I confess to never having heard of this film prior to receiving a review DVD from Warner Archive. In fact, it's fairly obscure even in its native Britain. However, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, released in 1970, is one of the most amusing and perceptive political satires I have ever seen. The dark comedy opens with the titular character (Peter Cook in top, deadpan form) inexplicably arriving at a mismanaged London publicity and advertising agency. With nary an explanation about his identity or background, Rimmer simply makes himself at home, though uninvited. The inept brass assumes some big wig has implanted Rimmer among them to be an efficiency expert so they defer to him on virtually everything. In short order, he turns the failing company into a fabulously successful force in terms of marketing potential political candidates. Finding a way to manipulate the dumbest segment of the Tory voter base, Rimmer quickly becomes a major force in choosing which candidates are the most charismatic, yet intellectually vacuous. Before long, this man of mystery, who says little but achieves a lot through shrewd schemes, is on the A list of London socialites. He's courted by all and beautiful women are at his disposal. Rimmer chooses a comely lovely (Vanessa Howard) as his bride, but she soon learns even she is a tool for political expediency as Rimmer himself becomes a top candidate for public office. He's a British precursor to Robert Redford's Bill McKay in The Candidate (1972). Both end up being ironic political forces, though Rimmer is a clever manipulator while McKay is an empty shell who rises to the top by serving as the charismatic tool of his puppet masters.
The script was co-written by Cook, John Cleese and Graham Chapman- heavyweight comedy talents who specialize in theater of the absurd. However, the writers keep their comedic instincts restrained, opting wisely for subtle laughs rather than slapstick. The inspired supporting cast includes such comedy stalwarts as Cleese, Chapman, Arthur Lowe, Denholm Elliott, Norman Rossington, Dennis Price with Ronald Culver and Harold Pinter thrown in for good measure. The cynicism of the piece is that a brainless segment of the public will be satisfied by the superficial aspects of candidates even if they know nothing about those candidate's backgrounds or motives. Rimmer becomes the toast of the town without ever taking a firm position on any issue. He smiles a lot, charms everyone and remains firmly in the middle of the road on any topic. Thus, the story is as timeless today as ever. Witness the parade of ignorant, empty-headed people who have emerged as leading political figures in the last year alone and you'll understand why The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer plays more like a horror film today than the comedy it was originally intended to be.
Scorpion has released a fun horror double-feature DVD consisting of The Hearse (1980) and Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969).
The Hearse is a comparatively upscale production (anything is upscale compared to the Dracula flick) that top-lines two good actors: Trish Van Devere and Joseph Cotten. Van Devere plays Jane Hardy, a recently divorced thirty-something woman who is suffering from psychological problems relating to the end of her marriage. When her mother dies, she inherits a charming country home that used to belong to her maiden aunt. Jane decides to spend the summer in the house in the hope that a rural lifestyle might ease her personal problems. From minute one, she has second thoughts, however. The townspeople are rude to her and there are rumblings about some nasty legends relating to the house. The lawyer who is overseeing the property (Joseph Cotten) is a nasty, cynical old coot who does everything in his power to dissuade Jane from staying in the home she has inherited. The reasons why become immediately apparent. No sooner has Jane moved in than strange things start occurring. Doors slam on their own, noises emanate from the attic and cellar and she believes she catches glimpses of her aunt watching her. In the glorious tradition of "women in haunted houses" films, Jane doesn't do the sensible thing and move out. Rather, she convinces herself there is a logical explanation. However, the nightmarish scenario moves outside of the house and Jane (who inevitably finds herself driving at night on back country roads) is terrified by a mysterious hearse that tries to run her off the road. She later learns that the secret may relate to her aunt's past. In reading her diaries, Jane is shocked to find that her aunt was once a shy, conservative woman who was planning on marrying a preacher. However, she fell under the spell of a sexually perverted man and ended up becoming practicing the black mass with him. The two devil worshipers were killed in an accident but the hearse carrying their bodies was also destroyed in a bizarre twist of fate and their bodies were never found. Despite the increasing threats on her life, Jane remains determined to stay in the house and seeks solace from a new man in her life, the handsome Tom Sullivan (David Gautreaux), who is so creepy he practically sprouts horns and fangs, but Jane never catches on. The film presents every cliche of the genre including a heroine who uses candles and flashlights to investigate things that go bump in the night. (There may have been a reference to an old Indian burial ground, too, but I could have missed it.) There are some genuinely creepy scenes but long-time editor George Bowers (who made his directorial debut with this film) can't figure out how to milk any suspense from the overall weather-beaten scenario. The film is best in the early scenes when Jane is haunted by relatively mundane occurrences. By the time the movie reaches its climax, Bowers resorts to an "everything but the kitchen sink" formula that throws in exorcisms and car chases. The premise of a demonic automobile should have been sent to the cinematic junk yard after the unintentionally hilarious The Car (1977). The Hearse isn't as bad as all that, thanks to fine performances by Van Devere and Cotten, but it falls short of its overall potential. It makes for passable entertainment, but in the aggregate, it's pretty much stuck in neutral. The DVD contains an introduction by scream queen Katarina Leigh Waters and there is an audio interview with screenwriter Bill Bleich. The original trailer is also included.
Blood of Dracula's Castle is an infamous gem from director Al Adamson, who was so inept he made Ed Wood look like Sir David Lean. The film was shot in 1966 but not released until 1969. Falling squarely into the "so bad it's good" category, the story centers on Glen and Liz (Gene O'Shane and Barbara Bishop) a young couple who are engaged to be married. Glen learns he has inherited a castle in the California desert (!) that belonged to an eccentric uncle. Upon arriving at the castle, they are greeted by George (John Carradine), an erudite but eerie long time butler to the residents of the mansion. They turn out to be the Townsends (Alex D'Arcy and Paula Raymond), a bizarre couple who claim they hold royal titles of Count and Countess. They are distressed to learn that Glen and Liz intend to move into the residence, which means they will have to find a new abode. This makes for a major problem because they are vampires and are quite happy with their present situation, which finds them keeping young women chained to the wall in their dungeon and using them as a source of blood supply. (They feel that biting victims in the neck is a rather quaint way of sustaining immortality when one can indulge in refreshing blood cocktails.) The Townsends extend every courtesy to the young couple who intend to evict them and introduce them to their friend Johnny (Robert Dix), who is actually an escaped convict who gets murderous urges whenever there is a full moon. Before long, Glen and Liz are victimized and facing life in the dungeon. Townsend also reveals he is the original Count Dracula, a plot device thrown in merely for marquee value as there is absolutely nothing about him that evokes any of the popular perceptions of the Count. In fact the Townsends are about as threatening as Gomez and Morticia Addams, as they trade witticisms and charm their intended victims with their perpetually jolly outlook on (eternal) life. There is one other resident of the mansion: Mango (Ray Stevens), an Igor-like mute who captures young women for the Townsends and who is periodically rewarded by being allowed to sexually abuse them. The film is a complete disaster on all levels, which makes it fun to watch. The irresistible presence of John Carradine only adds to the fun. The shoddy sets are somewhat offset by the fact that director/producer Adamson found an actual castle-like mansion that was located in the California desert. The film is padded out with chase scenes that are designed to make the clock run out in order to get to an appropriate running time. Adamson's ineptness is part of the film's charm, as is the presence of members of his own stock company who gamely appeared in his numerous low-budget productions. The DVD features Katrarina Leigh Waters interviewing production manager John "Bud" Cordos, who went on to direct his own films, most notably Kingdom of the Spiders. Cordos is an affable guy who relates marvelous stories about his friendships with Adamson and Robert Dix (son of silent screen legend Richard Dix). He states that Dix never played the Wolfman in the film, which may seem erroneous because there is footage of Dix's character turning into the Wolfman. Research shows that this footage was inserted into the film to spice up TV syndication sales and that the actor in the furry rubber mask was not Robert Dix. Thus, Cordos is correct in his statement.
The entire DVD double feature package is very well produced by Scorpion founder Walter Olsen, who goes to extraordinary lengths to give first class treatment to second-class films. Half the fun of watching a Scorpion DVD is indulging in the informative extras, as is demonstrated with this package. This double feature DVD evokes memories of the glorious old days of theatrical double features. Highly recommended for pure kitsch value.
If you think Terrence Mallick makes films infrequently, consider the career of Robin Hardy, who gained acclaim for his direction of the 1973 British horror classic The Wicker Man. In the ensuing decades, Hardy has been associated with precisely three other feature films, all little-seen: as writer of Forbidden Sun (1989), The Wicker Tree (2011, as writer and director) and the 1986 film The Fantasist, which he also wrote and directed. The latter film suffered from a botched release and poor reviews, with the verdict being that Hardy's much-anticipated return to filmmaking was a letdown. Scorpion Releasing has issued The Fantasist on DVD and the movie deserves to be re-evaluated with the passage of time.
The film is set in Ireland and Hardy makes excellent use of both urban and rural locations. Moira Harris (sometimes billed as Moira Sinise nowadays due to her marriage to actor Gary Sinise), an actress who is American by birth, gives an astonishingly convincing performance as a Patricia Teeling, young Irish woman who moves from her family's farm to Dublin in order to break the monotony and pursue a career as a teacher. Urban life agrees with her and she takes out a room in a boarding house. However, Dublin is being terrorized by a serial killer who phones young women and chats with them in a seductive, yet sexually explicit way. Some of these women end up being so intrigued by the mystery man that they invite him to their apartments only to be sexually abused and murdered. Patricia is oblivious to the murders. She befriends a charming American, Danny Sullivan (Timothy Bottoms) who is also a boarder in the house. He's quirky but funny and seems harmless enough- until she overhears him making obscene phone calls. The tension rises when a female boarder in the house falls victim to the serial killer. In panic, Patricia's roommate moves out, leaving her alone with the increasingly creepy Danny. She finds an ally in Dublin Detective McMyler (Christopher Cazenove), who becomes especially welcome when Patricia begins receiving the ominous phone calls herself. In one terrifying incident, she finds herself in the house with the unseen murderer but manages to make a daring escape by crawling atop the roof and climbing down to the ground. The police peg Danny as the prime suspect but they can't find anything but circumstantial evidence so he isn't indicted. A fellow teacher, Robert Foxley (John Cavanagh) also emerges as a suspect. He's also eccentric and carries a torch for Patricia. The film comes to a suspense-filled climax with Patricia finding herself captured by the killer. In a cringe-inducing, sexually explicit sequence, she decides to attempt to save herself by using erotic techniques to disarm her would-be murderer. The film is only compromised by an epilogue set on a ferry that reduces this otherwise superior, intelligent thriller to the level of a typical slasher movie with some over-the-top action straining credibility.
The Fantasist has much to recommend about it. All of the performances are first rate and the identity of the killer will keep viewers guessing right up until he is revealed. Harris is simply superb and the supporting performances are equally first rate. As director and writer, Robin Hardy impresses with this double-duty assignment, eschewing studio shots for making use of actual locations. The film has a cliched scenario but is a far more mature and sophisticated work than most other "women in jeopardy" thrillers.
Scorpion's DVD edition features a first rate transfer and is presented as part of the label's signature Katrina's Nightmare Theatre which means you get an optional, campy introductory segment hosted by former wrestler (!) and B movie sexpot Katarina Leigh Waters. She not only provides plenty of eye candy but also relates some interesting facts about the making of the movie and its undeserved neglect by audiences and critics. The package also contains the original trailer as well as an ample sampling of trailers for other Scorpion releases. The box art seems to be a new creation and doesn't even mention Harris on the credits, which seems patently unfair.
I may be one of the few critics who looks favorably on The Fantasist. It's got plenty of flaws, but its Dublin setting and fine performance by Moira Harris earn it a hearty recommendation.
The Warner Archive has released the 1965 film adaptation of Agatha Christie's oft-filmed Ten Little Indians. It's hard to imagine that the scenario of a disparate group of exotic strangers being summoned to a chateau by a mysterious host once seemed like a fresh concept. Certainly, the concept already had moss on it when this film was made. However, there is something timeless and intriguing about such a story line, primarily because it generally affords a star-studded cast to interact. There are no superstars in this European version of the story, but the movie is packed with wonderful actors. This time around, the individuals are invited to an opulent chalet atop a snow-covered mountain top, accessible only by cable car. (The location is never specified, but the exteriors were filmed in Austria and the interiors were shot in Ireland.) The victims-to-be include square-jawed American hero Hugh O'Brian, sexy Brit Shirley Eaton, fresh frommaking a sensation in Goldfinger, exotic Israeli actress Daliah Lavi, one-time teen idol Fabian, Swiss actor Mario Adorf, German actress Marianne Hoppe and a wonderful array of great British character actors: Wilfred Hyde-White, Leo Genn, Dennis Price and Stanley Holloway. Each of these people has a secret they are hiding and all are accused of being responsible for the death of an innocent person by their unseen "host" Mr. Owen (the voice of an uncredited Christopher Lee). The crisply-photographed B&W production evolves predictably under the competent, if unexciting direction of George Pollock, who had helmed the hit Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford. The film is more serious in tone than those popular mysteries, but there is still a good deal of witty byplay as the diverse people try to find out what secrets their companions are shamefully hiding. The gimmick of murdering them off one by one revolves around the old Ten Little Indians children's rhyme. There are also some decorative figurines of Indian braves that adorn the dining hall and one of them vanishes each time a person is killed. In the time-worn tradition of such thrillers, as the group is reduced in size, they vow to all stay together in the same room. This logical solution to thwarting the murderer among them is dispensed with regularly, as the women saunter off into dark basements and up ominous staircases to investigate strange noises.
The film is curiously lacking in any genuine suspense, but it's glorious to revel in the sight of some legendary British actors trying to upstage and outwit each other in this deadly cat-and- mouse game. The film is consistently entertaining and the star power is more impressive today than it was back in the day. The climax of the film is surprising, if a bit of a stretch. It's all accompanied by a hip jazz score by Malcolm Lockyer that sometimes seems a too jaunty and upbeat for a tale revolving around serial murders. For sex appeal, O'Brian gets to walk around shirtless while Eaton has two (count 'em, two) opportunities to strip down to her bra and panties, reminding us why her early retirement from the film industry deprived young men of countless unrealized fantasies.
The Warner Archive burn-to-order DVD is a crisp, clean transfer with only a few minor artifacts evident. There are some nice bonus features including a "Who-dunnit" gimmick that was obviously inserted into some prints of the film before the real murderer is revealed. The angle is worthy of an old William Castle horror flick as bombastic graphics and film clips are used to remind viewers of who was murdered and how they met their demise. The clip challenges them to take this 60 second slot to discuss with other audience members who they feel the culprit is. It's a hokey, but wonderful touch. There are also trailers for this movie and the Miss Marple films, as well. In all, an irresistible treat.
Click here to view original trailer and to order from the Warner Archive.
The Warner Archive has released That Hagen Girl as a burn-to-order DVD title. The 1947 soap opera stars Shirley Temple as Mary Hagen, a high school girl who is socially ostracized when it is suspected she was born illegitimately. The presumed father is Tom Bates (Ronald Reagan), who twenty years earlier had been romancing the high school prom queen. She suddenly vanished without explanation only to return with her parents and kept in isolation. The rumor mill indicated that she had given birth to a daughter, who was then given to a local childless couple to raise. Tom makes attempts to see his girlfriend but is rebuffed by her strict parents. Eventually Tom moves to another town but returns many years later when he inherits a house in his hometown. Now a successful lawyer, the handsome Tom turns heads even as the rumors resume over his presumed status as Mary's real father. Tom is unaware of the "scandal" and ironically ends up befriending young Mary and acting as her mentor. He later realizes that his presence in town has reignited the unsavory rumors that have haunted Mary since her birth. Her only real friend is Julia Kane, a young teacher who tries to stop the bullying of Mary by fellow students and school officials, who single her out as too undesirable to play the lead in the school play. Ultimately, Tom takes a bold stand to defend his presumed daughter- and in the process informs her of some very surprising facts about her heritage.
That Hagen Girl is predictably corny by today's standards, with even the wildest teenagers dressed in suits and ties and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm-style dresses. A product of the era, I suppose. Nevertheless, it's hard not to find much of the goings-on unintentionally funny. Yet, the film does manage to pack a punch in terms of being among the first such movies to denounce bullying and illustrating its devastating impact on the sense of self-worth of those who are victimized by it. The seemingly bold subject matter of out-of-wedlock birth becomes somewhat watered down in the conclusion, but the movie remains an enjoyable and engrossing experience thanks to the considerable star power of Reagan and Temple, who segued rather nicely from child star to respected adult actress. Reagan is his usual stalwart self. If there wasn't an Oscar-worthy performance lodged within him, it can be said he was a far better actor than most of his future political opponents would ever concede. Lois Maxwell is particularly impressive and won a Golden Globe as most promising newcomer for her performance. (She would become beloved by movie fans worldwide as James Bond's original Miss Moneypenny.)
The DVD features a fine transfer and includes an original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to watch a preview clip
Some of the most inspired special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases are coming from independent, niche-market labels that afford certain film titles the kind of grandeur that would never be afforded them by major studios. Case in point: Synapse Films, which routinely releases first rate special editions of "B" movies, cult films and obscure foreign imports (often with an erotic edge). The most impressive Synapse release I've seen to date is their Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the 1971 Hammer horror film Twins of Evil. The movie is rather notorious for representing a kinky penchant for shocking violence and a marketing campaign that implied an on-screen lesbian relationship between Playboy models (and real-life twin sisters) Madelaine and Mary Collinson. (In reality, there are no such scenes in the film.) The story is centered in a rural European village during the 17th century. The townspeople are in awe of a local nobleman named Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), a handsome but evil young man who uses his absolute power to indulge in a penchant for practicing witchcraft and seducing local girls to visit his castle where he seduces them into a life of sexual deviancy. Karnstein also has a penchant for killing off certain virgins for pleasure and selecting specific women to fall victim to his secret powers as a vampire. Karnstein's crimes results in the formation of The Brotherhood, a local group of puritan vigilantes headed by Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), a religious zealot who is also a self-appointed witch hunter. The local women have as much to fear from him as they do from Karnstein, as The Brotherhood routinely accuses young girls of being in league with the vampire. This results in them being burned at the stake in order to have their souls redeemed. In short, this ain't a great place to live if you're a single woman. Into this hellish situation come Gustav's nieces, Freida and Maria (Madelaine and Mary Collinson), two recently orphaned teenagers who must now reside with their uncle. Upon being warned about Karnstein's nefarious activities, Maria chooses to be vigilant but the more daring Freida is intrigued by stories of sexual perversion and orgies. She secretly visits Karnstein, who seduces her and turns her into his vampire lover. He convinces her to assume the identity of her sister so that Mary is convicted of murder and is sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Twins of Evil came at a time when Hammer Films were struggling to maintain the audiences they had built in the previous decade. By 1971, seemingly every studio had made an attempt to emulate Hammer's success. The result was that there was a sea of imitators and the Hammer brand became in danger of imitating the imitators. The studio decided to rely more and more on nudity and overt violence, often at the expense of storylines and character development. Although this film is part of that exploitation campaign, it ranks with the better Hammer efforts of the period thanks to a good script, intelligent direction by John Hough and an impressive performance by Peter Cushing, as one of the least sympathetic heroes he ever portrayed. Damien Thomas was being groomed as the next Christopher Lee, with the intention of being a reliable leading man for Hammer. Although he makes a compelling villain, stardom was not on the horizon for him. The Collinson twins (both dubbed for their roles) provide plenty of eye candy, but the nudity that is overtly exploited in the publicity photos is somewhat fleeting. Twins of Evil is one of the gorier Hammer films, but it also remains one of the most compelling. It ranks alongside the other two great witch hunting-themed films of the era, The Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan's Claw.
Synapse Films has presented Twins of Evil as a truly outstanding Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The extras are to die for, if you'll pardon the pun. These include a superb documentary about the making of the film that is almost feature length. Directed and produced by Daniel Griffith, this is a fairly expensive extravagance for a niche market DVD company. The fascinating documentary is titled The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil and features a very informative overview of the Hammer vampire trilogy that derived from the classic 19th century vampire novel Carmilla that introduced lesbianism into the genre. (The first two films were The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire.) The documentary includes interesting insights from a wealth of Hammer and cult movie experts including director Joe Dante, director John Hough, Sir Christopher Frayling, film critic Kim Newman and publisher Tim Lucas. It's even more entertaining if you are not well-versed in Hammer lore. Other extras include a featurette that covers a private collection of Hammer film props, a stills gallery, TV spots and trailers, an isolated music and effects track and a deleted scene that absurdly presents teenage girls singing a 1970's-style love song.
In all, a great release from Synapse Films, a company that continues to impress us with their zeal for paying tribute to often overlooked and underrated films.
One hates to get sociological or philosophical about a lightweight sex farce like How to Save a Marriage (and Ruin Your Life), a 1968 trifle that nonetheless boasts an impressive cast: Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Eli Wallach and real-life wife Anne Jackson, Jack Albertson and Betty Field. However, the premise of the movie is so distinctly distasteful that it is sure to offend any self-respecting modern woman as well as any male who isn't still walking about clad in animal skins and clutching a club. The film, which is now available as part of Sony's burn-to-order DVD line, has a value that is more anthropological than comical. Wallach plays Harry Hunter, a successful New York business executive who is unhappily married to an attractive but shrewish wife (Katharine Bard). He finds solace by keeping a mistress, Muriel Laszlo (Anne Jackson) in an opulent apartment. His frequent visits there are as much therapeutic as they are sexual, with Muriel happily gearing her entire existence toward pleasing her man. She fawns over him, makes no demands, and pampers him constantly. When Harry brags to his best friend and fellow executive Dave Sloane (Dean Martin) about the joys of having a dedicated mistress, Dave sets out to test his theory about her never straying into the arms of another man. (One of the more cynical aspects of the script is that "kept women" are supposed to be completely loyal to their married sugar daddies). However, Dave mistakes another woman for Harry's mistress: Carol Corman (Stella Stevens), an attractive young sales girl in the corporation. When he observes her social behavior with other men, he assumes he has proof that Harry's "other woman" is cheating on him. To get further evidence, he decides to prove he can seduce her. Dave romances Carol and ends up renting her a luxury apartment right next door to Harry's real mistress, Muriel. It seems the apartment building is basically a classy bordello that houses numerous girlfriends of married rich men. In the film's most amusing scenario, Dave finds Carol understandably receptive to his sexual advances (after all, he looks a lot like Dean Martin.) Dave, however, can't take his "investigation" to the point of actually bedding the woman he thinks Harry really loves. There are some funny scenes in which Dave has to find a way to explain why he isn't eager to jump into bed with Stevens, who saunters about clad in a low-cut nightgown with a pouty look of sexual frustration on her face. He concocts a scenario whereby he explains that he is a widower whose beloved, late wife made him promise to never make love to another woman. It's a sign of the times that in 1968 you could plausibly present a plot scenario in which Carol still readily agrees to live with Dave, quit her job and devote her entire life to pleasing him. Naturally, complications ensue and she discovers she has been lied to. The script presents "liberated women" as those scorned mistresses who band together in order to force their sugar daddies to give them legally binding pension plans to get them through their later years, when they will have been discarded in favor of younger women. It's enough to give Gloria Steinem heartburn.
You don't have to be a knee-jerk liberal to wince at the entire tasteless scenario of this film. Not helping matters is director Fielder Cook's insistence that the always-watchable Wallach play his role in an "over-the-top" manner that is only matched by Betty Field's equally hysterical portrayal of an older, scorned mistress looking to wage war on all males. Usually, one doesn't analyze the production design in a romantic urban comedy, but it bears mentioning that, aside from a few second unit shots in New York City, there is absolutely nothing that suggests the look or feel of the city. A sequence showing the exterior of Dave Sloane's private club looks more like London than Gotham and the film has a rather cheesy feel to it, given the abundance of interiors. On the positive side, Martin and Stevens exude some real chemistry and there are a few scattered laughs. However, for the most part, this is a laborious exercise that celebrates an era in which women's fates were tied to dependency on the man in their lives.
The DVD presents a crisp, clean transfer but there are no extras.
Most Google searches for “Chiller,” the
five-installment horror series originally broadcast in the mid-90s on Britain’s
ITV will turn up a lot of forums where fans ask: “Does anyone else remember
being scared by this show?”
Like many old horror movies, the fright it inspired
after stumbling upon the program probably sticks in the mind more than the
episodes themselves. But while “Chiller” may not be the pinnacle of scary
story-telling, it often stands the test of time. Part of the reason: Forsaking
the trappings of cheap surprises or over-the-top gore of many horror projects
on a smaller budget, each episode builds on a single creepy or supernatural
The plots are your standard horror staples: spirits
brought back from the underworld, demonic children, haunted houses, etc. Most
are summoned through the typical tropes as well. (Pro tip: Reading ancient
inscriptions outloud with a group of carousing friends has never led to
anything good.) Although there’s not much here that hasn’t been done elsewhere,
there’s something comforting about the nostalgia of made-for-TV horror.
The special effects are limited and the sets throughout
the British countryside are both quaint and creepy. And the acting carries the
sotries. The talent assembled for the episodes includes many prolific British
actors. (John McEnery, Nigel Havers, John Simm, Sophie Ward and more all star
One can easily imagine catching one of these programs
late at night after everyone else has gone to bed and having more than a few
sleepless nights. The Synapse Films DVD print is clean, although somewhat
bare-bones: Five episodes on two discs with no special features (to be fair,
there was little demand for behind-the-scenes making-of documentaries on a
short-run TV show in the 1990s).
Whether you’re looking to see if the program stands up
to your memories or looking for a taste of horror that plays more on the mind
than the senses, “Chiller” passes the test of a creepy good time.
SFX guru Dennis Muren says, during one of
the interviews in Ray Harryhausen:
Special Effects Titan, that today special effects are no longer special. Audiences expect them, and are
no longer impressed by them. This wasn't the case back in the 50s and 60s when
master animator Ray Harryhausen was breaking new ground and entertaining
audiences the world over. That said, Harryhausen's work was right for the time,
but would not stand up with audiences not familiar with his work today. They
have come to expect the impossible, and that's what CGI almost delivers.
However, the difference between Harryhausen's creations and today's computer
generated creatures is that the latter were animated objects. They were 'real'
and as dimensional as the actors who worked alongside the. Tangible objects
that had a life of their own. Today they may seem dated, but they have far more
character than a CGI effect, which is no better than watching a computer game.
This brilliant 2-disc documentary covers the
remarkable career of the movie industry's most admired and influential special
effects auteur. A man who inspired the likes of Spielberg, Dante, Landis
Cameron and Jackson, who in their own words admit it was Harryhausen who
inspired them to become movie makers. Loaded with clips, trailers, rare test
footage, props as they are today, and even home movies from Harryhausen's
immense collection, this is a documentary to die for. Miss it at your peril.
(Note: this review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release. It has not yet been released in the North American market).