Alien 2: On Earth 1980 ***

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Ciro Ippolito’s cheeky horror film is a rip-off rather than a sequel to Ridley Scott’s benchmark sci-fi horror, but it’s got a certain charm. Made in a brief moment before Fox copyrighted the Alien brand, Alien 2 sets a very different tone; a montage of scenes showing how the mechanism of a bowling alley operates, or a plaintive country and western song over footage of dustbowl California. After a noodling opening capturing such inessential scenes, Alien 2 eventually focuses on a group of potholers encountering a deadly alien life-form. Alien 2 mimics the action of the original in a cheaper setting, but there’s some imagination behind the effects, with Maria Bava involved in the process. The final scenes, in which pot-holers escape to find a deserted world, have a certain dreamlike quality, and the whole package, while laughable in comparison to Scott’s film, is pretty much compulsive viewing for lovers of Italian Eurotrash.

Winter Kills 1979 *****

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William Richert’s adaptation of Richard Condon’s novel has a reputation of a lost gem; after a disastrous shoot and release in 1979, Richert managed to acquire the rights and create a director’s cut of the political thriller, and it’s this version that’s popped up on Amazon Prime. A dark fantasy on the lines of The Manchurian Candidate, Winter Kills is a fiction with a clear basis in fact; the assassination of US president John F Kennedy is never mentioned, but it’s clear that’s the subject. Jeff Bridges plays Nick, the half brother of the late President Keegan, and Nick follows a trail of breadcrumbs in the hope of finding out who wanted his bother dead. This starts with a man who has just fallen from an oil-rig, and makes a deathbed confession that leads Nick to a hidden rifle that was used to kill the president. Nick’s investigation immediately leads to a massacre, and Nick returns home for help from his billionaire father (John Huston). The production difficulties on Winter Kills would make a film in themselves (or at least the 40 minute doc Who Killed Winter Kills) with producers imprisoned for marijuana offences and even murdered, and the production shut down several times. Even by today’s standards, Winter Kills is pretty daring in its roman a clef of American politics, and there’s some great cameos from Elizabeth Taylor, Eli Wallach and Sterling Hayden as a tank-loving maverick. Huston is a bit much as Pa, but most of the elements of Winter Kills have matured over the years, making it something of a must-see movie for anyone who hasn’t heard of it.

 

The Ghoul 1975 ***

the-ghoul-1975-largeBack in the 1980’s, the BBC’s late night horror double bills on Saturdays used to pull in substantial ratings; a black and white primer followed by a full-on colour horror film from the 70’s. The Ghoul was one of the featured films, and pops up now on Amazon Prime like a wine that’s been wasting in the cellar for forty years. The second film of Tyburn Film productions, it reteams Hammer veteran director Freddie Francis and star Peter Cushing, but the attitude and method is quite different from the Kensington Gore methods of the British studio. Instead, The Ghoul mines a strangely esoteric brand of horror fiction, with allusions to India via Gwen Watford as Ayah, the housekeeper to Cushing’s retired minister Dr Lawrence. It’s implied that Lawrence’s son was converted to cannibalism during a trip to Asia, and when a foursome of 1920’s flappers break down during a London to Brighton road race, the son (Don Henderson) is out for blood and more. The Ghoul is a glacially slow horror film, and the pay-off (Henderson in a tunic) must be one of the least exciting ever. But Cushing and John Hurt as his servant Bill both strike sparks, and The Ghoul is a more literate film than it’s benighted reputation suggests.

 

Garlic and Gunpowder 2018 ***

The kind of B movie which seem to be turning up on Amazon with some frequency, Garlic and Gunpowder is a minor noir that owes some debt to Quentin Tarantino; casting figures like Michael Madsen and Vivian A Fox from Kill Bill makes that influence explicit, and Martin Kove from Cagney and Lacey also takes a ribbing here with regards to his tv pedigree. But all of the name actors take second place to a hit-man story set in ‘Big City’ where Steven Chase and James Duvall tangle with bob boss Ma (Felissa Rose). There’s a clown as well, and a well-worked gag about using gunpowder to create an explosion when a case is opened. Co-writer and director Harrison Smith doesn’t quite manage to pull the elements together in a breakout fashion, but Garlic and Gunpowder is better than it’s non-existent reputation deserves; at the time of writing, it’s scored no IMDB critics reviews at all.

Butterfly 1982 ***

971full-butterfly-(1982)-screenshotWhether it’s true or not, the story that Pia Zadora’s husband flew the entire Hollywood Press Association to Vegas to hear his wife perform is a classic tale of industry hubris; it’s not clear who the joke is on, since Zadora is indeed the proud possessor of a Golden Globe award for best newcomer. And while her thriller with Telly Savalas, Fake-Out as its adherents, Zadora’s attempt at a big industry splash was Butterfly, now in 1080p and Amazon Prime so that a new generation can be mesmerised by its weirdness. An adaptation of a 1947 James M Cain novel, Zadora plays Kady, a teenage sex-pot who turns up at the mine of widowed Jess Tyler (Stacy Keach). After some provocative behaviour, Jess marries Kady, Butterfly offers the random kind of talent that money can by, including Orson Welles, Edward Albert and Ed McMahon, and there’s an Ennio Morricone score to boot. Writer/director Matt Cimber’s film was a laughing stock in 1982, and it’s still risible now, but there’s fascination in watching these ageing big names circle a famously flighty ingénue.

 

Beyond The Door 1974 ***

Horror fans may feel there’s plenty of good reasons to catch Beyond The Door; a massive his in 1975, Ovidio G Assantis’s film has been hard to see since; Warner Brothers sued, according to Wikipedia, successfully, claiming that the film was a rip-off of The Exorcist. It’s one possible reason why the film has so many titles (Devil Within Her, Sperm of the Antichrist), but given that Beyond The Door is not very similar to Friedkin’s classic horror at all, it’s hard to see how Warners won the case. Juliet Mills is the young mother who has a new baby on the way. Richard Johnson is Dimitri, a Satanist who is haunting her dreams and her everyday reality, and may know the truth about where her child comes from. Beyond The Door uses San Francisco locations with some skill, and has a very powerful shock moments, one involving toys coming to life. The opening narration, by the Devil, of course, is pretty chintzy, but there’s plenty for genre connoisseurs to enjoy.

Weekend Murders 1970 ***

weekendmurders5Where do Amazon Prime get these films? Even the most rigorous cineaste must frown and shrug their shoulders at entries like 1970’s Weekend Murders. Of course, it’s a hidden gem, a engagingly daft country-house murder mystery in the Italian Giallo style but filmed in the UK. Directed my Michele Lopo, best knows for his gladiator flicks, Weekend Murders features some distinguished British actors, including Richard Caldicot (The Navy Lark) and Ballard Berkley, instantly recognisable as the Major from Fawlty Towers. The investigative team is an odd-couple pairing matching The Godfather’s burly Gaston Moschine with Lance Percival, and turning the tables by making Percival the smart one of the two. Somerlyton Hall in Suffolk looks great, the mystery is confusing but fun to resolve, and the dubbing is all over the place; Also known as The Story of Crime, Weekend Murders manages to rein in typical giallo sex and gore, and the result is something of a hoot from start to finish.