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Cleaning house

I will shortly be starting the task of converting the rest of my site over to the new (version 9) format. The heavy work - i.e. the Movies and DVDs sections - is now done, so the rest should be a much more peaceful affair. Still, I’m looking to streamline things a bit, and will be getting rid of the following sections:

  • Gialli and Schitty Movies. I added placeholders for these to the Writings section in 2004 and 2005 respectively, with the assumption that I would have something to show for them before too long. To be honest, it’s simply not going to be possible. I already write reviews for DVD Times on a regular basis, in addition to other external commitments, which means that I simply can’t start to think about maintaining another two review databases.
  • Opinion. This section contains two articles - one on the quality of that fine British television channel ITV2, and another listing things I hate. It hasn’t been updated in over a year, so I see no reason to keep it around.
  • CD Collection. I don’t write music reviews, and I don’t buy CDs on a regular enough basis for this to be worthwhile.
  • Jokes and Funny Quotes. It hasn’t been updated in ages, and most of them aren’t that funny anyway (although I do like the Emma Caulfield one referring to Sarah Michelle Gellar).

Sorry, folks. I know you’ll struggle to cope without them, but we’ll get through it.

 
Posted: Friday, September 22, 2006 at 3:39 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews | Web
 

Satan’s Slave

UK: Norman J. Warren, 1976

As you may remember, back in August I purchased a trio of British horror collections from Anchor Bay, among them The Norman Warren Collection. I put them to one side, because at the time I was knee-deep in the final draft of my dissertation, but now that that’s done and dusted, I decided to take a look, starting with the first film in the Warren box set, Satan’s Slave.

Satan's Slave

After a less than auspicious start, consisting of the generic murder of a generic victim, Satan’s Slave pleasantly surprised me. It’s not masterpiece, to be sure, but it’s a competently-made supernatural horror film with an impressively spooky atmosphere. The plot deals with a young woman, Catherine (Candace Glendenning), who, on the cusp of turning 20, witnesses the fiery death by exploding car (!) of her parents, on the very doorstep of the house of her uncle Alexander (Michael Gough). Kindly Uncle Al takes the bizarelly untraumatised Catherine into the fold, but it soon turns out that he, his wacky son Stephen (Martin Potter) and his secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman) have a sinister ulterior motive in adopting her as their own.

It’s all a bit uneven: the script makes a major bungle by revealing the malicious nature of Alexander and Stephen within the opening ten minutes, and a lot of the dialogue is of a risible standard. The performances are also rather hit and miss, although Candace Glendenning, who seems to have all but disappeared after making this film, makes an appealing and at times resourceful heroine, with her wide eyes and raven hair, while the inimitable Michael Gough makes the most of his distinctive and powerful voice in the role of her malevolent uncle.

Satan's Slave

The film also benefits from some truly impressive cinematography (a grand total of five cameramen are credited, of whom Les Young seems to have been the chief), which makes the English countryside seem like a genuinely haunted place, while John Scott’s score is pleasantly ominous, if a tad hokey. Unfortunately, some of the gore effects are more than a little cringe-worthy: it’s clear that Warren doesn’t know when to hold back, leering over the effects in extreme close-up and revealing just how fake-looking they truly are. This is especially true of the rubbery-looking flesh used for brandings and slicings, while an otherwise well-directed suicide features a lumps of pink-looking putty, presumably signifying the victim’s innards, bulging out of various orifices.

Still, I enjoyed Satan’s Slave. I’ve always had a thing for supernatural horror, especially of the demonic possession variety, and this one is well-executed. It’s rather predictable, and the budgetary constraints are at times all too visible, but it’s a good, solid effort with a palpable sense of dread - which, in a horror film, is almost always the most important feature.

7/10

On a side note, the transfer for this film is pretty shockingly bad. I know it’s old, and low budget, and obscure, and all those things, but really, there’s no excuse for it looking the way it does. Half the time is resembles one of those dodgy camcorded movies.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 6:04 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Eugenie

Spain/West Germany: Jess Franco, 1970

Back in 2003, I happened to see a film by a Spanish director by the name of Jesus “Jess” Franco. The film in question was Justine, and I’m sorry to say I thought it was so bad that I didn’t make it beyond the opening half-hour. This was when my Euro-cult craze was still in its infancy (the only such films I’d seen were around a third of Dario Argento’s catalogue), and I realise that Franco has a rather formidable following among such circles. Therefore, recently, when I was doing a little borrowing and trading with other Euro-cult fanatics, I decided to give Franco another go, with his 1970 film Eugenie.

Eugenie

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Eugenie and Justine are pretty similar films. In addition to sharing a director, a writer/producer (Harry Alan Towers) and a composer (Bruno Nicolai, he of so many gialli), they are both based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade and have a similar narrative theme of an innocent young woman embarking on a series of sexual adventures, many of them sadomasochistic. As such, Eugenie is somewhere between a character drama and an exploitation/porn hybrid, although the fact that it takes itself seriously and places no small amount of emphasis on the narrative means that, as one reviewer put it, it’s as far from a Skinemax flick as you can possibly get.

Be of no doubt, though, that this is far from a classic. Not much of note really happens, and the whole thing seems to come to an abrupt end long before it should. Franco’s attempts to blend fantasy with reality are also not particularly successful, and, to be honest, there’s only so much canoodling and breast-fondling I can take before I start looking for something more substantial. And yet, Eugenie’s technical qualities set it apart from most films of this sort. Franco had a decent (at least by his standards) budget with this film, and you can tell that every penny ended up on the screen. Shot in anamorphic Technovision, it consistently looks sumptuous, making excellent use of the picturesque island location and, in the more hallucinatory sequences, various dye filters. And the final moments, which show the naked, degraded Eugenie stumbling through sand dunes and along deserted country roads, are haunting in their sheer beauty. Unfortunately, a number of scenes are sullied by being so out of focus that I’m amazed Franco never re-shot them.

Eugenie

The film also has an interesting cast, headed by Marie Liljedahl as the young Eugenie who, while not exactly a first-class thespian, is game for anything and handles the character’s innocence well. Her transition from innocent wallflower to sullied damsel never really convinced me, though, as she does little to show any sort of change in her character. The sultry Maria Rohm is also on fine form, and the sheer shock of seeing Christopher Lee in such a dirty picture is well worth the price of admission. (Apparently, he had no idea what sort of film he was appearing in until he saw the final cut, but, looking at the scenes in which he appears, I’m not entirely convinced by this claim.)

In the final analysis, therefore, Franco is a better filmmaker than I previously assumed him to be. The subject matter isn’t really to my liking, but here he clearly demonstrates a decent ability behind the camera if given an appropriate budget. For all its faults, I’m not sorry to have watched it, and I’ll be less hasty to avoid this director’s output in the future.

6/10

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 5:40 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews
 

Movies section completed

Good news, people: a few hours of mundane formatting have paid off, and the Movies section of the site is now up to date. Since midday, I’ve gone through more than 400 entries and manually modified them to conform correctly to the format of the new site layout, which, while hardly the most fun way to spend an afternoon, at least means that it’s now done and dusted.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 4:41 PM
Categories: Cinema | Web
 

Major HD DVD announcements from Warner

HD DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

One of the biggest criticisms levelled against both high definition formats has been the relative lack of “triple-A” movies. This is not in itself particularly surprising, as the studios, always keen to make a buck, have initially been releasing less successful titles in the hope that, given the dearth of available films, AV junkies will buy titles they otherwise wouldn’t consider simply because there isn’t anything else on offer. The run-up to Christmas was always going to be the point at which the studios really kicked into gear, and it seems that Warner, who have been unusually sluggish when announcing new releases (often very close to the release date), have finally decided to kick things up a notch with the following releases on October 10th:

- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971 version)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005 version)
- Corpse Bride
- Batman Begins
- The Polar Express

These titles will be encoded in VC1 at 1080p, with 640 Kbps Dolby Digital-Plus audio. The extras will be the same as those of the standard definition DVD releases, apart from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Batman Begins, which, in addition to the standard definition extras, will both gain an “In-Movie Experience” interactive feature.

Blu-ray

Warner also announced two Blu-ray releases for the same date - Syriana and 16 Blocks, both of which are already available on HD DVD. They too will be using the VC1 format, unlike Sony, who continue to insist on using the outdated and bloated MPEG2. This should mean that image quality will be identical to the HD DVD versions (unless they need to be re-encoded in order to fit on the lower capacity Blu-ray discs), although the higher price tag of $34.99 (versus $28.99 for the HD DVD releases) means that, once again, there is nothing appealing about the Blu-ray versions.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 12:12 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

PS3 games to come with free Blu-ray movies?

Blu-ray

Source: High-Def Digest

Industry insiders are suggesting that Sony will be bundling free Blu-ray movies along with game releases. No, you didn’t read that wrong: they’re not bundling them with the console itself, but along with games. I’m starting to smell the strench of desperation. “Buy Sonic the Hedgehog and get a free copy of the classic Little Man!” as Lyris put it.

On a related note, Engadget is reporting that Warner Home Video have apparently come up with a means of creating a triple format HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD disc. This doesn’t mean that the same data can be read by both players, but rather, much like the HD DVD/DVD combo discs being offered by Warner and Universal for some titles, that multiple differently formatted layers are included. This is certainly an extremely interesting development, but I have to wonder how many studios are likely to pay the licensing costs for three formats, as well as the unavoidable increase in manufacturing costs.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 12:10 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Games | HD DVD | Technology
 

Movies pages underway

The Movies page is now in progress. Because I have almost two years’ worth of viewings archived, I decided to import the data directly from my Blogger account into Movable Type. Of course, like all things weblog-related, none of this is straightforward, and I am extremely grateful to Mark Paschal for his Importing your Blogger weblog to Movable Type step-by-step illustrated tutorial.

Unfortunately, due to some differences in the way the data is handled, it arrived in a bit of a mess at this end. As a result, in order to make the content fit completely with the new template, and to ensure that it is 100% HTML 4.01 Transitional compliant, I’m going to have to go through each post and manually alter the tags. (Too bad there’s no automated means of doing this.) I’ve corrected the posts for the month of September 2006, but everything else is going to need some work. I can’t promise any sort of ETA on this: basically, I’ll do a little bit here and there as time and interest allow.

Update, December 19, 2006 06:39 PM: Fixed dead link.

 
Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006 at 4:24 PM
Categories: Cinema | Web
 

Universal boss takes swipe at Blu-ray

Blu-ray

Source: AV Science Forum

Recently there has been some speculation from the Blu-ray camp that Universal, currently the only one of the big-name studios exclusively committed to HD DVD (as opposed to Paramount and Warner, who release for both formats, and Sony, Disney and Fox, who are currently Blu-ray exclusives), would begin releasing Blu-ray material as well. A comment from Universal Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau, however, has pretty much put the final nail in that coffin:

“The reviews are in and HD DVD is hands down the leader in picture quality, audio experiences and interactive capabilities that have never been seen before,” said Kornblau.

“Look at the blogs, look at the reviews by the early adopters and even look at the mainstream media - HD DVD has maintained its first-to-market advantage and delivered on the promises of providing the best high definition image and sound quality at the best value for consumers today. Take today’s announcement of new players from Toshiba, new PC hardware from Niveus and new titles like ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,’ and add the hardware and movies that are coming this Fall and you can see why HD DVD is poised for a strong holiday.”

Given that, in order to succeed, HD DVD is going to need all the support it can get, this should certainly be welcome news for backers of the format.

 
Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006 at 11:43 AM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 
 

 
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