Thursday, 14 November 2019

Korean Film Festival 2019: Ieoh Island aka Io Island aka Iodo (South Korea 1977: Dir Kim Ki-Young)

Hailed as 'the most bizarre Korean film of all time' it's kind of difficult to know where to start narratively with Kim Ki-Young's film, a comment you could indeed level at a lot of his output from the 1970s, and summed up by one of his own quotes: "I just make films by following my heart, so the analysis I leave to all of you."

Kim Ki-Young is best known for his 1960 movie The Housemaid, often cited as the finest Korean film ever made, and one which has been remade several times. Outside of Korea the director is known, if at all, as someone from the realist school of film making. Ieoh Island dates from a decade when the director's movies were increasingly surreal and surprising (a year later he made the strange and wonderful Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death) and focused on one of Kim Ki-Young's chief obsessions, namely pre-modern Korean culture and belief systems, and their relationship to contemporary existence.

Sun Wu-hyun (Kim Jeong-cheol) is an advertising executive, publicising a new hotel which has been named Iodo, after a mythical island which is known to capture the souls of dead fishermen. Sun assembles a group of journalists on a boat to celebrate the hotel, announces its name and the fact that boat has been chartered for a trip to find the mythical island. One of the assembled journalists, Cheon Nam-Seok (Choi Yun-seok) takes exception to the violation of his people's legends for commercial reasons, and after a late night drinking session between the two men to settle the argument, Cheon goes missing.

Everyone seems to assume that Sun has killed him by pushing him overboard, although the ad man protests his innocence. After losing his job, he is determined to clear his name. Finding out that Cheon came from a remote island now populated only by women (after their men had been claimed by a sea monster and their souls taken to nearby Iodo), he sets off, accompanied by Cheon’s editor, to find out the truth about Cheon.

Once he arrives at the strange, sparsely populated island Sun learns, from interviewing various women, that Cheon wasn't a very nice person at all, seducing lovers out of their savings, investing in schemes to stave off famine and pimping himself out on an island where he was often the only male. Meanwhile the island's shaman, also a woman, is using her magic to solve the island's fertility problem by attempting to summon back the dead from Iodo and using their sperm to impregnate the female islanders. And her sights are set on recovering Cheon's body, his sperm to be hotly fought over by a number of his women admirers.

Ieoh Island is a film with a notoriously graphic climax, even by today's standards (initially cut out of prints but subsequently - and no pun here - re-inserted) but for most of its running time the director handles the rather bizarre content very matter of factly and without exploitation: the flashback within flashback narrative approach may take a little time to get used to, but it makes for satisfying story telling. It's the clash of old beliefs versus modern thinking that is at the heart of the film and the key to its fascination. Kim Ki-Young includes themes of environmental destruction, fertility, superstition, and the spread of capitalism (1970s Korea experienced rapid economic growth, although governed by a right wing military dictatorship at the time). Oh and teeth pulling: Kim Ki-Young's wife, the producer of his films, was also a dentist, so one assumes the dental work close ups are the real thing.

The film that Ieoh Island is closest to thematically is probably The Wicker Man. The island backdrop, a remote location, a search among the villagers, and indeed the shamanic dances all conjure up comparisons with Robin Hardy's 1973 movie. Its stormy coastal location, shamanism and medical obsessions also brought to mind Teruo Ishii's 1969 movie Horrors of Malformed Men. But Kim Ki-Young's film is entirely its own beast. It's audacious, fascinating and more than occasionally a little troubling. It's definitely worth seeking out if you can find a copy.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Supermarket Sweep #10: Reviews of Pentagram (UK 2019), Ouija House (USA 2018), The Haunted (UK 2018), Halloween at Aunt Ethel's (USA 2019), The Curse of Lilith Ratchet (USA 2018) and Dead List (USA 2017)

Pentagram (UK 2019: Dir Steve Lawson) Lawson's second collaboration with Jonathan Sothcott (possibly the least popular person working in the horror genre today) follows on from The Exorcism of Karen Walker, released earlier this year, and represents no improvement on his last movie: it suggests that while Lawson can at least get his films financed through Sothcott's Hereford Films company, the trade off is that he has to use the producer's stories, which are both unoriginal and totally ill suited to small budget productions.

Pentagram is the slender story of four people en route to California, holding up diners to pay their way (you know, just like the couple in Pulp Fiction). They are bad boy Max, his girlfriend Lauren, Holly and her brother Luke. Holly is a drug addict and their intention is to get her into rehab in LA. Fleeing from their latest robbery and with their getaway car on the fritz, they hole up in a very un-American looking house (ok, none of it looks like the US, because it's filmed in Derbyshire). In a bedroom at the top of the house Holly, looking to rest up and beat her craving for junk, comes across a man lying on the floor in the middle of a hand drawn pentagram within a circle. The man, Oliver, pulls Holly inside the chalked design and explains that she is to be a sacrifice, which in turn will enable him to leave the pentagram without being ripped apart by a strange entity. His ruse fails, he's pushed outside the circle and a creature slices him up. It's not long before all four of the young travellers end up inside the pentagram, and have to work out how to leave and who, if anyone, should be sacrificed.

In a more experienced director's hands, and with a larger budget, this fairly simple idea may have worked, or at least managed to generate some tension. On Lawson's watch, it's sadly largely a boring mess. The laws of magic in operation are full of WTF moments, and the audience gets lots of opportunities to raise quizzical eyebrows because of the, shall we say, languid pace of the thing. Cast wise everyone attempts, and fails, to deliver US accents - really, why bother? - and like Lawson's last film, a rather faded star - in this case Nicholas (Hazell) Ball - is roped in for an afternoon's work and trumps all of the rest of the cast in the hopeless accent stakes. Probably the best thing in this is Alexis Rodney as mean old Max: he acts everyone else off the floor and deserves a much better film than this tripe. Lawson was once an interesting director. He needs to unshackle himself from Mr Sothcott and recover some of his micro budget mojo.

Ouija House (USA 2018: Dir Ben Demaree) Now this is why I haunt the supermarket shelves. Laurie is just about to complete her PhD is something supernatural ("I study paranormal phenomenas (sic) as they relate to science." Astoundingly she has a book deal waiting for her once she finishes it - not self publishing, she's keen to point out - and the icing on the cake of her thesis would be to visit a real haunted house. How handy then that there's one in the family, although Laurie's mum Katherine won't hear it talked about, as it's associated with a side of her relatives she'd prefer to forget.

Luckily Laurie's cousin Samantha who's a bit up on the old witchcraft joins them at the house and fills in the gaps on the witch and warlock side of Laurie's ancestral family, with some choice stories about an evil git called Roka who's not averse to some baby eating. Also along for the thrills are Lauries' friends Tina and Spence, which is a bit daft because there's obviously some unresolved sexual tension between Tina and Laurie's dull BF Nick. Before you know it, a pissed Tina has turned herself into a human ouija board (in one of the more bizarre movie scenes I've witnessed this year - and there's a lot to choose from) using a pebble as a planchette. And no I don't know how the pebble traverses her underwear, best not to ask. It can't be log before the contact lenses are worn, vices growl and there's lots of running around.

The big sell on this one (and that's a relative term) is that the title is for once entirely accurate - the house they're in acts as a giant ouija board, for reasons too ludicrous to detail (but it involves the house trapping the spirit of the demonic warlock Roka). While that might be quite fun with a bit of money behind it, the concept is squandered here. But what a cast! As Samantha Mischa Barton wonders where she went wrong career wise, Dee Wallace plays Laurie's loopy mum Katherine, and go-to craggy geezer Chris Mulkey turns in a ripe performance as crazy Tomas, whose bonkersness is explained by a prologue set way back in time...1988 to be precise.

Actually Ouija House is quite fun. Pretty much every genre standby is chucked in, from the aforementioned ouija board to spooky dolls to demonic possession. And if nothing else it gives people thinking of doing a PhD something to aim for.

The Haunted (UK 2018: Dir David Holroyd) Young Emily, new to her job as care worker, is sent to an overnight shift at the home of Arthur, who is suffering with Alzheimer's. Arthur is in bed asleep when she is introduced, and Emily is left to settle herself into the house - Arthur's bed is monitored by CCTV, but he seems pretty inactive.

With little to do, Emily wanders around the house, but is frightened by occasional glimpses of a young girl. Convinced that the girl is a ghost of Arthur's daughter, as there are photographs of the two of them around the house, Emily feels increasingly isolated and afraid, particularly when Arthur wakes up and has visions too. Discovering a ouija board and and a book of spells, the young care worker begins to suspect that there is something seriously odd going on within the house.

David Holroy's background is in TV and there's certainly something very televisual about his second feature. On the plus side he builds great atmosphere from very little, aided by an effectively moody but spare soundtrack. Sophie Stevens - who also has TV credits - is convincing as out of her depth care worker Emily, and the slow build of tension works well in a movie that at just over 70 minutes doesn't outstay its welcome.

But just as the viewer is wondering where it's all going plotwise, Holroyd brings out all the genre toys and throws them in willy nilly - running about, failing lights, doors that lock themselves - and before we know it he's offered up one of those 'who-is-the-real-ghost?' type endings, which in terms of the paucity of plot and context, makes no sense at all. A missed opportunity.

Halloween at Aunt Ethel's (USA 2019: Dir Joseph Mazzaferro) Here's a limp, desperately unfunny horror 'comedy' with absolutely no redeemable features except its slender 68 minute running time (padded out to the hour and a quarter mark with a cringy fake rap video and bloopers reel.

In a small town in Florida, newcomer Melissa (Madeleine Murphy) is told by her new friends about the story of crazy Ethel, who lives alone and has a reputation for inviting people into her home every Halloween, killing them and chopping their bodies up to make human candy. It's all true of course, as confirmed when the friends decide to stake out her house, underestimating Ethel's truly nasty nature.

And that's it. There's really bad sex gags, lame pratfalls and a rancid script. All three of the main younger actresses are required to appear topless for totally spurious reasons (one of them, Ciara (Rhyssa-Kathryn Marie) promptly and inexplicably disappears from the movie after hers. The main attraction here is Ethel herself, played by Mazzaferro regular Gail Yost, who hams it up something chronic as the cannibalistic Ethel, all pinafores and fright wigs (actually she reminded me of Salvador Ugarte in the camp 1973 flick Miss Leslie's Dolls, and that's not a compliment). The make up effects are perhaps rather better than I was expecting in such a low quality film, but a few convincing severed limbs can't rescue this one.

The Curse of Lilith Ratchet aka American Poltergeist (USA 2016: Dir Eddie Lengyel) Homes of the mid West USA feature prominently in this daft, overlong but heart-in-the-right-place movie. Best friends Alice and Lauren steal a box from a new age store. The box turns out to contain a shrunken head and a poem. The head is that of Lilith Ratchet, a woman whose head was lopped off back in the day following her discovery that her husband was playing away from home, and her soul was transferred to a wicked demon. And guess what? Lilith's spirit is back and she's pretty mad.

So Alice and Lauren take the box to perky Hunter Perry who has hair like Gary Rhodes (ask your parents) and an online show called 'Beyond the Veil.' He knows about this stuff. Perry thinks he's on to something big, so takes over the Halloween bash at the local club for a live podcast in which he gets the audience to pass round the head while reading the poem: "Call her name and feel her pain." Fun, huh? Of course everyone involved in the head passing subsequently starts to get offed, including Lauren, surprisingly early in the proceedings (the only surprising thing in the film), until only Alice and Hunter are left. Will anyone survive?

Lilith Ratchet is full of new age-y nonsense, people being very dumb indeed and everyone talking and talking about what might happen next: this film is an hour and three quarters long and my stars it feels like it. Lilith herself is quite impressive in a knock off Mrs Drablow from The Woman in Black style. The problem is, the demon is so overexposed that she almost has more screen time than the leads. And the rest of our cast are unimpressive but not hopeless. I could see that in the hands of a different director and screenwriter this movie might have something going for it. But as it is, it's pretty poor.

Dead List (USA 2017: Dir Holden Andrews, Ivan Asen and Victor Mathieu) Ah the continued rise in popularity of the portmanteau movie: the V/H/S /ABCs of Death effect continues apace with Dead List, its film within a film approach being the reason for three directors.

A group of actors are all auditioning for the same part. It is, as one of them comments perhaps unnecessarily, a dog eat dog world, but eternal loser Calvin (Deane Sullivan) and his flatmate create a spell to eliminate the competition, via an old book which literally lands on Cal's car windshield. The ancient tome contains a 'dead list' which just happens to list the names of his thespian rivals, who are linked by sharing the same bodily mark as on its cover, and whose fates are the subject of the five short films making up the movie: 'Zander' features a guy who turns into a black guy and is subject to racist police action; uber confident 'Scott' loses his power of hearing when his mobile phone plays up and comes to a sticky end trying to disable it; 'Jason' and his friend Kurt pick up a crazy old lady in the road who turns out to be rather a handful; drug dealing 'Kush' gets bitten while out surfing and turns to goo in the shower; and 'Bob' features a coked up guy hanging out at his friend Jeff's swanky pad and doing battle with a killer clown.

Seriously if I'd pitched that movie to you at funding stage, would you have given it the green light? Dead List feels thrown together, and the stories are all either offensive ('Zander') or just lame (pretty much all the rest). Logan Long's FX work on the 'Kush' segment is really good, but it should have been utilised in a movie where it would have had a much greater impact. Scrappy and inconclusive, this film could more accurately have been titled 'Dead Weight.' Not good.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Films from FrightFest 2019 #5 - Reviews of Darlin' (USA 2019), Nekrotronic (Australia 2018), Satanic Panic (USA 2019), Bliss (USA 2019), Rabid (Canada 2019) and Tales From the Lodge (UK 2019)

Darlin' (USA 2019: Dir Pollyanna McIntosh) There's a certain sense of satisfaction in McIntosh helming the third instalment of the most unlikely cinema franchise ever, mainly because it's one which she has consistently imbued with life and vigour. For those not in the know, McIntosh's feral, cannibalistic 'The Woman' character first popped up in the 2009 movie Offspring. Based on the book by Jack Ketchum, Lucky McKee made a sequel of sorts, The Woman, two years later. As well as giving McIntosh's character front and centre casting position, the movie also served as a damning study of a certain type of maledom in mid America.

Darlin' is something else again, proving the franchise's flexibility. Actually the movie is lots of things, which don't always hang together that smoothly.

At the end of McKee's film 'The Woman' had walked off with some of the family who had initially captured her, including their youngest little girl. As Darlin' opens it seems that only 'The Woman' and the young girl are left. Previously a normal walking talking youngster, Darlin' (as she is now known) has become as silent and feral as her surrogate mother. But deep down Darlin' has desires to rejoin the real world, and breaks into a hospital where she is captured and farmed out to a girl's home run by nuns. Seeing the opportunity to attract necessary funding by publicising the successful taming of a feral child into young womanhood, the Bishop puts the nuns to work.

Meanwhile 'The Woman' maintains a constant search for her child, snacking on the odd passerby to keep her strength up, until she finds some temporary sanctuary with a group of homeless people roughly as convincing as Alice Cooper's bunch of down and outs in John Carpenter's 1987 flick Prince of Darkness. Back in school, Darlin' has been (re?) taught to speak and read, and is a hit both with the class and kindly Sister Jennifer (Norah-Jane Noone) who has taken the girl under her wing. But the school has a dark secret, and the truth is about to come out.

Darlin' is ambitious (perhaps overly so) and fires off in all directions. It's held together by a terrific performance from Lauryn Canny as our heroine (the grown up version) and Noone's Sister Jennifer, who finds out the awful truth behind the goings on in the school. McIntosh wisely pushes herself in the background, but also gives her character more colour this time round (a scene where she travels in a car for the first time and leans her head out of the window like a dog is pretty funny). The thing is,  I didn't like the film that much, although I admired McIntosh's directorial vision.

Nekrotronic (Australia 2018: Dir Kiah Roache-Turner) Since the dawn of time demons have been operating in the world, taking over human bodies and souls, their only opposition being the Necromancers who have a similarly long pedigree. But the demons have found a new way into their human hosts - via the internet, or more precisely a virally successful Pokemon Go like game, where the player spots ghosts (actually the demons) who then latch on to the gamer. The demon activity is master (or should that be mistress?) minded by uber evil Finnegan (Monica Bellucci, having a great time hamming it up) and the Necromancers fight a hi tech battle with the demons to stop them possessing all of the city's souls.

Howard and Rangi, a couple of sewage disposal engineers, get swept up into these events courtesy of the fact that Howard is actually a powerful Necromancer himself. Inducted into the ranks of the demon battlers, and with dim Rangi killed but returning as a spirit guide like sidekick, most of the movie consists of noisy set pieces which rapidly turn Nekrotronic into something resembling a minor entry in the Marvel universe movies.

The film also borrows from Ghostbusters with its demon trapping paraphernalia and The Matrix by way of its slightly dated 'hacking into the mainframe' plot. It's certainly a colourful and fast moving romp, but it fails to sustain interest and the script, which aims for but fails in delivering the smarts of something like Guardians of the Galaxy, would have benefitted from some better one liners. The characters of Howard (Ben O'Toole) and Rangi (Epine Bob Salva) - the latter of whom aims for gormless but comes off as offensive as the only cast member of colour in the movie - are not particularly inspiring, and are rather shown up by the Necromancer sisters Molly (Caroline Ford) and Torquel (Tess Haubrich) who both kick some serious ass. Passable by no means essential.

Satanic Panic (USA 2019: Dir Chelsea Stardust) Stardust's debut feature was one of my favourites at this year's FrightFest. A genuinely funny, occasionally scary and definitely very subversive take on witchcraft movies of the 1970s, with a lot to say about class divisions in suburban USA.

Sam (Hayley Griffith) has taken a job as a pizza delivery girl, but finds out the hard way that the tips, which is where she should be making her money, are pretty hard to find. Taking on a job to deliver food to the swanky out of town Mill Basin area, Sam's funky little scooter and black leather jacket look rather out of place among the suburb's gated community. When the recipients of the pizza order fail to tip, and with her scooter out of gas, Sam, annoyed with being snubbed, takes it on herself to enter the house and ask for the gratuity herself. But the glamorous occupants within are actually Satanists, and, bad news for sweet and innocent Sam, the coven are in need of a virgin to kick start their rites to summon Baphomet. Luckily she teams up with previous sacrificial victim turned non virgin Judy (Ruby Modine) whose mum is Danica, coven leader, and therefore knows her witchcraft stuff - "these demons have more rules than Yahtzee" she tells Sam - and the scene is set for a fight to escape the coven's devilish clutches.

"I know girls like you. You go to public school. And eat Government cheese. And get pregnant in the sixth grade." This diss to Sam is typical of the haves/have littles tension between classes in Stardust's film, which are taken to extremes by the extent of the power and wealth grabbing Satanists, who see the worth of people like our heroine only as sacrifices or incubators for demon babies."Welcome to the world behind the world," summarises Judy, a character who has grown up needing nothing but who sees through the conspicuous consumption and petty squabbling of Mill Basin's nouveau riche. That Satanic Panic works as biting satire and is hugely funny is largely down to Grady ('My Best Friend's Exorcism') Hendrix, one of the smartest writers working in the genre today. Hendrix is unafraid to mine his horror roots - 80s trash cinema (Brian Yuzna's 1989 movie Society was definitely an influence), witchcraft movies - hell there's even a vengeful bedsheet scene which must be a nod to M R James's story and its TV adaptation 'O Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad.'

As Sam Hayley Griffith shows considerable gumption and great comic timing. She's funny, not that smart, but very determined. And as sassy Judy Roby Modine gets all the best lines. Praise too for Rebecca Romijn as coven leader Danica, all cheekbones and withering looks. If there's one thing that slightly lets the movie down it's a rather muddled and abrupt last reel, but most of the movie is so good this can ultimately be forgiven. See it.

Bliss (USA 2019: Dir Joe Begos) I'm really not sure what all the fuss was about at FrightFest on this one. Begos seems to have made a sort of Gaspar Noe-like ramped up remake of Abel Ferrara's 1995 urban vampire movie/metaphor The Addiction. It's noisy, frantic, but actually not nearly as deviant as he thinks it is.

Opening with edgy, scratchy credits underscored by The Nymphs' 1991 track 'Revolt' (also used on the soundtrack to 1992's Pet Sematary II, fact fans), we meet down on her luck artist Dezzy (a performance by Dora Madison which would once have been called 'brave' mainly because she's naked a lot of the time and gets covered in blood regularly) who's late on the rent and whose agent is about to drop her because of a lack both of new product and public interest in the existing pieces: Dezzy is suffering from artist's block and her latest work, a floor to ceiling painting which looks like the entrance to hell behind the Tower of Babel, isn't progressing.

She visits her dealer who sells her a new strain of the popular 'Bliss' drug called 'Diablo,' and while he advises her to take it easy with the powder, Dezzy goes for it, hoping to unblock her creative juices. Teaming up with her friends Courtney (Tru Collins) and Ronnie (Rhys Wakefiled) the evening spirals into a hedonistic wipeout of sex and drugs. And blood. But recovering the following morning, Dezzy's artisitic inspiration may have returned, but with it has come a craving for sustenance that no normal food will satisfy. Dezzy's needs can only be met by the consumption of one thing - human blood - and that makes her a danger to all around her.

Begos deliberately keeps the link between art, drugs and vampirism loose in Bliss, inviting the audience to lose themselves in Dezzy's increasingly abstracted and angry life. One is to believe that the sacrifices Dezzy suffers are all in the name of art, but as is often the case with the expression of the creative painting urge on film - and Bliss is no different - the central piece of art which drives her urges is, well, not very good. Madison is believable as Dezzy, surrounded and increasingly annoyed by the clubflies and sleazebags that surround her. But for all the noise, blood and dizzying camerawork, this felt like rather a conservative film dressed up as something more dangerous, and left me rather cold.

Rabid (Canada 2019: Dir Jen and Sylvia Soska) The Soska sisters' latest is a love letter to Canadian horror and specifically the influence of David Cronenberg, whose 1977 feature they have chosen to re-boot. The original film was full of atmosphere but a little light on narrative coherence, and therefore ripe for re-interpretation, but Jen and Sylvia's take is, although defiantly modern, far more crass and lacking in nuance.

Laura Vandervoort, taking on the role of Rose - previously played by Marilyn Chambers in the original - is a shy fashion designer who suffers a face mangling accident, hit by a car following an angry walkout from a party. She already has imperfections in the form of facial scars, the result of being in a motor accident which killed the rest of her family. As Rose works in the fashion industry it's important to look perfect, so when she receives an email from the Burroughs Institute (just one of a number of groan inducing nods to Cronenberg during the movie) promising experimental stem cell manipulation surgery that will provide full facial recovery, she agrees, despite the warnings of side effects.

But while Rose's post op recovery seems complete she's left with cravings for blood and raw meat, and her body is clearly undergoing some form of change. Those that she attacks turn into rabid monsters, and when she returns to the Institute for help it's clear that those in charge of the procedure have a deeper motive for performing the surgery.

"True beauty lies within the things we've yet to uncover" is just one of the silly lines of dialogue that purports to elevate this trashy and very cheap looking B movie to something more than it is. While those sorts of lines worked in early Cronenberg movies because his films were oblique, the Soska sisters' take on things accentuates the literal, and the homages to their favourite director - the scarlet robes the doctors wear during Rose's op are direct steals from those in Dead Ringers, and the art on the wall of the Burroughs Institute including preparatory sketches for The Naked Lunch, for example - are just crass.

While Jen and Sylvia deserve points for trying, and despite the welter of practical effects which usually get the thumbs up from me, I really didn't like this film. I found it pointless, cold, and all surface - just like the fashion business that provides the setting. Maybe that was the point.

Tales from the Lodge (UK 2019: Dir Abigail Blackmore) If the title of this film suggests to you the portmanteau movies of the 1960s and 1970s, well you'd be right: Tales from the Lodge is a portmanteau film, except here the stories told are more of a sidebar to the central plot.

A group of friends come together to celebrate the life of a mutual chum, Jonesy, who took his life in the lake next to the lodge where they're all staying. They are Martha (Laura Fraser), her seriously ill husband Joe (Mackenzie Crook), Russell (Jonny Vegas) and Emma (Sophie Thompson) having a welcome break from their three kids, and serial womaniser Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns) who has brought along his latest girlfriend Miki (Kelly Wenham), the odd one out among the circle of close friends.

As Miki struggles to integrate, the group make an aborted attempt to scatter Jonesy's ashes (predictably the wind blows them back into Paul's face) and then retire to the lodge for drinks, reminiscing and storytelling. As the alcohol flows the tales told by each of the cast become slightly more bizarre - a ransomed car, a woman who becomes possessed with an insatiable sexual appetite, and the funniest, told by Russell, about a survivor of a zombie apocalypse played by Vegas dressed up as 80s Keifer Sutherland. Like all portmanteau movies, these segments are slight, but the real meat here is the wraparound story, which by the end of the movie shows a different side to all the otherwise likeable cast. Others have commented that the setup is rather similar to Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 movie The Big Chill, but there's something of Kenneth Branagh's 1992 flick Peter's Friends in there too. It's all terribly British (not sure what the Americans will make of it all), quite fun while it lasts, but ultimately rather slight and, with the exception of Emma's impassioned speech about the horrors of child rearing, slightly uninvolving.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

The Nightingale (Australia 2019: Dir Jennifer Kent)

It’s 1825, and Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish woman sent to serve a prison sentence for theft on the island of Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania. With her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and a young baby, she has served her sentence and is waiting for passage off the island. But she remains tethered to her English master, Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), who has been sexually abusing her and is in no hurry to process the papers that will allow her to leave. Hawkins presides over a misfit garrison of soldiers while he awaits a more prestigious posting elsewhere on the island.

In a series of events Aidan challenges Hawkins over his unfairness, and Hawkins receives disappointing news about his prospects for promotion. A combination of alcohol and scarcely contained hatred for those around him leads Hawkins to leave his station with his drunken men and travel on foot to make personal representations to his superiors about his prospects. But not before they visit the hut where Clare and her family are living, and perpetrate a crime so horrendous that Clare, the only survivor, hires an Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to follow Hakwins and his men - who continue to perpetrate murderous crimes on the journey - and seek revenge.

The early scenes of Jennifer Kent’s excoriating follow up (in chronology only, there’s no connection between the two movies) to 2014’s The Babadook are shocking: the air of violent tension is generated from the very first shot. Thereafter the film moves to (marginally) calmer waters, and the inner core of the movie, apart from an examination of the impact of violence, is the slow discovery of a close relationship between two ostensibly different people, namely Clare and Billy. Both are from displaced families, both have their own language, and importantly each has an equal hatred of their oppressors: crucially Billy promotes a non-violent response, whereas Clare is out for blood.

Ironically Hawkins and his men have also procured an Aborginal guide - an older member of Billy's own family - but his treatment renders him an animal in the white mens' eyes. As Hawkins Sam Claflin is spectacularly unlikable, a seething mass of misanthropy and disappointment. Words cannot adequately describe his levels of disgust at the situation he finds himself in, and with the drunken fools he has been saddled with.

Ultimately this is Franciosi’s film though: she is awkward from our first sight of her, caught between love for her husband and determination to be free of the country that has imprisoned her. And her face rarely lets us forget the horror she has lived through. Arguably this is a period retelling of Meir Zarchi’s 1978 movie I Spit on Your Grave (whose alternative title Day of the Woman is fitting here) and also recalls Warwick Thornton’s savage study of Aboriginal conflict with white settlers, 2017’s Sweet Country, but it’s more than both.

A brutal film shot through with passages of mystical beauty, The Nightingale is a staggering piece of work from Kent.

A version of this review originally appeared on the Bloody Flicks website.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

10 great Halloween Novelty Songs

I've had a thing about Halloween novelty songs for a very long time. Last year I even guested on a radio show playing two hours of them, which you can hear here.

Anyhow as it's the glorious 31st I thought I'd give you the skinny on ten of my all time favourites - and they're not the classics, so don't worry, this is a 'Monster Mash' free zone.

#10 - Werewolf Watusi - Don Hinson & The Rigamorticians - a number of rather similar songs  saw the light of day (or should that be the darkness of the dungeon?) following the release and massive success of Bobby 'Boris' Pickett's 'Monster Mash' in 1962. 'Werewolf Watusi' wasn't a single as such - it was in fact a cover of an original song performed by Bobby Pickett and the Rolling Bones in 1964, so this is a cover version of a novelty record that pretty much copies the original. The culprit was actor/stand-up comedian/Las Vegas and Arizona DJ Don Hinson, clearly out to cash in (although WW was produced by Gary Paxton who also twiddled knobs on Bobby's 1962 hit). Hinson collected a whole load of these things together for his '64 LP 'Monster Dance Party' (best title on the album? 'Riboflavin-Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsaturated Blood'). But Pickett and Hinson's seemed to be a fairly amicable rivalry: Pickett in turn covered 'Monster Swim,' a track from Hinson's album written by Paxton, that same year. So many crummy Karloff impersonations, so little time.

#9 - Graveyard Rock - Tarantula Ghoul - Ms Ghoul's real name was Suzanne Waldron (1931 - 1982) all the way from Portland, Oregon, and this is probably my all time favourite Halloween novelty record. In her TG guise, Ms Waldron was host of the TV show 'House of Horrors' on Portland's KPTV station; the channel's bosses has seen Suzanne as a witch in a production of 'Macbeth' and were looking for their own version of Vampira (the Morticia Addams-alike hostess played by Maila Nurmi on a Los Angeles TV channel). As TG Waldron did her thing for two years, between 1957 and 1959. 'Graveyard Rock' which was actually the B-side to the inferior track 'King Kong', was recorded in 1958 at the height of her fame. Ms Waldron was quietly let go from her role when it was discovered that she was pregnant out of wedlock! She revived the TG persona a few times in the early 1960s, but her gothy flame was brief. Tarantula Ghoul, and Suzanne Waldron, both died at the tragically young age of 50 from cancer.

#8 - Whatever Happened to Eddie - Eddie and the Monsters - a break from all that 1950s and 1960s nonsense for a while. This rather extraordinary (and mercifully brief) two minutes of your life is the product of Butch Patrick aka Eddie Munster all the way from 1983. As well as tearing into the Munsters theme tune as the basis for the song, the lyrics go some way to explaining his, er, state of mind. The thirty year old former child actor had drifted slightly after achieving fame as a 10 year old in the long running series The Munsters, giving up acting in 1975 to work with his father. It was at this point he started to learn bass guitar, and eight years later the self referential 'Whatever Happened to Eddie?' appeared. Sadly this single was Mr Patrick's only vinyl output. In later years the stories of drugs and assault charges became the things he was better known for, but on listening to this, I'm thinking he was already on his way. Great video too.

#7 - The Lurch - Ted Cassidy - years before Butch cashed in on his Eddie Munster glory, Ted Cassidy was doing much the same. The 6' 9" tall actor was perfect for the role of Lurch the butler in the long running TV show The Addams Family, which aired for 64 episodes between 1964 and 1966. Slap bang in the middle of that run, Cassidy was persuaded into the recording studio in 1965 for a song which used as its inspiration an AF episode called 'Lurch Learns to Dance' where he does just that. The music was written by Gary 'Monster Mash' Paxton - clearly the go to guy for these sorts of things at the time - and Cassidy doesn't so much sing as lurk in the background uttering lines like "Satisfaction...jubilation!" in response to the singers who have successfully learned the dance (there is no guide how to do 'The Lurch' in the song, dance craze fans).

#6 - Screamin' Ball (at Dracula Hall) - The Duponts - the explosion of Halloween novelty songs in the late 1950s referencing the Universal classic monsters was in direct response to the syndication of those great movies to US TV in 1957 by Screen Gems, and shown on the 'Shock Theater' programme. Hosted by people like Vampira and the irrepressible Zacherley, this was the first time that a new generation of kids had been exposed to the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, The Mummy and The Invisible Man. Not only did this glut of classic horror inspire the late Forrest J. Ackerman to start up the influential 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' magazine, but it also sparked a rush of songs which named the creatures. The Jimmy Williams/Johnny Brandon penned 'Screamin' Ball,' the last of three singles from doo wop quartet The Duponts from New York, New York, was one of the first cash in novelty singles of this type: it also scores extra points for the sheer number of character references jammed into their two and a half minute tune. 

#5 - Transylvania Twist - Baron Daemon and the Vampires - another TV horror host cuts some wax! This guy was actually Mike Price, and he was picked up back in 1963 for WNYS, a Syracuse, New York TV station looking to develop their own horror show after purchasing a load of B horror/sci fi movies. Clearly inspired by Bobby 'Boris' Pickett's 'The Monster Mash,' released the previous year, the station felt like it was time for them to have a novelty single of their own. Taking a line from Pickett's song, with words by Hovey Larrison and music by Mike Riposo, and with musicians borrowed from local band Sam and the Twisters, they set to work, although apparently during recording the song morphed somewhat from the original composition to something more resembling The Twisters' recent single 'Fooba, Wooba John' which they'd had a hit with a couple of months previously. And I think it's this rather rough sound, almost an indie garage version of a novelty song, that I really like. And the B side of the single was called 'Ghost Guitars'!

#4 - House on Haunted Hill - Frank De Vol and His Orchestra - this brilliant mamba version of the theme to William Castle's 1959 terror classic House on Haunted Hill is two minutes of moody organ brilliance with a lush twangy guitar/string section. De Vol was actor Frank Denny (the De Vol name was used for his soundtrack credits, of which there are many). In the 1940s he was a musical arranger for stars like Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Doris Day, and went on to compose scores for many movies including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964). This version of the original score, backed by a track called 'Hades,' is rather different to the original theme by Castle regular composer Von Dexter. Incidentally there was a surf version of the theme in 1963 by 'Kenny & The Fiends' (also in some releases 'Kenny and the Beach Fiends') which is also a DIY gas, but not as much of a gas as their surf adaptation of Poe's poem 'The Raven' (parts 1 and 2) the following year.

#3 - Vampira - Bobby Bare - many people assume Bare's 1959 rock and roll non hit is a tribute to the TV horror hostess. I'm not sure, but it's a very cool song. Bare heralded from Ohio, USA and throughout the 1950s tried to break into the rock and roll scene with songs like this (you could tell he wasn't hardcore - the B side of the single was a soppy ballad called 'Tender Years' with a distinct country and western feel that would herald the genre in which he became most successful). Along with the singer of #8, Bare and Butch are the only ones still with us - indeed Bare bco-wrote Norway's entry in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest! I love the ad libbed line in this, "done scared me to death." We've all been there Bobby.

#2 - Graveyard - The Phantom Five - in true indie style this was the only record made by this great surf band, all the way from 1964, with a great sax break. The B side was 'Cool it!' so I think the 'Graveyard' reference might be more slang than horror. Anyway this Indiana quintet were Lani Allen, John Bolling, Thomas Davis, Richard Fortin & William Johanson. If anyone knows any more about the group let me know. But this is 2 minutes 37 seconds of cool surf fun, and not a raucous laugh in sight.

#1 - Do The Know It's Halloween? - North American Hallowe'en Prevention Initiative - we're bang up to date with our last entry (well 2005, so positively modern): this was a charity record inspired by 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' put together by an amazing array of artists, including Beck, Feist, Peaches, Russell Mael, Thurston Moore, Karen O and a heap of others. It reached number four on the Canadian pop chart, and all proceeds were donated to UNICEF - it also has an ace video, albeit rather low res (144, really!). According to the official press release, the song stemmed 'from a frustration with other benefit songs' misguided, somewhat patronising attitude, and Western-centric worldview.' Well done to them. And Happy Halloween readers!

Monday, 28 October 2019

Dark Eyes Retrovision #20 - Eye of the Devil (UK 1967: Dir J. Lee Thompson)

Phillippe de Montfaucon (David Niven), a wealthy French vineyard owner, is called home because his wine crop has been threatened by drought. Against his wishes his wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr) and children Jacques (Robert Duncan) and Antoinette (Suky Appleby) join him. Back in Bellenac, the country home of the de Montfaucons, Catherine becomes concerned at the behaviour of the son and daughter of another of the area's rich and well established families, the de Carays, in the shape of the beguiling Odile (Sharon Tate) and her brother, the strange Christian (David Hemmings). Little by little Catherine understands what is needed to restore the vines to production, and the likely cost to the de Montfaucon family.

Eye of the Devil was based on a 1964 book of murder and the occult, 'Day of the Arrow' by Robin Estridge (which was popularly reckoned to have been inspired by Sir James George Frazer's 1890 study of esoteric religions, 'The Golden Bough').  Estridge was also involved with co-scripting the film along with the little known Dennis Murphy and also an uncredited Terry Southern, writer of Dr Strangelove (1964) and Barbarella (1967). The latter was drafted in to modernise the feel of the script (he was probably asked to make it more 'with it'), maybe in response to the casting of David Hemmings and Sharon Tate. Hemmings was about to land the role of Thomas in Antonioni's Blow-up (1966) which would cement his position as one of the leading faces in the 1960s London based pop culture movement. And Tate, the model and poster girl who was at the time very much a 'now' face, would be starring in her first feature, having been signed to producer Martin Ransohoff's Filmways company - who bankrolled this movie - back in 1963. 

Kim Novak was originally signed to play the part of Catherine. Unfortunately two weeks into shooting she injured her back in a riding accident. After some deliberation about Novak's recovery the actress, who can still be seen in long shots in some scenes, was replaced with Deborah Kerr, whose previous genre credit had been as Miss Giddens in Jack Clayton's 1961 movie The Innocents. Kerr being ten years older that Novak slightly strains credibility that she's the mother of two young children, but she nevertheless turns in a suitably anguished performance.

Eye of the Devil's original director was Sidney J. Furie, who had signed a three-picture deal with Ransohoff. However shortly before filming was to begin, Furie, who went on to direct The Ipcress Files (1965) instead, was replaced by action movie director Michael Anderson. Anderson then fell ill and J. Lee Thompson was appointed in his place: Thompson was more used to epic filmmaking like The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear and Taras Bulba (both 1962) - so for the experienced director this was a far more modestly budgeted affair.  

The original shooting title for the film was '13' (the title appears in the credits at the end of the movie's US DVD release): apparently the initial cut was much longer, but a lot of the content was trimmed prior to its release. This makes sense as much of the film feels rather disjointed, particularly towards the end - although this adds to the disorientation felt by cast and audience. Eye of the Devil has a languid, European feel - it was shot in the Dordogne - and the black and white photography by Erwin Hiller (a talent discovered by Murnau) has many woozy touches reminiscent of Freddie Francis' work, particularly on The Innocents, and the abstraction and montage effects give the thing a narcotic feel. But the script is a little stiff, and a largely UK cast - also including Donald Pleasence, Flora Robson and John Le Mesurier - play it very slowly. Tate's first 'starring' role is a great enigmatic debut (there's a story that she met Alexandrian Wiccan High Priest and Priestess Alex and Maxine Sanders to perfect her role), but it's a shame that Hemmings has little to do but stand in the background and practise his archery skills (although he's pivotal to one of the film's final scenes).

The finale of the film, particularly as it's spelled out about half way through, seems a little laboured, and the whole thing may be rather uneven, but Eye of the Devil is a genuine curio which helped herald a rash of witchcraft movies into cinemas through the rest of the 1960s and into the next decade. 

Hunting for Skinner - the Writer of Skinner, Paul Hart Wilden, on the search for his lost horror movie.

I reviewed 101 Films' recent release of 1993 horror movie Skinner recently. The following interview with Paul Hart Wilden describes the laborious process of identifying and reconstructing the film.

How did you first get involved with the project?

I’d written a movie called Living Doll. I’d managed to get the script into the hands of infamous film producer Dick Randall who was living and working in London. He was quite taken with the script and within half an hour of meeting him had agreed to buy it and make it into a movie. Living Doll had been a ‘study of the problems of unrequited love in teenage youth’ as I used to explain it to people or, as other people had said, it’s a necrophilia movie. Which meant that for movie #2 I needed a new angle to pursue. We’d been through the serial killer boom of the 1980s, the world was changing as was the world of the horror movie. I’d read about Ed Gein, H. H. Holmes, real life cannibals and all sorts… so I had my idea, I wrote the script. Now, like with the previous stack of papers, all I needed to do was go out, meet someone, have them buy it and another notch on the filmmaking bedpost would be mine.

Can you tell us a little about how Skinner was first released? Did it go into cinemas or onto home video?

Skinner was made back in the days when there was only one medium for film - 35mm. So, the hope (at least in my head) had been that at some point the movie would be finished and released upon the world via various movie theatres. But the path out into the world wasn’t smooth. For various reasons the movie got mired in the ‘straight-to-video’ world of the 90s a couple years after it was produced, so any real attention the movie had was cold by the time it hit the streets.

This was Ted Raimi’s first or second movie as a leading man and even his brother’s Evil Dead wasn’t enough to generate the kind of interest you’d probably get today in similar circumstances. Traci Lords' move to ‘respectable’ acting was still very much direct-to-video fare that wasn’t mainstream. Even Ricki Lake’s daytime TV show and the John Waters connection weren’t enough to bring in either an audience or notoriety – especially as even to this day I think she pretty much has refused to acknowledge or speak about the movie. Richard Schiff was just beginning his career. Why it never really caught the eye of 'Fangoria' (the one real outlet for horror movie publicity in those days) is still a mystery to this day. It really is one of life’s great mysteries as to why it never seemed to gain any kind of traction at all. To add to the weight of disadvantage, by the time the various parties involved managed to get the movie out to the public, a movie called The Silence of the Lambs had been released to worldwide acclaim, so Skinner was seen by most people as just a shameless attempt to
ride someone else’s coat tails. 

Paul Hart Wilden
But come out it did… on good old VHS tapes. The original US distributor seemed to consider the 10,000 or so units they shipped a decent amount for a movie ‘of this type’. It then made its way to Laserdisc and then onto DVD. The people then responsible for putting the movie out into the world on the new-fangled DVD format either didn’t care or didn’t seem to notice that the version they put out was not only heavily censored but also of such atrocious technical quality that it rendered the movie almost unwatchable. Then it appeared on a weird two movie DVD with another under-performing project called The Surgeon. There was the initial US release, then it appeared in a French language version, South American iterations in both Spanish and Portuguese, a version from somewhere in the Czech Republic, a Japanese release, a version in Hong Kong under the title of 'Skin Person Devil' (still my favourite) and a seemingly bootlegged PAL version in Australia that I still can’t find the origin of.

At what point did Skinner become a 'lost film'?

I guess in some ways it became a ‘lost film’ pretty much from the moment I signed a contract and turned over the rights for my script to be made into a movie. Not wishing to sound trite or flippant, whatever confluence of circumstances that lead to the creation of the film and its subsequent journey out into the world, everything just came together in a perfect storm of events that meant it disappeared from the zeitgeist.

I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be the ‘next big step’ on my career path and was more of a big fucking stumble… so the fact that barely anyone saw it or new about it was in some ways a bit of a relief as I could retreat with my ego a little battered and hope to regroup and try again (hopefully) without too much residual damage.

But time moves on and as we get older things take on a different aspect as we look back at them. I watched a documentary series on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) about the restoration and preservation of movies and how many of the classics no longer existed in any physical form. I read a newspaper article about some scenes from King Kong turning up in a garbage dumpster in New Zealand... and one of my favourite movies The Wicker Man is legendary in forever being incomplete because scenes were cut out and the negatives dumped in a freeway construction site… and then it suddenly struck me... what if Skinner just disappeared off the face of the earth. Would anyone notice? Would anyone care?

And at that point I had to re-evaluate my own relationship to the movie. What I had turned my back on was a part of my growth as a writer, it was a part of my personal history in the movie industry and whether the end result had turned out to be a pile of garbage or a misunderstood classic or just a noble experiment that hadn’t come out as intended… it had begun from an honest place. I had wanted to write a horror movie that would be part of what we all know and love as part of the history of horror and the end result deserved at least someone caring enough about it to make sure it didn’t just disappear from existence.

Suppose that shitty DVD transfer or the unwatched Laserdisc in my closet were the only remaining evidence that this film ever existed and the only (apart from a VHS copy that the dog used as a chew toy) physical copies of the movie?

So, all of this made me realize... there had to be a 35mm negative of this movie and at least one 35mm print somewhere. The only real question was… where?

When was the film re-discovered and how?

I’d maintained a vague social media/email type friendship with the film’s producer and his assistant from the time and so figured they’d be the best place to start with any inquiries. The producer, Brad Wyman, had nothing to add regarding the current ownership or whereabouts of the movie other than the company name that appeared on the IMDB listing.

I contacted Image Entertainment who had produced the Laserdisc version of Skinner but their only response was that they didn’t keep track of where the rights reverted to once they lapsed. Cinequanon were the original sales company but they were no longer in existence and the owner, Daniel Sales, had died some years ago - but I was able to track down one of the former associates who advised me to contact a certain ‘FD’ who was responsible for handling the affairs of Daniel Sales and so might be able to shed some light on where ‘things’ might have gone after the passing of the owner and the company. I contacted him and although he initially said he did not know of the whereabouts of any elements or ownership – subsequent pestering on my part got him to admit there was a storage unit that might have something inside and that the next time he visited it, he would report back about what he might find. Subsequent ‘pestering’ only brought up that he was ‘still looking into the matter’.

I then got a response from JK (one of the editing assistants). He suggested I contact a company called Crest Digital where he remembered dropping off a work print at some time in the past. I contacted Crest in Hollywood and would you believe it - they had a copy of the movie - a box containing 10 reels of… something. When I opened the box, inside were the ten white boxes, each containing a reel of 35mm film. But it was a workprint. So after all these years, all I’d come up with was a picture but no sound? Yes, it seemed so. But was it even the complete picture? And did the box of work print reels contain the fully intact version of the movie or a censored and incomplete version?

In 2012 I got a Facebook message from Dave Gregory at Severin Films.‘This is DG, can you give me a call about Skinner? I was out drinking with JK and he told me you were looking for it.’ It turned out that David had been looking for the elements for 4 or 5 years, having been contracted by a company who owned the rights to the movie to put together some BTS stuff. DG gave me the name of a company and a person - and a phone number. I contacted the company and it turned out they owned the rights to Skinner.

So... suddenly my 35mm workprint looked like a highly valuable asset which in conjunction with the sound from an existing video master... might just about be the makings of a newly minted version of Skinner. But when the workprints were examined we heard that, ‘it’s full of grease pencil marks and debris and tape splices. I could have it sonically cleaned and then do a test transfer to better gauge the quality. Otherwise, the colour and condition are very good but it’s an untimed element so grading will take twice as long. I’m not sure if it’s the uncut version either but once I find time to get to the other reels I’ll know more. In the meanwhile, never give up the search for the negative!"

So once again, the curse of Skinner had struck. The 35mm negative had to be out there somewhere, even a 35mm print of the film would be something: it was just a matter of tracking it down before it vanished forever.

Thanks to Facebook page I met a guy called David Austin. It turned out he not only knew the movie but was actually a fan of it, probably not too much of a stretch to say a very big fan. David had been down this road before and had actually been involved in finding elements of movies that had supposedly been lost. So we’d talk about where Skinner might be or how to go find it and I’d talk him through all the efforts I’d made over the years and something kept sticking in the back of my head every time we spoke.

I’ve no idea why, but I just couldn’t shake the notion that a certain person with the initials FD (remember him from earlier?) had more to tell than they would let on. I had no proof. I hadn’t spoken to the man in over a decade and when I had, he’d promised me that if he ever remembered or came across anything, he’d let me know… surely that decade of silence only meant one thing. I couldn’t shake the idea that he was somehow the key to all this, but he’d been as much of a dead end as every other avenue I’d tried.
David said: ‘Just let me speak to him. I’ve done this before. If he has something, I know what it’ll take to make him give it up.’ Like I said, this had been more than ten years of fruitless effort, I wasn’t even sure if I could or should ever find what I was looking for… but why not take the easy option and let someone else do some lifting at least to see? I dug out the contact phone number I had for FD, not knowing it if even worked or to be honest if he was even still alive, and handed it off to David.

David called back. ‘I spoke to him. He’s got it and we’ll have it next week.'

Me: ‘Excuse me?’

David: ‘It’s done. He’ll ship it to where you want it to go.’

Me: ‘Are you serious? What did you do? What did you say?’

David: ‘I’ve dealt with people like this before. I know what he wanted.’

Me: ‘And what might that be?’

David: ‘Money.’

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we’re now sitting here with a beautiful 4k restoration of Skinner. That’s honestly all it took, one of the earliest connections I tried turned out to be the key all along. To this day, I have no idea what was said in that phone call or how much David actually handed over – but whatever it was and however much it took, it worked. I never even got to see what was in the discovery. It was shipped directly from wherever FD had it to the company in Illinois who ‘owned’ the distribution rights.

We found Skinner, managed to dig up the original camera negative and got it into the hands of the people who needed it and they put together a beautiful 4k restoration of the movie that became available to one and all. It was a long journey, but the work is done: over 25 years since the movie was originally made and over 10 years since I first began efforts to try and track it down and bring it back from the dead.

So now we’re here, I want to give my immense thanks to all the people I met in the course of this journey and who contributed to tracking it down and ensuring that what at one time looked like a lost cause turned out to be anything but.

How do you feel now that fans can now see Dennis Skinner's horrendous crimes in this 4K restoration?

Time and distance lend an entirely different perspective to all aspects of life – and so it is with my relationship with Skinner. All my disappointment and resentment at dreams dashed, ambition unfulfilled has gone away and I have a much more mature perspective on things. It was quite something to sit in a movie theatre in Hollywood, beside Ted Raimi, with a sold-out audience to watch the movie.

The work that went into producing the 4K release is quite something. The movie looks great and more importantly it sounds great. That was the biggest revelation to me when watching it again for the first time in a quarter century… you can actually hear the music and get a whole new appreciation for the work that Keith Arem (Contagion) put into the movie which adds a great depth to the film and is something I wish we’d all been able to appreciate way back in the day.

I’m grateful for the people I’ve met along the way as part of the rediscovery of the film, the friendships and connections that have been born out of the journey.

So yeah, it’s all good.

101 Films presents Skinner on dual format Blu-ray and DVD now