Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Arrow Films Review: Nightmare City (1980, Umberto Lenzi)

  Original title “Incubo sulla città contaminata”

“The Nightmare Becomes Reality.”
Whilst waiting at an airport to interview a scientist about a recent nuclear accident, American reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz, 357 magnum) witnesses a military plane making an illegal landing. With police and armed forces on the scene, Dean knows himself and his trusty cameraman (Antonio Mayans, Zombie Lake) are going to potentially get some juicy material. Juicy material it definitely is, bloody too. Very bloody! Inside the plane are dozens of disfigured victims of the nuclear accident. These passengers aren't just casualties of an unfortunate event, they're also blood-thirsty maniacs and almost instantly wipe out the entire military personnel. As if butchering and battering their victims in brutal fashion wasn't enough, they also like to slurp on their blood to keep themselves going. Dean manages to escape and heads back to the studio to show the world what's happening. Unfortunately for him, the suits at work won't allow it because General Murchison (Mel Ferrer, The Longest Day) over at Civil Defence doesn't want the word out. Naturally, the infected are running amuck around the city and after they invade the television studio, Dean escapes once again and heads on over to the hospital where his wife Anna (Laura Trotter, Frivolous Lola) works. As he arrives, the hospital also falls under attack, but luckily, himself and Anna escape. What follows for the pair is a fight for survival. As if you didn't know that already....
  It's actually pretty pointless giving you a synopsis of this movie because I bet you have already seen it, probably multiple times. We all know that Nightmare City is a ridiculous film, but just in case you're one of the few people yet to experience this truly cinematic wonder, I won't go in to too much detail about some of the stand out moments and shortcomings. When I say shortcomings, I mean that in the greatest possible sense. In an (amazingly dark) age where yuppy hipster directors who are borrowing a nostalgia they didn't live and are creating purposefully bad low-budget films, this is a perfect film for the Kung Fury and Birdemic (I think / hope we're collectively over The Room by now.) crowd. The story is simple, but functions in the basic sense. At its heart, it's an anti-war and nuclear film. Does it actually work in that sense? No, not really. Aside from some rather forced sounding pacifist dire tribe, the action and absurdity on screen takes precedent. You're not here for intellectual content, you're here for bad acting, non-stop action and some tasty blood and guts. There's something happening pretty much all of the time. From Hugo Stiglitz giving us an acting masterclass on how to use the same facial expression for every emotion and situation to defaced super-strengthed ghouls slicing off nipples and following dinner table etiquette by wiping their mouths after slurping down a serving of blood. Speaking of bloodshed, there's gore by the bucket loads. Sure, the camera may occasionally linger a bit too long to expose the crudeness of certain gore gags, but it's just going to make you chuckle even more.
  As I briefly touched on it earlier, acting isn't anything to shout about, especially the mighty Hugo Stiglitz. That being said, the likes of Mel Ferrer, Francisco Rabal (Speed Driver) as well as eye candy such as Maria Rosaria Omaggio (The Cop in Blue Jeans) and Sonia Viviani (Women's Camp 119) all add something to the film. Even though this is a wonderfully absurd film, one thing is for certain; Stelvio Cipriani's (A Bay of Blood) score is a genuinely accomplished and effective piece of work and actually one of Cipriani's greatest. Overall, this is another winner from Umberto Lenzi. Say what you will about him in terms of his personally and his artistic vision and capabilities, he knew how to create an entertaining film. What more can I say? I am fan of this film for the right and wrong reasons. At this point, you've probably skimmed over the review looking for the most important information; is this Arrow Films release better or worse than the Raro Video release?
  Guess what? You're pretty much getting both transfers on this release. Out of the two, Arrow's new 2k restoration looks much sharper and vibrant, but suffers from irreversible print damage. The second transfer, the one Raro used for their release, is taken from a 35mm reversal dupe negative and although the print damage isn't there, it's a much softer transfer. Sound is of high quality on both versions and. Those who are privy to pointlessly complain about Arrow releases need not bother because you are warned about the damage before you even decide which version to watch. Arrow could have just lazily used the same Raro print or just use their own, but the fact you get to choose from the two is very commendable. In terms of on-disc extras there's an entertaining commentary track from former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, interviews with Umberto Lenzi and Maria Rosaria Ommagio, Eli Roth (Hostel) unashamedly fanboying about the film and Umberto Lenzi, original theatrical trailer, alternate opening titles and a featurette about the restoration issues. Unfortunately, the lengthy interview with Lenzi that appeared on the Raro disc is nowhere to be seen, but the long list of extras here more than make up for it. As always there's wonderful newly commissioned artwork, this time from Graham Humphreys and a booklet featuring writing from John Martin (The Seduction of the Gullible: The Truth Behind the Video Nasty Scandal). The Raro booklet has a piece by Chris Alexander that doesn't appear here. All in all, the Arrow release is arguably the most definitive out there. It may be missing one or two extras, but wether this is the first time you're buying the film or the 3746328468th time; this is a release you need to own.

Nightmare City is available as a DVD & Blu-Ray combo pack from Arrow Films.


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Vinegar Syndrome Peekarama Review: Robin's Nest (1980) / Bella (1979)

  There's high flying Action when the pretty little birds flock together...”

Newlyweds Alan (Eric Edwards, Laura's Toys) and Robin (Arcadia Lake, Debbie Does Dallas) spend their first day as a married couple by moving in to their new apartment. Naturally, that evening they christen said apartment like most couples would do and damn do they start married life with a bang! The perfect start to what will be a truly future? Maybe not, because fast forward six months later and the couple's bickering has lead to the pair undergoing a trial separation and Robin to move out. She decides to stay with her high society nympho of a friend; Glenna (Robin Byrd, Pleasure Palace). The pair then do some “catching up”. With her mind somewhat at ease, Robin's healing process is off to a great start! Alan on the other hand is a bumbling, scruffy mess. Thankfully, he gets cheered up by his own nympho of a friend; Larry (Paul Thomas, The Price of Desire) after a chance encounter in the local drinking hole. Unlike Glenna however, Larry is a bit of a creep who in his spare time likes to stalk a cheating housewife known as Mrs. G (Marcia Mager, Sweet Wet Lips). After a few drinks, Larry invites Alan back to his wife Lorraine's (Samantha Fox, Babylon Pink) funded swanky abode. How does he cheer up Alan? By letting him have some “consoling” of his own with Lorraine's young plaything; Honey (Crystal Day, Secrets of a Willing Wife). If things weren't complicated and ugly enough (well, depends on how you look at it.) for both Alan and Robin, the fact that Lorraine is “good friends” with Glenna may just make the situation uglier than it already is!
In a nutshell, Robin's Nest is a simple piece of melodrama with a touch of comedy thrown in for good measure. Stylistically, the film reminded me of a late 1960's piece of sexploitation cinema. After looking at Victor Bertini's filmography, that was no surprise to me as this (his final film) was his first film since a trio of late 1960's sexploitation efforts (his only other directorial credits). Of course, instead of flirty thrills, we have unsimulated sex and even though the cinematography and set layouts are reminiscent of retro cheeseball sexploitation cinema, there is a contemporary (for the time) style and set decoration. It makes for a visually intriguing experience. Overall, the film has a sense of cheapness about it, but Bertini pulls off a somewhat accomplished piece of hardcore cinema. You'd think he'd been shooting X-Rated skin flicks for years! To compliment the action, there's a great selection of music throughout and although credited to an outfit called Goldenrod, it seems more likely that it's just a tactic to hide the (wonderfully handpicked) usage of library music. To match the style, there are great performances throughout from everyone involved. Although only appearing together in a handful of scenes, there's genuine chemistry between Arcadia Lake and Eric Edwards (something I will touch upon again at the end of the review!. It's not exactly the most entertaining film of its kind, but there are some great individual gags throughout and definitely worth watching more than once. On a completely different note, it reminded me of the 1985 shot on video outing; The Initiation of Cynthia, a film I have watched recently... What do you mean you don't care!?
  The most Classically Erotic film ever made...”With her husband Bob (Jake Teague, Cannibal Ferox) constantly away on business trips, it's no surprise that lonely housewife Susan (Diana Sloan, Dracula Exotica) would begin an affair with the local hunky handyman Tom (Eric Edwards). Unfortunately for her however, her young daughter Bella (Tracy Adams, Fascination) discovers her engaging in her dirty little hobby after returning home earlier than usual one day. Instead of confronting her mother and revealing the truth to her father upon his return, Bella is overcome by lust after witnessing Tom and his DIY skills. Thus, begins a sordid little love triangle. Bella's lust soon turns to love and obsession, but Tom is unwilling to commit. Bella's obsession combined with her jealousy leads her to take drastic measures, involving her friend and all-round unknowing participant; Patty (Arcadia Lake). With the stakes and tensions high, what happens will change everyone and everything forever. Will Bella do something she may regret or can she come to a compromise with her mother? One thing's for certain, this is probably the most hands-on work Tom has ever had to do in his life!
  Much like the previous film, Bella is a melodrama with a simple concept. It may not be the most original of concepts, but it's far from the weakest attempt at the “mother and daughter fall for the same man” plot. Things are pretty straightforward and somewhat vanilla for most of the film, but the final third REALLY stands out. It may not be the most shocking, heart-wrenching or adrenaline filled final thirds, but it definitely leaves an impression. All in all, it's a solidly paced film with only a couple of sex scenes being a few minutes too long. In terms of pornography, there's no complaints at all. Aside from Diana Sloan, the film is well acted and the characters are believable. Although the delivery of her dialogue is wooden to say the least, it doesn't detract too much from the overall film. The star of the show for me is of course the lovely Tracy Adams who really does portray the obsessed naïve lover almost perfectly. That being said, even if her performance wasn't the greatest, you really wouldn't complain. It's a travesty that this was only the second of a handful of films she starred in because she could have made a REALLY big name for herself. In terms of style, the film almost has a feel of Joe Sarno (Abigail Leslie is Back in Town) to it; solid enough erotic, yet kitchen sink drama and genuinely cinematic. It's no surprise the film is shot so wonderfully as porn veteran Carter Stevens (Punk Rock) was behind the camera with complete artistic freedom. Shots are wonderfully and thoughtfully staged and there are some great handheld and dolly shots thrown in too for good measure! You'll be hard pressed to find a film of this nature and budget that looks as good. Overall, this film has a lot to offer and can warrant repeat viewings.

Wouldn't you know? Vinegar Syndrome have done yet another great job with the restoration and presentation of these films. Aside from maybe one or two incidences with clear signs of irreversible print damage, the films look and sound great, especially when it comes to the cinematography of Carter Stevens in Bella. Speaking of Carter Stevens, the main feature on this disc is a short interview with the man himself (why has no one made a feature length documentary about him!?). He talks about his experience and freedom on the film as well as talking about Blue Underground's very own Bill Lustig and his involvement with the film. It's a fantastic little interview and I hope there's going to be much more in the future. The only other special feature is a trailer for Bella. Overall, this is a solid double feature mainly to commemorate the real life relationship between Arcadia Lake and Eric Edwards. It doesn't just work on that level because both films have the same sort of vibes and compliment each other. If you want to see character driven porn, give this release a try! Just don't let your mother find out... Robin's Nest & Bella are available as a double feature DVD release as well as being streamable on Exploitation.tv

Monday, 7 March 2016

Arrow Films Review: 5 Dolls for an August Moon (1970, Mario Bava)

  I'm not a man of thought. I'm a man of action.”

On a beautiful yet secluded island in an equally beautiful pop-art villa, George Stark (Teodoro Corrà,
Body Puzzle) and his wife Jill (Edith Meloni, That Little Difference) are playing host to a group of their high-flying friends; Prof. Gerry Farrell (William Berger, Keoma) and his wife Trudy (Ira von Fürstenberg, The Fifth Cord). Jack Davidson (Howard Ross, The New York Ripper) and his wife Peggy (Helena Ronee, On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Nick Cherry (Maurice Poli, Rabid Dogs) and his wife Marie (Edwige Fenech, Strip Nude for Your Killer). Accompanying the well off houseguests are George's houseboy Charles (Mauro Bosco, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack) and the young and innocent Isabel (Ely Galleani, Lizard in a Woman's Skin), a girl in George's care whilst her parents are away. What starts off as a jolly get together soon becomes a tense and all-round torrid affair. Things begin to turn sour when all the husbands become involved in a bitter bidding war for the professor's sought after and revolutionary formula, the formula that drove him to take this little excursion in the first place. Of course, the professor's minor annoyance is nothing compared to fact that affairs of all types are being acted out on. To make matters infinitely worse however, starting with Charles, the houseguests are being picked off one by one. Tensions rise and paranoia kicks in. This is one swinging party that those who may or may not survive will never forget. There's me thinking LSD was a trip!
  Taking influence from Agatha Christie's Ten Little Niggers (a story Bava would make the basis of his highly influential A Bay of Blood a year later.), we find a group coming together and finding themselves in a somewhat quirky whodunnit murder mystery. To some, Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon is purely an exercise in style over substance. I can sympathise with that viewpoint, the final third of the film does get a little hectic in turns of story and pacing, but I actually think that Mario di Nardo's (Ricco the Mean Machine) story has enough there in terms of plot and narrative structure even if Bava did despise the story and do his own thing. Speaking of which, this IS for me Bava at his most stylish. A beautiful locale combined with stylish (so what if it's dated!?) décor and equally (if not more) beautiful women; there's a lot to digest. The film is lensed by Bava collaborator Antonio Rinaldi (Danger: Diabolik) and is somewhat subtle which allows the loud and vibrant design to take centre stage. There are however, some nicely incorporated handheld shots which work brilliantly with the rest of the film. The icing on the already splendid technicolour cake is Piero Umiliani's (Big Deal on Madonna Street) score. It's a mixture of the dreamlike, groovy and sinister. Not a note is out of place and it helps lift the film even more. Considering that Bava was working with a script he disliked, working with a limited budget and had a shooting schedule of just over two weeks, it's amazing what he has achieved here. It might not be a classic example of the gialli, but it still has some characteristics that we associate with the genre. There's stylishly executed kills, red herrings, a sense of tension and a good amount of twists. To me, it's more than just one of my favourite Bava films; it's one of my favourites of the genre.
In terms of presentation, Arrow have done a good job with the sound and picture. I don't have the previous Kino Lorber release to make comparisons, but it seems like it's a slight upgrade of an already good restoration. Aside from the odd scratch and pop, the film looks and sounds great. In terms of audio options, there's both the Italian and English dub, with the Italian dub being the superior. There's also an option to listen to an isolated score and effects track, a feature ported over from the Kino Lorber release. Speaking of which, Tim Lucas's commentary is also included. As well as that there's a trailer, English language opening titles and the fantastic Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre documentary. To go with the on disc extras there's newly commissioned art from Graham Humphreys complimented with the original poster artwork and a booklet including writings from Adrian Smith and Glenn Kenny. Overall, this is worthy release for a somewhat under-appreciated Bava outing. An essential release from Arrow for new and old fans a like. Plus, who doesn't want to see the beautiful Edwige Fenech shaking her thing?
5 Dolls for an August Moon is available as a DVD / Blu-Ray combo release from Arrow Films.


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Vinegar Syndrome Review: Luther the Geek (1988, dir: Carlton Albright)

  A movie with a fowl bite!”

When Luther (Carlton Williams in his only role) was a young boy, he witnessed a group of rowdy locals egging on the local Geek (Tom Brittingham also in his only role) to bite the head off a chicken. This combined with him getting his teeth accidentally knocked out by one of said locals in the ruckus leads young Luther to develop a taste for blood. Naturally, this turns him in to a bloodthirsty psycho and paves the way for a life of crime. After serving 20 years and thanks to prison board member Mrs. Butler (Karen Maurise, Dark Skies), a much older and balder Luther (Edward Terry, The Children) is set free. Armed with a set of homemade metal teeth, Luther carries on from where he left off and sets off to continue his reign of terror, one neck at a time! It's not just the chickens who need to watch out. On his rampage, Luther invades the farm of Hilary (Joan Roth, In Transit) and her daughter Beth (Stacy Haiduk, Superboy). Can Beth's hunky boyfriend Rob (Thomas Mils, Bean) and / or bumbling local trooper (Jerry Clarke, Tracks) stop Luther before it's too late? You better clucking well hope so!
  I won't lie, I really found this to be quite a dull film. I know that this is a cult classic for some, but I just don't see what's so special about it. Let's get the positive out of the way; the gore. Both Mike Tristano (Evil Dead 2) and William Purcell (Invasion USA) do a fantastic job with some genuinely gruesome special effects. Unfortunately, that's really the only positive I can give for this film. OK, maybe some of the scenes including the busty Stacy Haiduk “elevated” things slightly, but boobs and blood don't always make a film. Some may be surprised by this, but Luther himself isn't really a memorable character. I mean no disrespect to Edward Terry, but his portrayal of Luther is unintentionally comical and rather camp in places. I know his constant clucking and wide eyes are supposed to inject fear in to the audience, but he seriously makes the quacking killer in The New York Ripper seem like one of horror's true greats. The only unsettling thing about Luther is that he looks like me if I was the balding offspring of Klaus Kinski. Now THAT is truly a terrifying thought! As for the rest of the film? Average in every way. The acting is pretty lame, David Knox's (Captain America: The First Avenger) cinematography is about average and the score from Vern Carlson (Vigilante) is one of those unmemorable late 80's / early 90's synth scores that just exists. Yeah, really finding it hard to even really write about this film because I don't know if I told you this, but it was just so dull! Even though the film may be nothing to shout about, the release itself is!
  You got it folks! This is Vinegar Syndrome once again taking a Troma property and giving it a must own release for fans of the film. The film is scanned and restored in 2k from the original 35mm camera negative and looks and sounds great. To top off another great restoration job there are a whole bunch of extras. All of the extras from previous Troma releases are included as well as an introduction and commentary from Carlton Albright himself, there's a video interview with Jerry Clarke, reversible artwork and the original theatrical trailer. It's a bumper package and even though I am really not a fan of the film itself, listening to Albright talk about the film and those involved is insightful and entertaining. It's one of those instances were the extras are actually much more entertaining than the actual film! If you are already a fan of this film, there's no reason why you shouldn't pick this up. For those wanting to experience Luther the Geek for the first time, this is also a release you should check out, just be warned about the actual film.

Luther the Geek is available as a DVD / Blu-Ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome.