and is now estranged from his family, paranoid, intense and angry, and prone to making forceful statements that beg more questions than they answer. A brittle man in a macho shell, he recalls the subject of Errol Morris’s 2011 doc Tabloid, another film where the very idea of ‘truth’ becomes slippery and elusive. Did this stuff happen? Does Daniel need to believe it did? A film to argue over.

This review was first published as part of our LFF 2012 coverage.

Mark Stafford

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The Body

The co-writer of Julia’s Eyes (2010), Oriol Paulo, makes his feature debut with The Body, a claustrophobic thriller in which a corpse vanishes from its freezer in a morgue without a trace, the only witness being a guard left in a coma cause by indescribable fear. Released in the UK by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, The Body is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.

Comic Strip Review by Neil Hood
More information on Neil Hood can be found here.



Format: Cinema

Release date: 14 October 2013

Distributor: Koch Media

Directors: Adam Wingard, Gareth Evans, Jason Eisener, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto

Cast: Adam Wingard, Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott

USA, Canada Indonesia 2013

96 mins

If the first V/H/S film was a tentative but flawed attempt to breathe some life into the well-worn anthology format by combining nostalgic longing and creepy storytelling, this second instalment represents a coming-of-age of the most over-the-top kind: like the unruly brother who bursts in the door at the most importunate moment, V/H/S/2 is loud, brash and brilliant.

V/H/S/2 is also released on DVD & VOD from 14 October 2013.

Veering from the sublime to the outrageous, V/H/S/2 is a terrific combination of talent and ambition. Most of the stories are not only technically impressive, but also combine terrifying scares with laugh-out loud moments. Without spoiling any of the storylines, suffice it say that the four segments vary from alien abductions to strange cults, with eye transplants and zombies in between. Standout segments from Gareth Evans and Jason Eisener impress and astonish in equal measure, however, the talents of other directors (especially Adam Wingard’s tender Carpenter tribute) must not be ignored. V/H/S/2 is an engaging, brilliant sequel, which deserves a huge audience to enjoy it loud and big at the cinema – an almost perfect Saturday evening film.

This review was first published as part of our FrightFest 2013 coverage.

Evrim Ersoy

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Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 23 September 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Jeff Lieberman

Writer: Jeff Lieberman

Cast: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow

USA 1976

93 mins

During a thunderstorm in 1970s’ rural America, a fallen pylon sends millions of volts into wet mud. Thousands of particularly gruesome fanged and multi-legged worms are charged with a desire to devour human flesh, coming out at night to attack the inhabitants of smalltown Fly Creek in Georgia. Not suprisingly, the electric storm coincides with the arrival of Mick (Don Scardino), who has come from New York to woo local belle Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy). Mick epitomises all tourists, associated with pollution and the nasty stuff they leave in the water, and causes frowns all around when he asks for his fancy ‘egg cream’ in the local caf. The two lovers, who did not factor in an attack of killer invertebrates during their romantic break, are the focus for Jeff Lieberman’s film. When people start to die in the town Mark and Geri set out to find out why, but are Mark’s quick-witted city ways a match for the wired worms?

Jeff Lieberman’s debut Squirm (1976) is well aware of its ludicrous premise, although as ‘ecological parable’ the film may have resonance for audiences in light of a new wave of climate-change horror. The release of the film certainly coincides with a turn to authenticity in current genre cinema. I’m thinking of recent homage films that show a reverence for celluloid over data, physical special effects and everything analogue, for example, Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012). The revenge of nature, or at least the physical, is now staged in the modes of production and materials used to make films.

One of the gems on Arrow’s Blu-ray release is the inclusion of the Q&A with Lieberman and Scardino from New York’s Anthology Archives (2012). Their stories about the pre-CGI production are as much a part of revisiting the film now as watching it. Highlights include how make-up artist Rick Baker produced some ground-breaking prosthetics for the shoot, as well as how the all-star wriggling cast of 250,000 worms were rounded up and made to wiggle on cue – animal lovers turn away at this point to avoid authenticity overload. Lieberman also reveals how sets and reverse printing were used in some scenes to create a particular creepy effect. Squirm is put together with visual eccentricities throughout, and part of this is the creation of some eerie, off-kilter shots.

My favourite is a story about the resurfacing of a sound effect that originally featured in Carrie, also made in 1976. When Lieberman was searching for a sound for the worms’ hideous screeching, Squirm sound editor Dan Sable, who had just been working on Carrie, played him a chilling recording of the scream of a pig being slaughtered (it’s enough here just to mention pig’s blood and prom dance). Lieberman thought this was the ideal sound for his rabid swarm, and ultimately it features heavily in the film. It’s interesting to hear that iconic sound effects enjoy this kind of covert resurrection.The resurfacing of the real is what gives the film its uncanny draw, and is as enjoyable now in its HiDef regalia as it was in its grindhouse, scratched up, celluloid form.

Nicola Woodham

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