Category: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews

Blu-ray / DVD reviews: Howling II (1985), The Devil’s Woods (2015)

[Published in The Dark Side #180. December 2016.]

DVD / Blu-ray reviews: Timeslip (1970-71), Stigmata (1999)

[Published in The Dark Side #178, September 2016]


DVD/Blu-ray reviews: Doomwatch (1970-72), Doomwatch (1972)

[Published in The Dark Side #176, July 2016]


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DVD review: Lover’s Concerto (1995)

BallerinaLover’s Concerto (aka The Ballerina, 1995)

[Published on IMDb, 2005]

This film was released as a UK DVD release in 2001 by Prism Leisure, under the title The Ballerina; as an indication of the company’s shoddy handling, Shelley Michelle and Lisa Marie Alach are credited on the sleeve as Sally Michelle and Lisa Marie Alachi.

Much of Ms Michelle’s screen time is taken up by her dancing, accompanied by what appears to be her personal quartet; the supporting cast-members are only slightly less convincing as musicians than she is as a prima ballerina. When not providing background classics (wouldn’t a decent CD player have been cheaper?), the quartet hang around the pool and sauna, swapping partners and bodily fluids, whilst ‘Katya’ (Michelle) gazes from afar and longs to join in. The ambiance is very much of late-night tv erotica, but paced more slowly: Red Shoe Diaries after a large mug of Horlicks.

DVD review: Dark Matter, Season One (2015)

Dark Matter, Season One (2015)Dark Matter

[First aired on Syfy, the opening season of Dark Matter is currently available from Acorn DVD. This review appeared in The Dark Side #171, December 2015.]

 

A dysfunctional ragtag band of interplanetary mercenaries and political exiles, forced to scratch a shadowy existence on the fringes of known space, continually facing conflict both within and outside their no-frills starship… No, Joss Whedon hasn’t quit the Marvel sausage factory in order to reboot the Firefly franchise, despite that show’s clear similarities with the Syfy Channel’s homegrown thriller Dark Matter, which has just been renewed for a second season and is now available on DVD for those who missed its inaugural 13-episode run.

Co-created by Stargate writers Joseph Mallozi and Paul Mullie, who adapted their unsuccessful initial tv pitch into a well-received Dark Horse graphic miniseries before Syfy greenlit a weekly show, Dark Matter adds to its air of mystery by opening with its half-dozen human characters awakening from stasis aboard the freighter Raza to discover their memories have been wiped (the ship’s title is a homophonic in-joke, ‘tabula rasa’ being Latin for ‘blank slate’). Nor has the Raza’s resident android (Zoie Palmer, Bo’s lesbian lover Lauren in Lost Girl) escaped the saboteur’s interference, leaving all but one crew member in the dark as to his or her true identity and motivations.

For convenience, codenames are allocated in the order they left stasis: One (Marc Bendavid) seems to be the nearest to a reluctant hero among them; the feisty Two (Melissa O’Neil) swiftly becomes his second-in-command, taking the teenage Five (Jodelle Ferland, Mary Jensen in Kingdom Hospital) under her wing; Three (Anthony Lemke, another Lost Girl alumni) is the ship’s muscle, a role reminiscent of Firefly’s Jayne; Four (Alex Mallari Jr) and Six (Roger R Cross, Reggie Fitzwilliam in The Strain) are soon unmasked as killers on the run, but nothing in this series is quite as it seems.

Filmed, like Lost Girl and the Stargate conveyor belt, in Canada, Dark Matter has much to recommend it, not least the central story arc which underpins the first season and builds to a terrific reveal in the closing moments (none of the actors was tipped off ahead of the scene being shot). True, certain elements are less than wholly original, but there are plenty of twists along the route, buoyed by excellent performances from the regular cast, and I for one look forward to stepping back aboard the Raza when it relaunches next summer.

 

Extras: In addition to a photo gallery, each of the episodes has its own short featurette, focussing upon the individual characters, clues to their backgrounds and elements of the Dark Matter universe.

Blu-ray review: Theatre of Blood (1973)

PriceTheatre of Blood (1973)

[Distributed theatrically by United Artists and issued on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment, this film was released on Blu-ray by Arrow Films in 2014.]

 

As Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria, observes during one of several fascinating featurettes on this disc, 1973’s Theatre of Blood neatly bookended the 20-year rollercoaster ride his film career had stepped onto with 1953’s House of Wax. Price’s unique brand of camp malevolence swiftly established him as one of the true giants of horror cinema, arguably the first such since Karloff and Lugosi, and it was never more effectively showcased than in this tour de force collaboration between veteran director Douglas Hickox (co-helmer on 1959’s The Giant Behemoth) and jobbing screenwriter Anthony Greville-Bell (later to gain greater success as a sculptor).

But every Faustian pact comes with a bill: association with the genre undoubtedly denied Price many of the classic roles assigned to more mainstream stars, so it is here that Theatre of Blood raises the curtain on the first of its many delights; whilst we never had an opportunity to see Price’s own interpretation of Shylock or Richard III, that tantalising ‘what if?’ scenario is here placed centre-stage, albeit viewed via the crack’d mirror of deranged thespian Edward Lionheart.

Yet even here, Price refuses to bypass Lionheart’s shredded humanity and turn him into some species of cookie-cutter killer: “I don’t play monsters,” he once said, “I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge.” The challenge of engaging – and, perhaps more impressive, retaining – the audience’s sympathies for a multiple murderer wreaking vengeance upon those who ridiculed his self-belief is clearly one Price was hungry to sink his teeth into, and with justifiable relish.

Nor was dominating the screen going to be an easy task: Theatre of Blood is populated by a quite extraordinary array of British acting talent. As well as Diana Rigg, portraying Lionheart’s bereft daughter (a performance within a performance, as we soon discover), the ‘Critic’s Circle’ now finding itself held square to account comprises Michael Hordern, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Lowe, Coral Browne, Robert Morley, Ian Hendry, Dennis Price, Robert Coote and Harry Andrews, all of whom approach their roles as the film’s alternative villains – assuming you accept Lionheart’s own adjudication – with precisely the right blend of gravitas and doomed pomposity. These are ‘journalists’ versed in such casual malice that even Index on Censorship might not grieve over their bloody demise.

It is Hordern’s grisly dispatch – sliced to meaty ribbons in an homage to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – which sets out both Lionheart’s modus operandi and the tone for every subsequent execution. Much as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead would venture eight years later, Hickox and Greville-Bell use humour to distract from what is at its core one of the most inventively violent and gory concoctions to hit British screens that entire decade. Decapitation, electrocution, evisceration, drowning, choking: all are grist to this particularly bloodthirsty mill, yet they remain closer to the tradition of pantomime than the media-manipulated ‘video nasties’ which waited in the wings to overshadow the genre. How appropriate that a drama which evoked the spirit of the Grand Guignol with such flourish should feature ‘theatre’ in its title.

Certain contemporary critics – damnable parasites! – apparently regarded this film with a degree of distain, pointing to 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its 1972 sequel in what was presumably an attempt to downplay Theatre of Blood’s originality. If so, it was criminally misjudged: yes, Anton Phibes and Edward Lionheart do both practice their own form of homicidal justice, but the former is more of a carnival act, with his insane puzzles and manic machinery of death, whilst the latter seeks vindication as much as vengeance. From Lionheart’s perspective, those whose snide derision poisoned his triumphant grand tour had only to express remorse for their failure to recognise a true genius of the stage, present him with the honours he so richly deserved, and all that other exhausting unpleasantness could have been excised from the text. Instead, it was left to this great Shakespearean impresario to mount this final and most inspired production; the rest is silence.

~~~

Notes: Rarely would the tag ‘special edition’ be so justified as it is with Arrow’s long-anticipated Blu-ray release. In addition to the crystal-clear transfer (sourced from MGM’s original elements), extras include the 1973 trailer and an rich selection of interviews conducted by film-makers Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill (as well as Victoria Price, they’ve spoken to her father’s friend and confidante David Del Valle, supporting actress Maddy Smith and composer Michael J Lewis). Sadly, none of the lead contributors are still alive, other than Dame Diana, so the optional audio commentary is provided by all four members of dark comedy troupe the League of Gentlemen; as such, it offers more of a mildly entertaining diversion than any great insight into one of British horror’s most memorable productions, rather like watching the movie whilst sharing your sofa with a pack of particularly hyperactive puppies. That aside, this is a seriously must-have treat for any self-respecting fan of the genre.