Project Arrow: Phenomena

 Once again we find ourselves back in Vince’s BD treasure trove as he picks through the mess for the finest offerings Arrow might have. Yes, it’s another instalment of the Arrow Project!
Let’s roll!

Project Arrow

Phenomena (Arrow Video Blu-ray release)

Ah, my second favourite Dario Argento film. Really. I know most fans would peg the renowned classics Suspiria or Deep Red, but for my money the top two personal favourites have always been Tenebrae and Phenomena. Like many people of my generation the first time I saw this flick it was forty minutes shorter and titled Creepers. Forty minutes – that’s nearly unfathomable. But in that extremely truncated version, I still loved this film.

Phenomena features Jennifer Connelly as boarding school student Jennifer Corvino who is transferred to a European school, and who possesses a supernatural intimacy with all species of insects. Thus we begin an Argento film that really has more in common with Suspiria than either of Suspria’s own sequels.

The catalyst for Phenomena came from Argento‘s fascination with forensics. Specifically, the idea that there was a particular species of butterfly whose wing membranes would shatter if in the same room when a gun was fired. In Phenomena, he further explored the world of forensic entomology through a wheelchair-bound character played by Donald Pleasence, who due to his condition also owns a trained chimpanzee, an animal that becomes an integral part of the plot. This is not the first time Argento has played in the field of criminal forensics, but at least this time the key elements appear more scientifically sound than those used in Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Phenomena is truly Argento‘s crowning achievement in style over logic, something that has been notable in nearly all of his films but which has not been pulled off in a more gracefully cocksure way than here. Take for instance the opening scene of the film, when a schoolgirl is chased by an unseen stalker through canyon wall overlooking a waterfall, until she gets her head smashed through a plate-glass window, a window that really, has no business being in the rock-side of a canyon cliff. But the imagery is so rhythmic and exciting that we are easily lulled into this style-over-logic. Another memorable moment is the intercutting between Jennifer’s first sleepwalking experience and the second murder of the film, which creates a world-within-a-world where Jennifer actually winds up witnessing this murder take place, but because she’s technically asleep, she doesn’t even realize what she’s seen. Along with the visual style of the film we also have one of my favourite soundtracks. Argento‘s films are commonly accompanied by a highly stylized soundscape, and here he’s hired ex-Goblin Claudio Simonetti, along with Fabio Pignatelli, Bill Wyman, and Simon Boswell to create the sometimes pounding, and always energetic, soundtrack.

Sleepwalking, supernatural powers over insects, chimpanzees, a serial killer, and incredibly, that’s not all… while we have seen the giallo mixed with the supernatural before, in previous films such as Deep Red or Suspiria, such a convoluted plot in a horror/giallo is highly atypical. But it does make for a show-stopping finale.

Like the Tenebrae blu-ray from Arrow Video, Phenomena includes several hi-def extra features, but the original Argento commentary from the Anchor Bay U.S. DVD release has not been licensed. Additionally, the English audio track that was used to transfer the film was missing sections of the audio, something I’m not entirely sure about, the back of the box indicates in small print that these elements “were either never recorded or have been lost”. Yet the English audio on the previous U.S. releases have been more intact than it is here. The film does look amazing on blu-ray, although Phenomena looks almost too clean for nearly a thirty-year-old film, and there is some visual residue/evidence of Digital Noise Reduction. Of course, that being said, the film has never looked so glorious either, so this is definitely a case of “take the slightly annoying with the rest of the awesomeness.” I should also mention, for any North American fans who might be looking to purchase this blu-ray, that this is the European “Integral” Cut, which runs six minutes longer than the official cut of 110 minutes. Yet this doesn’t actually explain all the missing section of the English audio.
End of the day: Highly recommended.

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Project Arrow is a joint effort along side Videotape Swap Shop and you can follow Vince’s continuing adventures here

Project Arrow – The Beyond

Obviously Vince is an unstoppable force of nature, ploughing through his “to watch pile” with almost no effort at all. Commendable to say the least…. though perhaps he should get a job… Today’s instalment in our Project Arrow series is none other than Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece The Beyond. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that the timing is a tad suspicious, what with our Dead Will Rise Double Bill featuring The Beyond and Dead & Buried tomorrow eve at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, but this was all Vince’s idea. So without further waffle from me…

Project Arrow

Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (Arrow Video Blu-ray release)

The Beyond is not only one of my top-two favourite Fulci films, it’s one of my all-time favourite Italian horror films. Okay, I know, The Beyond is one of every Fulci fan’s favourite Fulci films. Well, with good fucking reason, I say. As far as Italian horror goes, it’s one of the classics.

The film is infused with an enigmatic style, and Fulci (unlike previous endeavours) has the wherewithal as a co-writer and the films’ director to keep it immersed and embedded in a solid, and classic, haunted house structure. Where his earlier City of the Living Dead was roughly artistic, his attempts to end that film on an enigmatic note only felt confused and disorienting. This time though, Fulci had a far better handle on these stylistic proceedings.

The story starts out (post-credits) on a classic note, a young woman (Catriona MacColl) comes to be in possession of an old haunted hotel in New Orleans. Predictably, things go to hell – or rather, come up from hell – and the entire film glides into this anarchic supernatural action/horror story – with zombies, a ghostly blind girl, further craziness involving the Book of Eibon and a few face-eating tarantulas. What do you expect; this is Lucio Fulci, after all.

The Beyond would later be considered one of Fulci‘s own Italian living dead trilogy, caught between City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery. I’d argue that the only thing that makes these three very different films even a loose trilogy is the fact that they were all shot nearly within a year of each other (1980 – 1981) and they all co-star Catriona MacCall. While City of the Living Dead is a true zombie film, House by the Cemetery is more of a mad doctor/monster flick and The Beyond is a wonderfully convoluted supernatural tale, which happens to involve zombies. The zombies here are interchangeable with the ghosts of a more classic haunted house tale. But the fact that they do appear as zombies lends an even more immediate tone of horror to the general haunted house tone of the film.

That is, until we get near the conclusion, where co-star David Warbeck (and might I add awesomely cast) gets his revolver and his seemingly never-ending supply of bullets. At this point, it does begin to feel less like a ghost story and more in pace with Fulci‘s nearly-as-awesome Zombie (aka Zombi 2). But unlike the leave-you-hanging-in-slight-confusion conclusion of his previous City of the Living Dead, thankfully the writers (which included regular Fulci and Bava scribe Dardano Sacchetti) saw fit to place everything together and finish the film with a bit of a rug-jerking enigmatic piece that at least feels right – in the film’s own supernaturally nonsensical way. I feel The Beyond‘s success is also due in part to the dreamy pacing of the film on the whole. Elsewhere some fans and critics think the film would’ve benefited from tighter editing – and I’d disagree. It’s this deliberate style that gives heed to the dream-like artistry that Fulci has constructed here. So bold and shocking is the ending of Fulci‘s The Beyond that it was riffed by Michele Soavi for his 1992 Dylan Dog interpretation, Cemetery Man.

That all being said, I definitely want to mention Arrow‘s Blu-ray release on this one, it was one of the more anticipated titles for me, as it had not been made available in a high-definition format until now. The hi-def transfer here is nothing short of fucking amazing. It’s rough, but in all the right ways. The print used for the transfer is obviously dated and in some spots, still a little dirty. But the Blu-ray looks detailed and rich. This is exactly as I thought The Beyond should look.

It’s obvious that the folks at Arrow love the movie as much as its fans do as they’ve provided what I can only refer to as a shitload of extra content, not just on the Blu-ray disc but on an additional DVD and booklet packaged with. In actual fact, my Blu-ray snap-case was so stuffed it wasn’t even snapped shut properly, despite it being brand-new and shrink-wrapped. You could get lost in Arrow’s Beyond Blu-ray.

Totally recommended.

Amazon link

Arrow web store link

Project Arrow is a joint effort along side Videotape Swap Shop and you can follow Vince’s continuing adventures here

I suppose I ought to also mention our exclusive shirt of The Beyond will be available tomorrow at the Prince Charles, and provided we don’t sell out they will be on sale through our shop.

Project Arrow – Funhouse

As we in the UK gear up for Film4’s Frightfest, which kicks off in earnest this Thursday, Vince has squeezed in yet another in the Project Arrow series – this time around, we have Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse, take it away big guy…

Project Arrow

The Funhouse (Arrow Video Blu-ray release)

Tobe Hooper’s
“The Funhouse”
gets a fine Blu-ray transfer from Arrow Video. Though some night scenes do appear too light – and believe be, I’m never one to normally comment on the visual presentation of a transfer, so you can be sure this must be something noticeable – but otherwise the digital viewing is above par.

Hooper‘s film starts off with a humorous and (unusually for Hooper) exploitation-style opening which satirizes, while simultaneously commenting on, the Hitchcock homage of John Carpenter’sHalloween”. This is extremely unusual, in fact, it’s the only occurrence I can bring to mind from Hooper‘s entire catalogue of directorial efforts where there is a conscientious comment on, never mind the satirizing of, another director’s work.

But moving speedily past this, we are then definitely into more familiar Hooper territory. If anything defines his work as a filmmaker and storyteller, it’s the idea of a group of characters who venture into a proverbial – and here, a literal – carnival of horrors. We’ve seen Hooper‘s convention of this plot several times in his career, with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Eaten Alive, Poltergeist, and even Texas Chainsaw II. There are, in fact, others, but I’m sure the point has been made.

And another validation to The Funhouse’s existence is exactly where it sits in Hooper‘s repertoire, very close to Poltergeist and obviously smack in between his visceral Cinéma vérité Texas Chain Saw / Eaten Alive and the far more overtly tongue-in-cheek Cannon films, Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars, and Texas Chainsaw II, which all get a few miles past the dividing line between humour and sheer cinematic lunacy.

What’s especially nice about The Funhouse is that at this point in Hooper’s career he had a great handle on balancing a film’s humour with verisimilitude. A verisimilitude that he was able to retain for Spielberg’s Poltergeist, but which alluded him for the entire Cannon series of films that followed. As well, the obviousness of The Funhouse’s title (or to my expectations, at least) is amiably undermined by some genuinely quirky plot manoeuvres that were, as in now, continuously unfolding before my eyes. As if on a carnival ride itself, maybe?

If I’m sounding like I’d never seen Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse before, it’s because I haven’t. Sure, I’d seen a few pieces of it here and there on television and in the American horror cinema celebration “Terror in the Aisles” (circa 1984) , but other than that… Imagine my surprise, in the opening scene, at seeing starlet Elizabeth Berridge undress completely before the camera. That had certainly been censored for the Canadian television broadcast. Elizabeth is an actress (like so many others of that time and place) who would later get more work out of a television series – this one being The John Larroquette Show – co-starring, almost ironically, a leading actor who had provided the off-screen narration for Hooper‘s first feature film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

The Funhouse is a pretty intelligent and literal script with genuinely likeable characters, written by Larry Block, and of what else he might have written I know not. Though even with all of this positive raving of the script and film, it’s certainly not without its flaws. In fact, the last 20 minutes or so of The Funhouse becomes somewhat disengaging, to the point of becoming a little silly. The climax of the film has not the horror of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, nor the lunacy of Texas Chainsaw II, nor the catharsis of Poltergeist nor the sheer spectacle of Lifeforce. Although I have to say this is not for lack of trying on any of these points, as you will no doubt see (or have seen). And the ending is not completely without its merits, either, somewhat fitted into the realm of off-handed cynicism and a slightly deeper sinister aspect, which I can’t delve further into without giving away choice plot points. So obviously, the film in its entirety can’t easily be dismissed, not only for where it lies in Hooper‘s directorial career, but where it lies in the time-line of horror and its cinematic sister, the slasher/dead-teenager sub-genre. Arrow‘s release of The Funhouse gets a hearty recommendation from this retro-horror film fan.

Amazon link

Arrow web store link

Project Arrow is a joint effort along side Videotape Swap Shop and you can follow Vince’s continuing adventures here

Project Arrow – Vamp

Sat on the South Bank, in front of the NTF, film maker Vince D’Amato had a plan, he’d just returned from an impromptu spending spree at Fopp. Poking from an over stuffed bag I spied a stack of Arrow DVDs. The Creepy Six Films kingpin enthusiastically told me that he was about to embark on Project Arrow. A respectable mission which saw him reviewing as many Arrow releases as he could get his hands on, and so we begin…

Project Arrow

Vamp (Arrow Video Blu-ray release)

The idea for this series of Arrow features struck me after the unfortunate outbreak of UK riots led to the destruction of a major warehouse and distribution centre, all but depleting several indie film distro companies and record labels of their entire stock. I realize that this might be old news to most fans by now, what with the advent of social media, but that, in my mind, does not invalidate the somewhat public celebration of not only these film titles, but of the smaller companies that had laboured to get them to us, the fans and consumers, in the most entertaining (and artistically marketable) way they could. The first order of a show of support, was obviously, get some Arrow titles! As I had just moved to London from Canada only 2 months ago, I still had a list of Arrow titles I was planning on purchasing over the next, say, six or seven months. When I learned about the warehouse disaster – burned to the ground! – I sucked it up and made a single purchase in one fell swoop. I now have, sitting next to me at my dining room table in a little Brixton flat, eleven new Arrow titles with two more still to arrive. Next order of business, was obviously, watch the fucking things! So I set about doing just that, last night, with a double-feature of Richard Wenk’s Vamp and the infamous video nasty Island of Death.

Vamp is a film that has been a guilty pleasure of mine since back in 1987 when I first caught it (and subsequently taped it onto a blank VHS) on the Canadian pay-television network Superchannel. After a few months, the tapes was worn out and warped. I was in grade 6/7 at the time and I thought Robert Rusler was a fucking bad-ass with his shirt sleeves rolled up, kicking albino psycho’s asses and smooth-talking all the hot chicks in the movie. Charming as hell. Actually, the entire cast had been pretty damned charming, even Gedde Wantanabe, who was pretty much straight off from playing another dork in Sixteen Candles. Anyway, as grade 7 waned into the summer (which was about to lead into high school) my worn-down EP VHS recording of Vamp slipped somewhere in between oblivion and off-the-face-of-this-earth. It’s just one of those things you never actually remember what happened to it.

Thankfully, now in the age Blu-ray, Arrow has seen fit to bring one of the more understated Hollywood writer/producer’s first films into the glaring light of HD. And I have to say, both the HD presentation as well as Richard Wenk’s vision do Vamp a hell of a lot of good. Does Vamp, as a film, stand up 25 years later? Logic might dictate not, but actually, it holds up surprisingly well. The humour is entertaining if not riotously laugh-out-loud, and both the performances and the direction have a fantastic rhythm, carrying the unfortunate characters from a collage-fraternity mission into the pits of hell that is an urban-after-dark strip club run by a nest of vampires in a cheeky take on the standard Hollywood “hero’s journey”, where our lead character Keith (Chris Makepeace) is thrust from the world he knows into a world of strange, dark humour and viscous bloodsuckers, where he literally must leap through several hoops of hell in order to prevail and end up with the romantic lead (Deedee Pfeiffer)

But hold on right there. That main plot point… the one about the characters ending up at a strip club fill of vampires… sounds familiar. Ah, yes, it was riffed by Tarantino for his own From Dusk Till Dawn. And while the grindhouse-pastiche boys may have put their own spin on the ensuing mayhem, Richard Wenk’s film has more in common with Argento’s Inferno (visually) and Demons (both visually, thematically, and with the look of the monsters themselves), which was also released around the same time (’86/’87, depending on what country you lived in).

Among the many lovely extras on Arrow’s blu-ray release is a lengthy interview with star Deedee Pfeiffer, which I would recommend sitting through the length first half to get to the much better, and more interesting, parts in the latter fifteen minutes. Robert Rusler also makes a welcome appearance in the film’s new introduction as well as on his own commentary track, and Arrow has thankfully included Rickard Wenk’s early short film, Dracula Bites the Big Apple, a sort of Vamp predecessor.

Check it out!

Amazon Link

Arrow Web Store Link

Project Arrow is a joint effort along side Videotape Swap Shop and you can follow Vince’s continuing adventures here