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Screen Reviews

Gamera: The Complete Collection

Gamera: The Complete Collection

directed by Noriaki Yuasa, Shusuke Kaneko

starring Gamera, Gyaos, Guiron, & Zigra

Arrow Video

Poor Gamera. The giant flying turtle is not only the guardian of the universe, but also the friend to all children, and the big guy is still the Rodney Dangerfield of kaiju, he just gets no respect at all. As a monster and a film series Gamera and his foes always come up short against Godzilla, Mothra, Gigan, et al. Even within Daiei FIlm, Gamera isn’t the alpha kaiju as the Daimajin trilogy of films, about samurai and a vengeful mountain god, reigns supreme. After generations of Saturday afternoons on TV, lousy, retitled VHS cash grabs, English dubbing atrocities, and endless drubbing at the hands of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Riffttrax, the much maligned terrapin is getting his due with an Blu-ray set from Arrow Video that actually eclipses last year’s blockbuster Godzilla Showa era set from Criterion.

Gamera, the Giant Monster, directed by Noriaki Yuasa was a tight 78 minute black and white affair that felt more like a 1950’s American monster movie, say The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, than a Japanese Kaiju Eiga. The film may have clocked in at under 80 minutes but still felt mercilessly padded due in no small measure to one of the strangest child characters in film history, and if you know your Gamera films that’s some stiff competition. Well Gamera proved to be the hit Daiei needed so they quickly doubled down on a full color sequel upgrade with a much bigger budget and a new director, Shigeo Tanaka, and Gamera vs. Barugon. This second film disappointed at the box office, but Daiei felt there was still something to work with so they brought back the original director, Noriaki Yuasa to retool Gamera into cheap monster programmers aimed squarely at children. Noriaki Yuasa took his orders and created a new Gamera film every year through 1971. These films were all basically the same. Some kids discover a monster, or monsters, and Gamera shows up to fight while the kids provide play by play and color commentary from a safe distance, rinse,dry, repeat. As they went the movies lost narrative cohesion and functioned more like children’s fever dreams as the young protagonists, with a token caucasian as a requirement for US distribution, weave through plots that sound like they were written on a playground. The kids investigate something in the woods, they find a spaceship, which they know how to fly, they encounter an asteroid field but Gamera shows up to help them. They land the spaceship on a planet full of giant monsters and beautiful women who want to eat their brains, and that is just the first half hour. Noriaki Yuasa continued the frenetic, no frills approach with increasing reliance on monster footage prom previous films until the belated swan song of the original cycle, Gamera: Super Monster in 1980 was little more than clip show with a scant framing device in which to dump footage from earlier films in one of the low water marks in cinema, which would sadly be mirrored in 1982’s Trail of the Pink Panther.

In the mid-1980s television producer Sandy Frank, who had success importing and retooling the Japanese anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman into a beloved Star Wars cash-in Battle of the Planets in 1978 bought up the Gamera movies which replaced the English dubs that were created by American International for TV distribution with some of the worst English dubs in film history. Frank released the movies on cheap home market VHS tapes under new titles that were designed to be confused with Toho’s Godzilla series. How many accidental purchases of Destroy All Monsters, Attack of the Monsters, or War of the Monsters lined Frank’s pockets back in the day. These releases really helped sour people on Gamera, but the final insult, being the butt of the jokes on Godare held in high esteem as Kaiju films regardless of monster or studio as they are actually better than some of the Godzilla movies from the same era. The new Gamera is no longer kiddie matinee fare and features less children, better effects, and plots that keep the audience engaged between monster battles without getting in the way. They are everything Kaiju should be; fun monster spectacles that keep the tone light without drifting into self parody. 2006 gave us another reboot with Gamera the Brave which just proves it’s hard to keep a good monster down and there is always a place in fans’ hearts for a rocket propelled, fire breathing, space turtle who is a friend to all children.

Arrow Video has assembled Gamera: The Complete Collection and it is one of the most impressive box sets ever produced even outshining the recent Criterion Collection’s Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films 1954-1975. All 12 Gamera films are included, across 8 discs with original Japanese tracks and English dubs and even three different cuts of Gamera vs. Viras. Arrow crushes it with their extras. The set is packed with commentaries on the movies from the likes of August Ragone, Steve Ryfle & Ed Godziszewski, Sean Rhoads & Brooke McCorkle, Stuart Galbraith IV, and David Kalat and others. The commentators all bring unique styles to their craft so even when retracing the same ground they are able to bring a fresh angle so it doesn’t get repetitive hearing the same information multiple times David Kalat draws a tough assignment making a defense for Gamera vs Guiron and by extension the whole series by contextualizing them as fairy tales with as more in common with the Brothers Grimm than science fiction. This reading makes a great deal of sense and forgives a number of sins from the original run. The set also includes a multitude of interviews, documentaries, oddball bits of Gamera lore, along with posters, artcards, and two books. It is an instant Gamera collection in a box and a testament to the staying power of the monster and the films. You are strong, Gamera!

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Screen Reviews

Zombie for Sale

Zombie for Sale

directed by Lee Min-Jae

starring Jung Ga-ram, Uhm Ji-won

Arrow Video

The past few years the zombie movie had been beaten to death. The desiccated corpses from the imaginations of George Romero and Lucio Fulci had become either meaningless foes for invincible heroes to wrack up XP in video games and video game inspired movies or punching bags for increasingly unfunny comedy. Even properties like The Walking Dead that tried to do right by reanimated corpses ultimately failed them. When all seemed lost South Korean filmmakers have picked up the pieces and breathed new life into genre with films that stay true to zombie lore while also injecting old tropes with some fresh ideas. Some like Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan (2016) plays things straight and gritty, Lee Min-Jae taps the comedy vein for his 2019 film Zombie for Sale. A funny, scary, and heartwarming mix of family and horror tropes that despite borrowing from endless sources manages to become something unique and wonderful.

Zombie for Sale aka The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale, centers on the hard-luck Park family eeking out an existence in a nearly defunct gas station outside a tiny town in rural South Korea. The Park clan subsists mostly on low level cons including spiking the road to cause accidents so they can swoop in with their tow truck and charge exorbitant repair fees. One morning a stranger arrives in town, a zombie who has escaped from a pharmaceuticals lab that got shut down when their synthetic insulin test went awry. The hapless zombie, eventually named Jong-bi in honor of a recently deceased pet rabbit, encounters a large dog he intends to make a meal of but instead gets chased by the dog in a gag that becomes a hilarious runner through the first act of the film. Jong-bi wreaks some minor, unintended, mayhem before finding refuge in the Park’s garage. That evening the family realizes that the patriarch of the family has been bitten by the zombie and the internet gives them the lowdown on what’s about to go down and they do the only sensible thing and lock their father in his travel trailer and wait for the transformation. The next morning he has transformed, not into a flesh eating zombie but into a younger and healthier version of himself, full of energy. The family is confused but all of the dad’s older friends are delighted if a bit jealous so they too want a zombie bite. The Park family are not shy about monetizing the situation and charge the oldsters to stick their arms into their makeshift zombie bite glory hole for their shot of youth serum. Everything is going great until dad, with renewed vigor, decides to take the family’s zombie cash and head to Hawaii, meanwhile all the people who have been bitten by Jong-bi start to exhibit symptoms other than a spike in vitality and soon the town and especially the Parks’ gas station are overrun by a zombie apocalypse.

The trick with horror comedies is finding the right balance to not take too much of the horror away in pursuit of jokes. Once the townspeople start turning, the zombie menace is quite real and there is actual tension and stakes in the attack even if at one point the zombies are being attacked with a bundle of roman candles. The Park family and their familial dynamics are mostly played for laughs, but by the time the real horrors show up you are so invested in their simple pursuit of a better life, however innoble the tactics, you cannot help but root for them in their quest to save themselves and by the coda at the end, they are working to save all of Korea from the Zombie hordes, and of course get paid for it.

Zombie for Sale boasts numerous outstanding extra features on the Blu-ray. The best of these features is Eat Together, Kill Together: The Family-in-Peril Comedy a well-researched and captivating video essay by critic and producer Pierce Conran which posits a family in peril comedy sub-genre in South Korean cinema that includes Best Picture Oscar winner, Parasite (2019, Dir: Bong Joon-ho). The essay will have you making notes of movies you need to add to your watchlist. These films drop tight knit families in dark situations far beyond their control that are leavened with social commentary and humor.

Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin from the Arrow Video Podcast jump in with a nifty audio commentary track for the film Since they co-host a podcast together they already have instant, conversational chemistry which serves the loopy film they’re discussing quite nicely. Dan Martin’s visual effects career allows him to provide some keen insight into the production of the film and provide some context to inside jokes like the zombie eating heads of cabbage, as crunching heads of cabbage is an old Foley sound effect choice for munching flesh in traditional zombie films. The pair also get into where Zombie For Sale fits stylistically into modern Korean cinema which is all about combining different film genres in unexpected ways.

Arrow has done admirable work in getting the film to western shores so quickly and hopefully Lee Min-Jae’s take will breathe some much needed life into the stale genre by adding heart to zombie movie instead of the steady diet of gore and irony that have plagued the genre for the past decade.

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Screen Reviews

Black Rainbow

Black Rainbow

directed by Mike Hodges

starring Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce

Arrow Video

There are any number of reasons a film may get lost. It can be physically destroyed through neglect or monstrously short-sighted business decisions ie 95% of all silent movies. They may be locked away in movie hell, deemed by their captors too extreme for modern audiences, notable examples being Disney’s Song of the South and Ken Russell’s The Devils, or they may through no fault of their own get stuck in movie limbo. Far too many films from the 1980s seem to be stuck in purgatory. The films became orphans when movie studios and distributors went bankrupt and many films became orphaned without any clear ownership and left to languish in vaults. Mike Hodges’ psychic thriller Black Rainbow became one of these orphans after being unceremoniously dumped onto the direct to VHS market and cable TV and then forgotten. Now Arrow Video has rescued the film from the beyond and have given it a second life on Blu-ray.

Told in flashback, psychic medium Martha Travis (Rosanna Arquette, Pulp Fiction) travels with her father, Walter, (Jason Robards, Melvin and Howard) doing shows connecting people to their dearly departed loved ones. During one of these performances Martha communicates with a woman’s husband who describes his own murder, despite the woman’s insistence her husband is very much alive. It looks like the con is broken until the woman’s husband, a chemical company whistleblower, is indeed assassinated by a hitman as Martha relayed in her vision. The murder brings the Travis family to the attention of local reporter Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce, Amadeus) who becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about Martha’s visions and ultimately obsessed with Martha herself.

Black Rainbow is an odd film and it is so intentionally manipulative that it could easily be off-putting on first viewing. I’m certain in the end of the 1980s the film’s willful disregard for genre tropes had to be baffling. It’s not quite a horror movie, not quite a family drama, not quite a con movie, not quite a thriller, erotic or otherwise, yet it is all of those things. It doesn’t function in dream logic, but time and reality are subtly fluid. The ending which seems so random proves to be set up quite well throughout the film but in such a quiet manner it is easy to miss the first time around.

Cult film authors Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan team up for another terrific audio commentary. Both women do stellar work on their own, but take it to another level when they work together. They pull out their scalpels to get beneath the surface of the film. They dig out elements of southern gothic, incest, and the maleability of time along Hodges’ more obvious critiques of capitalism, religon, and family relationships. They also take great glee in the various ways the film sets up and subverts audience expectations of genre tropes.

Other extras for Black Rainbow include an archival Mike Hodges director’s commentary ported over from an earlier UK release from Anchor Bay along with a short archival making of documentary, and some vintage interviews with Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, and Rosanna Arquette.

Black Rainbow is one of those releases that may not set social media ablaze when it is announced because it doesn’t tick off a major item on many fans want lists, but it the kind of curated release that we need from boutique labels. Sometimes then know what we as film fans need more than we do. My only complaint is that it took this long for me to see the movie and it makes me sad that it has been missing from my life all these years.

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Screen Reviews

Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations

Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations

MVD/Kit Parker Films

Growing up in the 1970s few things were as ubiquitous in a kid’s life than Laurel & Hardy. From school to summer camp to Shakey’s Pizza we laughed at the duo’s antics in Scotch tape spliced 16mm prints of County Hospital, Towed in the Hole, and of course the Academy Award winning short, The Music Box. Laurel and Hardy were such icons even decades after retirement their likenesses appeared on advertisements, a Laurel & Hardy cartoon series, and even a guest spot on Scooby-Doo. With many of their films falling into the public domain Laurel & Hardy became fodder for cheap VHS releases and were greatly maligned by early attempts at colorization. Over time their place in the cultural zeitgeist waned and apart from the odd showing of The Music Box, Way Out West, or Sons of the Desert on TCM they faded into the background noise of an overabundance of choices. In the last few years the pair has made a bit of a comeback with renewed interest in their antics including Jon S. Baird’s sentimental 2018 biopic Stan & Ollie, and efforts to restore the original films by the Library of Congress, UCLA Film & Television Archive and others. The fruits of those efforts have manifested themselves in this 4 disc Blu-ray set presenting 2k and 4k restorations of two features (Sons of the Desert and Way Out West) and 17 shorts.

Watching these films for the first time in ages I was struck by how deliberately paced they are, especially compared to the frenetic pace of the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers comedies of the same era. The pacing allows time to build up the gags and for Oliver Hardy’s brilliant slow burns and asides, often complete with fourth wall breaks to have maximum impact. Another facet of the act that sometimes gets overlooked is how good-natured it is. For all of his bluster Oliver Hardy never takes his berating of his partner into uncomfortable territory as opposed to so many comedy teams that just seem to exist solely as instruments of ridicule and abuse. And if it gets too close to the edge, Stan only has to break out his crying face to break the tension and slay the audience. You are always Stan and Ollie’s side as they wreck havoc on each other and the world around them.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were both established comedians and actors before they teamed up but they became huge stars with over a hundred shorts and features to their credit in their nearly 40 year career. So obviously this Blu-ray set is far from complete but it is easily the best looking and rewarding Laurel and Hardy collection on the market. All of the films are not only restored, to varying degrees of quality, but they all are accompanied by audio commentary tracks, with Laurel and Hardy scholars Randy Skretvedt and Richard W. Bann splitting the load. These tracks are bursting with biographical information on the bit players, historical context, production stories and even Los Angeles geography. The discs also house loads of archival interviews and clips with people associated with Laurel and Hardy and a plethora of trailers, stills and poster galleries to make this an easy purchase for even the most casual fan.

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Screen Reviews

Inferno of Torture

Inferno of Torture

directed by Teruo Ishii

starring Tamaki Sawa, Masumi Tachibana, Yumika Katayama

Arrow Video

In just over a year director Teruo Ishii cranked out ten feature films for Toei Studios that epitomize the ero guro aesthetic of sexuality and gore that at the time was quite transgressive, especially for a legitimate studio to produce. They would release ero guro or other “pinky violence” movies but wouldn’t front the productions. Ishii’s deal with Toei would help legitimize sex and violence on the screen in Japan.

Inferno of Torture cannot be accused of hyperbolic titling as Teruo Ishii showcases a mass crucifixion, decapitations and a woman getting a spear to the crotch and throat, all during the title credits. Like all low budget filmmakers, Ishii’s films are always hampered by lacking time and money to get everything perfect, yet in his films there are always sequences that speak of genius. Despite budgetary shortcomings Ishii created sublime visions of depravity that are also achingly beautiful. Part of Ishii’s deal with Toei set him up much like the classic Hollywood B-Movie units at R.K.O., Universal, or Warner Brothers; tiny budgets and short production calendars, but access to the studio’s vast resources of sets, props, and costumes. This allows his very cheap films to have a far more expensive look. One thing Ishii found he didn’t have a lot of access to was Toei’s roster of acting talent and he had to cast from outside of the studio as established actors didn’t want to work in sex films. Ishii created a stable of talent that worked with him on numerous projects so you do see familiar faces popping up in his films.

Inferno of Torture is essentially an anthology film but Ishii chose instead of using a framing device he would weave the stories into a non-linear narrative that is often more confusing than the payoff is worth. Too much energy is spent trying to keep track of the characters and the most interesting of the plots involving Nami (Yumika Katayama, Goke Body Snatcher from Hell), a prostitute forced to resort to grave-robbing to retrieve the key to her chastity belt not only ends tragically, but far to early causing the film’s last third to be anti-climatic. The film’s psychedelic finale is a visual stunner it is an emotional snooze as there are no characters left to care about, but damn seeing Ishii turned loose with naked women, body paint, and black lights is an audacious and beautiful sequence that lingers even if the plot mechanics have broken.

The presentation of Inferno of Torture is gorgeous, as is expected from an Arrow release. The disc doesn’t have a lot of extra content but the quality makes up for any lack of quantity. Japanese film historian Tom Mes provides another strong, informative audio commentary full of information to expand context and understanding of the film and the people who made it without ever feeling dry or uninteresting. The other main feature is a real treat with film historian Jasper Sharp’s lecture at the The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies titled Erotic Grotesque Nonsense & the Foundations of Japan’s Cult Counterculture, presented here in a condensed version. I don’t know how long the full class was, but would love to see it in its entirety.

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Screen Reviews

Dream Demon

Dream Demon

directed by Harry Cokeliss

starring Jemma Redgrave, Timothy Spall, Jimmy Nail

Arrow Video

If Dream Demon feels like a British knock-off of A Nightmare on Elm Street, that is exactly what it is. The UK distributors for the Wes Craven horror franchise wanted to do a quick and cheap version of the dream horror franchise. Harley Cokeliss, one time second unit director on The Empire Strikes Back and veteran British horror screenwriter Christopher Wicking (To the Devil a Daughter), teamed up on a script that mixes dream logic surrealism with a heavy dash of social satire on the royal princesses Diana and Sarah, who were omnipresent in the late 1980s. The result is an uneven, but entertaining haunted house movie.

Diana, played by Jemma Redgrave (Doctor Who), is engaged to a Falklands War hero and is being plagued by nightmares and hounded by the press, especially a loathsome reporter and photographer duo played by Jimmy Nail and Timothy Spall. Jenny, (Kathleen Wilhoite, Private School) a young American woman searching for clues about her childhood spent in Diana’s house, crashes into Diana’s fragile life. Diana and Kathleen’s journeys intertwine as both women have to confront their demons as memory and nightmare collide in the house with Kathleen’s repressed memories of child abuse lurking on the top floor and Diana’s fear of the future and her sexuality residing in the basement. Only the ground floor holds a tenuous grasp on the present day reality and even that is fractured with a mirror universe. Both women have to help each other confront their fear in order to survive.

Dream Demon was released theatrically in the UK in 1988 but apart from a brief home video release in the states in the early ’90s, it was essentially a lost film. The film became orphaned during a bankruptcy and disappeared. Harry Cokeliss found the original negative and worked with the British Film Institute to get the film restored. The resulting disc is gorgeous and with the ability to work out better color timing probably looks better than it did when it was made. The commemorate the resurrection of Dream Demon, Arrow Video compiled interviews with director Harley Cokeliss, producer Paul Webster, composer Bill Nelson and actors Jemma Redgrave, Mark Greenstreet, Nickolas Grace, and Annabelle Lanyon. The disc also features a 45 minute scene specific commentary by director Harley Cokeliss and producer Paul Webster is a fun listen as both men breakdown the special effects, the satire and symbolism at work in the movie, and the various influences and homages in Dream Demon including Orson Welles (The Trial, 1962), the art and philosophy of Jean Cocteau and the surreal photography of Joel-Peter Witkin.

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Screen Reviews

Blood Tide

Blood Tide

directed by Richard Jefferies

starring James Earl Jones, Martin Kove, Deborah Shelton

Arrow Video

After decades languishing in the purgatory of VHS, DVD multi-packs and double feature discs dumped in bins at dollar stores, Richard Jefferies’ Blood Tide has been given new life by Arrow Video. If you have seen the film on VHS or DVD you really have not seen it. Comparing the new Arrow restoration to the transfer that has been circulating for decades is stunning and looks like an entirely different movie.

Following an eerie pre-title sequence detailing an ancient virgin sacrifice rite to placate an underwater monster, the story proper opens with photographer Neil Grice (Martin Kove the Cobra Kai sensei from The Karate Kid) and his wife Sherry ( Mary Louise Weller, Mandy Pepperidge from Animal House) arriving on an isolated Greek island searching for Neil’s missing sister, Madeline (Deborah Shelton, Body Double). They are met first by strange children, who throw a cat at them from above, and then by the austere village mayor, Nereus (Jose Ferrer, Dune) who naturally denies any knowledge of Neil’s sister. Of course Madeline is on the island and Neil and Sherry soon meet up with her and scuba divers/treasure hunters Frye and Barbara (James Earl Jones, Conan the Barbarian and Lydia Cornell, TV’s Too Close For Comfort). Madeline is working in the island’s convent restoring ancient icons and she seems to have a psychic link to the virgin sacrifice from the prologue as she uncovers secrets in the painting in the convent. It seems the outsiders have disturbed the creature who starts killing again and Madeline realizes she is fated to sacrifice her virginity to the creature to placate it.

Despite a nice set up the middle of the film sags as there really isn’t a lot to do so there are boat trips, dive trips, erotic nightmares, and pensive nuns. It really doesn’t pay off in the end either as the actual monster is a disappointment, but the film not a total loss. The film has some stellar set pieces, especially the sacrifice scene in the opening that is echoed in Madeline’s dreams that includes a shot that mimics Willard rising up from the water outside of the Kurtz compound in the climax of Apocalypse Now. All of the underwater work in the film is outstanding. The movie is book-ended by the virgin sacrifice scenes both of which are hauntingly beautiful and make the whole affair worth watching. The film suffers when on dry land and the cameras get locked down and the characters sit at tables and recite exposition. There is a good film here but has been wrecked by post-production hell that could have been avoided with a bit more money to finish the film properly. It really is a shame because there are moments that really work and stay with you but too much of the movie is a slog even with a sub-90 minute run time.

Blood Tide was restored in 4K from the original negative and is a revelation on Blu-ray. The film has for decades been cursed with substandard home video releases all based on an egregious telecine transfer that was then duped by countless unscrupulous video labels. This restoration also comes with some entertaining and insightful extra content.

Director and screenwriter Richard Jefferies sits down for a commentary track moderated by filmmaker Michael Felsher. Jefferies describes the shoot from hell including not being able to use dolly tracks for camera movement and being shut out of the editing process which resulted in a finished product that is quite different from his original vision. He isn’t terribly bitter about the experience as he was 24 years old at the time and didn’t have the clout to fight against the interference. The behind the scenes stories are more interesting than the actual movie, including dailies being held for ransom and Jefferies being tempted to steal the film back from the editing bay.

Apart from a couple of trailers the only other extra is Swept by the Tide a sit-down Q&A interview with writer producer Nico Mastorakis conducted by Ari Gerontakis. Mastorakis discusses the production of the film and the restoration. He regales with some tales of low budget movie production including one of the English producers having his yacht repossessed during the shoot. He also tells a story about Don Simpson (Jerry Bruckheimer’s producer), while a VP at Paramount, passing on films pitched by Mastorakis because the directors attached weren’t any good. Those directors were John Carpenter and Ridley Scott. No one’s careers were stunted, but it illustrates how capricious the movie business can be.

Despite its reputation as an all time bad movie, Blood Tide is a revelation on Blu-ray. It still isn’t great but is a testament to how much better a movie is when presented properly as it is so much more entertaining than the garbage transfer that we’ve all been subjected to and it very much worth a second look.

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Screen Reviews

The Passion of Darkly Noon

The Passion of Darkly Noon

directed by Philip Ridley

starring Brendan Fraser, Ashley Judd, Viggo Mortensen

Arrow Video

Early on The Passion of Darkly Noon appears to be a pretty standard love triangle thriller between a sweat-glistened, honey blonde, Callie (Ashley Judd), her mute coffin maker boyfriend, Clay (Viggo Mortenson), and a stuttering cultist with the unlikely name of Darkly Moon (Brendan Fraser}. Standard that is until the giant shoe arrives.

Darkly Noon is found dehydrated wandering in the forest and is taken to the remote home of Callie and Clay to recuperate. Callie nurses Darkly back to health while waiting on her boyfriend Clay to return. Darkly reveals that he is a child of religious extremists who “live by the bible”. His name was chosen by sticking a pin in a bible which landed on 1 Corinthians; Chapter 13 “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face.” The passage explains much about his character with little exposition.

As Darkly stays on he clearly disapproves of Callie and her lifestyle but still becomes rapidly infatuated with her. The situation gets more complex and intense when Clay returns, escalating Darkly’s desire for Callie, his jealousy of Clay, and how this tests the tenets of his faith which also includes mortification of the flesh.

When Darkly Noon spies a giant silver shoe floating in the lake, things take a dark and increasingly surreal turn. He meets up with Clay’s mother Roxy, Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks), who lives in an Airstream trailer in the words and informs Darkly that Callie is a witch. This revelation makes perfect sense in Darkly’s broken world view, sending him into a dangerous downward spiral until he becomes god’s instrument for vengeance resulting in a bloody, fiery, and ultimately tragic, climax. The denouement featuring lost circus performers and a repeated proverb about getting lost in the woods offers explanations for the events that raise far more questions than it answers.

The video presentation of The Passion of Darkly Noon is tremendous. The film is gorgeous, but tricky as the entire film is incredibly high contrast with blown out highlights and a deep golden yellow palette to the daylight scenes that initially look in error but soon becomes evident it is an artful choice that adds to the physical and metaphorical heat of the film.

Arrow Video has assembled a solid batch of extras to augment the viewing of The Passion of Darkly Noon including a director’s commentary, interviews with the film’s composer, Nick Bicât, and editor, Les Healey, as well as a short documentary on Philip Ridley and more.

Eyes of Fire features cinematographer John de Borman discussing his work and collaboration with director Philip Ridley which included some non-traditional approaches including choosing shooting locations based on how the music composed for the movie sounded in various spots. He also discusses some of the renegade nature of the shoot including the danger of shooting on sets engulfed in barely contained fire for the climax of the film.

After decades in exile, Philip Ridley’s haunting and surreal film is getting a second chance at finding an audience. It is a film that feels much more at home with today’s art house horror than it did in the mid-’90s.

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Stroke of Midnight

DVD Double Features

DVD Double Features

One of the great joys of DVD buying were the double feature discs. Two movies packaged together on a single disc that sometimes were connected by logic, other times just connected by their rights being owned by the same label. Regardless, two movies for the price of one is always a winning bet, so I grabbed a stack of some of my double features to see which are good for an all night marathon.

Shockorama: The William Beaudine Collection

Starting at the bottom is Shockorama: The William Beaudine Collection. This disc has the inevitable pairing of William “One-Shot” Beaudine’s monster/cowboy mashups from the 1960s Billy the Kid Vs Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. Although it is great to have these films together on one disc, it is sadly a Cheezy Flicks Entertainment product so it features a bare bones disc with two unrestored, bargain bin transfers. These films are both much better than their reputations (and titles) and deserve a restoration and Blu-Ray release with extras that help put them into cultural context. The Elite Entertainment “Joe Bob Briggs Presents…” disc was a step in the right direction with Joe Bob’s commentary and it would be nice to see these unique films get some love.

Horror Double Features Fade to Black & Hell Night

One of my favorite and most personally influential movies, horror or otherwise, is Vernon Zimmerman’s 1980 classic Fade to Black. I had to replace my previous Anchor Bay disc when it was damaged and found it was out of print and the prices were soaring on the secondary market, but was lucky enough to score this double feature off one of those book and DVD online swap sites that were the fad a few years back. Fade to Black is the story of bullied movie fanatic Eric Binford who has a mental break and begins dressing as his favorite movie characters and taking murderous revenge on his tormentors. The film mixes clips from old horror and film noir movies to illustrate Eric’s inner mind as he kills dressed as Dracula, The Mummy, and even cowboy star Hopalong Cassidy. This is another movie begging for Blu-Ray, but the licensing of all the movie clips in today’s climate would probably be impossible. The movie also features a young Mickey Rourke and Gwynne Gilford (aka Chris Pine’s mother) in supporting roles.

Hell Night is a pretty standard sorority initiation slasher with the novelty of starring an adult Linda Blair of The Exorcist fame. It never was a favorite of mine but it has developed a cult, but in fairness I only own it because it was attached to Fade to Black.

Crypt of Terror: The Night of the Bloody Apes/Curse of the Doll People

Horror films were prolific for decades in Mexico from the 1950s into the 1970s, yet only a smattering of these films have found their way onto home video in the states. This double feature disc contains two excellent examples of Mexico’s horror output from this time. Sadly these are Americanized versions with edits and English dubs, but it is still better than nothing.

Hammer Horror: Dracula Prince of Darkness, Legend of Seven Golden Vampires, Frankenstein Created Woman

What could be better than a double feature? How about a triple bill? This disc is like a dream line-up at the drive-in with three very different Hammer films. The first Hammer Dracula sequel with Christopher Lee returning to the titular role, Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966) is arguably one of the best of the Dracula series. Legend of Seven Golden Vampires is one of the oddest films in Hammer’s catalogue which transplants Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing to China for a mix of vampirism and kung fu that is a weirdly wonderful as it sounds. Frankenstein Created Woman is less a take on Universal’s Bride of Frankenstein than a standard Hammer Frankenstein with a gender swapped monster.

Horror Double Feature: The Curse of Frankenstein/Taste the Blood of Dracula

Pretty random pairing of Hammer classics. I guess they both have Christopher Lee. Two Frankenstein films of two Draculas make more thematic sense. These films aren’t my favorites in either series but are still a solid double feature.

Midnite Movies Countess Dracula/The Vampire Lovers

Now this is a Hammer double feature that makes sense. Sexy female vampire from the early 1970s. Censorship had been banished and Hammer decided blood needed breasts too and started making female led vampire films based on the legend of Countess Elisabeth Bathory and Seridan LeFanu’s novel Carmilla. Ingrid Pitt stars in both films, along with a number of European actresses who were not a reserved about on screen nudity as some of the actresses in Britain and the time (although some Brits are nude in these films) there are a lot of German, Eastern European, and Scandinavian surnames in the credits. These films are a bit trashier than Hammer’s ’50s and ’60s output but are a great deal of fun and more fondly remembered than Christopher Lee’s latter Dracula films.

Midnite Movies: Yongary/Konga

Giant monster movies are the best, even when they aren’t so great and here is a disc with two not so great but amazing giant monster movies. Yongary is a South Korean Godzilla knock off. The monster stuff is pretty cool although nowhere near as good as the Kaiju from Japan or the stop motion from Ray Harryhausen in the US. The biggest problem with Yongary is it takes forever to go and then the payoff just isn’t enough. Konga on the other hand is awesome throughout. Michael Gough is super British and super creepy as a scientist experimenting with growth serum. His test monkey gets shot up with a bunch of his growth serum and runs amuck in London. Pretty basic plot but the Britishness of the film puts it over the top. Did I mention man eating plants? Yeah there’s man eating plants too.

Midnite Movies: Die, Monster Die/The Dunwich Horror

H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories seem like they would be amazing as movies, but so many attempts to make movies of his work have been at best disappointing. Midnite Movies presents two films that made the attempt with varying degrees of success.

Die, Monster Die is a loose adaptation of The Colour Out Of Space and stars Boris Karloff and Nick Adams. This movie is a great film to illustrate how good of a director Roger Corman is. This film looks like one of Corman’s Poe movies, but it just doesn’t work. It wants to be amazing and Karloff and Adams are game but the movie just never comes together.

The Dunwich Horror on the other hand is a glorious acid trip of a movie with Dean Stockwell from Dune and Blue Velvet that uses Sandra Dee and the Necronomicon to try to raise the fabled “old ones”. It may not follow the source story too well but it delivers on a lot of the inante wrongness of Lovecraft.

Daniel Haller actually directed both movies and in the years between Die, Monster Die and The Dunwich Horror, he learned a lot about his craft as the latter shows a much stronger and confident director behind the camera.

Midnite Movies: Tales from the Crypt/The Vault of Horror

This disc is a treasure. Featuring two of the best Amicus films omnibus movies both based on E.C. Comics horror titles. Each film features five short stories and a framing device to link them all together. Since each segment is short, Amicus films was able to afford lots of good, name actors to appear in the film since they would only need them for a short time so you have Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, Tom Baker, Denholm Elliot, and Terry-Thomas and more popping up in these movies. The segments include a killer Santa Claus, a town full of vampires, a variation on The Monkey’s Paw, zombies, voodoo, and acts of ghastly revenge all told with wit and style.

Horror Double Features It & The Shuttered Room and Chamber of Horrors & The Brides of Fu Manchu

This is the downside to these double feature discs, having to basically buy two discs to get the two movies you want, then being stuck with two you didn’t. One disc with It and Brides of Fu Manchu would be all timers, but they didn’t go the route and got me for two DVDs. Chamber of Horrors and The Shuttered Room are ok, but pale in comparison to the glory of It and Brides of Fu Manchu.

It has nothing to do with killer clowns but is instead a mash up of a golem movie and Psycho with Roddy McDowell as a mama’s boy, complete with mummified mama at home, who discovers the power to control an ancient clay statue to do his evil bidding. It used to be a staple on late night TV and is very British and just a fun comfortable movie that takes you back to being about 12 years old scouring the TV guide for anything labeled horror.

Brides of Fu Manchu is the second in the erratic series of films based on the Sax Rohmer Chinese super villain, who is in these films played by Christopher Lee. I seriously doubt Fu Manchu movies could be made today but they are almost all a good watch. In this one Fu Manchu somehow escaped death at the end of Face of Fu Manchu and has kidnapped the daughters of scientists to force the scientists to help him take over the world and it is up to Douglas Wilmer as Nayland Smith to stop him. If you have seen Jess Franco’s The Castle of Fu Manchu episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 then you have some idea what you are in for, only with less of the fabulous weirdness that only Jess Franco can provide.

Categories
Screen Reviews

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

directed by James Signorelli

starring Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg

Arrow Video

Elvira is easily the most famous TV horror host of all time. Her fame has grown so far beyond the humble origins of local TV that she has become more brand than person, to the point there was actually a TV reality show to find the new Elvira. Of course it was a fool’s errand as no one could possibly replace Cassandra Peterson, who took a bad black wig and comic timing and turned it into a 40 year career. In 1988 after years of making wise cracks about bad movies on TV it was time for Peterson to make one herself and so the movie Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was unleashed. No one wanted to see Elvira on the big screen and the movie cratered at the box office, but fittingly through home video and cable TV the film found its audience and throughout the 1990’s seemed to be on as much as Gilligan’s Island re-runs.

The film’s plot is standard boilerplate. Elvira loses her job and needs money to start her Vegas stage show when she conveniently gets a telegram informing her that her great-aunt Morgana (Casandra Peterson in a double role almost unrecognizable in her natural curly red hair) has died. So Elvira packs up the macabre-mobile and heads across the country to the sleepy hamlet of Falwell, Massachusetts. In just a few day Elvira gets an inheritance, falls in love, turns the kids in the town on to the joys of bad movies, and nearly gets herself burned at the stake for her troubles. Honestly if you are watching an Elvira movie for the plot, you’re doing it wrong. The whole affair is just an excuse for Cassandra Peterson to flex her, uh, talent. The movie is overstuffed with enough double entendres, boob jokes, puns, boob puns, and sight gags (usually involving boobs) to delight the inner 12 year old boy lurking inside all of u, not to mention the bored teenage boys of Falwell. Cassandra Peterson’s charm and timing is what raises this claptrap into something quite enjoyable, even if you can smell how bad it is a mile away.

Arrow delivers the goods with this Blu-Ray that tightly squeezes in a huge amount of extras to satisfy Movie Macabre fans. Too Macabre: The Making of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a feature length documentary on the making of the film. The film is covered with three audio commentary tracks from the director, writer, actress Edie McClurg, and of course, Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson. The first run of the disc also features a lush booklet featuring writing by Kat Ellinger and Patterson Lundquist.

www.arrowvideo.com