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April Blood Showers: The Month In Cult Film & Horror DVDs
Josh Saco , April 11th, 2012 05:05

Presenting the first in a semi-regular column by Cigarette Burns Cinema founder Josh Saco, home testing the latest cult film and horror releases on DVD and Blu-ray. Still from A Horrible Way To Die

Let's wander back to the mean streets of New York City in 1980. Lost, lonely men meander through the gloom, unable to sit comfortably in their cramped apartments. Sick of another night in some dive bar, they hit the pavement, shuffling past one cinema after another. Neon distorts the shadows, where the true dregs lurk. Inside those heavy double doors on 42nd Street were films like Don't Go In The House. Sleazy films, produced with suspect funds, helmed by creators who were happy (or not) to grind out their art. Made for the aforementioned lost souls, these features flickered to life and whirred away otherwise useless hours. Director Joseph Ellison did little else afterwards, though one has to wonder why, since Don't Go In The House is a fantastically effective little chunk of unsettling cinema. If Hitchcock had been a fan of lowbrow sleaze, this is what Psycho would have been. Dan Grimaldi, better known as Patsy from The Sopranos, stars as the awkward Donny whose domineering mother has just died, leaving him a bit lost, confused and terribly troubled. He takes out his frustrations on any and every woman who crosses his path. Locking them in his fireproof room, he tests their flammability. Sadly relegated to Arrow Video's secondary label, ArrowDrome, Don't Go In The House gets its first digital release and a much deserved upgrade from tired old VHS. Short on the extras, but heavy on the burning inferno, it also boasts the finest random disco scene in cinematic history.

Issued by Anchor Bay, Adam Wingard's dark and brooding A Horrible Way To Die (2010) falls into the recently overlooked serial killer genre, twisting things by focusing on a killer's ex-girlfriend turned prosecution witness. She is struggling to leave behind the nastiest chapter in her life, attending AA meetings and plodding through the day-to-day of her job. Things begin to look up when she meets a new man - all the while unaware that her vicious, calculated and bloodthirsty ex has escaped from prison, and is chewing his way through life and countryside to get back to her. The performances are solid throughout. AJ Bowen shines as a sociopathic murderer, while Amy Seimetz convinces as his his former lover, both hardened and injured. As calculated as the killer and foggy as memory, A Horrible Way To Die offers a refreshing take on a seemingly dead genre: slow-paced, with almost a dreamlike feel and only facial hair as the clearest indication of time. We watch and cringe, waiting for these two worlds to collide. A film about love, loss, hope and addiction, like life it's ultimately much more rewarding than you expect it to be.

Completed in 2009 and now given a UK release by Trinity, German director Matthias Olof Eich's Break is a tale of four female friends who take a weekend... break. Off to the woods they go, and it doesn't come as much of a surprise when they rather swiftly get chopped up by a pair of human-hunting hillbillies. The most interesting thing about this is the amount of effort that has gone into making it appear as though the story is taking place in North America. Everyone has quite thick German accents, but they drink Coca-Cola, read USA Today, drive cars with American license plates and hang the Stars and Stripes outside their homes. As a fan of lowbrow cinema, one can forgive many things. Let's be honest, it's pretty much a requirement. But somehow this element doesn't settle well. There's enough effort put into the characters that a few simple script changes would have made all the difference. Bizarre directorial decisions aside, Break offers plenty of toe-curling gore and a strong enough female cast to evoke comparisons to The Descent.

The Deadly Spawn (1983, directed by Douglas McKeown) enters the DVD player as a certified cult classic rightfully renowned for its monsters, which would make Forrest J Ackerman proud. Conceived during the height of the alien invasion fascination, it sees a meteor crash into the hillside of a small town, unleashing nasty leach-like critters who are more than a bit hungry and - surprise surprise - prefer human flesh over Chinese takeaway. Fear not earthlings, we have creature feature aficionado Charles to keep us safe! A young boy who dreams of being a special effects artist is the only thing between his squealing older brother and the titular terror. Shot on 16mm and limited to a 4:3 aspect ratio, this Arrow Video title still manages to look great and is chock full of extras, commentary and all the goodies you expect from a proper release. But sadly, even at a mere 81 minutes The Deadly Spawn is a deadly bore (boom boom tish). The first half revolves primarily around confirming that people have conveniently left notes saying they are away for the day. Only they aren't - they are dead in the cellar, getting ready for a psychologists convention and vegetarian dinner party for grannies. Riveting this is not. When the spawn come on screen, you start to see why this movie was made, namely in order to include these things in something, anything. Other skills are simply not required here. Acting? Pshht. Plot? Get real. We have Deadly Spawn! And indeed they do. As a testament to how good the creatures are, it would seem that no one beyond the special effects director ever went on to do anything again. The final scene, once emergency services have cleared all the bodies and talked a bit more, nearly makes the wait worth it, but The Deadly Spawn leaves the DVD player unlikely to return.

Arrow releases the hounds with the long-awaited and much-hyped Demons 1 & 2. They hit the streets in limited edition SteelBooks before being made available as standard Blu-rays and DVDs. Produced and penned by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava, son of supreme master Mario, Demons is about as pedigree as Italian horror gets. You'd think this was going to deliver from the off: a group of people are invited to a mysterious screening in a previously abandoned West Berlin cinema, unaware that the film they are about to watch will invoke a demonic plague, reaching out beyond the confines of those velvet curtains. Unfortunately by 1985 Argento was starting to look for straws, and Mario died before he could pass on too much magic to Lamberto. Renowned for its heavy metal soundtrack (featuring Saxon, Billy Idol and Claudio Simonetti) as much as its incredibly effective practical special effects, the picture's real success is a seamless transition between the film within a film and the 'real' onscreen action. After the first half it starts to wander, unsure of what it's doing, as trapped in a room as its protagonists, only without the added excitement of actual demons. While this movie is certainly close to many people's hearts, one has to wonder when was the last time they actually saw it.

The following year's sequel explodes out of a TV screen and into a tower block. Utilising some of the same cast members, we can either assume that Demons 2 is operating in a parallel universe, or not be bothered by all that and just enjoy a film which takes itself less seriously than the first. The effects jump up a notch and overall it's the better of the pair in my mind, more interested in just being fun. Arrow have, as ever, assembled a fantastic package complete with director's commentaries and everyone's favourite talking head Luigi Cozzi, opining about his Top Ten horror films and Mario Bava. Both transfers blow the previously available Anchor Bay versions out of the water. And where Don't Go In The House scores for that random disco scene, Demons is worth it just for the single most random appearance of a helicopter, ever. Demons 2 packs in blind demons, flying demons and chest-bursting child demons. This is pure golden schlock.

Raro Video have dropped the mother lode with their four title Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection Blu-ray box set. The classic Milano Calibro 9 stars Gastone Moschin, Mario Adorf and Barbara Bouchet in one of Italy's best '70s action films. Moschin plays Ugo Piazza, a small time hood just released from prison who finds himself stuck back in the game as he tries to convince the police, the Mafia and his nasty ex-partner that he doesn't have the money they are all after. The Italian Connection (aka Manhunt, 1972) boasts arguably Mario Adorf's shining moment as a light-hearted hood being hunted down by two American hitmen, played by Henry Silva and Woody Strode. Il Boss (1973), the weakest and most political of the set, once again features Silva, this time ensnared in a the middle of a gang war. The collection is completed by the spectacular Rulers Of The City (aka Mister Scarface, 1976), which follows another gang war and stars Jack Palance in one of his nastiest roles. Each disc adds documentaries and the choice of English subs or dubs, while the accompanying booklet comes with an exclusive, 20 page interview with Di Leo. These look and sound great. You'd be hard pressed to find a better introduction to EuroCrime.

Josh Saco is the demon behind Cigarette Burns Cinema. He hosts regular London screenings of cult classics and choice obscurities (using the original 35mm prints whenever possible).