Category Archives: Thriller
10 years after the death of the infamous Jigsaw killer aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, Memento) and Hunt (Clé Bennett, Heroes Reborn) investigate a series of murders bearing the unique modus operandi of the Jigsaw killer. Has Kramer really returned from the grave to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a killer with designs of their own?
Director Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (Predestination) go back to basics with their reboot, which ditches the torture porn for a pure chill-ride that aims to recapture the same suspenseful thrills as Se7en – only bloodier. Matt Passmore (The Glades), Laura Vandervoort (Supergirl), Paul Braunstein (The Thing), Brittany Allen (All My Children) and Mandela Van Peebles (Baadassss!) are Jigsaw’s targets this time round, while Tobin Bell is back in his iconic role – and it’s not just a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo.
Horror fans will lap up the inventive death scenes, which involve booby-trapped rooms and firearms, and some truly deadly laser cutters. Kudos go to the film’s big set piece which involves a giant spiralator and a motorbike. In an homage to the franchise’s original inspiration, 1970’s The Abominable Dr Phibes, one trap sees the victims choosing between three syringes that contain a poison antidote, a saline solution and a flesh-melting acid.
Given its open ending and the huge business it did at the box-office (despite the mostly unfavourable reviews), it looks like the Saw franchise just might begin anew. Personally, I rather enjoyed it… unlike the previous ones.
SPECIAL FEATURES ON THE BLU-RAY AND DVD
• Audio Commentary with producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block
• I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Saw: A feature-length appreciation of the franchise, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew of the reboot discussing its visual design, sound score, special effects and much more.
• The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props: A fascinating featurette (around 6min) in which Don Post’s pig masks and the iconic Billy puppet make a welcome return.
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
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).
Fragment of Fear (1970) | This baffling Blow-Up imitation starring David Hemmings is one helluva delirious ride
Before heading to cult-dom in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, David Hemmings was the hot ticket in Michelangelo Antonioni’s unfathomable but unquestionably hip 1966 arthouse classic Blow-Up. Four years later, 1970’s Fragment of Fear aimed to recapture the same magic, but ended up even more baffling – a delirious puzzle box that sets the nerves on edge, but leaves you screaming for answers.
Murder, mystery and paranoia are the order of the day in this adaptation the 1965 novel by former M15 spy John Bingham (John le Carré’s inspiration for George Smiley). Hemmings plays writer Tim Brett, who believes himself to being cured of his drug addiction.
When his philanthropist aunt (Dame Flora Robson) is found strangled while on holiday in Italy, Brett starts digging into her past, but soon starts receiving menacing threats warning him off the case. Investigating further, he is soon targeted by a shadowy government agency…
Frankly, it’s amazing that this British psychological thriller ever got finished, as it was made under the influence of lots of late-night drinking sessions by both the film’s crew and its star Hemmings. Which might also account for some truly offbeat scenes like one in which a group of bystanders casually watch a junkie shoot up in a London street (really?).
But while it may make for bewildering viewing, it does hold your gaze and interest throughout – thanks to Ossie Morris’ noirish cinematography – that makes atmospheric use of the Pompeii and London locations, and Hemmings’ genuinely convincing performance as the former-junkie battling to hold his own. And Indicator’s HD re-master is so pristine that it brings the excellent cinematography to the fore, while the sweat on Hemmings’ brow is so luminous, it practically drips off the screen.
While it certainly apes Blow-Up and bears a strong resemblance to Basil Dearden’s suited-and-booted dopplegänger cult classic The Man Who Haunted Himself (which came out the same year), there are a few other reasons to check it out. First up is the fantastic moody jazz score from the legendary Johnny Harris. It’s so cool, I’m desperately hunting down its supposed LP re-release.
Next comes the distinguished supporting cast playing the quirky, not-to-be-trusted characters including Mary Wimbush, Roland Culver, Daniel Massey, Wilfred Hyde White and Derek Newark, whose mysterious Sergeant Matthews sets Brett off on his ‘wild goose chase’. Playing Hemming’s love interest is his real-life wife, the gorgeous Gayle Hunnicutt, who apparently got the role as a condition to securing Hemmings’ involvement in the project.
The screenplay was by Paul Dehn, who had a knack for espionage, having penned The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and The Deadly Affair (both featuring le Carré’s George Smiley character – albeit in different guises); and he also wrote four of the original Planet of the Apes sequels. Check out the extra that accompanies the Indicator release for a very informative profile of Dehn.
Director Richard C Sarafian may not be a name you instantly recognise, but does he have some darn fine credits. Not only did he helm one of the most memorable Twilight Zone stories, 1963’s Living Doll, he also directed episodes of TV’s Batman and Wild Wild West; and followed this film with the bona fide cult classic, 1971’s Vanishing Point (now that’s one that deserves the HD treatment).
It might be a baffling Blow-Up imitation, but Fragment of Fear is still one helluva delirious ride.
The Indicator Limited Editon (3000 copies) Blu-ray (world premiere) features a HD re-master and original mono audio, with the following special features…
• The Writer as Auteur: an analysis of the life and work of screenwriter Paul Dehn
• First Assistant Director William P Cartlidge on Fragment of Fear
• Original radio spots & theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essay’s from Johnny Mains, composer Johnny Harris, critical responses, and historic articles
Phew! Horror Channel FrightFest is over for another year and it was probably one of the best ever that I have attended with some great thrills and surprises amongst the 64 film shown over the Bank Holiday weekend at the Cineworld Leicester Square and The Prince Charles Cinema. Now, while I didn’t get to see all of them, I did rather burn out my retinas catching quite a few. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my Top 10, plus a couple pf runner-up faves.
THE TOP 10
• Tragedy Girls
• Cult of Chucky
• Better Watch Out
• King Cohen
• The Bar
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies
Director: Tyler MacIntyre. US. 2017. 93 mins.
If you are a fan of TV’s Scream Queens, then you will certainly LOVE this gleefully camp Heathers meets Scream slasher in which two vain high school besties (played by Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) go on a killing spree just to increase their social media standing. With stylish cinematography, charismatic performances, and a smart script (with lots of 1980s horror movie references), this was a real winner at Frightfest.
CULT OF CHUCKY
Director: Don Mancini. US. 2017. 91 mins.
Following a great Twilight Zone-homage from Hatchet’s Adam Green and Joe Lynch, FrightFesters were treated to the World Premiere of the seventh entry in the 30-year-old Killer Doll franchise – and it did not disappoint. This time round, Chucky continues to terrorise poor Mica (Fiona Dourif), who was found guilty of the murders in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. But is she just imagining things because Chuck’s old nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) seems to have Chucky’s head locked up in a safe? If you want to read more (CLICK HERE). This one will be getting a Halloween release in the UK.
BETTER WATCH OUT
Director: Chris Peckover. Australia/USA 2016. 88 mins.
It’s Christmas, and parents Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen go out for the evening leaving 12-year-old Luke (Pan’s Levi Miller) in the care of his favourite babysitter, 17-year-old Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge). But when a brick crashes through the window reading ‘You Leave, You Die’, it sets in motion a series of events that you will not expect. This Yuletide home invasion horror is enormous fun, but also very dark, featuring an intelligent, genre-bending script, and great performances from the young leads – especially Miller. It’s due out in the US on 6 October, and I do hope it gets a UK release soon.
Director: Steve Mitchell. USA 2017. 110 mins
I really enjoyed this fantastic appreciation of maverick US film auteur Larry Cohen, the writer/producer/director behind TV’s The Invaders and genre fare like It’s Alive and The Stuff. Featuring interviews with his former stars like Yaphet (Alien) Kotto and Eric Robert, and admirers like Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and John Landis, plus with the legend himself (and boy, can he talk!), this is a real must-see. If you want to know more, check out my full review (CLICK HERE).
Director: Alex de la Iglesia. Spain 2017. 104 mins.
This latest effort from the director of Day of the Beast and Witching and Bitching was one of the festival’s big highlights. It’s life as usual at Amparo’s bar in central Madrid until a group of regular customers – including hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), snooty Elena (Blanca Suárez), businessman Andrés (Joaquín Climent) and homeless beggar Israel (Jaime Ordonez) – witness two men being fatally shot as they try to leave. Who is responsible? Why aren’t the police doing anything? And why are there people wearing Hazmat suits in the square? Alex de la Iglesia’s black comic chiller puts human nature under the microscope, and it’s not a pretty picture. Death, selfishness, survival and hypocrisy are all treated with great wit and dark humour.
Director: Dominic Bridges. UK. 2017. 79 mins.
The feature debut from commercials director Dom Bridges and written by Outpost’s Rae Brunton is a twisted fusion of claustrophobic black comedy and urban morality tale, but with a bizarre spin on the home invasion premise. Contortionist Orlan (Javier Botet) secretly moves into the flat of slimy real estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) by occupying the hidden spaces of his flat (like his cupboards and wardrobe). It’s all part of the master of concealment’s plan to slowly unravel Hussein’s life and drive him insane. But does he succeed? Well, hopefully Bridges’ searing comment on race, the house market (and Brexit) will get a proper UK release soon so you can find that out for yourself. Cleverly scripted and with strong performances (especially the double-jointed Botet – whose face is usually hidden behind loads of make-up in films like the new It, The Mummy and Crimson Peak), this is a cracker of a debut from Bridges.
Director: Adam Green. US. 2017.
The big surprise at FrightFest was Adam Green unveiling the world premiere of his fourth entry in the Hatchet series with the film’s star Kane Hodder in attendance. Hatchet 3 survivor Andrew Long (Parry Shen), is now a minor celebrity who ends up back on Crowley’s swamp turf (which has been turned into a tourist attraction) when he agrees to a $1million fee to participate in a TV documentary. But when the crew’s plane crashes and wannabe filmmaker Chloe (Katie Booth) invokes Crowley’s spirit (via clips on the internet), the slaughter begins all over again. Made in secret over two years, this gory fun ride is packed with inventive, and very bloody, kills and some LOL campy humour. It also earned Green a standing ovation following the screening. Green dedicated the film to two masters of the genre – the late George A Romero and Tobe Hooper, who actually passed away on the same day as the screening (26 August).
Director: Trent Haaga. USA. 2017. 93mins
Chip (Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler) is a hapless nice guy who pumps sewage for a living and is completely infatuated with his trailer park ex-stripper girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). But she turns out be crazier than he first imagined when her plan to rob her sugar daddy goes horrible wrong. This fast-paced thriller is full of surprises, great fun and boasts some quite extreme violence.
Dir Adam Wingard. US. 2017. 101 mins.
This Netflix-produced take on the Japanese manga comes from director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and follows high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who turns self-appointed judge, jury and executioner when he comes across a supernatural notebook in which you write the name of someone you wish to die. When he begins to kill all those he deems unworthy of life, a reclusive detective (Lakeith Stanfield) sets out to end his reign of terror. Featuring great Final Destination-style set pieces, excellent performances, superb John Carpenter-inspired synth score from Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross, and Willem Dafoe voicing Ryuk, the death god who becomes Light’s moral compass, this is not to be missed. Catch it on Netflix now.
ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES
Director: Dominic Brunt. UK 2017. 80 mins.
Dominic Brunt is best known as bumbling vet Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, but he’s also a film director who has shared his passion for all things horror with his writer/actress wife Joanne Mitchell in films like Before Dawn, Bait and now this perverted shocker. A home invasion forces a mother (Kate Coogan) and two teenagers (Kurtis Lowe and Mica Proctor) to break into a country manor to steal some secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile – which is presided over by the mysterious Margaret (Sally Dexter) – is also where high-powered middle-aged men take refuge from daily life by dressing in nappies and having young women in nurses uniforms indulge them in their every perverse nursery whim. But these rich bastards also have another very sick agenda and it involves something quite monstrous in the basement. Brunt’s blunt, bloody and bonkers satire is a gleefully grotesque carnival of bad taste, over the top gore and gross-out scatological humour. It’s like Lindsay Anderson re-making Downton Abbey as a Pete Walker horror with added Benny Hill comedy touches. Just throw in some crazy claymation (courtesy of Lee Hardcastle) and some psychedelic chat with the God of Shit (voiced by Brunt) and you’ve got one of the weirdest British comedies ever made.
I ALSO LIKED…
• Freddy/Eddy – Tini Tuellman’s spine-chilling psycho suspense thriller
• Leatherface – Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s stunning prequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre
• Canaries – Peter Stray’s alien-invading black comedy
• Veronica – Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran’s gripping psychological twister
• To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story – a moving documentary about everyone’s favourite Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series (expect my full review soon, but here’s a pic of the legendary stuntman with one of his fans – me!)
Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.
Following the success of his film debut The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Dario Argento directed another puzzling-titled whodunit, The Cat O’ Nine Tails, starring Karl Malden (The Streets of San Francisco) and James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes), which had its debut in West German cinemas on 15 July 1971.
Malden plays blind crossword puzzle expert Cookie, while Franciscus is wily reporter Carlo Giordani. The unlikely pair becomes amateur sleuths following a break-in at a pharmaceutical institute in Rome.
When doctors attached to the development of a revolutionary new drug start getting bumped off, Cookie and Giordani must solve nine leads (hence the film’s title) in order to unmask the killer. But their nosing around turns personal for Cookie, when the killer kidnaps his young niece.
While not one of Argento’s personal favourites, there’s much to enjoy thanks to Arrow’s new HD transfer. Retro fans will swoon over the production design (the marble hall of the lab and the rooftop bar are big highlights, and Franciscus’ wardrobe is so cool); while the colour and lighting is trademark Argento, all deep rich tones – like a chiaroscuro painting brought to life. Meanwhile, Ennio Morricone supplies another superb score, this time featuring a catchy discordant melody.
The story is classic murder mystery – but with a modern (read 1970s) twist. Instead of the beautiful blonde being fought over (although there is a beauty present in the shapely form of French star Catherine Spaak), it’s a male gigolo who takes centre stage when one of the doctors becomes a suspect. And it’s this gay storyline as much as the violence (the strangulation scene is particularly nasty) that originally got 20-minutes cut from earlier versions of the film. But here it is uncut and ready for a new audience, and you really don’t have to be dedicated to Argento to love this Cat.
Arrow Video released the film in 2012 on DVD and on Limited Edition Blu-ray featuring a new HD transfer of the film in 2013.
- Brand new High Definition transfer of the film (1080p)
- Optional English & Italian Audio
- Original uncompressed Mono Audio
- Optional English subtitles
- Dario’s Murderous Moggy: Dario Argento Remembers The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1080p)
- Luigi Cozzi: Cat O’ Nine Tails in Reflection (1080p)
- Sergio Martino: The Art and Arteries of the Giallo (1080p)
- Original Italian Trailer
- Reversible sleeve with original Artwork by Rick Melton
NOTE: If you want to hear the English audio, select it first as the release defaults to the original Italian audio. Also, don’t watch the special features until you have seen the movie, as they give away the surprise ending (actually so does the cover art, but its still the coolest scene of the movie).
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
The Entity (1982) | The supernatural suspense pulsates and Barbara Hershey electrifies in Eureka’s HD release
From Eureka Entertainment comes the Blu-ray release of supernatural terror tale, The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey.
Hershey stars as single mum Carla who, one night, is sexually assaulted in her bedroom by someone – or something – that she cannot see. Met with scepticism by her attending psychiatrist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver), she is repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath, and in front of her children.
Could this be a case of hysteria or something even more horrific? Now, with a group of liberal-minded parapsychologists, Carla agrees to take part in a bizarre experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately capture the spectral fury…
Penned by Frank De Felitta, the author of the disturbing reincarnation thriller Audrey Rose, who draws on a real-life 1974 case in California, and helmed by veteran director Sidney J Furie, this strange slice of spectrophilia horror hokum caused a protest when the film first opened in London cinemas.
Whether you believe in the film’s premise or not, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be gripped by Hersey’s genuinely moving performance (she’s in nearly every scene), or get angry at the male characters, who regard her (and all women) as merely hysterical and seem to be engaged in a macho pissing game between each other.
Interestingly, the film was made at a time when the feminist establishment in the US was becoming increasingly autocratic and puritan, espousing dogmatic views that were anti – men, sex, art, porn and censorship. And watching the film today, you can see a deliberately provocative anti-patriarchal subtext that warrants further analysis. And while Martin Scorsese regards The Entity as the scariest horror films of all time, maybe its not supernatural elements that unnerves, but male fears of a woman’s true sexual power? It’s certainly food for thought.
The HD remaster looks super, but it also shows up the so-so effects of the Entity when it’s finally trapped – it reminded me of a giant-sized Mr Whippy ice cream version of the Carroon-creature in The Quatermass Xperiment.
Kudos, however, go to the pounding sound effects by Nightmare on Elm Street composer Elmer Bernstein, whose evocative score can also be heard in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.
The Entity is released on Blu-ray in the UK through Eureka Entertainment and is available from Amazon
Mildred Pierce (1945) | The mother of all melodramas starring Joan Crawford joins The Criterion Collection
When it comes to high camp melodrama, director Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce must be the mother of them all! Giving her best-ever performance, Joan Crawford plays the eponymous single mum who walks out on her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett aka cinema’s original Tarzan) so she can build a new life for her two daughters and ends up creating a restaurant chain empire that gives her fame and fortune but leaves her personal life in tatters – and murder…
Nominated for six Academy Awards and scoring Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar, 1945’s Mildred Pierce transformed James M Cain’s 1941 psychological novel into a film noir murder mystery fused with a 1940s women’s picture. Maternal sacrifice never looked so melodramatic as played by Crawford, who is genuinely convincing as the unflappable Mildred who will do anything to achieve the American dream for the sake of her children – especially Veda, who causes her no end of grief.
Ann Blyth scored an Oscar nomination playing the deliciously mean-spirited spoiled brat, and became one of cinema’s all-time great villains as a result. And playing Mildred’s second husband Monte, Zachary Scott is the epitome of the worthless playboy who reminded me of Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s Laura. Then there’s Eve Arden in the supporting role as Mildred’s loveable sidekick Ida, who provides the film with some truly quotable lines like: ‘Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young’.
But this film belongs to Crawford, who looks fantastic bathed in Ernest Haller’s expressionistic camerawork (he’d done wonders with Crawford’s nemesis Bette Davis in Jezebel and would lens them both in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). And if you watch the feature-length documentary that accompanies the Criterion release, you’ll see that’s there’s quite a lot of Joan in her character – though probably not the mothering side.
Famously, Crawford didn’t attend the Oscars when she won the Best Actress award – instead, feigning sickness, the press were summoned to her home to see her accept the statuette. That’s our Joanie!
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration
• New conversation about Mildred Pierce with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito (watch a clip above)
• Excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show, featuring Joan Crawford
• Q&A with Ann Blyth from 2002
• Segment from a 1969 episode of The Today Show, featuring novelist James M Cain
• An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith
• Also included is Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star: a fascinating Turner Classic documentary from 2002, narrated by Angelica Huston, that’s longer than the movie, but just as gripping and melodramatic. It traces Crawford’s entire life and career, beginning as a dancer from a impoverished background who learned her craft from an unlikely source (the legendary Lon Chaney) to the creation of the Crawford image as the reigning Queen of the Movies in the 1930s, before a drop in popularity forced her to reinvent herself. Her marriages, affairs and catfights with the likes of Bette Davis and Mercedes McCambridge are legend, as is her association with Pepsi-Cola and her struggles in later life taking on roles in B-movie shockers like Berserk and Trog that were well beneath her. Of course, since the publication of her adopted daughter Christina’s 1978 memoir Mommie Dearest, Crawford’s reputation has been forever tarnished. But this documentary sets out to reminds us that, despite all of her failings, Crawford was one of a kind – and someone who was the creation of her own indomitable will. Catch a clip here…
Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.
Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.
Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasence) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).
But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…
When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.
From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.
A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasence caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).
Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.
Donald Pleasence is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.
The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).
And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson