Category Archives: Fantasy

The Spine of Night (2021) | An animated ultraviolent fantasy horror thrill ride

Ultraviolent barbarism and cosmic horror collide in an epic animated fantasy from animator Morgan Galen King and Love, Death, & Robots‘ Philip Gelatt. The culmination of seven years of painstaking handcrafted work, The Spine of Night, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD following its exclusive release on the Shudder streaming service.

The film opens with a swamp witch, Tzod (Lucy Lawless), seeking out an ancient guardian (Richard E Grant), who possesses knowledge about a sacred blue flower with mystical properties. Together they share stories about how the bloom has shaped not only their fates but also all existence. What follows is a centuries-spanning saga involving a tomb robber, star-crossed lovers, a maniacal necromancer and winged assassins.

Utilising the old-school rotoscoping process (where the art is literally drawn over reference footage of live-action performers mapping out the movements of the story), this ambitious animated feature echoes the same style used by Ralph Bakshi in Wizards (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978) and Fire and Ice (1983), only with a great deal more blood, gore, ultraviolence and nudity (just check it out below).

That rare technique is crucial to the filmmakers’ vision here, and it certainly pays off with a spellbindingly surreal sword and sorcery thrill ride with an existential bent that is certain to please genre fans and is the anti-thesis of the cartoony animated styles currently employed by Pixar, Disney and their ilk.

The Acorn Media International Blu-ray/DVD release includes an excellent ‘Making Of’ featurette, and two shorts, Exordium (8mins) and Mongrel (3min).

Deathstalker & Deathstalker II | A double-bill of 1980s sword-and-sorcery schlock on Blu-ray

From Roger Corman comes a bountiful pair of babes-and-blades fantasy adventures – Deathstalker (1983) and Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1987) – on Blu-ray from 101 Films.

First up, a fit-looking Richard Hill stars as the titular warrior Deathstalker who teams up with another muscle dude (Richard Brooker) and a sexy G-string-wearing female warrior (Lana Clarkson) to take part in a tournament in which the ultimate prize is the throne of the wicked wizard Munkar (Bernard Erhard).

This Conan the Barbarian cash-in is a whole lot of fun if you overlook the rapey bits. It looks pretty good given its modest budget, with some pretty effective make-up effects and a memorable (if overused) main theme tune.

The shadowy lighting and mist-shrouded exterior scenes echo John Boorman’s Excalibur, while the Argentine studio interior scenes have the look of a 1980s music video (did Russell Mulcahy see this before filming Duran Duran’s Wild Boys the following year?). There’s also lots of bare flesh on display – which is exactly what you want from this sort of schlock.

The special features include a commentary with director James Sbardellati, special makeup effects artist John Carl Buechler, and actor Richard Brooker (best known for donning Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask for the first time in Friday the 13th Part III), as well as a trailer and photo gallery.

Having impressed producer Roger Corman with the 1986 techno-horror Chopping Mall, Jim Wynorski was handed the reigns of Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans, and it’s a much-more comical affair than the first.

John Terlesky (who was also in Chopping Mall) steps into Richard Hill’s leather loin-cloth to save the kingdom from the tyrannical Jarek (John LaZar) and his seductive ally Sultana (Toni Naples), who have created an evil clone of the princess Evie (Monique Gabrielle).

The sequel opens and closes with nods to Corman’s 1960s Poe films (a castle matte painting and a pendulum), and in-between there’s lots more bare flesh on display, ropey acting, Chuck Cirino’s repetitive synth Western-styled theme, and the late Dee Booher (AKA professional wrestler Queen Kong) taking on a lithe Terlesky as Gorgo.

Wynorski called his film ‘anachronistic’, and it sure looks like it as it seems to be set in its own universe what with the Western bar saloon signs, medieval torture chamber and graveyard of zombies a la Thriller circa 1983. Good to see LaZar (AKA Beyond the Valley of the Dolls‘ Z-Man) though.

The special features include a commentary with director Jim Wynorski and actors John Terlesky and Toni Naples and a theatrical trailer.

Two more films followed – in 1988 (Deathstalker III: The Warriors from Hell) and 1991 (Deathstalker IV: Match of the Titans). Hopefully, 101 Films will release them sometime in the future for cult fans of the series – and completists like me.

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957) | The surreal East German Brothers Grimm fantasy that traumatised a generation

If you happen to have grown up in the UK in the 1960s, then you will most likely recall The Singing Ringing Tree – an East German import whose transmission in three parts on the BBC in November and December 1964 caused an entire generation of children to have nightmares.

The surreal fairy tale adventure, which was originally released in 1957 in East Germany, is a variation of the Hurleburlebutz story by The Brothers Grimm. It centres on a self-centred princess (Christel Bodenstein) and the wealthy prince (Eckart Dux) who desires to win her love by bringing to her the mythical titular tree as a gift.

He finds it in a magical garden ruled over by a malevolent dwarf (Richard Krüger, AKA Hermann Emmrich), but when the princess again rejects him on his return, he loses a bet with the dwarf and is turned into a bear.

The princess, however, still wants her tree so she forces her father, the King, to fetch it. But he too loses a bet with the dwarf who places an ugly spell on the princess. The bear then tells her that the only way to break the spell is if she mends her ways. Will she?

Having grown up in Australia (in the 1970s), I missed out on this classic children’s fantasy – but British friends of mine have very vivid memories – especially the dwarf and the weird giant fish that the Princess befriends. Seeing it now for the first time, I can see why it must have been disturbing for young minds of the era. But it’s also a cinematic gem. I call it East Germany’s answer to the Wizard of Oz. The production design and sets are truly magical. No wonder it was such a hit in his home country, and still fascinates today. Its themes, of course, remain universal – even for the woke generation.

Presented in high definition for the first time, this Network release includes the fullscreen English narrated soundtrack (which was the one shown on the BBC back in the day), as well as the widescreen theatrical version with the original German audio. You can also choose the alternative music-only soundtrack as well as alternative French and Spanish soundtracks. The other special features include a 2003 interview with Christel Bodenstein, an image gallery and a booklet containing an essay by cultural historian Tim Worthington.

Order from Network:

The Wraith | The 1980s stunt-filled supernatural revenger joins the Vestron Video Blu-ray collection

A fresh-faced Charlie Sheen and Nick Cassavetes face off in director Mike Marvin’s 1986 turbocharged actioner, The Wraith, which is now available on Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series.

After four glowing spheres collide over a highway near the desert town of Brooks, Arizona, they leave in their wake a Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor and an armoured-up helmeted driver.

The next day, a young man called Jake (Sheen) arrives in town and, catching the eye of pretty teen Keri (Sherilyn Fenn), incurs the jealous wrath of Packard Walsh (Cassavetes), the vicious leader of a gang of car thieves who coerce drivers with fancy sports cars into racing for pink slips.

When the gang members start losing races, and their lives, to the Interceptor and its vigilante driver, the recent murder of Keri’s boyfriend suddenly seems connected with Jake and the seemingly invulnerable supercar…

If you love muscle cars and power rock, then this naff slice of 1980s action fantasy will certainly be your thang. As classic hits by the likes of Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant and Bonnie Tyler play out against the film’s desert landscapes, Packard’s gang (dressed like something out of a bad fashion show and have ridiculous names like Shank, Rughead and Gutterboy) come a cropper in a series of explosive crashes as Randy Quaid’s Sheriff Loomis and his clueless lawman try to stop the carnage. It’s all great fun, but in the end, it’s all about seeing that Dodge Turbo Interceptor in action.

I do remember seeing this on its original release – only because it made the news (and not in a good way). The film is dedicated to Bruce Ingram, a camera operator who died during the filming of one of the car chases, and his death almost ended Mike Marvin’s film career. He goes into detail about this in the extras, of which there are some doozies.

Special Features:
– Audio Commentary with writer/director Mike Marvin
– Audio Commentary with actors Dave Sherrill and Jamie Bozian
– Isolated Score Selections featuring an audio interview with co-composer J. Peter Robinson
Tales From The Desert – An interview with writer/director Mike Marvin  
Rughead Speaks! – An interview with Actor Clint Howard
Ride of the Future – Interviews with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker and transportation coordinator Gary Hellerstein
The Ghost Car – Interviews with visual effects producer Peter Kuran and effects animator Kevin Kutchaver
– The Wraith Filming Locations: Then and Now
– Theatrical Trailer
– TV Spots
– Alternate Title Sequence
– Still Gallery

Mothra | The heroic kaiju favourite saves the day in glorious Blu-ray

One of the most iconic Japanese kaiju, Mothra has appeared in several Toho features since its first appearance in Ishirō Honda’s 1961 monster fantasy adventure, which heads to Blu-ray in the UK for the first time, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

When the tiny twin Shobijin (singing duo The Peanuts AKA Yumi and Emi Ito) are abducted by a ruthless Rolisican capitalist, Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), Mothra hatches from her egg on Infant Island and swims to Tokyo where she cocoons herself around the Tokyo Tower. Reaching adult form, Mothra then flies to Rolisica’s capital and causes widespread destruction in a bid to force Clark to release the Shobijin.

Featuring fantastic special effects from the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, thrilling set-pieces orchestrated by director Honda and a terrifically catchy theme tune (sung by The Peanuts), Mothra is one of my all-time favourite Toho kaiju and one I have returned to time and again. But this new Blu-ray is a welcome sight as the gorgeous presentation here serves to highlight the film’s excellent production values; particularly so the elaborate sets and miniatures.

Although I would have loved to see the film’s entire soundtrack presented amongst the extras, the collector’s booklet featuring pieces from Japanese cinema experts such as Jasper Sharp make this Eureka release a must-have. It’s also the perfect companion piece to Criterion’s Showa-era Godzilla box-set – which I’m currently enjoying.


  • Includes original Japanese (101min) and international English dubbed versions (90min), with original mono audio presentations (LPCM) and English subtitles (Japanese version) and English SDH (English version
  • NEW interview with film critic Kim Newman on Mothra 
  • Two galleries featuring rare production stills, ephemera and concept art
  • Teaser and theatrical trailers
  • Collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp; a new interview with production designer Scott Chambliss; an extract from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s Ishirō Honda biography; and archival reviews and stills.

Orphée (1950) | Jean Cocteau’s fantasy masterpiece looks divine on Blu-ray

Poet, playwright, artist and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau was one of the most significant artists of the 20th-century and 1950’s Orphée, based on the classic legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, is regarded as his masterpiece. Following the film’s theatrical release last October by the BFI in the UK, it is now available on both Blu-ray and on iTunes.

Orpheus (Jean Marais), a famous left-bank poet in post-war Paris who is married to Eurydice (Marie Déa), sees fellow-poet Jacques Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe) knocked down and killed by a motorcyclist. Orpheus then meets Cegeste’s mysterious patron, The Princess (Marîa Casares) and, through her, discovers The Zone, a realm of death that Orpheus will come to know all too well…

Cocteau’s hypnotic fantasy was awarded the top prize at the 1950 Venice Film Festival, and its ingenious special effects and images (like the dissolving mirror through which characters pass into the next world) will stay with you long after the film itself is over.

Georges Auric’s music, Nicolas Hayer’s cinematography and Cocteau’s own simple but dynamic invention also greatly contribute to the look and feel of a most remarkable film.

Originally, Cocteau had considered asking Greta Garbo in the role of The Princess, but in the event 28-year-old Spanish actress Marîa Casares proved perfection.

For many years now I have owned and loved the Criterion Collection boxset of Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy from 2005, in which The Blood of the Poet (1930) and Testament of Orpheus (1959) book-end Cocteau’s unrivalled 1950 masterpiece. But this new BFI release is just too good to resist – the print here looks (and sounds) simply divine and have a gander at the fantastic extras (all new except La villa Santo Sospir). Add this to your World Cinema collection now!

• Presented in High Definition
• Feature-length commentary by Roland-François Lack
• Jean Cocteau by Pierre Bergé and Dominque Marny (2008, 35 mins): the former and current presidents of the Jean Cocteau Committee provide a portrait of the filmmaker
• Memories of Filming by Jean-Pierre Mocky and Eric Le Roy (2008, 16 mins)
• Jean Cocteau and His Tricks (2008, 14 mins): assistant director Claude Pinoteau reveals the film’s visual tricks
• The Queer Family Tree – Reflections on Jean Cocteau (2018, 15 mins): director John Maybury on Cocteau’s influence on his own work and on queer cinema in general
• La villa Santo Sospir (1952, 38 mins): A short 16mm colour film lensed by Cocteau
• Theatrical trailer
• 2018 Re-release trailer
• Stills gallery
• Illustrated booklet featuring essays by Ginette Vincendeau, Deborah Allison and William Fowler

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