Category Archives: Psychological thriller
Shock (1977) | Mario Bava’s final feature is an underrated gem – just watch out for the walking wardrobes!
More than two years after his 1974 thriller Rabid Dogs remained unfinished and the same year’s horror Lisa and the Devil went unreleased in Italy and was cut to shreds on its international release, 63-year-old Italian director Mario Bava was in a bad way.
After a glittering career spanning some 40+ years, he found himself in semi-retirement as young guns like Dario Argento were becoming the new face of Italian horror. But with the help of his son Lamberto, who was just finding his way in the family business, Mario went on to helm what would become his final feature, 1977’s Shock (AKA Schock in Italy and Beyond the Door II in the US) – a modern-day psychological thriller in which true horror lies from within.
Daria Nicolodi stars as the mentally fragile Dora, who moves back into her old family home on the Italian coast with her pilot husband, Bruno (John Steiner) and Marco (David Colin Jr), her young son from a previous marriage. When Bruno departs for work in London, Dora finds herself plagued by accidents and apparitions, as well as Marco’s increasingly bizarre behaviour, which inescapably leads her to a nervous breakdown.
Everything seems to be linked to Dora’s former dead husband Carlo, a drug addict who took his own life. Has his spirit come back to haunt her? Is he using Marco as a conduit to torment her? Is Dora manifesting some deep-set guilt? And what lies behind the brick wall in the cellar?
Now restored in high definition for the first time, Mario Bava’s cinematic swansong is ripe for rediscovery courtesy of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release, which features some superb extras. These include an insightful audio commentary from Tim Lucas, who is, without doubt, the foremost authority on all things Mario Bava, and Lamberto Bava’s interview, which lays bare the ins and outs of his collaboration with his dad. Plus, much more.
I hadn’t seen Shock before (and I’ve seen most of Maria Bava’s films over the years) and I must say, it’s an underrated gem. There’s so much on offer here, despite its poor reception on its release. There’s a Repulsion-esque scenario that plays crazy mind games on you; an intensely engaging performance from Nicolodi (who was working through her own personal issues following her separation from Dario Argento); some inventive practical special effects (including walking wardrobes and a possessed Stanley knife), and one particular jump scare that certainly got me! (and inspired a scene in the original Scream).
Bava also conjures up a hauntingly beautiful sequence that is pure Bava – when Dora has an erotically-charged encounter with Carlo’s spirit and her hair seemingly comes alive. And to top it all, there’s the eerie synth-and-percussion score by Italian jazz-rockers I Libra, whose members included Goblin’s original drummer Walter Martino (who worked on Profundo rosso). It’s such an earworm, I’m now hunting down a reasonably priced vinyl. A must-have for any fan of Italian’s founding father of horror.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• Original Italian and English front and end titles and insert shots
• Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
• A Ghost in the House, a new video interview with co-director and co-writer Lamberto Bava
• Via Dell’Orologio 33, a new video interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
• The Devil Pulls the Strings, a new video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
• Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a new video appreciation by author and critic Stephen Thrower
• The Most Atrocious Tortur(e), a new interview with critic Alberto Farina
• Italian theatrical trailer
• 4 US “Beyond the Door II” TV spots
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
• Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava
I have been a huge fan of Dementia 13 ever since I bought it on VHS back in the 1980s. I’ve returned to it time and again because it just ticks so many boxes: the moody monochrome cinematography, the atmospheric harpsichord-heavy Ronald Stein score, the great use of the Sir Edwin Lutyens-styled 14th-century Howth Castle in Dublin, and another eccentric turn from one of my all-time favourite character actors, Patrick Magee. But the print I’ve been watching all these years has been quite poor.
So it was with much glee that I see Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 feature debut in a high-definition director’s cut (which was done back in 2017 by Coppola’s American Zoetrope) on Blu-ray as part of their Vestron Collector’s Series.
Luana Anders (who had just finished Roger Corman’s The Young Racers, and previously co-starred with Vincent Price in 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum) plays recently widowed Louise Haloran, who keeps her husband’s death a secret in a bid to secure his inheritance.
But as she plots to exploit her ailing mother in law (Eithne Dunne) who continues to grieve over the tragic drowning of her daughter Kathleen, Louise’s plans are put in jeopardy by a maniac stalking the family estate. But who could it be? Brothers Richard (William Campbell) or Billy (Bart Patton), family physician Dr Justin Caleb (Magee), or someone else entirely?
Having seen the film countless times, I went straight to Coppola’s audio commentary – which was a blast. I’ve now gained a new appreciation of just how much the film is very much Coppola’s own. He not only directed but wrote the screenplay (which he readily admits was a cash-in on William Castle’s Homicidal, which was itself a rip on Hitchcock’s Psycho), and was very much involved in the film’s visual imagery. He was also the body double for the heart attack victim in the chilling opening scenes, the hand model for the film’s protagonist, Louise; and best of all, the 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta that features heavily was Coppola’s own pride and joy. One he wishes he still had – so do I! Oh, and I love the story he tells of how he became a hero after managing to keep a local pub open after closing time.
Made on just $40,000 (half of which was money left over from Corman’s The Young Races production) at Ardmore Studios in Bray, Ireland, Coppola’s psychological axe-murder horror is a masterclass in effective economical film-making – but also one with great style, and some very haunting imagery (such as the transistor radio burbling distorted pop music as it sinks into the lake, and [spoiler] Louise’s tragic early demise a la Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane).
To preserve his vision, Coppola excised the additional scenes (filmed by Jack Hill) that producer Roger Corman had added. While it’s a shame they weren’t included as an extra, the film finally looks and sounds its best!
• Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola
• Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
• Prologue (Dementia 13 Test): In a nod to William Castle’s gimmicks, and to extend the film’s running time, this features a ‘shrink’ inviting the audience to take part in a survey that tests their mental state.
Amazon Blu-ray: https://bit.ly/Dementia13Vestron
From the pen of Japan’s foremost master of the macabre, Edogawa Rampo, comes Blind Beast – a grotesque portrait about obsession, art and sensuality.
Waking up inside a dark warehouse studio whose walls are decorated with outsized women’s body parts, artist’s model Aki (Mako Midori) discovers she has been abducted by Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), a blind sculptor who desires to create the perfect female form. Defiant at first, Aki soon finds herself drawn into his warped sightless world in which touch is everything.
This 1969 arthouse erotic horror from director Yasuzo Masumura, adapted from Rampo’s 1931 novel Mojo: The Blind Beast, is a trippy, stylish, fetishistic affair, boasting lashings of dark humour, fantastical set design and way out performances from the two leads. It now gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow, alongside some entertaining extras. Check out the trailer and special contents below.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand new audio commentary by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson
• Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
• Blind Beast: Masumura the Supersensualist, a brand new visual essay by Japanese literature and visual studies scholar Seth Jacobowitz
• Original Trailer
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
• Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Virginie Sélavy (first pressing only).
I Start Counting | BFI Flipside releases the British coming-of-age psychological thriller classic on Blu-ray
Psychological thriller meets coming-of-age drama in the long-unavailable 1969 British feature, I Start Counting, which is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a new 2k restoration print, from BFI Flipside in the UK.
Jenny Agutter stars as Wynne, a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in a new-town tower block with her adopted family. Her latest infatuation is her older stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall), but after finding a jumper she made for him dumped in a bin and covered in blood, she wonders if he might be the killer strangling teenage girls in the nearby woods. However, when Wynne starts investigating, she gets a stark introduction to adulthood.
I Start Counting was director David Greene’s third film, and came hot on the heels of his equally offbeat features, Sebastian (with Dirk Bogarde) and The Strange Affair (with Michael York). It adapted for the screen by Richard Harris (who was then working on The Avengers at the time) based on Audrey Erksine Lindop’s 1966 thriller novel.
Together with Alex Thompson’s evocative camerawork, Brian Eatwell’s modern art direction and Basil Kirchin’s atmospheric melodic score, Green and Harris have crafted an engrossing, intelligent drama that’s well worth a revisit.
Part ‘kitchen sink’ reality – part dark fairytale, the film not only follows Wynne’s journey out of childhood but also offers much comment on Britain taking its first awkward steps towards a new, modern future.
Thanks to Green’s gentle direction, Agutter gives a compelling, genuinely touching performance as Wynne – and such was her joy at working on this film, that it convinced her to become a professional actor. There are also winning turns from the supporting players, including Clare Sutcliffe as Wynn’s flirty school friend Corinne, Madge Ryan as Wynne’s mum, and Simon Ward as the bus conductor hiding a terrible secret.
A bona-fide British classic, that would also make a great double-bill with another thriller bearing similiar themes, director Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness (1970).
- Feature newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive.
- A Kickstart: Jenny Agutter Remembers I Start Counting! (2020, 20 mins): a new interview with the actress (wonderful memories, but there are spoilers so watch this after seeing the film).
- An Apprentice With a Master’s Ticket (2021, 40 mins): screenwriter Richard Harris looks back over an eclectic career in television and film, ranging from The Avengers to A Touch of Frost
- Worlds Within Worlds (2021, 33 mins): Jonny Trunk on the life and art of ambient music pioneer Basil Kirchin (this was the extra I was most looking forward to as I’m a big Kirchin fan and have collected all the Trunk Records releases of his work (but damn it, Jonny shows some rarities that I now need to add to my collection). Interestingly, Jonny doesn’t touch on Kirchin’s The Abominable Dr Phibes score.
- I Start Building (1942-59, 25 mins): Two archive films recalling the ‘New Town’ dream.
- Danger on Dartmoor (1980, 57 mins): two children land in peril (in a Hound of the Baskervilles kind of way) in this Children’s Film Foundation feature, written by Audrey Erskine Lindop. It also features Hammer veteran, Michael Ripper, the wonderful Patricia Hayes and Barry Foster (Frenzy, Van de Valk).
- Don’t Be Like Brenda (1973, 8 mins): A cautionary film designed for adolescent viewers back in the day about having sex before marriage. It’s rather sexist by today’s standards, as it puts the entire blame on women, rather than also being a lesson for young men.
- Loss of Innocence: a video essay on I Start Counting! by filmmaker Chris O’Neill. This is a well-crafted analysis of the film that sums it up perfectly in a few minutes.
- Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan.
- Theatrical trailer
- Image gallery
- Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle.
- Illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr Josephine Botting, a curator at the BFI National Archive, and biographies of David Greene, Jenny Agutter and Clare Sutcliffe by Jon Dear.
Directed by Tony Richardson, 1966’s Mademoiselle is a taut arthouse exploration of xenophobia and carnal desire, based on a scenario by Jean Genet, starring Jeanne Moreau.
Moreau plays the repressed titular schoolmistress whose seemingly motiveless acts of violence (poisoning cows, opening floodgates and burning down a barn) causes ructions in a small close-knit French village. Sexually transfixed by itinerant Italian woodcutter Manou (Ettore Manni), she takes out her frustrations on his young son Bruno (Keith Skinner, making his screen debut), by emotionally abusing him in class. But when she finally acts out her fantasies, her response incites the villagers into taking extreme action.
Jean Genet wrote the scenario in 1951 under the title Forbidden Desires (Les Reves interdis) or The Other Side of the Dream. He originally offered it to actress Anouk Aimée as a present on the occasion of her marriage to Nico Papatikis, but later sold the rights to director Louis Malle.
Richardson’s film adaptation was booed at Cannes. Critics felt the director’s ‘portentous treatment betrayed Genet’s vision’ – and Genet himself took no part in the filming or the final screenplay, which was written by famed French novelist Marguerite Duras.
But there is much to admire. Moreau – who had chosen the project for herself – gives an electric central performance, and the supporting cast is realistically portrayed (especially Manni, who speaks only Italian throughout which is key to the film’s underlining themes of xenophobia).
Forgoing any music and relying solely on the sounds of nature in the countryside lends the film a haunting quality. As does the stark monochrome ‘painterly’ photography that scored David Watkin a BAFTA nomination. This is best illustrated in the film’s standout scene – the raw and sensual night-long love-making between Mademoiselle and Manou in the woods. It’s deeply erotic, powerfully poetic and pure Genet.
The film is also shot on location in a village (Tarnac in the Corréze) very much like the one where Genet grew up (Alligny-en-Morvan) and where his original story is set.
An underrated thriller that’s deserving of a revisit. Out now on Blu-ray from BFI.
• Presented in HD and SD
• Audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
• Doll’s Eye (1982, 75 min): BFI Production Board feature about male attitudes towards women in 1980s Britain, directed by Jan Worth.
• Keith Skinner: Remembering Mademoiselle (2020, 36min): the former actor who went on to become a crime historian discusses his work on the film
• Image gallery
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet with writings by Jon Dear, Neil Young, Jane Giles (on Jean Genet) and Jan Worth
A young girl, Cenci (Mia Farrow), sees Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor), a middle-aged prostitute, visiting the grave of her child in a London cemetery. Struck by the resemblance to her own dead mother, Cenci takes Leonora to the opulent mansion where she lives alone and installs her in her mother’s old bedroom, dressing her in the dead woman’s clothes.
Leonora, in turn, humours the neurotic girl by adapting to her fantasies and rituals. But their private masquerade is interrupted by two strange aunts, Hannah (Peggy Ashcroft) and Hilda (Pamela Brown), and Cenci’s abusive stepfather Albert (Robert Mitchum)…
In between his collaborations with Harold Pinter – 1963’s The Servant, 1967’s Accident (both starring Dirk Bogarde) and 1971’s The Go-Between, UK-based American director Joseph Losey helmed a trio of cinematic curiosities – the campy 1966 cartoon strip spy thriller Modesty Blaise (again with Bogarde), the spectacular bomb that was 1968’s Boom! (based on Tennessee Williams’ play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore) and the baffling ritualistic 1968 psychological thriller, Secret Ceremony, which is now getting a world Blu-ray premiere release from Indicator.
Having already worked with her on Boom!, Losey felt Elizabeth Taylor was ideal for role of Leonora. She ended up not only being a dream to work with (unlike Mitchum, who was somewhat a handful), she also took a vulnerable young Mia Farrow under her wing. Farrow had just completed Rosemary’s Baby, which had yet to be released, and had Frank Sinatra’s minders watching her every move as they went through their messy split.
Interestingly, Farrow wasn’t Losey’s original choice for the role. He wanted Vanessa Redgrave, but she proved too expensive, and his other choice, Marianne Faithfull, was unavailable. But it was Viveca Lindfors, the wife of the film’s screenwriter George Tabori, who recommended Farrow. But Farrow is a great choice as she brings a genuine amount of fragile vulnerability to her role as the disturbed girl trapped in her own imaginings. And she and Taylor make for a winning combination.
Boasting exquisite production design (by Richard MacDonald), opulent cinematography (from Gerry Fisher), an elegant Victorian music box inspired score (Richard Rodney Bennett) and some wonderful gowns for Taylor (by Marc Bohan, the chief designer for Christian Dior, who based his palette on the mansion’s colourful mosaics and Taylor’s own iconic violet eyes), Losey’s psycho-thriller is a darkly decadent offering from the normally naturalistic director that’s so hypnotic that even the most baffled viewer will be left dazzled.
DID YOU KNOW?
The mansion used in the film is Debenham House in Addison Road, Holland Park. Also known as Peacock House, this extraordinary romantic stew of sensual, Victorian oriental fantasy built in the Arts and Crafts Style by architect Halsey Ricardo (in 1905) was chosen by Losey because he had walked past it every day while taking his young son Gavrik to school.
Losey also makes excellent use of some other London locations, including Kensal Green’s All Souls Cemetery (which was extensively used in 1973’s Theatre of Blood0, the streets around Chepstow Road, W2 (and St Mary Magdalene church), and the historic Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk aan Zee in the Netherlands (a favourite of the Dutch royals, and also of Taylor and Burton).
NBC TV paid US$1.5m for the TV rights, and without consulting the film makers, Universal fatally edited 18 minutes of the film for its showing on TV in September 1970. They cut some footage to substitute a discussion between Robert Douglas and Michael Strong playing a lawyer and psychiatrist who analyse the motivation of the film’s characters. In doing so, they bizarrely changed Leonora from being a prostitute to being an assistant in a wig shop. Losey was so incensed that he demanded that his name be struck from the credits of the edited TV version. These sequences are included as an extra on the Indicator release.
INDICATOR’S SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with author/critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
• Archival Interview with Joseph Losey (1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique
• The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey
• TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): the epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings
• Original theatrical trailer
• Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Collectors booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey on Secret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits
Lonely ex-con Carl Woods (Toby Jones) is trying to find his way back in the world after a stint inside (jail). He’s got himself a council flat in a Brutalist block of flats, has a kindly neighbour Monique (Cecilia Noble) who is looking out for him, and is eager to have his first date in years with Abby (Sinead Matthews), who he has just met online. But one morning, he wakes to a shocking discovery – Abby’s dead corpse on his bathroom room. As he desperately tries to recall what happened, his estranged mother (Anne Reid) suddenly arrives – and she has no intention of leaving…
Toby Jones is one of Britain’s most outstanding actors in the UK and he gives a bravo turn in his brother Rupert’s 2017 debut film debut, a nightmarish psychological thriller that will hold you captivate throughout. ‘National Treasure’ Anne Reid also delivers a nuanced performance as the slightly sinister mother, who may or may not have a history of incest with her son, and there’s certainly more than meets the eye when it comes to Sinead Matthews’ character.
This intense thriller has been described as paying homage to Hitchcock, but it’s structure, themes and single setting actually evoke Polanski’s claustrophobic psychological classics, Repulsion and The Tenant, which both featured a silent, isolated observer in hiding, while the film’s setting also chimes with Polanski’s recurring motif of the horror of the apartment space. The modernist estate in Hackney, East London where the film was shot features an eleven-storey staircases which becomes a key visual metaphor for the film’s many twists and turns.
Now I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that everything you are about to witness is all seen through the distorted prism of Carl’s broken mind. Just how the reality-bender narrative plays out is best seen for yourself.
Kaleidoscope is available now on UK digital platforms and DVD.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Hackney estate seen in the film was designed by Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin and completed in 1957. It includes two Y-shaped eleven-storey blocks, George Loveless House and James Hammett House, and the lower-rise James Brine House, Robert Owen House and Arthur Wade House, which were all named after the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The location can also be seen in 2015’s Legend, in which Tom Hardy played both Ron and Reggie Kray, and in Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 dystopian sci-fi Children of Men, where it was turned into a refugee camp.
From Eureka! Entertainment comes director Robert Aldrich’s brooding murder mystery, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, starring Bette Davis, on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Don’t Tell Anyone What Happened In The Summer House!
Tended by her loyal servant Velma (Agnes Moorehead), Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) has been closeted in her family’s plantation mansion ever since the brutal murder of her married lover, John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) 37 years earlier. When the local county plans to tear down the house to build a highway, the spinster seeks the help of her New York-based cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), but Charlotte’s mind soon becomes unhinged when she sees visions of John’s decapitated hand and hearing the song he composed for her wafting through the mansion late at night. Has his ghost really come back to haunt her or is someone trying to drive Charlotte insane?
Regarded as Aldrich’s informal follow-up to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, this splendidly macabre psychological thriller deservedly stands on its own merits, especially considering its seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress gong for Agnes Moorehead. She is simply splendid as the dishevelled Velma, who is quick to alert the authorities and an insurance investigator (a twinkly Cecil Kellaway) about her suspicions. Moorehead’s old Mercury Theatre pal, Joseph Cotton, meanwhile, chews the scenery big time as the bourbon-soaked Dr Drew Bayliss, who jilted Miriam after the murder.
In her last film role is The Maltese Falcon‘s Mary Astor. ‘Turn her loose, Robert, you might learn something!’ was Davis’ famous on-set comment about the veteran actress whose scenes as John’s seriously-ill widow Jewel are the antithesis of Davis’ full-blown hysterics. Nevertheless, Davis brings much pathos to Charlotte (especially in the last half of the film), while Olivia de Havilland (who sensationally replaced Joan Crawford) gives sterling support as the butter-wouldn’t-melt Miriam, who is hiding a few dark secrets of her own.
With its atmospheric black and white cinematography (from Aldrich regular Joseph Biroc), meticulous art direction (from William Glasgow and Raphael Bretton), cracking script (from Baby Jane novelist Henry Farrell), ghoulish special effects and nightmarish set pieces, not to mention the memorably haunting theme tune (from Frank De Vol and Mack David), this is a classic murder mystery of the highest order and one that can be revisited over and over..
Watch out for George Kennedy as the demolition foreman, Ellen Corby as one of the town’s gossips, and a couple of faces from Baby Jane, including Victor Buono as Charlotte’s domineering father whom she believed killed John.
Favourite line: ‘Don’t turn on the light. It’s not real when it’s light. It’s only real when it’s dark… dark and still!’
Eureka! Entertainment presents Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte as part of their Masters of Cinema Series for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK with the following extras…
• 1080p presentation
• LPCM 2.0 Audio
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• Audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
• Audio commentary by film historian Glenn Erickson
• Hush…Hush, Sweet Joan: The Making of Charlotte [22 mins]
• Bruce Dern Remembers [13 mins]
• Wizard Work [5 mins] – archival behind-the-scenes look at the film, narrated by Joseph Cotton
• Stills Gallery
• Trailer & TV spots
• Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Lee Gambin, illustrated with archival imagery
Available to order from Zavvi at http://po.st/vIhZja
DID YOU KNOW?
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which was shot on location at the historic Houmas plantation in Burnside, Louisiana, was originally going to be called What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? However, Bette Davis disliked the title as it indicated a sequel to Baby Jane, so it was she who suggested using Frank De Vol/Mack David’s song title instead. Crooner Al Martino (who sings the tune over the closing credits) released it as a B-side of his January 1965 single release My Heart Would Know, which reached No.52 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bette Davis, Patti Page, Richard Chamberlain and even the UK’s very own Bruce Forsyth all released their own versions of the melody.
When a Stranger Calls (1979) | Have you checked the children! – The genuinely terrifying cult chiller on Blu-ray
Back in the 1979, When a Stranger Calls had cinema-goers (me included) on the edge of their seats when poor Carol Kane picked up the phone and heard the chilling words: ‘Have you checked the children?’. Now the seminal slasher is heading to Blu-ray in the UK for the very first time in a Limited Edition release loaded with extras from Second Sight.
Director Frank Walton’s feature debut (which expands on his 1977 short The Sitter) features an incredibly intense opener in which Kane, playing the unfortunate babysitter in peril, Jill Johnson, calls the police after a series of increasingly threatening phone calls and discovers to her horror that they are coming from inside the house! Charles Durning is the surly detective, John Clifford, who comes to her rescue, sparking a desperate chase and a gruesome discovery before the psycho, merchant seaman Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), is finally caught. Seven years later, the maniac targets Jill again after escaping from a psychiatric hospital, while Clifford (now a private detective) is determined to take him out…
The maniac-on-the-phone formula has since been done to death (especially in today’s climate of home invasion horrors), but along with 1974’s Black Christmas (read my review here) it’s played to great effect here – and was famously paid homage to by Wes Craven in his 1996 spoof, Scream.
This was the last screen role for 50-year-old British character actor Tony Beckley, who was terminally ill at the time, died six months after the film’s premiere. Beckley is best known to cult film fans for appearing in Hammer’s The Lost Continent, and the Britsploitation thrillers The Fiend and Assault, as well as classic fare like Get Carter and The Italian Job. Classic Doctor Who fans will also remember him as the villainous plant collector Harrison Chase in the superior Tom Baker adventure, The Seeds of Doom.
In 1993’s When a Stranger Calls Back, babysitter Julia (The Stepfather‘s Jill Schoelen) makes the mistake of talking to a weirdo who turns up at her front door: the prelude to a few minutes of fantastic nerve-jangling suspense. The main story, set five years later, is no less chilling. Still traumatised by the incident, the introverted Julia comes to believe that she is being stalked, and turns to Kane’s Jill (now a college counsellor) for help.
This made for cable TV sequel may be all style and no substance, but returning director Walton still manages to rack up the tension with some genuinely unsettling moments and the odd surprise. Alongside Kane, Charles Durning also reprises his role from the original film.
This Limited Edition Second Sight release features a brand-new scan and restoration of the original film and the following special features:
• The sequel When a Stranger Calls Back in HD
• The original short film The Sitter in a brand new scan and restoration
• New interviews with director Fred Walton, actors Carol Kane and Rutanya Alda and composer Dana Kaproff
• Original Soundtrack CD
• Collector’s booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons
• Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Obviously Creative and original poster artwork
• English subtitles for the hearing impaired for both films
Take one handsome leading Hollywood actor, add two foxy Broadway hoofers, throw in some hip-grinding jazz sounds and mix it all up in a soufflé of psychosexual angst set against a sleazy New York City nightclub and ‘Hey Presto!’ you’ve got Who Killed Teddy Bear?, which is now getting a worldwide Blu-ray release from Network Distributing in the UK.
From the cheesy theme tune and Saul Bass-inspired title sequence to the shattering climax, this 1965 neo-noir American indie reeks of exploitation. Sal Mineo (of Rebel Without a Cause fame) plays Lawrence, a busboy at a 42nd Street discotheque run by Marian, a fierce-but-fair lesbian (played by the utterly fabulous Elaine Stritch).
Spinning the decks in the dingy club littered with grooving babes and middle-aged men on the make is hostess-cum-DJ Norah (the alluring Juliet Prowse – you might remember her dancing with the Muppets back in the 1970s).
Sexually-frustrated and forced to look after his mentally-challenged sister, Sal Mineo’s chain-smoking Lawrence gets his jollies from making dirty phone calls to Norah in the dead of night in his tight white briefs. Cue lots of heavy breathing and a very frightened young woman.
Enter equally mixed-up cop, Lt Dave Madden (played by US stand-up comic Jan Murray). Madden is determined to put every pervert in New York behind bars and obsessively plays audio tapes of various criminals confessions as his daughter listens from her bedroom (now, that’s just not right!). Madden then sets out to help Norah, but there’s a problem – she thinks he might be the psycho…
I won’t spoil the rest for you, but the gritty Times Square location shots and overt sexualisation of Mineo’s sweaty toned body (check out the slideshow for a taster) makes this curio a must-see. The catchy discotheque numbers, meanwhile, are by Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio and Al Kasha (who wrote those Maureen McGovern songs in The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno).
Who Killed Teddy Bear is a forgotten neo-noir oddity of American independent cinema that rightly deserves high cult status. Previously available only on DVD, the film has been newly scanned from one of the few surviving 35mm prints in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Missing frames/sections have been re-instated from a 16mm print and the image matched as far as possible but a difference in visual quality may be occasionally noticed. While their are some scenes where print damage is still visible, this new scan is a huge improvement on the 2009 DVD release.
Network Distributing’s Blu-ray (out on 17 September 2018) also carries over the extras from the DVD, including The House Where He Lived, an episode of the 1960s TV series Court Martial, in which Mineo guest stars alongside Anthony Quayle; and 1967 short, LSD: Insight or Insanity, narrated by Mineo, in which some questionable old men in white coats outline the dangers of taking the drug.