Category Archives: Thriller
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 Pleasance) 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 Pleasance 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 Pleasance 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
When Under the Shadow had its UK cinema run late last year, everyone was raving about it and comparing it to the masterful Australian psychological horror The Babadook (you can read about that film here). Well now I’ve finally gotten to watch it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as those reviews, and so deserving of its – to date – 11 awards, including the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards and the Douglas Hickox Award at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Hickox, as some may know, was the director of my all-time favourite Theatre of Blood. And more awards are set to follow, as the horror thriller has also been nominated for two gongs at this year’s BAFTA’s taking place on 12 February.
Making his feature debut, writer and director Babak Amvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine. When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.
It’s a little unfair to compare Amvari’s thriller with The Babadook, as its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences. The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsuprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with a islamist republic.
Narges Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that is so engrossing to watch. So much so, that the film’s ending is a huge let down. I won’t reveal it here, but I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.
Under the Shadow (15) is out on DVD in the UK from Precision Pictures from Monday 20 January 2017
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.
Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) | John Carpenter’s cult action thriller gets a 40th anniversary blu-ray release
Violent, stylish and suspenseful, John Carpenter’s 1976 cult action thriller updates the plot of the 1959 John Wayne Western, Rio Bravo, to a modern setting in an LA ghetto.
Blaxploitation legend Austin Stoker is dogged lawman Lieutenant Ethan Bishop who takes command of a soon-to-be-mothballed police station on the night a street gang seeks vengeance over the violent deaths of four of its members in a police shoot-out.
With just two clerical staff (Laurie Zimmer and Nancy Loomis) and three convicts – including convicted Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) – to help him defend the station, Bishop prepares to face the growing numbers of gang members gathering outside…
‘Discovered’ by British audiences at the London Film Festival, Carpenter’s second film went on to become a cult sensation, and so pleased was he with the way that the UK distributor – one Michael Myers – handled the movie that he ended up naming the psycho killer in his follow-up master stroke, Halloween, in his honour.
Boosted by a terrific and hugely influential synth-heavy score, well-rounded characters, and visually arresting set-pieces (the Vanilla Twist ice cream scene with future Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kim Richards is a stand out), Carpenter’s seminal film remains a textbook example of how to make a low budget stretch a very long way, and puts that 2005 remake in the shade.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Second Sight is releasing a newly restored high definition version from a 1080p transfer in a Blu-ray box set, packed with special features including an early John Carpenter student short, as well as the original soundtrack CD and art cards, and is set for release on 28 November (along with a DVD version and On Demand. Check out the full specs below.
And if you want a chance of WINNING A BLU-RAY, then CLICK HERE TO ENTER
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
• DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Uncompressed PCM original mono audio options
• Return to Precinct 13: A new Interview with Austin Stoker
• Producing Precinct 13: A new interview with Joseph Kaufman
• Filmmaking with John: A new interview with Tommy Lee Wallace
• Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
• The Sassy One with Nancy Loomis
• Audio commentaries with John Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace
• Captain Voyeur: John Carpenter student short (Blu-ray exclusive)
• Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer: documentary film (Blu-ray exclusive)
• Five art cards (Limited Edition box set exclusive)
• CD soundtrack disc (Limited Edition box set exclusive)
• Radio spots
The ball-busting Aussie comedy horror thriller premieres on Film4 today at 10.50pm.
*****READ MORE HERE*****
Fresh from freaking out viewers on FOX, Wolf Creek is heading to VoD, DVD, Blu-ray from today (10 October), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment in the UK.
Based on the cult Aussie serial killer thriller films of same name, the six-part drama sees John Jarratt reprising his iconic role as chuckling psychopath Mick Taylor, who continues to wreak murderous havoc on backpackers and holidaymakers in the Australian outback.
But, this time round, he may have met his match in American teenager Eve (Lucy Fry), when he takes his blood stained Bowie knife and guts Eve’s mum, dad and brother, but mistakenly leaves the wannabe athlete behind for croc bait.
Wounded and pissed off, Eve will stop at nothing to get her revenge. So, after stealing evidence from Darwin detective Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare), who is investigating unsolved missing persons cases, Eve sets out across the outback to remote parts of WA and South Australia where she picks up clues that will lead her inextricably to… Mick. But following close behind is dogged detective Hill and a gang of vengeful drug-running bikers. And when Mick picks up her scent… all hell breaks loose!
Writer/Director Greg McLean has done a sterling job transferring his slasher sleeper hit to the small screen. It looks great, with the great Australian landscape being showcased in all its bleak, barren beauty – including salt lakes, billabongs, an opal mine and lots of dusty and dangerous highways. There’s action aplenty, while the blood-drenched horror (people getting skinned, beheaded and blown apart) will please gorehounds.
Lucy Fry (last seen on TV as Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife in 11.22.63) makes for an energetic Mad Maxine-styled heroine (albeit one that never smiles until she befriends a stray dog that becomes her spirit guide), while John Jarratt is a hoot every time his murderous Mick slays another tourist (the yoga lady was my favourite).
But you have to suspend your belief over the show’s basic scenario in which Fry’s naïve American is able to escape police custody – and a jail cell – and seems to stay under the radar of the local cops and media. This would never have happened under my watch when I was working as a TV journo in the Goldfields. Australia might be a big place, but even in the remotest parts, when anything happens you’re on it like a shot. Plus, the cops are much more clued in than those portrayed in the show.
But if you can manage to overlook those plots holes, then this Aussie thriller is a must-see. Oh, and one final thought. I’m sure those know-it-alls at Screenwest must be kicking themselves for passing on McLean’s original film – given its cult status, and spawning a sequel (reviewed here) and now a series, it’s been great for South Australia, but another missed opportunity for WA.
Wolf Creek is available on DVD and Blu-ray on 10 October, and includes featurettes on the locations, visual effect, cast and bringing the film to the small screen.
Three years since his sell out appearance at London’s Union Chapel, legendary horror composer Fabio Frizzi returns with a show that will include new orchestrations of his scores for the cult films by Lucio Fulci. For the first time he’ll also explore his work outside of his collaboration with the legendary Italian director. Expect a heady dose of prog-rock and funk vibes all set against a backdrop of legendary film clips and shocking visuals…
The Blue Dahlia (1945) | Raymond Chandler’s only original screenplay is a hard-boiled film noir classic must-see
The classic 1940s noir thriller, The Blue Dahlia, stars Alan Ladd as discharged naval flier Johnny Morrison who returns home to Los Angeles to discover his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) has been unfaithful. When she is found murdered, Johnny becomes the prime suspect and promptly goes on the run.
The always gorgeous Veronica Lake then turns up as Joyce, the wife of nightclub owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) – who was Helen’s lover – and with the help of Johnny’s army pals, Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont), tries to clear his name…
Crime writer Raymond Chandler scored an Oscar nomination for his lean and mean original screenplay. It was the only one he ever wrote specifically for a movie and one in which he completed while ‘drunk’ when production was speeded up on the film because Paramount studio bosses feared Ladd would be re-inducted into the real-life US army.
The film, which was directed by George Marshall (of Destry Rides Again fame), also marked the third pairing of Ladd and Veronica Lake following 1942’s This Gun for Hire (which made Ladd a star) and The Glass Key (also available from Arrow Academy). It was released to great acclaim and has since become a must-see film noir classic.
William Bendix is a standout as Ladd’s shell-shocked war buddy who keeps complaining of ‘monkey-music’ in his head and the complicated story – all set in Hollywood’s decadent night club strip – keeps twisting brilliantly until the final cop-out ending (that was also done to placate the US war office).
A radio play version of the film was broadcast on 21 April 1949 as part of the The Screen Guild Theater, starring Ladd and Lake in their original film roles.
The Blue Dahlia is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy in the UK. The extras include selected scene commentary and an introduction from author Frank Krutnik, the 1949 radio play, original trailer, gallery and promotional materials. Plus, a collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
In an apocalyptic Australia, where lawlessness prevails, outcasts and misfits are being secretly herded into concentration camps disguised as drive-in movie theatres. When young petrolhead Crabs (Neil Manning) takes Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the local drives in his brother’s ’56 Chevy, they soon face the terrible realisation that they have become the latest inmates of this bizarre social experiment. Can they escape before becoming resigned to a hellish existence of all-day parties, round-the-clock movie shows, and all the radioactive junk food they can eat?
Dead-End Drive-In is a prime slice of crazed Ozploitation from Brian Trenchard-Smith (aka Australia’s answer Roger Corman), who was responsible for Australia’s first martial arts thriller The Man From Hong Kong and the cult prison actioner Turkey Shoot. When it was released Down Under in 1986, it was written off as a bargain bin Mad Max rip-off, while its unconvincing cast of day-glo punks, freaks and loons looked like they had stepped out of an issue of the era’s über-trendy i-D magazine.
But it does have its fans, including this (Australian-born) writer, especially as it popularised German Bundeswehr vests and featured some rocking new wave tunes from those legendary Aussie alternative bands, Hunters + Collectors and Kids in the Kitchen. It’s also a great reminder of the now lost Australia tradition of going to the Drives.
Originally put out under the ArrowDrome label on DVD in 2013, Dead-End Drive-In is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a 2k restoration print, and packed with new extras, including an audio commentary from Trenchard-Smith and a documentary by the director on Australian stuntman Grant Page. Which only makes this the perfect excuse to revisit the much-maligned futuristic thriller.