THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE WHIP & THE BODY
by Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain
Amidst the cultural wave of boutique Blu-ray labels, Italian terror titan Mario Bava’s work has perhaps been best served, with superior, often extras-packed editions of his gloriously distinctive shock popping up on a regular basis. This year alone has been particularly rich release-wise, with robust deluxe packages of his long-lost crime potboiler RABID DOGS, the ALIEN-inspiring PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, and a striking limited edition of his magnum opus BLACK SUNDAY hitting shelves either side of the pond; a fitting way to celebrate what would have been the maestro’s centenary. And now two more can join the party: his 1963 double whammy of THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE WHIP & THE BODY, let loose by the UK’s Arrow Video and Odeon Entertainment, respectively.
With a luxurious wealth of Bava goodness to their name already – the aforementioned RABID DOGS and BLACK SUNDAY, and Bava’s third 1963 offering, the Boris Karloff-starring portmanteau BLACK SABBATH – Arrow’s GIRL is yet another impressive string to the companies bow. The quality of the film’s presentation is top-end: Though not quite free from the odd scratch and occasional frame movement, by and large the 2K HD master lovingly struck from the film’s fine grain interpositive – and, partially, internegative – is incredibly pleasing on the eye.
As well as porting over the three key special features from Anchor Bay’s solid 2007 boxset – Bava biographer Tim Lucas’ scholary commentary; a nice nine minute interview with co-star John Saxon; and Italian horror expert Alan Jones’ breezy introduction – Arrow also throw the snappy ‘All About the Girl’ featurette into the supplementary mix; a twenty minute or so appreciation of the film featuring Jones, and filmmakers Richard Stanley (robo-killer thriller HARDWARE) and Luigi Cozzi (goofy Video Nasty CONTAMINATION). Better still, however, is their inclusion of the equally nicely mastered alternative American cut of the film, retitled EVIL EYE by distributor AIP. Despite being just as entertaining, EVIL EYE is, of course, no match for Bava’s intended Italian language version; even if the director himself was unsatisfied with the end result.
THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is a fluffy murder mystery; a Hitch-cocktail of suspense, thrills and gallows humour as a young tourist (Letícia Román) finds herself at the centre of a decade old set of serial killings. And though, as Bava once exclaimed, it’s wholly preposterous, as a technical masterclass it’s unbeatable; a sumptuously shot pulse-pounder, with Bava’s prowling camera and innovative accent on slick, macabre and violent imagery laying the groundwork for the myriad of gialli that would follow – a genre Bava himself would refine the next year with BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and later re-work with slasher progenitor A BAY OF BLOOD.
With THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH being widely acknowledged as the first giallo, as author Troy Howarth suggests in his insightful liner notes for Odeon’s THE WHIP & THE BODY, WHIP too could belong to that genre with its overt luridness and mystery-themed narrative. Regardless, Odeon finally gives the film the love it deserves following years of showing up on TV in a washed out, soulless full screen print. The HD clarity is nothing short of astounding, perfect for what is, again, one of Bava’s most beautifully lensed films; from the familiar Anzio-based coastal sequences, to the lush, shadowy textures of the castle interior; dripping with atmosphere and melodrama.
Often – incorrectly – criticized for its supposed languid pacing, really it is here where Bava truly excels, delivering a slow-burning escalation of terror as the ghost of a sadistic nobleman (the immortal Christopher Lee) terrorises his family following his death. With cast and crew all credited with English pseudonyms, the film betrays producer-led aspirations of fitting alongside the gothic vogue of Hammer and the Corman-Poe cycle; Bava, however, may well have surpassed them all.
Just as he did on Arrow’s GIRL, Tim Lucas is present for Odeon’s talk-track duties, the Video Watchdog editor having re-recorded his commentary from VCI’s fourteen year old region 0 NTSC disc in the wake of his knowledge expanding friendship with the film’s lead, Daliah Lavi. It’s another typically comprehensive and rewarding listen. Elsewhere, Odeon have included an engaging and detailed twenty-two minute overview of the film by film historian Jonathan Rigby, and a leisurely forty-five minute conversation with Lee, taken from the the ‘British Legends of Stage & Screen’ series. It may not be quite as lavish as Arrow’s GIRL, but Odeon’s WHIP is every bit as vital for students of spaghetti scares and connoisseurs of charismatic classic horror.
Snap ‘em up.
THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH DELIRIUM REVIEW 8/10
THE WHIP & THE BODY DELIRIUM REVIEW 8/10
by Dave Wain
Sheridan Le Fanu, the famed Irish author of Gothic tales and mystery stories first published Carmilla in 1871. This tale of a lustful female vampire predated Bram Stoker’s Dracula by just over a quarter of a century, and Stoker’s tale certainly displays a multitude of similarities to hint at a degree of influence being had from Le Fanu’s story. In the celluloid universe Dracula has of course been adapted a myriad of times, Carmilla less so – Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR and Roger Vadim’s ET MOURIR DE PLAISIR being two notable film versions, but it was with Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS that Carmilla would perhaps receive its most faithful retelling.
Making her Hammer debut is Ingrid Pitt who plays the seductive Marcilla Karnstein. Finding herself in the care of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) and his family in Styria, Austria, Marcilla becomes close to the General’s niece, Laura (Pippa Steel). This bond is short-lived however when Laura experiences a slow death plagued with prolonged sickness. Marcilla, leaving the scene of this tragedy adopts the alias ‘Carmilla’ and settles into a new abode, this time at the home of Mr. Morton (George Cole) whose daughter Emma (Madeline Smith) she grows close to and ultimately seduces. Such nefarious behaviour arouses suspicion in the household, but with the addition of an accomplice in Madame Perrodot (Kate O’Mara), Carmilla becomes a seemingly unstoppable threat.
The beginning of the 1970s accelerated what was already becoming a new dawn in the world of European horror. With the emergence of such iconic directors as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Jess Franco as well as the Naschy / Klimovsky collaborations, Hammer were in danger of being classed as a relic of days gone by. Therefore the introduction of the Karnstein Trilogy of films which would continue with LUST FOR A VAMPIRE the following year and then TWINS OF EVIL the year after proved that Hammer were able to move with the times – albeit at the risk of alienating a portion of their fanbase due to these pictures overt sexuality.
It would be very easy to cast aside THE VAMPIRE LOVERS as simply a desperate attempt by Hammer to remain relevant, but in actual fact it’s a classy picture which with its literature based narrative it easily lifts the film into the upper echelons of Hammer’s cannon; its eroticism defining the film as a watershed moment in the studios history. Despite the appearance of both Cushing and George Cole, it’s Ingrid Pitt who makes THE VAMPIRE LOVERS such a worthy movie – and she crucially offers a performance with depth and nuance that far exceeds the simple ‘buxom beauty’ moniker that she’s often predictably labelled with.
If you’re in possession of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS from last year then Final Cut’s edition may seem of little interest to you. Admittedly a double dip would be excessive, and that Roy Ward Baker / Ingrid Pitt / Tudor Gates commentary on Scream’s disc is hard to beat, but Final Cut have certainly put together a tempting package. There’s a new commentary here with respected genre authors Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby which offers a more scholarly analysis of the feature as opposed to the reminiscing nature of Scream’s edition. We also get a new 25 minute documentary entitled ‘New Blood: Hammer Enters the 70s’ which features a slew of well-informed talking heads and a peek inside an archive at De Montfort University in Leicester, England where Hammer have donated a wealth of material chronicling their history.
DELIRIUM REVIEW: 8/10
Come and celebrate the release of DELIRIUM #5 at Dark Delicacies in Burbank! Meet Lin Shaye, Tom Holland, Tim Sullivan (who will be simultaneously be celebrating the launch of TNT PRESENTS), Barbara Magnolfi, David Gregory, David DeCoteau, writers David Del Valle and Jason Bene and many, many more! Details to follow! Live webcast from the event! Celebs will sign DELIRIUM mags for FREE!
Stay tuned for the FULL guest list!
Spanish filmmaker Victor (VAMPYRES) Matellano’s new gothic gorefest WAX is a humdinger of an indie horror film, riffing on classic shockers like Andre de Toth’s HOUSE OF WAX while echoing the gloriously exploitative films of the Spanish horror boom of the 1970’s. In its cast are the immortal Eurohorror superstar Jack Taylor, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD legend Lone Fleming and the voice of the late, great Paul Naschy, in what is his final credited screen appearance.
Full Moon and Wizard Video will release this terrifying and gruesome Spanish chiller (shot it English) on December 18th on DVD (the film had a preview last month via FullMoonStreaming.com) and it will be packed with special features, including making of documenatry and behind the scenes footage.
But before they do, DELIRIUM has 5 copies of the flick to giveaway to some lucky readers who live for Spanish horror.
To win, email email@example.com with the words I WANT WAX! in the subject line.
Winners will be chosen at random. Good luck!
To order your own copy of WAX today visit www.FullMoonDirect.com
By Amy Seidman
If you’ve ever griped about the fault in the latest film festival you attended and thought “Why don’t I create my own? Why not? How hard can it be?” Well, my friend, prepare to have your eyes opened. Sit back, grab yourself a glass of your favorite plonk, and let this 88 minute documentary be your guide.
CELLULOID HORROR follows the trials and tribulations of now legendary writer Kier-La Janisse, the tireless organizer, founder and festival programmer (“and she’s one person!” exclaims a newscaster) of CineMuerte, Canada’s first International Horror Film Festival.
The horrors of Kier-La’s rocky upbringing cleverly coexist with scenes drawn from the films she has screened at the festival that sadly mirror her own life. So what drives this unflagging tough as nails woman? The answer: Anyone starting up a festival has to possess those qualities. You have to eat, sleep and breathe the task, and this film documents just that.
An interesting aspect of CELLULOID HORROR is the support Janisse receives from the founders of competing festivals. From their points of view, Kier-La is a director with an unwavering passion and knowledge of the genre. More than that, she is thick skinned and fully capable of absorbing the hits that taking on an endeavor as big as this one is. They offer assistance in any way possible instead of seeing her work as a threat to their own festivals. In addition to the help provided by other festival organizers along the road to bringing CineMuerte to life, she receives support from friends, volunteers, and her husband as well.
By her own estimation, it costs about 25,000 dollars a year to run CineMuerte, so you may wonder how she funds it? My favorite of her funding tactics has to be the “Torture Garden, which tests a fan’s ability to sit through 12 hours of horror films that Kier-La describes as “truly fucked up.” Starting with a 20 dollar cover (which goes to funding the festival), the rate drops with each hour that you stay, and ends at 5 dollars if you survive that long. Her film selection is, in general, not for the faint of heart as proven by the woman who left crying or the man who LITERALLY fainted twice after watching Cannibal Holocaust.
Looking at the clips, the documentary can also read as a horror “greatest hits” package. If you are a fan of Udo Kier or Jean Rollin and need your fix, this film will cure what ails you. Udo Kier is truly Kier-La and the festival’s biggest cheerleader. Udo uses every press event as an opportunity to plug the fest and question why there is such a lack of support for it. From finding a place for Jean Rollin to get dialysis in Vancouver to separating from her husband, this film is an inspiring and at times rocky ride.
Now, on to the bonus material…
The first and quite unique special feature of note is actually not in the film at all but in its packaging. Using the technology normally associated with singing birthday cards, just opening the DVD case for CELLULOID HORROR will freak you out when you are greeted by Udo Kier’s voice saying ”Where is Kier-La? I’m going to kill her.” It certainly scared the shit out of me when I first opened it, and had the same impact when I pranked the super-stoned couch surfer crashing in my apartment. It’s a great promotional idea, and you too can amuse yourself by playing the game with unsuspecting friends. When your targets open the box act as if you don’t hear Udo Kier’s voice, and using your finest patronizing tone ask about what drugs they’re blasted on, and as a capper ask them to lie down while you get them water and they reflect on their mental state.
Next is director Ashley Fester’s commentary. Among many anecdotes about the construction of the film, she thoughtfully discusses the accompanying music by Max Mueller that sets the background ambience for the film rather than dominating it. Fester touches on the lengthy process of getting the rights to use clips in the film which was of particular interest to me inasmuch as the film is loaded with them. She also uses the opportunity to thank the unsung heros of the film and all those that made it possible.
Additionally, there are Q&A’s for “Squirm” and with Udo Kier, deleted scenes and plenty of footage not included in the film. Real bang for your buck with this one.
While CELLULOID HORROR is a great tribute to Kier-La and to CineMuerte, it also provides a great resource for films you may not have seen. So if you’re dreaming about your own movie festival, and mimicking a small business start-up like the CineMuerte festival truly was? Well, then, stop daydreaming and prepare to put yourself deep in debt, risk alienating your friends and family, and all for the love of exposing people to films they may otherwise not be able to see. With a little luck you may, just MAY make it in the film fest business.
A final word: Check out this doc, and when you get a chance take a walk off the beaten path of Hollywood blockbusters, and recognize your local film fest by honoring it with your presence. And while you’re at it, how about offering a glass of the aforementioned plonk to a stressed-out organizer. As much as we all love horror flicks, it’s a tough racket.
Go to www.BreedProductions.com to order CELLULOID HORROR today.
DELIRIUM Review 9/10
By Jerry Smith
As far as zombie films go, if you’ve seen one, you’ve just about seen them all. With the exception of the original trilogy from Romero, a Fulci film or two and various other horror auteurs who have given breaths of fresh air into the zombie film subgenre, the flesh-eating undead have slowly crept through enough movies to fill the Grand Canyon, and very few do anything daring or unique. Ken Wiederhorn’s 1977 film SHOCK WAVES (aka DEATH CORPS) is not only that breath of fresh air that so many other zombie films fail at providing, but it’s just a damned good horror film in general, and the subject of Blue Underground’s newest HD release.
Beginning its tale with the finding of Rose (Brooke Adams from the 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), a dehydrated sole survivor of a mysterious attack, SHOCK WAVES establishes a mystery of wanting to know what happened, before providing an explanation that is truly one of the most original takes on the zombie film of all time. While aboard a small (and run down) commercial boat filled with a few other passengers, Rose and the others become stranded after a series of events, with everything from the ship’s captain (the late John Carradine) being less of leader and more of a grumpy old man, to engine failure and to top it all off, a massive (and somewhat invisible) ship causing them to wreck their boat.
When the morning approaches, and the gang discovers the captain’s dead body floating through the water, it’s obvious that danger is soon coming. When the stranded passengers discover an old hotel, inhabited only by a recluse (played by Van Helsing himself, Peter Cushing), with a Nazi flag hung nearby. Almost directly after coming into contact with the reclusive old man, a group of undead Nazi zombies rise from the deep waters, murdering the passengers in interesting ways.
What sets SHOCK WAVES so far apart from every other zombie film, is how original it is, with its undead being so very different than any other take on the filmic ghoul. These zombies aren’t interested in flesh or brains and walking at a slow pace, they’re methodical and cunning, slowly stalking their prey before rising from the waters and taking the individual out. Eerie stuff…
The HD transfer is exactly what one would hope it to be, cleaned up, but not to excessively. It looks great in HD, but there’s still that grain and “film” look to it, making for a viewing experience that feels authentic. As far as supplemental material goes, there’s an impressive amount of new interviews with everyone from producer/cinematographer Reuben Trane, to stars Adams and Luke Halpin to Composer Richard Einhorn. Blue Underground never skimps on their releases, and SHOCK WAVES is yet another great release from them and is, in this critic’s opinion, an exceptional treatment of one of the five best zombie films of all time.
DELIRIUM REVIEW: 8/10
By James Bickert
Exploitation film enthusiast, essayist and GOREZONE scribe James Bickert (DEAR GOD, NO!) came to us recently with a rock video that fell onto his radar helmed by his friend, director Video Rahim. He wanted to help spread the grim gospel about this stunning clip and asked if DELIRIUM would be the vessel to do so.
Who are we to refuse James Bickert?
See below! And hide the kids!
Director: Video Rahim
From the filmmaker:
The first time I saw Gunpowder Gray live was at the infamous Star Bar in Little 5 Points, in Atlanta, and it was one of their first shows. The drummer for the band is Joey O’Brien, who is also the drummer for the Biters. We’ve worked together before on music videos. When I saw them play this hard rockin’ show it reminded me of some of my favorite rock bands from the past. Immediately concluding the set I turned to my producer and said, “I want to shoot a music video for them.”
About eight months or so later, I received a call from Chris Heffernan (guitar and backing vocals) that Gunpowder Gray wanted to shoot their first music video and was interested in collaborating. We kicked ideas around for a few weeks, until we thought we had a concept. However, just days before we were set to shoot, I had a vision. The band naturally dressed in hard rock attire that reminded me of the 80’s cult classic vampire film Lost Boys. I called the band and told them about a rough concept based on the Lost Boys movie. It took the band less than 30 seconds to agree that we had to adjust the treatment to fit this new creative. The guys in the band were all fans of horror films, and Lost Boys was one of their favorites.
We knew we wanted Shane Morton (Your Pretty Face is Going To Hell, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse) to collaborate with us on this project. Shane was the perfect fit. We knew he’d love the music and create the perfect special effects and makeup to compliment a throwback 80’s vampire music video. I had worked with Shane on a Biters music video inspired by John Carpenters “They Live” which has now been accepted to 7 film festival across the US. Shane created the visual style of the vampire look and choreographed all the kills that took place in the video. Having Shane and his special effects team on set allowed us to take the video to the next level, creating a blood soaked, vampire feast truly fitting of the song.
By Jerry Smith
To call Bruno Mattei’s HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (aka-NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, VIRUS and ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH) a guilty pleasure would be the understatement of the year. It’s in NO way a “good” movie. It’s incoherent at times, full of confusing actions by its characters and is easily one of the worst of the Italian zombie films that followed the craze set forth by George A. Romero’s 1978 classic, DAWN OF THE DEAD.
With that said, and with its warts and all, it’s impossible to say that the film is not one entertaining train wreck to watch, a film so full of randomness and blood, that you find yourself as a viewer completely enthralled by what’s playing out in front of you. With its story of a military experiment called the “Hope Project” gone horribly wrong, setting the undead loose on the world, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD is a film that revels in its absurdity, showcasing everything from zombies chewing on peoples’ necks to one odd sequence in which a group of soldiers stumble upon a couple of journalists before coming across a tribal village. Having “Spent a year studying the tribe”, the female journalist does what anyone would do in that situation: strips completely naked, paints her breasts and acts like a tribal member. It is choices like those that make the film so odd, yet when the zombie action hits, you find yourself enthralled EVERY SINGLE TIME, no matter how absurd the rest of the film is. I dare anyone watching the film for the first time, to act like they saw the end of the film coming, with it giving gore fans one of the most unexpected yet welcomed death scenes in ages.
The disc’s transfer itself looks absolutely great though, as Blue Underground always does such an excellent job bringing these cult favorites into the digital age, with wonderful looking HD transfers, as well as some entertaining interviews with various people involved.
Where the double feature REALLY stands out, is the second Mattei film in the set, the 1984 rodents vs. post-apocalyptic bikers feature, RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR. If HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD is the sillier and more absurd of the two, RATS is exactly what it sounds like it would be: an extremely entertaining film, full of memorable characters, sequences and some gnarly effects to boot.
Involving a gang of bikers (including DEMONS star Geretta Geretta, see DELIRIUM #3 for a full interview) coming across a seemingly empty village and discovering that not only is the village NOT deserted, but that rats have killed its residents and now have their sights on the gang. If battling hundreds of murderous rats wasn’t bad enough, the gang slowly lose their cool and begin to turn on each other as well, leading to a battle of who is truly in charge, something that seems quite silly, when some gnarly rats are wanting to make you into their snack.
RATS is pure entertainment from the beginning to the very end, a film that instantly transports you to the time in which we’d get a steady amount of films involving larger than life plots like that of films like these, a time that has sadly been lost in the genre films that tend to take themselves a bit too seriously these days. Seeing older films like RATS, filled to the brim with larger than life characters and situations puts a smile on my face from ear to ear.
Like HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, RATS: NIGHT OF THE TERROR looks superb, yet another reason that Blue Underground is currently one of the best companies putting out genre favorite films onto brand new Blu-ray HD transfers. With this excellent double feature set and their recent Blu-ray release of Soavi’s STAGEFRIGHT, I can’t wait to see what the folks at Blue Underground have up their sleeve next.
DELIRIUM Review 7/10
by Matty Budrewicz
It’s a wonderful ol’ world when we’re treated to not one but two – TWO! – souped-up special editions of THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN. Just three months after Scream Factory’s cracking, region A-locked disc comes this: Arrow’s UK counterpart of long-time tosh specialist William Sachs’ gloopalicious horror howler. And – as they did last year with Tobe Hooper’s outrageous LIFEFORCE – Britain’s premier boutique label have again taken everything that made Scream Factory’s package so essential and added that extra kicker; this time by including the Super 8 digest version of the film.
Assembled from THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN’s numerous, dubious highlights, this seven minute long, scratty-looking (as per its source material) zinger is a ‘best of’ mini-compilation; the Super 8 digest form itself – as Arrow’s introductory card explains – being one of the earliest available means of screening movies at home. It’s not quite as lavish a bonus as Arrow’s top-notch LIFEFORCE doc Cannon Fodder but, for anyone fascinated with the history of home video or, indeed, any Melting Man die-hards out there, it’s certainly the cherry on an already tasty schlock sundae.
While cynics may argue this massively truncated cut is more preferable, for clag connoisseurs Sachs’ flick remains as endearingly terrible as ever. Conventional criticism cannot be applied to something like THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, and nor should it; it’s a lousy yet ludicrously entertaining Z-grader every bit as wonderfully putrid as the gelatinous face of its eponymous antagonist.
Who’s to blame for such an uproarious farrago is anyone’s guess. The utterly flat script and cack-handed direction may fall at Sachs’ feet but, if his forthright commentary is anything to go by, it’s producers interference that killed the flick outright – well, its chances of being a conventionally passable programmer anyway. Ported from Scream Factory, it’s an excellent natter, with Sachs candidly addressing both his own shortcomings as a filmmaker and his producers refusal to understand the material as he originally conceived it; as a playful, spoofy cross between Atomic Era sci-fi and EC-style comic book shock.
The campy and kitsch influences are definitely there as astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) – radioactive after an accident up in orbit – turns into a murderous, gooey slop, but, as Melting Man make-up maestro Rick Baker suggests in his and Sachs’ great, two-handed twenty minute interview piece (another port), the film’s comedy is more likely due to its technical incompetence and truly awful performances than anything Sachs supposedly intended. Here, Baker is an affable delight as he discusses everything from his reluctance to get involved with the project – originally titled ‘The Ghoul From Outer Space’ – to his own feelings on the film’s surprising longevity.
The AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON FX legend’s gorgeously grotesque work is, of course, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN’s greatest asset, and it looks superb thanks to the MGM-licensed HD transfer; a gloriously film-y eye-popper. You mightn’t, as West says, have seen anything until you’ve seen the sun through the rings of Saturn, but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN in 1080p. Sound is served by a solid 2.0 mono mix and the set is rounded out with the film’s stupendously po-faced trailer, a cool promo gallery and a nifty, UK-exclusive three minute micro-chat with Baker’s then-protege, but now equally revered FX wiz, Greg Cannom.
A damn fine release of a terrifically naff movie; pick it up!
DELIRIUM REVIEW 8/10
DELIRIUM is at the 2014 TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL and will be reviewing new horror and cult films right from the front lines of the festival. Here’s our first entry from critic and writer Cheryl Singleton.
By Cheryl Singleton
As a fan of Richard Bates Jr.’s deliciously disturbing 2012 debut EXCISION, I was anxious to feast my eyes on what would follow. A first taste via the trailer for SUBURBAN GOTHIC did not disappoint. With a super-saturated bubblegum palate, snappy dialogue and a killer cast including Matthew Gray Gubler (CRIMINAL MINDS), Kat Dennings (NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST) and the fan favourite Ray Wise (TWIN PEAKS) I was ready to take another bloody ride with the director.
Having missed the World Premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival back in August, I was delighted to see it would be playing on the opening night of the 9 day Toronto After Dark Film Festival along with Gerard Johnstone’s popular genre mash-up HOUSEBOUND. The two were a perfect pair of oddly hilarious horror films that left a smile on my face for the rest of the night.
While not in the flesh at the screening, Bates Jr. provided a video intro where he warned that this film would be “totally a complete departure from my last movie” Noting that he was unable to get a film made after the graphically disturbing EXCISION, he fell into a depression that led him to revisit things from his childhood that made him happy including watching ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK and SCOOBY DOO cartoons and reading THE HARDY BOYS. With that in mind I was ready to sink into this “children’s film for adults” that he had created.
Unable to find a job in upper management after completing business school, Raymond (Gray Gubler) has no choice but to move back in with his parents in the small town he thought he had escaped years ago. Once an overweight kid obsessed with the supernatural and prone to ghostly visions and high-pitched screams, Raymond has shed the pounds and stopped communicating with the dead, though he remains an outsider thanks to his “European” style of dress and hair that is a character unto itself. Raymond’s parents are split on his return. His mother Eve (Barbara Niven) channels the perfect 50’s housewife and is thrilled to have her little boy back home while his ridiculously bigoted football coach father Donald (Wise) couldn’t be more embarrassed by the arrival of his jobless metro-sexual son.
Bonding with the local bartender Becca (Dennings) over too many drinks, regrettable tattoos and the shared disdain for their town, the snarky pair become fast friends. When Raymond begins to experience strange paranormal occurrences at home (including a particularly cringe worthy piano/ toe nail duet) the two form a misfit ghost hunting team armed with Becca’s trusty crowbar to get to the bottom of it. Gray Gubler and Dennings each bring a crackling energy to the screen which is at its best when they are together. The end of the film suggests more mysteries are in store for the duo and I can only hope to see these explored in some fashion.
While the pace slows at the end of the second act, some secondary characters including the local bullies feel unnecessary and Donald’s prejudices begin to feel a bit heavy, it is not enough to derail the overall fun of the movie.
SUBURBAN GOTHIC is a grown up SCOOBY-DOO mystery complete with characters disguising themselves as ghosts by wearing bed sheets, but by no means is it childish. Between the razor sharp dialogue, the over the top costuming (kudos to designer Anthony Tran), the punk rock energy and the amount of time the characters spend speaking directly into the camera, this film is in your face from start to finish.
EXCISION and SUBURBAN GOTHIC could not be more different yet I was equally enthralled with both. I can’t wait to see what Richard Bates Jr. does next.
DELIRIUM REVIEW: 9/10