Blu-ray review: Vampira (1974)

[This film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Fabulous Films on 14 August 2017.]

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Reportedly squeezed out by sitcom sausage machine Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served?; ‘Allo ‘Allo) as a favour for his friend David Niven (never better than in A Matter of Life and Death) when the latter revealed a yen to portray Count Dracula, Vampira is fatally undermined by the inability of Lloyd and director Clive Donner (1978’s small-screen rehash of The Thief of Baghdad; Get Smart revival The Nude Bomb) to decide what genre they’re aiming for. Spoof? Sophisticated comedy? Softcore farce? Woefully vague in both conception and delivery, this anaemic yarn offers a Dracula with little bite and jokes far too long in the tooth to raise more than a groan.

Niven tries to paste over the cracks with his career-winning bonhomie, but even he can’t save a scenario which sees his beloved wife transformed into a cross between Elizabeth Bathory and Foxy Brown following a ill-fated blood transfusion from a group of visiting Playboy models (don’t ask, it’s just one of numerous oddities in this screenplay). Lloyd was apparently instrumental in getting his former Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In colleague Teresa Graves the title role, her only movie lead, but his storyline is less kind to Linda Hayden (dispatched with absurd haste), Jennie Linden (wasted as an imperilled literary agent) and Freddie Jones (whose demise shows every sign of having been heavily cut to avoid a higher certificate). Only Nicky Henson emerges relatively unscathed, playing a horror writer bent to the Count’s will (no sniggering at the back, though that would be a novelty with this film), but the material he’s working with feels like remnants from one of his mate Robin Askwith’s Confessions romps.

Hammering another nail into Vampira‘s coffin, this is by no means an optimal print, and the final scenes (in which Niven’s usual tan appears to have been coated in boot polish) are particularly washed out. Appropriate, really: playing up the ‘debonair aristocrat’ angle might have clicked with 1970s audiences (after all, aren’t most members of the nobility bloodsuckers of a kind?), but this vampire vehicle never really came into focus.

The Lure of the Silver Scream [4]

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With our Club Vamporama teaser “Who is Bette Noir?” filmed and edited, Chrissie Harper and I headed over to a quiet Solihull cul-de-sac on Tuesday morning to shoot “Hail Cthulhu!”, a minisode set in that same universe featuring Dru Stephenson as Jenni and Elizabeth Hastings as Marie. In case you’re wondering, they switched position from Chrissie’s storyboard because Dru pointed out the uneven ground would elevate her to the same apparent height as Lizzie. This was typical of the professionalism, attention to detail and enthusiasm both actors brought to their performances, and we can’t wait to get the finished short film ready for a public screening.

Blu-ray review: Waxwork (1988)

[This Blu-ray will be released by Lionsgate on 28 August 2017.]

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There’s a lot of nostalgia these days for the 1980s, as evidenced by the success of Stranger Things and the release of films which keep one eye firmly trained on the rear view mirror, such as The Void and Beyond the Gates. Whilst that affection is occasionally misplaced (see my review of Blood Diner below), it’s well deserved in the case of Anthony Hickox’s directorial debut Waxwork.

Hickox, the son of editor Anne Coates (The Elephant Man) and director Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood), famously scored the gig when he drove into a car owned by would-be producer Staffan Ahrenberg and agreed to make amends by writing a script for $3000. Three days later, they had the mould for Waxwork, but it wasn’t until fellow producer Mark Burg intervened with Vestron’s studio head Dan Ireland that the wax could be poured.

Zach Galligan, who’d slid into television after 1984’s lead roles in Gremlins and offbeat fantasy Nothing Lasts Forever, was cast as reluctant hero Mark Loftmore, partnered with Hickox’s then-girlfriend Deborah Foreman (Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat) as the unexpectedly kinky Sarah Brightman. Adding some solid British support, Hickox called in Avengers veteran Patrick Macnee to play mysterious mentor Sir Wilfred and David Warner (TRON, Time Bandits) as the sinister museum owner whose exhibits are as dangerous as the icons of evil they depict.

The movie isn’t perfect: Hickox had to junk his original finale as time and money ran out, throwing together a rather shambolic free-for-all which is less ultimate showdown than saloon brawl, although elements were resurrected for the 1992 sequel Waxwork II: Lost in Time (with former Sports Illustrated model Monika Schnarre filling in for Foreman following an acrimonious break-up with the writer-director). However, it exhibits genuine energy and inventiveness, with British special effects designer Bob Keen bringing a glorious menagerie of monsters to the screen without the faintest whiff of CGI.

It’s a pity Lost in Time couldn’t have been bundled into this volume of the ‘Vestron Video Collectors Series’, seeing as Lionsgate previously handled the sequel’s 2003 DVD release and it’s referenced extensively in the copious extras, but fans will certainly have no complaints about the print’s clarity and absence of visible DNR.

Extras: audio commentary with writer-director Anthony Hickox and lead actor Zach Galligan; 82-minute documentary The Waxwork Chronicles, featuring interviews with Anthony Hickox, producer Staffan Ahrenberg, editor Chris Cibelli, sfx designer Bob Keen, make-up technician Steve Hardie, production assistant Paul Martin, art director John Chichester, make-up designer Paul Jones, plus Zach Galligan and fellow actors Dana Ashbrook, J Kenneth Campbell, Monika Schnarre, David Carradine (archive, obviously), Bruce Campbell; The Making of Waxwork, introduced for 1980s audiences by Patrick Macnee; theatrical trailer; stills gallery.

Blu-ray review: Blood Diner (1987)

[This Blu-ray will be released by Lionsgate on 28 August 2017.]

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Originally pitched as a sequel to Herschel Gordon Lewis’ infamous gorefest Blood Feast, Jackie Kong’s cannibal comedy (the third of four horror films she directed between 1983 and 1987) is a prime case of incoherent ineptitude misdiagnosed as satirical spoof.

Psycho siblings George (Carl Crew, Urban Legends) and Michael (Rick Burks) run a sleazy eatery where the menu is more Hannibal Lecter than Heston Blumenthal. Under the ghostly guidance of their dead uncle, the pair embark upon a murder spree in order to resurrect an ancient goddess by staging the first “blood buffet” in five million years.

This might sound ludicrous enough to be fun, but it really isn’t. The recipe is wrecked by lack-lustre direction, inane acting (it’s no surprise the leaden LaNette LaFrench made no other screen appearances), cack handed continuity, patchy audio (much of the film is clearly dubbed, though why is anyone’s guess) and a pedestrian screenplay by Michael Sonye (Star Slammer, Commando Squad). On a purely technical level, it’s a great print and includes footage removed for the Vestron VHS release, but it strikes me as somewhat crazy that time and effort can be expended on this junk when many genuinely worthy movies still await a Blu-ray restoration.

Extras: audio commentary by director Jackie Kong; 2016 featurette Killer Cuisine: The Making of Blood Diner; 2009 interview with memorabilia dealer Eric Caidin, who died in 2015; trailer; television ads; stills gallery.

Good News for Bad Things

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Had some fantastic news yesterday about our short film All Bad Things…, which centres upon a bizarre meeting in a restaurant. Obviously, it’s crucial we get an authentic location for the shoot; no one’s going to be convinced by a couple of trestle tables under a bed sheet.

Well, last night I took a ‘phone call from the owner of an award-winning Bangladeshi restaurant which my late wife and I first visited shortly after its launch in 1987, remaining regulars for the next twenty years. He’d read our proposal and wanted to support the project, offering access to either (or both) of his two premises. It’s a massive thumbs-up for the project, and for everyone working on it.

We’re hoping to schedule the shoot for the last Sunday in July. Now the lead actors and location are in place, we’re looking for volunteers to help out on the day, either behind or in front of the camera. If you’re interested, drop me a line via steve.green@ghostwords.co.uk.

Update 30/7/17: Unfortunately, we had to postpone the shoot, but only by a few weeks. As the Romans used to say, festina lente.

Update 10/8/17: The shoot is now scheduled for 20 August.

Blu-ray / DVD reviews: Creepy (2016), Beyond the Gates (2016), Ibiza Undead (2016), The Void (2016), Realm of the Damned – Tenebris Deos (2106)

[Published in The Dark Side #183, April]

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