Category Archives: Must-See
When his profits are stolen following a delivery of genetically modified pigs, maverick space trucker John Canyon (Dennis Hopper) takes a profitable, no-questions-asked cargo to Earth, accompanied by apprentice trucker Mike (Stephen Dorff) and hitchhiker Cindy (Debi Mazar). But when they are captured by pirates, led by Captain Macanudo (Charles Dance), they discover the secret cargo is an army of androids that capitalist corp chief EJ Saggs (Shane Rimmer) plans to use to takeover the Earth…
I cannot believe I have never seen Space Truckers – and its by one of my fave genre directors too – Stuart Gordon (aka Mr Re-Animator), who got this gig on the back of success of 1992’s Fortress starring Christopher Lambert (whatever happened to him, btw?). So why did I miss this first time round? Well that’s because it never got a theatrical release, only HBO TV screening. But now Second Sight has brought out this must-get Blu-ray so that sci-fi fans can pay a much over-do revisit.
Gordon’s cast is a most excellent one and everyone plays it serious, especially scenery chewer Hopper, who plays a likeable hero this time round. Stephen Dorff and Debi Mazar provide the eye candy, especially when they step out of their cybergoth-meets-Starlight Express costumes and get all naked and sweaty. Cheers star George Wendt fame sneaks in a bizarre cameo before being sucked out into space, and its great to see Shane Rimmer in anything.
Charles Dance, meanwhile, steals the show as the disfigured half-man, half-machine ‘sonofabitch gimp rapist murderer’, who looks like a leather daddy steampunk version of Long John Silver, with a metal claw. He also gets some great lines like ‘If I had an anus, I’d probably soil myself’. Also making some excellent cameos are fanboy favourites Vernon Wells, Barbara Crampton and Sandra Dickinson.
Famed conceptual artist Hajime Sorayama created the designs for the space vehicles and the fantastic sleek and sexy six-foot robots. Interestingly, having just watched the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, I couldn’t help notice how similar its robot design was to Sorayama’s – as was a key story element, when the Hub is breached and our heroes need to find a way to escape.
Space Truckers is all about fun and lots and lots of colour… in fact, there’s so much of it on display, its almost eye-watering. But it all works to highlight the film’s overall retro feel – making it a great companion piece to Flash Gordon and TV’s Buck Rogers, but also Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror follow-up Shock Treatment.
If you like your sci-fi colourful, camp and with an extra dose of cheese, then you are going to love Space Truckers. Oh! And watch out for the old lady in the cubicle – she’s a scream!
Out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Second Sight, with a host of special extras…
• Space Trucking with Stuart Gordon: A new interview with director Stuart Gordon
• Scoring Space Truckers: A new interview with composer Colin Towns (its a great score BTW!)
• The Art of Space Truckers: A new interview with art director Simon Lamont
• Cover art by Rich Davies
• English subtitles
On Saturday 26 May 2018, I spent a wonderful day in the coastal town of Whitstable in Kent to celebrate Peter Cushing’s 105th birth anniversary and see the handover of the legendary actor’s handprints to the Whitstable Community Museum & Gallery by long time fan Chris Hassell.
Peter’s secretary Joyce Broughton provided some great anecdotes about her dear friend, whom she always called ‘Sir’, while the museum’s volunteers put together a mini exhibition of Peter’s personal artefacts and memorabilia from some of the many items that they have in storage.
Lunch followed at the Peter Cushing pub – a former cinema where many of Peter’s classic Hammer films were shown; followed by a walk to Peter’s former home and his bench at Cushing’s View.
Interestingly, the plaque which has been missing for a while was recently returned to the museum, and Joyce was over the moon – as it was she who had organised to have it made in the first place. She is now hoping to have it reinstated on the bench very soon. Let’s just hope no-one vandalises it again.
Courtesy of the Peter Cushing Association, here’s a copy of the press release which tells the story of the handprints long journey to the museum.
At the end of the post, I have included a video that I made of the museum exhibition, which was mounted in 2013 to mark Peter’s centenary. The museum is now looking at redevelopment plans, which enable more of Peter’s personal items to go on permanent display.
THE TALE OF THE PETER CUSHING HANDPRINTS
Peter Cushing was one of the most beloved and important actors for the genres of horror and fantasy films. He began in British Theater before making a name for himself in Hollywood with such films as The Man in The Iron Mask and A Chump at Oxford. Cushing returned to his native England during World War II and soon after became a television star with such hits as Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Creature and Beau Brummell. To his fans however, Mr. Cushing is recognized mostly for his work with Hammer Films. He began to star in many of Hammer’s horror and fantasy films starting in the late 1950’s, which consequently breathed new life and energy into the nearly forgotten genre of classic horror films.
These films gained such favor and popularity with the public that Mr. Cushing was quickly catapulted to international stardom. Such classics included The Curse of Frankenstein, Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed plus many more. He also appeared in films for Amicus – Hammer’s rival. Some of these classics included Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Dr. Who and the Daleks, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., I Monster, Asylum, and Tales from the Crypt. Mr. Cushing capped off his career in the late 1970’s with Star Wars.
From then on, he made only a handful of films with Biggles being his last in 1986. Still very active in retirement, Mr. Cushing wrote two autobiographies, received the O.B.E. (Officer of the British Empire) in 1989, helped in raising money for cancer research, along with painting, collecting books, and bird watching in his spare time.
The Peter Cushing framed handprints you now see displayed at the Whitstable Museum were almost lost to history if not for the diligent actions of Peter Cushing Association member Chris Hassell. Peter Cushing had his hands cast in plaster in 1992 at Leicester Square in London. The plaster prints were framed and eventually displayed at the Prince Charles Cinema in London.
Years later a member of the Peter Cushing Association informed the group about the prints in their fanzine ‘The Cushing Courier’ which immediately struck the curiosity of Hassell who, finding no information about them in Cushing’s own autobiographies, wrote to the Prince Charles Cinema explaining about the Peter Cushing Association and inquiring about the prints.
Little did he know the events he would set in motion but weeks later Hassell received a postcard from Ben Freedman, owner of Robins Cinemas, who asked if he would like to come to London to collect the handprints! The Prince Charles was originally owned by the Cannon group and Robins Cinema had taken it over. Freedman wanted the prints to be housed in a suitable location relevant to fans of Peter Cushing.
Amazed at the response, Hassell reached out to Freedman who explained to him that the Cinema would consider donating the handprints to the Peter Cushing Association, so it could be displayed at a final resting place for all fans of Peter Cushing to view. Hassell worked with the first president of the Peter Cushing Association, Brian Holland, to send an issue of ‘The Cushing Courier’ with a letter outlining the plan for the handprints. On July 27, 1999, Robins Cinemas called Hassell to inform him they would be happy to donate ‘The Relic’ (the nickname Hassell gave the handprints) to the PCA.
After an unforeseen circumstance, Hassell was unable to pick up the handprints at Robins Cinema on October 22 at the Prince Charles Cinema. As described by Hassell, “Picture, if you will, a shallow wooden tray about four inches deep, eighteen inches square with sides almost one-inch-thick, filled to the brim with heavy and hardened years-old plaster. Inset into the plaster, a pair of hand-prints, above which is etched a very familiar signature and a date (‘92). Unfortunately, the middle finger of the left hand-print shows some slight damage but, otherwise, the plaster is perfect. Between, and slightly below, the two hand-prints is embedded a five-pointed golden star. In the middle of this star are engraved two words: ‘PETER CUSHING’.”
After the pickup, the PCA was awaiting a decision on whether the Whitstable Museum or the Theatre Royal, Chatham would become the final resting place for the Peter Cushing handprints. Unfortunately, the Theatre Royal closed-down and the PCA went through changes in leadership which delayed the final decision. The Whitstable Museum, with its permanent display of some of Peter Cushing’s personal items, was chosen as the final resting place of the handprints and Hassell was once again tasked with arranging the final trip. On May 26th, 2018, Peter Cushing handprints will finally be on display at the Whitstable Museum in town he called home.
Anyone interested in joining the Peter Cushing Association to enjoy and discuss his films and legacy (no dues to join, just request to join us on Facebook) please visit us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/petercushingassociation/
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
If you haven’t seen or heard of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 thriller The Passenger – then you are in for a treat thanks to the new Indicator Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films.
Alienation of man in the modern world and lost identities were key themes in the film canon of Michelangelo Antonioni, who was a master manipulator of the conventional narrative. Just witness his 1960s quartet, La Notte, L’Eclisse, L’avventura and il deserto rosso, and his hip cult hit Blow-Up.
After a dalliance with the American counterculture movement in 1970s Zabriskie Point, the Italian auteur returned to his favourite themes for The Passenger, his third film with producer Carlo Ponti. Unfortunately, it died a death at the box office and quickly went out of circulation for many decades, until a re-release back in 2005, which has resulted in a growing new appreciation for this hidden gem.
This is the first time that the film has been released on Blu-ray in the UK, and the re-master is a knockout! Now, I absolutely adore Antonioni’s eye for the visual. Every shot is framed with a painterly approach, and he really knows how to use landscape and architecture as character.
The Passenger is no exception. Just take a look at the above screen grab. This was taken from a scene shot in a specially-built hotel in the Almeria town of Vera (standing in for Osuna in the film). The way the light falls on the straight lines of the interior just makes me swoon. The art decoration is by Piero Poletto (who also worked on L’Eclisse and L’avventura), while the camerawork is courtesy of Lucian Tovoli, who’d famously go onto lens Dario Argento’s Suspiria two years later.
Tovoli makes great use of some stunning Spanish locations and especially some iconic modernist buildings, including Antoni Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Parc Guell in Barcelona, and Patrick Hodgkinson’s modernist Brunswick Centre in London’s Bloomsbury (which had opened just a couple of years before the film was made).
But the stand-out scene is a seven-minute long tacking shot right at the end of the movie – and it is worth the wait as it was a major technical achievement at the time, that required the camera to move through a door barred with grates, then do a 180 degree turn and return back to the hotel interior. Of course, it could all be done with CGI today, but here Antonioni is at his most inventive and meticulous.
Typical of the director, the story is real head-spinner. Jack Nicholson plays world-weary journalist David Locke, who is making a documentary in Chad when he impulsively takes on the identity of a man called Robertson, whom he finds dead in his hotel room. He sees it as a chance to escape his old life and his wayward wife Rachel (The Final Programme‘s Jenny Runacre).
But he gets more than he bargained for when it turns out Robertson was a shady arms dealer and rashly takes a bundle of cash from gun-runners who want their merchandise. And Locke’s problems don’t stop there, as Rachel wants answers about his death and a cat and mouse situation ensues as Locke tries to flee the country aided by a young architecture student (Maria Schneider of Last Tango in Paris fame)…
This Blu-ray release of Antonioni’s arty road movie-cum-thriller is probably my favourite find of 2018 so far. It is also Jack Nicholson’s favourite film – so much so, he owns a personal print of the film.
Powerhouse Films’ Indicator UK Blu-ray release features a high definition remaster with the original mono audio and new and improved English subtitles, and the following special features…
• Alternative presentation: Italian Professione
• Audio commentary with actor Jack Nicholson (2006)
• Audio commentary with screenwriter Mark Peploe and journalist Aurora Irvine (2006)
• Audio commentary with film historian Adrian Martin (2018)
• Jenny Runacre on The Passenger (2018, 15 mins)
• Steven Berkoff on The Passenger (2018, 11 mins)
• Profession Reporter (1975, 5 mins): archival interview with Michelangelo Antonioni at Cannes Film Festival
• Antonioni on Cinema (1975, 5 mins): the acclaimed filmmaker on his philosophy of cinema
• The Final Sequence (1985, 13 mins): Antonioni analyses the climactic sequence
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet with a new essay by Amy Simmons
Jarman – Volume One: 1972-1986 | Six of the best from the iconoclastic British artist collected and restored on Blu-ray
24 years have gone by since his death aged just 52, but the legacy of British filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942-1994) lives on, and his highly personal work has lost none of its relevance or impact. The BFI have now released the first of two deluxe limited edition box sets that bring together six of his feature films on Blu-ray for the first time.
In the Shadow of the Sun (1974), Jarman’s debut abstract short film is comprised of a series of Super 8 films and is provided with a soundtrack from music group Throbbing Gristle. Personally, it was thanks to this film that I started experimenting with my own short films, and turned me into a big fan of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Coil.
Sebastiane (1976), Jarman’s debut feature film, spoken entirely in Latin and featuring an ambient score from Brian Eno, is an homoerotic account of the life and martyrdom of Saint Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio), a Roman soldier who is exiled to a remote outpost where his commanding officer (Barney James) becomes obsessed by him.
Jubilee (1978) | Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is transported through time from 1578 to 1978 by her astrologer John Dee (Richard O’Brien), where she sees what has become of her once glorious kingdom where law and order has broken down. Adam Ant, Toyah Wilcox and Jordan co-star.
The Tempest (1979) | Jarman creates his own interpretation of Shakespeare’s final play. Abandoned on a remote island by his brother Antonio (Richard Warwick), Prospero (Heathcote Williams), the former Duke of Milan, engineers a shipwreck to bring Ferdinand (David Meyer) the Prince of Naples, and his daughter Miranda (Toyah Wilcox) together in a bid to restore peace between Milan and Naples.
The Angelic Conversation (1985), a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets are read by Judi Dench over atmospheric music by Coil and tableaux images of landscapes and people.
Caravaggio (1986) | A heavily stylised biopic of the Renaissance Italian painter Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) who falls in love with his muse, street thug, Ranuccio Thomasoni (Sean Bean).
Derek Jarman’s first six feature films have all been newly scanned at 2K from original film elements and are presented in this first box set alongside some incredible extras (listed below), all drawn from Jarman’s archive of workbooks and papers held in BFI Special Collections, plus a host of interviews with key cast, crew and friends, which have been exclusively produced for this release.
You can purchase Jarman – Volume One: 1972-1986 direct from the BFI bookshop or from Amazon and HMV (in the UK).
• Sebastiane: A Work in Progress (1975): newly remastered from 16mm film elements held by the BFI National Archive, this sadly incomplete early black and white work-print differs significantly from the finished film. This previously unseen alternate edit – assembled in a different order, featuring a different soundtrack – was never subtitled or released
• The Making of Sebastiane (Derek Jarman & Hugh Smith, 1975): previously unseen Super 8 footage shot on location in Sardinia
• Jazz Calendar (1968): a rarely screened documentary record of the 1968 ballet by Frederick Ashton, performed by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, for which Jarman designed sets and costumes
• Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own (1974-76)
• John Scarlett-Davis remembers Sebastiane (2018)
• Message from the Temple (1981)
• TG: Psychic Rally in Heaven (1981)
• Pirate Tape (WS Burroughs Film) (1982)
• Toyah Willcox: Being Mad (2014)
• Jordan remembers Jubilee (2018)
• Lee Drysdale remembers Jubilee (2018)
• Stormy Weather: the Magic Behind The Tempest (2016): Toyah Willcox and Stuart Hopps share their memories of working on The Tempest
• John Scarlett-Davis remembers The Tempest (2018)
• Don Boyd remembers The Tempest (2018)
• A Meeting of Minds: Christopher Hobbs on collaborating with Derek Jarman (2018)
• Fragments of Memory: Christopher Hobbs on working with Derek Jarman (2007)
• To the Cliffs: James Mackay on working with Derek Jarman (2007)
• Derek Jarman: The Films that Never Were (2018): A look back on unrealised Derek Jarman features, including Egyptian period drama Akhenaten and science fiction horror Neutron
• Akhenaten Image Gallery & Neutron storyboards
• Audio commentary for Caravaggio by cinematographer Gabriel Beristain
• Caravaggio in Docklands (1985)
• Kind Blasphemy: Nigel Terry on Derek Jarman and Caravaggio (2007)
• Tilda Swinton on Derek Jarman and Caravaggio (2007)
• Italy of the Memory: Christopher Hobbs on Caravaggio (2007)
• Dexter Fletcher on Caravaggio (2014)
• Christopher Hobbs remembers Caravaggio (2018)
• Derek Jarman interviewed by Derek Malcolm (1986, audio only)
• In the Studio: Caravaggio soundtrack recording sessions (1986, audio only)
• Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio notebook (Gallery)
• Five galleries featuring storyboards, production designs and Jarman’s notes on Caravaggio
• Image galleries
• Original theatrical trailers for The Angelic Conversation and Caravaggio
• 80-page collector’s book
1960’s Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy from a Stranger in the US) was one of Hammer’s bravest ventures: an earnest precautionary tale with its intentions in the right place that never really got a chance on its original release. But its now ripe for rediscovery as it joins Indicator’s second volume of Hammer classics: Criminal Intent.
Adapted from a 1953 play, The Pony Cart, by Roger Garris, it follows a British family settling into a small Canadian town where the father, Peter Cater (Patrick Allen) has been appointed the new school principal. When daughter Jean (Janina Faye) claims that the town’s respected patriarch, Clarence Olderberry Sr (Felix Aylmer), offered her and her friend Lucille (Frances Green) sweets in exchange to seeing them naked, Jean’s horrified mother Sally (Gwen Watford) demands an investigation. But the ensuing trial sees Jean coming under some brutal cross-examining and the elderly Olderberry being found not guilty… a verdict that results in murder!
Hammer’s social drama boasts great turns from Allen and Watford as the concerned parents, while Janina Faye gives a career-best performance as Jean (in a role that she also played on the West End). As the elderly paedophile, knighted stage and screen actor Felix Aylmer must be one of Hammer’s most chilling monsters (with or without makeup), and the fact he never utters a word only makes his performance all the more unnerving – as you never know what’s really going inside his sick mind.
Cinematographer Freddie Francis adds a touch of cinéma vérité to the nerve-wracking courtroom sequences, which were all shot in a single take at Bray Studios, and he makes atmospheric use of some of Hammer’s favourite locations – Oakley Court (standing in for a sanatorium) and Black Park, as well as Burnham Beeches and a housing estate in Slough. The suspenseful score is from idiosyncratic composer Elisabeth Luytens, while director Frankel brings a tremendous amount of suspense to the proceedings (he would later helm Hammer’s The Witches in 1966).
Hammer purposely plays down the sensationalism to craft an insightful message movie which explores both predatory behaviour and how power and privilege can shield dangerous people from proper justice. Applauded by critics of the day, the film was quite ground-breaking – especially as child sexual abuse was still a taboo subject. But the film was denied a certificate that would have allowed children to see it, as it was deemed too upsetting. Even the film’s star Janina Faye did not see her fine performance for many years. While promoted as a warning for parents, the film was not a commercial success and quickly disappeared – becoming one of Hammer’s most elusive titles in their back catalogue.
Watching it afresh, it is a stark and impressive piece of cinema that continues to send a chill down the spine with its authentic exploration of a very real grim subject that refuses to go away. Brave, intelligent and way ahead of its time – this is Hammer at its most sincere.
• HD restoration with original mono audio and new improved English subtitles.
• Two presentations: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK); and Never Take Candy from a Stranger (US).
• New documentary: Conspiracy Theories: Inside Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (The film’s background and production are retraced by Indicator’s stable of Hammer experts, plus there’s some great archive audio interview excerpts from director Frankel).
• Appreciation of Gwen Watford by British cinema expert Dr Laura Mayne.
• An interview with Janina Faye, who looks back over her career with Hammer and recalls her role in the film.
• The Perfect Horror Chord: David Huckvale explores composer Elisabeth Lutyens’ ‘eerie weirdy’ musical compositions for Hammer (if you are musically inclined, this is a must).
• Actor and film-maker Matthew Holness explores the film’s message, intentions, cast and crew.
• Trailers From Hell commentary with Brian Trenchard-Smith, who succinctly does the same.
• Advertising and Publicity Gallery
• Press Material
• Exclusive booklet
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) can be found on Indicator’s Limited Edition Box Set, Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent, which includes three other classic thrillers from the vaults of Hammer Films (all world Blu-ray premieres): The Snorkel (1958), The Full Treatment (1961) and Cash on Demand (1961) .
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
While I already have Arrow’s previous Blu-ray of Dario Argento’s 1971 giallo Cat o’Nine Tales (aka il gatto nove code), I couldn’t resist upgrading to this 4K restoration, which also includes newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack. Now all I need is a 4k smart TV and Blu-ray player to see it properly. But having looked at it on my current HD system, it looks and sounds terrific.
As for the extras, well they are all brand-new with none crossing over from the previous Arrow release. Here’s the low-down…
First up is the audio commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman. Jones, of course, is Argento’s number one fan who has become a close friend and written the definitive book(s) on the director, while Newman’s comprehensive film knowledge is truly enviable.
It’s fun and very insightful (film nerds like me will lap up the trivia, especially those related to the Turin film locations); and you’ll see Catherine Spaak’s costumes in a whole different light after listening to Jones views on Luca Sabetelli’s outré surreal outfits.
As for the featurettes, Nine Lives, comprises an exclusive 2017 interview with Dario Argento, who confirms Jones’ comments that the film was the least favourite of his canon, as he felt it ‘too American’.
The Writer o’ Many Tails has screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti discuss his career (over 34 minutes) which included an infamous row between him and Argento over the credit for the screenplay.
Child Star is another Arrow exclusive, an interview with the film’s Cinzia De Carolis, who played Karl Malden’s niece Lori and is today a well-respected voice dubber.
Being a huge fan of film locations, Giallo In Turin was the one that I watched first. Disappointingly, we don’t get the guided tour that I had imagined, instead production manager Angelo Iacono discusses his first meeting with Argento, before recalling his memories of the cast and crew.
A huge bonus is the inclusion of the Original Ending, in which the fates of Anna (Spaak) and Lori (De Carolis) are revealed. But wait! As the footage is now lost, we only get a visual storyboard alongside the English version of the last couple of pages of the script. But the money shot is a single German lobby card containing an actual still of the final scene. Yeah!
Now, as I have the rare movie tie-in novelisation (one of only two written by Paul J Gillette – the other was Play Misty for Me), I had hoped it would contain this version. Unfortunately, it deviates totally from both the original ending and the final cut ending.
With stylish new artwork by Candace Tripp, a limited edition booklet, lobby card repros and fold-out poster also included, this latest Argento release from Arrow is a keeper. Now, I just need that 4K kit.
If you want to see my thoughts on Arrow’s previous of the film… READ IT HERE
Viva l’Italia! (1961) | Roberto Rossellini’s celebration of Italy’s national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi is a cinematic triumph
From Arrow Films comes Robert Rossellini’s 1961 historical tour-de-force Viva l’Italia! on Blu-ray and DVD with a brand-new 2k restoration.
To celebrate the centenary of Italy, director Roberto Rossellini was commissioned by the Italian government in 1960 to make a biopic of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the country’s national hero, tracing his most famous military campaign, the 1860 Expedition of the Thousand, in which he liberated the south of Italy from the Bourbons.
Rossellini said of the film: ‘Of all my films, I’m proudest of Viva L’Italia! I consider it important as a work of research, the most carefully done of all my films. It is a documentary made after the event, trying to figure out what happened. I tried to place myself in front of the events of a century ago, the way a documentarist would have done who had the good fortune to follow Garibaldi’s campaign with his camera.’
This is World Cinema classic is must-see and having recently visited Sicily myself, I must say I got quite emotional watching this compelling 138-minute epic.
Featuring sweeping, majestic vistas of the Italian landscape, and using many of the locations where Garibaldi’s campaign took place as his Camicie rosse (Red shirts) marched across Sicily, sailed over the Strait of Messina into Calabria, then headed north through Campania (where the strategic Battle of Volturno took place) and onto Naples (where King Francis II ruled), Rossellini’s drama is as as much a spectacular visual feast as it is an important historical account of a defining moment in Italian history – the unification of the country.
It also serves as a powerful David and Goliath parable in which a band of ill-equipped, untrained volunteers (mainly poor farmers and workers) stood up against the might of a powerful army – and won!
Restored by Arrow from the original negative, and given a 2k restoration, this presentation (on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD) is the first UK home video release of Viva l’Italia! in any format. It also includes the original Italian mono soundtracks with optional (and may I say excellent) English subtitles.
Also included is an alternate shorter cut of the film originally prepared for the US market, a visual essay on Garibaldi and an interview with Rossellini’s assistant on the film, Ruggero Deodato (best-known for Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park, who greatly admired the legendary neo-realist director).
Cult film fans might get a kick out of knowing that the cinematographer, Luciano Trasatti worked on a slew of Peplum films as well as some Euro horrors like Jesùs Franco’s Count Dracula (1970), and watch out for Tina Louise, aka Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, who pops up as a French journalist.
• Garibaldi: Alternate shorter cut of the film originally prepared for the US market
• Viva Rossellini: Interview with Ruggero Deodato
• I Am Garibaldi: a visual essay by Tag Gallagher, author of The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films
• Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillip
• Booklet containing new writing on the film by film-maker and critic Michael Pattison
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) | Billy Wilder’s melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective gets a first-time Blu-ray release
From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s underrated 1970 adventure comedy The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as part of The Masters of Cinemas Series on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Director Billy Wilder’s personal, melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective was originally conceived as a three and a half hour extravaganza, and he never forgave the studio for hacking it to bits (with many of the deleted scenes now lost forever).
What remains is rewarding, but it leaves you begging for more, as the bored Baker Street sleuth (Robert Stephens) investigates a mystery that takes him and his faithful companion Doctor Watson (Colin Blakely) from London to Inverness, and involves an enigmatic amnesiac (Geneviève Page), Holmes’ conniving brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee), Queen Victoria and – yes – the Loch Ness Monster.
Stephens plays Holmes with tortured, whimsical perfection, and both Blakely and Lee are perfectly cast in their respective roles, but it’s Irene Handl rather than the alluring Page who steals every scene she’s in. Her Mrs Hudson is a comic stand-out. Other familiar faces include the legendary Stanley Holloway, Clive Revill (The Legend of Hell House), Catherine Lacey (The Sorcerers) and Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula).
The film’s rich period detail and authentic locations is also matched by the witty script (one of 11 that Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wrote together) and the whole affair sparkles like a well-polished (rough) diamond.
• 1080p presentation
• Uncompressed PCM soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
• The Missing Cases (50 mins): A presentation of deleted sequences, using script excerpts, production stills and surviving film footage.
• Deleted Epilogue Scene (audio only)
• Christopher Lee: Mr. Holmes, Mr. Wilder – an archival interview with Christopher Lee about his experience working with Billy Wilder
• Interview with editor Ernest Walter
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet