Category Archives: World Cinema

The Ape Woman | Marco Ferreri’s anarchic 1964 satire gets a 4K-restored release from CultFilms

Italian film-maker Marco Ferreri (11 May 1928 – 9 May 1997) made over 100 very personal films over his long, and often controversial career, but is probably best-known for his 1973 satire La Grande Bouffe and 1981’s Tales of Ordinary Madness based on the work of US outsider poet Charles Bukowski (two of my cult film faves). Now one of Ferreri’s earliest films, 1964’s The Ape Woman (AKA La Donna Scimmia), is in my sights after getting a 4K restoration release on Blu-ray.

The Ape Woman is inspired by the true story of 19th-century carnival performer Julia Pastrana, an indigenous woman from Mexico with hypertrichosis, a condition that meant hair covered her entire body. Like Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man), she was exploited as a freak by her manager. She died, aged just 25, from postpartum complications following the birth of her son (who only survived three days). But her story didn’t end there, for her corpse and the body of her baby were taxidermically preserved and ended up being displayed in museums, circuses and amusement parks around the world for over a century.

Ferreri’s film is set in contemporary (1960’s) Naples and sees Annie Girardot playing Maria, a shy convent novitiate whose condition attracts the attention of Ugo Tognazzi’s wannabe entrepreneur, Antonio. Persuaded with the promise of marriage and money to be made, Maria leaves the convent and moves into a ramshackle backstreet warehouse where she begins to ‘perform’ as a captive wild African ape that Antonio found in the jungle.

At first, Maria feels ashamed but soon becomes more self-assured, while the selfish Antonio begins to feel real love for his wife – especially so when a professor tries to buy her virginity and a famous impresario turns their act into an exotic striptease. But tragedy strikes when Maria falls pregnant, then dies.

Ferreri originally closed his drama with Antonio recovering the bodies of his wife and child from a museum and then putting them on display in a makeshift tent. Deemed too dark and challenging at the time, producer Carlo Ponti had another ending filmed, in which Maria’s hair falls out after giving birth, and she goes on to become a normal wife and mother, while Antonio gets a regular job. It was this ending that scored the film a Palme d’Or nomination. CultFilm’s Blu-ray includes both (which were restored in 4K for the 2017 Venice Film Festival). I must say I do prefer Ferreri’s stark take as it really underscores his anarchic vision.

I thought this might be a tough watch, but Girardot’s performance is captivating as is her character’s journey and development. Tognazzi also brings much depth to the misogynistic Antonio, who starts off cruel and calculating and ends up being just very sad. There’s also a couple of stand-out scenes, particularly so when Maria is forced to sing while being paraded through the streets on her wedding day and the couple’s cringe-worthy Parisian striptease.

If you are not familiar with Ferreri’s work, then the documentary that’s included here is very illuminating. As is the story that the film is based on, which has had me check out whatever happened to Julia Pastrana. Seems she got a much-belated burial in 2012 near her Mexican hometown, Sinaloa de Leyva, after spending decades in storage in Oslo University in Norway.

Available on Blu-ray and digital on-demand from CultFilms

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Full HD 1080p from 4K restoration
• 2.0 dual-mono LPCM Original Italian audio
• Two separate endings: Marco Ferreri’s director’s version and producer Carlo Ponti’s version
• Documentary on Marco Ferreri featuring Gerard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Lambert and Ornella Muti
• New, improved English subtitles

Order direct from CultFilms: https://cultfilms.co.uk/product/the-ape-woman

Death Has Blue Eyes | Nico Mastorakis’ wacky 1970’s paranormal sex comedy action thriller on Blu-ray

There’s a whole lot of love over at Arrow for the crazy cine-verse of Greek film-maker Nico Mastorakis, as they have so far released his 1975 infamous ‘video nasty’ exploitation debut Island of Death (twice), Death Has Blue Eyes (1976), Blood Tide (1982), The Zero Boys and The Wind (both 1986), Bloodstone (1988) and 1990’s Hired to Kill.

I’ve seen and reviewed Island of Death and The Wind, and now have finally caught up with Death Has Blue Eyes, which was released back in April (2021) on Blu-ray in a new HD master in both widescreen and full-frame versions.

Be prepared as this is a wacky, messy but wholly entertaining cocktail of conspiracy thrills, psychic chills and action spills (with a bit of a 1970s sex comedy vibe thrown in).

International gigolo-cum-racing driver Ches (Chris Nomikos) and his dodgy Vietnam vet mate Bob (Peter Winter) meet up in Athens where they encounter the wealthy but mysterious Geraldine Steinwetz (Jessica Dublin) and her psychic daughter Christine (Maria Aliferi).

All the lads want to do is have sex (with a penchant for threesomes – oo-er!!!), but they soon find themselves in the middle of an international conspiracy – and nothing is what it seems, especially Geraldine, who has a secret agenda.

While Island of Death was released first, this was in fact Mastorakis’ debut feature – and it’s one to watch with a gang of fellow exploitation film fans, while Graham Humphreys’ colourful poster artwork really captures the essence of Mastorakis’ lurid conspiracy thriller.

But what really thrilled me was checking out Jessica Dublin’s credits. She so steals the show here and should be better known as she’s been in so many cult faves – including Visconti’s The Damned, Mastorakis’ Island of Death, Kostas Karayiannis’ The Devil’s Men and was Mrs Junko in Troma’s Toxic Avenger sequels.

Mastorakis made his last feature in 1990, before turning his hand to TV sitcoms, but he’s recently scored renewed success as the writer of the award-winning 2018 documentary, Mykonos, the Soul of an Island.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand new restoration from the original camera negative approved by the director
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
  • Two versions of the film: the widescreen 1.85:1 version and the full-frame 1.33:1 version
  • Original mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Exclusive new interview featurette with Nico Mastorakis
  • Exclusive new interview with actress Maria Aliferi
  • Dancing with Death: tracks from the original soundtrack
  • Original theatrical trailers
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by Julian Grainger

Viy (1967) and Sveto Mesto (1990) | Two visually-arresting Nikolai Gogol Euro horrors on Blu-ray

The macabre and grotesque fiction of Russian author Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) has long been a source for some classic (and not-so-classic) cinematic adaptations – and two of the best are now available in a two-disc Blu-ray edition from Eureka, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series: Aleksandr Ptushko’s Viy (1967), the first Soviet-era horror film, and Serbian director Đorđe Kadijević’s 1990 Yugoslavian adaptation Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place).

Based on Gogol’s influential 1835 horror novella, Viy follows a seminary student in 19th-century Russia who, while on a break from his studies, is asked by a wealthy merchant to pray over the body of his deceased daughter. Rising from her coffin each night, she evokes vampires, werewolves and even the dreaded Viy in a bid to stop him from completing his ritual.

Featuring striking visuals from Aleksandr Ptushko, this is a masterpiece of Soviet and fantasy cinema that requires multiple viewings to understand just how influential it has become on generations of film-makers – including Mario Bava (the I Wurdalak segment in Black Sabbath), Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth) and even Michael Winner (The Sentinel).

Eureka’s 1080p transfer (from an HD restoration of the original film elements) is simply stunning and the extras include a new commentary from Michael Brooke, a video essay on Gogol, an archival documentary on the film, and three Russian silent film fragments – The Portrait [1915, 8 mins], The Queen of Spades [1916, 16 mins], and Satan Exultant [1917, 20 mins].

The second disc features Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place) as a bonus extra – and what bonus it is. I had never heard of Djordje Kadijevic before, and having watched his perversely erotic take on Gogol’s classic tale, I need to see more of his fantasy films which he made for Serbian TV in the 1970s.

Again, it involves a student priest tormented by a young witch (called Catherine here) – but he also expands on the story with three flashback stories that reveal her to be the embodiment of the femme fatale.

Artfully shot, with evocative lighting, it has a 1970s Euro-horror and a rather catchy synth theme tune. Eureka’s set also includes a booklet containing a fascinating essay about Kadijevic by Serbian critic Dejan Ognjanovic, and one on Ptushko by Tim Lucas.

Cinema Paradiso | Giuseppe Tornatore’s lyrical and evocative love letter to the magic of cinema

Set at a time when going to the movies was a near-religious communal activity, director Giuseppe Tornatore’s lyrical and evocative celebration of the magic of cinema won awards across the globe, including the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, five BAFTAs and the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Now, Cinema Paradiso has been giving a luminous 4K restoration.

Philippe Noiret is in winning form (and scored a BAFTA as a result) as the wise Alfredo, a middle-aged projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso movie theatre in a small Sicilian village; while Salvatore Cascio is a revelation as the young film buff Salvatore (AKA Toto), who befriends Alfredo and learns his trade.

Told in flashback, through the eyes of the adult Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) following Alfredo’s death, Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical drama is a bittersweet reflection on youth, love, and regret; and shows just how much a powerful force the flickering screen can be in shaping our lives. As Noiret’s Salvatore’s muses: ‘Life isn’t like the movies – life is harder’, but sometimes we all need to get lost in its glow.

This 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray from Arrow Academy features both the theatrical and expanded Director’s Cut, with the following extras (ported over from their 2014 Blu-ray release).

4K UHD SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of the restored Cannes Festival theatrical version (124-min)
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the restored Director’s Cut (174-min)
• Uncompressed original stereo 2.0 Audio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Tornatore and Italian cinema expert Millicent Marcus
A Dream of Sicily: A 52-minute documentary profile of Tornatore featuring the music of Ennio Morricone
A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise: A 27-minute documentary on the genesis of Cinema Paradiso, featuring interviews with Noiret, Cascio and Tornatore
The Kissing Sequence: Tornatore discusses the origins of the kissing scenes in Alfredo’s private reel with full clips identifying each scene
• Original Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer and 25th Anniversary Re-Release Trailer
• Collector’s booklet

Also available is the BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION containing the theatrical version and Director’s Cut, and the DVD SPECIAL EDITION containing the theatrical version in original stereo and 5.1 surround audio. Both editions feature the same extras as included in the 4K UHD contents.

L’Assassino (1961) | Elio Petri’s Kafkaesque thriller is a neglected cinematic gem

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)Released within months of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, director Elio Petri’s dazzling 1961 debut L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome) also stars Marcello Mastroianni, this time as sleazy thirtysomething antique dealer Alfredo Martelli, arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, far wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial…

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

Best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Tenth Victim (read my review here), Elio Petri was one of the finest and yet most underrated Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. Highly acclaimed on its original UK release but unjustly neglected since, L’Assassino is a remarkably assured debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest chroniclers of Italian social and political realities; fusing a thriller, a favourite genre of Petri’s, with elements of a mystery plot with a Kafkaesque air, while also being an explicit critique of the rising upper-bourgeois society in Italy in the early 1960s.

Written for the screen by Tonino Guerra (who also did Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Fellini’s Amarcord and Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia); lensed by Woody Allen’s favourite cinematographer, Carlo Di Palma; edited by Fellini regular Ruggero Mastroianni; and with music by Piero Piccioni (whose compositions have recently been used in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook), L’Assassino is certainly ripe for rediscovery.

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

THE UK 2014 BLU-RAY/DVD RELEASE
Following a high-definition restoration by Cineteca di Bologna, this is the first-ever UK home entertainment release of L’Assassino and comes in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack from Arrow Films’ Arrow Academy label.

Alongside the 2k digital presentation of the film, there’s also a host of special features on offer, including the 52-minute documentary, Tonino Guerra – A Poet in the Movies, about the acclaimed screenwriter; an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone; theatrical trailer; collector’s booklet (featuring some informative new and vintage writings on the film); and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles | This award-winning stranger-than-fiction animated tale is a must-see

This multi-award-winning animation from Spanish director Salvador Simó re-tells a transitional moment in cinema history – how Spanish director Luis Buñuel made his second film, 1933’s controversial travelogue Las Hurdes: Land Without Bread.

Based on the graphic novel Buñuel en el laberinto de las tortugas by Fermin Solis, it begins in 1932, when the scandal of L’Age d’Or, the surrealist satire Buñuel made with Salvador Dalí, led to him being frozen out by his peers. But he gets a lucky break when his friend, sculptor Ramón Acín, wins a Spanish Christmas lottery and gives him the prize money for his next film.

After reading an ethnographic study of the Las Hurdes region of Spain and intense poverty of its occupants (who were so backwards and isolated that bread was unknown), Buñuel hatched the idea of making a pseudo-documentary that would satirise recent documentaries about western travellers in the Sahara. It ended up being just as scandalous as L’Age d’Or and banned by Spain’s conservative forces. Critics, meanwhile, praised Buñuel’s film as being ‘revolutionary’ and a ‘frightening call to arms’.

Director Simó cleverly blends the animated scenes of Buñuel and his team’s filmmaking experience with the powerful and sometimes shocking footage from the original documentary, which Buñuel admitted to ‘heightening’ for dramatic effect. The end result is a compelling insight into the young Buñuel who was still finding his voice as a film-maker. It also pays tribute to Buñuel’s friendship with Acín who tags along to keep his spending in check and ends up becoming his moral compass. Sadly, while Buñuel went on to great heights, Acín’s life was cut short when he murdered by fascists in the first year of the Spanish Civil War.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is available now in the UK via BFI Player

The Specialists | Jeremy Isaac hails the return of the French Elvis in a sparkling Blu-ray 4k restoration of the 1960s Baguetti Western

Sacré bleux! There are 100s of Italian Westerns, loads of Spanish ones and even a few Brazilian entries (Glauber Rocha’s Antonio Das Mortes, for instance). But a French spaghetti Western? The Specialists is one of only a handful of ‘Camembert’ or ‘Baguetti’ oaters which, in itself, makes the film worthy of interest. It was helmed by Italian director Sergio Corbucci, known for violent spaghetti Westerns such as Django (1966) starring Franco Nero and The Great Silence (1968) with Jean-Louis Trintignant, as well as action comedies featuring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, who were also paired in Enzo Barboni’s Trinity entries. The screenplay was penned by Corbucci with writer Sabatino Ciuffini, from a story the two conceived with the help, it is rumoured, of Hollywood spag icon Lee Van Cleef. The movie was also released under the eyebrow-raising title Drop Them or I’ll Shoot, and is only now enjoying its home entertainment debut, half a century after its original premiere.

The film boasts neither top Hollywood stars such as Eastwood, Fonda, Bronson, Coburn, Steiger or Robards, nor classic European faces like Nero, Cardinale, Volonte, Koch, Trintignant, Kinski or, indeed Hill or Spencer. What it does have is Johnny Hallyday – the French Elvis, a Gallic music legend for nearly 60 years who sold more than 110 million records worldwide, earning 40 gold records, 22 platinum and three diamond, and who appeared in scores of films, including the award-winning supernatural 2002 hit L’homme du Train and the 2010 Macau-set Triad shoot-em-up Vengeance. He’s the perfect tough-guy selection for this underrated but rambunctious Franco-Italian-West German cowboy thriller.

The unsung but stalwart supporting cast includes Italian actor and producer Gastone Moschin, who found fame in the Amici Miei film trilogy (1975–1985), French actress Françoise Fabian, best-known for Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) and Éric Rohmer’s 1969 French New-Wave drama My Night at Maude’s, Parisian ingénue Sylvie Fennec, who would later grace Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977) and German thesp Mario Adorf of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum fame, who had recently turned down the role of General Mapache in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), and would also decline a part in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II (1972).

The story is simple and deliciously predictable: chainmail-wearing shootist Hud Dixon (Johnny) arrives in the remote frontier town of Blackstone where his brother was falsely accused of robbing a bank and then lynched. Hud is out for revenge, and through a series of cataclysmic pistol exchanges, head-banging bar-room brawls and a furious shootout with juveniles, during which the townsfolk are forced to lie face-down on the main drag while naked, he gradually uncovers the truth behind his brother’s murder and the stolen cash. Along the way he clashes with humanitarian Sheriff Gedeon (Moschin), seductive but formidable lady banker Virginia Pollicut (Fabien), the beautiful but innocent Sheba (Fennec) and one-armed Mexican bandit and former childhood friend El Diablo (Adorf). ‘If Hud comes here, he’ll have to kill every one of us,’ observes Gedeon at one point, and he’s not far wrong.

The dramatic locations represent a radical departure from the genre’s habitual backdrop of windswept Spanish/Italian desert townscapes. To be sure, the dust flies as fast and as high as the bullets in the explosive main-street gun battles, as snipers fall from church towers and El Diablo’s gang is ignominiously levelled. But the suggested Nevada setting of snow-covered mountain fastnesses and pine-clad escarpments (filmed in the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo in Veneto, the location for The Great Silence) evokes a sombre, wintry feeling reminiscent of Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1962) or Eastwood’s Pale Rider (1985) – including a gloriously filthy mud bath. This newly restored version showcases the luminescent, crystal-clear camerawork of cinematographer Dario Di Palma (he famously lensed Lina Wertmüller’s The Seduction Of Mimi in 1972), whose sweeping vistas across the stark but majestic landscape take the breath away.

The music score is impressive, too. OK, it’s not Ennio Morricone, or Franco Micalizzi (Barboni’s Trinity films) or Bruno Nicolai or Marcello Giombini (Gianfranco Parolini’s Sabata trilogy) –  it’s Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, famous for many Hollywood scores including Orson Welles’s Othello (1951), Henry Hathaway’s Legend of the Lost (1957) and Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller (1974), as well as a clutch of 1960s sword-and-sandle epics – think Mediterranean party music. Here he juxtaposes the tried-and-tested elements of alternately grating and twanging electric guitar chords, haunting whistle and flute, menacing tom-toms and piano runs, delicate orchestrated passages, obligatory, doom-laden chimes and the light, harpsichord-like touch and offbeat vocals of the mellow but unmistakenably Euro theme tune.

This intriguing offering may not be on the same level as Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy or Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – and it didn’t come out in the UK until 1973 – but it certainly gives Django, Silence, Trinity and Sabata a run for their money. It also contains satisfyingly obvious nods to most of the genre’s eccentric iconography, in which devotees will luxuriate, and boasts unusual locations and strong turns from an out-of-the-ordinary European cast, topped by a towering performance from charismatic rock god Hallyday. Incroyable!

The Specialists is now available for the first time on home video in the UK as part of the Eureka Classics range from Eureka Entertainment with the following special features…

• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration
• Restored Italian and French audio options with English subtitles
• Rarely heard partial English dub track
• Original English script
• Audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox (OMG! This is fantastic. Apart from the film, this is the reason why you should add this release to your collection as you get loads of insides about the film, but Cox is also very entertaining)
• Cultural historian Austin Fisher on The Specialists (this is an insightful overlook from the Bournemouth University associate professor of popular culture about the film’s themes, legacy and parallels)
• French and Italian trailers
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Western authority Howard Hughes on both the film, and the ‘French-western’ sub-genre

[Editor’s note]: This piece was written by Jeremy Isaac, whose knowledge of the Western genre is unsurpassed. A brilliant features writer and sub-editor, he can be contacted via the following links for any possible freelance work: uk.linkedin.com/in/jerryjourno1 and jerryjourno58.wordpress.com/

Hagazussa | This arthouse folk horror tale will totally creep you out!

From debut filmmaker Lukas Feigelfeld comes Hagazussa, a bleak and disturbing folk horror tale that echoes Robert Eggers The Witch, but is still very much its own pagan beast.

If you think we’ve got problems self isolating in the midsts of the Covid-19 pandemic, imagine being a young child growing up all alone in an isolated alpine hut back in the 15th-century (where there’s no running water, electricity, or even the internet) and you just have your mother’s decorated skull for company? Well that’s what happens to a young girl called Albrun (Celina Peter) after watching her mother’s painful death – which haunts her as the years pass.

Rejected by her deeply superstitious community (they marked her mother as a witch), the now adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) struggles to make a living for herself and her young child selling milk from a small goat herd. But when she is sexually assaulted by a woman and her husband, and is seemingly visited by her mother’s restless spirit, Albrun sets out on a path of self-empowerment – and it is a very dark path indeed…

You really have to invest yourself in this visually-arresting, dialogue-light arthouse, horror where a sense of creeping dread bubbles beneath its very quiet surface, culminating in a haunting halluncinatory sequence involving magic mushrooms, blood sacrifice and rebirth through fire. Nature is very much the other big character here, with the snow-covered alps dominating, while its dense woodlands and stagnant pond represent the cycle of life and Albrun harnesses their power to complete her own cycle.

It’s all beautifully shot (which ideally counterpoints the film’s bleak tale and increasing violence), with an intense performance by Cwen, and capped by atmospheric score from the Greek dark ambient duo MMMD. An amazing achievement from first-time director, Lukas Feigelfeld, it also features a fantastic ossuary chapel (shot at St Bartholomew’s Church in Kudowa, Poland).

Hagazussa is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Arrow Films

 

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
• Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and LPCM Stereo 2.0 Audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Adrian Baxter
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse, illustrated with original stills
• Double-sided fold-out poster featuring two artworks
• Slipcover featuring original artwork by Adrian Baxter
• Audio commentary by critic and author Kat Ellinger
• Select scene audio commentary by writer-director Lukas Feigelfeld
Beton [Concrete] (2013, 55 mins) and Interferenz (2013, 48 mins), two short films by Lukas Feigelfeld
• Deleted scene with optional commentary by Feigelfeld
• MMMD Music Video
• Theatrical trailer
• Teaser
• CD containing the complete Hagazussa Soundtrack by MMMD

 

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse | Your heart might just miss a beat watching Fritz Lang’s thrilling cinematic swansong

From Eureka Entertainment comes The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (Die 1000 Augun des Dr Mabuse), the final instalment in Fritz Lang’s trilogy and the director’s cinematic swansong on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

After enjoying success with 1959’s Indian Epic (AKA The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb), German producer Artur Brauner signed Fritz Lang to direct one more film back in his home country. The result would be a picture that brought Lang’s career full-circle and become his final celluloid testament.

Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?
The character of megalomaniac criminal mastermind Dr Mabuse (who I will always associate with Propaganda’s 1984 debut song – catch the music video below) was originally made famous by Lang in his pre-Hollywood years. First in the four+ hour long 1922 silent Dr Mabuse (based on the novel of the same name by Norbert Jacques), then in the 1933 sound crime thriller Testament of Dr Mabuse (based on Jacques’ unfinished novel, Mabuse’s Colony). Both films starred Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the titular villain and both were set in the period of the Weimar Republic.

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse is set in 1960s at the start of the Cold War, and while it is not a direct sequel, it does exist in the same universe. When a TV journalist is killed in his car on his way to an important broadcast, Inspector Kras (Gert Frobe) gets a call from blind psychic informant Peter Cornelius (Lupo Prezzo), who had a vision of the crime but not the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, at the Luxor Hotel (where every room has been bugged), industrialist Henry Travers (Peter Van Eyck) comes to the aid of the mysterious Marian (Dawn Addams), when she attempts to commit suicide in a bid to escape her abusive. Meanwhile, salesman Hieronymus B Mistelzweig (Werner Peters) always seems to be lurking about. Together, these disparate characters come together to work out just who is channelling Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss).

This is a thrilling, action-packed crime thriller where Nazi survellious tech, sex crimes, paranoia, psychic powers and classic car chases collide, and its undoubtedly Lang’s final film masterpiece – and your heart might just miss a beat watching it. It also a spawned six Mabuse films in competition with the poplular German Edgar Wallace Krimi films. A must see.

The Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray is available to order from: Eureka Store and Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
* 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
* Original German soundtrack
* Optional English audio track, approved by Fritz Lang
* Optional English subtitles
* Feature-length audio commentary by film-scholar and Lang expert David Kalat
* 2002 interview with Wolfgang Preiss (this is a wonderfully informative piece, and quite poignant as it was filmed two weeks before Preiss’ death in November 2002)
* Alternate ending
* Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned and original poster artwork
* Collector’s booklet featuring a new essays; vintage reprints of writing by Lang; and notes by Lotte Eisner on Lang’s final, unrealised projects

Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic is a ravishingly kitsch 1950s adventure

Best known for his 1920s and 1930s masterpieces Der mude Tod, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis, Women in the Moon and M, and his forays into Hollywood film noir in the 1950s, Fritz Lang was all set to call it a day in 1959 when he was offered the opportunity to remake a film that he and his former wife Thea von Harbou had worked on back in the 1920s. Ahead of the Eureka Entertainment! release of Fritz Lang’s final feature, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, on 11 May 2020, I thought it timely to revisit his penultimate picture.

Indian Epic comprises two films – Der Tiger von Eschnapur (The Tiger of Eschnapur) and Das Indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb) – that tell the tale of a tyrant who turns his fairy tale palace into a prison for the woman who refuses his affections.

In the first film, Chandra (Walter Reyer), the Maharaja of Eschnapur, falls for Seetha (Debra Paget) a young temple dancer who only has eyes for a visiting German architect, Harald (Paul Hubschmid). The couple attempt to flee, but are captured: for Seetha, the palace becomes a gilded cage, while Harald is imprisoned in a secret dungeon.

In the second film, Harald’s sister Irene (Sabine Bethmann) and her husband Walter (Claus Holm) arrive at the palace in search of Harald. Walter is then coerced into building a grand tomb – not for the maharaja, but for Seetha, who has been sentenced to die after she is married to Chandra. With no time to loose Irene and Seetha plot to free Harald, but first they must find their way through the palace’s maze of tunnels, caves, secret temples and leper-filled dungeons, whilst trying to evade Chandra and his palace courtiers.

Wanting to prove to the Hollywood fraternity that a large-scale movie, shot in Europe on the cheap, could return a healthy profit, Lang put his retirement on hold to film his grand exotic adventure. The result is a lush, over-the-top fantasy that recalls old-fashioned Saturday morning serials and Arabian nights adventures.

Kitsch in design, yet totally serious in tone, Indian Epic is a huge departure from the man who wowed us with his mad, futuristic visions in Metropolis and thrilled us with perfectly executed thrillers like Hangmen Also Die! (1943), The Woman in the Window (1944) and The Big Heat (1953). Lang’s double-bill certainly doesn’t attempt to reflect a realistic India, but the films do offer a ravishingly beautiful homage to the exotic East, as seen through Western eyes of the day.

Standing in for Chandra’s palace are the real-life island palaces and gardens of Udaipur in Rajasthan, and it is these shots which give the film its depth. Call it a guilty pleasure, but watching Paget dance in a revealing diamond encrusted G-string (check it out below) while taking in these vibrantly colourful locations is all I needed to be sucked, body and soul, into Lang’s twisted tale about mad love.

Indian Epic is available on DVD, from Eureka Entertainment in the UK with restored transfers of the films; a choice of German and English soundtracks; a making of documentary; vintage 8mm location footage; trailers; and an informative booklet about Lang and his vision.

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