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BELLADONNA OF SADNESS

  • RELEASE DATE: Coming Soon from Cinelicious Pics
  • WRITTEN BY: Yoshiyuki Fukuda, Jules Michelet (novel), Eiichi Yamamoto
  • DIRECTED BY: Eiichi Yamamoto
  • STARRING: Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsuyuki Itô, Aiko Nagayama

When I heard about Cinelicious Pics’ plans to restore and release the long lost 1973 anime BELLADONNA OF SADNESS, I was well and truly excited. I’m a huge aficionado of 70s-era anime, and this baby has been a “holy grail” of sorts for folks like me for a good many years — much desired but damn near impossible to obtain. So that being said, and with those expectations set freakin’ sky high, let’s see if ol’ BELLADONNA was worth the wait or will it just fill me with sadness of my own!

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS, based loosely (and by that I mean hardly at all) on the French novel La Sorcière by Jules Michelet, tells the brutal tale of Jeanne, a young woman recently betrothed to Jean. Huh, that doesn’t sound brutal at all, does it? Well when Jean travels to the castle to offer the king a tribute to bless their marriage things go rather south, rather fast. Ya see, the King and Queen think said tithe is rather s—t, so they take Jeanne and F her up six ways to Sunday… sexually. Well, Jean is understandably depressed by this turn of events, and Jeanne cannot convince him that things will ever be ok again. Enter a penis-shaped demon (real subtle there) who promises her vengeance in exchange for her body. What follows is a tripped out, ultra-artsy fartsy descent into revenge and all out lasciviousness!

Now as the above description clues you in, this film has some hard material to get through… and lord does it ever, the end result is nothing short of breathtaking. Starting off with almost no movement at all save for various pans, the film is filled to bursting with opulent watercolor landscapes and figures that look as though they would be at home in a Medieval tapestry. As the flick progresses, so too does the style as garish dream sequences mix with more traditional animation and back to the exquisite look of the first half of the film. It’s hypnotic, daring, and absolutely drop dead gorgeous.

Normally this is the part where I would say “if you liked such and such, then you’ll love this”, but for this one I simply cannot do that. There is nothing like BELLADONNA OF SADNESS. If you are prepared to be challenged by a film while simultaneously surrendering your senses to it completely; then see BELLADONNA OF SADNESS as soon as you can!

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 HIRED TO KILL

  • RELEASE DATE: Available Now on Blu-ray + DVD Combo
  • WRITTEN BY: Fred Perry, Kirk Ellis, Nico Mastorakis
  • DIRECTED BY: Nico Mastorakis, Peter Rader
  • STARRING: Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy

Remember my legendary reviews (well to me at least) of ISLAND OF DEATH and THE ZERO BOYS? Well, the mad mother behind those flicks was unbelievably given the chance to die-rect another flick (hey, it was the early 90s, there was still enough residual coke from the 80s hanging about for a million poor decisions), and I’m fixin’ to lay my putrid peepers upon it. So, buckle up buckaroo ‘cuz here comes HIRED TO KILL!

Brian Thompson (the villain in roughly 4,567 films shot between 1984 and 1995) stars as mercenary Frank Ryan, the only dude who can rescue a rebel leader held in hostile territory. Naturally he poses as a fashion photographer, as anyone would, for this deadly death-filled mission. Of course this  gives him the advantage of leading a ragtag group of deadly, yet oh so beautiful women straight into danger at every turn (and to assure this film meets the federally regulated “Maximum Boobage” protocol mandated to all low budget genre films produced in the 80s and 90s). Tacky fashions, offensive derogatory terms, nipple threatenings, and unreasonable amounts of explosions ensue. There’s also a training montage featuring machine guns, push-ups, mousse, fashion posing, Oliver Reed, and cosmetics. I may have just fallen hopelessly in love with this film. Oh, and there are muscle-bound phone answerings, escalator riding, more fashion posing, sweaty sex-having, and of course preposterous mustaches. You also get roughly 5 minutes of Jose Ferrer.

While not as flat-out offensive and insane as ISLAND OF DEATH or as ludicrous as THE ZERO BOYS, HIRED TO KILL is still a ton of (incredibly dated) fun. To me it played out like the ultimate 80s (I know it came out in 1990, but that’s close enough) action flick… all evil dictators, covert missions, titillation, and explosions, not to mention it’s scored like a random episode of The A-Team and shares that show’s bloodless action.

Now, I’m sure you’ve decided on whether this slice of awesome is to your taste or not based on the paragraphs previous, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the extras those devilish devils at Arrow Video have included in this package (‘cuz these kinds of goodies sway some of you cats one way or the other): besides the pretty sharp 2K restoration of the film itself, you get a commentary by the film’s editor Barry Zetlin, interviews with Mastorakis (who is his normal self-effacing and entertaining self, although he does have a tragic tale to relate during his piece) and Thompson (also an affable fellow even when reiterating said tragedy), stills, and a trailer. All-in-all, not too shabby!

If you love your action topped off with more cheese than a bathtub of Velveeta, then HIRED TO KILL will be your grand buffet! It’s fast paced, loaded with eye-candy for both sexes, and features way too many explosions (ok, there are never too many explosions). A fun time for all… as long as you dig Oliver Reed and murderous fashion models, but who doesn’t?

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ELSTREE 1976

  • RELEASE DATE: In Select Theaters Now, Available June 28th on DVD
  • WRITTEN BY: Jon Spira
  • DIRECTED BY: Jon Spira
  • STARRING: Paul Blake, Jeremy Bulloch, John Chapman

Here’s a unique one for ya, creeps: a new doc detailin’ what it’s like to be part of what is surely the largest part of all of our geekly obsessions, the mighty STAR WARS. Now, mind you I didn’t say a large part, but a part nevertheless.

So, as you may have surmised, ELSTREE 1976 focuses primarily on those bit players (with a few notable exceptions) that filled up the scenery and added a li’l population to that galaxy far, far away. The spotlight gets turned upon all of your favs — the Stormtrooper that banged his head on that damn blast door, the dude that gave the other space jockeys their orders as they strafed the Death Star, random alien girl from the cantina, rebel pilot at base, and that other all-time superstar, rebel soldier who stood in the background during the medal ceremony. You also hear from David Prowse (Darth-baby himself), Jeremy Bulloch (Fett sans his Vett), and the dudes that played Greedo and Biggs Darklighter.

Now before you get all “what on Yavin could those yahoos have to say that would be interesting?”, let me tell you, they have plenty of s—t to say, and mostly all of it is really fascinating! Things start off a bit slowly (mainly because you know the STAR WARS goods are a-comin’) as each interview subject (minus Bulloch who comes in a bit later in the flick oddly enough) details where they were professionally in the years before they got swept up in the Lucas maelstrom. But before long we are deep into the thing we came here for — namely anecdotes about the making of STAR WARS that we haven’t heard 4,567 times (the same ol’ s—t from the principles and film makers). These are candid anecdotes from folks that were sort of left to their own devices for the most part and could experience the behind-the-scenes goings-on without all of the star treatment that your Han Solos and Luke Skywalkers received (minus maybe Prowse… but trust me, once we get to the life post-SW segments he definitely is as much an outsider as some of the other folks interviewed).

By far the greatest element of the film is the above mentioned post STAR WARS experiences these folks have had, especially in regards to the convention circuit. You wouldn’t think there would be an epic battle to rival those seen in the film played out among the various “celebs” as they argue about the worthiness of being at a con if you never even uttered a word in the film. It’s a stunning display of high school drama that has to be seen to be believed.

I really enjoyed ELSTREE 1976, and if you dig STAR WARS, have any delusions/ambitions of being a genre flick superstar, or want to hear tales that ring with equal parts pride and quite regret; then this is the film for you!

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EVIL SOULS

  • RELEASE DATE: Available Now on DVD
  • WRITTEN BY: Roberto del Piccolo
  • DIRECTED BY: Maurizio del Piccolo, Roberto del Piccolo
  • STARRING: Julian Boote, Peter Cosgrove, Holli Dillon

You know what I could go for? Why, a psycho-sexual torture porn with a dude in a Slipknot mask, ‘natch. I mean who couldn’t, really? Well, thank Satan, ‘cuz here comes ol’ EVIL SOULS to scratch that particular itch. Oh, wait; I meant “couldn’t” go for…

Well whether I wanted it or not (and we’ll get back to that shortly), I watched EVIL SOULS, so I reckon I better give you creeps the lowdown on the plot and all that. Two childhood chums, Jess and Susan, find themselves chained to a wall in a ramshackle dungeon (as friends so often do) after their boys end up as milk carton fodder. Who could be behind such hijinks? Why none other than master class sicko Valentine, a sadistic psycho (with a touch of the Gothic about him… well, that and a De Sade fetish) who has plans to involve the ladies (as well as Valentine’s prostitute sister Maddie) in an evil ritual. Its 92 minutes of blood, babes, and bad guys… and torture…

As readers of this column well know, torture porn flicks aren’t really my bag, and EVIL SOULS has all the ear marks of that unfortunate sub-genre (girls chained up in a makeshift dungeon and all). So right from the start I knew this was going to be a tough sell for me; and in that regard, it is. On the other hand there are the pulpy occultist over-tones that always strike my fancy, which this film also has in generous quantities. So we stand at a 50/50 split. But there is an element that tips this film more towards the “recommend” for me, and that’s Peter Cosgrove as the evil Valentine. Holy hell is this dude freakin’ “on”. He single handedly makes the film enjoyable and is a really great (and over-the-top) theatrical villain. I want more of this character, just in a less predictable environment.

If you don’t mind people getting abused in a myriad of seedy ways, then EVIL SOULS may be a great choice for an evening’s viewings, especially if you additionally dig on the more sleazy Euro-horror offerings such as Franco’s De Sade inspired films or MARK OF THE DEVIL it’s sadistic and satanic in equal measure.

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ARACHNICIDE

  • RELEASE DATE: Available Now on DVD
  • WRITTEN BY: Paolo Bertola
  • DIRECTED BY: Paolo Bertola
  • STARRING: Gino Barzacchi, Gabriel Cash, Riccardo Serventi Longhi

Here comes a dose of two things you don’t see much of these days (and as far as I can recall never together): giant spider films and Italian-produced horror (my good friends at Necrostorm notwithstanding). Well, someone done put that chocolate in that peanut butter, so let’s see if it’s a taste sensation or a mouthful (well, eyeful more accurately) of spider s—t.

ARACHNICIDE spins a heady web of sense-tingling action as a brilliant researcher invents a process to accelerate plant and animal growth (what could possibly go wrong?). The catch? Well, said scientific breakthrough is controlled by a seedy criminal element that uses it to speed up their illegal drug growings. Enter the L9 Commandos who bust up those no-goodniks’ operation with the quickness. They then head to Albania and fight an assload of giant spiders. Academy Awards all around.

C’mon folks, you know going into something like this exactly what you are going to get: 90 minutes of big, dumb, ultra-fun shenanigans that are a complete throwback to 50s drive-in flicks, right down to the big bad bugs and dodgy science… and baby, this has it all in spades.

If there is a negative, it is that the film makers had to use CG to bring their creatures to life, and on a budget like the one afforded to ARACHNICIDE, that isn’t really the best of choices. Look, they tried hard, but what I wouldn’t give to have had the whole kit and caboodle packed to the nines with full on bargain basement giant spiders (ala the all-time classic THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION), as I feel it would have really made the whole thing an over-the-top gem.

All of that aside, ARACHNICIDE is a good ‘un; it’s got action and monsters in equal measure, and it certainly isn’t boring. I say pour out a double, kick back, and let the fun of this one crawl all over ya!

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VENOM

  • RELEASE DATE: Available May 31st on Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack
  • WRITTEN BY: Robert Carrington
  • DIRECTED BY: Piers Haggard
  • STARRING: Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed (2nd appearance this column!), Nicol Williamson, Susan George, Sterling Hayden

See the first two names (with an honorable mention to Mr. Hayden) in that list of actors directly above this sentence? Well, this gaggle of garrulous gents will ensure that even though this film deals with a deadly snake on a rampage, the one thing in the most danger of suffering a bite is the scenery. Well, a bite doesn’t quite cover it… let’s try non-stop mother F’n chewing to a preposterous degree… yeah, that’s better. Anyway, here comes ol’ VENOM!

When a horny maid (George), a psychopath of a chauffeur (Reed, with his moustache in a co-starring role), and an international terrorist (Kinski, who looks like he’s about to fill-in for Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour) attempt to kidnap a richy-rich tyke out of his London townhouse, things go south faster than the second week grosses of ISHTAR (too soon?). Why do things get screwed six ways to Sunday, you may ask? Well, the aforementioned chauffer blows away a cop in broad daylight right in front of the townhouse (in unintentionally hilariously sped up action) for starters. But, would you believe that isn’t the biggest obstacle in their way? No sir, the main hiccup in this half-assed plan is the inclusion of a deadly black mamba snake (that found its way to the townhouse via a pet store f—k up… as is so often the case) that gets loose in the house and gets (understandably) bitey.

What can I say about VENOM? It’s basically a slasher/old dark house flick that replaces the standard murderous psycho with a reptile. And while we are talking about that snake, there is a ton of fun to be had in guessing where it could be hiding and who will suffer its venomous barbs next. This adds to a heady atmosphere of growing tension that is rounded off by acting that is beyond entertaining. If there’s a negative to be had, I guess I’d say that if you look at the art featured on the cover of this flick and didn’t bother to read the description of the film on the back, you’d be sad to find there are no confused women in heels and lingerie battling overly joyful giant snake monsters. You’d also be a complete idiot for buying a film without having a single clue what it was about.

So the flick is fun and all, but what about the extras? Well; you get the usual suspects — trailers, photo galleries, TV spots, et. al. Also included is commentary with the flick’s die-rector Piers Haggard (filled with anecdotes of the flick’s stars). Additionally the release comes with a really cool collectable booklet featuring prose from the poison pen of Fango’s Michael Gingold.

So there you have it — VENOM is a fun lil’ thriller with more ham on display than your local butcher shop. A welcome addition to the horror collection of both animals run amok flicks and stalk and slay films!

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Before I slither back to my coffin, I gotta tell ya about the new release from Werewolves in Siberia titled Slasher. Spread out over 4 retro-synth tunes, the Slasher E.P. serves as a soundtrack to a stalk n’ slay flick from the 80s that doesn’t exist… and believe me creeps, its pitch F’n perfect! You may as well head right here and grab a copy for yourself (you can name your price for it as well… perfect for all you cheap bastards that frequent my column!), ‘cuz believe you me, you need this in your (after)life… oh, and tell ‘em XIII sent ya!

Also, I recently had the chance to have a brief convo with SCREAM – THE TV SERIES‘ (available now on DVD by the wayCarlson Young!

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Famous Monsters. How did you come to be involved with SCREAM, and what was the experience like for ya?

Carlson Young. Well, I heard about the project and auditioned. I was so excited they were making the franchise into a TV series — especially because there are so many cool things going on in the TV-scape now. SCREAM is/has been an amazing experience. It’s a really fun story to build.

FM. Were you a fan of the SCREAM flicks going into the series?

CY. Absolutely. The movies are so iconic.

FM. Where do you see good ol’ Brooke headed in Season 2?

CY. Brooke goes through a ton in Season 2. She’s ever growing as a character. I think she’s in a really interesting place as of now… constantly adapting to her surroundings and unfortunate situations.

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FM. Along the same lines as being a fan of SCREAM, how do you feel about the horror biz in general? Do you have any particular favorite flicks in the genre?

CY. I love the horror genre. I especially love some of the quieter indie ones as of late: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, IT FOLLOWS, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. There are some really amazing films being made in this genre right now.

FM. Where can we keep up with your future projects?

CY. Follow my Instagram (@carlsonyoung) and my Twitter (@followcarlson), I post updates there all the time! Definitely stay tuned for Season 2 of Scream — it’s going to be a great one!

FM. Fangs, Carlson!

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