Category Archives: Euro horror

Shock (1977) | Mario Bava’s final feature is an underrated gem – just watch out for the walking wardrobes!

More than two years after his 1974 thriller Rabid Dogs remained unfinished and the same year’s horror Lisa and the Devil went unreleased in Italy and was cut to shreds on its international release, 63-year-old Italian director Mario Bava was in a bad way.

After a glittering career spanning some 40+ years, he found himself in semi-retirement as young guns like Dario Argento were becoming the new face of Italian horror. But with the help of his son Lamberto, who was just finding his way in the family business, Mario went on to helm what would become his final feature, 1977’s Shock (AKA Schock in Italy and Beyond the Door II in the US) – a modern-day psychological thriller in which true horror lies from within.

Daria Nicolodi stars as the mentally fragile Dora, who moves back into her old family home on the Italian coast with her pilot husband, Bruno (John Steiner) and Marco (David Colin Jr), her young son from a previous marriage. When Bruno departs for work in London, Dora finds herself plagued by accidents and apparitions, as well as Marco’s increasingly bizarre behaviour, which inescapably leads her to a nervous breakdown.

Everything seems to be linked to Dora’s former dead husband Carlo, a drug addict who took his own life. Has his spirit come back to haunt her? Is he using Marco as a conduit to torment her? Is Dora manifesting some deep-set guilt? And what lies behind the brick wall in the cellar?

Now restored in high definition for the first time, Mario Bava’s cinematic swansong is ripe for rediscovery courtesy of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release, which features some superb extras. These include an insightful audio commentary from Tim Lucas, who is, without doubt, the foremost authority on all things Mario Bava, and Lamberto Bava’s interview, which lays bare the ins and outs of his collaboration with his dad. Plus, much more.

I hadn’t seen Shock before (and I’ve seen most of Maria Bava’s films over the years) and I must say, it’s an underrated gem. There’s so much on offer here, despite its poor reception on its release. There’s a Repulsion-esque scenario that plays crazy mind games on you; an intensely engaging performance from Nicolodi (who was working through her own personal issues following her separation from Dario Argento); some inventive practical special effects (including walking wardrobes and a possessed Stanley knife), and one particular jump scare that certainly got me! (and inspired a scene in the original Scream).

Bava also conjures up a hauntingly beautiful sequence that is pure Bava – when Dora has an erotically-charged encounter with Carlo’s spirit and her hair seemingly comes alive. And to top it all, there’s the eerie synth-and-percussion score by Italian jazz-rockers I Libra, whose members included Goblin’s original drummer Walter Martino (who worked on Profundo rosso). It’s such an earworm, I’m now hunting down a reasonably priced vinyl. A must-have for any fan of Italian’s founding father of horror.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• Original Italian and English front and end titles and insert shots
• Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
A Ghost in the House, a new video interview with co-director and co-writer Lamberto Bava
Via Dell’Orologio 33, a new video interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
The Devil Pulls the Strings, a new video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a new video appreciation by author and critic Stephen Thrower
The Most Atrocious Tortur(e), a new interview with critic Alberto Farina
• Italian theatrical trailer
• 4 US “Beyond the Door II” TV spots
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
• Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava

Breeder | Jens Dahl’s Danish horror thriller is brutal to the extreme

Directing his second feature, Pusher writer Jens Dahl explores the dark side of biohacking and the search for the ultimate youth renewal serum in Breeder, a brutal and bloody Euro-horror thriller which gets a UK Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment.

Ruthless in her determination to reverse the ageing process, Dr Isabel Ruben (Signe Eghom Olsen) resorts to harvesting the cells of newborn babies from the women she has kidnapped and inseminated with her wealthy client’s DNA. But when her funding partner Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen) discovers the terrifying reality behind her research, Ruben abducts his suspicious girlfriend Mia (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) and locks her up with the other test subjects.

Without a doubt, Breeder is certainly a chilling scenario, but whatever social critique Dahl might be implying gets lost under the film’s grimy survival thriller surface. It begins all clean and clinical in A Cure for Wellness kind of way, then quickly descends into women-in-cages exploitation mode as Mia and her fellow unwashed subjects suffer relentless abuse at the hands of two psychopaths. At first, I couldn’t reconcile why the women were being forced to live in such filthy conditions when they were being used as baby machines but then comes a truly stomach-churning scene which explains why they aren’t in one of the nicer rooms of the abandoned factory where Ruben has her HQ.

If you like your Euro-horror in the extreme, then Breeder might just be your bag, if not then turn away now!

SPECIAL FEATURES
1080p presentation on Blu-ray
• DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio and optional English subtitles
• Interview with director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen
• Collector’s Booklet featuring a new essay by film historian Kat Ellinger

The Wind | Nico Mastorakis’ 1986 stalk ‘n’ slash Euro thriller gets an Arrow Video Blu-ray release

Wanting some inspiration and solitude so she can concentrate on her latest novel, mystery writer Sian Anderson (Meg Foster) leases a cliffside cottage in a quiet island village in Greece from British expat Elias Appleby (Robert Morley). But it comes with a warning:  Don’t go outside at night when the wind starts to come in. Well, of course, she does the complete opposite and ends up witnessing Elias’ murder at the hands of his handyman Phil (Wings Hauser), who then sets out to silence Sian just as the wind starts to howl…

This Euro slasher thriller from Island of Death director Nico Mastorakis went straight to video (except in West Germany and Portugal) when it was released in 1986, and as I don’t remember coming across it in my local video rentals stores back in the day, even under its original title Edge of Terror, I was keen to seek it out – especially as I rather enjoyed Island of Death (check out my review later). And Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release gave me just the chance. But, I’m sorry to say, I was rather disappointed.

Meg Foster certainly carries the film well – in a sub-par Linda Hamilton/Terminator kind of way – but her piercing blue cat-like eyes are a huge distraction and they totally overshadow Wings Hauser’s poppered up performance, even if he does deliver the inane dialogue with a great amount of glee: ‘If you need any technical advice on death just holler I’m next door’ being just one of them.

Mind you, Robert Morley provides the film’s other distraction – gnarly eyebrows and a chin that looks like a bullock’s ball sack. Luckily, he only gets a couple of scenes before he ends up in a shallow grave. Talking of which, there’s a Jason King** moment when Foster’s Sian transcribes the killing as it happens. Is she clairvoyant or are we seeing her murder mystery playing out before our eyes?

Lending credence to the latter is that Sian doesn’t run away after she witnesses the murders (yep! there’s another), instead she seems to want to be part of the mystery – which works well on the page but not in reality (you’d get the hell outta there!). And when she is chased through the streets (all backlit like a music video with fog and wind machines going full throttle), I was reminded of Mario Bava’s hallucinatory horrors Lisa and the Devil and Kill, Baby, Kill, where reality and fantasy also blur.

But Mastorakis is no Bava and what we see is what we get – an island village completely deserted apart from an old lady (who gets the chop), a backgammon-playing cop and a random seaman (Steve Railsback) who, just because he can speak English, decides to take on the copper’s job and check on Sian. Which brings me to David McCallum. Oh yes, he crops up here too (mainly in a pool talking on a yellow phone). He plays Sian’s boyfriend who becomes worried when their long distance phone call is suddenly disconnected. That’s it. Then he’s gone.

What follows is ludicrous with a capital ‘L’. However all the stalking and running that ensues is a great excuse for some lovely location shots of Monemvasia (AKA the Gibraltar of the East) – including its ancient stone buildings and alleyways, majestic oleander trees, and a medieval fortress that provides the setting for the climactic showdown between Sian (who finally remembers there’s some hunting weapons locked in a cupboard in her villa) and Hauser’s seemingly unstoppable killer.

The whistling synth track is by Hans Zimmer and Stanley Myers, Marlboro Lights feature often and note to self: Its best to have short hair when you are visiting a tourist destination where it’s windy all the time.

Arrow Video presents The Wind for the first time on Blu-ray, with the following features, and the film is also available on the Arrow Video Channel via Amazon Prime Video.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• New restoration by Arrow Films from a 4K scan of the original negative, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
• Optional English subtitles
• Optional Greek subtitles
• Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and LPCM Stereo 2.0 Audio
Blowing The Wind: Brand new interview with Nico Mastorakis
The Sound of The Wind: The complete soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer and Stanley Myers
• A collection of trailers for the films of Nico Mastorakis
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film

** Jason King was a 1970s ITV crime drama starring Peter Wyngarde, whose eponymous novelist-turned-sleuth used events happening around him as the source of his crime novels featuring his 007-inspired adventurer called Mark Cain. In one episode, Chapter One: The Company I Keep, King writes about a murder that has actually happened.

Edge of the Axe & Deadly Manor | A double-dose of slice and dice chills from Jose Ramon Larraz on Blu-ray

Following Arrow Video’s release last year of a fantastic box-set of Jose Ramon Larraz’s early shockers (Whirpool, Vampyres, The Coming of Sin) now comes two slashers made at the very end of his film career on Blu-ray, restored and released in the UK for the first time, with a host of extras – Edge of the Axe (1988) and Deadly Manor (1990).

‘Seven killings in two weeks, this place stinks of death’
When the rural community of Paddock County is rocked by a series of vicious murders by an axe-wielding psychopath, officer Frank McIntosh (Fred Holliday) sets out to investigate. Meanwhile, Lillian (Christina Marie Lane), the daughter of a local tavern owner who is home from college, is starting up a tender friendship with computer geek Gerald (Barton Faulks) when she comes across the names of three women who have been killed.

Gerald explains that he enjoys making lists for fun, and Lillian believes him. She then confides in Gerald that her cousin Charlie has just been released from a mental hospital (having been placed there as a young boy following a head injury which Lillian caused), and suspects he might be responsible for the killings…

While set in California, this 1989 US/Spanish co-production (originally titled, Al filo del hacha) was primarily shot in Madrid (with the American scenes shot around Big Bare Lake in San Bernardino) and director José Ramón Larraz (going by the name Joseph Braunstein here) imbues his late entry hack-and slash thriller with some typical giallo trappings – some good, some excruciatingly bad.

The film’s primary colour palette – courtesy of cinematographer Tote Trenas – lends a Bava-esque meets comic-book sheen, Javier Elorrieta’s music is suitably weird (think Friday the 13th cross with country and western), and the special make-up effects are suitably gory. But the story (littered with trademark giallo twists, turns and red-herrings) is all over the place and the dialogue is downright hilariously bad. If it didn’t take it self so seriously, it could play as a spoof on the slasher genre. Oh and the computer technology looks really lame by today’s standards – but even so, the use of voice activation was a little ahead of its time.

Bizarrely, the violence is raw and rather nasty – which feels out of kilter in a slasher that’s loaded with unintentional laughs (incidentally, the UK video version was cut by 26 seconds to tone down the axe murders). And one scene that is guaranteed to make your sides ache is when genre legend Jack Taylor (playing a boozed-up local) is being driven home by one of the killer’s victims. He plays it so OTT it’s actually worth checking out the film just for this scene alone.

Another disturbing feature is the creepy smile that the actress playing Lillian sports for most of the film. I couldn’t work out if she was putting it on or whether that was her actual smile. I suspect it was the latter seeing this was her only screen role. If you do survive (all that laughig) for the climax, then you are in for some pure hysteria – but guess what? The nightmare isn’t over when those credits roll.

Edge of the Axe is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• English and Spanish language versions of the feature
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Spanish soundtrack
• Brand new audio commentary with actor Barton Faulks
• Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
• Newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks
The Pain in Spain: a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Justin Osbourn
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes

‘People collect stamps, baseball cards, ancient Incan artifacts. No one collects scalps!’
Bound for a camping trip to the lake, six friends and a hitchhiker are forced to stop for the night when a storm hits, and find a seemingly abandoned mansion as the perfect place to chill. But there’s something decidedly not right with the place – there’s a bloodstained car wreck in the front garden hat’s been turned into a memorial, there’s coffins in the basement and scalps in a closet, and photographs of a beautiful woman are plastered on the walls all over the house. Of course the teens decide to stay only to be picked off one-by-one by a mystery killer…

Released on VHS in the US under the title Savage Lust, Larraz’s penultimate film of his career is frankly dire. The scenario is unimaginative, the acting tragic, there’s little in the way of suspense or horror, and nothing actually happens for ages (except lots of heavy petting). And when it does its an anti-climax. Even the kills are nothing to get excited about. And as for the disfigured face make-up – OMG! truly amateurish. The only redeeming feature is the creepy house used for the setting and maybe scream queen Jennifer Delora’s OTT performance (and her interview is a scream too), but frankly this Deadly Manor is a deadly bore.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
• Newly-filmed interview with actress Jennifer Delora
Making a Killing: a newly-filmed interview with producer Brian Smedley-Aston
• Extract from an archival interview with Jose Larraz
• Original Savage Lust VHS trailer
• Image Gallery
• Original Script and Shooting Schedule (BD-ROM content)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Adam Rabalais
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by author John Martin

Blood Hunger: The films of José Larraz | A trio of delights from the Spanish auteur

One of the most underrated filmmakers of his generation, Spanish-born director José Ramón Larraz (Symptoms) finally receives his due with this collection of his work, the first of its kind, bringing together a fascinating cross-section of films from the first half of his lengthy cinematic career.

In Larraz’s debut feature, the hitherto ultra-rare Whirlpool (1970), Vivian Neves stars as Tulia, a young model invited to a photographer s secluded country home for what purports to be a quiet weekend retreat – but soon transpires to be anything but. 1974 s Vampyres – perhaps the best known and most widely-released of all José Larraz s films – sees a duo of blood hungry female vampires prowling the British countryside, from where they lure unsuspecting male motorists back to their imposing, dilapidated mansion for draining… in more ways than one. Meanwhile, in 1978 s The Coming of Sin (La Visita del Vicio), a young gypsy girl experiences a violent sexual awakening as her dreams of a naked young man on horseback become reality.

By turns terrifying, titillating, artful and scandalous, these three films collected here – all newly restored from original film elements, with Whirlpool and The Coming of Sin making their Blu-ray world premieres – collectively offer film fans a unique perspective on the fascinating, highly-varied career of one of the horror genre’s most-overlooked auteurs.

Out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Three films all newly-restored in 2K from original film elements
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for all features
• Newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s book featuring new writing by Jo Botting, Tim Greaves and Vanity Celis

WHIRLPOOL
• Original US Theatrical Cut
• Brand new audio commentary by Tim Lucas
• Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films of José Larraz – author and critic Kim Newman reflects on the recurring themes and underlying obsessions linking together the early productions of José Larraz
• A Curious Casting – actor Larry Dann on the strange story behind his casting in Whirlpool
• Deviations of Whirlpool – featurette comparing the differences between the US Theatrical Cut and a previously circulated, alternate cut of the film
• Archival interview with José Larraz
• Image Gallery
• Trailer

VAMPYRES
• Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
• Brand new interviews with producer Brian Smedley-Aston, actors Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, makeup artist Colin Arthur and composer James Kenelm Clarke
• Reimagining Vampyres – a brand new interview with Larraz s friend and collaborator Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake
Archival interview with José Larraz
• Jose Larraz and Marianne Morris Q&A at 1997 Eurofest
• Image Gallery
• Trailers

THE COMING OF SIN
• Spanish and English language versions of the feature
• Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
• Variations of Vice: The Alternate Versions of The Coming of Sin exploitation expert Marc Morris on the strange and scandalous release history of José Larraz’s most censored film
• Remembering Larraz author and filmmaker Simon Birrell shares his memories José Larraz
• His Last Request (2005, 27 mins) – short film by Simon Birrell
• Archival interview with José Larraz
• Image Gallery
• Trailer

Opera (1987) | CultFilms unleashes Dario Argento’s Grand Guignol horror in a new director-guided 2k restoration

Opera (1987)

Italy’s master of horror Dario Argento ushers in 2019 with this new restoration of his violent 1987 horror Opera, courtesy of CultFilms – the folks who brought us the stunning 4k restoration release of Suspiria.

Opera (1987)

When young understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) takes the lead role in a new operatic production of Verdi’s Macbeth, she soon attracts the attention of a knife-wielding psycho who forces her to watch – with eyes pinned open – as he brutally despatches her friends and colleagues with sadistic delight. Can Betty free herself from this unending nightmare or does a more terrifying fate await?

Opera (1987)

Co-starring Ian Charleson (Chariots of Fire) and Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red), Opera is a ravishing return to the giallo style Argento made his name with, awash with lavish bloodletting, black-gloved killers, soaring cinematography, and the director’s expressionistic Grand Guignol excess. Plus, an unforgettable score from Brian Eno, Bill Wyman, Claudio Simonetti and even opera legend Maria Callas herself.

CultFilms is proud to present Argento’s gore-soaked terror in a stunning 2K restoration, with colour regrading carried out under instruction from the maestro himself and in reference to his own, preferred, original cinema print. Opera is out now in a Region B/2 Dual Format edition (Blu-ray & DVD) with numbered vinyl case and on VOD from CultFilms.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Aria of Fear: a brand new candid interview with director Dario Argento, revisiting his work from a fresh viewpoint
Opera Backstage: a unique behind the scenes documentary about Dario Argento directing Opera
• Restoration featurette: from raw scan to the regraded, restored and reframed final vision

Order direct from CultFilms: bit.ly/2Aj8v2J

iTunes: apple.co/2QXlwUD

The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) | Flavio Mogherini’s Down Under-set Italian giallo is a mixed bag of treats

The Pajama Girl Case (1977)

From Arrow Video comes a new 2k restoration on Blu-ray of director Flavio Mogherini’s Italian-made 1970s thriller The Pyjama Girl Case, starring veteran Hollywood star Ray Milland.

When the burnt body of a young woman is found on a Sydney beach, former Canadian Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) comes out of retirement to help local homicide detectives crack the case. Treading where the ‘real’ detectives can’t, he doggedly pieces together the tragic story of Dutch immigrant Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and the unhappy chain of events which led to her grisly demise…

The Pajama Girl Case (1977)

In between dodging fearsome felines in The Uncanny (filmed in Canada) and facing a Cruise into Terror (off the California coast), Ray Milland headed Down Under to appear in this offbeat Italian-made thriller that comes from the tail under of the giallo boom period. Inspired by a real-life case which baffled the Australian police back-up in the 1930s, The Pyjama Girl Case is a mixed bag of treats.

The Pajama Girl Case (1977)

There’s a memorably melancholic score by veteran composer Riz Ortolani, but the disco tracks featuring the fabulous Amanda Lear feel quite incongrous to the sun-drenched setting: a lunchtime riverboat cruise filled with families and pensioners. It’s great seeing Milland get all sweary, but he seems out of place (like he should be in another movie). And indeed that’s what happens after he makes his ‘dramatic’ exit (no I won’t reveal that), when events involving Dalilia’s Glenda take a turn for the sordid, forcing us ‘the viewer’ to become voyeurs on her sex life (a hotel scene involving sweaty fat men is quite the stomach churner).

The Pajama Girl Case (1977)

Interestingly Mogherini ditches the postcard approach to show a different side of Sydney, with lots of shots of 1970s shopping arcades (Gene Wilder’s Silver Streak was showing at Plaza Cinemas at the time), and people playing bowls and hockey (which certainly reminded me of my Australian heritage, as did those shopping centres). But the one image that will remain with me forever is of the burnt corpse placed in a case and put on display. It’s quite disturbing, but so are the people getting their jollies out of viewing it.

The Pajama Girl Case (1977)

The Arrow Video Blu-ray release features a brand-new 2k restoration of the film from the original camera negative, newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack and optional English subtitles, plus the following special features…

• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• New video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie on the internationalism of the giallo and on how this film may have inspired Dario Argento’s Sleepless
• New video interview with actor Howard Ross
• New video interview with editor Alberto Tagliavia
• Archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani (I loved this)
• Image gallery
• Italian theatrical trailer
• Original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

 

Black Sunday (1960) | Revisiting Mario Bava’s Italian gothic horror in haunting HD

La maschera del demonio

As today (10 August) marks the 58th anniversary of the Italian release of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (aka La maschera del demonio) back in 1960, what better way to celebrate than by re-visiting the 2013 Arrow Video Blu-ray.

Black Sunday (1960)

In 17th-century Moldavia, princess Asa (Barbara Steele) is sentenced to a cruel death for sorcery and adultery – a spiked mask is driven into her face. Two centuries later, Asa and her devil-worshipping lover Igor rise from their crypts to destroy the descendants of Asa’s cursed family…

1960’s Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) is one of the most significant films in the annals of horror cinema. It was Mario Bava’s directorial debut and launched Barbara Steele‘s career as the decade’s queen of horror. Evoking the Universal horrors of the 1930s and 1940s, while still offering the modern shocks found in Hammer films like The Curse of Frankenstein, Black Sunday gave Bava the chance to hone the romantic style that he had fashioned co-directing Riccardo Freda’s 1957 horror, I Vampiri.

The result is a hauntingly-beautiful gothic chiller, with a host of classic sequences – from Asa’s grisly execution (which resulted in the film being banned in the UK for eight years) to Igor’s frightening resurrection – that have become staples of the horror genre, influencing a host of film-makers, from Roger Corman to Tim Burton. And behind the fake cobwebs and fog-shrouded sets, the gothic horror also contained a key theme that would recur in later Bava films: the eradication of desire by men fearful of female sexuality. But that’s another story…

THE ARROW RELEASE
Vintage horror completists will certainly want to add Arrow Video’s dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) 2013 release to their collection as it greatly improves on the 1999 DVD version.

While that did contain the director’s cut (aka The Mask of Satan), Arrow’s release allows you the choice of either the English or Italian soundtrack. And, in a must-have first, it also includes the US theatrical cut of Black Sunday, featuring a score by exotica maestro Les Baxter, and dubbing that is marginally better than the director’s cut.

First up is the European (Mask of Satan) Director’s Cut with the option of either Italian with subtitles or English audio, next is the big-one (and unique to this release): the US AIP theatrical cut (under the title Black Sunday) with the option of either Italian with English subtitles or the English dub (which is different – and marginally better – to the European cut). It also features the US score by exotica maestro Les Baxter.

The extras maybe the same as the 1999 release (an 8-minute interview with Barbara Steele, and the excellent Tim Lucas audio commentary), but also included is the rarely-seen 1957 Italian horror, I Vampiri (in Standard Definition, but looks great), which was directed by Riccardo Freda but completed Bava. Topping it all is the suitably atmospheric artwork from British illustrator extraordinaire Graham Humphreys.

 

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Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973) | The beguiling Italian Gothic horror gets a 2k reanimation

Death Smiles on a Murderer

With its enticing mix of black magic, bad science, vengeful ghost, murder, incest and voyeurism tied to a story inspired by Sheridan La Fanu’s Carmilla and the dark imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe, 1973’s Death Smiles on a Murderer (aka La morte ha sorriso all’assassino) is a beguiling Italian Gothic horror that owes as much to its mesmerising musical score as it does to its surreal, dreamlike imagery. But its also a twisted supernatural puzzle that will leave most viewers (including myself) scratching their heads.

Death Smiles on a Murderer

Set in early 1900s Austria, and told in flashback, it centres on the enigmatic Greta (played by Swedish startlet Ewa Aulin of Candy fame), who dies in childbirth by her lover, Dr von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) and is then reanimated by her hunchback brother Franz (Luciano Rossi). Killing Franz, who subjected her to years of sexual abuse, Greta inveigles her way into the home of Ravensbrück’s son Walter (Sergio Doria) and his wife Eva (Angelo Bo), where she uses her charisma and beauty to win their hearts before seeking her revenge…

Death Smiles on a Murderer

Now that all sounds simple enough, but I haven’t mentioned all the other sub-plots taking place, including the very odd presence of Klaus Kinski, who plays a perverted physician experimenting on a secret formula to bring the dead back to life – who suddenly gets killed off mid-way through. Frankly, his scenes are a bit of an obstruction to the haunting tale which was co-written and lensed by its director, Aristide Massaccesi (aka Italy’s legendary horror and sleaze exponent, Joe D’Amato).

Death Smiles on a Murderer

The surreal nature of the narrative might be disorientating, but Massaccesi uses that to effectively capture the dread and terror of his source material, and these all play out in scenes which reference Poe’s The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, Ligeia and The Masque of the Red Death, as well as La Fanu’s Carmilla.

Massaccesi also has great fun with the genre. Not only does he pay homage to Roger Corman’s Poe chillers (Walter’s attire is so Vincent Price), Hammer horror, and Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby Kill! (which also starred Giacamo Rossi Stuart); he adds in lots of softcore sex (more than Hammer were attempting at the time), hints of giallo and some pre-splatter OTT gore (just witness Franz’s very bloody, very long death scene where he gets his eyes gouged out by a cat). But what will haunt me forever is composer Bert Pisano’s hypnotic score, that’s mournful and playful in equal measures. I just can’t get it out of my head.

Death Smiles on a Murderer

Arrow’s 2K restoration is simply gorgeous and contains an illuminating audio commentary from Tim Lucas, whose research and indepth knowledge really pays off, as he puts all the pieces of Massaccesi’s Gothic horror puzzle together with a shot-by-shot appreciation and analysis. The other must-sees are Kat Ellinger’s excellent video essay which covers the full breadth of the director’s work (and its truly mind-boggling how much he has done) and the 40minute-plus interview with Ewa Aulin. Thanks Arrow for another keeper…

Death Smiles on a Murderer

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Italian and English soundtracks
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas
• D’Amato Smiles on Death: archival interview with the director
All About Ewa: Newly-filmed interview with the Swedish star
Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
• Original trailers
• Stills and collections gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Stephen Thrower and film historian Roberto Curti

Pre-order in the UK via Arrow: http://bit.ly/2FiLyxd
Pre-order in the US via DiabilikDVD: http://bit.ly/2BLUKdL

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Der Todesking (1989) | Jörg Buttgereit’s ‘Let Us Die’ existential horror gets a deluxe release in HD

DER TODESKING

The second feature film from German underground director Jörg Buttgereit, Der Todesking (aka The King of Death) gets the Arrow treatment on Blu-ray and DVD.

Der Todesking (1989)

‘In six days, God created heaven and earth. On the seventh, day he killed himself…’
And so, we The Brotherhood of the Seventh Day’ say ‘ Let Us Die’!

As a chain letter from an unseen, unknown group circulates encouraging its recipients to end their lives, a series of grim murder-suicides unfold over the course of a week while a body rots in limbo… But could this all be in the mind of a schoolgirl?

On Monday, a hard-working white collar worker climbs into a bath and takes a lethal overdose of pills.

On Tuesday, a slacker settles down to watch a Nazi death camp exploitation VHS film in which a victim is castrated with a pair of shears. But when his wife returns, he pulls out a gun and blows her head off (and then frames her bloodstains). But it all turns out to be a movie playing on TV in a room where a man’s dead body hangs.

On Wednesday, a woman pining for her former lover takes a rest on a park bench, where a man divulges his marital problems that ended in his wife’s decipitation. The woman then aims a gun at the man’s head. But before she can shoot, he takes the gun from her and blows his head off.

Der Todesking (1989)

On Thursday, the names of several people who committed sucide appear over shots of a bridge where people have jumped to their deaths.

On Friday, a woman living alone is so jealous of the couple in the apartment opposite that she schemes to interrupt their love-making. But when she tries calling the couple, she gets no answer because they have just joined the Brotherhood of the Seventh Day’s suicide cult.

On Saturday, a projector plays several reels of 16mm film in which a woman ties a camera to her body and heads to a heavy metal gig where she films herself shooting a gun at the concert-goers before turning it on herself.

On Sunday, a man, driven to madness by some unspecified mental disturbance, repeatedly slams his head into a wall before collapsing in a pool of his own blood.

Der Todesking (1989)

Jörg Buttgereit is most one of those Marmite directors whose transgressive films (Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2) you either ‘get’ or loathe. I’m certainly a big fan of his DIY underground style of film-making, which elevates the super 8mm home movie format (and 16mm) into arthouse territory.

Der Todesking is Buttgereit’s most accomplished work: an unapolegtic existential howl of rage laced with dark humour and the odd cinematic in-joke. Tuesday’s episode is an homage to the king of existential European art cinema, Jean-Luc Godard: beoming a joke about art, just like Weekend and Pierrot Le fou. While the other vignettes deal with some very serious issues: rejection, depression and mental illness.

But the episode that inventively fuses art with social comment is ‘Saturday’. Made up of bits of found-footage (surely ground-breaking back in the 1990s), it may have been inspired by the 1966 murder of 16 people by the Texas Tower Sniper, Charles Whitman (which informed Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets), but it also has continued relevance – especially when you consider the awful gun-led murder sprees (mainly in the US) that continue to dominate the news and make us question our humanity.

Der Todesking (1989)

Der Todesking is all bound together by some polar opposite imagery: a rotting corpse in limbo (like a Francis Bacon painting: all fleshy tones set against a blackened backdrop) and a little girl happily drawing a image of Death (which bizarrely has become a popular tattoo) in a playground where the gay laughter of other children can also be heard. What’s most unsettling about these striking sunlight scenes is that all that we have just witnessed might have come from the imagination of the little girl. It’s food for thought and worthy of discussion.

Arrow’s release features a brand-new director-approved HD transfer from the original 16mm negative in high definition (on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD), with the original stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray), and optional English subtitles.

Der Todesking (1989)

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary by Jörg Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen
From Bundy to Lautréamont: Jörg Buttgereit interviewed at the 2016 Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (the same place where Der Todesking had its British premiere on 14 October 1990)
Todesmusik: actor and composer Hermann Kopp on his numerous collaborations with Buttgereit
Skeleton Beneath the Skin: Graham Rae on the phenomenon of Todesking tattoos (plus, tattoo gallery)
• The Making of Der Todesking: Vintage production featurette (viewable with both an English-language audio track and a German-language audio track with subtitles)
The Letter: This is the alternate English-language chain letter insert used for the original UK VHS release
Eating the Corpse: Footage from the January 25 1990 premiere in Berlin at the Sputnik cinema using music from the film
Corpse Fucking Art: 1992 documentary on the making of Nekromantik, Der Todesking and Nekromantik 2 (choice of English-language and German-language with subtitles)
Die Reise ins Licht: Short film by Manfred O Jelinski (1972, 27mins) – Based on an LSD trip, this is a cardboard and paper 2001: A Space Odyssey-styled sci-fi set in a Blake’s 7 quarry. It’s actually more entertaining than John Carpenter’s student lo-fi Dark Star, and features some evocative bombed out ruins. Jelinski also provides an optional commentary – in broken English, which he apologises for.
Geliebter Wahnsinn (aka Beloved Madness): Short film by Manfred O Jelinski (1973, 7mins) – The hypnotic soundtrack (which reminded me of the Oz-electronic outfit, Severed Heads) is a perfect fit to the fusion of double-exposure and cut-ups that make up this widely experimental oddity.
Der Gollob: Short Super 8mm film by Jörg Buttgereit with optional audio commentary (1983, 25 mins, HD) This is Buttgereit’s take on Alien, in which some cops (played by Buttgereit and some mates) track down a pink putty-faced monster (a transmutated pizza) in the basement of a suburban Berlin house.
• Image Gallery
• Trailer Gallery

DER TODESKING

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