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Monday, 20 October 2014

Grindhouse Sundays - American Muscle and Bounty Killer

I am not sure if this will become a regular spot on the review site or not but as I took it upon myself to watch two modern, Grindhouse style, B-movies this afternoon I thought, why not.

First up is American Muscle. It was released September 30th in the States and is available on DVD, Blu Ray and On Demand. It is the directorial debut of editor Ravi Dahr and is the fifth produced feature length script of Canadian screenwriter, actor, director, producer and friend of The Diner, John Fallon.
In typical, stripped down, b-movie fashion the plot is simple enough. John Falcon played by Nick Principe (named, coincidentally enough before John Fallon was hired to write the screenplay) has done 10 years in prison after being double crossed and left for dead at the scene of a crime. A crime organised by his dealer brother Sam Falcon, played by Todd Farmer, that he was only participating in to grab some fast cash and escape the life with his wife Darling, played by Robin Sydney.
The story starts on his last day in prison and tells of his hunting down and annihilating, in typical brutal fashion, any and all people even remotely, tangentially involved in his incarceration. We see the events that lead to him being banged up in various flashbacks scattered throughout the film.
There are desert roads, fast cars, beautiful, often naked women, shotguns, fist fights, bloodshed, deaths, swearing and tattoos. In its bones it's a Roger Corman, low grade 70s revenge, road movie dragged kicking and screaming into 2014 with all the exploitive permissiveness we now enjoy.
Where it gets interesting is the way Ravi Dahr chooses to film and edit it. A lot of it reminded me of Oliver Stone's more excessive, kinetic and stylised work in films such as Natural Born Killers and U Turn. The slick, hyper real photography and the montage, jump cut editing style is unusual, more beautiful than you'd expect from the subject matter and mostly successful, in as much as it never gets 'music video' annoying.
While John Fallon's script does have some good one liners and there is obviously some truly ludicrous, exploitation moments in it, the film, at times, comes off as serious as a heart attack. It may be the way it was shot, it may be the way it was acted or it could be that the script dares to make the audience genuinely sympathise and empathise with the lead character. Despite John Falcon being a muscular, tattooed, porn tash wearing giant of a man who dispatches people with monosyllabic, gruff whimsy and thinks casual adultery is fine as long as it's 'from behind', his mission, at its heart, is one of saving the women he dearly loves, who is also less than faithful or pleasant, and getting the fuck out of dodge. It's almost Shakespearean in its unabashed romanticism isn't it?
Overall I enjoyed it. I thought it was an interestingly shot, perfectly well acted, low budget, exploitation, revenge road movie.
The criticisms I would have would be that, on occasion the editing goes a little too manic, that the film maybe took itself a little seriously and that CGI bullet hits and blood spurts, while cheaper and safer than the old traditional squibs, should be used sparingly and preferably not up close. The decision to have several of them hit the camera lens seemed one layer of 'style' too much. Although there is one scene, right at the end, where it is effective, overall it's a silly, 'seemed cool in the edit suite' idea that adds little to the film.
Anyone though, as I have seen online, criticising this film's misogyny, violence, acting or plot points needs to realise what the exploitation/B-Movie/Grindhouse genre is and shut up. I have also heard that this film is 'trying too hard' and on that front I would also disagree. You can tell when a film is trying too hard because it keeps winking at the audience to get validation that everything they are doing, while gross, is all fine and in the spirit of the thing, whereas American Muscle doesn't bother with that for one second. It simply doesn't give a shit what you think. It sets up its situation and plays it out to its logical, tragic and gruesome conclusion.
3 out of 5

Bounty Killer is far more cartoony and over the top than American Muscle and it's hardly surprising as it is based on a graphic novel, directed by Henry Saine, a graphic artist and written by his cousin Jason Dodson. In fact it may be its 'sense of humour' or 'goofiness' that could be its weakest point but more of that later.
The film is set in a future where government has been destroyed by the corporations. The corporations fought a war against each other, decimating most heavily urban environments to rubble. Slowly regular folk have fought back across the wastelands, forming a panel of nine judges who despatch celebrity 'Bounty Killers' to scour the land looking for white collars (corporate types, in this world all indicated by wearing yellow ties) to kill horribly. Then there's the gypsies who, seemingly, don't care about anyone.
Two such bounty killers are The Drifter played by Brit Matthew Marsden (Rambo, DOA) and Mary Death played by relative newcomer Christian Pitre, who oddly acts Marsden off the screen and back again. Then there's the gun caddy Jake LeMans played by Barak Hardley who, more so even than Marsden, made me question his casting several times.
Once we are sufficiently introduced to our main players a more intricate plot emerges that basically serves to make our protagonists race through gypsy camps and radiated badlands to the hidden city where the judges live to figure the whole sorry thing out.
The film has a very nicely realised, desolate, fairly Mad Maxian, slightly stereotypical post-apocalyptic world design to it which, along with the violence and bloodletting, is pleasingly done for real as and where it can be. When there are CGI landscapes or cities they have the intelligence to keep it in the background, the dark or the distance.
It is this design, the plot and the anti-corporate, social commentary (or should that be catharsis) that elevate this film above just a generic, meandering, post apocalyptic, graphic novel inspired case of style over substance.
Sadly where it falls down is in its acting and its attitude. There is a much better film to be made with these elements that isn't so loose, attempting to be humorous and so knowingly a silly grindhouse film. The ideas and plot are almost too good for a throw away B Movie. Their, self confessed, inspiration being the original Death Race 2000 makes sense as it's also a film that doesn't quite work despite the best intentions. However that Bounty Killer got made at all is excellent and please don't think I am disparaging it too much, just that there's always a desire for a film with this cool a backbone to, overall, be bit stronger.
The only other let down is, sadly, the acting. Apart from some delightful cameos from folks as diverse as Kevin McNally, Gary Busey, Beverly D'Angelo and Abraham Benrubi, the main pairing of Marsden and Hardley, that we are meant to be rooting for, is uninspiring at best. Marsden isn't Mad Max, tough guy material at all and no amount of stubble, dusty leathers and guns will convince me otherwise and as for Hardley well his inept, speechifying, panicky sidekick schtick is irritating from the get go and doesn't let up. His one humorous scene was with a mug of moonshine and apart from that he was mostly awful. It's sad that he's the audience surrogate and that so much of the questioning and resolving dialogue is delivered through him.
Christian Pitre though is an absolute wonder and I don't just mean drop dead gorgeous, which she is but I mean in conveying her character. She is the most stylised and superhero like of all the characters and yet you believe her and love to watch her slay the bad guys, over power and dominate the good guys and ride off into the sunset.
The action, stunts, weapon work and explosions are pleasing enough. To be really awesome you would need some actual action guys in there like a Scott Adkins or at least a decent choreographer but working with what they have and a few camera tricks, they pull of some pretty enjoyable and gory, bullet flying, set pieces. There's one in particular at the end of the film which is both unexpected, very very cool and pretty damn funny.
It's definitely worth a watch and I would recommend it if you are an action fan, a post apocalyptic road trip fan or a comic book fan.
3.5 out of 5

All in all as a double bill it was pretty strong. It had similar themes of revenge, fast cars and bloodshed in the desert but two completely different tones. It definitely worked watching the serious movie first and the silly movie second. If you can find them streaming or, indeed, if you want to pick up some copies, I can definitely recommend this as a Sunday afternoon's grindhouse viewing.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Compañeros - Blue Underground

One of many spaghetti westerns made by Sergio Corbucci that featured Franco Nero, the most famous of which is probably Django. Compañeros, their third collaboration has been given the flawless Blu Ray treatment from Blue Underground.
COLOUR. 1970. English 115 Mins, Italian 119 Mins.
Release Date: October 28, 2014

Franco Nero is Yodlaf Peterson, The Swede, a charming con man and arms dealer. Tomas Milian is Vasco, a Mexican Bandit. From their first unpleasant meeting where Vasco almost has Yodlaf's head trampled by horses it is clear they are not going to be the best of friends. However they have to join forces to travel to America to find a professor who is the last remaining person who knows the combination to a safe, expected to be stuffed with riches, that could put their poverty ravaged area of Mexico back on top and help quell the rising tide of revolution.
Along the way they meet and are stalked by a ruthless, marijuana smoking, one handed, hawk loving criminal, played by Jack Palance, harassed and shot at by the American Army and embroiled with the revolutionaries.
Nero's trusty gatling gun from Django re-appears and certainly comes in handy to get them out of tight spots. There are double crosses, big battles and a twist in the tale.

A fan of Spaghetti Westerns or not, Compañeros is a must see. It's filled with great performances, engaging characters, awesome action scenes, tricky situations and has an intricate but easy to follow plot. The performances and the film-making are also terrific with Corbucci confident and imaginative behind the camera and the strong cast energetic, humorous and relishing every scene in front of it.
Some westerns can be slow dusty affairs and others can have great style, iconic moments and cool scores but amount to little more than that. Compañeros, on the other hand, has it all.
Talking about scores, the film also comes complete with its own Ennio Morricone score and rousing theme song. Morricone attempts to distance himself from the style of his previous work on films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but some of the harmonica moments are unmistakably his and pleasingly familiar, adding to the overall brilliance of this movie.
Then there's that cast, Nero, Milian and Palance, all icons in their own right and here working with some fun, wild characters they can each sink their teeth into. Nero plays the Swede as calm, confident, dashing and strong and is, by far, the most likeable of the characters, despite being an arms dealer and a bit of a slime ball. Even when he is bettered momentarily by Palance and his dangerous humiliation witnessed by a previously tricked and abandoned Milian it's still him that you are rooting for. Palance, affecting an intriguing Scottish accent (I am assuming) is long haired, thin moustached and utterly evil in his relentless pursuit of Nero, with whom he clearly has history. Add to that a fake hand, his 'eyes in the sky' tracking hawk and an ever present marijuana rollup and the part could easily become a cartoon villain if it wasn't for Palance's gift at still gravitas and menacing mumbling.
Milian's Vasco however probably changes more in the course of the film than any of the others. While Nero's Swede is a desperate opportunist and greedy sweet talker the whole film, Vasco feels more of just an ignorant thug at the beginning but grows to understand working in a team with Nero and the professor, life outside his town and the eventual importance of the coming revolution.
The photography of Director Corbucci and his cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa is dazzling and evocative. Transforming Almería, Spain into a very believable Mexican and Texas old west. The variety of the locations, scenes and pace of the action stop the film from dragging or just being relentless desert, dust bowl scenes.
The action is pleasingly over the top, bloody and chaotic. There's everything from large brawls to high noon style stand offs and even a couple of big explosions. There really should be something for all film fans to enjoy in this movie. There aren't any parts that don't work in particular and there's nothing to fault in the script, the performances or the way it's shot. Yes it's still an Italian made Western, it still has a B-Movie sensibility versus a big Hollywood movie or even the work of Sergio Leone but provided you're not the sort of pretentious perfectionist that scoffs at such fun, you should love it!

With the two Maniac Cop discs, the Rats/Hell of the Living Dead disc and the Stage Fright Blu, all of which I have previously reviewed on this site, and the handful of Blue Underground discs I own personally, I honestly haven't come across a bad one and this Compañeros is no exception.
The 1080p HD, Widescreen, 2.35:1 image is perfect. It's not so crisp as to give it the appearance of a modern, soul less, TV Show but it is the perfect sort of HD restoration that maintains the warmth and appeal of film without any of the blur or smudge of a VHS or cheap DVD copy. The colours and shadows are authentic and occasionally vibrant when needed.
Likewise the audio work done on this disc, providing an excellent DTS-HD Mono experience, allows the song, the score and the dialogue to soar. The best thing about Blue Underground's audio work is that there is none of that awful levels issue you get with some modern Hollywood produced Blu Rays where the dialogue is quiet and muffled and the action sequences are obnoxiously loud and only designed for cinema viewing and not home viewing.
I understand home cinema has come a long long way in the last few years but just like when the first stereo albums came out and people bizarrely had vocals all the way out to the left and guitars all the way out to the right etc. because they could and because, maybe, in the studio it sounded great, so some Blu producers need to realise that, even with a surround sound system, the viewer shouldn't have to be constantly adjusting the volume or settings because you've needlessly messed around with the placement of the score, the dialogue and the sound effects just because you can. I will take Blue Underground's brilliant remastering and crisp audio levels over that any day of the week. I didn't have to touch my volume dial once.
The main extras on the disc are a trivia filled, if a little dry, commentary by journalists C.Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke and In the company of Companeros a collection of interviews with stars Franco Nero, Tomas Milian and composer Ennio Morricone which are worth a watch, light, quite revealing  but not too in depth.
It's not the full bells and whistles special edition that some films receive from Blue Underground but with a film this good and a transfer this good you don't need a long list of extras to make this disc worth the purchase. As a film fan, do yourself a favour and pick this up anyway.

English, Italian
English SDH, French, Spanish, English for Italian Version
2.35:1 / 16x9
Not Rated
Region Code: All

Audio Commentary with Journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke
In The Company Of Companeros - Interviews with Stars Franco Nero & Tomas Milian and Composer Ennio Morricone
International Trailer
Italian Trailer
Poster & Still Gallery

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Stagefright - Blue Underground

More Italian horror brilliance gets the fantastic Blu Ray treatment from the fine folks at Blue Underground.

This time it's Michele Soavi's Stagefright AKA Aquarius AKA Deliria AKA Blood Bird, the slightly Giallo style slasher set around a bizarre stage troop putting on an equally weird play in a big, old theatre.
COLOUR. 1987. 90 Mins

A troop of struggling thespians, under the strict guidance of their diva director, get locked inside a warehouse sized theatre over night with an escaped psychotic killer. They get picked off one by one in ever more gruesome ways. The play they are attempting to stage, features an owl headed serial killer and the madman on the loose quickly appropriates this outfit for himself.

It's immediately apparent, to anyone who knows the genre, that through his work with Agrento, Fulci and Lamberto Bava, Michele Soavi clearly learnt a great deal. Their influence is everywhere throughout the film, from the setting to the subject matter and, of course the gory deaths, although Stagefright never quite gets as gruesome, as mean or as innovative as previous work by those film makers. The film has rich cinematography, interesting sound design, a wonderful, dramatic score, intentionally theatrical performances and some violent set pieces, most notably one with a chainsaw, which are well executed and, for slasher fans, a delight.
It doesn't quite have the sense of dread or fear it needs to be truly successful and I found a lot of it a little slow and even grating at times but it's very well shot, excellently conceived and, in parts, a lot of fun.
For example, if you ever wanted to see Marilyn Monroe play fierce 80s sax while a man in a black leotard body suit and a giant owl head performs Flashdance over the body of a dead hooker then Stagefright is for you. It's just a shame that the ridiculous invention and startling images like that really only crop up at the very beginning and very end of the film, beyond that it's fairly standard but nice and bloody, slasher stuff. The climax to the film though is its most stylised and most unique sequence that, without spoiling anything, is a great combination of macabre and beautiful imagery with a nice healthy handful of suspense too.
Although the cast are really trying their hardest, belting most scenes out to the cheap seats, they were, probably, the weakest link for me. The line reading, especially, through a little bit of ropey overdubbing, is more stilted and awkward than most and I have seen tons of dubbed films before that didn't suffer from this problem. Also I felt that had we understood the play within the film better then they could've taken that leap and made the play and the reality relevant and had a bit more of a comment on life imitating art imitating life.
I must confess that, as an unabashed fan of Argento's Giallos from his heyday, I may have gone in with high expectations that, sadly, weren't exactly met but from the costumes, to the lighting, to the gruesome climax, it's certainly a visual treat and a worthy debut that is helped and enhanced by Blue Underground's incredible transfer.

The transfer on this disc is incredible. It's crisp with deep rich colours, nice blacks and very very low grain, if it wasn't for the hair and costumes then you could think it was made just the other day. The transfer has been made from the original, uncut negative and so nothing is left out for the true film fan and collector.
The audio compliments it perfectly too with a great, clear, nicely mixed 5.1 DTS-HD track.
If you are already a fan of the film then this is a definite purchase. Blue Underground do incredible work when it comes to restoration and remastering and this disc, in particular, one thing I noticed was just how good it looked.
The extras, a series of individual interviews with various people involved in the film from Director Michele Soavi, who would go on to work with Terry Gilliam and make the cult hit Cemetery Man, to composer Simon Boswell, are a great added value to this disc. Each one is insightful and interesting and the fact that they are there at all is surprising, welcome and shows a thoroughness to creating comprehensive discs.
If you're a fan of either Italian cinema in general or the Giallo genre then this is a disc you're going to want to own. It's an important, iconic title that's been given a strong, worthy Blu Ray edition.

5.1 DTS-HD; 2.0 DTS-HD
English SDH, French, Spanish
1.85:1 / 16x9
Not Rated
Region: ALL

Theatre Of Delirium - Interview with Director Michele Soavi
Head Of The Company - Interview with Star David Brandon
Blood On The Stage Floor - Interview with Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice
The Owl Murders - Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Pietro Tenoglio
The Sound Of Aquarius - Interview with Composer Simon Boswell
Theatrical Trailer
Poster & Still Gallery

Monday, 6 October 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Hell of the Living Dead/Rats: Night of Terror - Blue Underground

Fans of 1980s Italian schlocky and splatter filled horror will, hopefully, be over the moon that Blue Underground has released two such titles together on Blu Ray from the infamous Director Bruno Mattei (here going by the awesome sounding pseudonym Vincent Dawn) and Co-Writer/Co-Director Claudio Fragasso.

First up is Hell of the Living Dead AKA Virus AKA Zombie Creeping Flesh
COLOUR. 1980. 99 Mins

Sounding innocent enough, the Government financed 'Hope project' is actually engaged in scientific testing to create something that will reduce the growing, under developed population. However, as all nefarious Government schemes are destined to do, something goes wrong and their toxic green gas turns the people in to cannibalistic and carnivorous zombies. How bringing the dead back to life would reduce a population and not increase it is beyond me but who looks for logic where big Government, scientific conspiracies are at play?
Into this living dead filled jungle of Papua New Guinea drops a four man American Swat team, complete with Dawn of the Dead-like blue jump suits and caps, a feisty blonde reporter and her moustachioed cameraman. We follow them as they journey towards the Hope project, encountering natives, nature filled stock footage and plenty of blood thirsty zombies.

Contains very mild spoilers
In the 80s there was a thriving Italian genre movie making business. They admired the movies of Romero and Carpenter (arguably more than they were ever admired, at the time, in The States) and considered them, as the interview with Claudio Fragasso on this disc reveals, masters. They were also, some say inspired by and others say blatantly ripped off, George Miller's OzSploitation mega hit Mad Max and later Ridley Scott's Alien.
From the uniforms of the swat team to selections of the pinched soundtrack it would be easy to see this as just another Dawn of the Dead rip off. Most people do. It's easy to condemn a film solely for wearing its influences on its sleeves, or at least critics do for Italian genre films but when Tarantino or Scorsese do it then, of course, it's unrivalled genius. However the costumes and the music is where the comparison ends; the plot, the setting and, indeed, the end result bare no resemblance to Romero's most heralded movie. Now, did the filmmakers love Dawn of the Dead and were they trying to capitalise on it? of course! Does that mean I can condemn this film and move on? Nope, sorry. I enjoyed it.

The acting in the film veers from the little goofy to the downright awful and there's far too many single head shots of a woman badly screaming for my tastes but the zombies, the gore and a couple of the set pieces keep the movie rolling along and are gruesome fun. If your expectations aren't ridiculously high brow and pretentious then there's much to enjoy.
My bench mark for Italian made zombie movies tends to be the work of Lucio Fulci which, I think, transcends any mindless accusations of thievery and influence and, no, Hell of the Living Dead is no Zombie (AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters), but if you're looking for a gore fuelled, slightly surreal, ramshackle, midnight B movie style zombie film then you could do a lot worse than this.
As far as the effects go, while they are certainly amateur in places, they are pleasingly gruesome and drenched in the red stuff. Shoulders are bitten, fingers pulled off, a cat bursts out of the guts of a zombie grandmother, a tongue is wrenched out and eyeballs removed from their sockets. Also, through the use of stock and shot footage, a prolonged scene in a tribal camp has an odd, slightly sickening but cool Cannibal Holocaust, documentary vibe to it which certainly separates the film again from any of Romero's work.

Although you'd have to take a fair few leaps to read any 'message' per se into the movie there is an underlying, somewhat unexplored idea about tribal culture, tribal lands and how we in the industrialised nations treat and or view the undeveloped countries and the indigenous people found there. I give the film a point or two for even having that much.

I also give the film a few points because when reading up on the production's back story and hearing how this film was cobbled together it's a wonder that it's as watchable and as enjoyable as it is. The original script, for example, was much longer, more elaborate and would've required a much bigger budget than was available, so everything was reduced and changed without exactly being rewritten. This lead to a lot of confusion but also odd improvisation, none more so than by goggly eyed, tombstone faced Franco Garofalo in a joyously over the top performance. Whole scenes, including the ending, were included after Mattei started in on the editing and realised that the film they had, currently, didn't make a whole lot of sense. Vast amounts of stock footage from the French movie La Vallée was incorporated to help set the film in New Guinea when really it was filmed just outside Barcelona. The use of this stock footage is both very effective in places but also bizarre and surreal in others. Especially when one of the men is looking through their binoculars at big red birds flying and swooping gracefully but the footage is in slow motion and the scene doesn't have a point beyond to highlight some footage this crew didn't even shoot. Again it would be easy to condemn the film for reusing this footage, which more often that not does actually blend ok with the shot stuff, or you can, as I did, embrace it and marvel at it when it worked but be left laughably confused when it veered into surreal and/or unnecessary territory.
You could, also, either love or hate that Goblin's soundtracks from Dawn of the Dead and, fellow Italian schlockmeister, Luigi Cozzi's Contamination were ransacked and used to score this film. I am personally ok with it. Yes I prefer original Goblin but any Goblin is good Goblin and it's used in such an utterly random and Italian way with gusto and punch that it just adds to and improves the hastily put together jigsaw feel of this entire movie.

Hey, at least the zombies don't run, there's no shaky cam, it's not a remake, it's not found footage and there's no possessed girls or dolls in the film. That already makes it better than 95% of the horror movies released in the last decade!
These stills are just illustrations and do not represent screen shots from the Blue Underground Blu Ray of Hell of the Living Dead and should not be considered representative of the image quality of that Blu Ray.

Next on the disc is Rats: Night of Terror AKA Rats of Manhattan AKA Blood Kill
COLOUR. 1984. 97 Mins

It is 225 years after the nuclear destruction of damn near everything on the earth as we know it. Only buildings, motorbikes, neckerchiefs, hair stylists, guns, vans, food and, actually, pretty much everything survives, just in a sort of rundown, post apocalyptic, Italian B Movie from the 80s type way. Oh and rats, rats have survived, lots of rats and now, of course, they feed on humans and have a slightly higher brain function.
We are told in a wonderfully long text scrawl and voice over that some humans live underground but some live on the surface, presumably as the half life of these particular nuclear blasts was just a couple of months rather than the thousands of years modern science would have us believe.
Some of these surface dwellers have taken to riding around on motorbikes, in the latest Milan fashions and in the same gravel pit from all these post-apocalyptic, Italian, biker films
(Warriors of the Wasteland, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Warrior of the Lost World - you get the idea), presumably having lots of barbaric fun and scavenging for food.
They eventually drive into Incir De Paolis Studios where they hope to settle in for the night before finding that their night is just beginning and the rats, most definitely, do not want them there.

Contains very mild spoilers
With, freely admitted, strong John Carpenter, George A Romero and James Herbert overtones, Rats: Night of Terror is a movie that looks great, has amazing lighting and atmosphere, makes great use of its obvious set and, of course, comes with a killer soundtrack. Stylistically, too, in the costumes, hair and make-up it's a delightfully, heightened, very 80s and Italian version of the post-nuclear future. The rats in question, the co-director Claudio Fragasso says, were actually guinea pigs but they don't look like guinea pigs they look like the white, red/pink eyed rat, also known as the albino rat. However, whatever they are, to get them black they, apparently, had them running about in troughs of coal. The end result is a small greyish rodent but with effective, creepy red eyes.

Realising early on that rats weren't really scary so much as just plain gross, directors, Mattei and Fragasso set about trying to give the film some tension in some of the set pieces and also, of course, pile on the splatter. They are not so successful building the tension as while the lighting creates a suitable atmosphere, very often the sequences can come across as either overly slow and/or frustrating as they often rely on a character doing something abysmally stupid and contradictory. There's also an annoying amount of repetition in the film, both with the stupidity of certain characters' decisions but also in the constant bickering between the leader of the gang, the budget Italian Kurt Russell, played by Ottaviano Dell'Acqua and the constant, loud mouthed, bane of his existence Duke, played by Henry Luciani complete with Napoleonic tunic and annoying laugh.
In the splatter, however, they are somewhat more successful and scenes of a rat burrowing its way out of a dead woman's mouth and a body literally exploding because it's full of rats are pretty enjoyable.
Also, on the plus side, there is some nice exploitation nudity and an utterly bizarre ending that will have you either confused, laughing, slapping your face in disbelief or all three!

On the whole, though, the concept runs its course in the first 30mins of the movie and sadly doesn't get much better after that. It doesn't help that, not only are all the actors pretty atrocious and over the top but their characters, all with Carpenteresque names like Video, Taurus, Lucifer and Chocolate, are pig headed, unsympathetic, bickering morons who, for example, when finding a room full of real food, set about tearing open all the packets and cans, wasting vast quantities of it. This seems odd behaviour for wilderness riders who I, presume, don't come across cans of meat, real sugar or flour very often.
Also, the film has the constant problem of having to convince the audience that these guys are really trapped with no means of escape, which is difficult because, even when the rats chew through the tyres of their bikes, it's hard not to think, well all pile into the van and drive your way out of there then! or, I don't know... run or walk!
It's very difficult to suspend disbelief enough when the threat of the rats is never really fully explored beyond 'if you're inside and there's lots of them about, you are at risk of being bitten a lot'. Then when it does look like they might be able to do something and escape, of course, Duke has to show up and ruin it for everyone.
Take another film like this, Kingdom of the Spiders, that film is far more effective at making you believe they really can't escape the building they're taking shelter in or the town that's over-run and it manages to do it without the benefit of the darkness and some amazing Italian cinematography.
To top it all off the film is riddled with dialogue and situations that seem to suggest that the rats have mutated into only eating humans and that they were angry when humans took over the underground but also that they won't let them leave. Presumably because there aren't many humans up top and so this evolutionary step they've taken in their diet necessitates them trapping a few when they come along or go hungry till the next batch of neckerchief fancying hairstylists wander in to town.
Normally I wouldn't care to poke holes in a ludicrous plot like this and normally I'd just go with it, sadly the film doesn't do enough to distract me and carry me along with it, although, I will say, I was really glad to have seen it.

While the film is far from the best genre exploitation film I have seen to come out of this period of Italian movie-making, it is, at the very least, expertly shot and worth a watch. When you consider these movies were, more often that not, made in just 4-5 weeks, on a shoestring budget, with actors doing their own stunts, reading a script in a foreign language (to the best of their abilities) and, in the case of this film, surrounded by smelly rodents and putting up with gore effects, the end result is, at least, an interesting, different, inventive, good looking and fun film. From the interviews on this disc it is clear that they love genre film-making. Bruno Mattei says he makes films like a cartoonist draws cartoons and Claudio Fragasso says he tried to make art films and said they were no fun and bothered him. He was happy to be in amongst the splatter and the silliness. So I will applaud the fact that far from being considered as, simply, money making rip-offs that, really, were beneath the filmmakers concerned (as you hear so often), that these guys loved making goofy, monster movie, splatter films.
These stills are just illustrations and do not represent screen shots from the Blue Underground Blu Ray of Rats: Night of Terror and should not be considered representative of the image quality of that Blu Ray.

The disc is a Blu-Ray Double Feature edition.
Considering the amount of detail there is on the disc, 2 full features, plus a nice long series of interviews, the quality of both films presented is excellent. The quality of the image in Hell of The Living Dead is, at times, slightly and understandably blurry and grainy but this mostly has to do with the age of the movie and the abundance of stock footage from an even older movie in it. You can certainly tell that the transfer is as good and as crisp as I can imagine it could be. Rats, on the other hand, benefits from having much better cinematography and this pretty clear and sharp transfer really brings this to the fore. In both films the contrast, the blacks, the lighting and the colour seems spot on and when the gore starts flying the reds are glorious and vivid.
The sound, too seemed strong and clear. The system I played the disc on wasn't fancy but the dialogue could be heard clearly and I never had to adjust the volume due to badly mixed, annoyingly loud bursts of music or gunfire/explosions/action scenes as I have to with some discs.
I can definitely guarantee that this is the best these two films have looked and sounded since they were first made.
As for the extras, while the subtitled interviews can take a while to get used to, both the long extra Bonded By Blood and the short Bruno Mattei interview Hell Rats of the Living Dead, are filled with interesting stories, charmingly told. There is free admission of the influence of filmmakers like Carpenter and Romero and massive respect paid to them but also a joy and exuberance in defence of the films and nostalgia for that period of movie making in Italy. The most charming moment though is when Claudio Fragasso is reunited with Ottaviano Dell'Acqua & Massimo Vanni (actors/stuntmen from the film Rats) at the studio where the film was made. Staged or not, their camaraderie is evident in the exciting reminiscences they have of Rats and then the movies they went on to work on together after that.
For a specific fan or collector of either Mattei's films or Italian films of this era I would say this is essential and for any casual lover of schlocky, B monster movies, if you don't have these films on your shelves yet, then this is a great set and well worth the purchase. However if you already own these films on either VHS or DVD, I would only suggest upgrading if you love the films themselves and want the best quality copy available.

August 26, 2014

DTS-HD Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Widescreen 1.85:1
Not Rated
Region: ALL
Disc: 50GB Dual Layer

Bonded By Blood - Interviews with Co-Writer/Co-Director Claudio Fragasso and Stars Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua & Massimo Vanni
Hell Rats Of The Living Dead - Interview with Director Bruno Mattei
Theatrical Trailers
Poster & Still Galleries

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Life Of Crime/ Fandango Giveaway

Life of Crime, the new caper comedy from legendary author Elmore Leonard starring Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Will Forte and Isla Fisher is coming to theaters, on demand and iTunes August 29th!

When a pair of low-level criminals kidnap the wife of a corrupt real-estate developer, they get both more and less than they bargained for in Life of Crime, a dark caper comedy based on legendary author Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch. Starring Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, yasiin bey, Mark Boone Junior, Isla Fisher, Will Forte and Tim Robbins, Life of Crime is packed with the outrageously eccentric characters, black comedy and unexpected twists that earned Leonard a reputation as one of America’s sharpest and funniest crime writers.

Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of crooked real-estate developer Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins), is kidnapped by two common criminals (yasiin bey and Jon Hawkes), who intend to hold her for a $1 million ransom and extort her husband with inside information about his illegal business dealings. But Frank, who is holed up in the Bahamas with his mistress, decides he’d rather not get his wife back, setting off a sequence of double-crosses and plot twists that could only come from the mind of master storyteller Elmore Leonard.


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