Category Archives: British Film

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 Monster (AKA I Don’t Want to Be Born) | The three Dame 1970s British shocker gets a HD remaster

From Hammer/Amicus director Peter Sasdy comes the 1975 Fox-Rank exploitation horror that totally deserves its cult reputation. If you haven’t seen it, then Network’s new remastered release (which is out on Blu-ray and DVD) is worth seeking out.

This unsubtle rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, sees Joan Collins cast as Lucy Carlesi, a London stripper who believes she has given birth to a demonic child, who possesses unusual strength. Ralph Bates plays her Italian husband Gino, who can’t decide whether Lucy is suffering from post-natal depression or not, Donald Pleasence is none-the-wiser as Lucy’s obstetrician, and Eileen Atkins is Gino’s nun sister, whom he turns to for guidance. But when Lucy realises that Hercules (George Claydon), a dwarf she once humiliated, has placed a curse on baby Nicholas, only an exorcism can save her child.

There’s much to deride this absurd slice of 1970s horror – including Bates’ and Atkins’ weird Italian accents, the obvious dubbing of Caroline Munro (as Lucy’s friend Mandy) and the laughable dialogue. But there’s also much to enjoy: the fab London film locations (I’ve passed the Chelsea house off the King’s Road many times); Collins looking ever so chic (in her own clothes, according to wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs); and a gritty, atmospheric Ron Grainer score. You also get some memorable kills: including drowning, hanging and decapitation, and a great turn from Hilary Mason as the Carlesi’s no-nonsense housekeeper.

While Collins maybe the film’s star, Atkins, however, totally steals the show as Albana (who bizarrely conducts medical experiments on animals with her fellow convent nuns). After watching her steely performance, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was the inspiration for Dolly Wells’ Sister Agatha Van Helsing in 2020’s Dracula.

In the extras, director Sasdy proudly points out that his film (which he saved by pumping in his own money) boasts three Dame Commanders of the Order of the British Empire: Collins, Atkins and Floella Benjamin (who plays a nurse early in the film). Coincidentally, both Collins and Atkins are doing book events at the same time as this release – though I’m not sure this film will get much of a mention. But you never know.

Pre-order from Network: https://new.networkonair.com/british_horror_classics

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition remaster from original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio.
• Audio commentary from the Second Features podcast team
Sasdy’s Baby: director Peter Sasdy gives an honest and gleeful look back at the film, and answers the long-asked question: why are Bates and Atkins’ playing Italian characters?
The Excisit: interview with editor Keith Palmer
Holding the Baby: fab interview with continuity veteran Renée Glynne, and wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs
• Alternative titles (I Don’t Want to be Born)
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Booklet written by Adrian Smith

I Start Counting | BFI Flipside releases the British coming-of-age psychological thriller classic on Blu-ray

Psychological thriller meets coming-of-age drama in the long-unavailable 1969 British feature, I Start Counting, which is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a new 2k restoration print, from BFI Flipside in the UK.

Jenny Agutter stars as Wynne, a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in a new-town tower block with her adopted family. Her latest infatuation is her older stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall), but after finding a jumper she made for him dumped in a bin and covered in blood, she wonders if he might be the killer strangling teenage girls in the nearby woods. However, when Wynne starts investigating, she gets a stark introduction to adulthood. 

I Start Counting was director David Greene’s third film, and came hot on the heels of his equally offbeat features, Sebastian (with Dirk Bogarde) and The Strange Affair (with Michael York). It adapted for the screen by Richard Harris (who was then working on The Avengers at the time) based on Audrey Erksine Lindop’s 1966 thriller novel.

Together with Alex Thompson’s evocative camerawork, Brian Eatwell’s modern art direction and Basil Kirchin’s atmospheric melodic score, Green and Harris have crafted an engrossing, intelligent drama that’s well worth a revisit.

Part ‘kitchen sink’ reality – part dark fairytale, the film not only follows Wynne’s journey out of childhood but also offers much comment on Britain taking its first awkward steps towards a new, modern future.

Thanks to Green’s gentle direction, Agutter gives a compelling, genuinely touching performance as Wynne – and such was her joy at working on this film, that it convinced her to become a professional actor. There are also winning turns from the supporting players, including Clare Sutcliffe as Wynn’s flirty school friend Corinne, Madge Ryan as Wynne’s mum, and Simon Ward as the bus conductor hiding a terrible secret.

A bona-fide British classic, that would also make a great double-bill with another thriller bearing similiar themes, director Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness (1970).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Feature newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive.
  • A Kickstart: Jenny Agutter Remembers I Start Counting! (2020, 20 mins): a new interview with the actress (wonderful memories, but there are spoilers so watch this after seeing the film).
  • An Apprentice With a Master’s Ticket (2021, 40 mins): screenwriter Richard Harris looks back over an eclectic career in television and film, ranging from The Avengers to A Touch of Frost
  • Worlds Within Worlds (2021, 33 mins): Jonny Trunk on the life and art of ambient music pioneer Basil Kirchin (this was the extra I was most looking forward to as I’m a big Kirchin fan and have collected all the Trunk Records releases of his work (but damn it, Jonny shows some rarities that I now need to add to my collection). Interestingly, Jonny doesn’t touch on Kirchin’s The Abominable Dr Phibes score.
  • I Start Building (1942-59, 25 mins): Two archive films recalling the ‘New Town’ dream.
  • Danger on Dartmoor (1980, 57 mins): two children land in peril (in a Hound of the Baskervilles kind of way) in this Children’s Film Foundation feature, written by Audrey Erskine Lindop. It also features Hammer veteran, Michael Ripper, the wonderful Patricia Hayes and Barry Foster (Frenzy, Van de Valk).
  • Don’t Be Like Brenda (1973, 8 mins): A cautionary film designed for adolescent viewers back in the day about having sex before marriage. It’s rather sexist by today’s standards, as it puts the entire blame on women, rather than also being a lesson for young men.
  • Loss of Innocence: a video essay on I Start Counting! by filmmaker Chris O’Neill. This is a well-crafted analysis of the film that sums it up perfectly in a few minutes.
  • Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan.
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle.
  • Illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr Josephine Botting, a curator at the BFI National Archive, and biographies of David Greene, Jenny Agutter and Clare Sutcliffe by Jon Dear.

Jubilee (1978) | Derek Jarman’s anarchic punk satire still stings after 40+ years

Jubilee (1978)

Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is transported forward in time by her court astrologer, John Dee (Richard O’Brien) to a shattered Britain of the 1970s, where the present Queen is dead, Buckingham Palace has been turned into a recording studio, and law and order have completely broken down. Moving through the city, Elizabeth observes a group of aimless nihilists, including Amyl Nitrite (Jordan), Bod (Runacre in a dual role), Chaos (Hermine Demoriane), Crabs (Nell Campbell), and Mad (Toyah Willcox)…

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This notorious study of British punk culture from avant-garde director Derek Jarman has garnered a huge cult following over the years. But when it was first released (on 3 February 1978 in the UK), Vivienne Westwood famously created a T-shirt with an open letter to Jarman printed on it denouncing the film and his misrepresentations of punk. And when it got its first C4 screening, it was deemed ‘corrupting, pernicious filth’.

Vivienne Westwood, “Open T-Shirt to Derek Jarman…,” 1978.
Collection: V&A, London

Today, Jubilee stands as one of the few British features of the  late-1970s to capture on film performances and cameos from some of most iconic bands of the era, including Adam and the Ants, The Slits, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. And for that reason alone is why you should add the BFI’s 2018 Blu-ray to your collection. Featuring a 2K re-master from the original camera negatives, and presented in both HD and SD (on the DVD). A must-see over and over.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• A Message from the Temple (1981, 5 mins)
Toyah Willcox: Being Mad (2014, 8 mins); the singer and actress looks back on her role in Jubilee
• Jordan remembers Jubilee (2018, 33 mins): punk icon Jordan looks back on her friendship with Derek Jarman and the making of Jubilee
• Lee Drysdale remembers Jubilee (2018, 17 mins): Derek Jarman’s friend, and later collaborator recalls his unconventional involvement in the making of Jubilee
Jubilee image gallery
• Illustrated booklet featuring a contemporary review

Mademoiselle | Tony Richardson’s underrated 1966 psychological drama deserves a revisit

Directed by Tony Richardson, 1966’s Mademoiselle is a taut arthouse exploration of xenophobia and carnal desire, based on a scenario by Jean Genet, starring Jeanne Moreau.

Moreau plays the repressed titular schoolmistress whose seemingly motiveless acts of violence (poisoning cows, opening floodgates and burning down a barn) causes ructions in a small close-knit French village. Sexually transfixed by itinerant Italian woodcutter Manou (Ettore Manni), she takes out her frustrations on his young son Bruno (Keith Skinner, making his screen debut), by emotionally abusing him in class. But when she finally acts out her fantasies, her response incites the villagers into taking extreme action.

Jean Genet wrote the scenario in 1951 under the title Forbidden Desires (Les Reves interdis) or The Other Side of the Dream. He originally offered it to actress Anouk Aimée as a present on the occasion of her marriage to Nico Papatikis, but later sold the rights to director Louis Malle.

Richardson’s film adaptation was booed at Cannes. Critics felt the director’s ‘portentous treatment betrayed Genet’s vision’ – and Genet himself took no part in the filming or the final screenplay, which was written by famed French novelist Marguerite Duras.

But there is much to admire. Moreau – who had chosen the project for herself – gives an electric central performance, and the supporting cast is realistically portrayed (especially Manni, who speaks only Italian throughout which is key to the film’s underlining themes of xenophobia).

Forgoing any music and relying solely on the sounds of nature in the countryside lends the film a haunting quality. As does the stark monochrome ‘painterly’ photography that scored David Watkin a BAFTA nomination. This is best illustrated in the film’s standout scene – the raw and sensual night-long love-making between Mademoiselle and Manou in the woods. It’s deeply erotic, powerfully poetic and pure Genet.

The film is also shot on location in a village (Tarnac in the Corréze) very much like the one where Genet grew up (Alligny-en-Morvan) and where his original story is set.

An underrated thriller that’s deserving of a revisit. Out now on Blu-ray from BFI.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Presented in HD and SD
• Audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
Doll’s Eye (1982, 75 min): BFI Production Board feature about male attitudes towards women in 1980s Britain, directed by Jan Worth.
Keith Skinner: Remembering Mademoiselle (2020, 36min): the former actor who went on to become a crime historian discusses his work on the film
• Image gallery
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet with writings by Jon Dear, Neil Young, Jane Giles (on Jean Genet) and Jan Worth

Walkabout | Nicolas Roeg’s enigmatic coming-of-age story shimmers in 4K on Blu-ray

Following the suicide of their father (John Meillon), 16-year-old Mary (Jenny Agutter) and her seven-year-old brother Peter (Luc Roeg) are left stranded in the vast Australian outback. But their salvation comes when they cross paths with an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on his rite of passage ‘walkabout’. He teaches them how to survive in the wilderness, but a clash of cultures leads to tragic consequences…

1971’s Walkabout is one of the best films ever made about Australia – but was actually directed by a non-Australian. Nicolas Roeg brings his trademark enigmatic approach in both his visuals and his story-telling, which was mostly improvised from Edward Bonds’ 14-page adaptation of James Vance Marshall’s 1959 novel. Taking centre stage is the great Australian landscape, which Roeg lenses to hauntingly magnificent effect in order to build his themes about our destructive Western society and the loss of innocence.

The young cast is ideally suited to their roles: especially Luc Roeg (the director’s son) who doesn’t so much act the part of the grounded, yet curious Peter, but totally is the part (I actually wanted to trade places with him as he learns so much); as is Yolngu traditional dancer Gulpilil (making his acting debut, age 16) who brings much of his own heritage to his role, most significantly a courtship dance that would normally never be witnessed outside his community. Agutter, meanwhile, is the perfect embodiment of the young girl on the cusp of adulthood. But special mention must go to the legendary John Meillon, whose brief role calls to mind another film about Australia made by a non-Australian that was also released in 1971 – Wake in Fright.

Like all of Roeg’s films, Walkabout met with mixed reviews on its release in 1971, but has gone on to become a seminal classic loved by audiences and critics alike – and is one the 50 films you should see by the age of 14 (according to the British Film Institute). And the best way to revisit this masterpiece is with Second Sight Films stunning Limited Edition Blu-ray (out on 31 August), which features a brand new 4K scan and restoration and a host of extras, including Marshall’s novel, a first draft script book and a collector’s book with new essays by Sophie Monks Kaufman, Simon Abrams and Daniel Bird.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Brand new 4K scan and restoration
• A new audio commentary with Luc Roeg and David Thomson
• Producing Walkabout: A new interview with Producer Si Litvinoff
• Luc’s Walkabout: A new interview with Luc Roeg
• Jenny in the Outback: a new interview with Jenny Agutter
• Remembering Roeg: a new interview with Danny Boyle
• 2011 BFI Q&A with Nicolas Roeg, Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg
• Archive introduction by Nicolas Roeg
• English SDH subtitles for the hearing impaired

Watch the skies! Flash Gordon is approaching in glorious Ultra High Definition!

Courtesy of Studiocanal comes the eagerly-awaited 4k, Ultra High Definition restoration of the 1980 cult sci-fi adventure Flash Gordon, in honour of the film’s 40th anniversary which will get a big-screen presentation at Picturehouse Central and in select UK cinemas from 31 July, ahead of its home entertainment release on 10 August (in a 4K UHD Collector’s edition, Blu-ray, Steelbook, DVD and digital). The camptastic classic will also screen as part of The Luna Drive-In Cinema from August.

 

Check out the trailer…

Check out the restored clip…

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

 

Asylum | Amicus’ chilling compendium of terror heads to Blu-ray

A year on from releasing The House That Dripped Blood (in February 1971), Amcius brought their latest horror anthology Asylum to UK screens in July 1972.

Written by Robert Bloch and directed by Roy Ward Baker, Asylum sees Robert Powell playing a doctor who undergoes a bizarre job interview for a position at a secluded asylum for the incurably insane. He must prove himself by listening to the macabre tales of four inmates to determine which is the former head of the institute who experienced a breakdown.

In Frozen Fear, Barbara Parkins relates a grisly plot to murder the wealthy wife (Sylvia Syms) of her lover (Richard Todd); The Weird Tailor sees Barry Morse stealing a suit from Peter Cushing that has power of reanimation; Charlotte Rampling is trapped by her imagination when Britt Ekland’s Lucy Comes to Stay; and Herbert Lom plots to transfer his soul into a tiny automaton in Mannikins of Horror.

Following its Limited Edition Blu-ray release last July, this chilling compendium of terror is now out as a standalone Blu-ray from Second Sight Films and includes the following special features…

• Audio Commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and camera operator Neil Binney
• Two’s a Company: 1972 on-set BBC report featuring interviews with producer Milton Subotsky, director Roy Ward Baker, actors Charlotte Rampling, James Villiers and Megs Jenkins, art director Tony Curtis and production manager Teresa Bolland
• Screenwriter David J. Schow on writer Robert Bloch
• Fiona Subotsky remembers Milton Subotsky
• Inside The Fear Factory: Archieve featurette with directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis and producer Max J Rosenberg
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys and original artwork
• SDH English subtitles for the hard of hearing

 

The House That Dripped Blood | The Amicus anthology horror UK Blu-ray is out now!

Seminal 1971 Amicus horror The House That Dripped Blood, from Peter Duffell in his directorial debut and written by renowned screenwriter Robert Bloch (Psycho), is a star-studded anthology and its out now in the UK as a stand-alone Blu-ray from Second Fight Films.

Scotland Yard’s Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) investigates an old mansion with a ghoulish history and a chilling fate for its occupants in these four tales of terror…

Method for Murder stars Denholm Elliott as a writer whose latest character seeminly comes to life; Peter Cushing and Joss Ackland are haunted by a lost love in Waxworks; Christopher Lee fears his daughter (Chloe Franks) is a witch in Sweets to the Sweet; and The Cloak finds Jon Pertwee playing a horror star who starts turning into a vampire when he buys a vintage cloak from a mysterious antique shop owner (Geoffrey Bayldon).

Following its limited edition Blu-ray release last June, Second Sight have now released The House That Dripped Blood as a standalone Blu-ray with the following special features…

• Audio commentary with director Peter Duffell and author Jonathan Rigby
• Audio commentary with film historian and author Troy Howarth
• Interview with second assistant director Mike Higgins
A-Rated Horror Film: Vintage featurette featuring interviews with Peter Duffell and actors Geoffrey Bayldon, Ingrid Pitt and Chloe Franks
• Theatrical trailers
• Amicus radio spots
• Stills gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys
• SDH English subtitles for the hard of hearing

If you want to read more about the film, and its colourful costuming, check out my original post: https://kultguyskeep.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/the-house-that-dripped-blood-claret-and-colourful-cravats/

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