Blu-ray review: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018)

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The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018)
Sparky; certificate 15 (out now)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

When perhaps the last of the mythic man-beasts also known as Yeti begins to stray from its usual territory in the Canadian wildwoods, spreading a deadly disease which threatens all living creatures, the US Government press-gangs the legendary hunter responsible forty years earlier for assassinating Adolf Hitler in the final days of World War Two. In addition to his remarkable tracking and combat skills, Calvin Barr’s rare immunity to the virus carried by the Bigfoot may be our own species’ single hope to avoid destruction.

The difficulty with this film, the feature debut of writer-director Robert D Krzykowski, is that it hangs almost entirely upon the excellent performance from Sam Elliott (Hulk, Ghost Rider) as the world-weary Barr, haunted by both his past (Aidan Turner steps in for the counterfactual WW2 flashbacks) and the future happiness he was denied. Entertaining as the premise is, it would be nothing without Elliott at its heart.

Blu-ray review: Voodoo Man (1944)

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Voodoo Man (1944)
Fabulous Films; certificate 12 (out 24 June)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

The last of Bela Lugosi’s films for “Poverty Row” studio Monogram, Voodoo Man reunited the fading horror legend with William Beaudine, who’d directed him in the previous year’s The Ape Man. Shot over seven days during the autumn of 1943, this rather lack-lustre resurrection drama also features intermittent support from George Zucco and John Carradine, although only Zucco seems to be enjoying himself.

Lugosi plays the latest in a long line of deranged scientists, Dr Richard Marlowe, who’s been kidnapping lone women motorists in a bizarre attempt to rejuvenate his deceased wife (who looks darned fresh for someone who apparently died in 1912). Marlowe’s inventions include an EMP device capable of stalling car engines and some form of remote viewer linked to a television screen, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him that both might prove useful to the US war effort, such is his obsession with the voodoo ceremonies conducted by Zucco.

This is a very slight affair, a bundle of deranged sorcery, police incompetence and unlikely coincidences which is wrapped up within sixty-two minutes. Lugosi deserved better, and makes little effort to hide his own knowledge of just how far he’d fallen since 1931’s Dracula.

Extras: none

Blu-ray review: The Running Man (1987)

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The Running Man (1987)
Fabulous Films, certificate 18 (out 24 June)
Originally written for Infinity magazine

Despite earning Arnie Schwarzenegger his first $5m paycheck, The Running Man is a film he still regards as a missed opportunity and a relative failure.

Based upon a pseudonymous novel by Stephen King (optioned before the secret came out, the real identity of book’s author “Richard Bachman” was well known by the movie’s release, although King blocked an on-screen credit), the main drama is set in a dystopian United States where the economy has collapsed, civil rights have been flushed down the toilet and the masses are kept subdued with a mix of reality television and the titular gladitorial contest. The unimaginable future of 2019.

Executive producer Rob Cohen initially wanted Miami Vice star Don Johnson to play the novel’s hero, Ben Richards, but the studio went for action hero Arnie, a choice which also disappointed King. Cohen also approached actor Paul Michael Glaser to direct, but the former Starsky and Hutch hearthrob considered he had insufficient time for pre-production, only changing his mind (unwisely in the opinion of many, particularly Schwarzenegger) when Andrew Davis (The Final Terror) reportedly ran four days behind schedule and $8m over-budget (of an estimated $27m) by the start of his second week behind the camera.

Davis’ replacement by Glaser both unsettled and angered the film’s star, who thought the latter ill-prepared and too fixed on a small screen aesthetic. The Running Man grossed $38m domestically, earning a small but tidy profit, but Arnie remained certain it could have hit $150m with more experienced handling.

That said, it’s a lot of undemanding fun. Richard Dawson (fresh off hosting the popular quiz show Family Feud) sleazes and snarls in equal measure as the contest’s ratings-hungry presenter and puppet master, and there’s solid support from Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2), Yaphet Kotto (Alien) and Marvin McIntyre (Short Circuit) as the other ‘runners’. Steven E Souza had worked with Schwarzenegger on Commando two years earlier, so knew how to balance the comic book violence and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, although the movie might have benefited from a larger injection of socio-political satire.

Print-wise, the Blu-ray retains the original grain and texture, whilst Fabulous is to be commended for encoding the DVD version without PAL speed-up.

Extras: Trailer; commentary track by director Paul Michael Glaser and producer Tim Zinnermann; commentary track by executive producer Rob Cohen; two short 2003 documentaries, Lockdown on Main Street (exploring the theme of US civil liberties post-9/11) and Game Theory (an examination of the growth of reality television).

DVD review: Prospect (2018)

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Prospect (2018)
Signature, certificate 15 (out 22 April)
Originally written for Infinity magazine

Fellow fans of the lamentably short-lived science fiction series Firefly (2002-3) and its spin-off movie Serenity (2005) will find much to enjoy in this extraterrestrial western, expanded by writer-directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl from their 2014 short of the same title.

Teenage spacefarer Cee (Sophie Thatcher, tv’s The Exorcist) accompanies her prospector father Damon (Jay Duplass, The Oath) to an alien moon in search of highly sought-after crystals, but they’ve no sooner struck lucky than Damon dies in a shoot-out with rival miners and the pragmatic Cee finds herself teamed with one of her father’s assailants, Ezra (Pedro Pascal, Bloodsucking Bastards and Game of Thrones).

The duo’s unsteady alliance takes up much of the film, and both lead actors are excellent in their roles. Although the last of their confrontations with the satelite’s other inhabitants does get a little confused (as tends to happen with nocturnal firefights), Cee proves herself to be a young lady with true grit and saves both their skins, a satisfactory conclusion to a cosmic tale which proves refreshingly down to earth.

Blu-ray review: Replicas (2019)

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Replicas (2019)
Lionsgate, certificate 12 (out 29 April)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

Actors have occasionally been accused of ‘phoning a performance in; with this largely lamebrained excuse for a science fiction thriller, Keanu Reeves (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Matrix trilogy) goes one step further and texts most of his. “We are going straight to Hell,” says fellow scientist Ed as the pair start playing Frankenstein with the newly-deceased remains of Reeves’ wife and children; the rest of us are already there.

At a secret lab on a remote Latin American isle (presumably chosen for that Jurassic Park vibe), Will Foster (Reeves) is using a holographic display cribbed from Tony Stark to implant memories into android brains. After a traffic tragedy wipes out his family, he and Ed (Thomas Middleditch, The Final Girls) clone new bodies to create a fresh off-the-peg domestic unit. So far, so crazy, because a shortfall in the number of amniotic pods Ed could rustle up has already forced Will (or Bill: the film can’t decide, which is typical of Chad St John’s confused screenplay) to jetison his younger daughter.

Reeves demonstrates how deeply this is affecting him by delivering every line like he hasn’t slept for a fortnight (if he’s suffering from insomnia, perhaps he should try watching this film). Meanwhile, his resurrected wife Mona (Alice Eve, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Men in Black 3) is proving memories can’t be buried like last week’s trash, forcing Will into a conversation which is one of the few unexpected moments in this $30M b-movie. Enter the lab’s administrator (John Ortiz, Kong: Skull Island), who forces Reeves to channel his inner John Wick and take the action up a gear to protect his faux family.

Unfortunately, the film’s closing 30 minutes are still hobbled by the lethargy and gormless technobabble of the opening 75, leaving us with a fractured and deeply unfocussed narrative. Its moral perspective is further skewed by the finale, in which the allegedly deleted daughter rematerialises and an android version of Reeves begins offering the resurrection tech to any elderly millionaire with a yen – and sufficient spare yen, or dollars, or rubles – to reboot.

Reeves is reportedly back with Alex Winter right now, shooting a third Bill & Ted. Let’s hope his time-travelling includes telling Replicas director Jeffrey Nachmanoff to order a few critical rewrites and maybe get himself a more convincing lead actor (seriously, Jeffrey, your faith in Reeve’s “dramatic chops” is deeply misplaced).

Extras: commentary by Nachmanoff and executive producer James Dodson; “making of” documentary, including interviews with Reeves and his production partner Stephen Hamel, who came up with the initial story; deleted scenes.

Blu-ray review: Crucible of the Vampire (2019)

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Crucible of the Vampire (2019)
Screenbound, certificate 15
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

The sad truth is, the British horror industry has sunk to such depths that almost any halfway competent entry is greeted with disproportionate excitement, and whilst Crucible of the Vampire is by no means as instantly forgetable as some recent releases, its overall impact is that of a damp squib rather than the fireworks we all hope to see again.

When archaeologist Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) is dispatched to a remote country house to evaluate a potential addition to her museum’s collection, she soon runs foul of the item’s current owner, Karl (Larry Rew, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans). At least his wife Evelyn (Babette Barat, who seems to have stepped out of a Ken Russell romp) and daughter Scarlet (Florence Cady) seem friendlier, the latter far more than usual in polite company. Meanwhile, resident gardener Robert (Neil Morrissey, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle) offers moral support amidst a few dark hints about the estate’s health and safety record.

Pretty soon, Isabelle (a virgin, we helpfully learn via an oddly intimate conversation with a barmaid) is having curious dreams and encountering the stately manse’s spectral squatter. Luckily for her, Scarlet is happy to offer solace in her own bed, as well as a rather restrained sapphic seduction and a somewhat over-enthusiastic hickey.

It doesn’t take a graduate of Karlsbad University to see where this is going: the local Satanists want to use Isabelle’s virgin blood (lesbian sex doesn’t count, apparently) to restore the vampire in Karl’s upstairs bathroom to full strength and, well, the rest of their scheme is left unstated because Isabelle is soon channelling her inner Lara Croft and inserting some overdue dynamism into the film’s closing act.

This is director Iain Ross-McNamee’s second feature (his first was 2015’s ghost story The Singing Bird Will Come), co-written with Darren Lake and John Wolskel (whose Vampire Motorcycle credit no doubt explains Morrissey’s fleeting and frankly superfluous participation), and displays logistical assurance which sadly is not matched by any noticable skill in creating either tension or atmosphere. Like the photography, much of the drama is disappointingly flat, encouraging one’s mind to wander off piste and query why Scarlet, a vamp in both senses of the term, wanders happily around her home’s more sunlit wings, yet her presumed ‘siress’ flares like a Roman candle as soon as she exits the front door.

The great problem when reviewing a film such as Crucible of the Vampire is that the intentions of cast and crew are never in doubt: they clearly wanted to make a memorable British chiller in the vampiric vein of Dracula AD 1972 (with a PG-friendly dash of Lust for a Vampire). Unfortunately, the script simply doesn’t deliver the goods, and everything from that point onwards is rendered anaemic as a result.

Blu-ray review: Kin (2018)

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Kin (2018)
Lionsgate, certificate 15
Originally written for Infinity magazine

Despite the presence of headliners Dennis Quaid (Innerspace, The Day After Tomorrow) and James Franco (Spider-Man, Oz the Great and Powerful), Kin feels oddly more suited to small screens than the large, with an open-ended finale which leaves you anticipating (albeit not rooting for) a spin-off tv series.

When the recently-widowed Quaid’s estranged elder son (Jack Reynor, soon to be seen in Scandi folk horror Midsommar) gets out of jail, he might be forgiven for thinking strained family dynamics are the biggest problem on his plate. Unfortunately, Reynor is in debt to a local gangster (Franco), adopted teenage son Myles Truitt (last seen in Black Lightning and here making his feature debut) has salvaged an extraterrestial weapon from the site of an unexplained alien shoot-out (seriously, it’s time for a moritorium on that cliché) and Quaid has the misfortune to walk in on Franco’s gang as they’re robbing the construction company he works for. The two brothers escape, joining forces with a kind-hearted stripper (Zoë Kravitz, X-Men: First Class and Mad Max: Fury Road), but Franco is soon hot on their trail, as is a team of aliens eager to retrieve their bad-ass bazooka.

Although competently executed, the resultant road movie is crushingly familiar, and that’s not because I saw Bag Man, the 2014 short by Kin co-directors Jonathan and Josh Baker from which it was expanded. The old Not the Nine O’Clock News song ‘Nice Video, Shame About the Song’ springs to mind; in this case, decent enough performances and special effects, pity about the plot and script.

Blu-ray review: Swamp Thing (1982)

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Swamp Thing (1982)
88 Films, certificate 15 (out 25 March)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

The opportunity to write and direct a screen adaptation of the Len Wein / Bernie Wrightson horror comic came at an interesting juncture in Wes Craven’s career. Having navigated his way out of hardcore pornography through exploitation cinema (The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes) into the horror mainstream (Deadly Blessing), Swamp Thing allowed Craven to demonstrate his ability to handle action scenes, location work, special effects and a relatively tight $2.5m budget. Unfortunately, despite bringing the project in on schedule and within Avco Embassy’s cost estimates, it would be nearly three years before A Nightmare on Elm Street earned him wider recognition (by which time any comics fans picking up Swamp Thing on VHS would probably wonder why it diverged so much from Alan Moore’s 1983 reboot).

The movie was clearly aimed at a family audience, although 88 Films has chosen to go with the ‘European cut’; this version features brief nudity excised from the original US theatrical release, most notably a sequence in which its well-endowed heroine Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York) skinnydips under the no doubt sexually frustrated gaze of mutated biologist Alex Holland (stunt man Dick Durock, who stepped in to play the beast of the bayou after Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) found the costume too clumbersome). Heading the cast as the urbane mad scientist Anton Arcane is Hollywood veteran Louis Jourdan (1977’s Count Dracula), who was most likely fulfilling a contractural obligation when he reprised the role in Jim Wynoski’s decidedly less effective 1989 sequel The Return of Swamp Thing.

In the excellent commentary track hosted by Sean Clark (Horror’s Hallowed Grounds), Craven readily admits there were problems with the production values – Jourdan’s climatic transformation into some kind of sword-wielding werewolf is more comical than comicbook – but Swamp Thing remains a fun romp, much of its charm lying in its being produced in an era before computer graphics became a kneejerk panacea for lazy film-makers.

Extras: slipcase, 16pp photobook and A3 poster (limited edition only); commentary by Wes Craven, which drops out during the nude scenes; interviews with production designer Robb Wilson King, critic Kim Newman; original trailer. The HD restoration is very nicely handled and my only regret is that 88 Films weren’t able to import the additional commentary by makeup artist William Munns and interviews with Adrienne Barbeau and Len Wein which appeared on Shout Factory’s 2013 Blu-ray (although that release omits Ms Barbeau’s steamy ablutions).

Blu-ray review: The Green Inferno, aka Cannibal Holocaust II (1988)

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The Green Inferno, aka Cannibal Holocaust II (1988)
88 Films, certificate 15 (out 11 March)

Anyone picking up this limp jungle drama in the mistaken belief that it bears any connection whatsoever with Ruggero Deodato’s infamous 1980 gorefest beyond the Amazonian setting is in for a savage disappointment.

Director Antonio Climati (Mondo cane) originally intended Natura Contro for Italian television, where it might have slipped into well-deserved obscurity, but Medusa pre-empted that airing with a video release falsely promoting it as a sequel to Cannibal Holocaust. The only upside to this scam is that UK customs officials might have seized any copies passing through their sticky fingers and spared the intended owners from wasting 90 minutes of their lives on this utter piffle.

Other than the gratuitous insertion of Jessica Quintero’s naked breasts into shot whenever the pace begins to flag (in other words, continuously), The Green Inferno would not look altogether out of place on CBBC, and why 88 Films deemed it worthy of a 2K remastering is a bigger mystery than the disappearance of a noted professor which sends our gang of cardboard explorers up river.

Extras: booklet featuring an essay by Francesco Massaccesi (not seen); extracts from Banned Alive, The Rise and Fall of Italian Horror Movies (featuring interviews with Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi); Italian titles and end credits; Italian audio track; remastered trailer.

DVD review: The Doctors, Villains! (2018)

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The Doctors: Villains! (2018)
Koch Media, certificate E
Review originally written for UK magazine Infinity

Hot on the cloven heels of the Myth Makers compilation Monsters!, producer Keith Barnfather and his team turn their attention to the Doctor’s arch-nemeses.

Sadly, of course, the best-loved of those actors, Roger Delgado, was tragically taken from us 45 years ago in a car crash whilst filming in Turkey, but this two-disc set includes a tribute to him from many of his former colleagues (a number of whom have sadly also now left this plane).

The remaining five places in this nefarious Who‘s Who are taken up by David Gooderson (Davros in Destiny of the Daleks; interviewed this year by Robert Dick), Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman in Pyramids of Mars; interviewed at a 2006 convention), Julian Glover (Scaroth in City of Death; ditto); Ian Collier (Omega in Arc of Infinity; filmed at home that same year) and Peter Miles (Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks; likewise). In a misguided attempt to give the older material a sense of continuity, questions from regular interviewer Nicholas Briggs were inserted into the footage; the result is both clumsy and jarring.

Whilst Glover provides the most entertaining segment, arguably the best line comes courtesy of Collier, confiding how his 1988 HIV diagnosis made it difficult to get regular work: “If it wasn’t for Big Finish, my career would have been finished!” Another reason, whilst the broadcast series suffers the attentions of the vacuous Chris Chibnall, to be grateful at least one company still knows how to make an authentic Doctor Who adventure.