Film Review – LIFE (2017)

Image result for life blu-rayLife (2017; USA; Colour; 104m) ***  d. Daniel Espinosa; w. Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick; ph. Seamus McGarvey; m. Jon Ekstrand.  Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, Alexandre Nguyen. A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth. Derivative sci-fi horror adds nothing new to the genre but is a professional and competent chiller. The visual effects are excellent and the cast is strong, but there is little in the material for them to work with outside of the admittedly tense conventional thrills. If you’ve seen ALIEN, you’ll recognise the by-the-numbers plot mapping. [15]

Film Review – HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

Related imageHouse of Frankenstein (1944; USA; B&W; 71m) **½  d. Erle C. Kenton; w. Edward T. Lowe Jr.; ph. George Robinson; m. Hans J. Salter.  Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Elena Verdugo, Sig Ruman. An evil scientist and a hunchback escape from prison and encounter Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. Suffers from having to cater for too many monsters and therefore each story feels rushed and is ultimately disappointing. Karloff and Naish, as the mad scientist and his hunchback assistant, do their best with the material, but this is only mediocre entertainment. Based on a story by Curt Siodmak. Followed by HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). [PG]

Film Review – HALLOWEEN II (1981)

Image result for halloween iiHalloween II (1981; USA; Metrocolor; 92m) ***  d. Rick Rosenthal; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop, Tony Moran, Lance Guest, Dick Warlock, Hunter von Leer, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Ford Rainey, Cliff Emmich, Jeffrey Kramer. Following the events of HALLOWEEN, Michael Myers finds Laurie (Curtis) at the Haddonfield Hospital. More formulaic and bloody continuation, but makes effective use of the hospital setting. Curtis gives a physical performance requiring little dialogue, whilst Pleasence manically tries to convince others that Myers lives. Most effective moments are those that mirror set-pieces from the classy original. Followed by HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). [18]

Film Review: ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

Image result for alien covenant blu-rayAlien: Covenant (2017; UK/Australia/New Zealand/USA; Colour; 122m) ***  d. Ridley Scott; w. John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green; ph. Dariusz Wolski; m. Jed Kurzel.  Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Amy Seimetz, Callie Hernandez, Benjamin Rigby, Alexander England, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, Guy Pearce, Noomi Rapace, James Franco. The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape. It extends the dense religious mysticism of PROMETHEUS and mixes it with bug-movie action and horror. The script has many obvious triggers and offers nothing new to the series. What is left is an ultimately unsatisfying blend that has been expertly assembled, but plays it safe and would have benefited from tighter editing. [15]

Film Review – ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

Island of Lost Souls (1932; USA; B&W; 70m) ****  d. Erle C. Kenton; w. Waldemar Young, Philip Wylie; ph. Karl Struss; m. Arthur Johnston, Sigmund Krumgold.  Cast: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Kathleen Burke, Stanley Fields, Arthur Hohl, Paul Hurst, George Irving, Tetsu Komai, Hans Steinke. An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations. Laughton is terrific in this creepy and atmospheric horror movie. It may seem a little creaky by today’s standards and tension would have been built even more with a full music score, but this remains an unsettling and memorable viewing experience. Special nod goes to make-up man Wally Westmore for his creations. Burke is billed at “The Panther Woman”. It was not passed for release by British censors until 1958 – and even then, with cuts. Based on the novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.G. Wells. Remade in 1977 and 1996. [PG]

Film Review – THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Image result for the wicker man blu rayWicker Man, The (1973; UK; Eastmancolor; 95m) ****½  d. Robin Hardy; w. Anthony Shaffer; ph. Harry Waxman; m. Paul Giovanni.  Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Waters, Aubrey Morris, Irene Sunters, Walter Carr, Ian Campbell, Leslie Blackater, Roy Boyd, Peter Brewis, Barbara Rafferty. A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there. Chilling and disturbing thriller shot on a low budget and dominated by religious symbolism. Woodward’s portrayal of the Christian policeman horrified by the pagan society he enters is superb. Lee is also excellent as the island’s lord of the manor, whose family are responsible for the islanders’ livelihoods. The final shots are amongst the most memorable in screen history. Heavily edited from 99m to 87m on release to fill B-feature slots, the film has since been restored to a 95m version, something close to its original length. Remade in 2006. Followed by a “spiritual sequel”, THE WICKER TREE (2011). [15]

Film Review – THEM! (1954)

Image result for them! 1954 blu-rayThem! (1954; USA; B&W; 94m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Gordon Douglas; w. Ted Sherdeman, Russell S. Hughes, George Worthing Yates; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Bronislau Kaper.  Cast: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens, Chris Drake, Leonard Nimoy, Dub Taylor, Fess Parker. That ol’ cinematic devil the A-bomb has spawned a colony of giant murderous ants bent on destroying humanity in this, the seminal big bug movie (an obvious and oft-credited influence for ALIEN among countless others).  Influential sci-fi thriller capitalises on paranoia surrounding radiation fallout from the testing of atomic weapons – here mutating ants into giant killers. Arness and Whitmore make effective leads and Gwenn is good as the eccentric scientist. Good use of sound and lighting to maximise thrills. Fans of the later ALIENS (1986) may find certain similarities in the bug hunt. The sound that the giant ants make as they approach their prey is a recorded chorus of bird-voiced tree frogs (Hyla avivoca) of the southeastern US. Received an Oscar nomination for Best Special Effects. Warner’s highest-grossing film for the year. [PG]

Film Review – ISLAND OF TERROR (1966)

Island of Terror (1966; UK; Eastmancolor; 86m) ∗∗  d. Terence Fisher; w. Edward Mann, Al Ramsen; ph. Reginald H. Wyer; m. Malcolm Lockyer.  Cast: Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray, Eddie Byrne, Sam Kydd, Niall MacGinnis, James Caffrey, Liam Gaffney, Roger Heathcote, Keith Bell, Shay Gorman, Peter Forbes-Robertson, Richard Bidlake, Joyce Hemson, Edward Ogden. A scientist searching for a cure for cancer unleashes deadly bone-eating monsters on a tiny Irish island. Cushing manages to maintain his dignity in an otherwise overwrought and silly blend of sci-fi and horror. Judd is poor in the lead and the monsters are more comical than scary. One that respected director Fisher would have wanted to forget. [PG]

Film Review – THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940)

Ghost Breakers, The (1940; USA; B&W; 85m) ∗∗∗½  d. George Marshall; w. Walter DeLeon; ph. Charles Lang; m. Ernst Toch.  Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Richard Carlson, Paul Lukas, Willie Best, Anthony Quinn, Noble Johnson, Paul Fix. A radio broadcaster, his quaking manservant, and an heiress investigate the mystery of a haunted castle in Cuba. Hope and Goddard look to repeat the success they had with THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939) and largely succeed. Hope is more assured here and his one-liners are sharper. The set-up is a little protracted, but the payoff in the haunted castle is suitably spooky. Top class art direction by Hans Dreier and Robert Usher adds to atmosphere. Based on the play by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard. Previously filmed in 1914 and 1922 then remade as SCARED STIFF (1953). [PG]

Film Review – THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939)

Cat and the Canary, The (1939; USA; B&W; 74m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Elliott Nugent; w. Walter DeLeon, Lynn Starling; ph. Charles Lang; m. Ernst Toch.  Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery, Gale Sondergaard, Elizabeth Patterson, George Zucco, Nydia Westman, John Wray. When an eccentric family meets in their uncle’s remote, decaying mansion on the tenth anniversary of his death for the reading of his will, murder and madness follow. The archetypal haunted house comedy thriller with Hope in a career defining role as the reluctant hero and Goddard making an effective debut as the heiress who is being victimised. Some nifty one-liners from Hope mix with effectively spooky atmosphere heightened by cinematographer Lang’s superb use of lighting. Sondergaard is also excellent as the mysterious housekeeper. Goddard and Hope would re-team for a follow-up a year later in the similarly themed THE GHOST BREAKERS. Based on the play by John Willard. Previously filmed in 1927 and remade in 1978. [PG]