Category Archives: Comedy
Paying homage to classic Forties film noirs, 1982’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid starred Steve Martin (giving one of his best performances) as the Philip Marlowe-styled gumshoe Rigby Reardon, who is hired by Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to investigate the death of her father, a noted scientist, philanthropist and cheesemaker…
Originally released on 21 May 1982, the film is irresistibly silly and very funny (aside from the misogyny of course, which was typical of films of the era). But the best thing about the comedy is how it cleverly intercut 19 classic movies into its spoof adventure. Whilst writing the film, Carl Reiner and George Gipe spent countless hours looking for specific shots and ‘listening for a line that was ambiguous enough but had enough meat in it to contribute a line’, while 85 sets were constructed in order toe edit in and merge the old film footage.
Then, of course, there was that amazing cast of Hollywood greats who ended up being Martin’s co-star. Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Eva Gardner, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Laughton, Joan Crawford Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Fred McMurray, James Cagney and Vincent Price.
Check them all out here.
Available on Blu-ray in the UK from Fabulous Films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid really makes you want to revisit the classic films spliced into the light-hearted spoof. And here they all are.
Johnny Eager (1941)
Keeper of the Flame (1942) (uncredited)
This Gun for Hire (1942)
The Glass Key (1942)
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Killers (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
I Walk Alone (1947)
Dark Passage (1947)
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
White Heat (1949)
The Bribe (1949)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
The Magic Christian (1969) | Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a shipload of famous faces make this comic misfire worth a revisit
This wildly undisciplined 1969 British comedy sees a homeless man called Youngman (Ringo Starr) being adopted by the world’s richest man, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who sets out to prove that money can make people do anything through a series of practical jokes and bizarre stunts…
Shot with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality by one of the seven directors of the dire Casino Royal (The Goon Show’s Joseph McGrath), The Magic Christian is an absurd satire on capitalism, greed, and human vanities based on a novel by Terry Southern, whose warped imaginings also turned out screenplays for some of my favourite ‘out-there’ movies, Candy, Barbarella, The Loved One and Dr Strangelove.
Southern co-wrote the film with McGrath, but much was altered when the film’s star Peter Sellers – who loved Southern’s book so much he bought 100 copies to give to friends – got Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Graham Chapman to rewrite some scenes, some of which didn’t end up in the final cut. The biggest change was Ringo’s character, which was created especially for the movie.
Not that Starr brings much to the film, apart from hanging on Sellers’ every word (which the comedy legend utters in a vast array of vocal mimicry), as he carries out his ‘Grand’ schemes. These include getting Laurence Harvey’s Shakespearean actor to do a striptease during a performance of Hamlet, blowing the shit out of a squire’s sedate country shoot, fixing the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and inviting a bunch of city types to bob for pound notes in a vat of animal blood, piss and manure.
Along for the wacky ride are Spike Milligan as a traffic warden who eats a parking ticket for £500, Hattie Jacques as a vain train passenger with a penchant for Nazi torture porn, Yul Brynner (voiced by The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin) as a transvestite singing Mad About the Boy to Roman Polanski, John Cleese as a surly Sothebys auctioneer, and Raquel Welch as a whip-wielding galley slave mistress, while Christopher Lee has fun sending up his Dracula persona. Shamefully, however, Leonard Frey (of Boys in the Band fame) is called Faggot.
The hit and miss satire ends in a shambolic riot aboard the eponymous Magic Christian, a luxury liner berthed in the Thames where London’s elite gather for the social event of the year (as reported by Michael Aspel and Alan Wicker).
While it certainly fails as an incisive satire (probably on account of it being lost in translation), The Magic Christian does have those fun cameos to tickle your funny bones, and the central London locations (with a Thames bursting its banks) are a real nostalgia trip. Watch out for the grotesque dining scene which could very well be the template for Monty Python’s Mr Creosote sketch in 1983’s The Meaning of Life (well Messrs Chapman and Cleese probably wrote that as well).
As for the Beatles-sounding theme tune ‘Come and Get It’, well that was written and produced by Paul McCartney for the Welsh rock band Badfinger, who released it as a single in December 1969 on the Beatles’ Apple label.
Fabulous Films presents the film on DVD in an unrestored version (some slight flecks appear here and there), with no extras.
Stung (2015) | Giant mutant wasps attack in the knockabout horror comedy premiering today on Horror Channel
An upper-class garden party on a country estate turns to bloody chaos when a swarm of mutated wasps descends to feast upon its guests. Trying to escape the deadly insects, catering staffers Paul (Matt O’Leary) and Julia (Jessica Cook) retreat inside of the mansion with a handful of survivors, including the town’s mayor (Lance Henriksen) and local eccentric Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr). But with each victim they consume, the wasps grow bigger and bigger, and it’s only a matter of time before the survivors finds themselves trapped inside a giant nest…
This creature feature from director Benni Diez (who did the visuals for Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia) is enormous fun, boasting a super cast playing some downright kooky characters, some gleeful gore and super SFX (both practical and digital), plus some laugh out loud in-jokes that all serve to pay homage to the big bug monster genre. Love it!
Stung is available on DVD from Entertainment One, and gets its premiere on the Horror Channel in the UK on Saturday 29 April at 10.55pm
When Nazi vampires led by the nefarious Count Draculon and his Hellish minions lay waste planet Earth, a cybernetically-enhanced soldier (Matthew Kennedy) and a rag-tag band of mercenaries help a scientist to bring down the evil Count.
The brainchild of Winnipeg film-making collective Astron-6 (whose latest effort is the 80’s throwback sci-fi The Void), 2011’s Manborg is a wacky ultra low-budget love letter to the sci-fi and action films that graced many a VHS cover in the 1980s. Like a stripped down RoboCop fused with Japanese anime-styled action, this is sci-fi cheese at it’s most enjoyable. And the best thing about it is the inspired DIY stop motion special effects that look a 100 times better than CGI. Asylum take note!
Available on DVD in the UK from Rockstone Films, and includes director’s commentary, trailer, music video, cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes and two shorts.
The iconic 1980s horror Fright Night is out in a dual-format special edition from Eureka Classics in the UK featuring a 4k digital restoration of the film and a coffin load of bonus material (check them out below). And the best news? It’s currently available on Amazon for just 8 quid (while the Limited Edition Steelbook is fetching £69.99).
This 1985 vampire movie certainly has plenty of bite – but also strikes the perfect balance of blood and guts horror and darkly comic humour. And alongside the same year’s, The Return of the Living Dead, it remains one of my personal favourites that I return to time and again.
If you love being scared, it’ll be the night of your life…
No-one will believe teenager Charley (William Ragsdale) when he tells them that a vampire called Jerry (Chris Sarandon) has moved into the house next door and is seducing and murdering young maidens there. He then turns to TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help. Lured by a $500 incentive by Charley’s girlfriend (Amanda Bearse), who happens to look like Jerry’s long-lost love, the one-time Great Vampire Killer discovers that Jerry is indeed a vampire as he casts no reflection in a glass – and so the deadly games begin…
Sarandon is every inch the smoothie-savage bloodsucker, while Stephen Geoffreys steals every scene he’s in as Charley’s bestie turned beastie ‘Evil Ed’. But the real star of this late night horror show is Roddy McDowall, whose character name is made up of two iconic horror actors – Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Alongside his turns in the Planet of the Apes films, this must rank as one of his career-best turns.
• 4K digital restoration, with original stereo PCM soundtrack and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options, plus English subtitles
• You’re So Cool, Brewster! Exclusive to this release, a two-hour version of the 2016 documentary on the making of Fright Night.
• What is Fright Night? 2016 video piece featuring cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Tom Holland: Writing Horror, a 2016 video piece featuring interviews with Holland and his collaborators (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Rowdy McDowall: From Apes to Bats, a 2016 video piece featuring archival footage of McDowall and cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Fear Fest 2 2008 reunion panel featuring Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Shock Till You Drop Present Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek, a three-part video interview on the film (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• The full electronic press kit, featuring extensive on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Stills and memorabilia from Tom Holland’s personal collection (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• G-rated and R-rated theatrical trailers (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Collector’s booklet (STEELBOOK EXCLUSIVE)
Now, I haven’t seen any of the House films since their original releases, and while they’re a perfect example of ‘the law of diminishing returns’, they’ve been dusted off and given a sparkly 2k restoration by Arrow Video for a new Blu-ray/DVD release. Fans of trashy, cheesy 1980s comedy horror will certainly be adding the box-set to their collection, not only because they boast some might sine fine transfers, but for bonus content which includes new ‘making-of’ documentaries alongside some replicated Anchor Bay DVD extras.
So, for what its worth, here’s my take on these blasts from the past…
William Katt (TV’s Greatest American Hero) inherits his dead aunt’s neat Victorian gothic mansion where his troubled author Roger hopes to finish his novel about his experiences in Vietnam. But the house has other ideas, and soon Roger finds himself facing off monstrous apparitions and a vengeful spook…
Fusing spooky scares and funny thrills is certainly no mean feat when it comes to creating the perfect slice of comedy horror (Return of the Living Dead and Fright Night being of the superior kind), and while this first visit to the House franchise means putting up with a lot of silliness and some stage-bound Vietnam scenes with a bunch of extras that look like they belong in a gay porn, the pay-off (involving Roger trying to rescue his missing son from the great beyond) is worth putting up with the crappy bits. For me, the best scenes involve Katt (sporting a chest revealing 1980s cardi) teaming up with George Wendt (of Cheers fame) to battle a really cool Lovecraftian-inspired monster in the closet.
• Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley
• Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House: documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailers
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY (1987)
Arye Gross’ fit nerd Jesse gets into all sorts of inter-dimensional scrapes when he digs up his mummified great-great-grandfather (Royal Dano) while searching for a mystical crystal skull…
Coming off like a live-action episode of Scooby-Doo, this light-hearted supernatural sequel is pure 1980s, boasting a typically naff party sequences, lots of big hair and neon attire and really bad synth pop. It’s also got some cute Henson-styled puppets (a baby pterodactyl and a caterpillar-dog), which just adds to the cartoon-like atmosphere.
Another Cheers favourite, ohn Ratzenberger, has a cameo, but the film’s big star is the Stimson House, the 19th-century Richardsonian Romanesque LA mansion which stands in for the film’s Aztec-temple home (it’s also appeared in Mad Men, Pushing Daisies and the Vincent Price episode of The Bionic Woman).
• Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham
• It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up & creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (1989)
Lance Henriksen’s craggy cop Lucas McCarthy finally nails serial killer ‘Meat Cleaver Max’ (Brion James). But when Max is sent to the electric chair, he’s transformed into a vengeful evil spirit which sets his sights on putting Lucas in the frame for a new series of gruesome murders…
This schlocky shocker bears no relation to the previous two House entries apart from its production team. It’s also a much more serious affair. But while the execution scene is staged with flair and James (a favourite of director Walter Hill) brings some excellent crazy-eyed charisma to a role that hits all the right slasher movie buttons, it’s just not that great and pales against Wes Craven’s Shocker, which came out the year and had the exact same premise.
• Uncut Version, for the first time on Blu-ray.
• Audio commentary with producer Sean S. Cunningham
• The Show Must Go On – interview with actor/stuntman Kane Hodder
• House Mother – interview with actress Rita Taggart
• Slaughter Inc. – brand new featurette with special make-up effects creators Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger
• Behind-the-Scenes Footage
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
HOUSE IV: THE REPOSSESSION (1992)
This direct-to-video entry got William Katt back (albeit very briefly) as Roger Cobb who is killed in a car accident at the very start. The rest of the film has his widow Kelly (Terri Treas) and crippled daughter Melissa (Melissa Clayton) experiencing ghostly goings-on and the greedy machinations of Roger’s brother (Scott Burkholder), while a Native American spirit guide tries to help them contact Roger from the other side…
I think one of the reasons I’ve never really clicked with the House franchise is that there is a real lack of cohesion between them – unlike Cunningham’s more successful Friday the 13th series, which I return to time and again. This final nail in the coffin is by far the weakest of the lot and confusingly has Katt return as Roger Cobb, but he’s a completely different character with a different back story and family. Even the house is not the same as the original one. Instead, we have what looks like a studio set like the house in Tobe Hopper’s Eaten Alive (which is a real guilty pleasure, check it out here). The best thing to do is listen to the commentary as director Abernathy is far more entertaining than the movie.
• Audio commentary with director Lewis Abernathy
• Home Deadly Home: The Making of House IV: documentary featuring interviews with director Lewis Abernathy, producer Sean S Cunningham, stars Terri Treas and William Katt, actor/stunt coordinator Kane Hodder, and composer Harry Manfredini
• Stills Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 | This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun
This ‘sequel’ to Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s 1975 cult drive-in actioner Death Race 2000 is a hoot and a half – and finally consigns those dire Jason Statham/Luke Goss efforts to the wrecker’s yard.
Malcolm McDowall dials in another performance as the Trump-esque Chairman of the United Corporations of America who gets his bouffant comb-over in a twist when his four-time racing champion Frankenstein wants to retire from the ‘greatest pissing contest of mankind’ (aka the Death Race), which every citizen (now permanently unemployed) vicariously joins in via VR headsets.
Playing the man of many a spare part (and stepping into John Carradine’s black leathers) is Manu Bennett (TV’s Spartacus), who seems to be channelling Mel Gibson’s Mad Max as he sets off with his proxy Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller, Days of Our Lives) – who is secretly working for a resistance group – from Old New York to Los Angeles. But as they mow down ‘willing’ fans along the way to collect vital points, will trying to avoid some high calibre hospitality, hot on their tailgate is the genetically-modified superstar Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who’ll stop at nothing to beat them to the finish line…
This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun that pays loving homage to the original (even down to the retro poster design), while also providing some thigh-slapping political satire by lampooning everything that is wrong with America today – from guns and religion to consumerism and social apathy.
Director GJ Echternkamp and co-writer Matt Yamashita inject loads of black humour into the film and its characters, who are great fun to cheer on or boo as they traverse America’s re-named cities and states like Upper Shitville (Baltimore), New Texxaco (Texas) and MeatPakistan (Kansas).
Amongst the racers are hip-hop star Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku), whose latest hit song is ‘Drive… drive… drive… kill… drive…’; Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey), a bible-bashing interfaith wack-job who is a ‘magnet for heathens’; and ABE, a KITT-like artificial intelligence who has an existential meltdown when he accidentally impales his sex-mad proxy to the hood of his bonnet.
Turning up the Roid Rage to warp factor 10 is Burt Grinstead as the sexually-ambiguous Perfectus, who reminded me of a closeted version of Gerrit Graham’s glam rocker Beef in 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise, while Yancy Butler (of Lake Placid and Witchblade fame) is the tough as nails Alexis, a former network programmer who now leads the resistance – a bunch of leather clad muscle boys. But for me, it’s Shanna Olsen who steals the show as the Hunger Games-styled news anchor Grace Tickle.
Among the many funny lines are ‘It’s hard to turn global famine into click bait’ and ‘I’ll drink your tears Frankenstein and lick them off your handsome face’, but the most chilling must be, ‘The world is fucking crazy, a sane person doesn’t stand a chance’. Considering what America is going through now, it might just be true…
The late-great Ib Melchior gets a credit at the end for it was his short story The Racer that inspired Corman’s original Rollerball rip-off in the first place… now, does anyone remember sales people?
Death Race 2050 is out on Blu-ray and Digital Download from Monday 20 March 2017
DID YOU KNOW? You can watch the original cult action film here – in full!
Multiple Maniacs (1970) | John Waters’ outrageously offensive Cavalcade of Perversion restored and on Blu-ray
Who knew that after nearly five decades in the cult underground, one of John Waters’ early homemade ‘celluloid atrocities’ would end up sitting alongside the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman and their kind? Well, his gloriously grotesque second feature Multiple Maniacs has achieved that rare feat thanks to an amazing restoration by Janus Films, who first brought world cinema to the American masses, and The Criterion Collection, who are now bringing their fantastic releases into the UK.
“Glorious . . . Can only be described as The Passion of the Christ on Quaaludes.”
The Hollywood Reporter
“Even the garbage is too good a place for it.”
Mary Avara, Maryland Board of Censors
Waters’ anarchic spoof on gore movies starred Divine (in his fourth Waters film) as Lady Divine, the crazed impresario of a performance art freak show in conservative Baltimore whose troupe of counterculture misfits use the show to rob their patrons.
When the sociopathic Lady Divine goes on the run after killing the latest arrivals to her debauched show, she’s sexually attacked by glue-sniffers and has anal sex in a church with a woman (Mink Stole) sporting a set of rosary beads before going on to commit more acts of atrocity – including devouring the internal organs of her ex-lover Dr David (David Lochary) who she kills for having an affair with another woman (Marty Vivian Pearce).
But the death of her prostitute daughter (Cookie Mueller) finally sends Lady Divine over the edge, resulting in her being raped by a giant lobster [spoiler alert!!!] before the National Guard take her out on a busy Baltimore street.
Made on a shoestring budget (funded by mum and dad Waters) and at the home where Waters grew up, Multiple Maniacs has become the transgressive director’s highest rated films (says Rotten Tomatoes) and an anarchic masterwork that the Pope of Trash has longed to see get a proper release.
After a screening of the last-ever 60mm print during a retrospective at Lincoln Center in New York in 2014, representatives of The Criterion Collection approached Waters about doing a restoration. Asked if he wanted to keep the film exactly as is, with all the mistakes included, Waters told them, ‘Are you kidding me? Make it look good!’ Having removed all the splice marks and dirt, Waters now describes his ‘celluloid atrocity’ as looking akin to ‘a bad John Cassavetes movie’. Joking aside, the restoration is truly astonishing given the film’s DIY nature – it was shot on an Arcon 0627 camera using reversal black and white film with the sound being recorded on a magnetic strip at the same time.
So did he go too far? Well, according to an interview he gave to The Guardian following a screening of the restored version, Waters said: ‘Of course I went a little too far! I did look at that rosary sex scene, at the people around me, and I could see the young audience in disbelief. At the same time, I think, how did I get away with this? How did any of this happen? Part of it was a time capsule. A very accurate picture of what my sense of humour, and what my friends were like at the time, which might scare some people. And in some ways, they should actually be scared of us.’ (1)
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director John Waters, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary featuring Waters (Getting the lowdown on the movie from the horses mouth is truly hilarious and makes getting this release a must. I’ve actually listened to this twice now and can’t wait for round three).
• Interviews with cast and crew members Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe and George Figgs
• Plus, an essay by critic Linda Yablonsky (not included with my screener).
The Love Witch (2016) | Prepare to be seduced, bewitched and beguiled – just watch out for the jimsonweed!
A deliciously visual confection that pays loving homage to vintage Hollywood glamour, melodrama and Technicolor, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a beguiling and bewitching feminist exploration of pathological love, desire and narcissism.
She Loved Men… To Death
Wiccan convert Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is determined to find a man to love her entirely. Fleeing San Francisco after the death of a lover, she takes up residence in a gothic Victorian apartment in a quaint town northern Californian, where she begins her search for the man of her dreams.
But her sex magic – which requires the use of the hallucinogenic jimsonweed – is so powerful it sends her suitors to an early grave, and when she does meet her perfect match in a detective (Gian Keys) who is investigating her, Elaine’s desperation to be loved sends her over the edge…
With its purposefully stylised look, drenched in a ultra vivid colour palette, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch certainly took my breathe away and reminded me of how excited I felt when I first laid eyes on the hyper-real styling’s of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle, James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus and Todd Haynes’ Poison and Velvet Goldmine.
Praise be Biller for taking over seven years to bring her feminist opus to cinematic life – and doing all the writing, direction and editing herself (as well as the sets, songs and paintings), while also working closely with cinematographer, M David Mullen (Jennifer’s Body and TV’s Extant), to achieve her desire to create a fun movie that uses her own cinema fantasies to ‘penetrate the visual world of an iconic witch’.
It’s certainly exciting for cinephiles like myself to catch all the references that Biller channels into the film: like the opening sequence that’s an intentional nod to Hitchcock’s The Birds – complete with retro rear-screen projection; Douglas Sirk’s soapy 1950s melodramas; and female-driven pictures like Mildred Pierce and Leave Her To Heaven.
And when it comes to the borrowed music, Biller cleverly chooses some evocative 1960s giallo scores by Ennio Morricone. Now I might be mistaken, but I think I also heard a mock-medieval melody from David Lee’s Masque of the Red Death score from Roger Corman’s 1964 Pathecolor horror classic – another film that made masterful use of a primary colour palette courtesy of Nicolas Roeg.
For me, the heavy use of reds, purples and blacks and the witches’ coven sequences reminded me of some other psychedelic American International Pictures-produced horrors like Count Yorga, Vampire and The Dunwich Horror. But Biller has gone on record to say that she was never influenced by what she calls these ‘exploitation movies’ as they were made purely for ‘male pleasure’.
Playing the deluded femme fatale, Samantha Robinson is totally bewitching as Elaine, who is part Stepford wife, part Samantha from Bewitched, but with the darker shades of Sandy Dennis in That Cold Day in the Park and a couple of Hitchcock heroines lurking behind inviting deep hazel eyes that stare directly at the camera in almost every shot. It’s a clever technique that effectively seduces the viewer into being drawn into Elaine’s deluded candy-coloured world.
Here’s how Biller viewed her intentions: ‘I wanted to make a movie about a witch, because I think that every woman is made to feel like a witch by the men who don’t understand her: that is, mysterious, dangerous, different, abnormal. Elaine is monstrous, wreaking havoc wherever she goes, but she is also sympathetic, because she has essentially been driven mad by being a woman, and is struggling to find love and acceptance in a world that has disappointed her at every turn.’
The gender politics of Biller’s The Love Witch is certainly ripe for closer examination and comment, and I look forward to revisiting the film when it gets its UK Blu-ray release on 13 March from ICON Entertainment. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and catch this on the big screen – you NEED to see it in all its 35mm glory.
Oh and for those of you who are film location fanatics (like me), Elaine’s Munsters-like Victorian mansion can be found at 916 13th St, Arcata, CA 95521.
The Love Witch is out in selected UK cinemas now.
Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.
Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.
Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasence) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).
But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…
When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.
From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.
A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasence caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).
Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.
Donald Pleasence is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.
The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).
And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson