Category Archives: Cult classic

Dementia 13 | Francis Ford Coppola’s director’s cut is a must-have

I have been a huge fan of Dementia 13 ever since I bought it on VHS back in the 1980s. I’ve returned to it time and again because it just ticks so many boxes: the moody monochrome cinematography, the atmospheric harpsichord-heavy Ronald Stein score, the great use of the Sir Edwin Lutyens-styled 14th-century Howth Castle in Dublin, and another eccentric turn from one of my all-time favourite character actors, Patrick Magee. But the print I’ve been watching all these years has been quite poor.

So it was with much glee that I see Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 feature debut in a high-definition director’s cut (which was done back in 2017 by Coppola’s American Zoetrope) on Blu-ray as part of their Vestron Collector’s Series.

Luana Anders (who had just finished Roger Corman’s The Young Racers, and previously co-starred with Vincent Price in 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum) plays recently widowed Louise Haloran, who keeps her husband’s death a secret in a bid to secure his inheritance.

But as she plots to exploit her ailing mother in law (Eithne Dunne) who continues to grieve over the tragic drowning of her daughter Kathleen, Louise’s plans are put in jeopardy by a maniac stalking the family estate. But who could it be? Brothers Richard (William Campbell) or Billy (Bart Patton), family physician Dr Justin Caleb (Magee), or someone else entirely?

Having seen the film countless times, I went straight to Coppola’s audio commentary – which was a blast. I’ve now gained a new appreciation of just how much the film is very much Coppola’s own. He not only directed but wrote the screenplay (which he readily admits was a cash-in on William Castle’s Homicidal, which was itself a rip on Hitchcock’s Psycho), and was very much involved in the film’s visual imagery. He was also the body double for the heart attack victim in the chilling opening scenes, the hand model for the film’s protagonist, Louise; and best of all, the 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta that features heavily was Coppola’s own pride and joy. One he wishes he still had – so do I! Oh, and I love the story he tells of how he became a hero after managing to keep a local pub open after closing time.

Made on just $40,000 (half of which was money left over from Corman’s The Young Races production) at Ardmore Studios in Bray, Ireland, Coppola’s psychological axe-murder horror is a masterclass in effective economical film-making – but also one with great style, and some very haunting imagery (such as the transistor radio burbling distorted pop music as it sinks into the lake, and [spoiler] Louise’s tragic early demise a la Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane).

To preserve his vision, Coppola excised the additional scenes (filmed by Jack Hill) that producer Roger Corman had added. While it’s a shame they weren’t included as an extra, the film finally looks and sounds its best!

Special Features
• Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola
• Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
• Prologue (Dementia 13 Test): In a nod to William Castle’s gimmicks, and to extend the film’s running time, this features a ‘shrink’ inviting the audience to take part in a survey that tests their mental state.

Amazon Blu-ray: https://bit.ly/Dementia13Vestron

The Hands of Orlac | The thrilling 1924 silent classic shudders onto Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes director Robert Wiene’s silent horror The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände), starring Conrad Veidt, on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

Veidt plays Paul Orlac, a concert pianist whose hands are amputated after a train crash. Shocked to learn they have been replaced with the hands of a recently executed murderer named Vasseur, Orlac obsesses over the idea that he too will turn violent.

When Orlac’s wealthy father is murdered and fingerprints match the dead man’s hands, Orlac fears seem manifest. However, Orlac’s nightmare reaches new heights of terror when a man claiming to be Vasseur threatens to blackmail him.

Blending grand Guignol shudders with German Expressionism visuals, this 1924 Austrian adaptation of Maurice Renard’s 1920 thriller novel, Les Mains d’Orlac, reunited the director and star of Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920).

Featuring a wonderfully modernist set design, expressive performances and tightly executed scenes, this a silent cinema gem. And near-on a century from its release, many of the tropes conceived here continues to be used in many a film and TV thriller.

With his cadaverous looks and masterfully mannered characterisation, Veidt (who plays his playing his Orlac in a permanent state of fright) proves himself one of the true original Masters of Terror, while Wiene directs each scene like grand theatrical tableaux du dance.

There’s also excellent support from Alexandra Sorina (as Paul’s wife) who stilted movements reveal her character’s inner turmoil. While more mystery thriller with psychological overtones than straight-out horror, the film does boast a couple of very human monsters – most tellingly Paul’s horrid, unlovingly father, whose creepy house resembles a mausoleum.

Kudos to Johannes Kaltizke’s excellent avant-garde music score – which greatly reminded me of Les Baxter’s suite in the 1970 Vincent Price TV special, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Among the excellent highlights is an alternate 110-minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements by Film Archiv Austria
• LPCM 2.0 audio
• Original German-language intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (30min)
• FW Murnau Foundation alternate presentation [SD, 110 minutes]
• Scene comparisons highlighting some of the differences between the two versions of the film
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Philip Kemp, and Tim Lucas

Godzilla: The Showa-era (1954-1975) | I’m roaring with excitement over Criterion’s beast of a Blu-ray box set

67-years-ago, Japan’s monster movie genre, kaiju-eiga, rose out of the sea in the guise of Godzilla. Over the following decades, Toho’s terrifying symbol of nuclear annihilation has transformed into a superhero in a series of films ranging from serious sci-fi to bubblegum pop. I’ve grown up with Godzilla and his many allies and adversaries, and count Mothra, Ghidora, Hedorah and Mechagodzilla among my favourites of the Shōwa-era (1957-1975).

With Godzilla vs Kong now streaming, I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts about Criterion’s eight-disc box-set, which I have been watching whilst in lockdown. It features a bonanza of extra content as well as a monster-sized book featuring great artwork*** and new writing about each of the films. Let the roaring begin…

Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1954)
In June 1953, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms rampaged through New York where it unleashed a deadly prehistoric contagion before being burned alive in an inferno at Coney Island. Then, in October 1954, Japan faced another radioactive monster from the deep, Gojira.

This superior and deadly serious atomic age sci-fi is an all-time classic and looks better than ever in HD. The human story is a blunt yet purposeful metaphor for Japan’s post-war nuclear holocaust fears, and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and miniature sets are and still look fantastic. But what I love most about this Japanese original is Akira Ifukube’s powerful, yet melancholy score. The US version, featuring Raymond Burr, is also included. 

Godzilla Raids Again (dir. Motoyoshi Oda, 1955)
Released in the US as Gigantis, the Fire Monster, this black and white sequel sees Godzilla going up against his first foe – an ankylosaurus called Anguirus. This time, Osaka’s ancient port city ends up in ruins after the two monsters do battle outside the historical caste. The human story involves a group of convicts whose escape plans go awry when the city’s subway is flooded (in one of the film’s best sequences). Meanwhile, two pilots (Hiroshi Koizumi and Minoru Chiaki) working for a tuna cannery company who end up the film’s unlikely heroes. Anguirus is no match for Godzilla, but the returning titan ends up buried in an avalanche of ice and rock.

King Kong vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, Thomas Montgomery, 1963)
After seven years in hibernation, Godzilla rampages once more – and this time in glorious colour. This Toho-Universal co-production (based on an original idea by Willis O’Brien) opens with one of the best sequences in the entire franchise – a giant octopus attacking an island village. Kong defeats the creature, then falls fast asleep after eating some irresistible berry juice. While resting, he’s transported to Japan by a pharmaceutical company who plan to put Kong on show. But with Godzilla on the warpath, it’s not before they engage in some rock-throwing and fire-breathing; with Tokyo once more facing destruction. The wrestling titans end up in an underwater battle after destroying Atami Castle, where the final battle score is 1:1.

Mothra vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
In the second of 11 films and a 1990s trilogy featuring Toho’s second favourite kaiju character – another slimy entrepreneur plans to turn one of Mothra’s giant eggs into a sideshow attraction. At the same time, Godzilla emerges from his muddy to lay waste the city of Nagoya. A news reporter, a photographer and a professor then head to Infant Island to request the Shobijin (again played by The Peanuts, AKA twin sisters Emi and Yumi Itō) to send Mothra to defeat Godzilla. The duo clash, but Mothra is ultimately defeated. However, all is not lost when the egg hatches two larvae, which then spin a cocoon around Godzilla, and dump him in the sea.

I love this film, almost as much as 1961’s Mothra (check out the Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment). Yuji Koseki’s catchy Song of Mothra gets revamped by Akira Ifukube, whose The Sacred Springs, sung by The Peanuts, is the film’s standout track. In the US, American Internation Pictures released an edited version under the title Godzilla vs The Thing.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
Released eight months after Mothra Vs. Godzilla, this monster mash-up sees the franchise getting a bit of an overhaul, with Godzilla now taking on the role of Earth’s protector. This time around, the menace is the titular lightning-emitting space monster who would go on to become Godzilla’s arch-enemy in the Showa series and beyond.

In a nod to Roman Holiday, which did big business in Japan, the story sees a princess of a remote nation (future Bond girl Akiko Wakabayashi) saved from being assassinated by an alien intelligence and used as a prophet of doom. Action star Yosuke Natsuki is the detective tasked with protecting her. While assassins try to kill her, Mothra brokers a deal with Godzilla and the irradiated PteranodonRodan (one of my least favourite kaiju) to join forces to take Gihidorah down. The film’s highlight is Ghidorah’s fiery birth (overseen by an expedition wearing some fab colour-coordinated outfits), and check out the panto-worthy costumes worn by the princess’ royal courtiers.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1965)
In the series’ first space adventure, two astronauts – Nick Adams (a dead-ringer for Vladimir Putin) and Akira Takarada – investigate a mysterious new planet under attack from King Ghidorah (Monster Zero). The United Nations agrees to help, by lending them Godzilla and Rodan, but the evil controller of Planet X plans to invade the Earth using all three monsters under his control.

Esi Tsuburaya and his special effects team create some winning designs here (it’s all very Gerry Anderson), mostly the alien landscapes, futuristic weaponry and Planet’s X’s flying saucers (which I’d love to have as a model). And the aliens look cool in their body-hugging vinyl suits and wraparound sunglasses. The monster fight sequences are well-staged (although the wires are very noticeable on Rodan and Ghidorah). There are also some comic antics from Godzilla when he does his victory dance (inspired by Fujio Akatsuka’s manga Oso Matsu-kun, where the main character jumps up in a particular pose while shouting ‘Shie!’).

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1966)
In this South Seas island-set James Bondian adventure, a new team took charge of the film’s direction, score and special effects and it’s quite the colourful confection all to the strains of some jazzy guitar riffs. The story follows young Ryota (Toru Watanabe) as he goes in search for his missing brother on a stolen yacht with two companions and a stowaway (Akira Takarada). After being attacked by the titular Ebirah (a giant lobster), during a storm, they get shipwrecked on an island where The Red Bamboo (a secret army) are building atomic weapons for a planned attack on Japan. Discovering this, the foursome and a young native girl try to help the island’s captive workforce (from Mothra’s Infant Island) to escape. At the same time, Godzilla gets a rude awakening beneath the island. The film’s standout scene is an aerial attack on Godzilla, while Mothra makes a welcome return.

Son of Godzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1967)
This second island adventure from Toho starts off a tad slow but pays off with some great monsters and comic turns from the lead players. A team of scientists are working on a weather control system on Sollgel Island when a mishap results in a radioactive storm, causing the island’s oversized mantises to grow to gigantic size. Godzilla then comes to the rescue when they unearth an egg that hatches a baby Godzilla. As Godzilla teaches his adopted charge, Minilla (AKA Minya), how to use its atomic ray (cue lots of humourous interplay), the scientists, reporters, and island native girls find themselves under attack by a giant spider. But guess who comes to the rescue? I loved the mantises’ design (Kamacuras – AKA Gimantis) and the spider (Kumonga AKA Spiga) here, and the jazzy music is a plus. The only downside for me was Minilla – but little kids loved him.

Destroy All Monsters (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1968)
Toho planned to end the Godzilla series with this monster mash-up and, wanting to out with a bang, reuniting the original 1954 creative team. It’s 1999, and the world’s monsters are now all housed on Monsterland island under the United Nations Science Committee’s watchful eye. But when an alien race called the Kilaaks (who wear a nice line in silver lamé) use mind control on the monsters, all hell breaks loose. Rodan attacks Moscow, Mothra Beijing, Manda London, Baragon Paris and Godzilla New York (beginning with the UN HQ). After the UNSC retaliate by destroying the Kilaaks lunar outpost, the aliens call in King Ghidorah to protect their secret base at Mount Fuji. Godzilla, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, and Kumonga join forces to take down the fire-breathing serpent. But the Kilaaks have a new surprise: a Fire Dragon.

This was the first Godzilla film I saw (aged seven), and it made me a life-long fan. The action set pieces are well-orchestrated, while the primary coloured sets, costumes and special effects (courtesy of a returning Tsuburaya) are terrific, especially the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship and the Kilaaks saucers. Best scenes are the attack on Tokyo, the battle at Mount Fuji, and the climactic showdown. A massive hit in both Japan and the US (where American International Pictures distributed it), its success meant Godzilla would live to fight another day.

All Monsters Attack (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1969)
OK! This one is a bit of a dud in my book, as it uses footage from the previous films wrapped around the story of a little boy who some kids in his Kawasaki neighbourhood are bullying. At the same time, Godzilla’s annoying son Minilla has similar issues with an ogre-like creature called Gabara. Director Honda, who retired after making this film, regarded it as one of his favourites, as it directly spoke to children (its target audience). It went out under the title, Godzilla’s Revenge, in the US, initially on the same bill as the ‘underrated’ British sci-fi Night of the Big Heat starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Godzilla vs Hedorah (dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
Yeah! One of my all-time favourites. Released internationally as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, this 11th film in the series re-establishes Godzilla as an ecological hero as he comes up against a glowing red-eyed alien spawned from pollution. ‘Hedoro’ (which means polluted mud) is one of my favourite creature designs of the series, and quite similar to the one-eyed tentacle monsters in The Green Slime (1968). Although aimed at younger audiences, and again featuring a little boy at the centre of the action, this latest kaiju features some genuinely scary moments (all the better to highlight the very real problem of out of control pollution in Japan at the time). My fave is when a transformed flying Hedora’s toxic sludge and gas turns people into skeletons.

Set against a trippy hippie backdrop (the club scenes are ‘wild man!’, and check out the crazy paisley clobber and sealife masks!), it also features a kitschy catchy theme tune, Kaese! Taiyô wo (Return! The Sun), which was sung by Keiko Mari in the Japanese version and redone as Save The Earth, written and sung by Adryan Russ, on the US AIP edit (which is the version I first saw). Russ went on to score the Broadway hit Inside Out, and her music also features on TV shows Young Sheldon and WandaVision. It’s such a cool song; here are both versions to enjoy. It’s just a shame that the US edit isn’t included in this box set.

Godzilla vs Gigan (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1972)
Cockroach-like aliens, the Nebulans, take on human form and construct a theme park, World Children’s Land, to serve as their secret base. With their planet dying, they see a polluted Earth as the ideal place to colonise. To aid them in their plan to wipe out humanity, they electronically control two space monsters: King Ghidorah and a reptilian cyborg called Gigan. But a Manga artist stumbles on their plans and, with the help of his karate-kicking girlfriend and hippie sidekick; they alert the Japan Self Defense Forces. Meanwhile, planet protectors Godzilla and Anguirus ally to take down the space monsters and the aliens.

This 12th Godzilla film was a huge success, with returning director Jun Fukuda putting the franchise back on track after the disappointing box-office returns of Godzilla vs Hedora. Designed primarily as a marketing ploy for children’s toys, Gigan (who sports scythe-like claws, abdominal buzz-saw and pincer-like mandibles) is one of Godzilla’s most brutal adversaries, and also the first kaiju in the Toho series to make him bleed. Featuring lashings action and goofiness, and more bloodshed than any previous Godzilla film, this one also introduced a new trope to the series: monster tag teams facing off each other. It also marked Haruo Nakajima’s final performance as Godzilla, which he had played for 24 years.

Godzilla vs Megalon (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1973)
This film sees Godzilla turned into a fully-fledged monster-hero for kids, and with no female characters to speak of, it’s an entirely Boys’ Own adventure. The scenario sees Seatopia’s Emperor Antonio (The Green Slime’s Robert Dunham) retaliating against the surface dwellers nuclear testing by letting loose the underwater kingdom’s protector Megalon, a giant beetle with drillbit arms that spits napalm bombs and shoots death rays. He also calls on space monster Gigan (who looks way less sinister this time around due to the new suit) to join forces to create mass destruction.

Again, a little boy, Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase), is at the centre of the action along with his scientist brother Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his friend Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi). Meanwhile, Godzilla is shoved to the sidelines as the film-makers show off their equivalent to the many Ultraman heroes – Jet Jaguar, a flying super robot who gets his own theme tune (you can sing along with it below). Relying mostly on stock footage, it’s pretty unexciting on the SFX side, while the climactic tag-team looks like something out of a 1970s TV wrestling match. Oh, and look carefully during the big pyrotechnic scene as you can see the Godzilla suit catching fire.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1974)
This penultimate Showa-era kaiju finds Godzilla taking on his space titanium doppelganger. Created by the ape-like Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens, Mechagodzilla (with its head-spinning space beams and finger missiles) is one of my top fave Godzilla adversaries. The robotic menace proved a big hit when it made its debut and has continued to appear in films, comics and video games and is sure to garner a new generation of fans when it rises again in Godzilla vs Kong. Disguised as Godzilla, the giant robot attacks Tokyo but is soon confronted by the real Godzilla and forced to retreat to the alien’s crater base inside Mount Fuji. Much intrigue ensues involving an archaeologist, Interpol agents, and a mystical statue that awakens King Caesar – the ancient guardian of Okinawa’s royal Azumi family. Of course, Mechagodzilla is no match when King Caesar and Godzilla joins forces. 

Terror of Mechagodzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1975)
It’s the end of an era and what better way than to bring back the mighty Mechagodzilla. Again those simian aliens return to finish what they started – the conquest of the Earth. This time around, they rebuild their greatest weapon with living human brain cells and use a young woman, Katsura (Tomoko Ai) – who has been turned into a cyborg by her mad scientist dad – to control its circuitry. Again, Interpol is trying to stop the aliens while Godzilla battles with Mechagodzilla MK2 and one of the campest kaiju monsters of the Showa-era Titanosaurus, a pink-frilled aquatic dinosaur who uses its swishing tail to wreak destruction.

I have a soft spot for this final entry because the excellent production design (especially the alien’s base) reminded me of the early James Bond films and Thunderbirds. And as for Goro Mutsumi’s blue-shades wearing alien leader Akihiko Hirata’s crazed scientist – they are worthy of being in an Austin Powers movie. Great to see Honda back on board and Akira Ifukube composing another excellent score.

BONUS FEATURES
• HD digital transfers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 US-release version of Godzilla; and the 1962 Japanese-release version of King Kong vs Godzilla (which is on disc 8)
• Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat
• International English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla
• 1990 Directors Guild of Japan interview with director Ishiro Honda
• Featurettes on the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences
• New interview with Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era Godzilla films
• New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011
• Illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla
• New English subtitle translations
• Trailers

*** THE ILLUSTRATORS
Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly and Chris Wisnia

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

Tremors | The 1990 creature feature gets a monster 4K UHD Blu-ray release

1990’s Tremors was a hugely entertaining comedy horror that paid loving homage to the giant monster features of the 1950s. A hit with audiences and critics alike, it spawned a hugely successful franchise on the big and small screen. Now it’s breaking new ground with Arrow Video’s 4k-restored 2-disc special edition release.

In the tiny Nevada desert town of Perfection (population 14), Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s repairmen Val and Earl pick the wrong day to leave town for good when four giant earthworm creature start feasting on the local citizens. Trapped along with a group of survivors, Val and Earl unite to save the day – and the world!

Featuring a fantastic ensemble cast, including Family Ties‘ Michael Gross, who went on to appear in all of the sequels, great practical special effects, and lashings of action and humour, Tremors is a modern-day horror-comedy classic. I’ve lost counts the number of times I’ve seen it in various formats (cinema, TV, DVD) and while I don’t (yet) have a UHD player/screen, Arrow’s 4K UHD Blu-ray presentation really sparkled on my Blu-ray home cinema system.

But Arrow has really done themselves proud with the extras, and there are loads. The first disc features two new audio commentaries with director Ron Underwood, writers/producers Brent Maddock and SS Wilson, and Jonathan Melville, author of The Unofficial Guide to Tremors.

There’s also a new making-of documentary (which also revisits the film locations), alongside informative interviews with co-producer Nancy Roberts, DP Alexander Gruszynski, associate producer Ellen Collett, and composers Ernest Troost and Robert Folk.

Plus, TV overdubs, on-set camcorder footage about the making of the Graboids (the name that Victor Wong’s store owner Walter gives them), deleted scenes, trailers, TV and radio spots. And ported over from the Universal Blu-ray is the 1995 documentary.

But wait! There’s still more. The second disc has extended interviews from with Underwood, Maddock, Wilson, Roberts and creature designer Alec Gillis, outtakes, and three early short films, including Wilson’s 1975 stop motion short Recorded Live, all remastered in HD. And this monster of a release is packaged with a collector’s book, posters, lobby card repro art cards and new artwork by Matt Frank. Phenomenal!

Dawn of the Dead (4K UHD/Blu-ray) | Could this be the definitive home entertainment release of George A Romero’s zombie masterpiece?

George A Romero fans rejoice: Dawn of Dead is getting the home entertainment release it finally deserves courtesy of Second Sight Films.

This seminal cult classic, which brilliantly mixes biting political satire and black comedy with state of the art gore effects, has been painstakingly restored and arrives in two format releases: Limited Edition 4K UHD and Limited Edition Blu-ray on 16 November 2020.

Both box-sets include three versions of the film: The Theatrical Cut, The Extended (‘Cannes’) Cut and The Argento Cut, a host of special features (see the full specs below), the previously unreleased The Lost Romero Dawn Interview, brand-now featurettes, soundtrack CDs and a collector’s book.

Now, I have had the enormous pleasure of perusing this incredible box-set and I must say it has to be the best cult film release of 2020. I know Romero/Dawn/zombie fans are already raving about it and I certainly concur. For me, the highlight is bringing all three versions together for the first time. I had never seen the Argento Cut before and I was amazed by how different (and condensed) it is from the Theatrical Cut (the version I’m most familiar with).

Then there are those extras: WOW! I had the good fortune to attend the fan run George Romero convention, Weekend of the Dead, in Manchester just before the Covid-19 pandemic shut the world down. It was great to hear and meet Christine Romero and Ralph Langer who are amongst many who share their memories of working on the film in the extras contained here. Given that this kind of convention is shut down for the foreseeable future, this box-set is the perfect opportunity to hear what they have to say. Plus, the films looking stunning (especially on my home cinema screen).

Second Sight Films – you’ve done yourself proud!

HERE ARE THE FULL SPECS

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 1: THE THEATRICAL CUT (127 mins)

  • NEW 4K scan and restoration of the Original Camera Negative. Presented in HDR10+, with a new restoration of the original OCN Optical presented in Mono 1.0, Stereo 2.0 and 5.1.
  • Commentary by George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest
  • NEW commentary by Travis Crawford
  • NEW optional English subtitles

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 2: THE EXTENDED (‘CANNES’) CUT (137 mins)
Produced using 4K scan of the Theatrical Cut Original Camera Negative and 4K scan of the Extended Cut Colour Reversal Internegative. Presented in HDR10+, with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Commentary by Richard P Rubinstein
NEW optional English subtitles

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 3: THE ARGENTO CUT (120 mins)
4K scan of the Interpositive, with DT-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0 / Surround 5.1 / Stereo 2.0
Commentary by Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Emge
NEW optional English subtitles

4K UHD/BLU-RAY – DISC 4: SPECIAL FEATURES
NEW Zombies and Bikers: with John Amplas, Roy Frumkes, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest, Tom Dubensky, Tony Buba, Taso Stavrakis (59 mins)
NEW Memories of Monroeville: A tour of the mall with Michael Gornick, Tom Savini, Tom Dubensky and Taso Stavrakis (34 mins)
NEW Raising the Dead: The Production Logistics (25 mins) With Michael Gornick, Christine Forrest, John Amplas, Tom Dubensky (23 mins)
NEW The FX of Dawn with Tom Savini (13 mins)
NEW Dummies! Dummies!: An interview with Richard France (12 mins)
• NEW The Lost Romero Dawn Interview (20 mins)
• Super 8 Mall Footage by zombie extra Ralph Langer (13 mins)
• Document of the Dead: The Original Cut (66 mins)
• Document of the Dead: The Definitive Cut with optional commentary by Roy Frumkes (100 mins)
• The Dead Will Walk: 2014 Documentary (80 mins)
• Trailers, TV and Radio Spots

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
AUDIO CD DISC 1 – The Goblin Soundtrack – 17 tracks including Alternate and Bonus Tracks
AUDIO CD DISCS 2 & 3 – Dawn of the Dead: A De Wolfe Library Compilation
Dissecting the Dead: a 160-page hardback book featuring 17 new essays, archive article and George A Romero interview
Dawn of the Dead: The novelisation book by George A Romero and Susanna Sparrow with exclusive artwork

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

A trio of classic 1930s Pre-Code shockers starring Bela Lugosi on Blu-ray

In 2019, Scream Factory’s first Universal Horror Collection included the all-time 1930s classics The Black Cat and The Raven – two of my favourites – plus The Invisible Ray (another fave) and Black Friday (not so) – starring the kings of horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The box-set was a must-buy for me as they included some stunning Blu-ray presentations, plus a stack of extras, including the fantastic documentary Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe by Steve Haberman.

Now, I try to avoid double-dipping as best I can, but when I heard that the 1932 Pre-Code chiller Murders in the Rue Morgue was going to be released along withThe Black Cat and The Raven on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series, I just had to check it out.

Directed by Robert Florey as a consolation prize for losing out on Frankenstein, Universal’s third horror outing drew on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1841 story which introduced his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin (played somewhat anemically here by Leon Waycoff – later Leon Ames). More Caligari than Poe, the twisted tale sees Lugosi’s mad scientist Dr Mirakle obsessed with creating a new human being by mating his carnival sideshow gorilla Eric (Charles Gemora) with Dupin’s fiancée Camille (Sidney Fox).

Lugosi is terrifically bonkers as the insane genius, cinematographer Karl Freund brings a nightmarish German Expressionist touch to Charles Hall’s Parisian sets (which include twisted buildings, narrow alleyways and a suitably macabre lab), and there are some genuinely unsettling sequences – especially when Lugosi experiments on one of his female victims. Magnificient!

In The Black Cat, Karloff (heading the bill as just Karloff) and Bela Lugosi (in second billing) paired up for the first time (they would go on to make eight pictures together). It has little to do with Poe or his original 1843 story but is fantastically original in both story and design, and directed with feverish flair by Edgar G Ulmer (who also created the wonderful modernist sets and costumes).

Cat-fearing Lugosi is respected Hungarian scientist, Dr Vitus Werdegast, out for revenge against his former friend, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), who betrayed him during a bloody conflict and stole his wife while he was in prison. David Manners and Julie Bishop are the newlyweds who get caught up in the deadly game, which involves a cult of Satanists, dead women in glass cabinets, necrophilia, Karloff being skinned alive and a dynamite-filled cellar – all set to a soundtrack of classics by Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Just wonderful.

With its ghoulish brew of lust, revenge and torture 1935’s The Raven was deemed so grotesque by the British censor that all American horror films were banned for two years. Lugosi (credited second as just Lugosi here) gives his definitive mad scientist performance as the crazed Poe-obsessed plastic surgeon Dr Richard Vollin, whose unrequited love for his latest patient, interpretive dancer Jean (Irene Ware) drives him to madness.

Luring Jean, her fiancé Jerry (Lester Matthews), who is also Vollin’s assistant, and her father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), to his home along with some other dinner guests, he exacts his revenge with some devilish torture contraptions including a pendulum and a shrinking room. Karloff is the unfortunate murderer on the run, Bateman, whose face is purposely disfigured by Vollin so that he does his bidding – but ends up the hero of the piece.

While lacking the fantastical atmosphere of The Black Cat, this Universal outing is packed with thrills and has the look and feel of the popular action serials that director Lew Landers helmed around the same time. A timeless classic.

Eureka Entertainment’s two-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray set includes the following special content…

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations, with The Raven presented from a 2K scan
• Uncompressed LPCM monaural audio tracks
• Optional English SDH subtitles
Murders in the Rue Morgue – Audio commentary by Gregory William Mank
The Black Cat audio commentaries by Gregory William Mank (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Amy Simmons
The Raven audio commentaries by Gary D Rhodes (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Samm Deighan
Cats In Horror – a video essay by Lee Gambin
American Gothic – a video essay by Kat Ellinger
The Black Cat episode of radio series Mystery In The Air, starring Peter Lorre
The Tell-Tale Heart episode of radio series Inner Sanctum Mysteries, starring Boris Karloff
• Bela Lugosi reads The Tell-Tale Heart (carried over from the Scream Factory release)
• Vintage footage (of Karloff and Lugosi inspecting black cats in a publicity stunt)
• New interview with author Kim Newman
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film critic and writer Jon Towlson; a new essay by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; and rare archival imagery and ephemera

Phase IV | Saul Bass’ 1974 sci-fi eco horror is hauntingly hypnotic

From 101 Films comes the 1974 sci-fi eco horror Phase IV, released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

If you suffer from formication – the sensation that resembles that of small insects crawling on (or under) the skin – then you’re not likely to enjoy this intelligent sci-fi story from 1974 directed by the legendary graphic designer Saul Bass. But if you don’t then you are in for a visual treat…

Triumphant from a 15,000 year battle in space, a bolt of energy reached Earth and a new life force spawned seven grey towers in the Arizona desert. Now, from out of their dark mysteries, marches a new breed of killer ants to herald the dawn of Phase IV…

In a sealed lab in the Arizona desert, scientists James Lesko (Michael Murphy) and Dr Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) search for answers to an unexplained evolutionary shift in the ant population; the development of a collective intelligence and cross-species hive mentality.

With humanity under threat, the scientists are faced with the choice of either communicating with, or eradicating their antagonists. Hubbs believes that the insects are of high intelligence and capable of being reasoned with. But he is wrong… very wrong!

Most famous for his distinctive opening title sequences for films like The Man with the Golden Arm, North by Northwest and Psycho, Bass’ only feature film as director has images and ideas of genuine power. The macro footage of the ants (shot by wildlife photographer Ken Middleham, who also worked on the similarly-themed 1971 faux documentary, The Hellstrom Chronicle) is cleverly incorporated into the action and the film builds up to a suspenseful, if ambiguous, finale.

Lynne Frederick (best known as being Mrs Peter Sellers at the time) is also under threat and the crises the two scientists face include their computer wiring being eaten away and some inevitable creepy crawling up Frederick’s leg. It might drag in places (particularly when the scientists are musing over their data on large bits of paper and on the TV monitors), but you just have to let Bass’ inventive visuals, Dick Bush’s blistering (East Africa) location cinematography and the eerie electronic music score take you on an 84-minute hallucinatory trip.

Included in the 101 Films release is Bass’ original ending, which (spoiler alert, unless you’ve read the novelisation) is a spectacularly surreal sequence blending live action and animation in which the surviving protagonists meld their minds with the ant Queen to witness the fate of humanity.

The 101 Films release features the following extras, plus a limited edition booklet.

DISC ONE
• HD restoration
• Feature commentary with film historians Allan Bryce and Richard Holliss
• The Original Saul Bass ending (plus optional commentary from Allan Bryce and Richard Hollis). Vetoed by the studio upon original release, the footage (around 4 minutes) was long thought lost until it resurfaced in 2012.
An Ant’s Life: Contextualising Phase IV: Film critic and The Creeping Garden co-director Jasper Sharp and film director and writer Sean Hogan look at the film’s influences and legacy.

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DISC TWO (Saul Bass: Short Films)
The Searching Eye (1964, 18min): Created for the Kodak Pavillion at the New York World’s Fair, with a score by Jeff Alexander and narrated by All About Eve‘s Gary Merrill, this short about visual awareness follows the action of a suntanned youth on a beach to provide visual metaphors for the normally unseen world. Great use of stock footage combined with different camera and editing techniques.

Why Man Creates (1968, 28min): Bass won his only Oscar for this short  in which he uses a series of live action and animated vignettes to illustrate the necessity for creation. And by creation, Bass means everything from art to mundane things, from words and numbers to unusual abstract works. The traffic lights sequence is a standout.

Bass on Titles (1977). Bass discusses his evolution as the master of the film title sequence from pure graphics to live action; breaking down the key themes of some of his most famous titles. This one could have done with a remaster to really appreciate the beauty of the images.

Notes on the Popular Arts (1978, 20min): Live action, animation and special effects are combined in a series of funny episodes illuminating the importance that American’s place on the popular arts.

The Solar Film (1980, 9min) After watching this and his other shorts, I realise that one key image crops up in all of Bass’ personal works: the sun. This informative Oscar-nominated short film, co-produced by Robert Redford, advocates the use of solar energy using a combination of live action and animation to tell the history of our connection with the sun.

Quest (1984, 30min) The descendants of a crashed spaceship living in a cave city on a distant planet have been subjected to mysterious forces that cause them to age and die in eight days. In order to be free from this ‘curse’, they send a young boy on an eight-day quest to open a gateway that will allow their lifespans to be lengthened. But can he achieve his goal before his own lifespan gives out? Directed by Bass and his wife Elaine, this rarely screened live-action short, written by Ray Bradbury (based on his 1946 tale, Frost and Fire), has some excellent visuals and effects (with imagery that echo Bass’ original ending in Phase IV), and is probably my favourite extra on 101’s release (it has also gets a HD restoration here). Watch out for The NeverEnding Story‘s Noah Hathaway as the boy and character actor Les Tremanye (War of the Worlds) as the old man.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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