Category Archives: Cult classic
1932’s The Old Dark House is arguably director James Whale’s greatest cinematic feat, a macabre queer comedy disguised as a horror, delightfully acted (by lots of Brits abroad), and fused together with Whale’s stylistic, sardonic humour, well-knit scenario witty and insightful screenplay, and moody camerawork, lighting and production design. It is, quite possibly, the best British horror ever made – in Hollywood.
Taking its queues from JB Priestley’s 1927 novel, Benighted, and the ‘Old House’ chillers of stage and screen, Whale’s storm-driven adaptation finds five weary travellers becoming stranded at the ominous Welsh mansion of the reclusive and very strange Femm family, who are all quite possibly all insane. What follows is a wicked parody of the British class system, and one that features a performance from Ernest Thesiger that outshines even his iconic turn as Dr Pretorius in Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein a couple of years later.
Thesiger plays Horace Femm, a sniffy little man, who is probably wanted by the police (for crimes we can only imagine) and has seething contempt for everything and everyone. He owns the house along with his pious half-deaf sister Eva (beautifully played by Eva Moore), and their scenes together provide the film with its most memorable moments and best lines: like ‘Have a potato’ and ‘How reassuring’.
Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey play married socialite couple Margaret and Philip, while Melvyn Douglas is their playboy friend Roger. When a landslide forces them off the road, they seek shelter with the Femms; and are soon joined by Charles Laughton (making his screen debut and speaking his in native Yorkshire tongue) and Lilian Bond, who play the self-made businessman Sir William Porterhouse and chorus girl Gladys. But with no beds on offer, they are all forced to spend the evening huddle together around a fireplace after a frugal meal of roast, gravy and – yes- potatoes…
But it’s not long before the Femms skeletons starting coming out of the closet as the lights go out and the group are soon menaced by Boris Karloff’s mute butler Morgan, who hits the bottle and goes on a drunken rampage, which results in the release of Femm’s pyromaniac brother Saul (Brember Wills) from his locked attic room…
Whale’s shows off his perverse sense of humour through the stylistic, expressionistic camerawork (by Arthur Edeson, who also shot Frankenstein) in some very memorable scenes: like when Horace announces, ‘My sister was on the point of arranging these flowers’, then summarily throws them into the fireplace. Another is when Morgan makes his menacing entrance, and a particularly surreal funhouse mirror shot of Margaret and Rebecca, their features distorted in a vanity mirror. Then there’s the terrific trick shot of Morgan coming down the stairs only to reveal the hand on the banister is not his…
Packed to the rafters with morbid mirth and a sly wink at class and society, this is one of the most entertaining horror films of the 1930’s. The Masters of Cinema Series special dual format edition of James’s Whales’ queer comedy horror features a stunning 1080p presentation from the Cohen Media Group 4K restoration (with a progressive encode on the DVD), uncompressed LPCM audio (on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles; and includes a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, archival material and previously unseen imagery and ephemera; and Limited Edition O-Card (first run only) featuring artwork by Graham Humphreys, created especially for the 2018 UK theatrical release. The special extras (below), however, are the icing on the cake, making this a must-have for any classic film collection…
• Meet the Femms This video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns is exceptionally executed, with loads of informative back stories on the production, cast and crew, super behind the scenes photos, incuding Whales’ own set designs, and I really enjoyed hearing actors Steven McNicoll and Angela Hardie voicing the various characters in Priestley’s novel, Benighted, as well as the author himself and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester.
• Daughter of Frankenstein Sara Karloff talks candidly about her father and his work on this production, and has a great story about how Boris and Charles Laughton did not see eye-to-eye.
• Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House This archival interview has the late-director (who became a close friend of Whale’s) recalling his efforts in rescing the film from oblivion back in 1968. Please, someone, give this man a posthumous medal for doing this!
• Commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones This is a great listen, with some interesting bits of trivia like that fact that Karloff was dubbed, and Kim makes a very interesting link between the film’s structure (and its class-based ensemble) to disaster movies. This was made prior to Gloria Stuart’s death (aged 100) in 2010, as the duo talk about her in the present tense, and their comments are all based on viewing an inter-negative print.
• Commentary by Gloria Stuart This is absolutely riveting. Stuart is a joy to listen to and she provides huge amounts of personal insight (the film was a real high point in her acting career): admiring Whales’ sardonic humour, the uncomfortable shooting for the actors, her regrets at being a young 22 upstart making her second film who was unaware of Eva Moore’s pedigree (a suffragette, one of Edward VI’s favourites and the mother of Laurence Olivier’s first wife, Jill Esmond), and shedding light on some truths about why Karloff and Whale weren’t on friendly terms during the shoot.
• Commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis This has lots of great insight into the film’s production, and I certainly learnt a few things. Did you know that Karloff’s mute butler Morgan became the model for the butler Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons? These were subsequently published as Drawn and Quartered, with a Foreward by Karloff and thus effectively the character became Lurch in The Addams Family. Curtis also examines the similarities and differences between Priestley’s novel and Whale’s screenplay – which makes for an interesting analysis.
From Lionsgate UK comes 1987’s The Gate, as part of their ongoing Vestron Collector’s Series, restored and remastered on Blu-ray.
While their parents are away for a long weekend, break 16-year-old Al (Christa Denton) and 12-year-old Glen (Stephen Dorff) have free reign of their suburban home. But it soon turns into a supernatural battleground when Glen and his best friend Terry (Louis Tripp) unwittingly unleash demonic forces from a large hole in the backyard…
Though not much happens in the first half hour of this Poltergeist meets Home Alone offering, things really liven up when an army of pint-size trolls begin to start crawling out from ‘the other side’.
What The Gate lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for it with its ‘wink and a smile’ fan-boy approach that plays fast and furious with some classic horror tropes like the ‘monster in the closet’ and the ‘thing under the bed’, while also chucking in a great gag involving the lyrics of heavy metal records being linked to black magic and satanism.
The practical special effects may have some rough edges, but they still look terrific: especially the ankle-sized demons (a winning combination of forced perspective and people in full rubber suits), and the climactic sequence in which Glen, armed with a toy rocket, takes on the film’s gigantic HP Lovecraft-inspired serpentine demon.
So sit back and prepare to channel your 12-year-old self once again with this gleefully ghoulish fun-ride.
• Audio commentary with director Tibor Takacs, writer Michael Nankin, and sfx designer/supervisor Randall William Cook
• Audio commentary with the sfx crew, including Randall William Cook, Craig Reardon, Frank Carere and Bill Taylor
• Isolated Score and audio interview with composers Michael Hoenig and J Peter Robinson
• Eight new and archival behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and crew
• Trailers & TV Spot
WATCH IT ON THE BIG SCREEN: Lionsgate UK’s free screenings at the Monday Film Club at The Alibi in Dalston, East London finish tonight (26 March) with The Gate. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/178367812773304/
The Gate copyright: Programme Content and Photography: ©1986 The Gate Film Productions Inc. all Rights Reserved. Package Design: © 2018 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) | Billy Wilder’s melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective gets a first-time Blu-ray release
From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s underrated 1970 adventure comedy The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as part of The Masters of Cinemas Series on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Director Billy Wilder’s personal, melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective was originally conceived as a three and a half hour extravaganza, and he never forgave the studio for hacking it to bits (with many of the deleted scenes now lost forever).
What remains is rewarding, but it leaves you begging for more, as the bored Baker Street sleuth (Robert Stephens) investigates a mystery that takes him and his faithful companion Doctor Watson (Colin Blakely) from London to Inverness, and involves an enigmatic amnesiac (Geneviève Page), Holmes’ conniving brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee), Queen Victoria and – yes – the Loch Ness Monster.
Stephens plays Holmes with tortured, whimsical perfection, and both Blakely and Lee are perfectly cast in their respective roles, but it’s Irene Handl rather than the alluring Page who steals every scene she’s in. Her Mrs Hudson is a comic stand-out. Other familiar faces include the legendary Stanley Holloway, Clive Revill (The Legend of Hell House), Catherine Lacey (The Sorcerers) and Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula).
The film’s rich period detail and authentic locations is also matched by the witty script (one of 11 that Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wrote together) and the whole affair sparkles like a well-polished (rough) diamond.
• 1080p presentation
• Uncompressed PCM soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
• The Missing Cases (50 mins): A presentation of deleted sequences, using script excerpts, production stills and surviving film footage.
• Deleted Epilogue Scene (audio only)
• Christopher Lee: Mr. Holmes, Mr. Wilder – an archival interview with Christopher Lee about his experience working with Billy Wilder
• Interview with editor Ernest Walter
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet
Boom! (1968) | Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton camp it up in Joseph Losey’s fantastically odd Tennessee Williams adaptation
Throughout the 1960s, cinema’s royal couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton created some brilliant, beguiling and occasionally bewildering films – some of which were adapted from classic plays: Edward Albee’s shout-fest Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Williams Shakespeare’s hysterical The Taming of the Shrew and Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy Doctor Faustus.
US playwright Tennessee Williams, whose meditations on sexual frustration, drug addiction and terminal disease made him the ‘darling of the day’, seemed a logical choice for Burton and Taylor to show off their craft. And along came Boom!
Based on the 1963 play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Boom! takes place on a gorgeous private island in the Mediterranean, where the wealthy, egocentric Sissy Goforth is about to meet her maker.
As she dictates her memories to her long-suffering servant Blackie (Joanna Shimkus), penniless poet Christopher Flanders (Burton) arrives unannounced, wanting an audience. While Flanders is kept waiting, Sissy consults the bitchy Witch of Capri (Noel Coward, in a brilliantly wicked turn) over a very boozy dinner, who warns her that the poet is in fact The Angel of Death.
What follows is a cat-and-mouse game of existential wordplay as Sissy first rejects, then accepts the stranger, and thus her own mortality.
Esoteric or pretentious? Think what you will, but watching Boom! 40-plus years after its original release, I was totally transfixed. Yes, Taylor screams, rants and acts the childish princess, but she is absolutely fascinating to watch. Meanwhile, Burton’s soothing poetic voice flows like warm butterscotch.
American director Joseph Losey is the man who put this camp masterpiece together. Already capable of some unique, if slightly odd, cinematic treats like the sci-fi cult These Are the Damned and the pop art inspired Modesty Blaise, Losey’s firmly stamps his signature here.
This is helped greatly by the lavish modernist-inspired set, a Corbusier-influenced villa perched high on the rugged Sardinian coastline dotted with faux Easter Island statues, Taylor’s elaborate costumes and jewellery, and a fantastic music score from James Barry.
Boom! may have spectacular bombed on its release in 1968, but it so deserves a new audience – one that likes its cinema camp, colourful, and very odd indeed. And let’s leave the last word to John Waters, who included the film’s poster in Pink Flamingos: ‘beyond bad. It’s the other side of camp. It’s beautiful, atrocious, and it’s perfect. It’s a perfect movie, really, and I never tire of it’.
Boom! is available on DVD from Second Sight in the UK
Over half a century after its original cinema release, this surreal 1953 musical fantasy – conceived and part-written by noted children’s author Dr Seuss – remains one of the most bizarre children’s films ever committed to celluloid.
Little Bart Collins (future Lassie star Tommy Rettig) would rather play baseball than practice his piano scales. Falling asleep, he enters a nightmarish world in which a sinister piano teacher, Dr Terwilliker (Hans Conreid in splendid sinister form), has hypnotised Bart’s mum (Mary Healey) into becoming his assistant (and future bride); imprisoned non-piano-playing musicians in his dungeon; and constructed a gigantic piano to force 500 boys (including Bart) to play his latest composition for all eternity.
Bart’s only chance to free both his mother, himself and the other boys is to convince friendly plumber Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) of Terwilliker’s maniacal plans…
Although a flop at the box office, director Roy Rowland and producer Stanley Kramer’s bonkers film brilliantly captures the spirit of Dr Suess’ anarchic vision, especially in the fantastic production design featuring sets and matte paintings that look like an colourful mash up of weird Frank Gehry angles, Jean Cocteau fantasia, Fritz Lang expressionism and The Jetsons cartoon futurism.
The music, however, isn’t so memorable. 24 musical numbers were filmed, but 11 ended up being scrapped from the final cut (they were later included on a 2007 CD release). But despite the not-so-great music (except maybe the screwy Hypnotic Duel), this fantasy certainly deserves revisiting – and maybe one day, in right hands, even a musical stage adaptation.
This limited edition dual format Powerhouse Films release (part of the Indicator series) presents a HD remaster of the film – for the first time in the UK – with the following special features:
• Audio commentary with film historians Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton
• Crazy Music: a 2017 interview with musician, singer and archivist Michael Feinstein on his obsession with the filme
• Father Figure: a 2017 new interview with Steve Rowland, son of director Roy Rowland
• Karen Kramer introduction (2007)
• Dr T. on Screen (2007): Cathy Lind Hayes, George Chakiris and others talk about the film
• A Little Nightmare Music (2007): an examination of the film’s music score
• Original theatrical trailer
• Joe Dante trailer commentary (2013) WATCH BELOW
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Booklet with a new essay by Peter Conheim, and extracts from the original press kit, advertising and promotion guide
Shock Treatment (1981) | You’ll be jumping like a real live wire after seeing Arrow’s fan-bloody-tastic HD release of the cult musical
From Richard O’Brien, the writer and director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show comes not a sequel, not a prequel… but an equal – Shock Treatment, out in a limited edition HD release from Arrow Video.
This riotous, toe-tapping 1981 musical sees Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise) and Cliff De Young taking on the iconic roles of Rocky’s Brad and Janet Majors alongside Barry Humphries, Ruby Wax and a very young Rik Mayall, plus Rocky alumini Patricia Quinn, Charles Gray and Richard O’Brien.
Now leading a quite life in Denton, USA: The Mecca of America, The Bethlehem of the West, The birthplace of the virtuous and the home of happiness, Brad and Janet find their marriage put to the test when they take part in a hugely-popular TV show, only for Brad to end up being institutionalised on the TV station’s medical show while Janet becomes an overnight reality star. But what are the real motivations behind the kooky DTV crew and their enigmatic head-honcho, Farley Flavors?
Mental illness and mass consumerism are fair game in the hands of O’Brien director Jim Sharman, who use some eye-watering day-glo visuals and some witty songs (that certainly rival Rocky) to serve up their blackly comic attack on reality TV (and pre-dating The Truman Show by some 17 years to boot). Time to slip into a little black dress or some green hospital scrubs, grab some friends over and tune into all the crazy madness. Altogether now: ‘You need a bit of ooooh, Shock Treatment!’
Arrow’s release comes in two designs – Cosmo and Nation (named after O’Brien and Quinn’s characters in the musical), and feature the following contents in each brightly coloured digipak, featuring artwork from Graham Humphreys. You’d better hurry and snap them up on Amazon because they’ve now sold out on Arrow’s own store.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
• Isolated music and effects track
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Archive audio introduction by Richard O’Brien
• New audio commentary with actresses Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell
• Archive audio commentary by “Mad Man” Mike and Bill Brennan
• DTV Presents: A Shockumentary – retrospective making-of featurette
• Let’s Rock ‘n Roll: Shock Treatment’s Super Score – archive featurette on the music of Shocky
• The Rocky Horror Treatment – vintage behind-the-scenes documentary
• Patricia Quinn in Conversation with Mark Kermode
• Fan featurettes & cover songs
• Promo gallery featuring trailers, radio spot and stills
• Collector’s booklet
• Set of exclusive Shock Treatment Mix ‘n’ Match Cards
• Exclusive double-sided “D-E-N-T-O-N” poster
• Complete Soundtrack CD
Ray Harryhausen’s legendary Sinbad adventures restored and on Blu-ray in the UK for the very first time!
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Nathan Juran, 1958)
The film for which director Nathan Juran (who also did TV’s Lost in Space and Land of the Giants amongst others) will be remembered and a huge box office smash at the time of its cinema release. Kerwin Matthews takes the title role as the fearless Sinbad who sails into troubled waters to save a princess (Kathryn Grant) cursed by an evil magician (played with gleeful menace by Torin Thatcher) who wants to get his hands on a magic lamp and its genie. But the real stars of this rousing Arabian Nights adventure are, of course, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop motion animated monsters, most notably his glowering Cyclops and chained dragon. Believe it or not, the scene involving the sword-fighting skeleton warrior was originally cut by the British censors as being too frightening! How times have changed.
THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Gordon Hessler, 1973)
Ray Harryhausen pulls out more Dynamation magic for this second Sinbad adventure which sees John Phillip Law’s seafarer battle a one-eyed centaur, a six-armed sword-wielding Kali idol, a gryphon, and a homunculus as he seeks out the fabled Fountain of Destiny to restore the disfigured face of the Grand Vizier of Marabia (Douglas Wilmer). Phillip Law might look the part, but he makes for a rather dull hero, while an eye-catching Caroline Munro is in desperate need of more dialogue (and where does a runaway slave get so many snazzy outfits from?). Tom Baker, however, chews the scenery in true pantomime villain style, and it was on the back of his performance that he landed the Doctor Who gig – and changed his life forever.
SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (Sam Wanamaker, 1977)
Sinbad’s escapades get a colourful (well it is the 1970s) injection in this final Arabian Nights adventure starring Patrick Wayne (son of John) who along with Jane Seymour’s Princess Farah take on an army of Ray Harryhausen’s special effects creatures in their attempt to undo the spell on the princess’ brother (Damien Thomas), who has been turned into a baboon by Margaret Whiting’s sorceress, Zenobia. Harryhausen is at the top of his game here – his three ghouls, troglodyte and robotic bronze Minoton (played by an uncredited Peter Mayhew in the close-ups) being the stand-out. And while the saber-toothed tiger might look more cuddly than fierce, its the back-projection work employed in the location scenes at Petra in Jordan and the Hyperborea-set climax that really let the team down.
These classic adventures are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK and they look terrific (check out my comments below). Plus, you’ve got some exclusive interviews with Tom Baker, Caroline Munro and Jane Seymour, as well as some super archival interviews with Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer and loads more.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• New 4K restoration of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad from the original camera negative (absolutely loved this restoration, especially the sound which brings Bernard Herrmann’s score to the fore).
• 2K restorations of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (this one has grain problems in the low-light shots and night-time scenes) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger from the original camera negatives (also a little grain in the night-time shots, but otherwise an excellent transfer – despite the inherent production flaws).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• The 7th Voyage of Sinbad audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen
• Previously unreleased audio interviews with Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer
• New interviews with actors Tom Baker (his Catholic indoctrination story had been me in stitches), Caroline Munro (who thought John Phillip Law was a dreamboat) and Jane Seymour (who never got to any of the exotic locations used in the film hence the terrible back projection)
• New interview with SFX maestro Phil Tippett
• Original Super 8 cut-down versions (these are a real treat, despite having no sound)
• Archival documentaries (all of them fascinating), interviews and featurettes (loved the Trailers from Hell one with Brian Trenchard-Smith on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and one on Bernard Herrmann)
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated scores by Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and Roy Budd
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Box set exclusive 80-page book with new essays, and film credits
Based on an allegedly real-life paranormal encounter experienced by George and Kathleen Lutz in the mid-1970s, AIP’s The Amityville Horror scared the willies out of me when I saw it on the big screen back in 1979. And after all these years, the seminal shocker remains a thrilling exercise in suspense thanks to Stuart Rosenberg’s masterful direction, the top production values, a chilling Lalo Schifrin score, and some great performances.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder play the fraught couple who, along with Kathy’s three kids, buy a beautiful Long Island home, but they know nothing about the murders that took place there several years earlier.
And it’s not long before some inexplicable events start happening: Rod Steiger’s visiting priest turns into a sweaty nervous wreck when he’s bugged by a swarm of flies; the babysitter gets locked in a cupboard; and the Lutz’s little daughter gets herself an imaginary friend who turns malevolent.
Plus, there’s those spooky windows glowering like devil eyes, a vomiting nun, and James Brolin getting more mad-eyed, weird and sweaty while out chopping wood… Oh! and then there’s bubbling goo… Add some lightning and thunder and the family fleeing for their lives and you’ve got yourself the perfect scarefest.
Along with Burnt Offerings, Poltergeist and The Shining, The Amityville Horror is haunted house horror at its chilling best. So this new Blu-ray release from Second Sight is welcome addition to my cult film collection; while the bonus features are just the icing on the cake.
Check them out here:
• Brolin Thunder: Interview with actor James Brolin (his comments on The Car made me roar with laughter)
• Child’s Play: Interview with actor Meeno Peluce
• Amityville Scribe: Interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern
• The Devil’s Music: Interview with composer Lalo Schifrin
• My Amityville Horror: Feature-length documentary with Daniel Lutz
• For God’s Sake, Get Out: Featuring James Brolin and Margot Kidder
• Intro by Dr. Hans Holzer, PhD. in parapsychology (author of ‘Murder in Amityville’)
• Audio commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer
• Original trailer, TV spot, radio spots
• Four reproduction lobby card postcards (SteelBook Exclusive)
• New optional English subtitles
From Arrow Video comes the rarely seen early-1970s German serial killer drama, loosely based on the true story of Fritz Haarmann, aka the Butcher of Hanover. Produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by Ulli Lommel, Tenderness of the Wolves was originally released on 29 June 1973, and became available on Blu-ray and DVD following a restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation in November 2015.
Haarmann was responsible for the murders of 24 boys and young men during the so-called ‘years of crisis’ between the two world wars in the Lower Saxony capital before being executed by the guillotine in 1925. His grisly case partly inspired Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M (starring Peter Lorre) as well as this near-forgotten gem from 1973, which I have been searching for ever since I read about it an issue of Stephen Thrower’s Eyeball magazine back in 1998.
In a supremely understated performance, a shaven-headed Kurt Raab makes his perverted boy killer a repellent, yet fascinating and (at times) sympathetic figure. He’s also one of cinemas most human monsters. Using his status as a police informant to procure his young victims – mostly runaways and street vagrants, the former petty thief dismembers their bodies, then sells their flesh on the black market to his friends and neighbours.
While uneasy to watch, Ulli Lommel’s film expertly utilises the true crime thriller genre to let a disturbing socio-political commentary on how poverty creates a climate of indifference to rear its satirical head.
The film’s real horror, meanwhile, is not in the killings (although they are made all the more frightening because they are alluded to rather than shown), but in the in-actions of those who support and nurture a vile creature like Haarman: including the police, his neighbours and lowlife friends (who dare not cast the first stone in case their own darkness comes to light).
And this horror is presented in two chilling scenes: when a store-owner laughs off Haarman eyeing up her young son (knowing full well what he does to them); while another, barely 10, accosts him for sexual favours, but is never seen again after knocking on his door…
THE 2015 ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
• New high definition digital transfer on Blu-ray DVD, with original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 sound, and newly translated optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary, interview and introduction by director Ulli Lommel
• Photographing Fritz: interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges
• Haarmann’s Victim Talks: interview with actor Rainer Will
• An appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Trailer (in HD)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by the Twins of Evil
• Collector’s booklet
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques (shortened to Diabolique in this Criterion Collection release) without doubt one of the finest whodunits ever made in the history of cinema and regarded by critics and fans alike as Europe’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (released five years later). It is, in my books, the mother of all shockers!
Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) plays Cristiana (aka Cri Cri), the much put-upon wife of a sadistic boarding school head Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is coerced by his mistress Nicole (a tough, forbidding Simone Signoret in one of her best ever roles) into killing him and dumping his body in the school’s swimming pool. But when the pool is later drained, there’s no body and so the mystery begins.
Armed with a hotel key, found on the suit Michel was wearing the night he was killed, Christina begins her own investigation. But she, and Nicole, haven’t countered on the tenacity of a retired detective (Charles Vane) who is determined to prove he’s still got what it takes to solve the crime.
Even 60+ years after its initial release, this haunting thriller has never lost its potency, nor its ability to shock, thanks to a suspenseful script, carefully constructed pacing and the well-developed lead characters. Christina is so religious that she feels damned by her actions, yet Nicole is her polar opposite. Does she feel some affinity with Christina’s plight or is she preying on Christina’s weaknesses? Watching these two characters play off each other is what makes this film so unforgettable.
My favourite scenes are when Nicole and Christina put their murderous plan into action. I found myself watching their every move, hoping and praying nothing goes wrong. But of course it does, and – thanks to Clouzot’s eye – we, the audience, become complicit in the women’s actions.
Watch carefully and you will find that water features heavily throughout. The dripping tap, the highly decorative bath and the swimming pool are all symbols of death, best illustrated by a close-up of the bath drain (which Hitchcock would make his own in Psycho) and the emptying of the pool. So potent an image is the pool that it makes me wonder how many other films turn a swimming pool into a character itself.
Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror film-making and is a must-have for all world cinema fans. Back in 2011, a dual format UK release from Arrow Academy featured a HD transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative. Now, The Criterion Collection has released a UK Blu-ray version featuring the same digital restoration and the following special features…
• Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
• New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, codirector of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Inferno”
• New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
• Original theatrical trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty