The Wraith | The 1980s stunt-filled supernatural revenger joins the Vestron Video Blu-ray collection

A fresh-faced Charlie Sheen and Nick Cassavetes face off in director Mike Marvin’s 1986 turbocharged actioner, The Wraith, which is now available on Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series.

After four glowing spheres collide over a highway near the desert town of Brooks, Arizona, they leave in their wake a Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor and an armoured-up helmeted driver.

The next day, a young man called Jake (Sheen) arrives in town and, catching the eye of pretty teen Keri (Sherilyn Fenn), incurs the jealous wrath of Packard Walsh (Cassavetes), the vicious leader of a gang of car thieves who coerce drivers with fancy sports cars into racing for pink slips.

When the gang members start losing races, and their lives, to the Interceptor and its vigilante driver, the recent murder of Keri’s boyfriend suddenly seems connected with Jake and the seemingly invulnerable supercar…

If you love muscle cars and power rock, then this naff slice of 1980s action fantasy will certainly be your thang. As classic hits by the likes of Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant and Bonnie Tyler play out against the film’s desert landscapes, Packard’s gang (dressed like something out of a bad fashion show and have ridiculous names like Shank, Rughead and Gutterboy) come a cropper in a series of explosive crashes as Randy Quaid’s Sheriff Loomis and his clueless lawman try to stop the carnage. It’s all great fun, but in the end, it’s all about seeing that Dodge Turbo Interceptor in action.

I do remember seeing this on its original release – only because it made the news (and not in a good way). The film is dedicated to Bruce Ingram, a camera operator who died during the filming of one of the car chases, and his death almost ended Mike Marvin’s film career. He goes into detail about this in the extras, of which there are some doozies.

Special Features:
– Audio Commentary with writer/director Mike Marvin
– Audio Commentary with actors Dave Sherrill and Jamie Bozian
– Isolated Score Selections featuring an audio interview with co-composer J. Peter Robinson
Tales From The Desert – An interview with writer/director Mike Marvin  
Rughead Speaks! – An interview with Actor Clint Howard
Ride of the Future – Interviews with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker and transportation coordinator Gary Hellerstein
The Ghost Car – Interviews with visual effects producer Peter Kuran and effects animator Kevin Kutchaver
– The Wraith Filming Locations: Then and Now
– Theatrical Trailer
– TV Spots
– Alternate Title Sequence
– Still Gallery


Shock (1977) | Mario Bava’s final feature is an underrated gem – just watch out for the walking wardrobes!

More than two years after his 1974 thriller Rabid Dogs remained unfinished and the same year’s horror Lisa and the Devil went unreleased in Italy and was cut to shreds on its international release, 63-year-old Italian director Mario Bava was in a bad way.

After a glittering career spanning some 40+ years, he found himself in semi-retirement as young guns like Dario Argento were becoming the new face of Italian horror. But with the help of his son Lamberto, who was just finding his way in the family business, Mario went on to helm what would become his final feature, 1977’s Shock (AKA Schock in Italy and Beyond the Door II in the US) – a modern-day psychological thriller in which true horror lies from within.

Daria Nicolodi stars as the mentally fragile Dora, who moves back into her old family home on the Italian coast with her pilot husband, Bruno (John Steiner) and Marco (David Colin Jr), her young son from a previous marriage. When Bruno departs for work in London, Dora finds herself plagued by accidents and apparitions, as well as Marco’s increasingly bizarre behaviour, which inescapably leads her to a nervous breakdown.

Everything seems to be linked to Dora’s former dead husband Carlo, a drug addict who took his own life. Has his spirit come back to haunt her? Is he using Marco as a conduit to torment her? Is Dora manifesting some deep-set guilt? And what lies behind the brick wall in the cellar?

Now restored in high definition for the first time, Mario Bava’s cinematic swansong is ripe for rediscovery courtesy of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release, which features some superb extras. These include an insightful audio commentary from Tim Lucas, who is, without doubt, the foremost authority on all things Mario Bava, and Lamberto Bava’s interview, which lays bare the ins and outs of his collaboration with his dad. Plus, much more.

I hadn’t seen Shock before (and I’ve seen most of Maria Bava’s films over the years) and I must say, it’s an underrated gem. There’s so much on offer here, despite its poor reception on its release. There’s a Repulsion-esque scenario that plays crazy mind games on you; an intensely engaging performance from Nicolodi (who was working through her own personal issues following her separation from Dario Argento); some inventive practical special effects (including walking wardrobes and a possessed Stanley knife), and one particular jump scare that certainly got me! (and inspired a scene in the original Scream).

Bava also conjures up a hauntingly beautiful sequence that is pure Bava – when Dora has an erotically-charged encounter with Carlo’s spirit and her hair seemingly comes alive. And to top it all, there’s the eerie synth-and-percussion score by Italian jazz-rockers I Libra, whose members included Goblin’s original drummer Walter Martino (who worked on Profundo rosso). It’s such an earworm, I’m now hunting down a reasonably priced vinyl. A must-have for any fan of Italian’s founding father of horror.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• Original Italian and English front and end titles and insert shots
• Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
A Ghost in the House, a new video interview with co-director and co-writer Lamberto Bava
Via Dell’Orologio 33, a new video interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
The Devil Pulls the Strings, a new video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a new video appreciation by author and critic Stephen Thrower
The Most Atrocious Tortur(e), a new interview with critic Alberto Farina
• Italian theatrical trailer
• 4 US “Beyond the Door II” TV spots
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
• Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava

Stagefright | Michael Soavi’s theatre of blood and gore and on Blu-ray

Not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 thriller or the 1980 Ozpolitation serial killer chiller (that was also titled Nightmares) or even that ropey 2014 Minnie Driver/Meat Loaf theatre camp horror of the same name, 1987’s Stagefright (AKA Aquarius, AKA Delira) marked Italian film-maker Michele Soavi’s directorial debut. Having learned the ropes working as a second unit director with the likes of Joe D’Amato and Dario Argento, Soavi certainly earned his stripes with this bonkers blood-soaked slasher.

The set-up is simple but soon turns insane. A dance troupe have just one week until they open their experimental new musical production, The Night Owl, about a fictional killer and they still stink. When one of the crew members is murdered by escaped mental patient Irving Wallace (Clain Parker and Luigi Montefiori), the company’s director (David Brandon) seizes on the opportunity the tragedy will bring to the show in terms of publicity. He renames the show’s antagonist to that of the psychopathic former stage actor and locks everyone in the theatre to rehearse. However, Wallace has also snuck in and soon embarks on his killing spree.

Featuring inventive set-pieces that are both stylishly executed and gruesome to the max, Stagefright has quite rightly earned its cult status over the years. It also boasts a hauntingly terrific score from Simon Boswell, whose punk-skewed synth sound is the perfect match for Soavi’s vision. It’s like watching a feature-length music video – but with lashings of gore.

Stagefright also features one of the most bizarre-looking killers in the slasher genre – the mute owl head-wearing psycho who dispatches his victims with a drill, chainsaw and axe (in what could be read as a nod to The Driller Killer‘s Reno Miller, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘s Leatherface and Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees).

Genre regulars Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Cannibal Apocalypse, City of the Living Dead) and Barbara Cupisti (The New York Ripper, The Church) are among the cast, while Soavi also appears as one of the two cops stationed outside the theatre while all the mayhem is going on inside. The other is played by former American actor turned screenwriter and dialogue director, Mickey Knox (look him up, he’s quite the character). And here’s a shout out to Lucifer the cat who out-acts the rest of the cast.

Now one scene that really excited me was when our owl-headed psycho creates his macabre tableaux– arranging the dead actors in various poses, stuffing feathers in their mouths and smearing their blood on their faces. It reminded me of the poster for one of my favourite Vincent Price films: Theatre of Blood. Now, I wonder if Soavi was also reminded of it when he designed this scene? What do you think?

The Shameless Films 4K restoration release of Soavi’s Stagefright is a welcome addition to their other releases of the director’s horror output: Dellamorte Dellamore, The Sect and The Church, and it looks and sounds terrific. I’ll be revisiting this often.

Special Edition Features
• New 4K-restored version
Staging the Fright: Interview with director Michele Soavi
The Theater of Blood: Interview with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice 
The Last Performance: Interview with actor David Brandon
• English or Italian with new English subtitles and hard-of-hearing closed captions

Stagefright is available on Blu-ray and digital on-demand from Shameless Films: https://www.shameless-films.com/product/stagefright-blu-ray/

The Great Silence | Sergio Corbucci’s Western masterpiece on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes the first-ever Blu-ray release in the UK of Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 revisionist Spaghetti Western, The Great Silence, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

The year is 1898, the year of the Great Blizzard, and a group of outlaws are hiding out in the mountains of Snow Hill, Utah after corrupt banker Henry Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli) puts a price on their heads. Now they are being hunted down and killed by a gang of bounty hunters led by the determined, yet vicious Loco (Klaus Kinski).

The outlaws hire Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunfighter, who kills his targets – always in self-defence – for a price. When Loco murders outlaw James Middleton, his widow Pauline (Vonetta McGee) offers Silence $1,000 to avenge her husband’s death, which sets him on his own path of personal revenge.

Corbucci’s bleak, brilliant and violent vision of an immoral, honour-less West, is widely considered to be among the best and most influential Westerns ever made. The second in his ‘Mud and Blood’ trilogy, which also includes Django (1966) and The Specialists (1969), it is also the Italian director’s Western masterpiece.

But it has taken decades since the film’s release to be regarded so – mainly due to its bleak and pessimistic tone and the devastating climax (spoiler alert: Loco wins big time) which resulted in the producers insisting on Corbucci filming a ‘happy ending’.

This version played well in Middle Eastern countries, while the original version did mediocre business throughout Europe, and never played in the UK until 1990 (as part of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome) and 2001 in the US. It’s only since its theatrical re-release in 2012 and 2017 that the film has attracted renewed interest – mainly over how Corbucci brilliantly subverts Western genre conventions and adds his own political subtext under the surface.

This Masters of Cinema Series features a 2K restoration print on Blu-ray and it’s a terrific way to see Corbucci’s masterpiece. Boasting terrific turns from Kinski (at his most restrained here), Trintignant (whose character was made mute because he had no command of English) and McGee (in a breakout debut that set her on the path to blaxploitation success); stunning landscapes (with Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto and San Cassiano in Badia, South Tyrol standing in for Utah); and Ennio Morricone’s lush, melancholic score (which he regarded as his personal favourite) conducted by Bruno Nicolai, you are in for a wild ride. There’s also a host of extras to savour – with my favourites being the Alex Cox audio commentary and the inclusion of 1968 documentary, Western, Italian Style. Plus, there’s that alternate ‘happy’ ending, which makes for a rather interesting debate.

Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-great-silence-il-grande-silenzio-limited-edition/

LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY CONTAINS

  • Limited Edition (3000 Copies Only)
  • O-Card Slipcase
  • Reversible Poster featuring the film’s original artwork
  • Set of 4 facsimile lobby cards
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration undertaken and completed for the 50th anniversary of the film’s original release 
  • English and Italian audio options 
  • Optional English Subtitles 
  • Brand new audio commentary with author Howard Hughes and filmmaker Richard Knew 
  • Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker Mike Siegel 
  • Audio commentary by director and Spaghetti Western aficionado Alex Cox, recorded live at the Hollywood Theatre, Portland in 2021.
  • Brand new interview with Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
  • Cox on Corbucci – filmmaker Alex Cox talks about Sergio Corbucci [15 mins] 
  • Western, Italian Style – 1968 documentary [38 mins] 
  • Two Alternate Endings (both fully restored in 2K), with optional audio commentaries 
  • Trailers 
  • Stills Galleries 
  • PLUS: A Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Western expert Howard Hughes

Seizure (1974) | Probably the strangest Oliver Stone film you will ever see!

You know even the greatest of filmmakers have to start somewhere – and multi-award-winning Oliver Stone is no exception. The director, screenwriter, film producer and author is best known for such cinematic highs as Platoon, Wall Street, Natural Born Killer, JFK and Nixon, but he actually cut his directorial teeth on the 1974 Canadian horror, Seizure.

It’s a film I’ve only ever heard about – until now! While attending Dark Fest IV in London recently, I stumbled across a copy of the 2014 Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray. Now, what sold me was that one of the film’s stars, Martine Beswick was also in attendance and she happily signed it for me. So what’s it like? Well, I thought it might be as cheesy and OTT as Stone’s other attempt at horror – the 1981 misfire The Hand starring Michael Caine – but you know what? It is very peculiar, but not that bad.

Jonathan Frid (AKA Dark Shadows‘ Barnabas Collins) plays horror writer Edmund Blackstone, who is experiencing a nightmarish Groundhog Day in which three murderous intruders target Blackstone’s family and friends who have gathered for a weekend at a lakeside retreat.

But these are no ordinary psychos: there’s the beautiful but deadly Queen of Evil (Beswick), a dwarf called Spider (played by a pre-Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize) and their scarred executioner Jackal (Henry Judd Baker). Dressed in medieval attire, the trio all seem from some other time and place. Are they real or figments of Edmund’s imagination?

Yes, it’s got some rather clunky editing going on, and the performances are of the ‘chewing the scenery’ type, but Stone’s home invasion thriller has a weird adult fairy tale vibe going on that makes it so unique.

Along for the wild ride is Warhol superstar Mary Woronov (just before she joined Roger Corman’s indie gang) – who shows off her athletic body during a rather bizarre knife fight, fading sex symbol Troy Donahue, soap star Christina Pickles, voice-over king Joseph Sirola, and (making his first feature) Richard Cox, who would find fame as the gay serial killer in William Friedkin’s Cruising. What a cast!

The Blu-ray features a new HD master from the original vault elements, so it looks as good as it will ever be and I must say that Beswick steals the show in her Morticia Addams-styled black attire and luscious red lipstick. Although Sirola’s obnoxious Trump-like Charlie does come in a close second. Given that, for years, Stone has tried to erase this film from his credits, it’s certainly one to seek out. The Scorpion release also has a great interview with Woronov (whose description of Stone had me howling) and Cox (who has some fun memories of working on the movie).

The Sabata Trilogy | Gianfranco Parolini’s Wild Wild Spaghetti Westerns on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Gianfranco Parolini’s Spaghetti Westerns, Sabata (1969), Adiós Sabata (1970) and Return of Sabata (1971) starring Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

‘Quick-cutting, lurid colours, elaborate gadgetry and acrobatic action’ all come to play in Parolini’s trilogy that fuses classic Western tropes with the frenzied visuals of the director’s 1960s espionage adventures Mission to Hell and Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill.

In Sabata (AKA Ehi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!) Lee Van Cleef stars as the eponymous gunslinger who calls the shots in the town of Daughtery, Texas when the villainous Stengel (Franco Ressel) engineers a plot to steal $100,000 in army money. Sporting pitch-black clothing and armed with some ingenious weapons (including a tiny, seemingly four-barreled gun), Sabata teams up with a mysterious bard called Banjo (William Berger) and his trick banjo rifle, Confederate Civil War veteran Carrincha (Ignazio Spalla AKA Pedro Sanchez) and silent Indian acrobat Alley Cat (Aldo Canti) to take down Stengel and his partners in crime. But no one can be trusted – even Sabata! Listen out for the melody from 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma.

Adiós Sabata was a vehicle for Yul Brynner that started life as Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, (lit, “Indio Black, you know what I’m going to tell you… You’re a big son of a…“). It was planned to spawn its own series, but the success of Sabata resulted in Brynner’s character (Indio) being renamed for the international market.

Set in revolutionary Mexico, during the Juarez uprising against Maximilian in 1867, the ‘sequel’ casts Brynner as an inscrutable soldier of fortune chasing after a hoard of gold from a duplicitous Austrian army Colonel (Gérard Herter). But just as in Sabata, his character has Pedro Sanchez playing his corpulent sidekick, and there’s another shifty ‘partner’ in Dean Reed’s Ballantine. Wearing a tight-fitting black ensemble embellished with tassels, medallion and a Mexican serape slung over his shoulder; and armed with a sawn-off repeating rifle, Brynner cuts a stylish, imposing figure but makes the character all his own. There’s also a great score from Bruno Nicolai – and of course, the Flamenco of Death.

Return of Sabata (AKA È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta) sees Lee Van Cleef back in black as the enigmatic sharpshooter, who is revealed to be a former Confederate army officer. This time around, Sabata is working at a travelling circus as a stunt marksman. Arriving in a small Texas town, Sabata wants a debt paid, but soon finds himself up against another corrupt member of the establishment: land baron Joe McIntock (Giampiero Albertini). Luckily, Pedro Sanchez and Aldo Canti’s Bronco and Angel are on hand to help him win the day once again. Shot and edited with much theatricality and lit like a Mario Bava Gothic horror, this third and final film is a surreal end to the series. It’s played purely for thrills and spills, and not to be taken seriously at all! But I loved Van Cleef’s frilled shirt and waistcoat attire!

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • O-Card Slipcase 
  • Reversible Sleeve featuring original poster artwork for each film  
  • 1080p presentations on Blu-ray from High-Definition transfers 
  • English audio options 
  • Optional English SDH Subtitles 
  • Sabata – Brand new feature length audio commentary by author / critic Kim Newman 
  • Adiós, Sabata – Audio commentary by filmmaker and historian Mike Siegel 
  • Return of Sabata – Audio commentary by authors C. Courtney Joyner & Henry Parke 
  • New video pieces on each film by Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
  • Trailers 
  • Stills Galleries 
  • PLUS: A Limited-Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Western expert Howard Hughes [First Print Run of 2000 copies only] 

Dementia 13 | Francis Ford Coppola’s director’s cut is a must-have

I have been a huge fan of Dementia 13 ever since I bought it on VHS back in the 1980s. I’ve returned to it time and again because it just ticks so many boxes: the moody monochrome cinematography, the atmospheric harpsichord-heavy Ronald Stein score, the great use of the Sir Edwin Lutyens-styled 14th-century Howth Castle in Dublin, and another eccentric turn from one of my all-time favourite character actors, Patrick Magee. But the print I’ve been watching all these years has been quite poor.

So it was with much glee that I see Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 feature debut in a high-definition director’s cut (which was done back in 2017 by Coppola’s American Zoetrope) on Blu-ray as part of their Vestron Collector’s Series.

Luana Anders (who had just finished Roger Corman’s The Young Racers, and previously co-starred with Vincent Price in 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum) plays recently widowed Louise Haloran, who keeps her husband’s death a secret in a bid to secure his inheritance.

But as she plots to exploit her ailing mother in law (Eithne Dunne) who continues to grieve over the tragic drowning of her daughter Kathleen, Louise’s plans are put in jeopardy by a maniac stalking the family estate. But who could it be? Brothers Richard (William Campbell) or Billy (Bart Patton), family physician Dr Justin Caleb (Magee), or someone else entirely?

Having seen the film countless times, I went straight to Coppola’s audio commentary – which was a blast. I’ve now gained a new appreciation of just how much the film is very much Coppola’s own. He not only directed but wrote the screenplay (which he readily admits was a cash-in on William Castle’s Homicidal, which was itself a rip on Hitchcock’s Psycho), and was very much involved in the film’s visual imagery. He was also the body double for the heart attack victim in the chilling opening scenes, the hand model for the film’s protagonist, Louise; and best of all, the 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta that features heavily was Coppola’s own pride and joy. One he wishes he still had – so do I! Oh, and I love the story he tells of how he became a hero after managing to keep a local pub open after closing time.

Made on just $40,000 (half of which was money left over from Corman’s The Young Races production) at Ardmore Studios in Bray, Ireland, Coppola’s psychological axe-murder horror is a masterclass in effective economical film-making – but also one with great style, and some very haunting imagery (such as the transistor radio burbling distorted pop music as it sinks into the lake, and [spoiler] Louise’s tragic early demise a la Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane).

To preserve his vision, Coppola excised the additional scenes (filmed by Jack Hill) that producer Roger Corman had added. While it’s a shame they weren’t included as an extra, the film finally looks and sounds its best!

Special Features
• Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola
• Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
• Prologue (Dementia 13 Test): In a nod to William Castle’s gimmicks, and to extend the film’s running time, this features a ‘shrink’ inviting the audience to take part in a survey that tests their mental state.

Amazon Blu-ray: https://bit.ly/Dementia13Vestron

The Dark Eyes of London | The 1939 Edgar Wallace adaptation starring Bela Lugosi gets a remastered release

If ever you had your suspicions about insurance agents being just out for your money, then look no further than the British 1939 shocker, The Dark Eyes of London, starring Bela Lugosi, which is now out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Network, featuring a newly remastered print.

Hiding behind a veneer of respectability and charitable good deeds, insurance broker Dr Orloff (Lugosi) is killing off his customers for their policies.

Using the Dearborn Home for the Blind in London’s East End as his cover and disguised as the charity’s blind proprietor, Orloff gets his dirty work done by Jake (Wilfred Walter), a deformed blind resident.

But his murderous schemes come unstuck when his new secretary Diana (Greta Gynt) finds a vital clue to her father’s murder.

Produced by Pathé Films (via John Argyle Productions), this adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s 1924 novel, The Dead Eyes of London, was expected to usher in a wave of British-made horror – just as Universal was experiencing in the US following the successful re-release of 1931’s Frankenstein. But it got hit with a double-blow which stopped that idea dead in its tracks.

It became the first British film to receive the ‘H’ censor rating for being ‘Horrific for Public Exhibition’ (which meant no under-16 were allowed to see the film) and it was released in the UK in October 1939, when the country was preparing for a real-life horror show: World War Two. It would be another two decades before the genre bounced back, courtesy of Hammer.

However, The Dark Eyes of London is one of the best shockers of the 1930s. Featuring drownings, electrocutions, cold-blooded murder and a monster that echoes Conrad Veidt’s Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), Karloff’s monster in Frankenstein, and the killer ape in The Murders of the Rue Morgue (1932), it certainly earned its ‘H’ certificate.

Lugosi is excellent in the dual role of the cold and calculating Dr Orloff and the kindly Professor Dearborn (dubbed by English stage actor OB Clarence) and he gets excellent support from Shakespearean actor and playwright Wilfred Walter as the blind giant whose deformity mirrors Orloff’s dark soul. It is also effectively directed by Walter Summers (who helmed the last major British silent Chamber of Horrors in 1929) and atmospherically shot by Bryan Langley (who makes excellent use of Duncan Sutherland’s warehouse and riverside set).

Filmed in 11 days at Welwyn Studios in Hertfordshire in April 1939, the film was released by Monogram in the US in March 1940 as The Human Monster. It was later withdrawn from circulation following the release of a West German adaptation in 1961 (Die toten Augen von London). Network’s HD remastered release looks and sounds fantastic, which this landmark British horror, so deserves. I highly recommend adding this to your classic horror collection.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Brand-new high definition remaster from original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio
• Audio commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
• Kim Newman and Stephen Jones discuss Lugosi’s work in the UK at the Edgar Wallace pub in London
• US titles & US trailer
• Image gallery
• Booklet written by Adrian Smith

The Snake Girl and The Silver Haired Witch | This 1968 tokusatsu terror tale is a terrific delight

Japanese director Noriaki Yuasa is best-know for Daiei Studios’ iconic Gamera series which he helmed from 1965 to 1980. In 1968, in between Gamera films, he turned his eye to adapting Kazuo Umezu’s classic 1966 horror manga Hebi shōjo (AKA Reptilia), about a shape-shifting snake woman, for the big screen. The result was The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (Hebi musume to hakuhatsuma) – a tokusatsu terror tale that’s rarely been seen outside Japan since its release but gets a new life on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. And it’s a doozy.

A young girl called Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) is reunited with her scientist father and amnesiac mother after a long stay at a children’s home and is surprised to discover that she has an older sister, Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi).

With her father away on business, and her mother lost in her thoughts, Sayuri tries to befriend Tamami, who treats her with scorn, and is doted on by the family maid. Finding reptile scales on Tamami’s bed, Sayuri suspects her sister is a snake.

Moving to the attic, Sayuri begins having terrifying visions of a fanged creature and a witch that wishes to do her harm. But who is she? and why is she targeting her?

Yuasa’s 1968 horror is a revelation. I had never heard of the film before, and it doesn’t appear in any of my go-to reference books. But it’s got all the right ingredients to be a bona fide genre classic: a big house with shadow-lit passageways, a lab full of snakes and an attic draped in cobwebs, two genuinely scary monsters and a little girl heroine caught up in a nightmarish mystery.

Boasting haunting visuals, atmospheric production design and photography (that evoke Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the same period), a nerve-jangling score, and effective performances (especially Matsui, whose androgynous appearance serve to make this a Boys’ Own Adventure, too), The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is one to watch time and again.

Oh, and it doesn’t lack in shocks either: I had to turn away when poor Sayuri ends up having her hands repeatedly bashed while hanging for dear life from some scaffolding. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

● High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation, with original uncompressed mono audio
● Optional English subtitles
● Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
This Charming Woman: Interview with manga and folklore scholar Zack Davisson
● Theatrical trailer
● Image gallery
● Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork by Mike Lee-Graham
● Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Raffael Coronelli

The Ape Woman | Marco Ferreri’s anarchic 1964 satire gets a 4K-restored release from CultFilms

Italian film-maker Marco Ferreri (11 May 1928 – 9 May 1997) made over 100 very personal films over his long, and often controversial career, but is probably best-known for his 1973 satire La Grande Bouffe and 1981’s Tales of Ordinary Madness based on the work of US outsider poet Charles Bukowski (two of my cult film faves). Now one of Ferreri’s earliest films, 1964’s The Ape Woman (AKA La Donna Scimmia), is in my sights after getting a 4K restoration release on Blu-ray.

The Ape Woman is inspired by the true story of 19th-century carnival performer Julia Pastrana, an indigenous woman from Mexico with hypertrichosis, a condition that meant hair covered her entire body. Like Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man), she was exploited as a freak by her manager. She died, aged just 25, from postpartum complications following the birth of her son (who only survived three days). But her story didn’t end there, for her corpse and the body of her baby were taxidermically preserved and ended up being displayed in museums, circuses and amusement parks around the world for over a century.

Ferreri’s film is set in contemporary (1960’s) Naples and sees Annie Girardot playing Maria, a shy convent novitiate whose condition attracts the attention of Ugo Tognazzi’s wannabe entrepreneur, Antonio. Persuaded with the promise of marriage and money to be made, Maria leaves the convent and moves into a ramshackle backstreet warehouse where she begins to ‘perform’ as a captive wild African ape that Antonio found in the jungle.

At first, Maria feels ashamed but soon becomes more self-assured, while the selfish Antonio begins to feel real love for his wife – especially so when a professor tries to buy her virginity and a famous impresario turns their act into an exotic striptease. But tragedy strikes when Maria falls pregnant, then dies.

Ferreri originally closed his drama with Antonio recovering the bodies of his wife and child from a museum and then putting them on display in a makeshift tent. Deemed too dark and challenging at the time, producer Carlo Ponti had another ending filmed, in which Maria’s hair falls out after giving birth, and she goes on to become a normal wife and mother, while Antonio gets a regular job. It was this ending that scored the film a Palme d’Or nomination. CultFilm’s Blu-ray includes both (which were restored in 4K for the 2017 Venice Film Festival). I must say I do prefer Ferreri’s stark take as it really underscores his anarchic vision.

I thought this might be a tough watch, but Girardot’s performance is captivating as is her character’s journey and development. Tognazzi also brings much depth to the misogynistic Antonio, who starts off cruel and calculating and ends up being just very sad. There’s also a couple of stand-out scenes, particularly so when Maria is forced to sing while being paraded through the streets on her wedding day and the couple’s cringe-worthy Parisian striptease.

If you are not familiar with Ferreri’s work, then the documentary that’s included here is very illuminating. As is the story that the film is based on, which has had me check out whatever happened to Julia Pastrana. Seems she got a much-belated burial in 2012 near her Mexican hometown, Sinaloa de Leyva, after spending decades in storage in Oslo University in Norway.

Available on Blu-ray and digital on-demand from CultFilms

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Full HD 1080p from 4K restoration
• 2.0 dual-mono LPCM Original Italian audio
• Two separate endings: Marco Ferreri’s director’s version and producer Carlo Ponti’s version
• Documentary on Marco Ferreri featuring Gerard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Lambert and Ornella Muti
• New, improved English subtitles

Order direct from CultFilms: https://cultfilms.co.uk/product/the-ape-woman

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