6 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
Jill Johnson is a babysitter for Dr and Mrs Mandrakis. Early in the evening she receives a distressing call. A voice on the telephone asks, “Have you checked the children?” This is the first of a series of calls which prompt her to call the police. The children are brutally murdered, and the police find the killer still in their room, but Jill survives because she hadn’t gone upstairs and checked on the kids (not likely, is it?). Seven years later the killer escapes from a psychiatric hospital. Charles Clifford is a police detective turned private investigator, hired by the father of the children to find their killer, Curt Duncan. Clifford suspects Duncan has returned to the city he knows. But also living there is Jill Johnson, now with two children of her own...
Fred Walton’s When a Stranger Calls was released in cinemas in 1979, just a year after John Carpenter’s Halloween. Whether they were aware of each other’s existence is in question, but either way you can’t avoid the similarities. The working title for Halloween was The Babysitter Murders, and there had been a real life event wherein a babysitter and the children had been killed by an unknown assailant. Walton and his fellow scriptwriter Steve Feke loosely did that story as a short film called Sitter (included on this disc), in order get backing to turn it into a feature. Carpenter – who had already gone through this process with his first feature, Dark Star – famously went down the route of the faceless psychopath in the darkness, and the rest is history.
I don’t think Stranger possesses the impact it once had; however, it has got certain strengths. Carol Kane goes for an impactful performance as Jill, which is infinitely better than Lucia Stralser’s somewhat subdued variation in the aforementioned short, Sitter. It’s not so much a vulnerability, as much more intensive and expression-filled shock/horror. Her reaction to receiving a call from the police, telling her they’ve traced the menacing calls to the house she is in, puts a brief shiver down your spine.
Charles Durning as Clifford the P.I. is solid as you would expect an established actor to be, but the surprise here is Tony Beckley. He plays the killer with a lot of uncertainty. It is said that Beckley lacked confidence in the presence of more well-known performers, and so doubted his ability greatly. This comes through strongly as a vulnerability which conflicts with his ‘needs’ – something which is seldom, if ever, seen in the portrayal of a twisted villain. The final scene, wherein he is revealed to be in the bed with Jill, when she believes it to be her husband, is very well handled for a low budget film. (6)
When a Stranger Calls Back (1993) has a young woman babysitting for a couple, when there is a knock at the door. Someone wants to come in and use the phone to ring the vehicle breakdown service. She takes verbal details and assures him she will ring them. When she discovers the phone is dead, she feels it is safer to pretend she has rung. But that is just the beginning of her nightmare. Both of the children are missing, and five years later it starts again when she realises someone is getting into her apartment and making subtle changes to unnerve her. When she reports it to the police, they are far from convinced, simply calling the campus psychologist. This turns out to be Jill Johnson, the babysitter from the original film. She in turn calls in the help of her friend Charles Clifford, who had saved her life. He is convinced the girl is genuine and does not have psychological problems – even after she supposedly attempts suicide. Furthermore, he believes the perpetrator to be a ventriloquist; able to throw his voice to sound like he is outside when he is actually inside with the victim. Jill’s life turns full circle after taking an interest, when the unbalanced new killer turns his attention to her...
This is a made for TV sequel to the first film. Again, there is a prolonged babysitting sequence to start the film, but this time around there is significantly more meat on the bones. It begins as a mystery, and we are actually in the last third of the film before the killer is even seen. Less shocks, you might say, but more inventiveness. It may help that we are already familiar with two of the characters, but for me – as scandalous as it might sound – I think this second film is infinitely the better of the two. (7)
Second Sight Films should be commended here for proving that two films will comfortably fit on one Blu-ray disc, with room to spare for special features. Here we get the short film Sitter – newly restored; and separate interviews with Fred Walton, Carol Kane, Rutanya Alda, and composer Dana Kaproff. There was a 2006 remake of the first film (Walton wasn’t involved) but, although it did okay at the box office, it’s a bit of a non-entity.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
Lt. Ethan Bishop is assigned to Precinct 13 in Anderson, which is being systematically shut-down and moved elsewhere. Only a skeleton crew of the captain, a desk sergeant and two administration women are in place. Bishop is understandably expecting a quiet night, but chaos is about to descend in a manner he could never have predicted. A handful of dangerous prisoners (including the notorious Napoleon "Got a Smoke" Wilson) are being transported by bus to another location, but when one of their number falls seriously ill they are obliged to divert to the nearest police station - namely, Precinct 13. Meanwhile, a man is driving through the district with a little girl. As he stops to make a phone call, the girl goes to get an ice-cream... just as a street gang member is confronting the driver of the van. Consequentially, she is gunned-down. The distraught man drives after the gunman and kills him, but when the rest of the gang appears he is forced to flee for his life to Precinct 13. What follows is all-night assault on the station. If Bishop and the others are to survive, they will need the help of Napoleon Wilson. But can they trust him...?
This is much more than a straightforward street gang shoot-em-up. Carpenter ideally wanted to make a western in the vein of his hero Howard Hawks, but westerns were beginning to become outdated, and he couldn't afford the sets and costumes. So, he elected to do something rather clever; he wrote a then contemporary reworking of Hawks' Rio Bravo, with a siege situation on a police precinct. It's important for the sake of the story that there is only a handful of people holding out in an essentially disused station. The telephone lines are dead so there's no contact with the outside world, and no back-up support from other units. There is also a limited supply of ammunition for the few guns they have. The gang uses silencers so that their gunshots cannot be heard and attract unwanted attention. The Street Thunder gang created by Carpenter is interracial, raising its status to pure retaliation against the police for its surprise shoot-to-kill attack on the gang at the start of the film.
Assault on Precinct 13 was the first of a number of films he would make with a siege theme. He also incorporated a strong woman character (Leigh, named after Leigh Brackett - the writer of Rio Bravo) which he always felt was very important. Carpenter edited the movie under the pseudonym John T. Chance, which was the name of the sheriff in Rio Bravo. There's an element of wry humour present, especially in the scene when the hot potato game is played to decide who goes into the sewer through a manhole cover to seek escape. This is also John Carpenter's first full music score, and he produces a memorable theme said to be influenced slightly by Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' and the music from the Dirty Harry film.
Remembering what happened on Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13 was the first film he had total control over; something he would insist on from this point onward. The film was released to a muted response in America. The MPAA made Carpenter cut out the scene wherein the little girl is shot dead. This he did, but only in the version sent to the MPAA, thereby sneaking the film out intact. He obviously knew that the entire plot pivoted on this moment, because the avenging man is followed to the precinct. It was its release in Europe which proved momentous, particularly its successful presentation at the 1977 London Film Festival. Irwin Yablans of Compass International saw the film and asked Carpenter to make a movie of his idea for babysitter murders set on Halloween. A classic and timeless movie was about to take the industry by storm.
Extras on this disc consist of a Q&A with John Carpenter & Austin 'Bishop' Stoker, a Carpenter Commentary (always worth listening to, believe me), a Photo Gallery, Trailers and the Music Score.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008)
Bavaria is the setting for this period piece of madness and incest. Baron Zorn fears his family line of insanity and in-breeding has affected his own offspring. Elizabeth and Emil are kept docile by blood-letting and locked-up in separate rooms. Zorn himself is being treated by the frankly untrustworthy psychiatrist Professor Falkenberg. The truth will finally be revealed, but not before more people die...
By the early 1970s some people felt that Hammer Horror had run its course – particularly in terms of quality and originality. In reality, the company was as prolific as it had been since The Curse of Frankenstein in the late 1950s. However, what we started to see was a very mixed bag. The Horror of Frankenstein, The Devil Rides Out, Dracula AD 1972, and others (including the Hammer House of Horror TV series) proved they were still able to produce the goods. There was a return though to psychological thriller scripts, in some circumstances thinly disguised (or certainly marketed) as horror.
Demons of the Mind (1972) is an odd one. Because the events are non-linear the viewer has no inkling as to what is happening on the screen. Of course, there’s a backstory, but for the majority of the film it seems that a series of hysteria-related set pieces are paraded before us. No one appears to act with any kind of logic or reason. It’s as if the cast was pushed in front of the camera and told to run around like their tail was on fire. Either that or told to go glassy-eyed and pretend they were somewhere else. With Robert Hardy and Patrick Magee as the stars you expect a little more; however, in any situation like this it’s down to the material they are given to work with.
I realise this all stems from the madness of one character, but I don’t think this concept has much mileage. Eking it out over 89 minutes is excruciating. Perhaps if the scenes had been tightened and scripted differently it may have allowed the viewer to engage more sympathetically with the story. I suppose Hammer should be commended for trying something different. Certainly, there’s plenty of graphic violence (including a close-up throat-cutting, a frantic stabbing of keys through a throat, and the impaling of a flaming cross through a torso – to name but a few), which is tempered occasionally by some titillation (I have to say Virginia Wetherell was quite a picture). When presented to EMI they had no idea how to react to it. It couldn’t really be classified under any distinct sub-genre and so EMI didn’t know how to market the thing. In the end it was put out as a support to another movie.
I agree with EMI. It’s a bit of a mess.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)
In this, one of a number of Hammer Films being re-released in Doubleplay editions to celebrate 60 years of Hammer Horror, a young woman who has suffered a nervous breakdown and has been undergoing psychological counseling meets and marries a man who has secured a live-in job at a remote boys school. Having been attacked by an intruder with a prosthetic arm at her previous home, she is far from stable, but when her new husband is regularly sent away on errands by the headmaster she is left to her own devices. Attacked again, she suspects the creepy but gentlemanly headmaster, but is he the real enemy...?
It turns out the school suffered a serious fire in the past and was closed. The headmaster bought the building and restored it to its former glory, and now carries on as if nothing happened – except there are no children. He has electrical switches which activate recordings of the children in lessons or in the dining hall. Just that idea is bizarre. Peter Cushing, however, plays the part with formal aplomb (he really was an outstanding actor). He only makes a handful of appearances here, but it’s enough to make his mark. In fact, I believe he only filmed for two or three days.
Joan Collins is suitably snooty as the headmaster’s wife, Ralph Bates is solid enough, and Judy Gleeson spends the whole thing looking stunned and confused – which works well as the fragile victim of the piece. The final moment of the film confirms this is just the right characterisation.
Fear in the Night from 1972 works really well as a suspense thriller rather than out-and out horror. It is one of only a small number of Hammer movies with a then-contemporary rather than period setting. It is undoubtedly the Jimmy Sangster show, as the regular writer turned in the screenplay as well as both producing and directing. It was his final contribution. Check out his great autobiography Do You Want It Good Or Tuesday? He connects the scenes in this film using linking dialogue – even halfway through a sentence – and in one case with a kiss. This gives the false impression of a fast-moving plot. It’s a neat trick.
I first reviewed this movie in 2006 but, as it was part of The Ultimate Hammer Collection Box Set (over 20 films), space and time prevented more than two or three lines. So it’s definitely nice to get this opportunity to review this one in its own right. There’s a short documentary wherein Hammer historians talk about the movie. I’m sure there was a Jimmy Sangster commentary on the disc included with the Collection Box Set, but for some reason it’s not included here.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)
Jane is an American zoology student who takes a job at the English isolated cliff-top house of leading anthropologist Doctor Steven Phillip. His work explores the link between apes and man, and involves three subjects: Voodoo, a violent and unruly female; Imp, a friendly and child-like chimp; and Link, a circus-trained ape who is dressed and utilised as a servant companion. After an incident in the lab, Dr Phillip goes missing and Jane is obliged to look after the apes alone. A subtle change in the hierarchy means she effectively becomes trapped in the house as one of the apes displays psychotic tendencies...
Director Richard Franklin had been attempting to get this movie made since 1980 or 1981. He soon realised that men in ape suits wouldn’t work for this project, as it relies on a number of close-ups. It proved a revelation turning to expert animal trainer Ray Berwick, who did not receive a single complaint of animal cruelty when the film was released – due to his exemplary handling of the apes. Link was initially going to be more of a factual concept. Scientific research into violence amongst chimpanzees countered the earlier long-time theory that man is the only species who makes war upon itself. Franklin chose to make the picture in England, his only gripe on the extras interview being an exaggerated comment about everything stopping for tea breaks.
Two aspects combine creatively to make this work. One is the, frankly, truly amazing animal training techniques of Berwick, and the other is the clever filming and editing which ensures we see significantly more than is actually going on. To use a football analogy, this is a game of two halves. It’s true to say that for the first half of the film very little happens. This is setting the scene and building-up to the suspense thriller which follows. The large house on the coast used as the location means there is plenty of space to play with and, more importantly, isolation. A basement that not only houses the main gas supply but which leads out to the rocks at sea level, therefore allowing a temporary means of escape, is believable in this context. Although not fully explained, I liked the addition of wild dogs on the Moor, making it impossible to seek help without a vehicle.
The primary cast are pretty solid in their performances, which was not always the case in 1980s horror flicks. Terence Stamp (Perhaps most fondly remembered for General Zod in Superman II) does a Janet Leigh and goes missing halfway through the running time as Dr Phillip. The mainstay in this – aside from the apes themselves – is Elisabeth Shue, who plays the student Jane. She is undoubtedly best known for her role alongside Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. She is very good in this movie. There are some interesting cameos, too. Geoffrey Beevers has appeared on television and on stage numerous times, but is remembered by SF enthusiasts for his role as The Master in The Keeper of Traken, alongside Tom Baker in Doctor Who. His real life wife Caroline John (sadly deceased) is also in the movie. She was in Doctor Who many years before, alongside John Pertwee’s Doctor. The unmistakable Kevin Lloyd from The Bill also makes an appearance.
The Blu-ray has a 4K restoration as well as the following extras: An Audio Commentary by Film Historian Lee Gambin and Film Critic Jarret Gahan; An Interview with Film Programmer and Horror Expert Anna Bogutskaya; Deleted Workprint Scenes; An Interview with Director Richard Franklin (Audio Only); and the UK Theatrical Teaser Trailer. I couldn’t sign-off without mentioning the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, and in particular the main Link theme. It’s jaunty to the point of being ridiculous… until it is played again at the end of the film. Due to the direction the film takes, the jaunty theme suddenly takes on sinister connotations. There is a demo of the theme on the extra features. Well worth a watch.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2021)
In 1954 a pregnant woman is the only survivor of a terrible plane crash. Although she later dies at hospital, the baby miraculously survives. She is healthy in every way except she won't wake up. Seven years later a little boy is in hospital with asthma. Against orders he wanders the corridors, and finds a sleeping girl in a secluded room. A nurse tells him the girl has never woken up since being born, and that she is a Sleeping Beauty. The boy looks up the fable in a book and then returns to her bedside, saying, "Wake up. I am a prince," and kissing her. This becomes a daily ritual, even after he is released from hospital. He returns regularly on the bus, bringing her wild flowers and a kiss. In 1972, as a teenage schoolboy he sees a flashback news report of the aircrash and is disgusted with himself that he could ever have forgotten. The ritual begins again. When she eventually does wake up she develops staggeringly quickly from a baby to a normal late teenager. They become very close, but then she drops the bombshell that she was told by someone in her sleep she would be awake for only five days...
What can I say about Sleeping Bride except that it's an unsung masterpiece. It isn't horror or fantasy, but it does have a thoroughly magical quality.
I thought this film from 2000 by Hideo Nakata had simply been thrown in to The Ring Trilogy - Collector's Edition to make the package look better, but this is without doubt the jewel in the crown of the 4-disc set. The balance and pacing couldn't be bettered; we are expertly taken though the emotions of sadness, melancholia, happiness, anger and pain with a gentle manipulation of the viewer. These are characters you really care about.
I enjoyed this one so much that I watched it again only two days later, and I can happily report that the effect was not diminished. Like Mary Poppins: "Perfect in every way."
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2021)
Brenda is a naïve young woman who tells her mother she is pregnant and wants to find the father. In fact, she wants to go to London to find her Prince Charming and have a child with him. Securing a job in a boutique, another girl offers her a room at her place. But when Brenda is betrayed, she walks the streets where she meets a wealthy young man with a dog. Thinking all her prayers have been answered she stays with him, only to discover the man Peter is seriously unhinged, with psychotic tendencies...
Straight On Till Morning is another in the collection of Doubleplay releases from Hammer Films via StudioCanal. In the early 1970s Hammer wanted to go in a new direction, returning in part to their psychological thrillers of the 1950s. This was marketed as a double bill with the similar format Fear in the Night. Straight On Till Morning is quite a departure from their standard horror theme. Hammer’s attempt to be gritty and realistic in the urban hardship of late '60s Liverpool (this was originally screened in 1972) comes over like an amalgamation of Cathy Come Home and Peeping Tom.
Creating a groovy and happening London full with beautiful women and promiscuity makes it all the more surreal when the serpent is revealed in paradise. Rita Tushingham handles the role of the innocent ‘Plain Jane’ very commendably. Shane Briant is infinitely superior in this than the mess that was Demons of the Mind – although he regularly sinks into a trance-like state in both films. As for the very popular James Bolam, he’s woefully underutilised.
This film is directed purposefully off-kilter by Peter Collinson of The Italian Job fame (one of my all-time favourites) by way of shooting through scenery and other objects. However, the choice of music is not good; Roland Shaw’s horrible jazzy music played throughout drives you to distraction.
The ending is left ambiguous as, after Peter mentally tortures Brenda by playing her recordings of him killing his dog and the friend who had betrayed her, he is seen alone and slowly rocking himself. Is Brenda dead? We’ll never know. A bold new approach from Hammer with a shocking plot theme for the time, but which only succeeds in part.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
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