Category Archives: Psychological thriller
Dario Argento’s genre-busting psycho-thriller The Bird With the Crystal Plumage gets a 4k-restored release from Arrow
Back in 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage paved the way for a new wave of cinematic terror when the then 29-year-old auteur fused the traditional thriller and whodunit with shock and spectacle for the first time.
In this landmark giallo, Tony Musante (who would later find fame as Nino in TV’s Oz) plays Sam, an American writer living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. After a series of other attacks and attempts on the lives of Musante and his lover Julia (played by British scream queen Suzy Kendall), Sam suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. In a bid to clear his name, he sets out to track down the killer – who turns out to be… Well, that’s for you to find out.
It was actually Bernardo Bertolucci who started the ball rolling on this production when he originally thought to adapt Fredric Brown’s classic thriller The Screaming Mimi for the big screen. But he ended up handing the reins over to Argento who, along with the celebrated editor Franco Fraticelli, made it his own. The film’s success would cement Argento’s reputation as the Italian Hitchcock, as well as usher in a wave of blood and black lace genre films with crazier and crazier titles.
What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.
Back in 2011, Arrow released a High Definition restoration of Bird on Blu-ray (that was slightly grainier than Arrow’s previous releases, but still stunning) presented in the original Univisium aspect ratio, and had the audio defaulted to the original Italian (which I prefer over the English mono). It also included contributions from directors Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino, and a booklet written by Alan Jones.
For their stunning 4k-restored limited edition dual format release, Arrow have really gone to town. So pull on some leather gloves, pour yourself a J&B on the rocks and let the deadly games begin…
• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
• New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
• New interview with writer/director Dario Argento (this 30-minute monologue is a real treat and very instructive)
• New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Double-sided fold-out poster
• 6 Lobby Card reproductions
• Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques (shortened to Diabolique in this Criterion Collection release) without doubt one of the finest whodunits ever made in the history of cinema and regarded by critics and fans alike as Europe’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (released five years later). It is, in my books, the mother of all shockers!
Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) plays Cristiana (aka Cri Cri), the much put-upon wife of a sadistic boarding school head Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is coerced by his mistress Nicole (a tough, forbidding Simone Signoret in one of her best ever roles) into killing him and dumping his body in the school’s swimming pool. But when the pool is later drained, there’s no body and so the mystery begins.
Armed with a hotel key, found on the suit Michel was wearing the night he was killed, Christina begins her own investigation. But she, and Nicole, haven’t countered on the tenacity of a retired detective (Charles Vane) who is determined to prove he’s still got what it takes to solve the crime.
Even 60+ years after its initial release, this haunting thriller has never lost its potency, nor its ability to shock, thanks to a suspenseful script, carefully constructed pacing and the well-developed lead characters. Christina is so religious that she feels damned by her actions, yet Nicole is her polar opposite. Does she feel some affinity with Christina’s plight or is she preying on Christina’s weaknesses? Watching these two characters play off each other is what makes this film so unforgettable.
My favourite scenes are when Nicole and Christina put their murderous plan into action. I found myself watching their every move, hoping and praying nothing goes wrong. But of course it does, and – thanks to Clouzot’s eye – we, the audience, become complicit in the women’s actions.
Watch carefully and you will find that water features heavily throughout. The dripping tap, the highly decorative bath and the swimming pool are all symbols of death, best illustrated by a close-up of the bath drain (which Hitchcock would make his own in Psycho) and the emptying of the pool. So potent an image is the pool that it makes me wonder how many other films turn a swimming pool into a character itself.
Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror film-making and is a must-have for all world cinema fans. Back in 2011, a dual format UK release from Arrow Academy featured a HD transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative. Now, The Criterion Collection has released a UK Blu-ray version featuring the same digital restoration and the following special features…
• Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
• New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, codirector of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Inferno”
• New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
• Original theatrical trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
Split (2015) | James McEvoy displays incredible range in M Night Shamalayan’s twisted psychological thriller
I have always been wary of M Night Shyamalan’s films as they always hold so much promise, only to disappoint in the final reel. So I went into Split with much trepidation. But, as the twisted psycho thriller unfolded, I found myself totally entranced – thanks to James McAvoy’s incredible turn in the lead role(s).
McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and possesses 23 distinct personalities – which are at threat of being dominated by a 24th, called The Beast, which is currently beginning to manifest itself.
The mystery starts in a shopping mall car park where one of Kevin’s personalities, uptight germaphobe Dennis, abducts three teenage girls and holds them captive in an unspecified underground bunker. Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), whose own back story of being molested as a child is told in flashbacks, clicks to her captors’ different personalities, which include lisping nine year-old Hedwig, gay fashion designer Barry, and ice maiden Patricia.
With the help of her fellow abductees, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), Casey tries to play off the personalities in a bid to escape…
Watching McAvoy is an acting master class in itself, as he displays great range, moving from childish charm to menace and pathos using an array of facial expressions and voices. And this certainly helps to paper over the cracks in Shyamalan’s pseudo psychological ideas that dissociative identity disorder is able to cause physiological changes in the body (it reminded me of Cronenburg’s rage-fuelled psychoplasmics concept in The Brood).
Posing the bizarre theory is Kevin’s shrink Dr Karen Fletcher, marvellously played by Betty Buckley, who scored a Saturn Award for the role. Imagine Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher fused with Oliver Reed’s psychotherapist Hal Raglan from The Brood, but played like Peter Cushing’s Lorrimer Van Helsing. She’s just a fantastic creation.
The final scene features a cameo from Bruce Willis as his Unbreakable character, and sets the scene for Shyamalan to complete his superhero thriller trilogy, with the next film being entitled Glass (based on Samuel L Jackson’s unbreakable character).
Split is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures UK from 5 June, and to Buy & Keep from 22 May and rent from 5 June on Sky Store
Legendary hellraiser Oliver Reed may be better remembered for his drinking antics than his acting credits, but I think a reappraisal of the spirited thespian’s cinematic roles is long overdue – especially after watching this 2010 release from Eureka Entertainment.
Having made his name in Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf in 1961 after a string of minor roles – including playing a camp chorus boy in The League of Gentlemen – and five years short of achieving stardom as Bill Sikes’ in Oliver!, Reed gives a terrifically OTT turn in 1962’s Paranoiac! – the third of Hammer’s psychological thrillers to be penned by Jimmy Sangster (The Curse of Frankenstein).
Loosely adapted from a 1949 crime novel by Brat Farrar, this Psycho-inspired chiller sees Reed take on the role of the greedy, egotistical Simon Ashby, the spoilt heir to a family fortune. Janette Scott (of Day of the Triffids fame) is his mentally fragile sister Eleanor, while Sheila Burrell plays aunt Harriett, who acts as the siblings’ guardian following the death of their parents. With the family fortune about to be split, Simon psychologically tortures his sister in a bid to have her declared unfit. But his plans come royally unstuck when his supposedly dead brother Tony (Alexander Davion) returns home…
Twists and turns abound in this gripping chiller that fuses an Agatha Christie-type mystery with gothic horror scares – particularly a ‘what the Hell’ moment involving the family chapel, a wheezing organ and a very creepy masked figure – and adding a dash of fratricide, incest and insanity for good measure.
As the deranged Simon, Reed is a stand out and the scenes where he is drinking and lashing out are weirdly prophetic. Making his directorial debut is Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, who has a real eye for creating scenes of suspense – helped greatly by the eerie lighting and the stunning Dorset locations.
Eureka Classics‘ 2010 Blu-ray and DVD release features a stunning restored Cinemascope HD transfer, along with a music and effects track and trailer as extras, and this is a must-have for your Hammer collection – and one to include alongside the Final Cut release of Hammer’s follow-up chiller, Nightmare, which I reviewed here.
Best known for her roles in the 1960s classics, Women in Love and Dr Who & the Daleks, British actress Jennie Linden made her big-screen debut in Hammer’s 1964’s Nightmare, which get its first-ever UK Blu-ray release from Final Cut Entertainment.
Aged just 23 at the time, Sussex-born Linden was hand-picked by Hammer’s producers to replace Julie Christie for the role of troubled teenager Janet ,who is haunted by memories of witnessing her mother killing her father when she was a child.
Expelled from boarding school, Janet is sent home to High Towers, a vast country mansion, to live with her guardian Henry Baxter (David Knight). But when the nightmares persist, Janet starts to loose her mind…
Originally given a title that gave away the film’s shock reveal 45-minutes into the story, Nightmare was Hammer’s fourth psychological thriller to be written by Jimmy Sangster, who wanted to move away from the Gothic horrors he was best known for.
Like 1961’s Scream of Fear, 1962’s Paranoiac and 1963’s The Maniac, Nightmare shares its DNA with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, while returning director Freddie Francis and Hammer’s in-house production crew imbues the gripping mystery with lashings of atmosphere, especially those initial 45-minutes, where the film’s Grand Guignol horror tropes come out to play.
The film’s second half, which plays like a straightforward whodunnit, may not be as polished as those early scenes in which an excellent Linden brings pathos and hysteria to the fore, but it does give Moira Redmond, playing Janet’s nurse with a hidden agenda, a chance to strut her stuff.
Keen eyed fans might recognise actress Clytie Jessop, who plays David Knight’s scarred wife – she was the spectral Miss Jessel in The Innocents.
This cracking little chiller originally went out in a double-bill with The Evil of Frankenstein, but has remained in the shadows of its better known siblings, like Paranoiac! This new Blu-ray release, however, which looks and sounds superb, is the perfect opportunity to pay it a revisit, and hopefully gain a new appreciation. It also benefits from three insightful extras.
• Madhouse: Inside Hammers Nightmare: A 13-minute look at production with insights from The Hammer Story author Kevin Barnes, English Gothic author Jonathan Rigby and others.
• Nightmare in the Making (26min): Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey retraces the history of the thriller from concept to release, and includes archive interviews with screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye and actress Jennie Linden (using elements not used in her own interview).
Available from Amazon
That Cold Day in the Park (1969) | This forgotten gem from American master Robert Altman is electrifying
Before he found fame with M*A*S*H, Robert Altman crafted the unsettling 1969 psychological thriller, That Cold Day in the Park, which gets a UK Blu-ray/DVD release from Eureka Entertainment.
Wealthy thirtysomething spinster Frances (Sandy Dennis) lives in a stiflingly bourgeois world of elderly suitors and domestic routine. But when she invites a seemingly mute and homeless hippy (Michael Burns) into her Vancouver apartment, her seemingly spontaneous act of charity reveals pent-up desires that soon turn into neurotic delusion.
Sandy Dennis’ measured performance drives this compelling tale that anticipates Altman’s ‘women on the verge’ films Images and 3 Women. Giving audiences an early taste of the director’s anti-genre approach to cinema, it eschews the camp hysterics of the Grand Dame Guignol of Whatever Happened to… Baby Jane and Aunt Alice for subtle subversiveness. And this is manifested through Dennis’ troubled Francis, whose repressed feelings are met with humiliation and sexual trauma that sends her careering over the edge, while the fate of Burns’ free spirited stranger proves that nothing in life is ever truly free.
Coupled with the gripping performances of the two leads is László Kovács’ dark, but luminous photography and Altman’s experimental visual touches (voyeuristic long lenses, distorted reflections and drifting zooms) that lends the psychological drama its all-pervading atmosphere of unease that builds and builds until the harrowing final scene.
Part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema Series, this dual-format edition includes a new high-definition transfer and an enlightening interview with Altman on Altman author David Thompson.
A cacophony of crazed, cruel, camp characters, cockamamie plot, killer soundtrack, kaleidoscopic visuals and cool 70s fashions and furniture, Emilio Miraglia’s 1971 Italian giallo horror thriller, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, is one helluva ride.
For decades, the only way to see the film was in dreadful pan and scan VHS and DVD releases or in butchered TV edits, which denied fans the chance of witnessing Miraglia’s visual treat in all its eye-popping splendor. But Arrow’s restored 2K release has gore-geously redressed this, bringing genre fans the definitive version of the compelling Eurotrash cult favourite.
The scenario (co-written by Massimo Felisatti, Strip Nude for Your Killer) is typical giallo, filled with planet-sized plot-holes and ridiculous red-herrings, but Miraglia fuses it with Gothic horror devices that turn the whodunit into a dark fairytale: like an S&M version of Roger Corman’s Tomb of Ligeia meets Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Béte on an acid trip.
Set in an England that looks like Veneto, Italy (basically because that’s where the film was shot), La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba (to give it’s Italian title) centres on wealthy aristocrat Alan (Anthony Steffen), who has turned into a psychotic killer of redheaded prostitutes and strippers as a result of his late wife Evelyn cheating on him. In a bid to control his urges, his doctor convinces him to remarry another redhead (go figure), called Gladys (Marina Malfatti – who passed away aged 76 this week). But Alan’s mental state unravels when Gladys raises his suspicions that Evelyn faked her death to elope with her mystery lover.
What happens next is either inspired lunacy or just outright crazy… depending on how you like you giallo. But it does involve Evelyn’s ghoulish return (as promised in the original film posters), a cage of foxes chewing on intestines, someone being bitten by a deadly snake, and lots of nipple shots.
However Miraglia’s pièce de résistance is a real doozy of a climax involving a white-tiled modernist pad smeared in the blood of two knife-wielding redheads – oh, and a pool of sulphuric acid. And bringing all of this together is Bruno Nicolai’s evocative soundtrack which is so lush and hypnotic, you’ll be searching the internet for a copy as soon as the end credits roll.
THE ARROW FEATURES
When it comes to these heavily dubbed Euro thrillers, it is always a challenge deciding which audio track to choose. The Arrow Video 2k release has both Italian and English soundtracks as options, with new English subtitles on both. I tried the English first, but frankly hated the fake posh accents, so went back to Italian, which is way more preferable.
Giallo specialist Troy Howarth supplies an informative audio commentary, while writer Stephen Thrower shines a light on the film’s production history. There’s also a new interview with Erika Blanc, who elaborates (quite theatrically) about her big scene in which she rises from a coffin bum first; and an archival interview with Blanc (in which she says basically the same things). But my favourite extra is an archival interview with Lorenzo Baraldi, the art director responsible for the film’s fab 70s stylings. In my book, he’s the film’s real hero.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a dual format release available from Arrow Video as part of their Killer Dames box-set.
Emilio P Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) get the Arrow Video treatment on Blu-ray and DVD in a restored, limited edition collection out now.
At the height of the 1970s Italian giallo boom in the early 1970s, scores of filmmakers turned their hand to crafting their own unique takes on these lurid murder-mystery thrillers. One of those was Emilio P Miraglia, who conceived two twisty whodunit narratives with gothic chills.
In The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, troubled aristocrat Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen), haunted by the death of his first wife Evelyn, tries to move on by marrying the seductive Gladys (Marina Malfatti). Marital bliss is short-lived, however, as various relatives meet untimely and gruesome deaths, prompting speculation that a vengeful Evelyn has risen from the grave…
In The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, an age-old family curse hits sisters Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and Franziska (Marina Malfatti) following the death of their grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler). Every hundred years, so the legend goes, the bloodthirsty Red Queen returns and claims seven fresh victims. Was Tobias just the first… and are Kitty and Franziska next?
The Arrow Video limited edition box set (3000 copies) features 2K restorations of both films from the original camera negatives in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD; Italian and English soundtracks; newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks; and optional English subtitles for the English soundtracks. Plus, a 60-page collector’s booklet, reversible sleeves featuring artwork by Gilles Vranckx, and a host of extras (check them out below).
THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE
• Audio commentary by Troy Howarth
• Exclusive introduction by actress Erika Blanc
• Writer Stephen Thrower on The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave
• The Night Erika Came Out of the Grave – exclusive interview with Erika Blanc
• The Whip and the Body – archival interview with Erika Blanc
• Still Rising from the Grave – archival interview with production designer Lorenzo Baraldi
• Original Italian theatrical trailer
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES
• Audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman
• Exclusive new interview with actress Sybil Danning
• Writer Stephen Thrower on The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
• Archival introduction by production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi
• Dead à Porter – archival interview with Lorenzo Baraldi
• Rounding Up the Usual Suspects – archival interview with actor Marino Masé
• If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today – archival featurette with Erika Blanc, Lorenzo Baraldi and Marino Masé
• My Favorite… Films – archival interview with actress Barbara Bouchet
• Alternative opening
• Original Italian theatrical trailer
In an unnamed European town, seemingly populated only by women, the cruel and vindictive lepidopterist, Cynthia (Borgen‘s Sidse Babett Knudsen) inflicts daily sadistic humiliations upon her submissive lover-cum-maid, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna). But as time goes, the pair begin to reveal themselves, and it soon becomes clear that the humiliation may not all be of Cynthia’s design…
British director Peter Strickland’s follow up to his leftfield 2009 thriller Katalin Varga and his 2012 giallo homage Berberian Sound Studio is his strangest film to date. Sensual, shocking and steeped in atmosphere that echoes the 1970s Euro-sleaze of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, The Duke of Burgundy is a wildly perverse exploration of the rituals of S&M in which Strickland turns the viewer into a ‘peeping Tom’ on the activities of these kinky lovers.
Breathtakingly visual, featuring painterly autumn-hued production design, and complemented by an evocative soundtrack from Cat’s Eyes (aka Faris Badwan of The Horrors and Rachel Zeffira), this is a twisted tale indeed, but one that might also test your patience as much as Cythnia tests the limits of poor Evelyn… Oh, and if your wondering the film’s title refers to a rare British butterfly (Hamearis lucina).
The Duke of Burgundy gets its Film4 premiere in the UK on Thursday 28 April 2016 at 11.15pm, and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray from Artificial Eye
The Uninvited (2009) | Emily Browning fears for her life in a brilliantly twisted tale of creeping terror
Catch the psychological thriller on BBC1 HD today at 11.50pm (Sky 101/141, Virgin 101/108, Freeview 1/101, Freesat 101/108)
FEAR MOVES IN
Nodding its hat to the South Korean cult hit A Tale of Two Sisters (on which it is based), as well as The Others and Orphan, 2009’s The Uninvited is a classy looking thriller boasting gorgeous cinematography, that harks back to the Technicolor days of Leave Her to Heaven, and a great lead in Emily Browning, who actually looks like Gene Tierney’s younger kid sister.
High praise indeed, but Browning, who went on to cult success in Sucker Punch after this film, is mesmerising as troubled self-harmer Anna, who has just been released from a mental hospital after slashing her wrists because she could not get over witnessing the horrific death of her mother. Returning home, she finds Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), the nurse who cared for her ailing mother, is now her father’s new girlfriend, while little sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is fearful that Rachel is taking over. When a background check uncovers that Rachel is not her real name and Anna starts having visions that Rachel killed her mother, the two sisters set out to unmask Rachel as a murderer…
Cue: loads of suspense and creeping dread as you find yourself hoping goody two-shoes Rachel gets her just desserts. I won’t say anymore, as I don’t want to spoil the exciting twists and turns of this brilliant chiller. Oh, and Christopher Young’s score is just divine. And whatever you do, don’t watch the extras on the UK DVD until after you have seen the film, because the climax will have you choking on whatever snack your munching on.
The Uninvited is available on DVD, can be rented online from Paramount Movies UK