Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Institute of Séance

Following my Rondo post about nominated short movies, Kevin Corcoran, the director of The Institute of Séance, got in touch with me and kindly provided me with a copy of the DVD. When he heard that I was based in Ireland he also made me the guinea pig for the new PAL/Region 2 version of the production that is now available from Createspace and as far as I can see is otherwise identical to the regular NTSC/Region 1 release.

The Institute of Séance is a 10 minute (well, 9+ minutes on Pal) short shot in the style of classic silent movies.

Following the mysterious death of the director of the County Institute of Science a séance is being initiated to determine what really happened.

It would have been easy to make this a silent movie spoof, but despite the fact that the actors do use the exaggerated style of acting associated with this kind of movie, the short is a very loving and appropriate homage to a kind of film making that only a small niche of general film movie lovers now still follow regularly. The imagery is haunting and has followed me more in my mind than most imagery in much lengthier and higher budgeted films these days. In actual fact I got so excited about the concept after watching it that I finally succumbed and followed this up with a screening of the latest (and most complete version) of Metropolis that had so far eluded me. Why I don't watch more silent movies given that I generally like them a lot is beyond me.

The extras include a director's commentary, the feature trailer, storyboard comparisons, production photos and trailers for Cube Zombies and The Cracked Man (that don't exactly have me running out in excitement trying to locate copies). The title cards are available in English, German and Japanese.

I am still in two minds about the $10 charge for what is essentially a bit less than 10 minutes worth of film.

On the one hand that is quite a large per minute charge given that Hammer Horror and Adventure Icons sets are now available for pretty much the same price on DeepDiscount and each feature four classic movies and a number of special features.

On the other hand $10 in the big scheme of things isn't all that much money. If I go out for a pint or three I tend to spend way more in one night and all I get is a lousy hangover whereas here it is possible to at least support some very talented non-professional film makers.

Would I have preferred is this had simply been made available for free (or against a donation) online like a number of other non-professional film productions? Absolutely! I also think that going the fee way may have ultimately cost the film makers a lot of potential audience. Surely, after spending all the time shooting a project like this, they would want people to actually see it.

But given that the film has now been released the way it is, I would say: Go out, support your local sheriff and get a hold of this production if you're in any way interested in silent movie homages. Also go ahead and check out the official website.

First Hammer films on Blu Ray

For the longest time Vampire Circus was only ever available on a Spanish DVD that is now out of print and for all those Hammer fans in the UK/US and elsewhere remained one of the most sought after titles. Now it appears that this film - together with two other equally rare ones (Hands of the Ripper, Twins of Evil) - just may be the first Hammer Horrors to appear on Blu Ray after Synapse acquired the rights to them.

Synapse will also again release Hammer's TV show Hammer House of Horror on regular DVD.

I believe that the Fangoria announcement about this news was the first online one, so this is what they had to say about it:

Fans of Hammer Films’ 1970s outings will rejoice that DVD outfit Synapse Films has acquired the rights to four titles from the library of the classic British horror studio. Among them are three features that have never previously been available on optical disc in the U.S.

Synapse’s Don May Jr. gave us the scoop that they’ve picked up Robert Young’s VAMPIRE CIRCUS, John Hough’s TWINS OF EVIL and Peter Sasdy’s HANDS OF THE RIPPER, along with the classic 13-episode TV series HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR. “We have new high-definition transfers of all three features,” May tells Fango. “Supplement producer Daniel Griffith is working with us on extras, including—so far—interviews with filmmaker and Hammer fan Joe Dante and FLESH AND BLOOD: THE HAMMER HERITAGE OF HORROR writer/director Ted Newsom. Other possible interviews and extras are in the works, including theatrical trailers and TV spots. It’s very possible we will be putting out the three features on Blu-ray as well. If we do, we’ll announce both the DVD and Blu-ray releases at the same time. All 13 episodes of HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR will be released in a DVD boxed set. The plan is to have these available in third quarter 2010.” Keep your eyes here for details as they become available.

Save the Bray studios!!!!

I haven't been writing much for this blog lately as I was busy in real life with my German lessons – and yes, I also teach online (just saying.... just in case LOL) -, with my Massage Therapist course, with other articles for other publications that haven't yet been published and with my favourite activity, traveling. I have just come back from visiting family and friends in Germany and will hop off to San Francisco in a few days. Once back from the States I plan on going back to a more regular publishing schedule. What should help is that I now have a copy of the new ICONS OF SUSPENSE in my hands together with ICONS OF HAMMER HORROR and ADVENTURE sets that I hadn't purchased before. The last two are now available for just about $10 each from DeepDiscount.

Together with the final Hammer Noirs that I still need to review that should give me enough to write about for a while.

In the meantime there's been a number of Hammer related news items that I have failed to report on so far so let's start with the most important and groundbreaking news item in ages:

Bray Studios Facing Closure

Matthew's review of The Stranger Came to Bray with its emphasis on the Bray locations was timely as the first bit of news is gigantic for anyone even remotely interested in Hammer movies: After nearly 60 years in existence the studios now face demolition to make way for apartments and flat complexes. If this were to happen this would be yet another terrible desctruction of an important piece of British cinema history.

I was honoured to have the chance to visit Bray twice over the last couple of years. And you can read more about this here and here. Those meetings count as some of the most memorable of my time in film fandom, having the chance to meet not only the film makers and fellow fans but also to stand on the very hallow'd grounds that countless classics were filmed in.

Apparently leaving the studios as they are is no longer financially viable and it is hard to see what if anything can be done to stop this from happening. Personally I'd rather see these studios to be converted into, say, a Hammer or general film history museum rather than being converted into such a commercial and totally unrelated project.

Robert Simpson has started a Save Bray Studios Facebook Group to prevent this from happening. Now I am generally very cynical about any of those “Join this group to stop world hunger and child abuse” campaigns but this could just be one campaign worth following as Robert is not only the owner of the Unofficial Hammer Films Site, but has also been involved with Hammer in a lot of different facilities over the years and is currently writing his PhD about “a historical study of the original Exclusive Films, sister company and distribution arm of Hammer Films”.

As such he's been in contact with a number of Hammer and other celebs and his plans seem to include approaching some of those to see if some of the better-known personalities can be convinced to become a prominent figure head for a Save Bray Campaign. He has also just started a new Save Bray Studios Blog and is also available on Twitter.

His campaign is also correctly going to focus on the fact that not only Hammer films were produced in Bray but also a range of other films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and episodes of Doctor Who.

So what can you do?

Well, the most important thing right now is to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of this development and about the risk that this wonderful piece of British cinematic history may end up destroyed. So if you have a blog, a Twitter or Facebook account or simply a mouth to speak with, please make sure that as many people as possible are aware of this threat. Then also join the Facebook Group if you have an FB account to make sure that you are always up to date on their next plans. Fingers crossed that this decision may be reversed to save the Bray studios.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Stranger Came Home to Bray

by Matthew Coniam
Time has been reasonably kind to The Stranger Came Home since its release in 1954: what seemed at the time to be just another middling British support thriller has gained something from its association with the later Hammer films.
With a few more - or more bizarre - plot twists it could almost play as the anticipatory cousin of the black and white psycho thrillers Jimmy Sangster wrote for the company in the sixties, beginning with Taste of Fear in 1961. Likewise the presence of Hollywood leading lady Paulette Goddard at the top of the cast - in truth nothing more than the latest in the ongoing practice of securing the services of a fading Hollywood name to ease US distribution through Robert Lippert - gives it a touch of class, and seems to bring future echoes of The Nanny, Fanatic and The Witches.
And, though it finally fails to follow through on it, the film does have a slightly more sinister feel to it than the average crime programmer, and benefits from a rather creepy lead performance from William Sylvester, a good actor and later star of Devil Doll (1964) and Devils of Darkness (1965).
Pleasing, too, to see the Hammer team in early formation: Sangster (as production manager), Fisher directing, Carreras Jr writing and producing, Phil Leakey (getting a chance to do a nasty scar!) in the make-up chair, and Molly Arbuthnot and Len Harris on board as well.
.The plot, sadly, is not bad but simply not surprising enough to stand comparison with the later Hammer thrillers. It has a very intriguing premise - man believed dead returns home after three years to unmask his would-be murderer - and the development is no less than satisfactory, but there are no shocks in the revelation: the guilty party could be any one of the main suspects - and is. And that's that. A last-minute surprise could have made a perfectly decent little thriller into a major sleeper. (And Paulette is rather dowdily photographed and costumed throughout the movie, never sporting anything even resembling the hairdos and costumes seen in either of the posters reproduced here, bearing the film's American release title.)
But what does make the film of considerable interest to the Hammer afficionado is the extensive photography in and around Down House (doubling as the characters' own house, as was often the Hammer way), giving viewers several clear looks at Bray studios as it was at the time, including some bits of architecture oddly familiar from the later Hammer horrors.
. This all prompts a thought. Even after Hammer had converted the ballroom into a soundstage, and erected the second stage annexe, they continued to make regular use of the house itself: before the stage conversions in 1953 they routinely shot in the ordinary rooms of the house. And it was in this environment that Fisher and the other regulars 'learned' the Hammer style. In other words, how much of that personal style for which Fisher is justly renowned - the economy of visual construction, and mathematical precision of shots - was born of necessity, dictated by the limitations of planning and shooting in the confined spaces of Down House?