Category Archives: Must-See
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
The Battle of Algiers (1966) | Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece of political cinema resonates in a newly restored 4k release
From CultFilms comes the release of the newly restored 4K version of The Battle of Algiers, which arrives for the first time in the UK in dual format (Blu-ray/DVD).
A blistering attack on the savagery that was endured in order for Algeria to attain independence from the French, 1966’s The Battle of Algiers is one of the most influential political movies of all time and won many awards for its Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo.
The film concentrates on the years between 1954 and 1957 when guerrilla fighters began operating in the Casbah, the citadel of Algiers, which became a flashpoint for the French to regain territory. Told in flashback, it centres on one cell within the National Liberation Front (the FLN), which includes Ali la Pointe, a petty criminal who politically radicalised while in jail, then recruited by FLN commander El-hadi Jafar; Larbi Ben M’hidi, a top FLN leader, and three women who carry out a series of bombings.
Shot in a documentary style, using the actual locations of key events, and drawing on local people to dramatise the major players (including Algerian activist Saadi Yacef, whose 1966 memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger inspired the film – he plays El-hadi Jafar and also produced), Pontecorvo’s film possesses a realism that continues to astonish. It remains the perfect marriage of politics and cinema – like an Algerian take on Roberto Rossellini’s quintessential neorealist masterpiece Rome Open City (1945) fused with striking Eisenstein-esque visuals and the political eye of Pasolini.
Although made as a propaganda piece, the Algerian-Italian co-production is remarkably un-partisan in its approach: with the murderous consequences of the guerrillas’ bombing campaign and the French torturing their prisoners being given equal emphasis throughout.
The arresting opening sequence in which the camera looks out over the roof tops of Algiers sets the forceful tone of what follows, and the scene in which the French colonel, Mathieu (played by the film’s only actor, Jean Martin) proudly leads his paratroopers through the street is at once heroic but also utterly futile (it’s also a telling statement on colonialism).
But it’s the film’s vast crowd scenes that will stay with you forever – that and the carefully-curated score, which skilfully weaves Ennio Morricone’s action movie beats with indigenous drumming, the ululation chanting of the Casbah women, classical ostinato composition and Bach’s St Matthew Passion.
Digitally re-mastered in 4K and restored preserving the grainy, newsreel look that the director Gillo Pontecorvo designed, the restoration was made by the L’Immagine Ritrovata with the participation of the director’s son, cinematographer and director Marco Pontecorvo, in collaboration with CultFilms and was nominated for the Best Restored Version Award at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Special features include:
• New extra on the 4K restoration
• The Making of the Battle of Algiers (interview with Director Gillo Pontecorvo)
• The Real Battle of Algiers (interview with producer Saadi Yacef, head of FLN guerrillas in Algiers)
• Our War for Freedom (interview with FLN fighter Zohra Drif Bitat)
• Exclusive Presentation by director Paul Greengrass
• Exclusive interview with director Ken Loach
• Booklet hugely informative essays on the genesis of the film and it’s cinematic legacy
Having helmed the visceral slasher Creep and the comedy horror flick Severance, director Christopher Smith turned to the psychological suspense genre for his 2009 British-Australian chiller, Triangle.
Filmed in Australia, but set in Florida (basically for the all-important US market), the film stars Melissa George as Jess, the struggling single mum of an autistic boy, who just cannot shake the feeling that something is wrong when she goes on a sailing trip.
When the yacht is capsized during a freak storm, the sailing party board a seemingly deserted ocean liner, but Jess’s growing feeling of deja vu begins to move ever closer towards a horrible realisation.
Having ‘experienced’ Triangle at its UK premiere back in 2009, I was bowled-over by Smith’s plotting of the film’s events, so – of course – I had to add the 2010 Blu-ray to my collection. It’s great to revel in the chilling atmospherics all over again. Part Greek tragedy, part The Shining… this ghost ship in The Twilight Zone is guaranteed to give you the shivers and keep you guessing right up to the end.
The 2010 UK DVD/Blu-ray special features include a Making of featurette, audio commentary with director Christopher Smith; three storyboards; deleted scenes; competition winners poster design; and a special effects featurette.
Triangle is available on Amazon Prime and also screens today at 9pm on The Horror Channel in the UK (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freeview 70).
The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume Two (1961-1964) | Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and First Men in the Moon
From Indicator/Powerhouse comes three more classic Ray Harryhausen adventures presented with brand new 2K and 4K restorations, and containing a wealth of new and archival extras. Here’s the lowdown…
American Civil War prisoner Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) escapes in a balloon with other Confederate officers and a war correspondant Gideon Spillet (Gary Merril, aka Bette Davis’s ex) and end up on an unknown island in the Pacific along with shipwrecked aristocrats, Lady Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan). Holed up in a cave they nickname the Granite House, the plucky castways encounter strange creatures, pirates, an angry volcano and the charismatic Captain Nemo (beautifully underplayed by a blonde Herbert Lom).
This action-filled adventure, loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1874 novel, provides a field day for special effects man Ray Harryhausen, who conjures up a magnificent menagerie of oversized critters: including a giant crab (whose carapace was bought from Harrods Food Hall), a prehistoric Phorusrhacos (which looks like an oversized cassowary), a hive of bees, and a slumbering multi-tentacled cephalopod.
The picturesque Spanish locations (including Sa Conca Bay in Catalonia, and some others that would later be used in Jason and the Argonauts), evocative production design (especially the Nautilus and its Victorian-futuristic paraphernalia) and atmospheric score from composer Bernard Herrmann are an added delight to Harryhausen’s fantastical-take on a Boy’s Own-styled castaway adventure.
• 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• 2012 audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton (This is thoroughly enjoyable, and I love it when a genuinely surprised Ray keeps commenting on how sharp everything looks in the restoration – especially as he used filters to soften the actor’s faces in the first place. He also reveals many of his camera tricks, including using a cardboard cut-out for the Phorusrhacos)
• Audio commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven C. Smith (having heard everything from the master himself, I might leave this for a rainy day)
• Archive interview with Ray Harryhausen (featuring many of his storyboards)
• 2017 interview with actor Michael Craig (who talks about the difficulty of trying to act against an invisible crab on a beach filled with onlookers)
• 2017 interview with clapper loader Ray Andrew (who gives an entirely different account of that crab story)
• 2017 interview Kim Newman (on the shared cinematic universe of Jules Verne)
• Mysterious Magic: 2017 interview with visual effects animator Hal Hickel (on the huge impact Harryhausen’s work had on his career)
• Islands of Mystery: vintage black and white featurette (this one really beefs the film up – making you expect more monsters)
• Super 8 version (a cut-down version, in colour, with a narrator to paste over the gaps)
• Back to Mysterious Island: A preview of the 2008 Bluewater Comic that re-imagines the adventure for a younger generation (colourful, but not my cuppa tea, sorry)
• Isolated Bernard Herrmann score (just perfect to listen to over and over)
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Image gallery
With his father’s kingdom in the hands of a tyrant, Jason (Todd Armstrong) sets sail with the bravest men of all of Greece aboard the Argo on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, they encounter a host of mythical creatures and rescue Medea (Nancy Kovack), the high priestess of Colchis, who soon causes problems for the crew when she falls in love with Jason…
This spectacular mythological adventure marked the pinnacle in the career of Ray Harryhausen. A landmark in the history of movie special effects, it was this film that inspired many a budding young film-maker – from Nick Park to Peter Jackson (who provides one of the commentaries in this Indicator/Powerhouse release) and – on a personal note – fuelled my love for myths, fantasy and ancient history.
Harryhausen’s Dynamation effects are delivered with amazing imagination (and took him almost two years to complete). Jason’s climactic sword fight with a band of resurrected skeletons remains the film’s highlight of course, while the other weird creatures including the giant bronze automaton (Ray’s take on the Colossus of Rhodes), a band of hungry harpies (who torture poor old Patrick Troughton) and the magnificient seven-headed Hydra.
As well as Troughton, a host of other recognisable British actors provide great support, including Laurence Naismith and Nigel Green as Argus and Hercules, Douglas Wimer as Jason’s nemesis Pelias, amd Michael Gwynn and Honor Blackman as Olympians Hermes and Hera. This truly is the greatest mythical adventure film ever made.
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (despite the odd flashes of grain, this really is the best presentation of Harryhausen’s film we shall ever see)
• English mono and English 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalston (This one is filled with lots of behind-the-scnes anecdotes, some we’ve heard before on the other commentaries, and much of it is also explored in the three books that Ray and Tony have published – which are also a must have)
• Audio commentary with film-maker Peter Jackson and Randy Cook (Also very interesting, as Peter and Randy cover the film’s influence and legacy, although some of their conjecture is cleared up in the Harryhausen commentary)
• Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
• The Harryhausen Legacy: archival documentary
• Ray Harryhausen interviewed by John Landis
• The Harryhausen Chronicles: archival documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy
• Original trailers & TV spots
• Previews (Ghostbusters, Close Encounters, 20 Millions Miles to Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 7th Voyage of Sinbad)
• Image gallery
The world is shocked when a team of United Nations astronauts land on the Moon in 1964 only to discover that the Victorian British beat them to it – back in 1899!
In a Dymchurch nursing home, they track down the only survivor of the expedition, 91-year-old Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd)… Bedford then tells the assembled investigators how he travelled to the Moon with his fiancée Kate (Martha Hyer) and inventor Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) in a spaceship which Cavor had coated with a revolutionary anti-gravity paste. And what did they find living beneath the Moon’s surface? Only an insectoid population with advanced technological know-how.
HG Wells’ 1901 science fiction tale gets the Dynamation treatment from Harryhausen and his 20 Million Miles to Earth director Nathan Juran, based on a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, who was best known for his Quatermass series.
This is entertaining yarn finds Lionel Jeffries going full pelt with his cranky inventor act, while the always stalwart Judd provides some energetic heroics. Martha Hyer’s Kate, meanwhile, is a spirited and feisty creation that was not in Wells’ original novel, but proves to be most welcomed here (and not just on account of her looks).
The film’s stand out creature is the giant caterpillar-like ‘moon-bull’, while the Selenites (actually kids in rubber suits) could easily have come out of a classic Doctor Who adventure or even Lost in Space (which Juran would later direct). Boasting great production values in spite of its limited budget, and having a great sense of Victoriania, this is million times better than the 1967 Jules Verne-pastiche Rocket to the Moon and a Harryhausen adventure that I can happily revisit time and again.
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (It looks fantastic, especially the sequences involving the lunar surface and the Selenites’ underground city).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Tony Dalton and Randy Cook (there’s a wealth of information on offer here from the trio, with Harryhausen spending a lot of time chuckling at the film’s more comic elements, like Jeffries’ performance and improbably science. But then Ray does say, ‘you should never over analyse fantasy’. Now that’s something I totally agree with. He also reveals that his major influence for the stairs leading to the Grand Lunar’s throne room was 1935’s She – which was produced by Merian C Cooper, whose King Kong inspired Harryhausen in the first place).
• An introduction by Harryhausen fan Randy Cook
• Tomorrow the Moon: This vintage featurette is my favourite extra as it combines behind-the-scenes footage of the film (featuring producer Charles Schneer, Harryhausen and Juran, and some of the sets, and models) with the real-life US Apollo space project.
• 2017 interviews with special effects assitant Terry Schubert (who reveals how all the effects were created in a small space on a Slough trading estate); production manager Ted Wallis, clapper loader Ray Andrew (who has some great memories of cinematographer Wilkie Cooper) and title designer Sam Suliman (who wasn’t impressed with his titles).
• Isolated score by Laurie Johnson
• Trailer commentary from John Landis (who quickly runs out things to say)
• Image gallery
Read about the First Volume of The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen HERE.
Boom! (1968) | Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton camp it up in Joseph Losey’s fantastically odd Tennessee Williams adaptation
Throughout the 1960s, cinema’s royal couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton created some brilliant, beguiling and occasionally bewildering films – some of which were adapted from classic plays: Edward Albee’s shout-fest Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Williams Shakespeare’s hysterical The Taming of the Shrew and Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy Doctor Faustus.
US playwright Tennessee Williams, whose meditations on sexual frustration, drug addiction and terminal disease made him the ‘darling of the day’, seemed a logical choice for Burton and Taylor to show off their craft. And along came Boom!
Based on the 1963 play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Boom! takes place on a gorgeous private island in the Mediterranean, where the wealthy, egocentric Sissy Goforth is about to meet her maker.
As she dictates her memories to her long-suffering servant Blackie (Joanna Shimkus), penniless poet Christopher Flanders (Burton) arrives unannounced, wanting an audience. While Flanders is kept waiting, Sissy consults the bitchy Witch of Capri (Noel Coward, in a brilliantly wicked turn) over a very boozy dinner, who warns her that the poet is in fact The Angel of Death.
What follows is a cat-and-mouse game of existential wordplay as Sissy first rejects, then accepts the stranger, and thus her own mortality.
Esoteric or pretentious? Think what you will, but watching Boom! 40-plus years after its original release, I was totally transfixed. Yes, Taylor screams, rants and acts the childish princess, but she is absolutely fascinating to watch. Meanwhile, Burton’s soothing poetic voice flows like warm butterscotch.
American director Joseph Losey is the man who put this camp masterpiece together. Already capable of some unique, if slightly odd, cinematic treats like the sci-fi cult These Are the Damned and the pop art inspired Modesty Blaise, Losey’s firmly stamps his signature here.
This is helped greatly by the lavish modernist-inspired set, a Corbusier-influenced villa perched high on the rugged Sardinian coastline dotted with faux Easter Island statues, Taylor’s elaborate costumes and jewellery, and a fantastic music score from James Barry.
Boom! may have spectacular bombed on its release in 1968, but it so deserves a new audience – one that likes its cinema camp, colourful, and very odd indeed. And let’s leave the last word to John Waters, who included the film’s poster in Pink Flamingos: ‘beyond bad. It’s the other side of camp. It’s beautiful, atrocious, and it’s perfect. It’s a perfect movie, really, and I never tire of it’.
Boom! is available on DVD from Second Sight in the UK
The Vikings (1958) | This rip-roaring adventure is an epic must-see – and could have influenced Game of Thrones
One of the big hits of the 1950s, The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, gets its first time Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment, as part of the Eureka Classics range.
Prince Einar (Kirk Douglas) is the son and heir of Viking chieftain Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine). Slave Eric (Tony Curtis) is his unknowing half brother, the bastard offspring of Einar’s father and an English queen. When the Vikings kidnap princess Morgana (Janet Leigh), who is betrothed to the English King, Aella (Frank Thring), Einar and Eric engage in a bloody dual to win her hand…
The melodramatic tale at the heart of this searing Norse opera from director Richard Fleischer certainly takes a back seat to the glorious visuals. Shot in ‘Horizon Spanning’ Technirama and Technicolor, these come courtesy of cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who makes maximum use of the spectacular locations: Hardangerfjord in the Norwegian Fjords and Fort la Latte in Britanny.
The film-makers also go to great lengths to recreate an authentic Viking village, as well as long ships, armour and weapons; even the horses are the same breed that early Vikings rode; while the hand-to-hand combat scenes featuring clashing broadswords and axes aplenty, as well the occasional eye-gouging and hand-chopping, are expertly staged.
As our chain-mail and leather-clad macho heroes, Douglas and Curtis provide some gutsy Testosterone-fuelled performances, and a joined by a great supporting cast, including Janet Leigh (Curtis’ real-life wife) and Ernest Borgnine (looking like he needs a good wash and shave), as well as Aussie actor Frank Thring – best-known for playing Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur (and also as the villainous Dr Stark in TV’s Skippy), and Till Death Us Do Part‘s Else Garnett (aka Dandy Nichols) as Leigh’s maid.
While any similarity to actual history is purely coincidental, this epic slice of Hollywood adventure is a must-see and helped kick-off a whole sub-genre of imitators, including Mario Bava’s Erik The Conqueror and even spawned a TV series (produced by Kirk Douglas).
Intentional or not, there are also some interesting parallels with Game of Thrones. In the Viking saga, Odin is held as the one true god, just as the Lord of Light is in Thrones; there’s also a Red Witch character in soothsayer Kitala (played by Eileen Way, who cropped up in the 1960s Doctor Who movies); and both Jon Snow and Eric are bastards denied their royal birthright. There’s even a pit of hungry wolves – remember Ramsay’s hunting dogs?
Incidentally, there’s a recurring melody in the film’s music score that is not too dissimilar to a key theme in the original Star Wars. And, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the youthful Curtis bears a striking similarity to Dominic Monaghan of Lost and Lord of the Rings fame.
• 1080p presentation
• Original stereo PCM soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• Video interview with film historian Sheldon Hall
• A Tale of Norway (28 mins) –featurette about the making of the film, presented by Richard Fleischer
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet