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Richard Bowden "The Film Flaneur" (UK)

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Gentle Trap/Hangman Waits [DVD]
Gentle Trap/Hangman Waits [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Turnbull
Price: £10.71

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hangman Waits - an extraordinary film, 4 Dec. 2011
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Whilst The Gentle Trap is an entertaining time-filler, typical of its time, and with one or two inadvertently amusing moments of dialogue, the big draw here must be The Hangman Waits, an extraordinary little-known crime docudrama made in co operation with the News of the World, appearing on DVD for the first time. It comes accompanied with an apology for the less than perfect quality of the source print for which due attention should be drawn. (The accompanying film is much better served).

The Hangman Waits is an account of a manhunt, but told in very striking fashion. It is, I'd suggest - and one hesitates to use the term so readily in such an obscure context - the work of a poverty row auteur: the director, producer and writer being the same person, one A Bar-Smith, apparently his only full length directing job. A lonely review on IMDb points out that this film "looks and feels as though it was made at the dawn of talking pictures with some stilted performances, erratic editing and simplistic storyline...". That's one view.

It certainly seems a throwback to earlier times with words playing a constant second to visuals and sound - and in fact it is 6 minutes in before any dialogue is spoken. Even the police are presented at one point Keystone-cops style, manning the running boards of cars to the final showdown, in a couple of remarkable 'frozen' shots - the careful framing of which, I'd suggest, indicates a sure deliberate stylistic strategy on the part of the director rather than clumsiness. I'd argue that like another favourite of mine, White Zombie, the anachronistic styling gives the film a unique feel, and by using a distinctive mode of storytelling, it turns its austere production values to advantage. The editing is not erratic either: in fact it is at some points quite deliberately structured, such as during the suspenseful, Hitchcockian opening scenes. In fact, dialogue issues apart, The Hangman Waits is striking on several counts throughout, including no less than 3 montage sequences, and a unique score featuring piano and organ intrumentation (the austerity of which at times reminded me of that for Peeping Tom). The killer's face is not revealed until the last few sequences; instead the film contains several interesting minor characters and incidents, which go by way of compensating for the enigmatic man on the run at the centre of the plot. The involvement of the News of the World is obvious with some effective location shooting in Fleet Street, but the view of journalists and reporters is not rose-tinted. The final montage sequence is the most interesting, creating an almost stream-of-consciousness effect as the killer recalls moments of his romantic past as the organ plays a canzona.

Some will find little in the film; others I hope will pause and discover it's avant-garde qualities, seen for the first time in a generation or so, in this release with all of the surprise and delight I did. Ironically, the older Hangman Waits, because so audacious, makes its companion feature The Gentle Trap seem conservative in contrast. I certainly watched Bar-Smith's work open mouthed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 10, 2014 12:51 PM BST


New York Confidential [DVD]
New York Confidential [DVD]
Dvd ~ Broderick Crawford
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Confidentially ... just average except for Bancroft, 17 Nov. 2011
This review is from: New York Confidential [DVD] (DVD)
Not be be confused with the (I think superior) Kansas City Confidential, the New York variety is a pretty serviceable account of organised crime, featuring at it's heart the stereotypical crime boss Lupo (Broderick Crawford, in a characteristically grouchy performance) and his disaffected daughter (Anne Bancroft). Lately arrived on the scene is Magellan (Richard Conte) the son of one of Lupo's late, old, friends who arrives to take care of a contract hit then stays to work his way up the organisation. Magellan's cool, polite exterior masks his role as professional killer, but he is clever enough to stay out of trouble, rejecting the advances of his bosses' dame, until the inevitable happens and he is drawn to the daughter. The dangerous, svelte Conte is good in his part - and, surprisingly proves less of an emotional bully than we might have expected - but the real star of the film is Bancroft, whose acting is in a different class, even when uttering unremarkable dialogue in predictable scenes. Her best moments of all come when, forced by public exposure to leave the anonymity of a safe job and to confront the stigma of her parentage, she throws herself with self-disgust at the hit man. Sadly her character is removed shortly after and with it comes a return to routine crime melodrama. J Carroll Nash is wasted as a side kick. The DVD offers a good print, but with no real extras. It's good for a single viewing, but apart from Bancroft's magnetism there's nothing really here to return for.


Violent Saturday
Violent Saturday
Dvd ~ Victor Mature
Offered by screen_archives_entertainment
Price: £17.40

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Buy the Spanish edition instead!, 27 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Violent Saturday (DVD)
"4 x 3 Letterbox" says the official description of this edition of Fleischer's mini-classic, along with some flannel about the best prints available. I don't know about you, but as far as I am concerned academy ratio is NOT a letterbox format, unless painfully cropped top and bottom to the wider 16:9 shape. This is a film which has been shown just as disgracefully on UK TV and which cries out to be seen in proper ratio; anything else completely destroys the rich mise-en-scene. My advice is to buy the Spanish edition also to be found on this site, as at least the all-important letterboxing appears present and correct there. After all, why would you want to compromise, especially at these prices?
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2014 12:09 AM BST


Ciudad Al Desnudo [DVD] [1990] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Ciudad Al Desnudo [DVD] [1990] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £17.95

2.0 out of 5 stars Does not have Eng subtitles!, 27 Oct. 2011
If you are buying this item and are unable to speak the language - beware! This disc does not have the eng subtitles as advertised. I have found this before on the rarer imports of this type.


The General Post Office Film Unit Collection Vol.2 - We Live In Two Worlds [DVD]
The General Post Office Film Unit Collection Vol.2 - We Live In Two Worlds [DVD]
Dvd ~ Len Lye
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £11.57

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch for Harry Watt, 25 Oct. 2011
An extremely well presented anthology of GPO documentary shorts from the late 30's when creativity was at its highest. Standouts are the 3 titles by Harry Watt: the famous Night Mail, The Saving of Bill Blewitt and North Sea, all of which would stand issuing on a single disc with an appreciation of the director, who is underrated today. Also especially noteworthy is the jaw droppingly surreal N or NW, the style and execution of which sometimes reminded me of some of the better known European avant-garde work of the Dadaists of a few few years before. Not all here is of equal quality however; a decided dud is Mony a Muckle - a confused contemplation of Scottish saving habits; as well as the dull Big Money, or JB Priestley's consideration of Switzerland as part of 'two worlds'. Prescient of the 'global village' his insight might be, but interest (at least on my part) in 30's Switzerland's infrastructure is slight. Plain bizarre is God's Chillun (victim of a chequered production history by all accounts), covering the legacy of the slave trade and which features a peculiarly ill-at-ease host. Humorously bizarre too, but at least much more entertaining, is The Fairy of the Phone, which ends in a peculiar song and dance sequence. (It's the film apparently in which WH Auden appears as Santa Claus - but you wouldn't recognize him from the brief clip.) In a collection full of the earnest contemplation of male toil, the couple of films which eschew realism in favour of humour and, yes even a little kitsch, are a pleasant contrast. The animated shorts are fine if you like the early style and methods they spring from but speaking personally, dancing shapes may have charm but limited appeal. There's an excellent booklet to accompany all this, need I add, and the restoration is excellent.


Todd Killings [DVD] [1971] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Todd Killings [DVD] [1971] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £9.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little known classic, 9 Oct. 2011
In 1968 director Barry Shear directed his first theatrical feature, Wild in The Streets. Featuring a younger generation who, with the help of LSD are eventually able to take over, then run the country, this was a movie which was both an amusing fantasy for the hopheads of the time as well as positing a powerful, if unlikely, enfranchisement of youth. Roll on two or three years and the hippy dream had gone bad. Charles Manson had murdered Sharon Tate, the Vietnam war soured and Shear made The Todd Killings.

Based on the real life crimes of 'The Pied Piper of Tucson' thrill-killer Charles Schmidt, Shear's second film offered a completely different, and far more salutory, view of the younger generations than his first - in fact, arguably rejecting any empathy with it at all. Starting in strikingly edited fashion with the hurried burial of a victim and ending with the police recovering the bodies of two others, The Todd Killings is a work whose negative view of a generation and its alienation is unrelenting, bleak and compelling. The "fictionalised dramatisation" stars Robert F Jones as 'Skipper' Todd, a charismatic 23 year-old slacker, drug dealer and would-be song writer living in the small Californian town of Darlington. Todd lives off an allowance from his mother (Barbara Bel Geddes, her last film) who runs an old people's home. Worshiped by a clique of younger females, Todd's own view of his dissipated lifestyle is characteristically cynical: "fornication isn't much (but) it's about all Darlington has to offer". It's only when he is attracted to the initially standoffish Roberta (Belinda Montgomery) that things get more complicated. At the same time Billy Roy (Richard Thomas) arrives back home in town, fresh out of reformatory, quickly rediscovers his love for an old school sweetheart and is taken under Skipper's doubtful wing.

Although from this summary it seems a film with two infatuations at its core, The Todd Killings is not a romantic piece. On the one hand we have Skipper, scheming and callous towards Roberta, while on the other there is Billy Roy, naive, confused and, ultimately, just as cruel towards his own girl. Neither relationships will end well. In this they are typical of the party and drug set around them, where the only real relationship is with hedonism. Others have noted the fractured and documentary style employed by the narrative, reflecting the lack of real focus in the young lives of Darlington. Only Roberta gets some real sympathy, but ironically its her will-she won't-she attitude towards Skipper and his actions which make up some of the film's less successful elements. When we first see her she seems a cut above the rest of her sex; her continued affection towards Skipper, even after the the most serious suspicions emerge and rape, considerably reduces her standing. Ultimately, even with her self-awareness and conscience, she is barely different from the others.

In the first half of the film Shear breaks up the presentation of Skipper's sometimes frantic, always shallow existence with more formal, considered shorter scenes, as the young man is interviewed in turn by police and military (he dodges the draft by pretending to be gay). At other times too, when faced by the establishment, Skipper acts the considerate, polite young man, and initially impresses Billy Roy's parents by his manner. At first he also seems to fool his former teacher, who's out trying to save local bored housewives from their own intellectual "death sentence" with reading groups of 'Moby-Dick'. At one point he recalls Skipper as one of his brightest former students, but now the young man is as dismissive of literature as of anything else. But we know that the slimy charmer is already a murderer, his secret buried out in the desert - just as his real character lays buried beneath a facade for his elders' benefit. Indeed, with one notable exception, Skipper's violence is hidden from the audience as well. It is Shear's achievement that he makes something shocking and memorable out of the coldness which remains, in an exploitation piece par excellence.

It's hard to think of another film with a heart quite as nihilist as The Todd Killings, a movie in which murders are committed just to see what it feels like, or because there's "nothing else to do", and in which a shiftless society of teenagers seem alienated from the magnitude of their actions. Other films have shown rebellious, shallow and disenchanted youth, but few are so thoroughgoing and so completely dark. For Skipper one of the most despicable emotions is pity, and his lack of empathy with others and is echoed back by his loose circle of friends whose only concern, even when the full horror of his crimes is revealed, is what to do when he's no longer around. (In fact the original shooting script was apparently called 'What Are We Going to Do Without Skipper?'). Some have compared Shear's film to (I think less bleak) River's Edge (1986), while passing similarities can also be seen in another favourite, Mean Creek (2004). A further film based on Schmidt's real life crimes, Dead Beat (1984) is not in the same league.

By turn charming, dangerous and self-centered, Jones' charismatic portrayal as the murdering misogynist is unforgettable, while The Todd Killings further benefits from an excellent supporting cast which, besides Bel Geddes, also includes Gloria Graham and Edward Asner. With hindsight, Richard Thomas' casting shortly after this as TV's John-Boy Walton, where he was to co-star in a completely different moral universe, gives his appearance here particular resonance. A pathetic figure, he is easily led in a world where nothing matters and "there's the crap, and living like you want to live." All of this is aided by some excellent cinematography as well as an outstanding, sometimes frenetic musical score by Leonard Rosenmann. Earlier in his career the composer had worked on Rebel Without a Cause. One wonders what he felt creating music for another, if later generation, equally estranged,but with a much more dangerous alienation, in which personal angst is almost entirely absent.

The current DVD is unfortunately sourced from the 'best video source available', which means the picture is not as sharp as one might hope and the full Panavision ratio is missed. There are no extras worth the name. Its something of scandal that a properly done release is not yet available or that this is region 1 only.. This one looks like the same version which appears, somewhat rarely, on British TV (for then minus some of the nudity) but, until things are done properly, it will have to do. If you haven't seen The Todd Killings, then it may be one of the best films you've hardly heard of. If you have, then you'll surely welcome any chance to see it again.


No Title Available

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Essential for any Bell readers - though insights are few, 5 Sept. 2011
Those (admittedly few) readers of the forgotten Bell these days will be interested in this, a fairly detailed account written by the author of his creative career from vantage point of the mid 50's. Obviously written fairly quickly as always, there are few real insights, but at least we have a better sense of the mind behind so many books. Here we learn of Bell's early career as dissatisfied school teacher, onto his first literary attempts as poet, as prolific children's short story writer and finally, novelist beginning with fantasy/SF. There's one or two amusing pen portraits of contemporary publishers, some BBC-baiting and other enjoyable snippets, if not a lot more. It's a shame that the author spends more time on the financial side of his career, and offers some often out of date advice to would-be writers, than he does throwing light on his own oeuvre - especially since his work has a peculiar, casual, fatalism which invites explanation, even if one is aware of the author's private life - abusive father, eventual suicide etc. (His book 'The Truth About My Father' is apparently fiction, but I haven't read it) Bell wrote quickly and fluently - perhaps too much so - and after some early critical success (e.g. Breedon & Sons) never again made a long lasting impression on the literary establishment. His work (nearly all out of print) has a particular, independent flavour which I'd suggest would still appeal to the casual, adventurous reader and awaits a sympathetic modern reappraisal.


Blood on the Moon [DVD]
Blood on the Moon [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robert Mitchum
Price: £7.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bloody good, 4 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Blood on the Moon [DVD] (DVD)
This is one of a notable group of westerns, such as Colorado Territory (1949), and Pursued (1947), influenced by the then-fledgling film noir style. They introduce introspection and fatalism into the sagebrush mix, anticipating the psychological concerns of the 1950s. Inevitably shot in black and white (although Turner Television have apparently broadcast a colourised version of the present title - a fact that might make purists shudder), and with a greater preponderance of night-set scenes, the noir western replaced a family-friendly wide open prairie, previously peopled with cowboys in white or black hats and clear cut moralities, with a fresh genre of altogether different concerns, reflecting confusions and uncertainties.

Director Robert Wise had previously made Curse Of The Cat People (1944) for Val Lewton, and would also helm Lady Of Deceit (1947), and The Set-Up (1949), respectively just before and after Blood On The Moon, so was already at home with the way of noir. He'd also been associated with Orson Welles - having been brought in to infamously 'finish off' The Magnificent Ambersons - and this influence can be seen in Blood On The Moon, especially in the saloon interiors, with their low angles and prominent low ceilings.

Wise's 1948 western stars noir icon Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, a man with a suitably dubious past, sent for by former friend Tate Riling (Preston Foster) to take partnership in a grazing rights scam and to provide a strong arm for $10,000. Riling hopes to secure payment for a lucrative army cattle contract while convincing local farmers that his intentions are strictly honourable, and running off the current suppliers. At first Garry grudgingly goes along with the plan but then realises that he is not comfortable with matters, all the while growing a romantic interest in Amy Lufton (Barbara Bel Geddes) the daughter of one of the cattle farmers.

For my money, Blood On The Moon, while an excellent film, is not quite on the same level as the two other noir westerns mentioned above, having none of the haunting psychologies of Pursued (also starring Mitchum), nor the fatalism of Colorado Territory. But there are still many pleasures to be had here, not least a strong supporting cast that includes Walter Brennan and Charles McGraw as well as a splendidly duplicitous Foster who, in dark parallel of Garry's slow romance of Amy, feigns a love interest in her sister to oil along his malign plans.

Ultimately, it is Garry's realisation of his erstwhile partner's slipperiness which turns him against him, as he discovers "I've seen dogs who wouldn't take you for a son." But it is Mitchum's marvellous playing of a man with the troublesome "conscience blowing down his neck," that's at the centre of the film, as he turns from hesitant moral acquiescence to doubt, onto guilt, into action. As others have remarked, Mitchum's characteristic 'stillness' as a noir actor, whereby he characteristically says or expresses little, but nevertheless suggests inner turmoil, is shown at its best here. Such depth and moral equivocation would (his complex performance in Red River the year before, notwithstanding) probably have been beyond the range of a John Wayne.

I mention Wayne, particularly, since there is an interesting similarity between Blood On The Moon and Hawks' Eldorado, made a decade and half later. In both movies a gunfighter arrives by way of summons into a middle of dispute, and is bushwhacked by a woman for his pains. In the later movie Wayne's character makes a clear decision right away not to join one side before siding with the other. In Wise's work, Garry's process of realignment is much more slow and painful, but because of it, more human. And whereas Wayne enters the drama bolt upright on his horse, proud in his own self-esteem, we first see Garry caught in the rain, at night, bedding down within cluttered trees, streams and undergrowth - the uncomfortableness of which reflects the confusions in which he finds himself.

The Odeon disc seen by this reviewer presents the film with no extras and in a soft picture - not ideal given the original, sharp, expressionist cinematography. There's occasional print damage too, but this is not distracting. But at its modest price, if you haven't yet caught it on TV, this DVD release can still be recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2013 4:57 PM BST


Krakatoa - East Of Java [1968] [DVD]
Krakatoa - East Of Java [1968] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Maximilian Schell
Price: £2.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Krakatoa, 10 July 2011
A guilty pleasure, Krakatoa, East Of Java's principal claim to fame is its title, which erroneously places its subject on the wrong side of the island. Directed by Bernard Kowalski, whose rare non-TV credits include Attack Of The Giant Leeches (1959), and SSsssnake (1973), the film is probably his best, aided immensely as it is by some excellent widescreen cinematography which emphasises the convincing location shooting - facts rarely allowed for in the usual criticisms of a film which in addition was cut by almost 30 minutes for an American re-release. Allowing for the passage of years, the special effects, largely achieved through miniatures and blue screen work, range from passable to excellent. Even now, in this era of eye watering CGI, there's still a fascination is seeing how well such a catastrophe is to be portrayed. Doing justice to the original events, however - one of the greatest eruptions ever known, leading to perhaps the single loudest noise ever heard on the face of the Earth from the main paroxysm, and a resulting 120 foot high tsunami killing over 30,000 - inevitably was going to be near impossible.

In the face of this impending volcanic disaster is Captain Hanson (Maximillian Schell), who has gathered together a team of experts to locate some missing treasure. The various human dynamics on board his tramp ship, as well as the anticipated eruption ahead, is what gives the film its tension, at least until the fireworks start. Included in this disparate band are father and son balloonists, (Sal Mineo and Rossano Brazzi), deep sea diver and laudanum addict Connerly (Brian Keith), with singing girlfriend Charley (Barbara Werle), as well as Dauzig (J.D. Canon) a scheming convict acquaintance of Hanson, Laura (Diane Baker) the widow of the original possessor of the pearls, Rigby (John Leyton) the claustrophobic scientist-operator of a diving bell, and so on. It's a nicely mixed group and one would expect plenty of steamy drama to be played out beneath sweltering decks. But the main problem the narrative is that, despite some promising elements, the audience has little empathy with the main group of characters. Despite the long running time of the film (130 minutes in the full version), they remain too fragmented, and script weaknesses mean that dramatic interest is often discharged too rapidly. The plot has the unenviable task of making drama out of what is essentially padding, as a group of people hang around to catch an expected catastrophe. But that's part of the fun these days, seeing how matters are dragged out between tantalising hints of the eruption to come, or how some potential (for instance the convict rebellion) is over with and wasted in just a few minutes, while others (like the love-hate relationship between father and son balloonists, or the latent sexuality of the Japanese women) is hardly exploited at all. This while the scenes between Hanson and Laura, of whom it is hinted still suffers from mental illness, are dragged out somewhat unnecessarily. For every wooden scene between these two, we would dearly love more about Dauzig's personal demons, or his relationship with his comrades in chains below decks for instance - the resentful tension of which threatens to be every bit as violent as the island they are sailing towards.

But there's some incidental fun to be had along the way: one thinks of Keith and Werle in their cabin early on for instance, where she serenades him with a song as unexpected as it is irrelevant. It's a shipboard relationship between a heavyweight has-been and a shop worn female, recalling that between Ernest Borgnine and Shelly Winters in The Poseidon Adventure of three years later. Keith's addict-diver with the 'shot lungs' provides other of the film's whacked out highlights too, as when, high on his drug, he hallucinates and attacks one of the Japanese women. Eventually confined to a crate suspended over deck until he regains his senses, Connerly is a man who seems doomed from the moment we see him. A point-of-view shot through the wooden bars during his moment of trial, lensed as he swings helplessly back and forth, suggests a prison in which a condemned man finds himself. Such is typical of a film that has many such moments, those in which characters peer at a world fraught with challenge. Whether through eyepieces, between slats, out of portholes, from balloons and diving bells, down into holds packed full of convicts or steaming volcanic cauldrons, apprehensive observation and anticipation is the norm for those who ride the Batavia Queen. These moments aptly reflect back the concerns of an audience who, in this film more than others, have come principally to observe a promised spectacular.

Such a visual motif is one of the few unifying elements in the film, other than the overarching expectation of an eruption. The overwhelming episodic nature of events is obvious, but at least it has the merit of making the film fairly diverse in content and, even in its full length version, time passes quickly enough in Krakatoa. On top of this, the concluding explosions and fireworks from the island aside, Kowalski does manage one or two effective scenes, such as the scenes in the runaway balloon, the near-comedy of which reminds one of the balloon antics in Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965), or the eerie sound effects caused by the nascent eruption (although one piece of eruption footage, conspicuously recycled, is a distraction). The simulation of audio effects one of the few times that the film actually reflects the subtle indications of such a massive event realistically as, for the rest of the film, the volcano is stereotyped into the usual 'burning mountaintop' image, set in mostly clear air at that, with the phenomenon of falling blankets of ash entirely overlooked. For some reason too, Krakatoa's eruption brings on a storm at sea - a nice easy, extra, touch of drama to be sure, although quite why volcanism should affect the weather is uncertain. Tossed and buffeted, Hanson's ship is a place of refuge amongst the impending devastation and, after dropping off one or two of the travellers who decide to sit out the expected tsunami on shore - a mistake, as any alert audience in this situation immediately realises - it faces the momentous tide alone. Like a similar wave that topples the aforementioned SS Poseidon, the one that comes up here seems to break mysteriously as it approaches the ship, but the outcome is never really in doubt. On shore, the results are worse, but reasonably well done, Kowalski's images suggesting something of a biblical deluge in scenes, which even the film's doubters still find impressive. In fact so much has been leading up to the grand finale, so many supporting stories established, that one wishes that Krakatoa would go on a little longer than it does, at least so that there was time to gauge the effect of such tumultuous effects on the key participants.

The film has a minor cult following and there is plenty of gossip surrounding its production and subsequent exhibition (Sal Mineo for instance allegedly walked out of the premiere as he felt it was so poor). This while the production design, by the veteran Eugène Lourié no less, is surely worth a discussion on its own. Ultimately, what impresses most these days is the absence throughout of the ecological earnestness that attends so many modern disaster movies. The result is a still enjoyable film, flawed and innocent at the same time.


Shriek of Mutilated [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Shriek of Mutilated [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shriek of hilarity, 10 July 2011
A firm guilty pleasure, the memorably named Shriek Of The Mutilated was directed by Michael Findlay, whose career in exploitation cinema was abruptly terminated through a 1977 helicopter crash. Most notably, he and his wife were also responsible for the later Snuff (1976), one of the most notorious titles of the genre. A risible concoction of false and reassigned footage, memories of that film's successful marketing campaign still stir up howls of outrage from moral guardians. Less well known today, Shriek is considerably more fun, a cheerfully inept production which never the less manages to gain a lunatic momentum and absorption of its own by the close.

At the heart of the film is a yeti hunt. But this is no ordinary yeti hunt, off in its usual stomping grounds, but one set much more cheaply and conveniently in 'Boot Island' - apparently upstate New York. (One suspects an immediate confusion between the yeti and Sasquatch). Unperturbed by the gruesome failure of a previous such mission some years earlier, the peculiarly motivated Professor Prell (Alan Brock) is planning a new field trip with an assorted group of students. Shortly before setting out, the Professor takes Keith (Michael Harris), one of the expedition's most promising members, for a very distinctive meal at a favourite local restaurant. Meanwhile Keith's girlfriend, Karen (Jennifer Stock), enjoys an evening party with friends. Stock also appeared in another grisly cult favourite, the Sadean Bloodsucking Freaks (1976). After playing the electronic pop hit Popcorn - a deliriously incongruous moment which points up much of which to come - she and her colleagues are confronted by one Spencer (Tom Grail), the drunken relic of Prell's previous expedition. "Some say I'm still mad!" he opines before launching into a long, rambling, and fearsomely badly acted account of the events which took place that day, of which naturally he was the only survivor. Later, apparently driven insane by his painful recollections, Spencer attempts to slit the throat of his wife - before she returns the favour by electrocuting her spouse in the bath with a toaster.

But this is a distraction from the main thread of the plot: how the bickering group of students find themselves on a field trip in darkest Boot Island, staying at the residence of another mysteriously motivated character, Prell's friend, Dr Waring (Tawm Ellis). Waring reckons that the Yeti has been isolated on his island by the thawing snows and that his house would be the ideal base for the members of the field trip. There are a few disadvantages to this plan, not least of which is the unsettling ambiance created by Laughing Crow, Waring's tall, hairy - and mute - Indian manservant. During their first evening the uneasy group starts to bicker but are treated to a rare meal of 'gin sung' - which, as it turns out, is the very same Indian dish enjoyed by Keith and Prell together on that last evening in civilisation. As an additional highlight, the student party is regaled with an impromptu song by one of their group, Tom Nash (Jack Neubeck): "People say that he's downright nasty/ he's mean and he's gruesome. He'll make your threesome into a twosome/ Now is your chance to make a break/ don't let a moment go to waste/ On the prowl, hear him howl, here comes the Yeti..." etc - which no doubt makes some of them feel that they would rather be back in the bosom of society enjoying Popcorn. Clearly someone with this much musical talent is doomed from the start and, sure enough, during their first trek across Boot Island, Tom wanders away from the main party. He's soon subject to the first attack by their elusive quarry: an aggressive, sheepdog-shaggy creature resembling an overgrown member of the Banana Splits...

Writing such a summary recalls the fun of a film that, for a Z-grade schlock horror of this type, has few longueurs and provides a good deal of amusement along the way. To do director Findlay credit, his work is reasonably well put together. Reverse angle shots and continuity elements are OK, and the editing is of sufficiently high standard so as not to prove a distraction, with a refreshing absence of stock footage. An early appearance of the monster is actually shown reversed out, an effective innovation. Whether or not this was a budgetary decision using accidentally over-exposed footage, it's an effective way of denoting terror in the abstract (There's a more recent, similar representation of the supernatural in Walter Hill's very different Wild Bill). Findlay has more problems matching day-for-night shots however, and some of the more clumsily staged scenes are glaring. One wonders if these, too, were intended to be reversed out, but not completed using that process. Also notable is the use of music during the film; the repetition of passages from Mussourgsky, Sibelius and Martinu give proceedings more class than less prestigious library tracks. Occasionally the choice is very apt, as when the ominous familiar Dies Irae theme plays over the arrival of the guests for the final feast, or the nervously skittering notes of Martinu accompany attacks. Elsewhere the soundtrack just seems heavy-handed, but its persistence still gives the film a peculiar atmosphere.

There's much to enjoy in a film that provides a walking bathmat monster, atrociously enthusiastic acting, a sneaky cannibal cult and some amateurish gore thrown in along the way. For most of the cast, whose woeful acting provides some of the most memorable moments besides the monster itself this was their first, and only, screen appearance. One particularly cherishes Prell bursting in upon the party from an encounter outside, with the breathless exclamation "So close! So close!" - before launching into a long and amusingly tedious monologue. What is surprising is that, by accident or design, Shriek does actually attain something of a horrific crescendo in its last sequences as, free of its unconvincing monster; the culinary conspiracy comes to light. There's a heightened claustrophobic terror, beginning with the final scaring to death of Karen by the fluffy fiend. At this stage she is also threatened by the hideously grimacing Laughing Crow who emerges, as if on cue, from her bathroom cupboard. Later on, as Waring shows Keith the yeti costume hanging in the closet, it's another apt symbol for our worst fears, springing from the dark interior of the subconscious. Once the film's ridiculous scares are put away, the rough edges and untidy interior compositions within the frame help increase an undeniable frisson to the Saturnalists' threats. Even if, as a character says earlier, it "may not make much sense to you; (but) makes sense to me" as the diners crowd in disturbingly, it remains a very entertaining mess.

Apparently the restored Region 1 NTSC DVD (90 minutes, rated 'R') from Retromedia reinstates some of the film's missing gore but, for copyright reasons, removes the sublime Popcorn moment - a loss of surrealism that fans will regret. This change aside, Shriek remains a highly entertaining if comparatively rare film (there's been no new release in the UK, for instance, for over 20 years) that should be sought out by lovers of the cheap and hilarious everywhere.


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