• Pete Walker Collection, The – Volume 2



    Released by: Redemption Films
    Released on: April 21st, 2015.
    Director: Peter Walker
    Cast: Ray Brooks, Sheila Keith, James Aubrey, Anthony Sharp, Sebastian Breaks
    Year: Various
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    The Movies:

    Redemption Films bundles up four of their previously released Pete Walker Blu-rays and reissues then in a handy boxed set edition with a bonus disc that includes, for the first time in North America, high definition versions of Walker’s The Big Switch and Man Of Violence. Here’s how it all goes down…

    THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW:

    Pete Walker’s first dabbling in genre film-making, Die Screaming Marianne starring Susan George, did well enough for him that he followed it up two years later with a more straight ahead horror movie. Entitled The Flesh & Blood Show the film used some William Castle style marketing ploys (3-D!) to land people into theater sets and which made no attempt to hide the fact that it was a straight ahead horror picture.

    The premise behind the film is very simple – a group of attractive young actors are assembled to perform for the mysterious theater group known as ‘Theater Group 40’ in an old warehouse in a small English town on the coast. Their assignment? The titular Flesh & Blood Show, to be directed by a guy named Mike (Ray Brooks), a play in which the killings might just be a little more real than the audience is ready for, as it seems someone is slaughtering the cast for reasons unknown. Who is behind it all? Is it the producer? The director? One of the cast members? If so, why would they go to all this trouble and what could their motive possibly be? It all ties in to the history of the theater, and something that happened years ago.

    Containing far more flesh than blood (there’s a lot of female nudity in here, a throwback to Walker’s sexploitation days perhaps, proving that old habits do die hard), the movie has its high points and its low points. The good comes in the form of the aforementioned nudity and a couple of creative and well executed kill scenes. The bad? There are long stretches of dialogue that seem to be there only to pad out the running time and which add very little to the plot or the movie in general.

    What makes The Flesh & Blood show interesting is how, like Mario Bava’s Bay Of Blood, it manages to include a lot of the staples of the slasher genre in its running time before the slasher genre really existed. There are a few interesting stalk and kill sequences in the movie that would not at all feel out of place in a Friday The 13th movie, even if the actual plot of the film itself owes more to Ten Little Indians than anything else. Also interesting to note is how in this earlier horror effort we see the seeds of the anti-social stabs on the establishment that Walker’s later efforts, The Confessional specifically, would become famous and rather controversial for. As such, it’s an interesting starting point in his career as a horror movie director, much more so than the thriller that came before it.

    While the performances are really nothing to write home about, the movie does succeed on atmosphere and eerie location work. The small town that it all plays out in looks and feels creepy enough on its own even without the aid of the maniac who happens to be on the loose. While the score hasn’t aged well (at times it almost seems to be playing things for laughs and it sounds like something out of a cartoon) the killings, while not particularly gory, are suspenseful enough to work. It’s unrealistic to go into this one expecting something on par with The Confessional or Frightmare but as a lesser Walker film that sets the stage for the great films to come, The Flesh & Blood Show, which is presented here uncut, is a pretty decent movie.

    Click on any of the images throughout this review for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!


































    FRIGHTMARE:

    One of Peter Walkers best known and best remembered films, Frightmare gave the director the chance to really capitalize on his working relationship with oddball actress Sheila Keith and give her a starring role that fit her unusual looks and acting style perfectly. At the same time, Frightmare also stands as an excellent example of the type of darkly humorous and semi-satirical horror movies that Walker excelled in, the kind that weren't afraid to rub the viewers nose in the dirt a little bit or to give the establishment the big middle finger salute.

    The opening scene introduces us to a woman named Dorothy (Keith) as she and her husband, Edmund (British horror regular Rupert Davies of Witchfinder General in his second to last role) are sent off to the local insane asylum after being convicted of eating a few of their friends. Their two kids, Debbie (Kim Butcher who would work with Walker again a year later in The House Of Mortal Sin before fading into obscurity) and Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) are left to their own devices with Jackie shouldering responsibility for the younger sibling. Fast forward years later and both Dorothy and Edmund, aged quite a bit, are being released back into society, having done their time in the bin and being found sane enough that the council in charge of such decisions has ok'd their departure.

    With the older couple settling in to a new life in the lovely English countryside, you'd think that things would get back to some semblance of normality for the family but no, nothing could be further from the truth. Not content to move on, Dorothy still craves flesh and has Jackie bring her brains to feast upon on a regular basis and when she's not chowing down on those, she's trying to communicate with the dead via her Tarot cards. To make matters worse for Jackie, her younger sister seems to be following in mom's footsteps and as she gets older and brought back in to her mother's fold, her behavior becomes more and more erratic and aggressive. The only solace Jackie seems to have anymore, thanks to her insane family, is a man named Graham (Paul Greenwood who had a supporting role in Hammer's Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter), who she really does start to fall for. Unfortunately for Jackie, however, she knows that she can't let Graham find out about what her family does, but her mother is getting so out of hand that it might not be long before he finds out the awful truth for himself.

    As good as everyone else is in this film, Rupert Davis and especially Sheila Keith really do steal the show. They play ‘crazy' with such demented enthusiasm and at times very chilling authenticity that you can't help but be pulled into their seriously messed up little world. Lest the whole plot of the film sound like a farce, rest assured that although there are very definite doses of dark comedy throughout the film, for the most part is played straight enough that the movie still manages to be quite unnerving when it decides that it wants to be, and again, Keith's performance is a big part of how the film manages to make this aspect successful.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, Walker also makes sure that we know that as demented as this family is, they do love and care for one another in a way that isn't all that removed from the normal family dynamic that (hopefully) most of us knew in our younger years. The interaction between Dorothy and Edmund does come off as quite sincere, which adds a really unusual element of sympathy to a pair of elderly folk who really should be looked upon as the monsters that they are.

    Walker's direction is sharper than usual here, as he paces the film really deliberately but doesn't slow things down too much at all. He uses the effective and sufficiently grisly gore set pieces as accents to the horror that comes out of the story, while the cinematography from Peter Jessop does a really good job of becoming more and more claustrophobic as the film reaches its dire and unholy conclusion.





    HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN:

    Pete Walker, after leaving sexploitation for horror, made a few memorable shockers in his time before going into early retirement at the age of 41 in 1982 and while maybe Frightmare and The House Of Whipcord are his best remembered, few are as well made as The Confessional (how it was released on DVD years back by Media Blasters), better known under its alternate title, The House Of Mortal Sin (how it's been reissued now that it's with Redemption/Kino).

    The film follows one Jenny Lynch (Susan Penhaligon) who heads out to an ornate old Catholic Church one day to meet up with Father Bernard (Norman Eshley), who she has been friends with for years, and to give confession. When she arrives, she finds that Bernard is out and so instead she winds up giving her confession to Father Xavier (Anthony Sharp). During her confession she admits to having some problems with her boyfriend, who she believes to be cheating on her, and that she once had an abortion, obvioulsy a big no-no in the eyes of the Catholic Church. What Jenny doesn't know is that Father Xavier has a tape recorder with him on the other side of that booth and that he's recording each and every one of Jenny's sins.

    As the movie moves on, we find that Father Xavier is quite insane. He lives in an old house with his mother, who is bed-ridden, and his housekeeper, a strange one-eyed lady named Ms. Brabazon (Walker regular Sheila Keith who pops up in a few of his movies, notably as the warden in House Of Whipcord). Slowly but surely becoming obsessed with Jenny, Xavier, with Brabazon's help, begins killing off people who he believes to be guilty of great sins against Christ, using the symbols of the Church as his weapons of choice. Meanwhile, Father Bernard has started to fall in love with Jenny's foxy sister, Vanessa (Stephanie Beacham) and is going to leave the priesthood so that he can revoke his vow of celibacy and marry the girl. Guess who finds himself on Father Xavier's list…?

    Norman Eshley steals the show in this one, playing the deranged priest perfectly. He's pompous, he's condescending, he's ever so much holier-than-thou and he just looks the part. His turn as Father Xavier is pretty creepy stuff, as he delivers some of his lines with such conviction that you should have no problem suspending your disbelief and accepting him in the part. Walker's film gives him ample room to creatively and blasphemously off his prey, and the film seems to be flying the middle finger in the face of Catholicism for its entire running time. Walker has stated in more than one interview how he was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic school, and furthermore how he did not like what was forced upon him or how the priests dealt with some of the male students during his tenure there. Seeing as David McGillavry's script is based on a story that Walker originally conceived of on his own, the film is very obviously a reaction to those feelings of anger and frustration on Walker's part.

    As a social commentary the movie is alright. It points its finger at the Church and criticizes some flaws though it offers no suggestions as to how they might be fixed, it merely blames (although Father Bernard is shown as a genuinely good man, possibly as a way of saying that not all is lost with the Church). As a horror film, however, the movie is much more effective. It takes a person we trust and who is in a position of some power and subverts the expectations we have for someone in that position, which makes for a chilling premise. Add to that some very atmospheric sets and a few really grisly, sacrilegious murder set pieces, and you've found yourself with a recipe for mayhem that succeeds on pretty much every level it needs to.





    HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT:

    1974’s Home Before Midnight doesn’t offer up the strong murder set pieces some of Walker’s films gained notoriety for but like his best movies, it does deal in some rather taboo subject matter. When the movie begins, pretty Ginny Whilshire (Alison Elliott) is hitchhiking down a road with her friend Carol (Debbie Linden). A car stops and the man inside, Mike Beresford (James Aubrey) offers Ginny a ride, Carol having hopped into a truck earlier. Maybe she was hoping she might get picked up by a family or something a little safer than a single guy, but she gets in… and he makes a joke about rape.

    You’d expect that this would make the mood more than a little awkward but Ginny laughs it off and they soon fall fast in love. Mike’s a songwriter and soon he’s introducing his new girlfriend to the band he works with (fronted by Mick Jagger’s younger brother Chris!) and even having her meet up with his mom and dad (Leonard Kavanagh and Joan Pendleton). Things seem to get pretty serious between the two in no time at all but when they go sailing and Mike notices Ginny’s birthdate on her bracelet, he quickly realizes that his new girlfriend is fourteen years old. As an adult at twenty-eight, the fact that he and Ginny have been intimate means he’s now legally a rapist. He wants to end it then and there but they have legitimate feelings for one another and decide to keep their relationship afloat, that is until Ginny’s parents, parents (Mark Burns and Juliet Harmer), find out what’s going on and decide to press charges…

    Despite the fact that it’s a bit tough to buy Alison Elliott as a fourteen year old even when she is dressed that way and portrayed that way by her surroundings and costuming in the movie, Home Before Midnight does a pretty good job of exploring the complications posited by its narrative. At the same time, Elliott’s appearance does lend credence to Michael’s initial ignorance of her age, making the central plot device more believable. As such, that aspect of the production turns out to be a double edged sword for Walker but thankfully the performances from both Elliott and just as importantly Aubrey are committed and believable enough that most of the time their relationship and predicament seem grounded enough.

    The film never comes out in favor of Michael’s actions and it instead presents the controversy ‘as is’ while using exploitative tactics (nudity) to put the viewer in his situation, at least to a certain extent. It works. Ginny is portrayed early on as a sexual creature and the movie coaxes us to want her the way that Michael does. As the film moves towards its conclusion, the story becomes far less about young love in full bloom than it does a series of mistruths and betrayals. Everyone is quick to place all of the blame on Michael, but the audience knows that Ginny was very much aware of what she was doing and how she was approaching the situation. This causes us to question where the guilt really lies in all of this, if there’s even guilt to be piled up in the first place – the film offers no real easy answers in this department. By introducing subtle elements (Ginny’s father’s tendency to playfully swat his daughter and her playmates on their asses being one) in which other characters indulge in similar behavior we have to wonder if the resulting controversy that winds up surrounding Michael is warranted or not. There’s that whole adage about how those living in glass houses should not throw stones and it definitely applies to a lot of the supporting players in this picture, even if you’re left feeling that the script could and should have gotten deeper into exploring or even debating the morality at play here than it ever really does.




    THE BIG SWITCH:

    Included here, released for the first time domestically (it, along with Man Of Violence, was released on Blu-ray by the BFI in the UK) is Walker’s 1968 crime film, The Big Switch (with a sixty-eight minute running time).

    Like a lot of Walker’s work, it’s sleazier than you might expect a sixties era British crime movie to be. It follows a wealthy playboy type named John Carter (Sebastian Banks) who hooks up with a foxy blonde at a night club one night. When she’s found dead, he’s implicated in her murder. A mob boss named Mendez (Derek Alyward) is behind all of this as he wants Carter to leave London and come to Brighton and take care of a job for him. Carter and another foxy blonde, Karen (played by Virginia Wetherell), are taken hostage by Mendez’s men and roughed up and eventually forced into posing for porno picture shoots. It all leads up to a fantastic climax where Carter gets involved in a tense shoot out on a pier covered in snow and ice.

    While this film is considerably less polished than the feature attraction, it’s definitely got some merit and is in many ways just as entertaining if not quite as well made. As per the norm, Walker manages to cram a lot of completely superfluous sex and violence into the film, seemingly just to up the titillation factor. Mendez is responsible for a lot of this, what with his penchant for hanging out with topless chicks and all and his interest in pornography, and Alyward really plays up the sleazy side of his character quite nicely in this film.














    MAN OF VIOLENCE:

    Also known as Moon (the titled card used on this release) and as The Sex Racketeers, British director Pete Walker’s Man Of Violence borrows a bit from the whole Yojimbo/A Fistful Of Dollars motif in that it tells the story of a hired gun named Moon (Michael Latimer who pops up in Hammer’s Prehistoric Women) who plays some gangsters and some cops at the same time in a messy plot about some stolen Arabian gold and a psychedelic rock band.

    When the film begins, Moon’s making it with a foxy blonde but soon he’s been hired by a crooked real estate developer to help bring in a shipment of gold that’s tied up in some rather awkward political snares. As Moon deals with the developer’s right hand man, Nixon (Derek Aylward), he hooks up with another foxy blonde (Luan Peters of Lust For A Vampire and Twins Of Evil) named Angel who may or may not have something to do with the aforementioned political snares but who fills out a two piece bikini like nobody’s business. As Moon zips around London, hitting various swinging nightclubs and even sleeping with a gay man to get the information he wants, a pair of corrupt cops, lead by Burgess (George Belbin), move in on the scene looking to take control of the situation for themselves. Throw in an almost lesbian rape, some naked fleshy British ass, a Dean Martin reference and mustard colored room décor galore and you’ve got yourself a movie!

    A very talky and slightly overlong crime picture, Man Of Violence is still worth a look thanks to a few stand out set pieces and the presence of a couple of rather fetching Hammer Girls. Luan Peters has a sizeable role here and gets a lot of camera time but Virginia Wetherell of Demons of the Mind and Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde not to mention Tigon’s Curse Of The Crimson Alter has got a decent supporting part as well. Michael Latimer does most of the heavy lifting, however, playing a sort of rogue-ish and criminally minded James Bond sans the gadgets (he even drives an Aston Martin at one point). He’s a suave and perpetually cool ladies man with style and charm to spare.

    The film takes a little while to get going, though the opening credits sequence in which the title cards flash over a woman’s exposed naval are fascinating and very cool. It doesn’t move at a particularly brisk pace until the final twenty minutes are upon us but even during the slower parts the picture is pretty interesting. There’s a lot of great night club footage here and the colorful location footage and wardrobe of the era makes for some pleasing eye candy. It all leads up to a surprisingly bleak conclusion, typical of a lot of Walker’s movies, that actually packs a fairly strong punch and which you probably won’t see coming.

    Despite an abundance of dialogue heavy scenes, there are a few fun action set pieces here including a fantastic shoot out in a churchyard cemetery early in the picture that help to spice things up a bit. Walker’s direction is decent enough and while the script throws in a lot of sex for the sake of sex, it’s a fun film and an enjoyably trashy little slice of British crime cinema from the era.















    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Flesh & Blood Show, Frightmare, House Of Mortal Sin and Home Before Midnight all arrive on Blu-ray framed in their proper 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratios in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Transferred ‘from the original 35mm negatives’ these movies look very nice in high definition. There’s very little print damage here to note, just a few white specks here and there, and there’s no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. The films’ grain structure is left completely un-tinkered with while color reproduction and skin tones both look quite nice and natural. Black levels are solid and the movies frequent darker scenes show decent shadow detail. These are sometimes gritty looking pictures but these transfers would seem very true to their low budget roots and they offer quite an impressive upgrade in detail, texture and color from the previous DVD releases. The Big Switch and Man Of Violence are presented in 1.33.1 fullframe, again, their proper aspect ratios, in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers that would appear to mirror the BFI transfers quite closely – they’re fairly pristine with great colors and good black levels, strong detail and nice texture, but the colors are a little warmer here than on that previously released BFI disc.

    The only audio option on any of the discs are LPCM Mono tracks in English language. These aren’t particularly fancy tracks, they’re older single channel mixes for a bunch of modestly budgeted pictures but they get the job done without any problems. The levels are nicely balanced, the dialogue is clean and clear and there aren’t any problems with any obvious hiss or distortion. The music used throughout the movie also sounds quite good here, and typically it has got noticeably more depth than it did on the previous DVD releases.

    For the extras related to The Flesh And Blood Show, you get the chance to watch the movie’s infamous 3-D sequence in either stereoscopic or anaglyph (the old school red and blue glasses) format. This is a ten minute clip and it’s fun to see it this way. Additionally we get an interview with Pete Walker conducted by Elijah Drenner called Flesh, Blood and Censorship in which the director of the feature speaks for just over twelve minutes about some of the censorship issues that the feature ran into. He also talks about his career as a comic and how that lead into his career in film. He talks about what made money and what didn’t, how when he had some cash he started making indie B-pictures and the sexploitation boom that was occurring around this time. He then goes into some specifics about The Flesh And Blood Show, ratings and censorship issues, the use of 3-D (his first movie using that format was The Three Dimensions Of Greta) and the success of this picture.

    Outside of that? Some great trailers for a bunch of Pete Walker titles – The Flesh And Blood Show, Die Screaming Marianne, Frightmare, House Of Whipcord and The Comeback. Menus and chapter stops are also included.

    Moving right along to Frightmare, the commentary that was on the Anchor Bay UK DVD release of the film and then the Media Blasters US DVD release has been ported over for this domestic Blu-ray release. On the commentary is director Pete Walker who is joined throughout the discussion by the director of photography that he employed for the shoot, Peter Jessop and moderator Steven Chibnall who wrote Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker. There's a nice sense of humor between the two participants but there's also a lot of really good information in here as well. Walker is a bit of an eccentric character but he's got a lot of really great stories about this film and about his career in horror and exploitation in general. The two men cover casting choices and location shooting and there are some fun anecdotes about Sheila Keith's work on this film and her work on a few other Walker movies too. This track is definitely worth a listen for fans of the film or the director.

    Not included on the past DVD release is For The Sake Of Cannibalism, which is a twelve minute video interview with the director in which he talks about the cannibalism in the movie, the sense of humor employed in the picture, his efforts to push some buttons with the picture and his thoughts on the cast used in the film. Also carried over from the Anchor Bay UK DVD is the fourteen minute Sheila Keith Profile featurettes in which Pete Walker, writer David McGillivray, Peter Jessop, actress Susan Penhaligon and Pete Walker super fan/filmmaker Graham Duff discuss the late Keith's contributions to Walker's films as well as her off screen personality and acting skills.

    Rounding out the extra features are trailers for the feature and for The Comeback, Die Screaming, Marianne!, The Flesh And Blood Show, and The House Of Whipcord, menus and chapter selection.

    Regarding House Of Mortal Sin, Jonathon Rigby, author of the book English Gothic, moderates a commentary with Pete Walker himself (this is the same commentary track that was on Anchor Bay UK's release of the film and which later appeared on the Media Blasters DVD release) and he proves to not be at a loss for words when discussing the film. He once again covers pre-productions aspects like wrangling up the cast and the shooting locations as well as budgetary issues. Interestingly enough he also reveals some nice facts about a few notable British stars he'd hoped to cast in the film before he wound up with the actors we see in the finished version of the film. He provides us with some fun anecdotes about some of the performers and gives a good idea of how the project came together. This is a pretty interesting commentary and fans of the film or of Walker in general should find it quite enjoyable. Rigby keeps the information coming fast and it doesn't stray off topic at all: interesting stuff, particularly when Walker explains how he more or less set out to piss off the Catholic Church with this film (he was raised Catholic, and he knew very well what he was doing with this movie).

    Walker also pops up in an interview entitled An Eye For Terror Part Two, which runs eleven minutes or so and allows the director to offer more input as to how he feels about this picture and what it was like making the film.

    Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Pete Walker titles that Redemption/Kino have put out (all worth getting!), menus and chapter selection. Unfortunately the featurettes that were on the Anchor Bay UK and Media Blasters DVD release are not included here.

    The main extra on the Home Before Midnight disc is Promiscuous Behavior, an eleven minute interview with the director who talks about working with the different cast members on the film and the issues that arose when various critics took him to task for his choices. It’s an interesting interview as you don’t come away with the impression that he is really all that enamored with this particular entry in his filmography, but he defends it anyway in his own inimitable style.

    Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Pete Walker titles that Redemption/Kino have put out (all worth getting!), menus and chapter selection.

    Extras on the Big Switch/Man Of Violence disc include an interview with Walker entitled Pete Walker: Man Of Action that runs fifteen minutes. Here he shares some interesting stories about the two early films included in this set as well as some of his other sixties work. Like pretty much every other interview conducted with Walker over the years, it’s blunt and to the point and refreshingly honest – as such, it’s definitely worth watching. The trailers and booklet included with the BFI disc are not carried over here.

    The Final Word:

    If you’ve already got the individual releases, you’ll have to figure out how much the inclusion of the two early films means to you but otherwise, if you haven’t previously snatched up these trashy, nasty little gems of British cinema this is a fantastic set. The movies in The Pete Walker Collection Volume 2 are all top notch entertainment, the presentations are all strong and the extras as interesting as they are plentiful.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      I've got all of the individual releases and the BFI disc of MAN OF VIOLENCE/THE BIG SWITCH so won't be buying the boxset, but regardless Redemption's Pete Walker Blu-rays are a godsend for me, as I love the man's work. The interviews on the discs are fantastic. Nice review, Ian