September 26, 2007

DRACULA (1958) if you only see one Hammer Film on the big screen...

. . . make sure it's this one!

On the front of the November programme for BFI Southbank, (the new name for London's National Film Theatre), is Christopher Lee in the original Hammer Film of Dracula, known as Horror of Dracula in the US.

Almost 50 years old, the film has been carefully and completely restored in time for a special Halloween screening in the BFI IMAX cinema on October 31st. That's followed by a two-week run in NFT1 and NFT3. Both screens would be an ideal way to see one of the best British horror films ever made.


Peter Cushing redefined the role of Van Helsing, and Christopher Lee added an animalistic evil to Dracula, adding the ghastly bloody hiss when he's really angry. Beloved director Terence Fisher doesn't miss a beat with a tight, layered and compelling style of storytelling. Lush art direction, pounding music, and gory special effects make this a complete entertainment even today.

In 1958 (just imagine it) the effect was so strong that it launched the studio's international success. It's a marvellous choice for a thorough preservation. But will there be any more Hammer Films treated this royally?

Why not ask them yourself? Nigel Algar and Ben Thompson, the two men in charge of this restoration will be talking about the project at a free event in NFT3 on the afternoon of Friday 9th November.


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September 22, 2007

THE MATRIMONY (2007) a Chinese ghost story... from China!



THE MATRIMONY
(2007, China, IMDB: Xin zhong you gui)


Region 3 NTSC DVD (Mei Ah Entertainment)

It’s a little late to bring out a ghost story this simple, but China hasn’t actually seen many. The government simply hasn’t allowed any supernatural storylines in movies, and this one has possibly only been made because of the period setting. Still, even for Hong Kong, serious ghost stories are rare – and this isn’t played for laughs. While it doesn’t provide any particularly new scares, it’s still a beautifully made film.

The Matrimony also has the kind of budget only lavished on films destined for international success. The huge period sets recreating Shanghai in the 1930's are convincingly done. The opening scenes, that set up the tragic love affair, are only marred by a very poor computer-generated road accident. The CGI effects throughout the rest of the story are used more subtly and effectively.

The opening titles, indeed the first half hour of the film, lays on spooky atmosphere and loud shock moments so thickly that it detracts from the flow of the story. Junchu (Leon Lai), loses his sweetheart in a car accident and is forced into an arranged marriage with Sansan (Rene Liu), a woman he simply doesn’t love. But will he change his mind if the ghost of his sweetheart, Manli (Fan Bingbing), possesses the body of his wife?


Basically, this is a love triangle, with strong performances from the three leads. There’s even a heavy nod to Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), as a spooky housekeeper prevents Sansan from entering a locked room in Junchu’s huge mansion.

It reminded me more of Stanley Kwan’s Rouge (1987), a similarly unrequited love story which preferred to tone down the supernatural element and played successfully as a drama. Again, the ghost was very beautiful (Anita Mui), but the setting was modern day, with flashbacks to the 1930’s. Rouge works so well because it treats the ghost as a character rather than a scary monster.


I will watch The Matrimony again in the future, for the lavishly recreated sets, the colourful cinematography, and the cast, but not for the scares.

The Hong Kong no frills DVD release has good English subs, an anamorphic widescreen picture, and an optional DTS audio track.


UPDATE - also out now on region 1 DVD in the US.


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September 20, 2007

MEMENTO MORI (1999) WHISPERING CORRIDORS 2

MEMENTO MORI
(1999, South Korea)

Two schoolgirls fall in love with each other, and are not about to hide the fact. An accident, or is it suicide, or murder? leaves one of them haunting the school and causing chaos... The discovery of her diary might hold the key to what happened.

What could have been just a retread of the first film, Memento Mori, sometimes called Whispering Corridors 2, now stands on its own, almost seperate from the rest of the series. While 1 was a good horror, 2 is a good film. It’s hard to classify, it’s good as a drama, it also delivers shocks, and is not without a little blood...


Beloved in South Korea, as evidenced by the huge recent 6 disc Ultimate Edition boxset, Memento Mori is also considered internationally as a good example of South Korean cinema. Successful for its portrayal of defiant characters, school life, and a girl-girl love affair.

It also revels in non-linear storytelling – a narrative form that has vexed some viewers of SE Asian cinema. For example, the back and forth storylines of Ju-On had to be toned down for the western remake as The Grudge. Many South Korean films use this fractured form at present. Memento Mori is so playful that you can almost make up your own story with all the scenes – but there aren’t too many clues as to what order they’re supposed to be in. By the end, I was doubting that the story had been in any sort of order from the very start, with scenes from dreams and fantasies thrown in as well.

From the underwater opening (a nightmare?) you soon know that this is a beautiful-looking film, and that not every scene is included for plot, but for mood. Two schoolgirls, an athlete Yoo She-eun, and a pianist Min Hyo-shin are in love. Gawky classmate, So Min-ah, finds her diary - a strange collection of poems, and pictures. As she reads it, we sometimes see the incidents the pages refer to. She discovers that the girls have been meeting in secret on the school roof.


But then we see an accident, a fatal one. Through clues in the diary and flashbacks from other girls and teachers we get a better idea of what caused it. At the same time, her ghost is stalking the school in search of the diary. As more people sense her spirit, and gossip why she’s dead, panic eventually grips the school…


This is easy to recommend as an interesting film, by two creative directors full of ideas. The lesbian storyline is probably new and strong stuff for South Korea, although it’s sensitively handled and not exploited (that’s if you ignore the bathtub scenes excised from the director’s cut – but these are still without nudity). The teacher’s treatment of pupils is shocking, part of the first film’s ‘tell it like it is’ attitude.

Technically, the cinematography makes the whole film very easy on the eye, and interesting – like the series of hospital visitors all reflected in an eyeball – I don’t think this scene was faked, just cleverly shot. The production was all shot on location, on a low budget and is slightly rough-edged. The most obvious sign being the few special effects are quite poor. But they somehow don’t spoil it at all. The acting of the young cast, the direction and the cinematography make it memorable. Together with the beautiful and mournful soundtrack, it’s even haunting.

The climax is maybe overlong and more successful for what's heard (screaming, thunder, music) rather than what happens. It successfully portrays being in the middle of a panic-stricken situation. The confusing structure of the film are is the only other weakness. But that makes it more of a mystery. It’s a drama, but has enough cheeky shocks to keep ghost fans happy, if not horror fans.


Having enjoyed the Hong Kong region 3 DVD (pictured at top), I then purchased the Korean 6-disc (5 DVDs) Ultimate Edition at a very reasonable price - a boxset that can only be kept in a box! There’s an excellent transfer of the film with English subtitles on disc 1. While the rest of the set is unsubtitled. Except for one of the director’s early films, also set in school, also exploring the problems that young lesbians face in society, also starring a rather more boyish-looking star of Memento Mori. Disc 2 has the three-hour director’s rough cut. Disc 3 behind the scenes. Disc 4 earllier short films. Disc 5 is an HDTV tranfer included as an MPEG, disc 4 is a CD soundtrack. There’s also a hardback replica of the diary included, but without the pills tucked into the spine…

I'm pleased to say that the film is now also available on region 1 and region 2 DVDs, misleadingly under the Tartan Asia Extreme banner label.


So far in the Whispering Corridors series...

WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998) Black Hole review here

MEMENTO MORI (1999)

THE WISHING STAIRS (2003) Black Hole review here

VOICE (2005) Black Hole review here


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September 16, 2007

EARTHQUAKE (1974) my early taste of bad-taste

EARTHQUAKE
(1974, USA)

Region 1 NTSC DVD (Universal)

Imagine L.A. being wiped out by a series of devastating earthquakes. Famous buildings, skyscrapers, shopping malls are all disintegrating into piles of bricks. The dam to the Hollywood Reservoir, poised high in the hills, looks like it's going to break. Charlton Heston is rushing around trying to save his wife... and his girlfriend. You're watching all this in a cinema, and during the quakes, your seat is actually shaking...

It's 1975, it's Earthquake, presented in in Sensurround...


Besides big-budget disaster movies, Hollywood also tried to woo punters away from the TV with this realistic gimmick. Sensurround involved temporarily installing huge low-frequency speakers into cinemas, to kick in with rumbling that felt like the whole place was shaking during the appropriate action onscreen. (I remember seeing a big black four-feet cube sitting ominously at the back of the cinema). But afer a few years, the system was no longer used, accused of actually damaging the fabric of the cinema buildings! A ton of technical details and a history of the format is here on 70mm.com.


Being a sedentary thrill-seeker, I caught two other Sensurround releases around at the time - Rollercoaster and Battlestar Galactica, (the first three tv episodes were cut down, beefed up and released as the first of several movie releases outside of the US). I missed The Battle of Midway (also starring Charlton Heston) and don't know of any other films that used the short-lived process.

The recent DVD region 1 release even has the Sensurround mix on it, as well as a 5.1 option. Through a home cinema set-up, I was able to experience the ground-shaking all over again.

B
ut even without the fear of your lounge collapsing, the film still entertains in a variety of ways. It's less serious than The Poseidon Adventure, less grim than The Towering Inferno, and delivers action in huge chunks, without worrying about characters or, well, taste. It's the disaster film most suitable to be turned into a fairground attraction, which it was at Universal Studios theme parks.


Writers George Fox and Mario Puzo (yes, Mario Puzo! - halfway between writing The Godfather and Superman - The Movie) were determined to wring the maximum potential out of every suspenseful quake-related situation. Cracks in the earth, buildings caving in, getting trapped in lifts. The scene where the water is snaking towards the powerlines had everyone lifting their feet off the floor... People getting hit by falling glass, pans of boiling water, girders... every conceivable quake injury is presented as a thrill-packed stunt show. It's very Hollywood, and not at all like real quake footage. But at the time, the experience wasn't sullied by conscience, except occasionally when the film-makers overstepped the mark...

Like the plummeting lift, packed with office workers - as it hits the bottom of the shaft, we get a knee-level shot of their legs... and special effects blood zaps into the screen. Outside, a woman is hit by shattered windows, she turns to face the camera and has shards of glass poking out of her face. It's like a cheesy horror movie, so fake, it passed the censors. Even at the age of 15, I knew that it was tasteless, but was fascinated nevertheless.


Nowadays it's harder to work out what the hell they were thinking - two characters appear for the first time in the movie, one get's injured, the other yells 'Mother', and we never see them again. Are we supposed to care? Is five seconds enough time to build an emotional bond with them? It's a key moment in understanding the mentality of seventies disaster movies. Crass, high bodycount, spectacular deaths, unequalled by Freddie or Jason combined. I think the phenomenon peaked with 'the pylon through the stomach' in The Cassandra Crossing. A character who only appears in one spectacular shot in the middle of a train crash.

Today, disaster movies keep a distance from death scenes, or even cut away completely. Victims are usually computer-generated specks, and only the key characters (usually bullies or baddies) get a close-up demise. (I'm thinking Poseidon, here). So death scenes are only allowed as part of the story. Random acts of movie violence for entertainment, are no longer. Pets, pensioners and children are safe again in action films.

Spare also a thought for the stunt performers back then - no digital wire removal for them! If it goes wrong, it's not 'fixed in post', they had to do it again! The highfall in Earthquake, shot straight downwards, an angle stolen from The Poseidon Adventure, looks dangerous, as stunts should. As does the motorbike stunt - a loop-the-loop that goes wrong. And it looks like it really did go wrong, and they left it in.


Even before the quakes hit off, the overacting is just as spectacular. Ava Gardner continuously shouting at Charlton Heston would send anyone into the arms of Genevieve Bujold. Marjoe Gortner barely convinces anyone that he's a sane gorcery clerk, before he goes psychotic when Martial Law is declared. Victoria Principle is quite good, but with her afro wig, she just looks over the top.

Richard Roundtree has nothing much to do. It's sad to see him demoted way down the cast list. His iconic run as the superbad Shaft had expired after three films and a quickly-cancelled tv show. He had a few more leading tough guy roles, like Diamonds, and Escape to Athena, before settling down to a long-running career in bit parts as cops and commissioners.

I won't tell you the story, you know it's not important. The idea is to introduce dozens of characters, lining bottles up on a wall, with silly fast-moving soapy plots. The bottles are then knocked off the wall.


Some dodgy optical special effects are weighed up against some spectacular large-scale model work. The wide shots of mayhem are done with matte paintings overlaid with optical fires and smokes, but only some of these stand up today.

At the time it was a huge and expensive undertaking. Quake movies had previously only provided centrepieces or climaxes to films set around famous disasters, notably San Francisco (1940) which had a short but spectacular recreation of 'the big one'. Earthquake did its best to deliver one long disaster, to follow up The Poseidon Adventure. It then took two movie studios to team up to follow it up and beat it for scale…
The Towering Inferno…

There were a couple of different versions of Earthquake. It was padded out with extra scenes specially made for TV, in order to pad it out to three TV hours. These mainly involved a plane waiting to land at LAX despite the damage to the runways.

There's a fantastic fansite, devoted to the film, with photos and details about the special effects, missing scenes, and loads more...
here at EarthquakeMovie. The only other source of behind-the-scenes info was an early 'making of' book, published at the time. A slim 128 pages long, half of it is devoted to telling the story of the film!


The film is long enough at 123 minutes, but obviously the TV scenes would be a good extra for completists. As would a trailer or a documentary. But a widescreen presentation with Sensurround is what really matters, despite the no-frills.


I remember watching Earthquake in an early multiplex in the UK. My mother was next door watching The Great Gatsby, and said that she could hear the quakes through the walls of the cinema. OK, Sensurround wasn't without it's major faults...

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September 15, 2007

CAPTAIN KRONOS - VAMPIRE HUNTER (1973) soundtrack now on CD


Captain Kronos finally on CD

I was only remembering Laurie Johnson's music recently, in my review of And Soon The Darkness. Now out of the blue, some great news. This film had one of my favourite opening themes - the galloping title music as Captain Kronos comes to the aid of a village suffering a mysterious rash of vampiric attacks.

The music will sound familiar to fans of The Avengers and The New Avengers, which Laurie also scored. The new CD soundtrack marks the first time the music has ever been available, apart from two tracks on previous compilations. Better late than never!

A good place to listen to samples and purchase the CD is
here on BuySoundtrax which I regularly use...



Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter
is available on region 1 and region 2 DVD - an excellent example of latter day Hammer Horror, when stories and direction got more experimental.

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September 13, 2007

WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998) first in the series

WHISPERING CORRIDORS
(1998, South Korea, imdb: Yeogo goedam)

First in the series of haunted schoolgirl movies

Reviewed from a Region 3 NTSC Hong
Kong DVD

Ri
ght at the start of the Japanese horror-boom, Whispering Corridors was made the same year as Ring. It proved that South Korea was also going to be a major contender in what was going to be an Asian horror-boom.

It also set some of the trends in the genre before everyone, South Korea included, started recycling the elements of Ring over and over again.

Whispering Corridors gets it's gloves off before the opening titles come up, with a Ring-strength scene. A teacher, trying to convince someone on the phone about a discovery, is attacked by a ghost and killed.

Next morning, three teenage schoolgirls are the first to discover the body, but it looks like a suicide.
The head teacher, Mr Oh, is keen for rumours and gossip not to escalate. The girls are already talking about a vengeful ghost being responsible.

South Korean High School girls in trouble!


The film is very critical about various problems in the school system, portraying some teachers as slobs or bullies, and admitting that some of the students can be less than keen about schoolwork, foul-mouthed and interested in sex. This honest depiction of teenage life was very popular with audiences in South Korea, but would not be at all likely in a mainstream Japanese film for instance.

The horror is far more adult than, for instance, the Japanese Haunted School films, because characters die, and they die messily and tragically. Indeed, one death scene looked so choppily edited that I thought it was censored. I'd like to compare the Hong Kong DVD that I watched, to either the US or UK releases.


The films are also quite hard to classify, switching between horror and drama.
After the scary introductory scene, the story settles down for a while into an involving melodrama, as two unlikely students become friends because of a common enemy - the violent teachers - particularly the head, nick-named 'Mad Dog'!

The acting is certainly much better than your average horror film, and the film has been carefully crafted,
colourfully shot, elegantly scored, to rank it as a good 'international film' to represent the country's film-making at its best.

With an almost all female cast, and the few men in the film violent or at least short-tempered, this would be labelled as feminist in the eighties. But it's not clumsy, preachy, or contrived. It's insular though, like all good horror movies. We don't see anyone go home. We never leaving the school setting, so there's a feeling of being trapped in the building.

Director Ki-hyeong Park, went on to make another horror film, Acacia, but none of the sequels. Here's an interview with the director about the influential film.

The three subsequent sequels are only linked by the theme - hauntings at girls' schools -not by directors, stars or characters. Therefore, each film can be viewed on its own, and in any order.

Almost the only link that I noticed, was one scene in Whispering Corridors where two girls walk up some leafy steps to the old school building, which looked remarkably like the iconic setting of The Wishing Stairs, the third film.

Soon I'll cover the rest of the films in the series. Voice, the fourth, was reviewed here, though the fifth film that was rumoured to be in production hasn't yet materialised.


So far in the Whispering Corridors series...

WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998)






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September 07, 2007

HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977) and DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978) - spot the difference

Two films that raced to cash in on The Omen


1978 UK release poster


I saw Holocaust 2000 in the UK in April 1978, and Damien: Omen II in the US in July 1978. The two then became slightly confused in my memory, especially since they were both follow-ons from The Omen (1976).

Agostina Belli and Kirk Douglas try not to look like
Gregory Peck and Lee Remick



DAMIEN: OMEN II
(1978, USA)


This direct sequel starts with Damien, now a teenager, taken in by a family where he's in line to inherit a huge multinational corporation, with influence in countries and industries which could be crucial to life on Earth. Though there are a those who stand in his way...

Compared to The Omen, I was disappointed that the plot and the action weren't as creative. Damien: Omen II just sets up targets and knocks them down. The first film had the growing realisation of what Damien was, and plenty of supernatural elements. Damien: Omen II doesn't even show a church. It could almost be a political thriller with a murderer on the loose, killing everyone who oppposes him.

The only edge is Damien's own journey, as the teenager starts to realise who he actually is. The other plus is Jerry Goldsmith's score, which is almost better than the first. A couple of scenes stand out - the elevator scene and the broken-down car, but elsewhere I felt less than gripped.


Omen II has a very different feel than the first, filmed in the US (not the UK like The Omen) and there's only one cast member carried over, Leo McKern as Bugenhagen. William Holden and Lee Grant are good as the leads, but I missed the supernatural dread - there's more family drama than suspense.

A young Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Near Dark) has a good part as Damien's military instructor, and Sylvia Sidney (Mars Attacks!) makes the most of a cameo. Horror fans might enjoy seeing Elizabeth Shepherd again, years after starring opposite Vincent Price in The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).

The plot revolves around Damien's new dad and his senior position as an industrialist, developing new chemicals to fight country-sized famine. He's also gained possession of some ancient relics from bibilical times, including a statue of the Whore of Babylon riding a ten-headed demon. Somehow, these elements are at the core of Holocaust 2000, a film copyrighted a year earlier.




HOLOCAUST 2000
(1977, Italy, The Chosen)


Reviewed on UK pre-certificate VHS (Rank Video)

In Holocaust 2000, Kirk Douglas plays an international industrialist who plans to develop a new sort of energy in the deserts of the Middle East. But when experimenting with the fusion of solar and nuclear power technology, he doesn't really want accidents, let alone nightmares about the scheme going horribly, disastrously wrong.

He starts to suspect that the Devil is killing people around him in order to cause chaos on Earth with an international nuclear disaster. All the deaths of those close to him can be explained away as accidents, so who will believe him? Is he really losing his mind?


As accidental deaths actually help his new power scheme swing into action, a young journalist (Agostina Belli) believes something devilish is going on, but Kirk's son (Simon Ward - Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Three Musketeers) thinks dad is going mad...

Made by an Italian crew in Italy and the UK, this is the more ambitious film of the two Omen follow-ups, with depictions of nightmares, religious fanatics and insanity. There's a flavour of realism as some countries are shown under military rule, and protestors are trying to stop the new power technology being employed. There's also more of a sense that the Devil is at work, mainly due to Ennio Morricone's weird choral score (still available on CD
- samples here on Movie Grooves site).


The satanically influenced 'accidental' death scenes are on a par with Omen II for inventiveness, a mixture of the spectacular and the dull, but gorier - particularly the helicopter scene, prefiguring a famous stunt in Zombies: Dawn of the Dead (1978). That scene is the only scrap of the film currently on YouTube.


There's even a scientist in a white coat getting the chop from above, echoing a scene from Omen II. The other main similarity is the Whore of Babylon demon, which appears as an archaeological treasure in Omen II, and in Kirk Douglas's nightmares. Dream sequences, I might add, that he appears naked in, at the ripe age of 60! If you're in shape, flaunt it!


Besides the demon (which is portrayed by a creepy, static model, rather than a major special effect), the scenes in the imaginatively-designed asylum also stick in the mind. It feels desperately claustrophobic and all the more scary because of the transparent walls, and a use of omnipresent whiteness reminiscent of The Beyond (Italy, 1981).


Holocaust 2000 is definitely an interesting film, while not totally successful. A major plot twist can be seen coming a mile off, and the ending makes little sense. It's one of those horror movie endings where the characters are sorted out, but the plot is left hanging. A confusing and rushed alternate ending tacked on a couple of extra scenes to close the story, but it's worse than the present ending.


A scene from the alternate ending - Kirk in disguise


I feel the title is also a drawback, confusing it with the Holocaust of the Second World War, which was also on TV as a US mini-series at the time. I wonder if the Italian producers hadn't been warned off titles that cashed in better on Devil-themed hit films.


I hadn't realised that director Alberto De Martino had also made The Antichrist (1974), the Italian answer to The Exorcist and OK Connery (1967), a James bond spoof starring Sean Connery's brother! Alberto seems to have had a penchant for 'homage', if you'll excuse my French.

Holocaust 2000 is still floating around on VHS under various titles, and looks good in widescreen, which I think can be found on the
Italian DVD. But mysteriously unavailable in the US or UK.



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September 01, 2007

HAUNTED SCHOOL 3 (1997) lively children's ghost-fest

HAUNTED SCHOOL 3
(1997, Japan, Gakko No Kaidan 3)

Region 3 HK DVD (CD Connection) - no English subtitles

Where else can you see a skinless biology dummy come to life, faceless parents stalking their kids with steak knives and a photocopy monster? Haunted School 3 of course.

The many Haunted Schools
Hong Kong maestro, Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs, Initial D - The Movie), produced a film called The Haunted School this year, which appears to be an adult horror film. But I'm still working my way though the Japanese series of children's films from the 1990's, all called Gakko No Kaidan, literally 'school ghost stories', known internationally as Haunted School.

The 4 films were so successful in Japan that they led to various TV series (that I'm still trying find more info on) as well as a marvellous anime series, Gakko No Kaidan (
released as Ghost Stories in the US). Similarly, the recent anime Ghost Hunt was set in a similar situation and features several school hauntings.

Japanese poster

Gakko No Kaidan 3
A group of children and a gym teacher are drawn to the huge unused school building at night, where they are sucked through a cursed mirror (echoes of Poltergeist III) - because facing two mirrors towards each other seems to be unlucky in Japan.

In the mirror dimension, the film opens out as the gang go exploring, going on a ghostly bus ride, and making the mistake of going home to mum and dad... As they learn more about the school ghost, the mirror dimension starts to destabilise...

While these films aren't very grown-up entertainments, I like them for their unusual ghosts and demons - bizarre, but no scarier than a ghost train ride. Also, for seeing what perils children are allowed to face in Japan. Like when the kids are chased by their parents, and a policeman with a rice sickle...

The climax aims for spectacular, slightly beyond the means of the budget, (giving me some unwanted flashbacks to the terrible Drifting Classroom) but there's an animated creature that Ray Harryhausen himself has never done...

This film is more eventful and special-effects heavy than the first two, and the effects are better realised. There's some great horror make-ups (some nasty-looking zombies and the biology department's 'visible man' dummy), computer fx (though not overused) and some stop-motion animation. Perhaps the reason it works so well, is that the director also handled the three revival Gamera films in the 1990's, the best-made giant monster movies there are.

This is certainly the best of the three so far, and I'll tell you more about Haunted School 4 soon, because it's actually scary, with a far more adult approach, made just as the Japanese horror-boom went international for Ring.

A DVD boxset of all four films is now out of print in Japan, and had no subtitles either. The second and third films are still available in Hong Kong, but again have no English translation. What's worse is that they have non-removable Chinese subtitles - these are almost totally in the letterbox, so you could crop them out. Both Haunted School 2 and 3 are non-anamorphic widescreen, and the smeary, dark transfers don't help with a film that spends a lot of time in darkened corridors. 3 seems to have been cut, slightly, at some of the more intense moments.

But these are the only DVDs (and VCDs) out there at present. Haunted School 1 and 4 are also available with primitive Englsh subtitles.


More movies...
HAUNTED SCHOOL 1 (1995) reviewed here
HAUNTED SCHOOL 2 (1996)
HAUNTED SCHOOL 3 (1997)
HAUNTED SCHOOL 4 (1998)

Do you want to know more?
Sarudama writes more about the plots for the first three films, and has loads of screengrabs too.



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Don't Panic! You're in the right place!

A new look for Black Hole Reviews

To mark my second anniversary of blogging, I've updated the layout and colour scheme of this blog. I think that blue is more 'black holey' than green as a background colour. It was a bit too icky Shrek, and not outer space enough.


I'm very pleased to have had over 30,000 visitors (or I guess it might be one person who's visited 30,000 times). My main concern is that I don't get any feedback - so I'll assume that nothing's wrong and carry on. But I'd expect to have had some of my personal opinions slapped down by now! There's a comments icon at the end of every review, if you ever need it. As long as your comments are relevant and not too abusive, they'll become part of the blog, for all to enjoy.

Anyhow, hail the new blog (much the same as the old blog), but I might try and add a background image for the title header bar... but please don't panic - no more major changes for the foreseeable...


Mark H

IMPULSE (1974) a William Shatner acting masterclass


IMPULSE
(1974, USA)

William Shatner just can't help acting on impulse...

PAL region 2 DVD (Avenue Entertainment)

I hoped that I was in for a treat when I read that Shatner made a film playing a psychopath. What I didn't know was that it was drenched in seventies fashion, and co-starred Harold Sakata ('Oddjob' from Goldfinger - but why?).

The film opens disastrously with an extended flashback that's truly terribly acted, as we learn what turns Shatner's character psycho, as a boy. We also see the director's knack for missing key performances, when characters deliver their most dramatic dialogue with their backs turned. This technique becomes invaluable when cutting around Harold Sakata's performance, even though most of his dialogue is 'yeah, yeah!'

Tina sees her mother in bed with William Shatner

Actually, after the opening scene, the acting gets better... ever so slightly. Admittedly Jennifer Bishop, playing Shatner's next victim, and Ruth Roman, as the busybody friend, are very good. Even the-child-who-knows-he's-evil-but-no-one-believes-her (Kim Nicholas) has her moments. But I think this is a case of experienced actors directing themselves. If anyone goes over the top (I'm mentioning no names), the director isn't there to rein them back in...

How to look lecherously at bellydancers

We are thusly treated to a classic Shatner acting class in lechery (pictured), happiness (of Naked Gun romantic-montage proportions), anger (beyond anything in Star Trek), and nervous desperation... perhaps what we're seeing isn't acting, because he thinks his career is nearly over? Not realising that five seasons of T.J. Hooker are just around the corner?

It's also a rare chance to see Shatner as a villain. The plot? I almost forgot - he's playing a murderous gigolo. He hustles rich women for money, then kills them when he's rejected. But as he homes in on his next victim, he doesn't realise he's already met her daughter, who has seen that he's a very bad man. But will anyone believe her?


All this, topped off with his nylon patterned shirts, stripey tank tops, bell-bottomed corduroys and the baddest hat... I think filming in Florida in the seventies could be the perfect storm for a fashion disaster.

"Yes, that was me beating up James Bond in Goldfinger"

With acting fireworks in every simple scene, there's plenty to enjoy - but if you wanted action, you ain't got it. The slow motion chase scene (it's not filmed in slow motion, it's just slow) through a car wash is staged for no real reason at all, except that they could. Realism and continuity fly out of the window as Shatner runs over the wrestler without the car so much as bouncing... three times! In truth he'd need a steep ramp, and one of those Dukes of Hazzard leaps, to be able to clear Harold's substantial figure even once.

The exciting car wash scene here on YouTube...

Looking at his resume, director William Grefe appears to have a penchant for filming sharks and directing shark movies, which probably explains the best shot in the movie - a car crashing into a river, all seen in a continuous take from inside the car.

Yes, it's a bad movie, but one of the enjoyable ones. It's beyond cheap - check out the dark blue sheet hanging outside Tina's bedroom window, to represent night time! This looks even cheaper than the TV movies that Shatner was doing inbetween Star Trek, the original series, and Star Trek - The Motion Picture. Perhaps he was trying to break out of TV movies, and back into movie movies. Way to go, Bill! Good choice!

But, talk about no frills, this DVD doesn't even have any artwork printed on the disc! A white disc with a little writing on? What is this? Bootleg chic? Rather than 'dumping' the title out there, this could sell far better with even a little presentation. The cover art makes it look like a documentary about Mars, and subtitling Shatner with 'Star Trek' in tiny words looks as ludicrous as it is redundant.

The lip synch on the DVD is a little loose in places, that I'll generously assume weren't there originally. There's even some creasy tape faults, though I can't think what the response would be if we suggested that this gem should be digitally remastered.

Still, I'm very glad that it's cheap and it's out there - I'll proudly put this on my Shatner shelf, right next to Incubus - the world's only movie in Esperanto...



Do you want to see more?

Also on the Shatner shelf, you might like...

1998 - FREE ENTERPRISE (William Shatner IS William Shatner)

1982 - VISITING HOURS (Shatner versus a psycho slasher)

1979 - DISASTER ON THE COASTLINER (TV disaster movie)

1977 - KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (Shatner vs a spider invasion)

1975 - THE DEVIL'S RAIN (Shatner takes on the Devil himself...)

1972 - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Shatner meets Sherlock)

1962 - THE INTRUDER (Shatner as a fascist - preaching HATE)


...all of which are ripe for Black Hole Reviews - watch this (outer) space...


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