Category Archives: Horror
1932’s The Old Dark House is arguably director James Whale’s greatest cinematic feat, a macabre queer comedy disguised as a horror, delightfully acted (by lots of Brits abroad), and fused together with Whale’s stylistic, sardonic humour, well-knit scenario witty and insightful screenplay, and moody camerawork, lighting and production design. It is, quite possibly, the best British horror ever made – in Hollywood.
Taking its queues from JB Priestley’s 1927 novel, Benighted, and the ‘Old House’ chillers of stage and screen, Whale’s storm-driven adaptation finds five weary travellers becoming stranded at the ominous Welsh mansion of the reclusive and very strange Femm family, who are all quite possibly all insane. What follows is a wicked parody of the British class system, and one that features a performance from Ernest Thesiger that outshines even his iconic turn as Dr Pretorius in Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein a couple of years later.
Thesiger plays Horace Femm, a sniffy little man, who is probably wanted by the police (for crimes we can only imagine) and has seething contempt for everything and everyone. He owns the house along with his pious half-deaf sister Eva (beautifully played by Eva Moore), and their scenes together provide the film with its most memorable moments and best lines: like ‘Have a potato’ and ‘How reassuring’.
Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey play married socialite couple Margaret and Philip, while Melvyn Douglas is their playboy friend Roger. When a landslide forces them off the road, they seek shelter with the Femms; and are soon joined by Charles Laughton (making his screen debut and speaking his in native Yorkshire tongue) and Lilian Bond, who play the self-made businessman Sir William Porterhouse and chorus girl Gladys. But with no beds on offer, they are all forced to spend the evening huddle together around a fireplace after a frugal meal of roast, gravy and – yes- potatoes…
But it’s not long before the Femms skeletons starting coming out of the closet as the lights go out and the group are soon menaced by Boris Karloff’s mute butler Morgan, who hits the bottle and goes on a drunken rampage, which results in the release of Femm’s pyromaniac brother Saul (Brember Wills) from his locked attic room…
Whale’s shows off his perverse sense of humour through the stylistic, expressionistic camerawork (by Arthur Edeson, who also shot Frankenstein) in some very memorable scenes: like when Horace announces, ‘My sister was on the point of arranging these flowers’, then summarily throws them into the fireplace. Another is when Morgan makes his menacing entrance, and a particularly surreal funhouse mirror shot of Margaret and Rebecca, their features distorted in a vanity mirror. Then there’s the terrific trick shot of Morgan coming down the stairs only to reveal the hand on the banister is not his…
Packed to the rafters with morbid mirth and a sly wink at class and society, this is one of the most entertaining horror films of the 1930’s. The Masters of Cinema Series special dual format edition of James’s Whales’ queer comedy horror features a stunning 1080p presentation from the Cohen Media Group 4K restoration (with a progressive encode on the DVD), uncompressed LPCM audio (on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles; and includes a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, archival material and previously unseen imagery and ephemera; and Limited Edition O-Card (first run only) featuring artwork by Graham Humphreys, created especially for the 2018 UK theatrical release. The special extras (below), however, are the icing on the cake, making this a must-have for any classic film collection…
• Meet the Femms This video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns is exceptionally executed, with loads of informative back stories on the production, cast and crew, super behind the scenes photos, incuding Whales’ own set designs, and I really enjoyed hearing actors Steven McNicoll and Angela Hardie voicing the various characters in Priestley’s novel, Benighted, as well as the author himself and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester.
• Daughter of Frankenstein Sara Karloff talks candidly about her father and his work on this production, and has a great story about how Boris and Charles Laughton did not see eye-to-eye.
• Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House This archival interview has the late-director (who became a close friend of Whale’s) recalling his efforts in rescing the film from oblivion back in 1968. Please, someone, give this man a posthumous medal for doing this!
• Commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones This is a great listen, with some interesting bits of trivia like that fact that Karloff was dubbed, and Kim makes a very interesting link between the film’s structure (and its class-based ensemble) to disaster movies. This was made prior to Gloria Stuart’s death (aged 100) in 2010, as the duo talk about her in the present tense, and their comments are all based on viewing an inter-negative print.
• Commentary by Gloria Stuart This is absolutely riveting. Stuart is a joy to listen to and she provides huge amounts of personal insight (the film was a real high point in her acting career): admiring Whales’ sardonic humour, the uncomfortable shooting for the actors, her regrets at being a young 22 upstart making her second film who was unaware of Eva Moore’s pedigree (a suffragette, one of Edward VI’s favourites and the mother of Laurence Olivier’s first wife, Jill Esmond), and shedding light on some truths about why Karloff and Whale weren’t on friendly terms during the shoot.
• Commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis This has lots of great insight into the film’s production, and I certainly learnt a few things. Did you know that Karloff’s mute butler Morgan became the model for the butler Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons? These were subsequently published as Drawn and Quartered, with a Foreward by Karloff and thus effectively the character became Lurch in The Addams Family. Curtis also examines the similarities and differences between Priestley’s novel and Whale’s screenplay – which makes for an interesting analysis.
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.
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…
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).
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.
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…
• 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
Time to reveal Graham Humphreys’ exclusive artwork for the Attack of the Adult Babies limited edition Blu-ray
Nucleus Films have released the stunning new artwork created exclusively by the legendary graphic artist Graham Humphreys for the slipcase 1-1000 numbered limited edition Blu-ray of Dominic Brunt’s Attack of the Adult Babies, which is being released nationwide on 11 June.
And, in further good news for genre fans, HMV will be racking the limited Edition Blu-ray in their “Special Edition range” in stores across the country.
Jake West, co-director of Nucleus Films, said today: “In a time where it’s increasingly difficult to release truly independent movies in physical formats, this is a real treat for film fans. As a movie collector myself, who enjoyed the thrills of the Video Nasty era, I loved the ritual of browsing through the racks and taking a chance on something because the cover art and title caught my eye.
We wanted to re-create the thrill of that era and what better artist could we ask to do that than Graham Humphreys – and what better film could there be than Dominic Brunt’s outrageous Attack of the Adult Babies!”
West’s partner at Nucleus Films, Marc Morris. added: “We’re very excited that HMV are really getting behind the release, giving fans of physical media a chance to pick up their copy in the real world!”
Graham Humphreys commentated: “I met Dominic Brunt at FrightFest some three or four years ago, where he mentioned the idea for the Adult Baby project, so it was a happy surprise to be asked to provide this slipcase cover for the Nucleus films release.
It’s always daunting working on an image with multiple elements, as a busy layout can be visually confusing. However, by focussing on key characters and using carefully considered colour palette, I hope I’ve managed some level of visual restraint. I’ve intentionally used ‘baby’ colours, pinks and pale blues, these contrast well with the dark red blood, capturing the creepy mix of the infantile and adult horrors.”
World premiered at FrightFest 2017, Attack of the Adult Babies has been described as disgusting, depraved, brave, bonkers, brilliant and quintessentially British in its humour and depravity…
The aftermath of a shocking home invasion forces three frightened family members to break into a remote country manor and steal Top Secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile is also the clandestine venue where a group of high-powered elderly men go to take refuge from the stresses and strains of daily life by dressing up in nappies and having a bevy of beautiful nurses indulging their every perverse nursery whim. Nor do they realise this grotesque assembly is compelled to refuel the world’s economy by very sinister, sick and monstrous means. As the bodily fluids hit the fan, the bloody carnage and freaky weirdness escalates.
Starring Sally Dexter, Charlie Chuck, Kate Coogan, Joanne Mitchell and Laurence Harvey, Attack of the Adult Babies is released on 11 June on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download and there is a special advance screening at Derby Quad, Friday 4 May, 7.45pm, with Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell in attendance. A special London screening will be announced soon.
Here’s the specially commissioned poster artwork by Graham Humphreys, aka Britain’s Quadfather, to accompany the new 4k restoration release of James Whale’s chilling 1932 classic The Old Dark House, which will get a nationwide cinema release in the UK & Ireland.
This atmospheric thriller, which adapts novel Benighted into a nerve-jangling tale that became the template for all spooky-house chillers to come, features an unforgettable post-Frankenstein horror role for Boris Karloff, as the hulking, disfigured butler Morgan. Also starring in early-career roles are Melvin Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart.
The Old Dark House lands in selected cinemas in the UK & Ireland on 27 April ahead of its dual format release on 21 May as part of Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema Series.
In the meantime, enjoy the brand-new trailer.
When a big black car roaming the desert highways of the American south-west terrorises the residents of Santa Ynez and knocks down and kills the local sheriff, it’s down to police captain Wade Parent (James Brolin) to stop the diabolic driverless car. But can Wade come up with a plan before it picks off more innocent lives, including those of his young family and schoolteacher girlfriend?
1982’s Christine is often seen as the cinema’s definitive demon-car movie, but I have real soft spot for 1977’s The Car – which I revisited last night after reading the review in Son of Unsung Horrors.
The cinema poster for this much-rided 1977 horror thriller asked patrons: ‘Is it a phantom, a demon, or the Devil Himself?’ Actually, it was just a big black car mowing down anyone in its path and kicking up lots of dust before turning into a fireball with a cartoon demon face appearing in the smoke.
With Jaws, Duel and The Exorcist all box-office hits in the 1970s, it must have looked like a great idea to fuse them altogether, with the Utah desert and a Lincoln Continental Mark III standing in for the ocean and a shark, plus some added spooky stuff and some rubber burning. Director Elliot Silverstein, who is better known for the 1965 comedy western Cat Ballou, keeps everyone straight-faced, despite the hokum concept, until the spectacular fireball finale.
Along the way, there’s some domestic drama to get lost in. Brolin (aka Mr Barbra Streisand) has to step up when his superior is mowed down. His girlfriend (Kathleen Lloyd – whatever happened to her?) is the local schoolteacher who succeeds in seeing off the car after it closes in on a party of schoolkids (including sisters Kim and Kyle Richards, who I remember from Nanny and the Professor and Disney’s Witch Mountain films, but who later found reality TV fame as the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). Meanwhile, the always dependable Ronny ‘RoboCop‘ Cox is the alcoholic local deputy who falls off the wagon when the car rolls in.
John Landis calls the film ‘dumb but fun’, while Guillermo del Toro actually owns a replica of the car that was designed by the legendary George Barris, who also did the Batmobile for the 1966s TV series. With its stunning Panavision desert-scapes, a Planet of the Apes-inspired Leonard Rosenman score, featuring a reworked, orchestral version of the Dies irae Gregorian chant, and it even has a credit to Anton LeVey – how can you not love this Jaws on land offering? Well I certainly do, I even own the highly collectable paperback tie-in.
My copy of the The Car is the excellent 2013 Arrow Video Blu-ray release featuring a HD restoration, which comes with the following special features…
• Audio commentary with director Elliot Silverstein
• Making a Mechanical Monster featurette with special effects artist William Alridge
• Hitchhike to Hell featurette with actor/victim John Rubinstein
• Trailer commentary by John Landis
• Original Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Joe Wilson
• Collector’s booklet and an Easter Egg
From Lionsgate UK comes 1987’s The Gate, as part of their ongoing Vestron Collector’s Series, restored and remastered on Blu-ray.
While their parents are away for a long weekend, break 16-year-old Al (Christa Denton) and 12-year-old Glen (Stephen Dorff) have free reign of their suburban home. But it soon turns into a supernatural battleground when Glen and his best friend Terry (Louis Tripp) unwittingly unleash demonic forces from a large hole in the backyard…
Though not much happens in the first half hour of this Poltergeist meets Home Alone offering, things really liven up when an army of pint-size trolls begin to start crawling out from ‘the other side’.
What The Gate lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for it with its ‘wink and a smile’ fan-boy approach that plays fast and furious with some classic horror tropes like the ‘monster in the closet’ and the ‘thing under the bed’, while also chucking in a great gag involving the lyrics of heavy metal records being linked to black magic and satanism.
The practical special effects may have some rough edges, but they still look terrific: especially the ankle-sized demons (a winning combination of forced perspective and people in full rubber suits), and the climactic sequence in which Glen, armed with a toy rocket, takes on the film’s gigantic HP Lovecraft-inspired serpentine demon.
So sit back and prepare to channel your 12-year-old self once again with this gleefully ghoulish fun-ride.
• Audio commentary with director Tibor Takacs, writer Michael Nankin, and sfx designer/supervisor Randall William Cook
• Audio commentary with the sfx crew, including Randall William Cook, Craig Reardon, Frank Carere and Bill Taylor
• Isolated Score and audio interview with composers Michael Hoenig and J Peter Robinson
• Eight new and archival behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and crew
• Trailers & TV Spot
WATCH IT ON THE BIG SCREEN: Lionsgate UK’s free screenings at the Monday Film Club at The Alibi in Dalston, East London finish tonight (26 March) with The Gate. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/178367812773304/
The Gate copyright: Programme Content and Photography: ©1986 The Gate Film Productions Inc. all Rights Reserved. Package Design: © 2018 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.
From Lionsgate UK comes 1997’s Wishmaster, as part of the Vestron Collector’s Series, restored and remastered on Blu-ray.
In 1127 Persia, a demonic genie (Andrew Divoff) is trapped inside a fire opal by a quick-thinking sorcerer before he can unleash his evil on the land. In present day America, the opal finds its way into the hands of an antique appraiser, Alex (Tammy Lauren), who has strange visions while handling the gem.
Seeking answers, Alex hands it over to her best friend Josh (Tony Crane) to analyse. But when the gem explodes, the evil djinn is released and tricks Josh into wishing for a ‘fatal’ end to his pain. Taking on human form, the djinn begins granting wishes in exchange for souls, while seeking out Alex who becomes the instrument of his evil plans…
Presented by horror maestro Wes Craven and produced by Pierre David (Scanners), Wishmaster was one of those 1990’s titles that I missed first time round. But now that it’s undergone a re-master, I thought it high time to check it out. And it’s not as bad as I expected.
Peter Atkins, the screenwriter of the first two Hellraiser sequels, crafts a pleasing slice of horror hokum with the genuinely engaging Lauren (The Young and the Restless) in the hot seat as the fearless female protagonist. Atkins also provides some delicious dialogue for Divoff’s camp Pinhead meets Freddy Krueger creation to hiss under the mountain of prosthetics (to me, he looks slightly reminiscent of Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness in Legend).
Fantasy fiction fans will have a field day recognising the surnames of some of the characters (including ‘Charles’ Beaumont and ‘August’ Derleth), while the cameos from some icons of the horror genre are the real reason to check this title out. Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Tony Todd (Candyman) and Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees) all get the tables turned on them with some inventive death scenes; Phantasm’s Reggie Bannister pops up as a pharmacist, while Angus Scrimm narrates; and there are also turns from Ted Raimi (Evil Dead), John Carpenter favourite George ‘Buck’ Flower as a drunken bum (of course), Verne Toyer (as a mini djinn), sfx guru Tom Savini and the film’s director Robert Kurtzman.
Wishmaster did reasonable business on its release, despite some critical drubbing, and the character rose again for three sequels – but they turned out to be a textbook case of ‘the law of diminishing returns’. Even the versatile Divoff ditched the character after the first sequel (though he did end up playing a similar role in 2000, playing Mephistopheles in Brian Yuzna’s Faust: Love of the Damned). But do check this one out – especially as there’s a drinking game just waiting to happen with that hit list of horror cameos.
Order from Amazon
• Audio commentary with director Robert Kurtzman and screenwriter Peter Atkins
• Audio commentary with actors Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren and Robert Kurtzman
• Isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Harry Manfredini
• Out of the Bottle: Interviews with Robert Kurtzman and co-producer David Tripet
• The Magic Words: Interview with screenwriter Peter Atkins
• The Djinn and Alexandra: Interviews with Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren
• Captured Visions: Interview with director of photography Jacques Haitkin
• Wish List: Interviews with Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Ted Raimi
• Trailers, TV & Radio Spots
• Archive ‘Making Of’ featurette & EPK
• Behind-the-scenes footage compilation
SEE THE FILM ON THE BIG SCREE: Throughout March, Lionsgate UK are taking over the weekly, free entry Monday Film Club at The Alibi in Dalston, East London, with Wishmaster being screened on Monday 19 March. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1633296950113773/
Wishmaster copyright: Programme Content and Photography: © 1997 Artisan Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved. Package Design: ©2018 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.
The Lair of the White Worm (1988) | Ken Russell’s wild take on Bram Stoker’s novel uncoils on Blu-ray
From Lionsgate UK comes The Lair of the White Worm, as part of their ongoing Vestron Collector’s Series, restored and remastered on Blu-ray.
Scottish archaeologist Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi) unearths an unusual animal skull while digging in the garden of a Derbyshire B&B run by his girlfriend Mary (Sammi Davis) and her sister Eve (Catherine Oxenberg).
Could it be linked to the local legend of a worm-like dragon (the Lambton Worm), which was said to have been slain by a distant relative of the current Lord of the Manor, James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant)? Could it have something to do with the disappearance of the girls parents many years beforehand? And why does the strangely alluring Lady (Amanda Donohoe) steal it?
As our our Scooby gang investigate, they unwittingly uncoil a centuries old mystery involving a pagan cult and human sacrifice…
Mercurial director Ken Russell treads a fine line between titillation and terror in this, his wildly OTT tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1911 gothic novel. Amanda Donohoe camps it up big time as the very wicked Lady Silvia Marsh, a country-house aristocrat who enjoys worshipping a snake God and fanging the locals while wearing next to nothing. A shaggy-haired Peter Capaldi (who has since earned himself iconic status playing a certain Time Lord) gets an hilarious scene warding off a bloodsucking copper with a pair of bagpipes, while a fit looking Hugh Grant (fresh off the Edwardian gay love story Maurice) plays it typically posh and daft.
Russell’s schoolboy humour might be a tad lame, but his shocking visual asides at Catholicism (nuns and dildos) are wonderfully irreverent, and the practical special effects are an inventive highlight. Donohoe’s tight-fitting costumes are also a seductive treat and the chilly location shoots that include the Peak District and Manifold Valley in Staffordshire are gorgeously lensed. Stoker purists, however, will probably be greatly offended.
• Audio commentaries with director Ken Russell and Lisi Russell
• Worm Food: Special effects artists Geoffrey Portass, Neil Gorton and Paul Jones (who were all 18 or 19 at the time) talk about their experiences working on the film
• Cutting for Ken: interview with editor Peter Davies
• Trailers From Hell featuring producer Dan Ireland
• Mary, Mary: interview with actress Sammi Davis
• Theatrical Trailer
• Still Gallery
NEWS JUST IN: Throughout March, Lionsgate UK are taking over the weekly, free entry Monday Film Club at The Alibi in Dalston, East London, with The Lair of the White Worm being screened on Monday 12 March. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/802548666603104/
Lair of the White Worm copyright: Programme Content and Photography: © 1988 Vestron Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved. Package Design: © 2018 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.
Der Todesking (1989) | Jörg Buttgereit’s ‘Let Us Die’ existential horror gets a deluxe release in HD
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.
‘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.
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.
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 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.
• 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
10 years after the death of the infamous Jigsaw killer aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, Memento) and Hunt (Clé Bennett, Heroes Reborn) investigate a series of murders bearing the unique modus operandi of the Jigsaw killer. Has Kramer really returned from the grave to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a killer with designs of their own?
Director Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (Predestination) go back to basics with their reboot, which ditches the torture porn for a pure chill-ride that aims to recapture the same suspenseful thrills as Se7en – only bloodier. Matt Passmore (The Glades), Laura Vandervoort (Supergirl), Paul Braunstein (The Thing), Brittany Allen (All My Children) and Mandela Van Peebles (Baadassss!) are Jigsaw’s targets this time round, while Tobin Bell is back in his iconic role – and it’s not just a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo.
Horror fans will lap up the inventive death scenes, which involve booby-trapped rooms and firearms, and some truly deadly laser cutters. Kudos go to the film’s big set piece which involves a giant spiralator and a motorbike. In an homage to the franchise’s original inspiration, 1970’s The Abominable Dr Phibes, one trap sees the victims choosing between three syringes that contain a poison antidote, a saline solution and a flesh-melting acid.
Given its open ending and the huge business it did at the box-office (despite the mostly unfavourable reviews), it looks like the Saw franchise just might begin anew. Personally, I rather enjoyed it… unlike the previous ones.
SPECIAL FEATURES ON THE BLU-RAY AND DVD
• Audio Commentary with producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block
• I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Saw: A feature-length appreciation of the franchise, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew of the reboot discussing its visual design, sound score, special effects and much more.
• The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props: A fascinating featurette (around 6min) in which Don Post’s pig masks and the iconic Billy puppet make a welcome return.