Beyond the Door | The infamous 1970s satantic shocker gets a limited edition 2k Blu-ray restored release – Hail Satan!

Prolific producer and director Ovidio G Assonitis, whose Tentacles (one of my all-time faves) and Piranha II: The Spawning cashed in on the killer fish craze that followed Jaws, scored his first worldwide hit in 1974 with Beyond the Door – the infamously insane riff on The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

Jessica (played by Juliet Mills of TV’s Nanny and the Professor fame) is the wife of a music executive Robert (Gabriele Lavia) in San Francisco who starts to develop strange behaviors whilst pregnant with her third child. Before you can say ‘split pea soup’, she’s displaying signs of full-blown demonic possession – complete with projectile vomiting and fully-rotating head!

Her obstetrician Dr George Staton (Nino Segurini) believes Jessica should to be placed into a sanatorium, but a mysterious man called Dimitri (Richard Johnson) then reveals himself to be her former lover and a satanist who has a made a pact with the devil to deliver him Jessica’s newborn in exchange for having been saved from a car accident…

Described as ‘disgusting’, ‘scary trash’ and ‘maddeningly inappropriate’ by film critic Robert Ebert, the supernatural shocker (which was the subject of a successful lawsuit by Warner Bros over its direct rips from The Exorcist) has been given a brand-new 2k restoration release on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, packed with stacks of bonus extras. But is the film worth all the bother?

As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. But in the case of Beyond the Door (AKA The Devil Within Her), I’m sure it was a hell of a lot of fun trying. Yes, its cheaply made (in all apects – from its production design to its dire editing), but it does have some effective scares that keep you entertained – and they are the main reason why the film made such a killing at the box office.

I grew up watching Juliet Mills as the wise and wonderful magical nanny Phoebe Figalilly on TV, so seeing her as satan’s Antichrist incubator spewing obscenties and green sick was quite a shock. But whatever the two-time Golden Globe nominee’s reasoning was for accepting the role, Mills’ physical performance certainly impresses in the scenes in which she goes full-on Linda Blair.

Another standout is when Jessica’s two brats – foul-mouthed Gail (Barbara Fiorini), who is so obssessed with Erich Segal’s novel Love Story that she owns multiple copies, and her little brother Ken (David Colin Jr) – are terrorised by supernatural forces in their bedroom. The whole room starts shaking like a dollhouse, the kids are thrown about like ragdolls, and the eyes of their toys light up as though possessed. I loved this scene and I’m sure the kids did too. Colin Jr would next turn up in Mario Bava’s Shock in 1977, which was released in the US as an unofficial sequel to Beyond the Door.

Of course, this tawdry occult tale is all overseen by the Devil himself, who narrates throughout (by an uncredited British actor Robert Booth, who did bit parts in Z Cars and The Professionals and some voice work on 2006’s Tardisodes). And he gets some great quotable lines like, ‘Nobody knows the exquisite suffering of the damned’.

Interestingly the film’s co-producer was Edward L Montoro, whose own real-life story is worthy of a film itself. He embezzled over $1million from his film production company, Film Ventures International (which did two of my faves, Grizzly and Day of the Animals), and vanished, never to be seen again.

Here are the full specs on Arrow’s big release. No screeners were available, so I can’t comment on the extras.

• Brand new 2K restoration of the extended Uncut English Export Version
Possessed: a brand-new feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
• Reversible fold-out poster
• Perfect-bound collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin and Alessio di Rocco

• Brand new 2K restoration of the Uncut English Export Version, released as The Devil Within Her (108 mins)
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
The Devil and I: Interview with director/producer Ovidio G. Assonitis
Barrett’s Hell: Interview with cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli
Beyond the Music: Interview with composer Franco Micalizzi
The Devil’s Face: Interview with camera operator Maurizio Maggi
Motel and Devils: Audio interview with actor Gabriele Lavia
• Alternate Italian Chi Sei? opening titles
• Alternate Behind the Door VHS opening titles
• Alternate Japanese Diabolica opening and ending sequence
• Trailers, TV and Radio Spots
• Image Gallery

• The alternate US Theatrical Version
• Italy Possessed: Feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!

Endless Night | Sidney Gilliat’s 1972 Agatha Christie thriller on Blu-ray

The final feature by Sidney Gilliat, 1972’s Endless Night capped a career that encompassed screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed, the anarchic St Trinian’s comedies, and his own directorial gems such as mystery-thriller Green for Danger.

Told in flashback, the thriller centres on 20-something chauffeur Michael (Hywel Bennett) who gets the chance to build his dream home when he falls in love with wealthy American heiress Ellie (Hayley Mills). But following their marriage (in secret), a series of bizarre events begin to upset their new life on Gypsy’s Acre… Could they have something to do with the land being cursed or could Ellie’s greedy relatives and interfering best friend be causing them?

Adapting Agatha Christie’s 1967 novel of the same name (one of her favourites), the 1972 thriller reunites some of of the team of 1968’s Twisted Nerve, including co-stars Bennett and Mills, cinematographer Harry Waxman, and composer Bernard Herrmann (who conjures up another impressive score), and boasts a great supporting cast including Britt Ekland (as Ellie’s suspect friend), George Sanders (who was making Pyschomania at the same time), Ann Way (fantastic as an old gypsy woman) and Lois Maxwell (playing a right bitch). Plus, there’s a host of familiar faces from classic British TV, including Peter Bowles, Windsor Davies and Nicholas Courtney. Uncredited is Shirley Jones (yes, of The Partridge Family fame) who dubs Hayley Mills’ singing voice, while character actor Leo Glenn plays the psychiatrist.

DID YOU KNOW? The ultra modernist house that is also one of the major characters in the film, was designed by the film’s production designer Wilfred Shingleton, but was not actually real: just a clever combination of matte paintings and a pre-fabricated front for the exteriors (which took place on Brighstone Down in the Isle of Wight), while the interiors were all created on a set at Shepparton Studios. Still it looks fantastic and worthy of being a Bond villain’s lair (especially the moveable floor that reveals a swimming pool)! Meanwhile, the house that stands in for the mental hospital and a restaurant is actually Grim’s Dyke in North London, the former home of the dramatist WS Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame that was used in the late-1960s horrors, Cry of the Banshee and Curse of the Crimson Altar.

Filled with lots of Hitchcockian elements (especially that score), mysterious, untrustful characters, and an unsettling twist ending, Endless Night is a great little mystery thriller to revisit and it’s out now on Blu-ray from Indicator with the following special features (most of which lovingly concentrate on Bernard Herrmann)…

• New restoration from a 4K scan (from StudioCanal)
• Original mono audio
• The BEHP Interview with Sidney Gilliat (1990, 100 mins): archival audio recording
• The John Player Lecture with Bernard Herrmann (1972, 53 mins)
A Full House (2020, 8 mins): interview with Hayley Mills (this was my highlight)
Endless Notes (2020, 13 mins): composer Howard Blake recalls working with Herrmann
Emotional Turbulence (2020, 16 mins): Author and historian Neil Sinyard explore Herrmann’s late career and his enduring legacy
• Image gallery
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with a new essay by Anne Billson, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat on Endless Night, an archival interview with Gilliat, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits


The Pillow Book | Peter Greenaway’s 1996 erotic drama on Blu-ray

Peter Greenaway’s intricately ornate love story The Pillow Book (1996) follows Nagiko, a Japanese girl (Vivian Wu) whose calligrapher father (Ken Ogata) paints her face on every birthday. As a woman, her continued obsession with body painting leads to a bizarre relationship with Jerome (Ewan McGregor), an English translator living in Hong Kong.

Imitating Sei Shonagon, an aristocratic female courtier living in 10th-century Japan who wrote a journal of exquisitely poetic lists, Nagiko writes 13 erotic poems on the subject of The Lover on the bodies of 13 naked men, including Jerome. But the poise and beauty of Sei Shonagon’s text soon gives way to violence and revenge…

As with most of the British director’s films, 1991’s The Pillow Book is visually sumptuous and intellectually challenging. If you are a fan of his very personal cinema, then you’ll find the film’s languid eroticism utterly beguiling, if you’re not, then it will seem arty, impenetrable and a turn off. But regardless of which side you find yourself on, The Pillow Book is most definitely a revealing showcase for McGregor.

The Indicator limited edition blu-ray release includes the following special features…

• High Definition remaster
• Original stereo audio
• Selected scenes commentary with Peter Greenaway (2015, 38 mins)
The Book of the Editor (2020, 27 mins): editor Chris Wyatt recalls his work with Greenaway
Rosa (1992, 16 mins): performance film by Anne Teresa De Keersmaker’s Rosas dance company, directed by Peter Greenaway and shot by Sacha Vierny, newly restored from the original negative by Belgium’s Cinematek
• Image gallery
• Original theatrical trailer
• Original theatrical calligraphic subtitle presentation
• New and improved English subtitles
• Booklet with a new essay by Adam Scovell, Peter Greenaway on The Pillow Book, excerpts from Greenaway’s 26 Facts About Flesh and Ink and the original press book, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Anthony Nield on Rosa, Bruno Mestdagh on restoring Rosa, and film credits

Magic | William Goldman’s 1978 psychological horror heads to Blu-ray

Adapted for the big screen by William Goldman from his best-selling 1976 book, Magic is out now on Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.

Corky (Anthony Hopkins) is a shy, aspiring magician who just can’t get a break, but after he introduces foul-mouthed ventriloquist dummy Fats to his act, his star begins to rise. When his agent Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) offers him the chance of starring in his own TV show, Corky freaks out and heads to his hometown in the Catskills. Reuniting with his old high school crush Peggy (Ann-Margret), Corky decides to elope with Peggy and leave his career behind.

But the jealous and possessive Fats will not let him go…

Director Richard Attenborough’s 1978 thriller was originally sold as as horror chiller, but there’s very little in the way of horror or chills on offer (except for one very disturbing scene set on a lake). Well, that’s what I thought when I first saw it as a 14-year-old back in 1978. With the release of the Second Sight Films Blu-ray, I thought a revisit was needed (just to see if it – and I – had matured somewhat).

Well, this ‘terrifying love story’ has and hasn’t. Anthony Hopkins is certainly effective as the tortured entertainer, but his Corky becomes as manic and out of control as Fats, that you end up losing any sympathy you may have initially had for him. Mind you, Hopkins did get a  Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination for the role (in which he had to learn how to throw his voice).

However, Fats (whose facial featues were based on Hopkins’ own likeness) is genuinely creepy (but then aren’t all ventriloquist’s dummies?) and Attenborough does his best to keep us wondering if Fats is just an extension of Corky’s suppressed thoughts or has actually taken on a life of its own?

Thankfully, the lovely Ann-Margret is on hand to bring some much needed warmth to the proceedings (and to Victor Kemper’s chilly photography) – but her Peggy is ultimately a sad figure, and Burgess Meredith is terrific as the cigar-chomping Samuel Z Arkoff-styled agent, especially in one very telling scene in which he asks Corky to make Fats shut up for five minutes. The film’s big highlight, however, is Jerry Goldsmith’s hauntingly romantic score – which I am now seeking out to add to my collection.

The Second Sight Films Blu-ray release also includes a host of very interesting special extras (below), that have been all ported over from the 2010 MPI Media Group US Blu-ray release.

Screenwriting for Dummies (2006, Blue Underground, 16mins): William Goldman looks back over the development of the film (whose original director was Norman Jewison), and talks about its cast and crew. And there’s some interesting on-set photos and footage included.
• Anthony Hopkins Spanish TV interview (6.16min): In Spanish and English
• Victor Kemper: Cinematographer (11.23min): The veteran Director of Photographer talks about his work and career, paying special attention to Magic (Includes a big spoiler, so watch the film first)
• Ann-Margret make-up test (1.19min): With some disco-style music in the background.
Fats and Friends (26.53min): Dennis Alwood, who acted as consultant to the production of Magic, takes look at the history of ventriloquism on stage and screen, and reveals how Fats scored the role over his own dummy, Dudley.
• Anthony Hopkins radio interview (3.20min): Against a background of raw dailies from Magic, Hopkins discusses his background and his career.
• Trailer (2:09min)
• 4 TV Spots (the second one got pulled from US TV for being too scary for kids)
• 3 Radio spots

Black Angel | This 1940s film noir starring Peter Lorre is ripe for rediscovery

When the beautiful singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) is slain in her chic apartment, the men in her life become suspects. There is Martin Blair (Dan Duryea), her alcoholic musician ex-husband, nursing a broken heart; there is the shady nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre) who has been sneaking around her place, and there is Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), the adulterer who found his mistress’s dead body and fled the scene. When Bennett is convicted and sentenced to death, his long-suffering wife Catherine (June Vincent) joins forces with the heartbroken pianist Martin Blair to uncover the truth…

Directed by Hollywood veteran Roy William Neill (best known for his 11 Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone), 1946’s Black Angel is a film noir, adapted from a novel by the acclaimed crime writer Cornell Woolrich, that is ripe for rediscovery, boasting a suspenseful narrative, strong performances and atmospheric, meticulously lit cinematography.

It is presented here in a new restoration by Arrow Films, with a host of extras.

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• New audio commentary by the writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode
A Fitting End, video appreciation by film historian Neil Sinyard
• Original trailer
• Gallery of original stills and promotional materials
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
• Illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by author Philip Kemp

Edge of the Axe & Deadly Manor | A double-dose of slice and dice chills from Jose Ramon Larraz on Blu-ray

Following Arrow Video’s release last year of a fantastic box-set of Jose Ramon Larraz’s early shockers (Whirpool, Vampyres, The Coming of Sin) now comes two slashers made at the very end of his film career on Blu-ray, restored and released in the UK for the first time, with a host of extras – Edge of the Axe (1988) and Deadly Manor (1990).

‘Seven killings in two weeks, this place stinks of death’
When the rural community of Paddock County is rocked by a series of vicious murders by an axe-wielding psychopath, officer Frank McIntosh (Fred Holliday) sets out to investigate. Meanwhile, Lillian (Christina Marie Lane), the daughter of a local tavern owner who is home from college, is starting up a tender friendship with computer geek Gerald (Barton Faulks) when she comes across the names of three women who have been killed.

Gerald explains that he enjoys making lists for fun, and Lillian believes him. She then confides in Gerald that her cousin Charlie has just been released from a mental hospital (having been placed there as a young boy following a head injury which Lillian caused), and suspects he might be responsible for the killings…

While set in California, this 1989 US/Spanish co-production (originally titled, Al filo del hacha) was primarily shot in Madrid (with the American scenes shot around Big Bare Lake in San Bernardino) and director José Ramón Larraz (going by the name Joseph Braunstein here) imbues his late entry hack-and slash thriller with some typical giallo trappings – some good, some excruciatingly bad.

The film’s primary colour palette – courtesy of cinematographer Tote Trenas – lends a Bava-esque meets comic-book sheen, Javier Elorrieta’s music is suitably weird (think Friday the 13th cross with country and western), and the special make-up effects are suitably gory. But the story (littered with trademark giallo twists, turns and red-herrings) is all over the place and the dialogue is downright hilariously bad. If it didn’t take it self so seriously, it could play as a spoof on the slasher genre. Oh and the computer technology looks really lame by today’s standards – but even so, the use of voice activation was a little ahead of its time.

Bizarrely, the violence is raw and rather nasty – which feels out of kilter in a slasher that’s loaded with unintentional laughs (incidentally, the UK video version was cut by 26 seconds to tone down the axe murders). And one scene that is guaranteed to make your sides ache is when genre legend Jack Taylor (playing a boozed-up local) is being driven home by one of the killer’s victims. He plays it so OTT it’s actually worth checking out the film just for this scene alone.

Another disturbing feature is the creepy smile that the actress playing Lillian sports for most of the film. I couldn’t work out if she was putting it on or whether that was her actual smile. I suspect it was the latter seeing this was her only screen role. If you do survive (all that laughig) for the climax, then you are in for some pure hysteria – but guess what? The nightmare isn’t over when those credits roll.

Edge of the Axe is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• English and Spanish language versions of the feature
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Spanish soundtrack
• Brand new audio commentary with actor Barton Faulks
• Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
• Newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks
The Pain in Spain: a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Justin Osbourn
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes

‘People collect stamps, baseball cards, ancient Incan artifacts. No one collects scalps!’
Bound for a camping trip to the lake, six friends and a hitchhiker are forced to stop for the night when a storm hits, and find a seemingly abandoned mansion as the perfect place to chill. But there’s something decidedly not right with the place – there’s a bloodstained car wreck in the front garden hat’s been turned into a memorial, there’s coffins in the basement and scalps in a closet, and photographs of a beautiful woman are plastered on the walls all over the house. Of course the teens decide to stay only to be picked off one-by-one by a mystery killer…

Released on VHS in the US under the title Savage Lust, Larraz’s penultimate film of his career is frankly dire. The scenario is unimaginative, the acting tragic, there’s little in the way of suspense or horror, and nothing actually happens for ages (except lots of heavy petting). And when it does its an anti-climax. Even the kills are nothing to get excited about. And as for the disfigured face make-up – OMG! truly amateurish. The only redeeming feature is the creepy house used for the setting and maybe scream queen Jennifer Delora’s OTT performance (and her interview is a scream too), but frankly this Deadly Manor is a deadly bore.

• Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
• Newly-filmed interview with actress Jennifer Delora
Making a Killing: a newly-filmed interview with producer Brian Smedley-Aston
• Extract from an archival interview with Jose Larraz
• Original Savage Lust VHS trailer
• Image Gallery
• Original Script and Shooting Schedule (BD-ROM content)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Adam Rabalais
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by author John Martin

Anti-Worlds proudly presents its inaugural taboo-busting Blu-ray releases

For cinema fans who like their films daring, innovative and controversial, then take a look at new production company Anti-Worlds, who are releasing their first slate of Blu-rays, featuring high-quality feature-film presentations from some new, ground-breaking film-makers, and each one complemented by an array of extensive bonus content.

Aaron Schimberg’s impressive second feature is his response, as a filmmaker with facial deformity, to cinematic portrayals of disfigured people, from Freaks to The Elephant Man. Simultaneously empathetic and sardonic, Chained for Life’s multi-layered meta-narrative casts Jess Weixler (Teeth) as Mabel, a well-intentioned Hollywood star. She takes the role of a blind woman in a hospital-based horror movie about abnormalities, directed by an egomaniacal German filmmaker. As shooting progresses, Mabel gradually falls for her friendly British co-star Rosenthal, played by Under the Skin actor Adam Pearson.

• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
• Audio commentary with writer-director Aaron Schimberg
A Different Kind of Intimacy (2020, 18 mins): actor Jess Weixler reflects on the themes and production of Chained for Life
Good Things Happen to Good People (2020, 10 mins): actor and activist Adam Pearson discusses the role of Rosenthal
We Are Family (2020, 17 mins): actor Sari Lennick recalls her experiences of making the film
• Eight deleted/extended scenes (12 mins)
• Super 8 on-set footage (2018, 2 mins, mute), silent material shot by film archivist John Kalcsmann
Late Spring/Regrets for Our Youth (2009, 5mins): short diary by Aaron Schimberg
• UK and US theatrical trailers
• Teaser trailer
• Image gallery
• English subtitles

• UK premiere presentation of Aaron Schimberg’s 2013 debut feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
It would be sad to see this end up in a dump (2013, 6 mins): rare behind-the-scenes footage shot by producer-editor Vanessa McDonnell
• Nine deleted scenes (32 mins)
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Chained for Life by David Jenkins, Jeff Billington on the 1950 exploitation film Chained for Life, Alejandro Bachmann and Michelle Koch on Go Down Death, and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

This controversial drama, passed fully uncut by the BBFC, tells the story of the trophy girlfriend of a Danish drug lord who sets a dangerous game in motion when she seeks the attention of another man whilst on vacation in the Turkish Riviera. Included in the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the ‘Best 20 Films from Sundance 2018’, and in IndieWire’s list of Sundance standouts that deserve to find distribution. Director Isabella Eklöf was also selected in the ‘10 Directors to Watch’ list by IndieWire.

• High Definition presentation
• Classified fully uncut by the BBFC
• Original 5.1 surround sound
On ‘Holiday’ (2020, 20 mins): in-depth interview with writer-director Isabella Eklöf on the creation and production of her debut feature
• Q&A with Isabella Eklöf (2019, 29 mins): the filmmaker in discussion with Lizzie Francke, recorded at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
• Deleted scene (3 mins)
Willy Kyrklund (2002, 11 mins): short documentary portrait of the acclaimed author and poet, directed by Eklöf
• Theatrical trailer
• Optional English translation subtitles
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Holiday by Anna Bogutskaya, an interview with Isabella Eklöf by Addy Fong, Peter Walsh on Willy Kyrklund., and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Set on the eve of Y2K, Relaxer is a mind-bending drama about a young man who is tasked by his overbearing brother to get to level 256 on the classic computer game Pac-Man, and not to leave his couch until he does. Inspired by Luis Buñuel’s absurdist classic The Exterminating Angel, the film premiered at the 2018 South by Southwest festival, and won the Best Actor award at that year’s Fantasia Film Festival.

• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
• Behind the Scenes (2018, 7 mins): on-set footage featuring Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge
• Deleted scene (5 mins)
• Rehearsal footage (2018, 10 mins)
Milk Party (2001, 9 mins): the real-life inspiration behind one of Relaxer’s most memorable scenes
• Four short films by Joel Potrykus: Ludovico Treatment (1999, 2 mins), Ludovico Testament (1999, 4 mins), Coyote (2010, 25 mins) and Test Market 447b (2019, 2 mins)
Follicle Gang (Green) (2011, 2 mins): music video for Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, directed by Potrykus
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• David Dastmalchian promos
• Optional English subtitles

• UK premiere presentation of writer-director Joel Potrykus’ 2014 feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
Buzzard: The Rehearsal Cut (2014, 65 mins): alternative version of the complete film comprised entirely of rehearsal footage
• ‘Buzzard’ at Locarno Film Festival (2018, 9 mins): short documentary on the filmmakers’ trip to Milan, Italy, shot and edited by director of photography Adam J Minnick
• Behind the scenes footage (2014, 8 mins): a selection of outtakes and on-set material
• Seven deleted/alternative scenes (9 mins)
• Hidden ‘Buzzard’ (2014, 1 min): a guide to the ‘Easter eggs’ within the film
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• Festival trailer
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Relaxer by Nathan Rabin, Joel Potrykus on the making of Relaxer, Caden Mark Gardener on Buzzard, Alex Ross Perry on Potrykus, and film credits
• Double-sided inlay with full Buzzard artwork
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Under the Shadow | Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit gets a UK Blu-ray release

Iranian director Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit Under the Shadow is loved by audiences and critics alike. Part ghost story, part social thriller with cutting political commentary, the film is already considered a genre classic and now gets a UK Blu-ray debut in a feature packed Limited Edition box set, courtesy of Second Sight.

Making his feature debut, Anvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine.

When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.

Many critics have compared Anvari’s thriller with 2014’s The Babadook, but its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences.

The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsurprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with an Islamist republic.

Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons  – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that makes the film so engrossing to watch. I won’t reveal anything about the ending here, but I must admit I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.

If you haven’t seen it yet, then do check out Second Sight’s new UK Blu-ray release, which is packed with some fantastic extras…

Two & Two: Babak Anvari’s BAFTA Award nominated short film
Escaping The Shadow: a new interview with director Babak Anvari
Within the Shadow: a new interview with actor Narges Rashidi
Forming the Shadow: a new interview with producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill
Shaping the Shadow: a new interview with cinematographer Kit Fraser
• A new audio commentary with Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham

• Limited Edition of 2,000
• Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy
• Soft cover book with new essays by Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept
• Poster featuring new artwork

Night Tide | Curtis Harrington’s cult fantasy feature debut and eight rarely-seen experimental shorts get a luminous UK release on Blu-ray

Presented by Nicolas Winding Refn in a new 4K restoration, Curtis Harrington’s 1961 fantasy thriller Night Tide is an offbeat classic of American independent cinema, and it makes its UK Blu-ray debut with this must-have box-set from Powerhouse Films.

Night Tide sees Dennis Hopper (in his first starring role) playing a sailor on shore leave in San Diego, where he meets a young woman called Mora (Linda Lawson) who not only works in a sideshow as a mermaid, but actually believes she is one of the mythical Sirens, who lure young men to their deaths…

A dream-like fusion of arthouse, expressionism and the surreal, dominated by high-contrast lighting and deep shadows, Harrington’s first feature pays homage Val Lewton (one of Harrington’s heroes) and his classic 1942 chiller Cat People – and cements the young film-maker’s poetic cinematic vision that was born out of his earlier experimental shorts. This new restoration is simply luminous and one that I can happily watch over and over again.

Exclusive to this two-disc region free set is a bonus Blu-ray devoted to eight of Harrington’s short films. Previously released by Flicker Alley and Drag City in the US following painstaking restoration by the Academy Film Archive (that was carried out between 2003 and 2007 – the year of Harrington’s death, aged 80), these shorts (also making their UK Blu-ray debut) are a key insight into Harrington’s development as a film-maker…

The Fall of the House of Usher (1942, 10 mins): Inspired to become a film-maker after reading Paul Rotha’s The Film Till Now: A Survey of World Cinema, Harrington was just 16 when he crafted this hallucingenic and campy homemade short in which he plays both Roderick and Madeline Usher. It might be very low budget is bursting with style that would later inform his cinematic vision.

Fragment of Seeking (1946, 14 mins): This ‘examination of youthful narcissism’ was heavily influenced by Maya Deren’s influential Meshes of the Afternoon and is very much a companion piece to Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks in its exploration of homosexuality. In fact, when the two friends first screened their ‘erotic dream pieces’ to an LA art group, they were deemed ‘very sick boys’. Good on them!

Picnic (1948, 23 mins): Harrington persuaded his own parents to star in this ‘satire of middle-class life’, in which an angry young man chases false love and desires to escape authoritive control. Acclaimed French director and film critic Jacques Rivette praised the film’s poetic expression.

On the Edge (1949, 6 mins): Surrealism comes to the fore in this powerful short about youthful dissatisfaction and human frailty, which uses the wild and desolate landscape of Salton Sea (near Brawley, California) to great effect.

The Assignation (1953, 8 mins): In this love letter to Venice and in his first short in colour that was long deemed lost until it was rediscovered in the vaults of the Cinematheque Française, Harrington explores themes of ‘fleeting human connection’ while also showcasing the city’s brooding architecture.

The Wormwood Star (1956, 10 mins): This is my personal favourite and comes with a very interesting history. Entranced by the LA artist Marjorie Cameron, a magnetic and alluring woman whom he had met while appearing in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and who makes a witchy cameo in Night Tide, Harrington crafted this arty occult short to ‘present Cameron/the artist as alchemist who, through her creative work, becomes herself transmuted into gold’.

Very much part of the occult milieu of Southern California at the time, Cameron was a unique and troubled soul whose lovers included rocket scientist and Aleister Crowley follower Jack Parsons (who developed a belief system that was later appropriated by Ron L Hubbard — guess what that was?) and psychedelic artist Burt Shonberg (who was commissioned to create the ancestor paintings in Roger Corman’s House of Usher). Cameron later burned most of the pieces that appear in the short (which was filmed in the home of surrealist collector Edward James), so this is only record of her unique artistry.

The Four Elements (1966, 13 mins): Commissioned by the United States Information Agency, Harrington was tasked to make this propaganda film to show off the might of American industry. He does so, but with his distinctive flair. Following this short, Harrington went on to craft a host of psychological thrillers like Games (1967) and Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) that have now attracted cult status, and TV movies like Cat Creature (1973) and Killer Bees (1974), then ended up helming episodes of the biggest and campest soaps of the 19870s, Dynasty and The Colbys.

Usher (2002, 37 mins): This final inclusion sees Harrington return to what made him become a film-maker in the first place: ‘the art of it’. Filmed at his home with a crew made up of friends (and Church of Satan members, Nikolas and Zeena Schreck), its an atmospheric and humourous take on the same Poe tale that began his cinematic journey.

This box-set is currently my No.1 home entertainment release of 2020, and could only be bettered by seeing all of Harrington’s features and TV movies in another box-set or two. In the meantime, here are the complete specs on Powerhouse/Indictator’s fabulous release.

• New 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary (from 1998) with writer-director Curtis Harrington and actor Dennis Hopper (This is a must-listen and very informative on the making of the film – also a piece of cinema history as both of them are no longer with us)
• New audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns (excellent as always)
Harrington on Harrington (2018, 25 mins): wide-ranging archival interview with the filmmaker
The Sinister Image: Curtis Harrington (1987, 57 mins): two episodes from David Del Valle’s public access series devoted to cult cinematic figures (It was fantastic to finally see this)
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
• New and improved English subtitles

• High Definition remasters
• Original mono audio
• Eight short films: The Fall of the House of Usher (1942, 10 mins); Fragment of Seeking (1946, 14 mins); Picnic (1948, 23 mins); On the Edge (1949, 6 mins); The Assignation (1953, 8 mins); The Wormwood Star (1956, 10 mins); The Four Elements (1966, 13 mins); Usher (2002, 37 mins)
• Image gallery: production photography and a rare selection from Harrington’s personal collection
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• 80-page collector’s book featuring new writing on Night Tide by Paul Duane, Curtis Harrington on Night Tide and the short films, archival articles by Harrington on horror cinema, experimental films and the making of Picnic, an overview of critical responses, Peter Conheim on the restoration of Night Tide, and film credits
• Limited edition exclusive set of five facsimile lobby cards

The Beyond (1981) | Lucio Fulci’s Italian Southern Gothic horror gets a Special Edition Blu-Ray from Shameless Films

In 1981, New Yorker Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) arrives in Louisiana to claim a seedy, isolated hotel as her inheritance. In 1927, evil spirits possessed the hotel and the manager hasn’t been seen since. Liza is advised to abandon her inheritance. But the locals are suspicious of strangers! Liza is befriended by Dr John McCabe (David Warbeck), who tells her that the hotel has one of the seven gateways to hell. According to a prophecy, when the gates are opened, the dead walk on earth… But country folk are a superstitious lot – aren’t they?

Lucio Fulci’s celebrated 1981 Italian Southern Gothic horror fever dream – and the second in his Gates of Hell series – is out now on Blu-ray (Region B) in the UK from Shameless Films, remastered from a new 2k scan in its original aspect 2.35:1 ratio, with English and Italian audio and English subtitles, and includes the following extras including four different versions of the prologue.

For the first time ever The Beyond is also presented with four different versions of the prologue, seamlessly branched, allowing fans of Fulci’s masterpiece to see the original colour footage which the film was actually shot on, as never seen before and show the various stages of the post-production process of this landmark film.

• The now accepted standard sepia
• The original colour camera footage
• The B&W version
• A new fourth-way: presented as an homage to director Lucio Fulci and DOP Sergio Salvati

For the new alternative prologue version Shameless have used the restored colour camera footage as a base on which a new golden toning was applied in reference to known considerations from Salvatti. The result is that the reds of the gore are now strikingly visible and all the light sources such as the torches and car headlights are much more luminous.

Emily’s Eyes: new interview with Cinzia Monreale (with English subtitles)
Arachnophobia: new interview with Michele Mirabella (with English subtitles)
Murder, They Wrote: new interview with scriptwriter Giorgio Mariuzzo on working with Lucio Fulci (with English subtitles)
• Audio commentary from Sergio Salvati (Director of Photography) with new English subtitles
• Audio commentary from stars Catriona McCall and David Warbeck
Lucio Fulci Speaks: Short conversation from the film set

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