Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Homicidal (1961) The Best Psycho Rip-Off You Probably Never Heard Of!

I am assuming that most of you already know who William Castle is but for those you who dont, simply put he was the Hitchcock of schlock horror films in the 50s and 60s. His best known film is probably The House on Haunted Hill (1959) starring Vincent Price. Side note: Elvira herself considers Haunted Hill a favorite of hers. 

Sure these films were mostly based around a in-theater gimmick however they still managed to be, at worst  mildly amusing and at best classic spook show fare. Castle's films were very much a product of their time and hence most haven't aged very well, still, for a lot of people they remain brilliant and enjoyable works of art. Yes I said art damnit!  I always felt like they have a spooky-dark ride quality to them and its why Turner Classic Movies loves to show stuff like 13 Ghosts (1960) around Halloween. Hell Castle even produced and has a cameo in Rosemary's Baby (1968) a film that went onto huge success.

When Psycho (1960) screamed into theaters, audiences and critics were completely blown away by it. Indeed its hard to understate just how ground breaking it was. Seeing how it literally changed the game in terms of shock and thrills it was bound to attract rip-off's. And some were even really good, including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) which was Oscar nominated and even spawned a whole new sub genre the 'Psycho-Biddy or Grande Dame Guignol'. The king of razzle dazzle and larger than life personality William Castle wanted to get in one the fun and made Homicidal (1961) Following a brutal murder, a mysterious blonde named Emily breezes into her home town and with it threatens to reveal a host of dark family secrets. There is also a hefty inheritance in play, which might drive someone HOMICIDAL!

First off: I think the key to loving this movie, and indeed most of Castle's films is dont take things too seriously, after all they were pretty much made for a younger audience too busy making out in the back row. In other words they were just fun popcorn movies, not some grand art. Maybe you think this is a way to excuse the films short comings but you cant hold the same standards for Castle like you would, say Goddard or Hitchcock.  If you love campy kitsch Castle is a perfect fit, especially in in the fall season. Homicidal from the first few minutes weaves an interesting little mystery and Castle tries to one-up the shock of the shower scene with his own brutal murder -though not nearly as artful or subtle. But really why would you want a subtle William Castle movie. The plot and pacing is fairly brisk and there is never really a dull moment to be had in this over the top, atmospheric potboiler. Castle cleverly takes the DNA of Psycho and flips it around to make it his very own. Even though the 80s get s a lot of credit for being the hay day of horror, the 60s produced some of my favorite fright films including The Innocents (1961), Masque of the Red Death (1964) and others. And Homicidal, cheap and campy as it is, is very much re-watchable and a joy to witness. Sure its a rip off but damned if its not a bat crap crazy one that has a lot of fun and knows exactly what it is.

Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket
Almost coming full circle Castle would also get in on the Psycho biddy genre, famously making Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford and seeing how it made a lot of money, went onto make two more films with her. Homicidal is a movie very much worth seeking out if you, like me, love spooky, cheesy, whodunits that never takes itself too seriously.  Besides Id take this over the shot for shot 1998 remake any day. Hope you enjoyed this blog and please check out my others and book mark for more updates.

Twitter: @StrangeCinema65
Insta gorehound_mike

Sunday, August 18, 2019

She Freak (1967) the Strange Freaks (1932) remake we never knew we needed!

Today in the attic I decided to dive incredibly far into the toxic barrel and fish out She Freak (1967).

I  struggle to explain why I have such a soft spot for this film. Maybe its the ultra 60's cheese or that its not so subtly rips off the plot from MGM's Pre-Code masterpiece Freaks (1932) directed by Tod Browning (best known for 1931's Dracula), maybe its the fact it was an early Something Weird Video title  (in the Freak Show Box set). But whatever it is, I for better or worse like it a lot. In fact I enjoyed this trashsterpeice so much that I wrote about it in my first book The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema (Schiffer Publishing)  The plot such as it is, follows Jade (Claire Brennen) a stuck up waitress that decides shes going to make it big by running away and joining a traveling circus. Choices. Once she joins, she does her best to sleep her way to the top, while also spitting on everyone else. Of course the performers dont take kindly to the dehumanizing treatment and exercise their revenge in a finale sadly spoiled by all the films promotional material.

Prior to writing this review I watched this movie with the audio commentary for the Something Weird Video Release (which I highly recommend seeking out) and i'm glad I did, as it cleared one the biggest complaint I had with this film, namely its padding. Serving as the films writer the legendary exploitation king David Friedman talks about his passion for the carnival and all the prep footage (putting up, tearing down) came from his love for that world and not merely padding as I assumed.

Maybe the reason why I love this film is, it really is an earnest love letter to carnival and carnival workers. He freely admits in the commentary that his love for Freaks made him want to write a kind of remake of it. While its not the dark pre-Code film Browning made She Freak does have loads of charm and some pretty entertaining scenes-but honestly if you are not into carnivals you may find it dull in places. I can say I have seen this one no less than five times and even with its short comings it has a lot of enjoyable low brow melodramatic moments, freaks (well people made up as freaks) and chocked full of cheesy dialogue and sleaze. Sadly gore hounds looking something ala Blood Feast will be disappointed as this film is pretty tame even by the late 60s. There is one semi-gore scene involving a knife fight but thats it. Honestly this could be easily a PG movie there been a rating system in place.

She Freak is a wild, weird and color filled glimpse into the 60s carnival scene, which is in a way a document of a certain time and place. Its hard to say if you will enjoy this or not- the mileage for crap films varies from person to person but if you like 60s camp, carnival culture and odd ball films I think this one might be required lazy Sunday with a hangover viewing.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Cruising for a bruising with Arrows new Cruising (1980) Blu Ray

Welcome back to the attic. Today we are looking at Arrow's Blu-Ray of Cruising (1980). Available to buy Aug 20th

In the '70's William Friedkin was at the height of his creative powers, and seemingly a hit factory making machine, churning out films like Boys in the Band (1970), The Exorcist (1973) and The French Connection (1971) -all stone cold classics. He proved with Cruising that he still had it in this new decade. Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is New York cop hot on the trail of a murderer, picking off gay men from various s&m and leather bars. Now Burns must don his best leather clad outfit and go deep undercover to find this killer before more people die.

Before I dive into the review I feel like I should say a few things: Needless to say the subject matter is pretty controversial and at the time protests were held from the LGTBQ community in what they deemed as unflattering stereotypical portrayals. Even now, despite being a cult classic it might rub some people the wrong way. Personally I as a gay man I dont see this movie as hateful or demeaning, but merely as a post- Halloween slasher/thriller that just happens to act as a time capsule of a  pre-AIDS leather scene in New York. Friedkin has gone on the record to stated that this was not in any way meant as a bash to the community and I am inclined to believe him.So if things like this offend you, you might want to avoid this altogether.

It has been awhile since I seen Cruising and I figured now with the new Blu-Ray it was the perfect time to re-visit this film. The films opening murder is done in such a slow, almost fetishistic manner that helps set the tone for the rest of the film. I have to say even by today's standards its a pretty unnerving scene. Its always incredible to think this movie was made by a major studio, as the film is teeming with steamy man on man sex (merely suggested of course and laughably tame) and its sometime you probably wont ever see from a big studio again. Friedkin skillfully captures the gritty NY s&m scene in all its smoky, sweat drenched greasy essence. After giving this a re-watch I guess its easy to see how the film could be considered wildly exploitative, focusing on the more preserve aspects of late 70s early 80s gay scene. But for me I see it more as interesting time capsule of a bygone era wrapped in a Giallo whodunit (on a much bigger budget). The mystery is engaging and the ending left me thinking days after the credits rolled. The recent film Knife+Heart lovingly pays homages to Cruising and its not hard to see why this film has left such a lasting legacy. I honestly think Warner Bros is ashamed of this film, but luckily we live in a free society where we can view this any time we want. And now in stunning 4k thanks to Arrow Video.

Picture/Sound: Cruising looks incredible sporting a brand new 4k transfer, giving the film a much needed upgrade from the previous release. The transfer was approved by Friedkin himself and a lot of the night scenes are greatly improved with the new scan. Sound wise we have a nearly flawless 5.1 track.

The Extras: Sadly Warners for whatever reason has not allowed Arrow to produce new extra's. I guess we should just be happy they dont try and bury the film like The Devils. This means previous material has been ported over to the Blu-Ray, but not having owned this previously I was happy with the extras which are a directors commentary and a featurette on the making of. Its really a shame that Arrow was barred on new features as I am sure they would have produced some great content. Still as a mentioned above lets just be happy we have a nice 4k pristine film with a few bonus stuff. Its noting amazing but I cant fault the label for this. With a great picture and sound this film is worth upgrading even if you have a previous release.

Whoever you feel about the films subject, I still think its a worthwhile movie done by a director at the very height of his stride.

Available to buy Aug 20th

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Sinful Delights of "Alice Sweet Alice" (1976) Arrow Blu-Ray Review

Welcome to the video attic a blog where we explore the weird, wild wonderful or just plain terrible hidden gems. Today in the attic we dust off a oft neglected classic Alice Sweet Alice (1976) which Arrow has lovingly restored and made available to the 'mass'es. I had the extremely pleasure to do an interview with Mr. Alfred Sole the director of this film, which has been a favorite ever since Anchor Bay Entertainment put it out on DVD. Blu Ray releases Aug 6th. This release also comes on the heels of the recently announced book on the film by Troy Howarth. Its a great time to be a fan of this film but lets dive into it, shall we?

Young Alice (Paula Sheppard) seems to be envious of her pretty sister Karen (Brooke Shields in her first film role)who seems to get everything she wants, including attention from her mother. In a horrific act Karen is savagely murdered by a creepy doll-masked wearing killer and of course the blame is pointed squarely at Alice, who seems to be hiding something. However as the body count grows, could it really be the strange yet innocent looking girl responsible for the mayhem? As I said in my film guide The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema Alfred Sole's Alice Sweet Alice is probably the closest thing will we come to a true American Giallo. The over the top  and incredibly weird moments, garish yet stylish kills and a classic giallo whodunit all screams true of the genre.Sole does a great job at  racketing up the tension with each twist and turn. Much like Dont Look Now (1973)(an inspiration for the film) the film is incredible looking and very visually engaging. After over four decades Alice is still a movie that can shock an audience coming just a year before Halloween (1978) would help popularize this genre.

 The Specs: Holy crap is this release amazing! For starters Arrow has completely restored the film in 2k using original film negatives and is a much needed upgrade from previous releases. As I said the film is very visual so its great to see it looking this gorgeous.  They also really went all out with the extra's and those with the old 88Films Blu-Ray might to double dip. Thankfully they were able to port the old Anchor Bay commentary over to this release as well as a brand new one with commentary with Richard Harland Smith. Sadly neither Brookes nor Paula Sheppard are interviewed (Both rarely give interviews especially Sheppard) but they do have new interviews with Sole and actor Niles McMaster (of Bloodsucking Freaks fame or infamy) Other features include a deleted scene, an alternate Opening Title, and the alternate TV cut entitled Holy Terror. Also a really cool feature is a video tour of the shooting locations called Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice Sweet Alice. Rounding out this disc is a featurette Sweet Memories an interview with filmmaker Dante Tomselli (and cousin of Alfred Sole), trailers, television spots and an image gallery and the original script.

Overall/Worth a buy?:

I really cant imagine anybody doing a better release of this film any time soon. Arrow has masterfully remastered this film and includes an array of new features as well as porting over the vintage commentary from the Anchor Bay disc. I would say you should most defiantly buy this, as not only is it a great film but you are unlikely to find a better collection of extra's for this film any time soon. Its much better than the 88Film release in terms of new content.

Available to buy Aug 6th