The Curse of the Blind Dead continues

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1972, 1973, 1974, 1975…2018.  Wait, 2018? What? How?

Now there have been several unofficial sequels and continuations to the myth of the eyeless Knight’s Templar since Amando De Ossorio ended the Blind Dead series back in the mid-seventies but Raffaele Picchio (MORITURIS; THE BLIND KING) looks to have brought back to life one that might actually be worth your attention. I am talking about CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD.

The trailer brings the action up to date, by way of refreshing the back story, but the more things change the more they stay the same and keen fans of the series will recognise a couple of familiar scenes or set ups within the trailer but this is not at the expense of viewers new to the undead templar myth.

Looking gritty, brutal and authentic (the portrayal of the reanimated Knight’s Templar’s is for me, spot on) the fact that CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD is also shot in English should mean that it is accessible to all horror fans while simultaneously ensuring that it has the best chance of distribution.

Due out in 2019 and with Marco Ristori and Luca Boni attached as Executive Producers, and as evidenced by the trailer below, you can be certain of flesh-munching extremity.

Oh, while I am unfamiliar with the majority of the cast I have read that the legendary Fabio Testi will appear in the film, no doubt as an uncredited cameo due to his stature and not (at the time of writing) being listed on the official IMDB page. Yet another reason to check this film out.

Once I get some more information on this film I will post it up on here so keep checking back…while you still have eyes!

Follow the official  film Facebook page here.

THE CRUCIFIXION (2017) BY XAVIER GENS

Reviews

Director: Xavier Gens
Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Year: 2017
Starring: Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Brittany Ashworth

Synopsis:
When Nicole comes in contact with Father Anton more and more inexplicable events occur. The pair begin to believe that the priest lost the battle with a demon.

Review:
French director Xavier Gens (FRONTIER(S); HITMAN; THE ABCs OF DEATH) returns to directing after a brief hiatus with this Romanian set satanic mystery which was written by American duo Chad and Carey Hayes (HOUSE OF WAX; THE REAPING; THE CONJURING; THE CONJURING 2) who bring with them a recognisable if slightly safe horror pedigree.

Like many supernatural or satanic horror films the film claims to have been inspired by true events, in this case it is the 2004 “Tanacu Exorcism” in which a nun died and Father Daniel Corogeanu was convicted of murder. Inspiration taken this results in the opening pre-title sequence comprising of a priest and a group of nuns forcibly handling a distressed woman, pinning her down onto a cross as the priest attempts to deliver an exorcism which we soon learn went wrong resulting in the death of the afflicted woman and the arrest of the Priest who performed the unsanctioned act.

It doesn’t take long for news to spread across the globe and journalist Nicole Rawlins (Sophie Cookson) seizes this opportunity to push her own anti-religion agenda by begging her editor, and inconsequently Uncle, to give her this story to which he reluctantly agrees on the basis that she maintains at least some journalistic objectivity.

Arriving in Romania, it is clear that Nicole is a fish-out-of-water but thankfully this approach isin’t one that is pursued but rather a more intriguing retrospective investigative narrative. This choice for the opening act works well as it provides all of the relevant exposition without having to have just one character sit down and talk at us for a good five minutes as sometimes happens with this sub-genre of film.

Furthermore it is refreshing for a film to not just be all about the cattle-prod scares and rather than being just another low-substance, high-jump throwaway horror, there are elements that are more reminiscent of demonic mysteries such as CUSTODES BESTIAE or THE NINTH GATE. That is not so say that THE CRUCIFIXION is not packed with jump scares, only that they do not define the film and are at least supported at times by genuine tension.

As the film starts to progress it relegates the incarcerated priest and the dead woman to the background shifting focus to Nicole’s own crisis of faith and as her sanity seemingly decreases the jump scares increase, but thankfully on the whole they work even if a few are a little telegraphed at times. No doubt the increased frequency was to ensure that mainstream horror audiences, that most likely picked the film up due to the marketing blurb pushing recent hits ANNABELLE and THE CONJURING being plastered all over the films promotion, did not feel shortchanged.

Overall thanks to the initial investigative approach and moments of real tension, THE CRUCIFIXION manages to differentiate itself enough from its peers and in the process provide a more engrossing and complete viewing experience than had it relied solely on its use of derivative jump scares and its generic look, in which even the rural Romanian setting could not make the cinematography stand out – after all there is always a farm, a barn and a church in these films.

If you are looking for a decent modern entry into the exorcism genre then THE CRUCIFIXION is for you, it won’t make your top ten of the year but equally won’t be a complete waste your time.

SLUGS (1988) BY JUAN PIQUER SIMON

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Slugs, muerte viscosa; Mutations; Salingaria tou tromou; Slugs – Vorice d’orrore
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Writers: Jose A. Escriva, Juan Piquer Simón [Based on a novel by Shaun Hutson]
Year: 1988
Starring: Michael Garfield, Kim Terry. Philip MacHale, Alicia Moro, Santiago Alvarez

Synopsis:
The townsfolk of a rural community are dying in strange and gruesome circumstances. Following the trail of horrifically mutilated cadavers, resident health inspector Mike Brady is on the case to piece together the mystery. He soon comes to a terrifying giant slugs are breeding in the sewers beneath  the town, and they’re making a meal of the locals!

Review:
Based on the novel by Shaun Hutson, the author would go on to say in an interview with thisishorror.co.uk that the “film isn’t great… but it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen in my life” and this is not surprising as the film makes several distinct changes to the writers novel. To which its sequel Breeding Ground was also due to be adapted but unfortunately never was. 

Onto the film itself and we are greeted by water bubbling in an isolated still lake as a bickering couple argue in a small row boat. The young man, fishing, falls in while his nubile partner begins to panic when he doesn’t immediately resurface. This aquatic creature feature is, you’ve guessed it….Slugs: The Movie!

With the opening credits and the seemingly pointless lake scene over we are transported to the town of Lyons as a bunch of youths speed past the local down and out Ron Bell who pretty soon also succumbs to slimy critters and sets the scene for the films reasonably high body count.

Although be warned it is not only death that litters this film but also inconsistencies and dodgy dialogue, no better exemplified by the first interaction between our lead protagonist, town health inspector Mike Brady and the local asshole Sheriff Reese.  As the reluctant duo travel in a cop car towards the late Ron Bell’s house not only do we need to put up with some bad humour but also on not one but two occasions our characters throw items out of seemingly rolled up windows!

Now once at the property the hilarity continues with a deputy, surely no older than 30 stating that the corpse was worse than anything he had seen in Vietnam….which had ended thirteen years previously. Hmm something doesn’t add up here but why let that get in the way of a good line. In fact in the extras, production manager Larry Ann Evans would even state that she informed Simón of some the script inadequacies but what the hell, this is entertainment.

Back to the film and the problems come thick and fast for Brady as both he and the town sanitation officer Don Palmer receive a call from a no doubt lonely grumpy old woman who is kicking off about the smell coming from a nearby sewer and on this our investigative team is formed and they embark upon a slimy mystery.

Never one to let a bit of time go by without any action by the end of the first act things get kicked up a notch as an elderly couple are blown up and Brady’s finger nearly chomped off by a giant slug, leading them to think that maybe just maybe there is something going on.

So, when you suspect that slugs might be going around town bumping people off but you aren’t quite sure what to do – the logical thing is to go and speak to the local English chemistry or biology (it’s never quite established who he is or what he does) nerd Foley; the brains behind the brawn provided by the health and sanitation officers. Foley knows his shit and sets about investigating exactly what they are up against and how they can defeat this underground evil.

If all this sounds like there might be too much plot creeping in for your liking don’t worry because in SLUGS you are only ever a few minutes away from action or hilarity as more brutal and slimy slayings occur and no one is safe, from the business man just trying to seal a deal to the horny naked teenagers also just trying to seal the deal. All the while Brady is trying to tell everyone that slugs are behind all of this but his explanations just fall on deaf ears as first the Sheriff retorts “Killer slugs for Christ’s sake. What will it be next? Demented Crickets?” and much later Frank Phillips, the head of the water department responds to Brady’s demands to declare a health emergency with a reply of “You ain’t got the authority to declare Happy Birthday!” Classic stuff.

Perhaps the main highlight of the film however occurs in between these two pieces of dialogue gold as a council representative is at lunch and just about to finally secure a major land development sale only for the dinner and deal to be interrupted by something that would not look out of place in fellow 1980s film STREET TRASH.

By now you probably understand that SLUGS does not really do subtlety or even pay much credence to build up as it hurtles towards a final climax where Brady and Palmer are forced to go rogue and take matters into their own hands by deciding to hunt down the slugs breeding ground and end this once and for all, no matter what the cost. Epic stuff indeed. 

SLUGS is a fast paced entertaining piece of trash with humorous dialogue and lashings of over the top action and gore. If you only watch one gastropod movie this year…make it this one and make it the Arrow release.

Version Reviewed:
I watched a copy of the Arrow Video 2016 blu ray release.  Featuring English only audio and subtitled for the hard of hearing the film itself looks and sounds great, unsurprisingly as the only blu ray release it is not difficult to see that this is the best presentation of the film out there.

Arrow haven’t stopped there however and have commissioned a bunch of new extras for this release. Starting with Here’s Slugs in Your Eye, an interview with Emilio Linder in which the actor tells about his enjoyment of working with director Simón and the relaxed atmosphere he cultivates on his sets. Later he tells an endearing story about his famous restaurant scene, but rather than discussing his definitive moment in the film, rather he indulges us with a tale of his love for actress Silvana Mangano, who he had the pleasure of meeting as she took a surprising cameo role for the restaurant sequence.

The disc also gives us They Slime, They Ooze, They Kill in which special Fx artist Carlo De Marchis talks about his work on the set, what worked the best and the obstacles which he faced. Unsurprisingly he also discusses the difficulty in directing and working with slugs – not the easiest as we can all imagine. Once again the interviewee only has positive words about the director even going as far as stating that “Piquer was as good as Spielberg”, strong words.

Further interviews include Invasion USA where the very thrifty but practical art director Gonzalo Gonzalo gives us some fascinating insights into the films production and is a joy to learn more from. Finally we have The Lyons Den in which production manager Larry Ann Evans takes us around the town of Lyons where the American exteriors (and some interiors) where shot. Despite bizarrely referring to Hutson’s original novel as an American book this feature is a fantastic tour of the locations used and the story behind them. Evan’s enthusiasm for the film is infectious and it doesn’t take long to be sucked into, and dare I say learning from, this informative little segment.

Furthermore we are also treated a trailer and a couple of audio commentary options, the first with writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander and the second with the original novel writer Shaun Hutson. Hutson’s commentary is fantastic as he speaks about his writing process, his influences not to mention the many scenes in the film that are not even in his novel let alone changed. Hutson’s self-deprecating but humorous comments really make this a commentary worth listening to on subsequent watches.

Ghostly goings on at Villa Clara

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Well it is Halloween season, the time that ghosts, ghouls and goblins come out to play and everyone becomes a horror fan. But none of that really makes a jot of difference to this post as I will be talking about the Italian supernatural film Clara.

Now I am a big fan of paranormal & supernatural films and in recent years Hollywood has put out some good stuff such as some of the films in the INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING series, not to mention the OUIJA sequel. However I do feel that the Europeans are often left behind in this genre, especially during the last decade or two, so I am hoping director Francesco Longo can prove me wrong with his upcoming feature-length effort CLARA, which is scheduled for a December 2018 completion date.

The story of the film sees the British woman Helen Ludovisi, an art graduate, inherit an old palazzo known as the ‘Villa Clara’ near the Italian city of Bologna.

Arriving in Italy with her boyfriend Jacob and three members of the cultural heritage superintendency of the United Kingdom, there to help with the restoration, the group discover a dark history to the villa which perhaps is not consigned to the past as strange occurrences start to haunt the group one-by-one.

I will admit that this in itself does not seem all that unique but as stated I am a fan of these types of films and let’s be honest the sub-genre is more about what you do within an almost standard framework rather than coming up with something wholly unique. I like to compare this situation with that of the artists working in the low renaissance where quite often the topics would be the same but the originality comes in how they present and individualise it. Judging from the photo stills that you can see at the end of this article I think you will agree that this is the case here.

This brings me on to the reason that I am giving this film a bit more attention – writer/director Francesco Longo. I have been left very impressed with his eye for a shot (again see the photos if you have not seen his short films), use of light and the strong narrative he has managed to display in his short films NYCTOPHOBIA and THE THIRD DAY, not to mention his contributions while working on the visual effects for INSANE; IN ARTICULO MORTIS and THE WICKED GIFT.

Additionally it would be remiss of me not to mention a couple of the cast for CLARA which includes Veronika Urban (NYCTOPHOBIA; HERBERT WEST: RE-ANIMATOR, the series by Ivan Zuccon), the prolific Michael Segal who has starred in too many contemporary Italian genre films to mention, and Roberto Ramon who returns to work with the director once more after starring in NYCTOPHOBIA and THE THIRD DAY.

In my opinion Francesco Longo certainly has the potential and the network in the contemporary Italian genre scene to make this work, especially if he does not play it too safe.

Keep an eye out for this film and the director. CLARA is expected to gain its premiere at the 2019 Creepy Crypt event in Berlin but you can keep up to date over on the official Facebook page.

HOUSE OF SALEM (2016) BY JAMES CROW

Reviews

Year: 2016
Director: James Crow
Writer: James Crow
Starring: Andrew Lee Potts, Jessica Arterton, Jack Brett Anderson, Liam Kelly, Leslie Mills, Dean Maskell, Anna Nightingale, Nalân Burgess

Synopsis:
A group of kidnappers become a child’s unlikely protectors after discovering they have unwittingly been set up to take part in a satanic ritual. As they begin to uncover the truth of the house they find themselves trapped, they must battle demonic forces and uncover a legacy of over a hundred years of murder in the name of the Devil

Review:
Coming from experienced short film British writer/director James Crow, HOUSE OF SALEM represents his sophomore feature effort and continues with the rough theme of the occult which could be seen in his debut CURSE OF THE WITCHING TREE.

The film opens in familiar horror territory; a beautiful babysitter (Nalân Burgess) and a young child who clearly has either suffered some early trauma or has some mystery in his past. It is never just a normal kid perhaps with a tough paper round.

Early on we learn that the child, Josh, suffers from nightmares if he does not take his pill and rather unsurprisingly he deceives his babysitter into believing he has taken these bringers of peaceful sleep. Now this action also serves another purpose as we, the viewer, are thrown into uncertainty about whether what we are about to view is real or all in Josh’s head.

Whichever is the case it does not matter and we are not given the time to overthink for very quickly an armed gang, dressed in scary clown masks infiltrate the house and kidnap the boy leaving the babysitter unconscious on the floor. 

After being taken to an isolated rural estate house, Josh starts to hear voices, but not only ones that want to protect him but ones that do not have his best interests at heart. At this point the film slowly develops more supernatural overtones and what was only hinted at before begins to dominate the proceedings as the waking nightmare becomes more vivid. These moments are more than competently handled aiding the unsettling possibilities of both the house and those behind orchestrating the kidnapping. 

Objectively speaking however the opening act is a little slow for my tastes and suffers from inconsistency in terms of quality which reduces the impact and arguably the interest of what has the potential to be an engaging slow burning occult mystery.

Thankfully however by the second act the script begins to find its rhythm as more breadcrumbs are laid and engagement generated in regards to the real mystery behind the safehouse that the gang find themselves holed up in at the request of an unknown client.

Soon all around the property a mysterious symbol begins to appear with increased frequency as do the hallucinations of not only Josh but also those who took him. During this middle act HOUSE OF SALEM really hits its stride managing to create some genuine moments of tension and intrigue but unfortunately the film seems unable to capitalise on this resulting in a final act that was executed perhaps not as well as it could or should have been.

As with many low budget films the locations are limited and although not directly, HOUSE OF SALEM is comparable to that of a siege movie, Perhaps think in terms of the hospital in the terrific American film THE VOID, although much less expansive and a much lower budget. 

One aspect of this almost siege like environment is that it places by emphasis on the acting, simply by default more than anything. This is both a strength and weakness of HOUSE OF SALEM as the few moments of action are unfortunately weak while the acting, which takes precedence is a little inconsistent although Jessica Arterton, Leslie Mills and Dean Maskell put in commendable performances while Liam Kelly in his first credited role as the boy Josh makes a strong start to his acting career.

Despite its promise HOUSE OF SALEM is unfortunately neither claustrophobic or brave enough in its depiction, I am talking both in terms of script and visuals, resulting in an inconsistent movie in which moments of inane and weak dialogue are followed by genuine tension. The pieces for success are all there and James Crow clearly knows his stuff leading me to suspect that these lulls and moments of inconsistency are down more to the transition from short to feature length production.

HOUSE OF SALEM is one of those small independent films that hovers around in distribution limbo for a couple of years after being made, before finally being granted a long overdue release. Thankfully though it manages to avoid being dated or missing a trend and so this delay has not or should not affect its release.

Overall there is still enough to recommend about this sometimes effectively tense movie to make it worth your while picking it up  but if you are looking for an independent occult horror film might I recommend the Italian films CUSTODES BESTIAE by Lorenzo Bianchini or SHANDA’S RIVER by Marco Rosson ahead of this one.

HOUSE OF SALEM is receiving a home entertainment (DVD) and digital release courtesy of Left Films and Wild Eye Releasing coming October 1st 2018 if you are interested.

ROSSA VENEZIA (2003) BY ANDREAS BETHMANN

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Porno A Venezia
Director: Andreas Bethmann
Writer: Andreas Bethmann
Year: 2003
Starring: Sabine Ironheart, Romana, Marianna Bertucci, Jens Hammer, Daniel Ortolan

Synopsis:
After killing her cheating husband a woman is released from prison and goes on a killing spree while detailing her memoirs of a cruel and sexual prison experience.

Review:
Within the first five minutes we witness a very drawn out act of cunnilingus that only changes to become an act of fellatio and then as with all pornos, penetrative sex. Immediately we know that we are not in for a mystery as dark and labyrinthine as the winding streets of Venice but rather an overlong and uninspiring porno…with murder.

Now director Andreas Bethmann doesn’t show us this gentle lovemaking just to arouse us but rather additionally to build the importance for when we discover that one of our two love makers is actually committing infidelity and soon a jilted spouse enters and blows them away. Thankfully not in that way.

ROSSA VENEZIA isn’t afraid to take the sex and violence ethos of horror to a new level but struggles to successfully weave in any depth or context as it intersperses footage of a gate and decaying house and all this before the credits finish. Rather surprisingly after what we have just witnessed the post-credit shots, the camera positioned on the front of a gondola, do actually work and Bethmann gives us some hope that there might actually be a filmmaker behind all of this after all.

All hope is soon lost however as ROSSA VENEZIA descends into a depraved female in prison tale that has more in common with a third rate porno (and a fourth rate horror) and this makes the attempts to discuss duality using Venice as a metaphor seem a little pretentious painting Bethmann as a pseudo-intellectual with illusions of grandeur. The best example of this would be that while a voice over attempts to discuss this very nature not only does the dialogue lack any substance or depth but the on-screen image is that of a female masturbating, ANIMA PERSA this most certainly is not.

Any film that makes GIALLO A VENEZIA look almost erotic and sensual deserves recognition but sadly not for the right reasons.  Riddled with terrible acting, terrible sex and a terrible attempt to inject an understanding as to the nature of human kind at two hours and thirty five minutes long this feature film is at least two hours and thirty four minutes too long.

Certainly brutal in places (it is a German splatter porno after all) but this dull memoir’s only real redeeming point is the all too brief POV shot use but it cannot be recommended even for the most ardent underground cinema lover.

On a side note the film also features the euro-exploitation legend Jess Franco (who has appeared in several of Bethmann’s projects) and his wife Lina Romay which can only be down to their personal friendship as opposed to a reading of the script.

THE WASHING MACHINE (1993) BY RUGGERO DEODATO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Vortice mortale
Director:  Ruggero Deodato
Writer: Luigi Spagnol
Year: 1993
Starring: Philippe Caroit, Ilaria Borrelli, Katarzyna Figura, Barbara Ricci

Synopsis:
A police detective investigates the murder of a man found dismembered in a washing machine and is drawn into a web of deceit and murder by the dead man’s lover, Vida, and her two sisters, Sissy and Ludmilla.

Review:
Many will be intrigued by this giallo not just for the peculiar name but also because it is directed by the infamous Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK), a director who is not widely known for his gialli despite this film, PHANTOM OF DEATH and DIAL: HELP all falling loosely into the genre. 

Coming two decades after the golden period of giallo, it is unsurprising that this effort is more influenced by the sexual sleaze that infested the sub-genre in the late eighties as THE WASHING MACHINE delivers a trashy, twisted and bizarre tale of love, jealousy and murder which is as high on (simulated) eroticism as it is suspense.

Set in Budapest, the film begins as it intends to continue, with a sexualised argument between wannabe playboy Yuri and his girlfriend Vida. Thinks however take an almost sinister edge as their kissing is spied on by one of Vida’s sisters while later on a third sister joins them to see Yuri out of the apartment. 

After this argument and make-up everything appears fine. That is until in the night one of the sisters, Ludmilla is awoken by a noise and while investigating discovers Yuri’s dismembered body in the washing machine…which would then disappear somehow before the police arrive.

Enter the blue-eyed and not of sound mind Inspector Stacev who seeks to pump the three sisters for information as to not only where the body lies but if there in fact was even a murder. Matters become complicated as the sisters each spin (pun intended) a different tale to the inspector, while seducing him with their charms, sending the Inspector into a downward spiral of obsession and lust as he seeks to discover what truly happened that night.

During the course of the police investigations by Stacev and his suspicious yet diligent subordinate Nikolai we are introduced, if only very briefly, to several potential subplots such as a suitcase full of money and jewels; currency money laundering and even S&M all of which might be relevant to plot or not but at a loose push all could fit in with elements but I feel that might be stretching the level of complexity that this film possesses. Interestingly, after the S&M revelation a character commits suicide (off-screen) and then that whole plot thread appears to be dropped as quickly as it was introduced and so we ask the question was this part of a wider story removed from the final cut or merely substance behind one of the characters motivations?

In THE WASHING MACHINE Deodato has crafted a highly sexualised giallo but one where the mystery is still quite strong, and it is because of this that the film works as you are intrigued as to what is actually happening as you start to doubt if what you are seeing is even real as represented by the lack of a body. This is supplemented by the additional element of the Inspectors mental instability which Deodato represents both in his loss of objective and professional rationalisation and also with the way that the (editing) shots are put together.

One of the films strengths is that it does not try to emulate a bygone era but rather plays with the conventions within a contemporary lurid framework, as it interlinks eroticism and mystery together with a playful nod to the tropes of the genre where the viewer will expect one thing but be suddenly given another. Meanwhile Deodato never misses a trick to mislead with this climaxing with a fake ending but the timing of this would indicate that there was more to come.

It is also worth noting is the excellent score by Claudio Simonetti, which not only helps to heighten the mood of the scenes but also lends the film that ‘Italian’ feeling which could have so easily become lost due to the Euro-pudding cast and eastern European location.

Ultimately THE WASHING MACHINE is a bizarre and sleazy yet somewhat fun film with a fantastically crafted mystery at its heart. But one that sadly almost seems to play in the background in order to make way for the almost hallucinogenic nightmare of sex and deceit. Featuring more twists and turns than a curly-wurly, Ruggero Deodato packs the film with multiple red herrings and knowing nods to successfully bring things together for a fitting finale but one which unfortunately still leaves many elements unanswered.

Despite being one of the best of the time period (it did not have much competition) this is one for trash and gialli aficionados only, but if that last term described you then you won’t be disappointed with the feast of flesh that THE WASHING MACHINE provides.

Oh and pay attention, as with many directors working in the genre, Ruggero Deodato gives himself a little cameo appearing as a neighbour to the inspector.