Burnt Offerings (1976) | Why does Dan Curtis’ American Gothic haunted house chiller still frighten me so?
This is the face of the man who scared the bejesus out of my 12-year-old self… and he’s coming back to haunt me once again with Arrow’s HD release of Dan Curtis’ 1976 horror Burnt Offerings – coming out tomorrow (17 October).
Ben (Oliver Reed) and Marian (Karen Black) can’t believe their luck when they rent a vast country mansion for just $900 for the entire summer. All they have to do is look after the house as if it was there own – and to take a daily tray up to the elderly and reclusive Mrs Allardyce.
But as they settle in with their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) and Ben’s beloved aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), the house begins to exerts a dark influence on the inhabitants – especially Marian, who becomes obsessed with the unseen old lady at the top of the stairs.
As more strange occurrences take place, it soon becomes evident to Ben that the house is an evil living presence… Can he convince Marian to leave with the family before its too late?
Burnt Offerings is one of the most underrated chillers of all-time. Co-written, produced and directed by the legendary Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Trilogy of Terror), and adapted from the 1973 Robert Marasco novel by Logan’s Run author William F Nolan, its a rare thing indeed: being subtle in its horror, featuring a standout cast, and spinning social commentary in its inventive take on the old haunted house story: one in which the viewer becomes an unwitting voyeur as the family firstly fall under the house’s spell, then slowly being consumed by it.
There are scenes that have haunted me for decades: like the rough house play between father and son in the swimming pool that turns deadly dangerous, the house shedding its old shingles as it rejuvenates itself, and that grinning ghostly chauffeur that haunts Ben’s visions. The fact that the chauffeur was the spitting image of my own dad only added to my own nightmares. And don’t start me on that chimney…
From the cameos by Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart to child actor Lee Montgomery, everyone in the cast is brilliant, especially scary-eyed Karen Black whose transformation into the house’s clean-freak servant (in Victorian gothic garb, of course) is genuinely disturbing. But for me, it’s Bette Davis who really impresses. Watching her carefree, chain-smoking Aunt Elizabeth wither away before our eyes is terribly sad and truly terrifying.
It’s been decades since I first saw Burnt Offerings, and revisiting it, I prayed that I would not be disappointed. Thankfully I wasn’t. If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate it even more as it’s not only an excellent exercise in creeping terror, it also has an insightful underlying theme about the destruction of the American Dream in possessing material things.
THE ARROW SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM. (This is the same print as the Kino Lorber release, and looks terrific. It’s so pristine, you can practically feel the sweat and blood pouring off poor Ollie Reed, and the shadowy cinematography really shines).
• Original uncompressed PCM mono audio.
• Optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary with Dan Curtis, Karen Black and William F Nolan. I’m so going to nominate this for a Rondo. It’s not only informative and insightful, it’s an important historical record as both Dan Curtis and Karen Black are no longer with us.
• Audio commentary with film critic Richard Harland Smith. (After hearing Curtis and co, I haven’t really bothered with this… as yet).
• Acting His Face: Interview with actor Anthony James (aka that scary chauffeur).
• Blood Ties: Interview with actor Lee Montgomery. This is what I sought out first after revisiting the movie, and its great to hear about Lee’s experiences of working with theatrical giants like Bette Davis (who took him under her wing) and Oliver Reed (who got him drunk).
• From the Ashes: Interview with screenwriter William F Nolan (this guy is legend)
• Animated gallery
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
Fresh from freaking out viewers on FOX, Wolf Creek is heading to VoD, DVD, Blu-ray from today (10 October), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment in the UK.
Based on the cult Aussie serial killer thriller films of same name, the six-part drama sees John Jarratt reprising his iconic role as chuckling psychopath Mick Taylor, who continues to wreak murderous havoc on backpackers and holidaymakers in the Australian outback.
But, this time round, he may have met his match in American teenager Eve (Lucy Fry), when he takes his blood stained Bowie knife and guts Eve’s mum, dad and brother, but mistakenly leaves the wannabe athlete behind for croc bait.
Wounded and pissed off, Eve will stop at nothing to get her revenge. So, after stealing evidence from Darwin detective Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare), who is investigating unsolved missing persons cases, Eve sets out across the outback to remote parts of WA and South Australia where she picks up clues that will lead her inextricably to… Mick. But following close behind is dogged detective Hill and a gang of vengeful drug-running bikers. And when Mick picks up her scent… all hell breaks loose!
Writer/Director Greg McLean has done a sterling job transferring his slasher sleeper hit to the small screen. It looks great, with the great Australian landscape being showcased in all its bleak, barren beauty – including salt lakes, billabongs, an opal mine and lots of dusty and dangerous highways. There’s action aplenty, while the blood-drenched horror (people getting skinned, beheaded and blown apart) will please gorehounds.
Lucy Fry (last seen on TV as Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife in 11.22.63) makes for an energetic Mad Maxine-styled heroine (albeit one that never smiles until she befriends a stray dog that becomes her spirit guide), while John Jarratt is a hoot every time his murderous Mick slays another tourist (the yoga lady was my favourite).
But you have to suspend your belief over the show’s basic scenario in which Fry’s naïve American is able to escape police custody – and a jail cell – and seems to stay under the radar of the local cops and media. This would never have happened under my watch when I was working as a TV journo in the Goldfields. Australia might be a big place, but even in the remotest parts, when anything happens you’re on it like a shot. Plus, the cops are much more clued in than those portrayed in the show.
But if you can manage to overlook those plots holes, then this Aussie thriller is a must-see. Oh, and one final thought. I’m sure those know-it-alls at Screenwest must be kicking themselves for passing on McLean’s original film – given its cult status, and spawning a sequel (reviewed here) and now a series, it’s been great for South Australia, but another missed opportunity for WA.
Wolf Creek is available on DVD and Blu-ray on 10 October, and includes featurettes on the locations, visual effect, cast and bringing the film to the small screen.
Patrick McGoohan headlines director Basil Dearden’s modern dress, modern jazz adaptation of Othello, with jazz greats Charlie Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes appearing as themselves.
Musical comedy star Paul Harris plays Aurelius Rex, a musician whose wife, Delia (Marti Stevens), gave up a prosperous singing career when she accepted his hand in marriage. But the peaceful structure of their relationship is shattered during a late night warehouse party in Bermondsey, when ambitious drummer Johnny Cousin (McGoohan) uses every dirty trick to woo Delia into working with him.
This powerful psychological drama is now out on Blu-ray and DVD, as part of Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, and is presented in a new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its original, as-exhibited aspect ratio. The special features include original theatrical trailer and an image gallery.
All Night Long also makes its Channel Premiere today at 9.40pm on Talking Pictures (Sky 343, Freeview/Youview 81, Freesat 306).
‘Youth had been a habit of hers for so long that she could not part with it’
When Fedora (Marthe Keller), the world’s most famous, ageless film star dies, having thrown herself in front of a train, her one-time lover, Hollywood has-been producer Dutch (William Holden), feels a sense of guilt about hounding her in starring in a new version of Anna Karenina. But, at her funeral, he learns a terrible truth…
You’ll get a real sense of nostalgia watching Billy Wilder’s penultimate film, Fedora (1978), as it bookends his Oscar-winning 1950’s classic Sunset Boulevard, and – for all intents and purposes – this is his sun-drenched farewell to a Hollywood changed forever.
I was drawn to the film not because of Wilder, but for William Holden, who hit his stride in the 1950s before becoming a veteran for hire in 1970s genre favourites like The Towering Inferno, Damien: Omen II and Network. His grizzled has-been Dutch is not unlike his down-at-heel screenwriter Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, and he again uses on that fabulous smoky growl. And it’s his narration that drives the story, based on Tom Tyron’s novella, which begins as a mystery before the big reveal…
You see, time has not been kind to the 67-year-old Fedora, who has a plastic surgeon (José Ferrer) on call 24-7 to keep her looking youthful, while the wheelchair-bound Countess (Hildegard Knef) relies on her servant (Frances Sternhagen) and chauffeur (Gottfried John) to keep Fedora out of the public eye and out of trouble. She also fears that the public will be mortified to learn that Fedora not only has a drug addiction – she also has an unhealthy obsession for the actor, Michael York…
The other reason I was drawn to the film was because of Tom Tyron (1926-1991). Ever since he ditched acting in the late-1960s, he went on to craft some fascinating horror, mystery and sci-fi novels, some of which were adapted for the big and small screen, like the American Gothic chiller The Other (1971).
His original novella is all about an obsession with youth, and his Fedora is portrayed as an addict desperate for her latest fix from her surgeon. It’s a character that certainly belongs in the pantheon of Grande Dame Guignol – and a sense of that creeps into Wilder’s film, especially in the relationship between Fedora and the Countess (they reminded me of real-life sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine).
Taking Tyron’s premise, Wilder then weaves in his own in-jokes to shine his old-style Fresnel lanterns on the ugly face of Hollywood and its acquiescence to youth-orientated culture that has seen the old guard replaced by bearded pot-heads waving a camera around.
Golden Age aficionados, meanwhile, will be richly rewarded with references that pay homage to screen legends like Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford, music that evokes The Third Man; Euro horror settings and visuals; and campy colourful Douglas Sirk-styled melodramatics. Not to mention an OTT funeral that’s to die for. As the Countess says, it’s ‘Magic Time!’
The new high-definition presentation of Fedora on dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) from Eureka! includes English subtitles, deleted scenes, a restoration comparison and a collector’s booklet featuring essays on the film and archival images.
The Almodóvar Collection | Six of the best from the Spanish director – restored and in one beautiful box-set
From Studiocanal comes six newly-restored films from Spain’s celebrated filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar – complete with brand new interviews and bonus extras – in one box-set on DVD and Blu-ray.
Dark Habits (1983)
Despite the commercial constraints that prevented Almodóvar from taking full flight, this is a ferociously funny satire of religious institutions and morality that still packs a punch. Cristina Sánchez Pascual plays a fugitive nightclub singer hiding out in an impoverished convent with a group of nuns, whose eccentric number include a heroin addicted Mother Superior, a writer of lurid pulp fiction and a acid head masochist with a tiger for a pet. Imagine Sister Act, dressed in day-glo and speeding on a cocktail of LSD and cocaine. Fabulous kitsch fun.
What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)
Almodóvar mercilessly sends up family life in this terrific hyperrealist black comedy starring Carmen Maura (the director’s favourite leading lady) as a blissfully clueless Madrid mother driven to amphetamine addiction by her ungrateful family. Her husband is forging Hitler’s diaries, one son sells drugs, while another is pimping himself to a lecherous dentist. Add in some sex maniacs, a pet lizard, and a mischievous mother-in-law (Chus Lampgreave) and you have Almodóvar at his most absurdist.
The Law of Desire (1987)
This kitsch camp melodrama was Almodóvar’s first film to be screened in the UK, and helped propel Antonio Banderas onto the international stage. It was also Almodóvar first explicitly gay movie as it spun an overblown tale about the complicated love lives of a gay film director (Eusebio Poncela), his hunky lover (Banderas) and a struggling transgender actress (Carmen Maura). Playing fast and furious with Spain’s beloved telenovella genre, this is a hilarious, albeit offensive, delight with more than whiff of early John Waters in its blackly comic approach.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Almodóvar scored a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination for this OTT screwball comedy in which a pregnant actress (Carmen Maura in fabulous form) becomes embroiled in a chaotic series of misadventures when she desperately tries to track down her ex-lover. Irreverent and surreal, this stagey cult hit is pure slapstick of the wackiest kind.
This outrageous satire on television journalism follows an overly optimistic Madrid beautician named Kika (Veronica Forque) whose tangled relationships with an underwear photographer, an expat American novelist and a psychotic escaped rapist turn into tabloid TV fodder by an unscrupulous reporter (Victoria Abril). Attracting controversy over its rape scene, Kika is one film in Almodóvar’s canon that deserves re-assessment and revisiting, especially in how the director approaches his favourite theme – the power of women. It also marked the first time the director collaborated with fashion designer Jean-Paul Gautier.
The Flower of My Secret (1995)
This precursor to Almodóvar’s critically-acclaimed success, All About my Mother, is amongst the director’s most elegant and emotive works. Ditching the kitsch in favour of a more low-key approach, Almodóvar weaves a sentimental tale in which Marisa Paredes (in a career best role) plays a bestselling novelist of pulp romance at the crossroads in her professional and private life. Nominated for multiple Goya awards, this is an intimate yet comic portrait of suffering and pain, and marked a big turning point in Almodóvar’s filmmaking, which makes it the perfect final feature to complete this box-set.
Each disc includes brand new interviews with the director, his producing-partner brother Agustín, plus his stable of stars, including Marisa Paredes, Mercedes Guilamon, Javier Camara, Carlos Areces, Anabel Alonzo, Esther Garcia, Alberto Iglesias, Elena Anaya, Javier Camara, Rossy di Palma, Victoria Abril and Loles Leon.
Three years since his sell out appearance at London’s Union Chapel, legendary horror composer Fabio Frizzi returns with a show that will include new orchestrations of his scores for the cult films by Lucio Fulci. For the first time he’ll also explore his work outside of his collaboration with the legendary Italian director. Expect a heady dose of prog-rock and funk vibes all set against a backdrop of legendary film clips and shocking visuals…
Psychomania (1973) | The British black magic biker flick roars back into mirthful mayhem in high definition
Let’s face it, 1973’s Psychomania is seriously daft! But this bizarre British exploitation oddity is also the only Surrey-set satanic frog-worshipping zombie biker flick ever to be made in the UK. Now it’s about to raise hell amongst horror aficionados again as the BFI brings it back from the dead for a re-mastered 2k dual format release.
Set its own warped version of Walton-on-Thames where pram and shopping trolley-pushing suburbanites live cheek to cheek next to a ancient pagan site where legend has it that a coven of witches were turned to stone, Psychomania (I have no idea why its called that either) finds real-life motorbike fan Nicky Henson (taking time out from treading the boards at the Young Vic) donning his own leathers and revving up a clapped out AJS to head up The Living Dead, a group of posh-sounding Hell’s Angel’s types with a penchant for tie-dye, crochet knitted tops, multi-coloured name patches and singing mournful folk songs.
Bored shitless in suburbia, where the only fun they get is in knocking down cereal boxes at the Hepworth Way Shopping Centre, Nicky’s medallion man makes a pact with the Devil in return for the secret of immortality, commits suicide, then returns from the grave. Soon his gang (who come off like Eric von Zipper’s Rat Pack in the Beach Party movies) are following their leader in order to create more Beano-esque mischief down at the shops.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well that’s what makes this black magic biker flick from director Don Sharp (who also helmed the Fu Manchu movies and the Tony Randall comedy Our Man in Marrakesh for Harry Alan Towers) so much fun. Plus there’s Beryl Reid as the high mistress of comfy sofas and veteran Hollywood actor George Sanders casting a long shadow as the ghoulish guardian of a big toad that possesses arcane powers (no idea why, either!).
Their scenes take place in what looks like a showroom for the crème de la crème of 20th-century chair design (some I spied in Taschen’s 1000 Chairs), and it’s also the setting for some improvised waltzes between Reid and Henson and some ridiculous straight-faced dialogue, like ‘I’m dead, Mother, but apart from that, I couldn’t be better!’.
And if that’s not enough to wrap your laughing gear around, wait until you see the dead coppers lined up inside the mortuary cool boxes (that ended up in Space 1999) and the wonky prison-set where Doctor Who’s Sergeant Benson (John Levene) presides. There’s also guest appearances from the like of Robert Hardy, Bill Pertwee and future EastEnder June Brown (who would follow this movie with David Hemming’s Jack Wild drama, The 14).
Mind you, the action sequences (which all take place on the newly built M3) are terrific and more than once did I find myself shouting ‘OMG’ at screen as those spluttering bikes narrowly missed coming a cropper; while a sequence involving Hatchet (Blood on Satan’s Claw‘s Denis Gilmore) jumping off a bridge in front of a oncoming Commer van is a standout. Playing one of the suicidal bikers is Britain’s oldest stuntman Rocky Taylor, who has worked on everything from James Bond to Harry Potter.
Topping it all, however, is the soundtrack by Donovan’s former arranger, composer John Cameron. A mix of 1960s pre-punk garage, doom-laden psychedelia, and blaxplotation-infused funk, peppered with ecclesiastical organ sounds and early prog. – it belongs in every film buffs soundtrack collection. And makes a fitting companion to this new BFI release, which is a must have.
Sadly, this was the final feature for 65-year-old George Sanders. The Hollywood legend, who had made a career out of being a cad in classics like Rebecca, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The House of the Seven Gables, committed suicide on 25 April 1972 in Spain – and some say this was the last thing he ever saw…
• Newly re-mastered in 2K and presented in the original aspect ratio (1.66:1), with optional subtitles.
• Return of the Living Dead (2010, 25 mins): featuring interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor.
• Sound of Psychomania (2010, 9 mins): interview with composer John Cameron.
• Riding Free (2010, 7 mins): interview with singer-songwriter Harvey Andrews.
• Interview with Nicky Henson (2016, 14 mins): who recalls his time on the film (much of which is a repeat of what he says in the 2010 featurette).
• Hell for Leather (2016, 8 mins): Short film about the company who supplied the film’s costumes.
• Remastering Psychomania (2016, 2 mins):
• Discovering Britain (1955, 3 mins) Fantastic vintage travelogue, narrated by the celebrated poet, about the Avebury stone circle.
• Roger Wonders Why (1965, 19 mins): Amateur film which sees two Christian biker youths visit the 59 Club, and meet its founder Reverend Bill Shergold. You have to stick with it to understand why its included here.
• Original theatrical trailer.
• Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016, 91min, onscreen text): in lieu of an audio commentary, this is a hilarious subtitle trivia track, and works a treat.
• Collector’s booklet with new writings on the film; plus full film credits.
The Blue Dahlia (1945) | Raymond Chandler’s only original screenplay is a hard-boiled film noir classic must-see
The classic 1940s noir thriller, The Blue Dahlia, stars Alan Ladd as discharged naval flier Johnny Morrison who returns home to Los Angeles to discover his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) has been unfaithful. When she is found murdered, Johnny becomes the prime suspect and promptly goes on the run.
The always gorgeous Veronica Lake then turns up as Joyce, the wife of nightclub owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) – who was Helen’s lover – and with the help of Johnny’s army pals, Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont), tries to clear his name…
Crime writer Raymond Chandler scored an Oscar nomination for his lean and mean original screenplay. It was the only one he ever wrote specifically for a movie and one in which he completed while ‘drunk’ when production was speeded up on the film because Paramount studio bosses feared Ladd would be re-inducted into the real-life US army.
The film, which was directed by George Marshall (of Destry Rides Again fame), also marked the third pairing of Ladd and Veronica Lake following 1942’s This Gun for Hire (which made Ladd a star) and The Glass Key (also available from Arrow Academy). It was released to great acclaim and has since become a must-see film noir classic.
William Bendix is a standout as Ladd’s shell-shocked war buddy who keeps complaining of ‘monkey-music’ in his head and the complicated story – all set in Hollywood’s decadent night club strip – keeps twisting brilliantly until the final cop-out ending (that was also done to placate the US war office).
A radio play version of the film was broadcast on 21 April 1949 as part of the The Screen Guild Theater, starring Ladd and Lake in their original film roles.
The Blue Dahlia is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy in the UK. The extras include selected scene commentary and an introduction from author Frank Krutnik, the 1949 radio play, original trailer, gallery and promotional materials. Plus, a collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
Conversation Piece (1974) | Luchino Visconti’s meditation on family, beauty and decadence is a quiet achiever
Directed with operatic flare by Luchino Visconti (following his recovery from a stroke), 1974’s Conversation Piece is dominated by a finely controlled turn by Burt Lancaster as a retired American professor who has filled his apartment in Rome with 18th-century paintings of family groups known as ‘conversation pieces’.
But when the brash Countess Brumonti (Silvana Mangano) lures the professor into accepting her family and young German lover (Helmut Berger) as tenants, he finds his ordered life and self-composure increasingly disrupted by their presence…
Set inside the confines of a grand old palazzo, Visconti’s penultimate film (which was shot in English) is a sleek, sly critique of the decadent European jet set that gets better with age.
You’ll be hard-pressed to have little empathy for the self-absorbed Brumonti brood or Berger’s decadent lothario, but Lancaster’s professor is real softie who will melt your heart. And the way he deals with his life being turned upside down is a wonderful lesson in humility. This is a quiet achiever from a master director in his final years.
Conversation Piece gets a dual-format release following a brand new 2k restoration from Eureka! Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. Extras include the Italian dub soundtrack, optional subtitles, an interview with screenwriter Alessandro Bencivenni, trailer and a collector’s booklet.
In an apocalyptic Australia, where lawlessness prevails, outcasts and misfits are being secretly herded into concentration camps disguised as drive-in movie theatres. When young petrolhead Crabs (Neil Manning) takes Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the local drives in his brother’s ’56 Chevy, they soon face the terrible realisation that they have become the latest inmates of this bizarre social experiment. Can they escape before becoming resigned to a hellish existence of all-day parties, round-the-clock movie shows, and all the radioactive junk food they can eat?
Dead-End Drive-In is a prime slice of crazed Ozploitation from Brian Trenchard-Smith (aka Australia’s answer Roger Corman), who was responsible for Australia’s first martial arts thriller The Man From Hong Kong and the cult prison actioner Turkey Shoot. When it was released Down Under in 1986, it was written off as a bargain bin Mad Max rip-off, while its unconvincing cast of day-glo punks, freaks and loons looked like they had stepped out of an issue of the era’s über-trendy i-D magazine.
But it does have its fans, including this (Australian-born) writer, especially as it popularised German Bundeswehr vests and featured some rocking new wave tunes from those legendary Aussie alternative bands, Hunters + Collectors and Kids in the Kitchen. It’s also a great reminder of the now lost Australia tradition of going to the Drives.
Originally put out under the ArrowDrome label on DVD in 2013, Dead-End Drive-In is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a 2k restoration print, and packed with new extras, including an audio commentary from Trenchard-Smith and a documentary by the director on Australian stuntman Grant Page. Which only makes this the perfect excuse to revisit the much-maligned futuristic thriller.