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Reviews

House: Blu Ray (Reg A/B, Arrow Video)

After the success of the “Friday The 13th..” franchise, producer Sean S. Cunningham looked to expand his portfolio of films. One script he happened upon was that for “House”. No, it wasn’t an early version of the Hugh Laurie starring medical drama, but a script about a good, old fashioned haunted house set in contemporary America.

So, the plot: Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a divorced Vietnam veteran turned horror novelist, who has recently inherited his aunts old house after her mysterious suicide. Suffering writer’s block after the disappearance of his young son, Roger soon begins to see and hear things that should not be there. Aided by his well meaning neighbour (George Wendt), he attempts to fight back against the house, and possibly save his soul as well…

So, yeah, its a pretty thin premise, but one that works really rather well. Most of the film is actually played for laughs, rather than the typical for the time gore overload, which works immensely in the films favour. Doing supernatural events in a serious manner requires way more money than Cunningham had available for this film, so amping up the chuckles was a safe bet. Director Steve Miner (a long time Cunningham collaborator) handles the film magnificently, showing that he was truly becoming a well versed and versatile genre film maker, and coupled with a Harry Manfredini score (another long time collaborator of Cunningham), all the component parts are there. And they work. Almost perfectly. For me, this is easily a top tier horror-comedy, sitting alongside the likes of Return Of The Living Dead and Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein.

As this is an Arrow release, the extras are naturally extensive and excellent. for your money you get: a new 2k restoration presented in full 1080p HD, a choice of original mono, stereo or DTS-HD 5.1 soundtracks, subtitles, a commentary track with Steve Miner, Sean Cunningham, William Katt, and writer Ethan Wiley, a feature length documentary “Ding Dong, You’re Dead: The Making of House”, a vintage making of featurette, a stills gallery, theatrical, tv, and teaser trailers, a full version of the 1st draft script (BD-ROM), a full copy of the short story that inspired the script (BD-ROM), and a choice of original or new sleeve art. Phew. All of the aforementioned are more than worth your time.

So, this is a cheeky, funny, spooky film that is well worth your time and money.

4.5/5 Fiends. Pretty damned essential.

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Book Review: 245 Trioxin: The Story of the Return of the Living Dead

A few years ago, a book was released titled “The Complete History of The Return Of The Living Dead”. The book was an exhaustively researched, and highly detailed look at the making of all 5 films within the franchise (yes, even the really shitty parts 4 & 5).

Now, from the same authors comes “245 Trioxin: The Story of The Return Of The Living dead”, a companion tome, which focuses purely on the seminal 1st entry in the franchise. Now, much of the interview material is repeated from the original book, but it is supplemented with extra pieces from most (if not all) the major players. And the extra detail just adds to the feeling that, barring the issues with Bill Munns and his sub-par effects, this was a very fun and exciting film to work on for the most part.

The book itself is a beautifully designed hardback, featuring a new cover by Graham Humphreys (who also designed the iconic original UK VHS sleeve for the film). Inside, the glossy pages are bedecked with hundreds of stunning behind the scenes photos from the films cast and crew, presented in an interesting and artistic layout. There are also a fair few original illustrations to be found as well.

My only real gripe is that there are a few errors (in my copy at least) where a few lines of text are repeated, or a sub heading is missing. Beyond that, though, this is a fine book, and well worthy of a place in any self respecting horror fans collection.

5/5 Fiends. Bloody good reading.

Live: Lesbian Bed Death & Death Party UK @ Gullivers NQ

So, on a slightly cold and dull November evening, I took a chance and ventured into Manchesters “Northern Quarter”, usually the domain of hipsters with top-knots, to see the mighty Lesbian Bed Death (again). Was this worth the trip into “enemy territory”? read on…

So, the gig was arranged by the Manchester Vampire Guild, as a celebration of their 5th anniversary. Support was provided by Death Party UK, a duo of veteran Goth artists who played a spirited brand of Cramps infused Goth ‘n’ Roll. It took them probably 2 or 3 songs to get into their groove, but once they did, they were more than acceptable. The highlight was probably their ramped up cover of the theme to the 1960s TV of Batman.

After Death Party UK had finished up, the stage was reset for Lesbian Bed Death. Sporting another line up change, with Circus Rebel Junkies Danni stepping into the guitar hot seat, LBD played their last show of 2017, capping off a hectic year for the band after a number of headline shows, a tour with The Birthday Massacre, and their first ever tour of Spain.

Now, the band themselves were on fire. Dan & Danni played guitar like there was no tomorrow (and Danni is truly an exceptional lead guitarist), And Sienna was at her snake hipped best, but they were deeply let down by a truly shit sound mix. The drum were completely dominant, drowning out any bass or guitar solos, and reducing Siennas vocals to a mere mumble. And even more sadly, the sound engineer seemed unable to remedy this. Indeed, the appeared to give up after 2 or 3 songs for the most part. Towards the back end of the set, the bass and guitar leads became more audible, but only barely. And this was a shame, as the band were clearly giving it everything they had onstage, being determined to engage and entertain the somewhat sparse crowd. The set list was crammed with songs from their catalogue, and even featured a new song, “Video Nasty”, which was commissioned for the bands appearance in the upcoming Brit horror film “Clownface”.

Overall, this was a 5/5 Fiends performance ruined by a 1/5 sound mix.

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The Thing (Arrow Video Reg. B Blu Ray)

“Man is the warmest place to hide…”

The Thing is almost the dictionary definition of a cult classic. Heavily criticised upon it’s initial release (at almost exactly the same time as E.T.), and a box office failure, The Thing found redemption in the VHS boom of the 1980s. Since then, it has undergone many critical reappraisals, and has become widely recognised as a masterpiece of both horror & science fiction film-making.

So, the plot the: Based upon the short novella “Who Goes There”, The Thing is concerned with a US Antarctic research outpost, which is visited by some distinctly unfriendly Swedish scientist who are hunting what appears to be an escaped Husky. After the Swedish scientists are killed, some of the US crew, including Kurt Russell’s nominal hero MacReady, head off to the Swedes base camp, and find it destroyed, with only corpses, and some weirdly deformed burnt remains left behind. They also discover a large block of ice which appears to have contained, well, something. After returning to their own camp, they discover that the Swedish team had discovered a large alien object buried under the ice. A quick visit shows that this was a non terrestrial vehicle, and that the mysterious block was cut from the ice nearby. They deduce that the block contained a lifeform, and it must have somehow come back to life, causing the devastation they saw at the camp.

Upon their return to their own camp, they discover that the alien lifeform has infiltrated their group, thanks to the Husky the Swedish team were hunting. As paranoia begins to seep into each members psyche, they struggle to destroy The Thing before it can escape their camp, and conquer the Earth. But who is human, and who is not?

So, thats the plot (mostly). Suffice to say, I love this film. Not only is it intelligent, it is gory, and action packed too. Indeed, it could be argued that this is John Carpenters career pinnacle in terms of pure film making craft. His handling of the actors is superb, with each cast member giving a truly believable performance. The production design is superb, helping to create an atmosphere of true isolation (thanks to filming in Alaska near to the base of a glacier), and Dean Cundey once more shows why Carpenter kept returning to him time and time again for cinematography duties with some truly superb shots.

And speaking of that cinematography, Arrow have done a magnificent job on showcasing it on this disc. A brand spanking new, and Arrow exclusive 4k remaster of the original negative was undertaken and overseen by Carpenter and Cundey. The results are amazing. The image is crisp, with the bare minimum of grain visible in darker scenes, and the stunning widescreen aspect ratio is retained perfectly. Indeed, this is probably the best that the film has looked since it’s very first screenings.

Audio is well served, too, with 2.0 stereo, 4.1 and 5.1 surround tracks available.

Extras wise, Arrow have once again outdone themselves. You get 2 commentary tracks (a legacy DVD one from Carpenter and Kurt Russel, as well as an all new one featuring some well known horror podcasters), an all new feature length documentary “Who Goes There? In Search Of The Thing”, “1982: One Amazing Summer” which is a look at the number of amazing films released that year, “The Thing: Terror Takes Shape” which is a legacy documentary from the DVD release in the late 1990s, a video of the 35th Anniversary panel from the Texas Frightmare weekend, an exclusive short film “The Thing: 27,000 Hours”, featurettes on the films fans, some outtakes, a trailer, a booklet, a reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork, and on the initial pressing a cardboard slipcase. There is also a collector edition if you can find it which features a different case, and a poster & postcards.

Frankly, if you love this film, you NEED this edition.

5/5 Fiends. Totally essential.

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Live Review: W.A.S.P. @ The Ritz, 21/10/17

So, 10 years after first touring the bands magnum opus, The Crimson Idol, in it’s entirety, Blackie Lawless and his merry band return to celebrate the albums 25th anniversary. As with the 15th anniversary show, the album is being played in full, complete with the accompanying film footage shot at the time for the aborted Crimson Idol movie, (a significant chunk of this footage found it’s way into some of the music videos that accompanied the singles released at the time). I, and 1500 other souls, braved the near torrential rain to attend this show. A little bit of water doesn’t stop us.

So, what did we get? Well, the stage was adorned by 3 large screens, onto which the footage was projected, and an impressive looking drum kit. a couple of banner were hung at the back of the stage, but that was it. Simple, yet effective. The band took to the stage, as the introduction to the Crimson Idol was played over the p.a., and launched straight into the albums opening track, “The Titanic Overture”. From here on in, it was a full throttle run through the album, with no between song banter from Blackie, as the space between the songs was often taken up with narration linked to the video and progressing the storyline.

Right from the off, the 1500 strong crowd was deeply into the set. Each song was met with a deafening roar of approval, and the crowd were often allowed to carry the songs choruses by Blackie. It truly was special to see that many supposedly “tough” metalheads singing along passionately to “The Idol” and “Hold On To My Heart”. Even Blackie looked suitably impressed.

After the culmination of the main set, there was a 5 or so minute break, before the band came back out to do the 4 song encore. Blackie spoke to the crowd a bit, but still chose tho let the music do the talking. Again, the screens used video footage, this time of the videos made to accompany the songs.

The entire band were on tip top form. Blackie is still an imposing stage presence, even at 61 years of age, and his voice held up admirably. Mike Duda has been holding down the fort on bass now for 21 years, and as usual was assured and energetic. Doug Blair once more proved why he is one of the most underrated lead guitarists in the business, and new drummer Aguiles Priester was an absolute monster. He is easily the best drummer I’ve ever seen with the band.

I should also note that the support band, The Cruel Knives, were actually pretty damned good, with their own take on contemporary hard rock. A brief 30 minute set was theirs, and they owned it. Well done lads. I was suitably impressed. And kudos for not only selling merch inside the venue, but getting outside in the rain to sell your CDs to the departing crowd. That is a sign of real determination.

Set List:

THE TITANIC OVERTURE

THE INVISIBLE BOY

ARENA OF PLEASURE

CHAINSAW CHARLIE (MURDERS IN THE NEW MORGUE)

THE GYPSY MEETS THE BOY

DOCTOR ROCKTER

I AM ONE

THE IDOL

HOLD ON TO MY HEART

THE GREAT MISCONCEPTIONS OF ME

Encore:

The Real Me

L.O.V.E. Machine

Golgotha

I Wanna Be Somebody

5/5 Fiends. Amazing.

 

W.A.S.P. “Reidolized: The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol” (MP3/CD)

UPDATED March 18th 2018:

So, I finally got the physical release of this a few weeks back. So, lets update the review:

The album comes packaged in a 4 disc Digipak sleeve, with a slipcase outer. Inside are 2x CDs, for the expanded album, a DVD of the newly re-edited and enhanced “Crimson Idol” movie footage, and a Blu Ray of the same. You also get a booklet with the albums lyrics, and on the panels of the Digipak itself is transcribed “The Story Of Jonathan”. The whole package actually feels really nice, and well put together.

The Video footage is great fun to watch, having been re-edited and enhanced with some effects work since it’s first outing on the “Crimson Idol 15th Anniversary” tour, and matches what was shown on the recent “ReIDOLized” shows.

Original review:

25 years ago, W.A.S.P. mainman Blackie Lawless unleashed his magnum opus: The Crimson Idol. Yet, it was an unfinished work. There were songs that had been written, partly recorded, and for various reasons never included in the final product. Over the years, a few surfaced on various bootlegs, and a few were repurposed onto the “Still Not Black Enough” album. However, back in 2015, for the “Golgotha” album, Blackie and the current band finally made a full recording of one of the “lost” Crimson Idol songs, “Miss You”. And now, Balckie and his cohorts have revisited the Crimson Idol once more, re-recording all the original tracks, and adding back in some ones that were never included initially. But is it any good? Read on….

So, lets get look at this. The entire Crimson Idol album has been re-recorded. There isn’t a single note from the original release on here. Guitars, drums, synths, vocals are all new. And you can tell. Blackies voice isn’t quite what it was 25 years ago, being a bit rougher and more emotional. And long time band members Mike Duda and Doug Blair bring their own feel and sound to these tracks, familiar as they are with them having helped Blackie tour this album a decade ago to celebrate the albums 15th anniversary. And it all sounds good. The productions is perhaps less smooth sounding that the original, but it feels more urgent, more vital. And the new songs? Well, W.A.S.P. fans are already familliar with just how brilliant “Miss You” sounds, but each of the other new tracks is just as good, enhancing the albums story. The only niggles I have are with a couple of the spoken word story interludes. They sound a bit wobbly and “off”. Especially the one that precedes the albums final track “The Great Misconceptions of Me”. But this is a minor niggle really.

Incidentally, don’t go looking for this album just yet. I got my copy via Amazons MP3 service, when they accidentally released the album on its original scheduled date. It was yanked from sale pretty quickly, as the album (replete with a blu ray of the accompanying short film) has been delayed until the new year and the end of the tour.

5/5 Fiends. Essential listening.

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The Slayer (Arrow region free Blu Ray/DVD set)

The Slayer: New sleeve art from Arrow

So, The Slayer. A somewhat obscure, yet much sought after by those in the know supernatural slasher from the early 80s is the latest to get the deluxe remastering treatment from Arrow Video. Originally heavily censored on both sides of the Atlantic, Arrow finally present the film in all it’s gory glory for the first time. But is it worth the effort? Read on, Fiends, read on….

Predating Wes Cravens far more well known A Nightmare on Elm Street in it’s use of the dream world imposing it’s threat upon the waking world, The Slayer concerns 2 couples who take a vacation to an isolated island community. Once there Kay, a troubled artist who has painted scenes from the island despite not having seen them, begins to have vivid, violent dreams of an unseen assailant killing her friends (and any other visitors to the island). Is she imagining this, killing them herself, or is it really a demon from her past, come back to haunt her? Once a storm arrives, we head towards the fiery, and slightly confusing conclusion.

The film is really rather entertaining, in a typical early 80s low budget manner. It is clear from the outset that the majority of the films budget was allocated to the effects work, but this for once doesn’t really affect the acting as each of the core 4 performers gives a more than solid showing. The film moves along nicely, with the killings suitably gory and inventive. The films fiery conclusion ramps up the supernatural element, and features a well staged reveal of the previously unseen assailant that will certainly be memorable for most viewers. As I stated earlier, this idea of a dreamworld killer being drawn into the waking one pre-dates ANOES, and there is some debate as to whether Craven was aware of The Slayer or not. The films audio is a perfectly reasonable mono outing, with a fine score.

The Slayers original sleeve art

As is expected, Arrow have put together a damned fine package, featuring a beautiful transfer from an original camera negative, viewable in both HD and SD on the accompanying DVD. The extras include a commentary the writer/director, one of the films stars, and its producer., a second commentary with The Hysteria Continues, some isolated score selection with commentary, an all new “making of” documentary, a return to the films locations, a feature length audience reaction track recorded at a screening shown at one of the films locations, a stills gallery, and the films original trailer. You also get reversible cover art featuring the original poster/sleeve image, and a newly commissioned piece (which you can see at the top of this review)

Overall, I really like this set. The film is nicely made, and the extras are more than enough to keep you entertained.

4.5/5 Fiends.

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Lesbian Bed Death Live @ The Venue, Stalybridge

It had been far too long since I had seen Lesbian Bed Death take to the stage before I ventured out into the wilds of Stalybridge on Friday night to catch them. And I’m damned glad that I did. Despite the somewhat sparse crowd, the band yet again delivered a home run.

LBD have been through more than a few line up changes over their near 15 year history, being home to a variety of drummers, bassists, and vocalists. Well, the current line up would not have you believe this. They are an incredibly tight unit, anchored as ever by Mr Peach on rhythm guitar and backing vocals. And current vocalist Sienna Venom is probably the perfect embodiment of the bands sensual, sexy goth-punk aesthetics. With the voice of a beautiful demon (such as a succubus), and sinuous, evocative stage moves, she effortlessly captures the audience’s attention. But this would be somewhat useless if the band didn’t have the songs to back it up. And they do. In spades.

Setlist

The setlist covers pretty much the entire gamut of the bands discography, and Sienna nails each and every track. Obviously, her strongest performances come on the most recent material (which was written for her debut album with the band), but older tracks sound like they were made for her. Picking a highlight of the set is somewhat difficult, but I was particularly fond of the swampy drag through of “Satan In The Swamps”, a welcome change of pacing for the band. And set closer “Pretty But Mental” remains the anthem of the off kilter goth girls everywhere.

The band are on tour over the next couple of months, with their debut shows in Spain, and a full UK jaunt supporting The Birthday Massacre, plus a headline show in Manchester come November. I heartily reccomend checking them out if you have yet to do so. You will not be disappointed.

5/5 Fiends.

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Highlander: Immortal Edition (Reg. B Blu Ray)

Ah, Highlander… the perfect standalone fantasy/sci fi actioner that spawned a multitude of absolutely dire and unnecessary sequels. Really, the film covers everything need for the films core concept (a group of immortals battling through time until only one remains) quite well enough. So well that the sequels had to either retcon material from the first film, or ignore it altogether.

Anyway, synopsis:

In 16th century Scotland, Connor McLeod survives a mortal wound in battle, and is banished for devilry by his clan. He is found years later by Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, who explains to Connor that he is one of a breed of immortals, fated to fight until there is only one left. The only way an immortal can die is to be decapitated by another. Ramirez is killed by The Kurgan, an evil immortal determined to be “The One”. Centuries later, in late 1980s New York, that moment approaches. Connor, now living under the alias Russel Nash, and making a living as an antiques dealer is suspected of a series of murders, where the victims have been found decapitated. Can he evade the police, defeat his ultimate foe The Kurgan, and become “The One”?

And thats it. Now, the film complicates this somewhat by employing a flashback/flash forward structure, meaning the plot does not play out in a linear manner. Even so, it is pretty easy to pick up on what is happening, and why.

At the time, and indeed even now, the film was mocked for its eccentric casting choices. You have a French actor (Cristophe Lambert) playing a Scotsman, and a Scotsman (Sean Connery) playing a Spaniard. Yes, it’s daft. Especially when neither particularly tries to hide their natural accents when delivering dialogue. Not that this matters. Highlander is an action packed fantasy “epic”, which frankly looks and plays far better than a film of it’s relatively low budget really should. This is mostly due to some excellent production design and cinematography. Oh, and the wonderful songs by Queen (Who Wants To Live Forever, Princes of The Universe, etc). The only real issue I have is the way that the Kurgan is clearly presented in typical 80s bad guy fashion, replete with some truly dire one liners. That reeks of studio interference.,

So, the Blu Ray. Well, it is a pretty good package. The transfer is probably the best that the film has looked since it’s first screening, with a reasonable amount of grain, and a fairly muted colour palette. The audio handles itself well, but does at times belie it’s rather basic stereo origins. As for extras? You get a Directors commentary, the films trailer, some deleted scenes, and a 3 part feature taken from a German DVD release. Overall, it isn’t bad. Not up to Arrow/88 Films standards, but for a catalogue release from a major (Studio Canal, who own the Cannon catalogue) it is pretty decent.

Overall, I reccomend this to anyone who enjoys their fantasy films a bit on the dark side.

4/5 Fiends.

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Graduation Day (88 Films All Region Blu Ray)

1981. Quite possibly the peak year for slasher films. Halloween II, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Funhouse, Deadly Blessing, My Bloody Valentine, Night School, Eyes Of A Stranger, The Burning, and of course Graduation Day. As a gorehound, you were quite spoilt for choice.

Naturally, not all of these films were actually any good and worth the cost of a cinema ticket, but some most certainly were. As for Graduation Day? Read on to find out…

So, quick synopsis (taken from the IMBD, as it is more concise than I could manage):

After a high school track runner, named Laura, suddenly dies from a heart attack after finishing a 30-second 200-meter race, a killer wearing a sweat suit and a fencing mask begins killing off her friends on the school track team one by one. The suspects include the track coach Michaels, Laura’s sister Anne who arrives in town for the funeral, the creepy school principal Mr. Guglione, and Laura’s strange boyfriend Kevin.

So, a pretty straightforward slasher set up. Now, like almost all slasher films released at the time, Graduation Day was produced on a very small budget, somewhere in the region of ¬£250,000. And like almost all other low budget films, it shows. Sure, some directors could make a low budget look like a much higher one thanks to great cinematography, and skillful set dressing, but sadly Herb freed is not one of them. This film looks cheap. Which isn’t a totally bad thing, as it lends a distinct air of small town sleaze to proceedings. Very obviously the majority of the budget went on the effects work, as the acting is of a similar low standard to the look of the film. Linnea Quigley pops up in a early horror role, looking exceptionally young and fresh faced, but beyond her and American Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White, it is pretty much a case of “Where are they now?” The film was released at some point by Troma, and it fits nicely into their oeuvre.

88 Films have used the same source as the US Vinegar Syndrome release, as far as I can tell, for this disc. And frankly, this is a s good as this film has probably ever looked. Sure, it’s a bit grainy, and the colours seem a tad muted, but that is par for the course with near 40 year old low budget films. The audio is acceptable, again given the source, and does its job. The disc itself packs a decent bunch of extras, including interviews, all the usual 88 Films Troma bits (including a Lloyd Kaufman introduction), and an 88 Films trailer reel. The highlight, though, is the inclusion of the feature length documentary “Scream Queens: Horror Heroines Exposed”, which features interviews with many of the stars of 80s horror films such as Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, and Catriona McColl. This feature is excellent, and surpasses the main feature itself.

So, overall, it is a very good package for a “meh” movie.

3.5/5 Fiends (but 5/5 for the Scream Queens documentary)

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