Film Festival Review

Review: The Old Ways (Dir. Christopher Alender, 2021)

GFF 2021 – FrightFest

After taking an assignment in Veracruz, Mexico Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) finds herself hooded and imprisoned in small cell. Despite begging to see her cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés) and general protestations: “I’m an American… and a reporter” there she remains, shackled to the beautifully rendered and chalked wall, forced to ingest goat’s milk and pee in a bucket.

Keeping her ‘prisoner’ is local witch Luz (Julia Vera) and son Javi (Sal Lopez). Both are convinced that Cristina has picked up a demon that has hitched a ride on her soul following an illicit trip to the ruins of La Boca. As the days turn to night, Cristina tries to find ways to escape, however, soon she starts to feel that maybe she does ‘have it’ or something which is holding her hostage.

Exorcism films as a sub-genre are ten-a-penny and usually contain some white child/young woman losing the battle to find the devil within. Or there’s a haunting with a vengeful spirit/lost soul possessing a house or member of a family. Sometimes there are rites, rituals, a cassocked Priest, or perhaps a Rabbi, prayers, chants and holy water. It is refreshing therefore when a film tries to do something that little bit different with the well-worn tropes – Christopher Alender’s – making the leap from shorts and TV to his first feature – The Old Ways does just that (albeit with some old faithful). 

This is exorcism as repatriation. Cristina’s soul was up for grabs because she wasn’t quite fulfilled, living with trauma in a country she never quite belonged to, even if she didn’t realise it until now, drug addled and empty. She needs to commune with her forgotten heritage – one she was ripped from as a child – in order to heal and rid herself of the demon ‘Postekhi’. Her childhood trauma is never far from her mind revisiting her in flashbacks and nightly visits of a small boy.

The beauty of this film is its subtlety, it takes its time and doesn’t outstay its welcome which make the last fifteen/twenty minutes all the more forgiveable. There’s still fun to be had but it loses the nuance it worked so hard to build on and it is those moments which feel somewhat unnecessary. Joy-of-joys, however, the practical effects are great with the odd stomach churning moment, hair regurgitation is never pretty, and special mention goes to Luz’s make-up (courtesy of Josh and Sierra Russell); the cracking white face paint, the blood-red cross across the eyes and cataract lens is striking.

The cast of four play off each other brilliantly but it is Canales’ Cristina who is the standout. She doesn’t play her as a victim but survivor, fighting tooth and nail against what is or isn’t missing inside of her. This is less about restoration of a possessed soul – the snakes and milk symbols of renewal and rebirth – but more about reclamation of a heritage as a way of life and forging ahead. Forget the passive female protagonist bed-bound and helpless to prevent what’s happening, this one schools herself with a red leather bound book of demons (Jung’s manifesto of the same hue also detailed the recovery of a soul). There’s even humour with some amusing play-acting, bribery attempts, and the cell may be dotted in candles but there’s still an electric fan to help with the heat and humidity.

All-in-all The Old Ways is a smart and surprisingly subtle horror film. A really attractive looking feature which deftly goes beyond the expelling of demons, speaks to the migrant experience and embraces cultural significance (the Mariachi-instrumental of “La Bamba” is a nice touch). If you can take one thing from it it’s to never forget who you are or where you come from… and always invest in practical effects.

The Old Ways screens at GFF FrightFest from 5-8 March


Death Proof

The Tarantino debate has been doing the rounds again on social media with several of his films maligned (this one included) by ‘experts’ and divisive views reverberating around the echo chamber. Have you ever noticed that when Scorsese references other films it’s art but when Tarantino does it, he’s a rip-off artist? Anyhoo, it seems like as good a time as any to dust this off again…

Love him or loathe him, everybody seems to have an opinion about Quentin Tarantino and his body of work. Whether you admire, abhor, or are apathetic towards the Tennessee native most appear to have their favourites (Django Unchained and Reservoir Dogs), one that they just cannot stomach (Kill Bill Vol.2) or one that they unequivocally love. For me, that is Death Proof (2007). 

As appears to be the norm with Tarantino he channels all manner of homaging forces in his texts. For this one, exploitation meets Ozploitation, via a nudge of French new wave and an open-handed slap of the slasher to give a really enjoyable ride. Revenge is a dish best served hot rod (at 130 mph). 

Released alongside Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror as a Grindhouse double feature, the premise is a slasher road movie in which a group of women are stalked by an ex-stuntman, a lone wolf, who has little to do but force them off the road for shits and giggles. The first half of the film follows Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) and her friends Arlene a.k.a Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) on a night out. They stop off at a bar – of which Warren (Tarantino) is the proprietor – and drink cocktails, down shots and generally bust the balls of the three men in their company – Eli Roth, Omar Doom and Michael Bacall (all three would later become Inglourious Basterds). 

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), it would appear, has been on their tail for some time, cut to a wonderful in-car-moment which does for Hold Tight – and the erroneously misnamed Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch (it’s Mick) and Tich – what Bohemian Rhapsody did for Wayne’s World. There is an interlude and a flash forward following a crossover sequence involving the PT hospital and Dr Dakota Block (Marley Shelton). This time, Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Kim (Tracie Thoms) and Zoë (Zoë Bell) are in town taking a break from filming – they all work in the film industry – when Mike strikes again. Subsequent to the masochistic fender-bender of the first half, these ladies are ready for him. 

This film has all the markings of the 70s and early 80s; retro titles, an amazing soundtrack, jumbo cuts, fast zooms and scratches on the print adds authenticity and while these elements are in keeping with Rodriguez’s Terror it manages so much more even randomly switching to black and white. This is, I believe, Tarantino’s most feminist movie. These are sexually confident, voracious women who love men but also each other’s company (they even manage conversations where men are not even mentioned, although not quite as many as one would like) and best of all they kick arse. 

These savvy women are only as good as their aggressor and this is one of Kurt Russell’s best characters in years. As Stuntman Mike, he is fetishised with a facial scar, the first time we see him, fully, onscreen is in close-up shovelling greasy nachos into his mouth. He is Snake Plissken by way of John Wayne, his baby blues and dimples still visible beneath the aged, craggy demeanour – the fantastic facial hair would come much later in The Hateful Eight. Russell is beguiling and repugnant in equal measure with a beautiful maniacal laugh to boot. As Mike, he revels in inflicting pain and yet is not a fan of it himself and watching him writhe, scream and cry in agony is a very pleasurable experience, especially following the heinous, violent misogynistic code he appears to live by. 

There are, as expected, several nods to Tarantino’s earlier work including Reservoir DogsPulp FictionKill Bill, (as well as the subtle reference to DP in his 2019’s Once Upon in Hollywood), and even his collaboration with Rodriguez From Dusk Till Dawn. As well as several allusions to the films of the genre(s) he is paying homage to: Fair Game (1986), Dead End Drive-in (1986), Mad Max (1979), Road Games (1981), Vanishing Point (1971), and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) to name but a few. Tracie Thoms is the female equivalent to Samuel L. Jackson, delivering Tarantino’s lines with the same expletive motherfucking aplomb. The last action sequence is fantastic, reminiscent of the greatest set-pieces recorded onscreen, in the likes of Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971) and, hell, even The Bourne Supremacy (2004). 

New Zealand stuntwoman Zoë Bell plays a version of herself and the sight of her grappling on the bonnet of a white Dodge Challenger is exhilarating to watch and, lets face it, while Refn’s Drive (2011) may have had stylish neon cinematography, a funky score and the stoic masculinity of fanboy favourite Ryan Gosling, Death Proof is far more exciting and entertaining to watch – also, better soundtrack. The viewer needs to be part of a car chase and Tarantino keeps the camera on top and up close to the action, credit also has to go to the director’s editor, the late great Sally Menke who keeps up the frenetic pace. 

Yes, by no means is it perfect, it is a dialogue heavy screenplay and QT does flounder somewhat with the womanly repartee but it truly is an enlivened and gratifying female fantasy. So, <blows raspberry> to the naysayers.

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Monkey Shines (Dir. George A. Romero, 1988)

Following his death in July of 2017, George A. Romero’s back catalogue has been made more readily available and given the ‘label’ treatment. The Criterion Collection released Night of the Living Dead (1968), Arrow Video curated Before Night After Dawn – a boxset containing a trio of his more obscure titles – while Eureka Entertainment released a limited edition Dual Format disc of his 1988 film Monkey Shines as part of their Classics range.

Law student and athlete Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) – A. Mann, get it? – is involved in a life-changing accident which leaves him paralysed from the neck down. Growing increasingly frustrated within his newly adapted home, overbearing mother and (Joyce Van Patten) and dwindling personal relationships, he attempts to take his own life. His despair and cry for help is heard by closest friend Geoffrey (John Pankow), a scientist (with an increasing addiction to speed) who has, not only, been injecting himself but primates with a serum containing human tissue. In an act of generosity, Geoff donates one of his Capuchins to service monkey trainer Melanie Parker (Kate McNeil) who trains Ella (Boo) to assist Allan, and hopefully lift his spirits by restoring some of his independence. Over time, Ella becomes a loyal and affectionate companion, however, their bond starts to take a sinister turn when Ella starts to act out.

Based upon Michael Stewart’s novel of the same name, Monkey Shines was Romero’s first – and subsequently last – foray into working with a studio. The fact that he returned to independent projects after this experience speaks volumes. As does the film itself, or at the very least the way it has been put together. There are multiple subplots over the course of the lengthy 113-minute duration which don’t always work but nearly always feel one too many. The pacing, however, is purposeful, allowing the audience time to empathise with Beghe’s Mann. The ‘horror’ is internalised, tension implied yet rarely seen with an overarching and prevalent theme of mental health.

The thing about Romero’s films is that while they are weighted in the horror genre, they tend to be far richer and allegorical in tone, beyond the odd scare, which make them all the more intelligent and effective. However interesting this film appears though, it never feels like a complete Romero, and certainly not that ending. When Ella’s ‘instinct’ kicks in and goes full throttle – combined with the inexplicable score – it becomes laughable. Riffing off Alien (1979) feels like a huge misstep. Thankfully, the alternate ending – George’s ending – is included in the disc extras. Spoiler: it works so much more convincingly (and satisfyingly) than the one the studio insisted on.

Studio interference aside, this is Romero at his most Hitchcockian, reminiscent of something his Creepshow collaborator Stephen King would write with shades of Rear Window and hues of Vertigo, and yet still feels somewhat original. There is plenty of merit outside of those last ludicrous moments, and fans of the Pittsburgh-native filmmaker will lap up this presentation, especially Tom Savini’s FX. Those monkey-point-of-view shots are inspired and Beghe’s simian teeth prosthesis so subtle few will spot them.

Though it may not be one of Romero’s more thoughtful pieces of work, somewhat neutered thanks to the studio, Monkey Shines is highly entertaining. A melodrama-horror about a man and the literal monkey on his back, played here by the remarkable capuchin Boo.

We still miss you, George.

Blu-ray Review

Limited Edition Blu-ray Review: Under the Shadow (Dir. Babak Anvari, 2016)

In Two & Two (2011) – Babak Anvari’s BAFTA-nominated short allegorical film – a teacher (Bijan Daneshmand) attempts to re-educate his male pupils with some basic arithmetic, claiming that what they have always been taught is no longer true. The writer-director packs quite the punch with very little exposition and a whole lot of nuance when depicting the absurdity of an authoritarian regime/dictatorship. Which all bodes well when your next film – and first feature – is an effective little horror (and would become BAFTA award-winning in its own right). It is also a lovely touch to have that same actor play the University Dean who is responsible for shattering Shideh’s dreams of becoming a Doctor.

Under the Shadow is set in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and Shideh (Narges Rashidi) can no longer study medicine having been removed for her political beliefs. We are never party to what exactly her transgression is but suffice to say with the mention of ‘radical left groups’ she was – and probably still is – against the war that is currently waging in her country.

Once her chador is removed, we can ‘see’ some of her transgressions. Her hair cut (in a bob style), dress (westernised), and her autonomy around her home; the partnership with her husband, exercising to Jane Fonda. she’s also the only woman in the building who drives. This is a ‘modern’ woman, oppressed by external tradition and reduced to the confines of her four walls, and even those are not so secure with the shelling, daily explosions and air raids which can send residents into a panic at any given moment.

When her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) receives his draft notice, Shideh is left with her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) as, one by one, all her neighbours pack up and move onto safety. The exacerbating factor a shell crashing through the roof of their building, killing the elderly resident within and leaving a gaping hole. The hole is covered with a sheet which appears to undulate in the wind like a bodily organ, flapping in and out like a heartbeat. A visual metaphor of a damaged culture, while the cracks in the ceiling – it can be argued – relate to Shideh’s psyche. Ever increasingly isolated, Shideh and Dorsa begin to experience things which may be the product of a child’s imagination or something altogether more supernatural.

Djinn is a malevolent spirit which has its history in Early Arabia and then later in Islamic mythology and theology. An entity that travels on the wind until it finds somebody to possess. Often dismissed as a superstitious belief, the spirit is reported to enjoy the souls of children (much like Krampus in European culture, or el Cuco in Latin America). It may explain Dorsa’s fever or not, after all Shideh was also once a child. Evil wants to hurt them alleges one neighbour while another, Mrs. Fakur (Soussan Farrokhnia), attempts to allay her friend’s fear: “people can convince themselves of anything if they want to”.

Tight framing adds to the oppressive atmosphere as mother and daughter’s fear and anxiety builds. Tension is slow-burning, and jump scares are few and far between yet effective when they do occur. There’s no score (music is only played during opening and closing credits) so is reliant upon diegetic noise and whistling winds. We’re never sure of the time of day given the constantly closed curtains and disturbed sleep patterns.

What appears to be mere moments gives the impression of hours. As people leave we can assume the passing of days and weeks yet the costumes of the leads mostly remain the same. Natural and artificial also play havoc with this, along with the production design: one location, open doors, hallways, and reflections in the television mean the constantly moving camera plays tricks with the eyes – was that something moving or not? Shideh’s lip is bruised from the constant biting, insecurity, anxiety, stress. Like all amazing genre films – nothing is ever quite how they appear and this film is all the better for it building beautifully the general sense of unease.

It seems apt that when she is preparing to fight, Shideh’s weapon of choice is a pair of scissors – as if tethered to a more domesticated past, her own mother’s apron strings or the chador in this instance. While the malevolent being appears to be set on persecution – even referring to the character as a ‘whore’ and ‘bad parent’ – it’s important to remember that Djinn is not inherently evil or good, and this entity could, at some point, be Shideh’s mother from beyond the grave.

A matriarch disappointed that her daughter will no longer practice medicine but needs to save her by forcing her to leave the building. Think back to the picture frame which houses Shideh’s mother’s portrait, the fractured glass obscuring the image within, it now laying down on the shelf hidden from view – but before that, the draped material serving as a backdrop in the photo is identical to the chador the entity embodies itself within. This reading further strengthens the mother-daughter links throughout, and the expectations a patriarchy levels at women, generally, but more so during the kind of regime in Tehran of the 80s.

As a first feature, Under the Shadow wears its influences well: Polanski’s apartment trilogy (Repulsion [1965], Rosemary’s Baby [1969], The Tenant [1976]) with a sprinkling of Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water via a domestic social realist drama in the ilk of Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi. It’s a rich and visually arresting film which checks all of the above as well as featuring, at its heart, a really affecting horror fable. A 1980s Tehran-set horror film filmed entirely in Farsi – the first of its kind.

Finally, it has been given the kind of release it deserves courtesy of Second Sight that includes plenty of extra features, including five new interviews with the filmmaker, cast and crew, as well as a lively commentary between Director Anvari and film critic Jamie Graham, in which every aspect of the film’s genesis, production and release is covered.


Two & Two (8:48) – Babak Anvari’s BAFTA-nominated short film shown in its entirety. It’s the one extra which can be watched before the main feature.

Escaping the Shadow (23:53) – A long interview with Anvari who begins with his own childhood nightmares growing up in 80s Iran before his move to Britain. He talks at length about the filmmaking process, his cast, shooting in Jordan and expands upon things mentioned in the commentary. He’s a delightful interviewee, and while it is not the most imaginatively filmed featurette, Anvari’s charisma shines through.

Within the Shadow (12:52) – Star of Under the Shadow, Narges Rashidi discusses her own childhood in Iran and Germany and career now she is LA based. She describes the film as a ‘beautiful gift’, and again, static camera and a by-the-book interview reveals an excitable and rather lovely person.

Forming the Shadow (16:11) – Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill talk all things ‘producer’, how they met Babak, the script, the film’s potential and their brief disappointment at not having to sell the film when it premiered at Sundance. A lot of their anecdotes are repeated in the commentary track.

Shaping the Shadow (13:29) – Anvari’s close collaborator and DoP Kit Fraser talks about his involvement from before the script was even written.

Limited Edition Contents – This set is limited to just 2000 copies, comes in a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy and with a soft cover book with new essays by Jon Tovison and Daniel Bird (unavailable at time of review). Plus behind-the-scenes photos, concept illustrations, and a poster with new artwork.

Blu-ray Review

Limited Edition Blu-ray Review: Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose, 1992)

It is interesting to note that the titular character of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film Candyman was a painter, an artist determined to leave behind a legacy; never to be forgotten: “I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing…” The myth – dating back to 1890 – surmises that Daniel Robitaille (although we wouldn’t learn his name until the first sequel) was educated and enslaved, on account of his father’s invention which assisted in the mass production of shoes after the Civil War.

Robitaille was commissioned to paint the portrait of a wealthy landowner’s daughter. The two fell in love and when a child was conceived, fear of miscegenation led to a mob chasing the artist from town to the outskirts where his hand was sawn off, and his body smothered in honeycomb for bees to devour. 100 plus years later and, according to folklore, his soul and bloody hooked stump continues to haunt Cabrini Green, now home of the projects.

At least that’s what the legend suggests as it is told and retold, embellished by the storyteller, and those who believe in the Candyman (Tony Todd). For Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), the myth becomes a major part of her research. She and colleague Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are students at the University of Illinois researching urban legends as part of their thesis, within an academic department where being smug, white and male is a given. None more so than Helen’s own husband Trevor (an immensely slippery Xander Berkeley).

Helen discovers that there is a connection between her building and the apartments at Cabrini Green, after looking into the unexplained death of Ruthie Jean – a woman of colour who was mutilated in her bathtub by a killer who allegedly burst through her wall brandishing a hook. Helen interrogates the myth, and through her investigation we see just how limited her perspective is (in both literal and cultural terms), she is oblivious to anything outside of her area of interest until the myth has been appropriated. Only then does she (figuratively) wake up.

Rose – not unfamiliar with literary adaptations – has given audiences variations on numerous works of literature including his Tolstoy quintet of Anna Karenina (1997), Ivans XTC (2000), The Kreutzer Sonata (2008), Boxing Day (2012), Two Jacks (2012), and more recently his take on Frankenstein (2015). Candyman was his first authored screenplay, based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden (which can be found within volume five of his seminal anthology Books of Blood). The Faustian-inspired story transposed Liverpool to Chicago, Helen’s surname became Lyle (from Buchanan), her thesis – which once centred around graffiti – now concentrated on urban legends, and class and race became intertwined in Rose’s vision. He kept the thematic material of the story but made it very much his own.

While the film is grounded in horror, part ghost story, part unconventional slasher by way of arthouse cinema. It plays with the tonal and generic shifts between the story and its retelling, building ambiguity before Candyman’s first full reveal to Helen (it’s well worth the wait), and their relationship as the film progresses.

Some have commented upon the fact that the film’s “villain” is a man of colour. True, however, he is not a typical “monster” (just like Helen is not a victim, despite his imploring her to be). Candyman is a tragic and romantic anti-hero, an eloquent and beautiful phantom who is seeking retribution from those who have wronged him. It’s an elegant performance by Todd who elicits as much empathy as scares, it’s hard to imagine anybody else embodying the handsome hook-man (although, what if the next is a white iteration or Yahya Abdul Mateen II*). He is led by an equally wonderful Virginia Madsen.

Her Helen is intelligent, determined and flawed, perhaps even unhinged. The line between the real world and the nightmare is completely blurred by the film’s midpoint. Is she responsible for the kidnapping of Anne-Marie McCoy’s (Vanessa Williams) baby boy? Is Candyman a figment of her imagination or is he the man who assaulted her? Has Helen lost her mind? There’s an old Hollywood glamour to Madsen/Helen, and yet she’s completely ordinary and easy to identify with. The choice of lighting her across the eyes is genius on the part of DoP Anthony B. Richmond (Don’t Look Now). It enhances those huge green windows especially when she appears in a trance, passively hypnotised by Todd’s velvet voice (in actuality, it was her director who was doing the mesmerising).

Richmond’s cinematography and Jane Ann Stewart’s production design have aged well. The graffiti and murals adorning the walls of Cabrini Green are still as effective – made all the more so by the careful 2K restoration from a new 4K scan of the original negative (supervised and approved by Rose and Richmond). Grain is kept to a minimum and the picture is perfect. Reds and petrol blues particularly bright and eye-catching along with that all important artwork on the walls leading to Candyman’s lair.

Bob Keen’s make-up FX is just as accomplished in a film that really was multi-layered and ahead of its time, (and still as timely today) even the bees are analogue with Todd pheromoned-up, standing in for the Queen. Apiculture has been practiced for a millennia, and given that bees are the creatives of the nature world, it’s a perfect extension of the art present. Philip Glass’ haunting, melancholic and melodic score brings the religious themes to the fore and is the aural icing on the cake.

By placing the film within a racial context, it polarises the worlds as they are depicted; white, middle-class academia and the poverty of the inner city African-American experience. Helen even spells it out: “A black woman is murdered and the police do nothing, a white woman gets attacked and they’re all over it.” However, as the film progresses it is evident that Helen and Daniel are linked rather than opposed. The racial and social commentary, however dated, opens up dialogue, not only holding up a mirror to an America of the past but what the future holds for people still living as a consequence of segregated housing. It will be fascinating to see how Nia DaCosta approaches the material in her version of the film.

Candyman continues to be an ambivalent and ambiguous arthouse horror film which depicts oppression and transgression, and manages to sustain the scares, even after 26 years. Bernard Rose and Tony Todd have created a legacy which will continue long after they depart.


Disc 1: US R-Rated Version

Audio Commentary with Bernard Rose and Tony Todd – The disc boasts not one but two audio commentaries. The first is provided by writer-director Rose and star Todd (his introduction is a particularly nice touch). The pair are obviously close, having reunited for Frankenstein, and cover a whole host of topics. Todd reviews Infinity War, A Quiet Place, and Halloween. We hear Rose’s opinion on sequels, the new Halloween and his favourite horror films (he has excellent taste). The two men tend not to pay much attention to what’s onscreen, choosing instead to talk about the cinematic essence of the horror genre, offer occasional anecdotes re: filming, what constitutes as “American”, politics and social media, and the notion of fear. This is highly entertaining and well worth listening to.

Audio Commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman – The second places the film within critical context by writers/critics Jones and Newman. They discuss their friendship with Clive Barker and his stories which have been made into memorable films. They analyse the cast and their respective performances. Theirs is actual commentary accompanying the film as it unfolds and they offer several readings of the film and briefly consider the logic of nightmares (which allows for plot holes).

Be My Victim: Interview with Tony Todd ©2018 (9:38) – Todd discusses how he got the role, the romantic gothic horror elements of the film, and his approach to the role which included ballroom dancing. He likens Candyman to the Phantom of the Opera and speaks positively, not only, of the experience but of Rose who he describes as a “highly intelligent” filmmaker. He touches upon his costume, location shooting including the active gang members who agreed to be on film, and facing his fear of bees. It is evident that he has a great deal of affection for both Rose and the character. The racial aspects of the film are still open for discussion and Todd welcomes the conversation.

It Was Always You, Helen: Interview with Virginia Madsen ©2018 (13:00) – Madsen talks about her first action(s) following getting the role; going for tests as she was allergic to bee stings and eating a lot of pizza as Bernard wanted her a little rounder as Helen. It’s a lively and informal discussion, much like Todd, Madsen is clearly comfortable talking about the film, the experience and having a close working relationship with he cast/crew. She’s incredibly proud of the film, it remains one of the best experiences she has ever had, particularly enjoying waltzing with the “beautiful and gentle” Todd.

The Writing on the Wall: Interview with Jane Ann Stewart ©2018 (6:10) – Stewart worked as Production Designer on the film, and here discusses scouting for locations, basing her designs on truth and just how much fun she had working on Candyman, especially as a student of Art History.

Forbidden Flesh: The Make-up FX of Candyman ©2018 (7:49) – This featurette interviews (albeit separately) Bob Keen, Gary J. Tunnicliffe and Mark Coulier the three British make-up artists who were responsible for the FX of Candyman.  This is interesting especially as they describe “making” excrement for the walls of the public bathroom from a selection of biscuits, and the forging of the hook. “Proud” is definitely the verb of choice from everyone interviewed about this film.

A Story to Tell: Clive Barker’s The Forbidden ©2018 (18:28) – Critic/writer Douglas E. Winter critiques Barker’s seminal Books of Blood and original source story The Forbidden. Winter is an adorer of Barker whom he describes as the “finest horror writer of the [80s]”. He also discusses Rose as author and artist and briefly touches on the feminist aspects of the Candyman sequels: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Day of the Dead (1999).

Urban Legend: Unwrapping Candyman ©2018 (20:21) – This critical analysis of the film by UCLA Lecturer/writer Tananarive Due and author/screenwriter Steven Barnes is the highlight on the disc. They consider the film from a Black historical context and gaze. Their analysis is invaluable, intelligent and allows for the viewer to reconsider a film text they think they know. Subjectivity is a fascinating tool and representation matters, as well as diversity behind the camera. This is essential viewing, not least because, Madsen aside, Due is the only woman involved in this boxset as a whole.

Bernard Rose’s Short Films – Three films – newly restored in HD – which cement Rose’s filmmaking prowess. Fans will see techniques, themes, and motifs which continued through his entire oeuvre to date.

  • A Bomb With No Name On It [1975] (3:34) – Terrorism is approached with horror elements and a classical score (he had to start somewhere). The action takes place in a busy London restaurant with the bomb maker, a white middle-class male. Perhaps an allusion to the IRA bombings of the seventies.
  • The Wreckers [1976] (5:54) – A film depicting ‘youth’ and more specifically a teenage boy and the party he throws when parents his head out for a dinner party amongst their peers. The generational divide is seen through the juxtaposing of the two soirées. Sparkling water is the adult’s drug of choice as the teens spark up their joints. It’s brilliantly created, mixing contemporary music with classical before the evening descends into coloured-filtered horrific chaos.
  • Looking At Alice [1977] (27:24) – This is Rose’s black and white avant garde film (every director has one). He plays with voyeurism as his protagonist watches and stalks the object of his affection through her love and conquests. Rose, once again, utilises classical music, jump cuts and repetitive dialogue. All three films are a welcome extra on the the film that many consider Rose’s masterpiece.

Theatrical Trailer (1:59)

Image Gallery – A slideshow continuing 40 images including film posters from across the world, VHS covers, film stills, publicity stills and lobby cards. It’s interesting to note the different studios that have historically owned the rights to Candyman.

Disc 1: Original UK Theatrical Version

The Cinema of Clive Barker: The Divine Explicit ©2018 (28:00) – This in depth interview with author/director/visual artist Barker, who discusses his literary work and the subsequent film adaptations, including Rawhead Rex, Hellraiser (with his old school chum Doug Bradley), the connoted homosexuality of Nightbreed and, of course, Candyman. He talks about horror and what it does to us as a film audience, finding beauty in the darkest of things, celebrating difference, and his childhood. It’s a fascinating interview. Barker looks gaunt, ageing following operations to remove polyps from his throat. As Americanised as his accent is now, the Liverpudlian is still evident to the trained ear. On a personal note, it’s heartwarming to see and hear someone with a huge talent be a success in a field you love who also happened to go to your old school and sound a bit like you.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also:

  • Exclusive packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin (although, it appears that his hook in is the wrong hand).
  • 6 lobby card reproductions
  • Reversible fold-out poster featuring two artworks
  • Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth (unavailable for review).
  • Limited Edition bound booklet reproducing the original hand-painted storyboards by Bernard Rose

Yes, it’s a little odd that Philip Glass isn’t featured amongst the extras at all, a copy of the score would have rounded off the boxset nicely. The severe lack of women is also disappointing, specifically in a critical capacity or interviews with the other women in the cast.

That said, Arrow Films courtesy of their Video label have immortalised Candyman and his mythology in a stunning limited edition box set, packed with extra features that will make any film lovers cling to their rapture. Buy it, if you dare, just avoid mirrors.

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: The Cat O’Nine Tails (Dir. Dario Argento, 1972)

The Cat O’Nine Tails [il gatto a nove code] is largely regarded (tenuously so) as the second instalment of Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy, sandwiched between The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1974). While it does lack some of the panache of those two films, the Karl Malden vehicle is still a largely enjoyable fare, seemingly influenced by The Spiral Suitcase and Hitchcock’s Suspicion, and containing some visuals that would be seen again in Deep Red (1975).

Upon walking home one evening with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) – who affectionately refers to him as “Cookie” (or Biscottino depending on whether you’re watching the English or Italian dub) – Franco Arnò (Malden), a blind crossword writer overhears a conversation which sounds suspiciously like blackmail in a car near his apartment. He thinks nothing more until a break-in at The Terzi Institute, a genetics lab, triggers a number of deaths. Ex-newspaper man Arnò joins forces with the handsome and charismatic investigative journalist Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) and together, they do a little digging and attempt to solve the mystery, which in true Gialli style, picks off anybody who edges closer to the truth, via some nifty subjective camerawork before revealing the killer.

The Cat O’Nine Tails is an unique entry into the Argento oeuvre because it is the only film to remain uncensored in any parts of the world, and yet, by his own admission, it is one of the filmmaker’s least favourite. He believes it to be “too American”. Perhaps, it is the sprawling narrative which fixates on genetics and the XXY chromosome which can distinguish criminality – the murder gene – and the nine leads which make it increasingly convoluted and by the time the end arrives, and on a rooftop no less, the killer’s reveal feels rather arbitrary.

Less than twenty minutes in, there’s a tremendous set-piece involving a train and corpse; in addition to murder, intrigue, jump-cuts, extreme close-ups, recurring visual motifs – the filmmaker’s use of colour really is second only to Bava – glorious costumes courtesy of Luca Sabatelli and charming performances from Malden and child actor De Carolis, all backed extraordinarily by a subtle yet jarring score by that little-known composer, Ennio Morricone. While it is regarded as a lesser Argento – although not to the degree of Dracula 3DThe Cat O’Nine Tails is a stylish little number, perhaps not narratively speaking but as per Argento, a visual treat.

Arrow Video once again fleshes out their restoration with extras, although this time not quite as many or as varied as expected, the greatest achievement is that 4K restoration, the 1080p presentation, and the newly translated English subtitles for the soundtrack. The audio commentary is provided by Argento author and father of FrightFest Alan Jones, who is joined by critic/author Kim Newman. The commentary does contain spoilers so it is advisable to watch the film beforehand but it’s interesting, personally, I could listen to Alan Jones read a shopping list, but both men have fun and their vast knowledge is more than put to good use.

Special Features

Nine Lives (15:22) – An exclusive interview with co-writer/director Dario Argento recorded for Arrow Video in 2017 written, edited and directed by Federico Caddeo. In it, the filmmaker discusses the story and how he regards it as a sequel to The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and how he found shooting in Turin.

The Writer O’Many Tales (34:46) – Dardano Sacchetti wrote CONT with Argento and in this extended interview, the Italian writer discusses his career in detail, from his filmic first memory to how he met Dario Argento, and how he spent his pay check. It’s a little drawn out, and far more about the man than the film, and also twice as long as the Argento segment, in which he’s incredibly respectful to his ex-collaborator but make no mistake, there’s no love lost between the two men.

Child Star – Another new interview, this time with actress Cinzia De Carolis. This was unavailable at the time of review due to a disc error.

Giallo in Turin (15:09) – A chat with production manager Angelo Iacono, in it he discusses his 16-year relationship (seven films) with Dario Argento whom he describes as “adorable”.

Original Ending (3:07) – As originally written, The Cat O’Nine Tails didn’t end with the death of [redacted]. Footage was shot of Lori being rescued and an epilogue featuring Giordani and Terzi. While the original footage is now lost, the script pages survive and are presented here in English for the first time, containing lobby card images from the ending.

Trailers: Italian Theatrical (1:46), International Theatrical (1:52), US Domestic Theatrical Trailer (1:37)

Also included as part of the boxset is reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp, a double-sided fold-out poster, four lobby card reproductions and (unavailable for review) a limited edition booklet illustrated by Matt Griffin, featuring an essay on the film by Dario Argento, and new writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes.


Blu-ray Review

Limited Edition Blu-ray Review: George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn

When George Romero sadly passed away in July of 2017, it is fair to say the news left film fans in mourning and specifically horror fiends. Famous for his flesh-eating and satirical Dead trilogy – which would eventually become a six-film anthology by 2009, he was a filmmaker who refused to be pigeon-holed (as the films in this set will attest). Before Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Martin (1978) he completed three other features. It is these  – There’s Always Vanilla (1971), Season of the Witch (1972) and The Crazies (1973) which were lovingly restored and presented in a box set by the wonderful folks at Arrow Films and their Video label.

There’s Always Vanilla AKA The Affair was the first film made by the team behind Night of the Living Dead (1968) and was fraught with problems from the start of its troubled production. It is not so much a film directed by Romero – his style is barely recognisable – than superbly edited making the most of a flimsy plot. The film centres around a love story during the 70s in which sexuality was liberated and countercultural, clearly inspired by Mike Nichol’s The Graduate (1968) and Larry Peerce’s Goodbye, Columbus (1969) which had been released a few years before. Chris (Raymond Laine) loves Lynn (Judith Ridley) and she loves him until… they don’t, she’s a commercial actress and he’s struggling to find a niche following time served in the army.

The film was carved from a short showreel meant for Laine (a dead-ringer for a young Russell Crowe) and while the crosscutting and juxtapositions are rather heavy-handed, – and the first half feels somewhat aimless and laboured – Vanilla‘s an interesting look at the experimental cinematic mood – it captures an essence of the era. Granted, with some horrendously dated gender labels and stereotypes. There is a hint of the director during the sinister and sleazy abortion scenes in which canted camera angles and filters are employed and an ominous soundtrack plays.

There’s Always Vanilla, so named for the lead character’s father’s analogy for life – the more exotic flavours tend to be discontinued or hard to locate, you see but there’s always… well, you get the drift. The pretty metaphor within the ending which we also see at the film’s opening brings it full circle and attempts to convey the alleged freedom and liberty of the decade, or perhaps it’s also a state of mind; you’re only free if you believe you are – deeply philosophical questions for a film that started life as a showreel. While the film is dated and technically flawed, it really captures a mood and authenticity of a period and the beginnings of a filmmaker and his team at the genesis of their craft.

Season of the Witch AKA Hungry Wives (awful) or Jack’s Wife (working title) fares better. Made in 1972 and revolving around housewife Joan Mitchell (Jan White) and her eventual dabbling in the occult, courtesy of a few tarot card readings, before accepting her place in a coven. What strikes most with this film is the level of sophistication in comparison to …Vanilla. Still prevalent are some technical flaws however, from the Buñuelian and atmospheric opening to the depiction of female disillusionment within the narrative, this film is fascinating.

It isn’t necessarily about magic but rather how a woman – who wants more beyond marriage and motherhood – wishes to embrace her independence and sexual prime, and take back some power through witchcraft (almost depicted here as a completion of womanhood). One can see its distinct influence on Anna Biller’s fabulously feminist The Love Witch (2016). Using themes of oppression and transgression, it is no accident that this film’s existence stems from the period of women’s lib – patriarchy manifested as a demon-masked man on the prowl, personifying Joan’s fears, albeit within a recurring dream sequence – while fragile and toxic masculinity personified through the characters of Jack Mitchell (Bill Thunhurst) and Greg (Raymond Laine).

Season of the Witch is a gem of a film, from its avant-garde opening to the interesting depiction of gender roles coupled with the enigmatic and nuanced performance of Jan White. It feels like a primer for Martin with its political progression, religious motifs and the use of the colour red (although to differing effects).

This use of chromatic is also prominently used in The Crazies, a science-fiction-horror-thriller in which a small American town is quarantined following the accidental release of a biological weapon. The Army have “everything under control”, at least they certainly want everyone to believe they do – reinforced by a non-diegetic military drumroll punctuated sporadically throughout. We, along with the townspeople are on a need-to-know basis as all hell breaks loose and national security becomes a real concern.

We’re subjected to horrifying images as people are dragged from their sanctuary of Church or a small group of individuals are backed into a stand-off, threatened by gunfire. Then, there’s the scientist who makes a breakthrough with an antidote (the soldiers have all been inoculated first with what little antibiotics they have) only to be murdered, his vials of life-saving serum (red again) smashed around him. David (W.G. McMillan) and Judy’s (Lane Carroll) arc pulls at the heartstrings and, a few pacing issues aside, it is them we root for.

Watching the films in this boxset in chronological order shows a distinct progression in the New York native/Carnegie Mellon alum’s filmmaking. The man who made films (whether writing, directing or editing or a combination of all three) instinctively, was politically progressive, possessed a sense of humour and rarely wrote characters that weren’t multi-faceted. He depicted a rare equality within male and female characterisations and did not exploit or resort to sex.

Mr. Romero, George, you are sorely missed.

This box set of his early works between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead – see what they did there? is replete with extras and special features and is a must-buy for any fan. He was still developing his style and craft and the films may not strike as much of a chord as the ones that followed*, however, there’s still much to enjoy and appreciate. Season of the Witch, and the Guillermo del Toro interview with George – which is a wonderful and joyous watch – are worth the purchase alone. Alternatively, all three are now available individually via Arrow.

*”My stuff is my stuff. Sometimes, it’s not as successful as my other stuff but it’s my stuff.” (G.A.R, 2011)