Monday, February 24, 2020

FRANCO FEBRUARY! THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME (1979)

THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME (1979)

Label: Severin Films
Duration: 99 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Region Code: Region-Free
Video: 1080p HD Wide Screen (1.66:1)
Audio: English, Spanish Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Olivier Mathot, Pierre Taylou



With a staggering filmography of over 200 films to his credit Spanish euro-cult auteur Jess Franco was without a doubt one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time, that why we pay tribute to him every February - the man is a legend! With a film-count that high I will be the first and certainly not the last, to say that the quality of every single one of those films wasn't always of a the highest-caliber. The man made too many films for any one distributor to keep up with, so he was working with different producers and financiers with varying cash-flows through the years, but being the consummate craftsmen he was he did the best he could with what he had, and that's what I love about him, his love and enthusiasm for delightfully artful and awfully sinful cinema, at any price. The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979) is actually the third incarnation of a film that began as Exorcism (1974), a movie that failed to find theatrical distribution so Franco altered it to meet the demand of the current market, the triple-x skin flick market, inserting hardcore sex scenes and marketing it as Sexorcismes (1975). A few years later he went back to the source material, added about twenty-five minutes of new scenes, and released it for a third with a new title. Now surely that's sort of cinematic-chicanery that resulted in Franco's prolific, and sometimes difficult to dissect, catalog of titles. 

In an unusual move Franco himself stars in the film in more than the usual cameo, playing a defrocked man of the cloth named Mathis Vogel, who at the start of the film has just arrived in Paris on the back of a garbage truck. He wanders the early morning streets among the drunks and bums, witnessing a talented drunk walking along while simultaneously pissing on the street, it's sets a melancholic tone right off the bat. Vogel's just been released from the asylum, but he still has plenty of inner-demons, a devout Catholic struggling with the erotic desires fueled by what he considers immoral women. Vogel begins prowling the Paris streets like a modern Jack the Ripper, knife-murdering prostitutes and whores, believing he is absolving them of their sins by taking their lives, an idea similarly explored with a lot less skin in the 80's werewolf film Silver Bullet (1985). 


The devout Catholic still attends church to give confession to a priest (Antonio De Cabo, Devil Hunter) he attended seminary with, a man who chooses not to tell the authorities of the killings because he believes Vogel is a good God-fearing man, the hypocrisy of the church is not at all lost on Franco. The defrocked priest seeks the publisher of the dirty magazine The Dagger and the Garter, (Pierre Taylou, The Hot Nights of Linda), attempting to submit his own dirty tales to the rag. At the meeting Vogel is smitten by publisher's sexy secretary, Anna (Franco-muse Lina Romay, Jack the Ripper), following her back to her apartment, discovering that she's a sinful lesbian that belongs to a satanic cult, inspiring the priest to punish all the sinners to save their souls. 
  While I have not watched the other versions of the film, via the excellent set of extras on this release I was able to get an idea of what's been carried over, what's been added and what's been re-purposed to make this version. The scenes added by Franco are not of sex and murder, an unusual movie for the the euro-cult director. This is a more chaste version of the story - and even then it's not all that chaste - with the added scenes offering more depth to Vogel. On the whole it worked for me, Franco is surprisingly solid as the murderously conflicted priest, being the most substantial role I've seen him in to date. Unfortunately Lina Romany doesn't have a lot to do, more eye-candy than anything else, but even a little Lina Romay is more than enough candy to sooth this sweet-tooth of mine, she's was gorgeous, lust inspiring nymph. Speaking of eye-candy, we get some great locations in Spain and France, but the lensing from Raymond Heil (Cecilia) is not among the best we've seen from Franco in this particular era, but it's still alright. 

The defrocked priest as a sinner-killing lunatic is a nifty idea, even if it's not executed to total perfection, the scenes that were re-purposed aren't quite integrated seamlessly, and I found myself scratching my head more than once trying to figure it all out, but it doesn't completely unravel the film either. Truthfully, it's not that different from any of Franco's other delirious thrillers from the 70's, still luridly entertaining and always strangely satisfying. If you're looking for his worst films I will point you in the direction of either Devil Hunter (1980) and Cannibal Terror (1981), both are trash. 


Audio/Video: The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films, sourced from the only known existing 35mm print of the film. This 4k scan of that theatrical print is rough looking, there are scratches and film damage throughout, some of which is mighty egregious, but they did the best with what they had, and now we have The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979) on Blu-ray, all things considered it's not too shabby. The image displays softness throughout, but the grain is decently managed and there's some detail. Colors are a bit on the cold side and some of the whites look a bit hot, which is something I think goes back to this being derived from a 35mm print, which hampers clarity, the effectiveness of color-grading and other restorative processes.

Onto the audio we get three options: we have dubbed French, English and Spanish DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English subtitles. Overall I think the Spanish track is probably but the strongest of the three in regard to fidelity but all three have issues, including hiss and some distortion, though I still preferred the English track which to my ears had better separation. The score from Daniel White (Barbed Wire Dolls) is a bit flat but adds to the film.


Onto the extras we get plenty of Franco-love beginning with the always reliable Stephen Thrower looking back at the film, nearly as much as I enjoy taking in a new-to-me Franco film is the joy of Thrower waxing on the Franco love, always a thorough and detailed appreciation, going into the three films make from the original film Exorcism (1975) and how that film was re-worked into the x-rated Sexorcismes (1975) with hardcore inserts - which include Franco himself in front of the camera - there's even a clip of him licking the clam! We also get a look back at the Parisian theater Le Brady with former Le Brady projectionist Jacques Thorens who gives a thorough history of the cinema through the years with loads of great pictures to accompany the story, this extra ties into the Franc love fest with various showing of his films in the 70's at the cinema - this is in French with subtitles. There's also a video essay from Franco-expert Robert Monell, plus an interview with Alain Petit who speaks about the three versions of the film, pointing out that Exorcsim (1975) didn't get a theatrical release because at the time porno was in such high demand at the time, thus resulting in distributors demanding a hardcore version, which spawned Sexorcismes (1975).

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a black Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of new artwork, the disc itself features the same artwork.  There's not too much more I could have wanted as far as extras aside from a more pristine transfer of the film, maybe the x-rated version of the film for tits and giggles the way that Severin included the "Hard Banana" version of three-disc limited edition version of The Hot Night of Linda, but otherwise I am very pleased with what they ponied-up for on this release. 

Special Features:
- The Gory Days of Le Brady - Documentary short on the legendary Parisian horror cinema (31 min) HD 
- Stephen Thrower on Sadist of Notre Dame - Interview with the author of "Murderous Passions - The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco." (28 min) HD 
- Selected Scenes Commentary with "I'm In a Jess Franco State of Mind" Webmaster Robert Monell (7 min) HD 
- Treblemakers - Interview with Alain Petit, author of "Jess Franco Ou Les Prosperites Des Bis." (5 min) HD 



Severin Films continue to please with the rare and raw delights of Spanish cult director Jess Franco on Blu-ray, while this is not one of his finest of this era I found the story behind it rather interesting, and the extras thoroughly explore that aspect of the film. On top of that we get Franco himself in a starring role playing a defrocked Catholic psychopath out to punish the impure , which is notable in itself. As usual Franco is an enigmatic and eccentric filmmaker, his movies aren't for everyone, sort of the way Italian cannibal films have a niche audience, so to do the sleaze-dripping films of Jesus Franco. 

KILLER WEEKEND (2018) (Dark Sky Films DVD Review)

   
KILLER WEEKEND (2018)
Label: Dark Sky Films
Region Code: 1
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 84 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.39:1) 
Director: Ben Kent
Cast: Sean Verey, Mark Heap, Danny Kirrane, Ewen MacIntosh


Killer Weekend (2018) is a British comedy about a small group of friends taking their soon-to-be-married mate 
Sam (Sean Verey, EastEnders
on a weekend zombie-paintball survival adventure. They also invite Sam's somewhat uptight soon-to-be-father-in-law Gerald (Mark Heap, Spaced) along hoping they will bond, but it puts a bit of a kink in the planned bachelor getaway. 



They arrive at the remote paintball facility and the games begin, having a bit of a fantasy-battle with the ex-military who seem to take the zombie gig a bit too seriously. Things begin to sideways when one the more overly aggressive zombies-cast catches Sam off-guard in the woods, stumbling to get away Sam accidentally plunging a tree branch right through the guy's guts, seemingly killing him. It turns out he's not dead, just gravely injured, but the most lunkheaded of the friends mistakes the injured guy's moan for help to be the sounds of a re-animated
zombie hungry for brains, instantly plunging his survival knife right through the back of his skull, killing him for real this time.


The panicked idiots group-think what to do  next and decide the best course of action would be to bury the body of the actor in the woods and pretend the whole thing never happened, which they do. These morons can't seem to stay away from trouble though, in short order the group are involved in more accidental homicides, resulting tidy piles of new corpses in need of disposal.


Despite the groups efforts the bodies are discovered by Sgt Marshall (Tim Faraday, EastEnders) and his ex-military crew who set after the paintballers for some not undeserved revenge. The flick is a fun bit of goofiness with an emphasis on laughs without much suspense or fright to back it up. The real show are the Brit-blokes acting-bad and making poor decisions, and even that doesn't come off all that original, but it's an above average time waster. This definitely brought to mind stuff along the lines of Severance (2006) and the backwoods horror-comedy Tucker and  Dale vs Evil (2010), it's not on par with either of those films, but it's a bit better than Doghouse (2009). Killer Weekend (2018)is a fun enough watch, I didn't love it but I didn't hate it,  it's a decent time waster but probably a one and done for me.



Sunday, February 23, 2020

HARPOON (2019) (Black Fawn Blu-ray Review)

HARPOON (2019)
2-Disc special Edition   

Label: Black Fawn Distribution
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 83 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 &amp 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen
Director: Rob Grant
Cast: Christopher Gray, Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra




Director Rob Grant's Harpoon (2019) is a tightly crafted and tension-filled thriller set on the ocean, opening with brutal dust-up between best-friends Jonah (Munro Chambers, Turbo Kid) and the hot-tempered Richard (Christopher Gray, The Mist TV series). The fight is quickly broken-up by Sasha (Emily Tyra, TV's Code Black), the hot-heads girlfriend, and she is also the impenitence for the fisticuffs. Apparently Richard founds texts on Sasha's phone that signaled that she might be cheating with Jonah. She manages to calm him down, explaining that he's misinterpreted the texts, and then presents him with an early birthday gift, an expensive speargun with a mahogany stock, further indicating the text was an exchange about the gift and nothing more.


Embarrassed by his violent actions Richard is set on making it up to his friends, taking them for a spin on his mob-connected family's pleasure yacht, the pun-tastic Naughty Buoy, he even allows his girl and Jonah to have some reparations, giving them each a free shot at him, which they gleefully take him up on, and his girlfriend has a nasty right-hook! With that argument seemingly put to bed they head for the open waters for some sun and fun, but it's not long before Richard's suspicions again get the better of, confronting Jonah with the gifted speargun, after which things quickly spiral out of control.
          

The indie-thriller is a tight three-person chamber piece set a single-location, it does a great job of crafting three distinct personalities with multiple layers, which volleyed my sympathies and allegiances for the trio of characters like a sadistic game of monkey in the middle, all the while ramping up the stakes and ratcheting the tension right up until the very end, it's a wild ride that had me biting my nails literally. 



There is a disembodied fourth character in the film, a narrator Bret Gelman (Stranger Thingswho opens the film playfully exploring the definition of the kinds of friendships, immediately injecting humor into it, but once the film begins it's a tense and wild ride, with a vein of black humor throughout. This narration pops-up throughout the film, always offering a witty observation about the unfolding events, but never overstaying it's welcome, it's pitch-perfect. My hat is off to director Rob Grant (Fake Blood) for scripting a tight thriller that could be executed on a budget but not feel like it's over-stretched beyond it's limitations. There's some creative shortcuts but nothing detracts from the building tension, the characters or the setting, it's a well-crafted bit of suspense that follows a few expected paths but then comes out of left field with more than a few surprises that you won't see coming. That's what made it so stimulating, the wicked streak that propels 
it, and the unexpected turns that will spin your head right around. 



It's not a bloodbath thriller but the gore we do get is potent stuff, some of which got right under my skin, there's a spreading infection that's sets a bit of a countdown element, and the backstabbing venom from all parties involved is truly exquisite. The only tiny niggle I have with it would be I cannot fathom why you would by someone who is prone to violent outbursts a speargun, that's a total bad idea!  



Audio/Video: Harpoon (2019) arrives on DVD & Blu-ray combo from Canadian distributor Black Fawn Distribution. On Blu-ray we get a detailed digitally shot 1080p HD presentation framed in 1.78:1 widescreen. Everything is crisp and vibrantly displayed, fine detail is nicely resolved, the close-ups of faces, clothing textures and gruesome wounds all show pleasing amounts of minutia. 



Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround with optional English subtitles. Both tracks are clean and strong sounding with the 5.1 opening up the atmospherics and the effective score from Michelle Osis (Knuckleball) into the surrounds.     



Black Fawn Distribution offer up a bunch of extras beginning with three audio commentaries from the director and producers, the DP and the colorist, and another with the director high on mushrooms, I kid you not. We also get 5-min B-roll footage and three deleted scenes all with audio director commentary, and a cool 30-min making of that pulls back the curtain to give a peak at how this excellent indie was made. 



The two-disc release comes housed in a standard keepcase with a sleeve of artwork featuring the key artwork with the reveres side featuring an image from the film, both discs feature the same key artwork. The standard slipcover that comes with retail copies features the same art as the wrap, but there is a limited edition slipcover available directly from Black Fawn Distribution, a cool looking retro-VHS  design that has a worn look with a selection of nostalgic video rental stickers on it. On the spine of the limited edition slip we get a the film logo on one side and a hand-scrawled logo on VHS-type sticker label. If you're a slip-junkie this is total catnip. More info on Black Fawn's limited edition offerings for this release can be found can be found below.   



Black Fawn also offers some cool upgrades for the film, it's also available as a special VIP package featuring the film along with cast autographs, plus the limited edition retro slipcase. The limited edition retro-slipcase is also available by itself for  $5.99. These are exclusively available from  Black Fawn Distribution’s on-line store at http://blackfawndistribution.com/store



Special Features:
- Behind The Scenes Making-Of (30 min) 
- Audio Commentary with Director Robert Grant and producers Michael Peterson and Kurtis David Harder
- Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Charles Hamilton and Colorist Brendan Rathbone
- Psychedelic Commentary with Director Robert Grant 
- B-roll Footage of Cast and Crew with Director Commentary (5 min)  
- Three Deleted Scenes with Commentary (4 min) 
- Trailers (3 min) 
- Limited-Edition Retro Slipcase featuring custom artwork only available through Black Fawn Distribution.




Harpoon (2019) is everything I want from a indie-thriller, it's taught and tense, the acting is fantastic, and the humor is pitch black, I loved everything about the film, this comes highly recommended. 


More screenshots from the Blu-ray: