Category Archives: World Cinema

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.

Fritz Lang’s epic Die Nibelungen is The Lord of the Rings of the silent era

Drawn from German myth, and the basis for Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas, Fritz Lang‘s expressionistic five-hour 1924 epic Die Nibelungen is a must see. And in the lead up to Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Lang’s final feature, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse on 11 May 2020, I thought it timely to revisit his silent fantasy adventure.

The Story
In Part One, prince Siegfried (Germany’s answer to Arthur) acquires the power of invincibility after slaying a dragon and sets out to win the hand of the daughter of the king of Burgundy. But his marriage to Kriemhild is cut short when her brother Gunther conspires with a fierce warrior called Hagen to bring about his death. In Part Two, the grieving Kriemhild weds the mighty Attila the Hun in a bid to seek revenge against Hagen and the Burgundy knights, resulting in a terrifying apocalypse.

The Lowdown
With the horrors of World War One still very much alive, Lang filmed the epic legend of Siegfried in a bid to bring a little pride back into a country suffering from pessimistic malaise. But this would be no re-staging of Wagner’s popular 19th-century operas. Instead, the visionary director created a totally new universe. Using massive sets and breakthrough visual effects, nature and myth collided in a highly stylised world that, although kitsch but today’s standards, was a revelation in its day.

Why the Nazis loved it?
The two films, which took nine months to make, were met with huge success in both Germany and wider Europe, and became hugely influential on filmmakers of the period, like Sergei Eisenstein, who drew on the film’s scale and look for 1938’s Aleksandr Nevsky. The film’s images and the epic poem it was based on were also ripe for another kind of appropriation. The rising National Socialists (the film was greatly admired by Hitler and Goebbels) would late re-cut Lang’s film, adding in new titles, dialogue and music by Wagner (also Hitler’s favourite) to give voice to the Nazi race-elimination doctrine.

The upshot
The inspiration for nearly every screen fantasy adventure from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, Die Nibelungen is an extraordinarily ambitious visual piece of cinema history that is must-see for all cinephiles.

Die Nibelungen is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment!, featuring a HD restoration of the film by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, with its original frame-rates and in its original aspect-ratio; newly translated optional English subtitles for the original German intertitles; a one-hour documentary on the film restoration, and collector’s booklet.

Kwaidan | Masaki Kobayashi’s supernatural compendium is simply stunning on Blu-ray

‘My main intention in the film was to explore the juxtaposition between man’s material nature and his spiritual nature, the realm of dream and aspiration’ (Masaki Kobayashi)

From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1965 supernatural compendium Kwaidan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, presented from a 2K digital restoration.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four tales adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s classic ghost stories about mortals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension when the supernatural world intervenes in their lives.

In the etheral, doom-laden The Black Hair (a popular theme in Japanese ghost stories), a faithless samurai abandons his loving wife to seek advancement and, many years later, is reunited with her — but there’s a terrible twist in the tale. Originally released as a stand-alone film, The Woman of the Snow, features another classic tragic popular culture figure: the ice witch. Here a woodcutter’s broken promise to a vampire causes him terrible heartache.

Hoichi the Earless concerns an apprentice monk who is forced by spirits to recite the tale of a tragic sea battle between the between the Taira and Minamoto clans. And in the eerie and reflective, In a Cup of Tea, a writer relates the story of a Lord’s attendant who is visited by an apparition – but no one believes him.

Kwaidan, which literally means Weird Tales, is a meditative tribute to Japanese folklore. Photographed entirely on hand-painted sets (built inside an old aircraft hangar), Kobayashi’s highly-stylised film draws on classic Japanese illustrations for its visual ideas, while the atmospheric lighting and camerawork recall the hallucinatory worlds of Mario Bava and Powell and Pressburger.

This was one of the most expensive film’s to be made in Japan at the time and ended up bankrupting the studio. But regardless of the expense, Kobayashi has crafted a work of true beauty – a sumptuous symphony that you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in. It’s long and leisurely, but can easily be watched in four parts.

Available to order from: Eureka Store and Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Criterion’s 2K digital restoration of the original 183-minute director’s cut
• Original monaural Japanese soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
Kim Newman on Kwaidan – the film critic and writer explores how the film become something of a template for subsequent Japanese ghost story films
Shadowings [35 mins] – David Cairns and Fiona Watson look at the film’s background, and provide a critical reading of each of the stories focusing on their themes and Kobayashi’s handling of them
• Original Japanese teasers and trailer
• Collector’s book featuring reprints of Lafcadio Hearn’s original ghost stories; a survey of the life and career of Masaki Kobayashi by Linda Hoaglund; and a wide ranging interview with the film maker – the last he’d ever give.

Beyond the Door | The infamous 1970s satantic shocker gets a limited edition 2k Blu-ray restored release – Hail Satan!

Prolific producer and director Ovidio G Assonitis, whose Tentacles (one of my all-time faves) and Piranha II: The Spawning cashed in on the killer fish craze that followed Jaws, scored his first worldwide hit in 1974 with Beyond the Door – the infamously insane riff on The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

Jessica (played by Juliet Mills of TV’s Nanny and the Professor fame) is the wife of a music executive Robert (Gabriele Lavia) in San Francisco who starts to develop strange behaviors whilst pregnant with her third child. Before you can say ‘split pea soup’, she’s displaying signs of full-blown demonic possession – complete with projectile vomiting and fully-rotating head!

Her obstetrician Dr George Staton (Nino Segurini) believes Jessica should to be placed into a sanatorium, but a mysterious man called Dimitri (Richard Johnson) then reveals himself to be her former lover and a satanist who has a made a pact with the devil to deliver him Jessica’s newborn in exchange for having been saved from a car accident…

Described as ‘disgusting’, ‘scary trash’ and ‘maddeningly inappropriate’ by film critic Robert Ebert, the supernatural shocker (which was the subject of a successful lawsuit by Warner Bros over its direct rips from The Exorcist) has been given a brand-new 2k restoration release on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, packed with stacks of bonus extras. But is the film worth all the bother?

As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. But in the case of Beyond the Door (AKA The Devil Within Her), I’m sure it was a hell of a lot of fun trying. Yes, its cheaply made (in all apects – from its production design to its dire editing), but it does have some effective scares that keep you entertained – and they are the main reason why the film made such a killing at the box office.

I grew up watching Juliet Mills as the wise and wonderful magical nanny Phoebe Figalilly on TV, so seeing her as satan’s Antichrist incubator spewing obscenties and green sick was quite a shock. But whatever the two-time Golden Globe nominee’s reasoning was for accepting the role, Mills’ physical performance certainly impresses in the scenes in which she goes full-on Linda Blair.

Another standout is when Jessica’s two brats – foul-mouthed Gail (Barbara Fiorini), who is so obssessed with Erich Segal’s novel Love Story that she owns multiple copies, and her little brother Ken (David Colin Jr) – are terrorised by supernatural forces in their bedroom. The whole room starts shaking like a dollhouse, the kids are thrown about like ragdolls, and the eyes of their toys light up as though possessed. I loved this scene and I’m sure the kids did too. Colin Jr would next turn up in Mario Bava’s Shock in 1977, which was released in the US as an unofficial sequel to Beyond the Door.

Of course, this tawdry occult tale is all overseen by the Devil himself, who narrates throughout (by an uncredited British actor Robert Booth, who did bit parts in Z Cars and The Professionals and some voice work on 2006’s Tardisodes). And he gets some great quotable lines like, ‘Nobody knows the exquisite suffering of the damned’.

Interestingly the film’s co-producer was Edward L Montoro, whose own real-life story is worthy of a film itself. He embezzled over $1million from his film production company, Film Ventures International (which did two of my faves, Grizzly and Day of the Animals), and vanished, never to be seen again.

Here are the full specs on Arrow’s big release. No screeners were available, so I can’t comment on the extras.

LIMITED EDITION TWO-DISC BLU-RAY CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the extended Uncut English Export Version
Possessed: a brand-new feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
• Reversible fold-out poster
• Perfect-bound collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin and Alessio di Rocco

DISC ONE
• Brand new 2K restoration of the Uncut English Export Version, released as The Devil Within Her (108 mins)
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
The Devil and I: Interview with director/producer Ovidio G. Assonitis
Barrett’s Hell: Interview with cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli
Beyond the Music: Interview with composer Franco Micalizzi
The Devil’s Face: Interview with camera operator Maurizio Maggi
Motel and Devils: Audio interview with actor Gabriele Lavia
• Alternate Italian Chi Sei? opening titles
• Alternate Behind the Door VHS opening titles
• Alternate Japanese Diabolica opening and ending sequence
• Trailers, TV and Radio Spots
• Image Gallery

DISC TWO
• The alternate US Theatrical Version
• Italy Possessed: Feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!

Anti-Worlds proudly presents its inaugural taboo-busting Blu-ray releases

For cinema fans who like their films daring, innovative and controversial, then take a look at new production company Anti-Worlds, who are releasing their first slate of Blu-rays, featuring high-quality feature-film presentations from some new, ground-breaking film-makers, and each one complemented by an array of extensive bonus content.

CHAINED FOR LIFE
Aaron Schimberg’s impressive second feature is his response, as a filmmaker with facial deformity, to cinematic portrayals of disfigured people, from Freaks to The Elephant Man. Simultaneously empathetic and sardonic, Chained for Life’s multi-layered meta-narrative casts Jess Weixler (Teeth) as Mabel, a well-intentioned Hollywood star. She takes the role of a blind woman in a hospital-based horror movie about abnormalities, directed by an egomaniacal German filmmaker. As shooting progresses, Mabel gradually falls for her friendly British co-star Rosenthal, played by Under the Skin actor Adam Pearson.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
DISC ONE: CHAINED FOR LIFE
• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
• Audio commentary with writer-director Aaron Schimberg
A Different Kind of Intimacy (2020, 18 mins): actor Jess Weixler reflects on the themes and production of Chained for Life
Good Things Happen to Good People (2020, 10 mins): actor and activist Adam Pearson discusses the role of Rosenthal
We Are Family (2020, 17 mins): actor Sari Lennick recalls her experiences of making the film
• Eight deleted/extended scenes (12 mins)
• Super 8 on-set footage (2018, 2 mins, mute), silent material shot by film archivist John Kalcsmann
Late Spring/Regrets for Our Youth (2009, 5mins): short diary by Aaron Schimberg
• UK and US theatrical trailers
• Teaser trailer
• Image gallery
• English subtitles

DISC TWO: GO DOWN DEATH (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
• UK premiere presentation of Aaron Schimberg’s 2013 debut feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
It would be sad to see this end up in a dump (2013, 6 mins): rare behind-the-scenes footage shot by producer-editor Vanessa McDonnell
• Nine deleted scenes (32 mins)
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Chained for Life by David Jenkins, Jeff Billington on the 1950 exploitation film Chained for Life, Alejandro Bachmann and Michelle Koch on Go Down Death, and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

HOLIDAY
This controversial drama, passed fully uncut by the BBFC, tells the story of the trophy girlfriend of a Danish drug lord who sets a dangerous game in motion when she seeks the attention of another man whilst on vacation in the Turkish Riviera. Included in the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the ‘Best 20 Films from Sundance 2018’, and in IndieWire’s list of Sundance standouts that deserve to find distribution. Director Isabella Eklöf was also selected in the ‘10 Directors to Watch’ list by IndieWire.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition presentation
• Classified fully uncut by the BBFC
• Original 5.1 surround sound
On ‘Holiday’ (2020, 20 mins): in-depth interview with writer-director Isabella Eklöf on the creation and production of her debut feature
• Q&A with Isabella Eklöf (2019, 29 mins): the filmmaker in discussion with Lizzie Francke, recorded at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
• Deleted scene (3 mins)
Willy Kyrklund (2002, 11 mins): short documentary portrait of the acclaimed author and poet, directed by Eklöf
• Theatrical trailer
• Optional English translation subtitles
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Holiday by Anna Bogutskaya, an interview with Isabella Eklöf by Addy Fong, Peter Walsh on Willy Kyrklund., and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

RELAXER
Set on the eve of Y2K, Relaxer is a mind-bending drama about a young man who is tasked by his overbearing brother to get to level 256 on the classic computer game Pac-Man, and not to leave his couch until he does. Inspired by Luis Buñuel’s absurdist classic The Exterminating Angel, the film premiered at the 2018 South by Southwest festival, and won the Best Actor award at that year’s Fantasia Film Festival.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
DISC ONE: RELAXER
• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
• Behind the Scenes (2018, 7 mins): on-set footage featuring Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge
• Deleted scene (5 mins)
• Rehearsal footage (2018, 10 mins)
Milk Party (2001, 9 mins): the real-life inspiration behind one of Relaxer’s most memorable scenes
• Four short films by Joel Potrykus: Ludovico Treatment (1999, 2 mins), Ludovico Testament (1999, 4 mins), Coyote (2010, 25 mins) and Test Market 447b (2019, 2 mins)
Follicle Gang (Green) (2011, 2 mins): music video for Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, directed by Potrykus
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• David Dastmalchian promos
• Optional English subtitles

DISC TWO: BUZZARD (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
• UK premiere presentation of writer-director Joel Potrykus’ 2014 feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
Buzzard: The Rehearsal Cut (2014, 65 mins): alternative version of the complete film comprised entirely of rehearsal footage
• ‘Buzzard’ at Locarno Film Festival (2018, 9 mins): short documentary on the filmmakers’ trip to Milan, Italy, shot and edited by director of photography Adam J Minnick
• Behind the scenes footage (2014, 8 mins): a selection of outtakes and on-set material
• Seven deleted/alternative scenes (9 mins)
• Hidden ‘Buzzard’ (2014, 1 min): a guide to the ‘Easter eggs’ within the film
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• Festival trailer
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Relaxer by Nathan Rabin, Joel Potrykus on the making of Relaxer, Caden Mark Gardener on Buzzard, Alex Ross Perry on Potrykus, and film credits
• Double-sided inlay with full Buzzard artwork
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Under the Shadow | Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit gets a UK Blu-ray release

Iranian director Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit Under the Shadow is loved by audiences and critics alike. Part ghost story, part social thriller with cutting political commentary, the film is already considered a genre classic and now gets a UK Blu-ray debut in a feature packed Limited Edition box set, courtesy of Second Sight.

Making his feature debut, Anvari 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.

Many critics have compared Anvari’s thriller with 2014’s The Babadook, but 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 – unsurprisingly – 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 an Islamist republic.

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 makes the film so engrossing to watch. I won’t reveal anything about the ending here, but I must admit 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.

If you haven’t seen it yet, then do check out Second Sight’s new UK Blu-ray release, which is packed with some fantastic extras…

SPECIAL FEATURES
Two & Two: Babak Anvari’s BAFTA Award nominated short film
Escaping The Shadow: a new interview with director Babak Anvari
Within the Shadow: a new interview with actor Narges Rashidi
Forming the Shadow: a new interview with producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill
Shaping the Shadow: a new interview with cinematographer Kit Fraser
• A new audio commentary with Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Limited Edition of 2,000
• Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy
• Soft cover book with new essays by Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept
illustrations
• Poster featuring new artwork

Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves gets its UK Blu-ray debut from 101 Films

From 101 Films comes the UK Blu-ray of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves (2013), a brutal and unpredictable Israeli thriller that addresses the perils of victimhood and the consequences of vengeance.

SOME MEN ARE CREATED EVIL
Following the disappearance of a number of young girls in a small Israeli town, hardened police detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) fingers socially awkward religious studies teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) as the culprit. When Miki is caught on-camera using extreme violence while interrogating the teacher, he is forced to let him go and is suspended from the force.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

Unable to let the case go, Miki pursues Dror, but the two men are then kidnapped by Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of one of the girls, whose headless body has just been discovered, who plans to extract a confession out of the teacher. But as the tension mounts and Dror maintains his innocence, the lines between justice and vengeance, innocence and guilt, become increasingly frayed. Just how far should you go before you accept a truth? And what does it cost you to find out?

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

MANIACS ARE ONLY AFRAID OF MANIACS
Big Bad Wolves comes from Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, who are best known for their breakout festival hit, and Israel’s first slasher, the black comedy Rabies (check out my review here).

For their follow up, Keshales and Papushado have created a brutal scathing shocker that has divided both audiences and critics. Part giallo, part torture porn, part political comment, it’s really hard to pigeonhole this incredibly violent tale about child abduction and vigilante revenge, that even adds elements from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale into its sordid mix.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

The political comment, laced with absurdist humour, is evident throughout, with much of it aimed at Israeli identity, attitudes towards their Arab neighbours, and the use of excessive force over due process and trial by jury. The vitriolic hate espoused by the characters as they dish out their extreme form of justice – which gets increasingly stomach churning as the film progresses – certainly does leave a bitter taste. But what really sends a shiver down the spine is how these characters end up appearing, which is best summed up in one of the film’s most chilling lines: ‘Smells like a barbecue. You have no idea how much I’ve missed that smell’. In the end you have to ask yourself, just who are the real big bad wolves in this world?

Released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, this release from 101 Films includes Last Night at the Empire: Big Bad Wolves at FrightFest, a brand new documentary on the background and impact of the film, and its UK premiere at FrightFest in August 2013. In closing the festival, it became the last film to screen in the Empire Leicester Square’s famous main screen, before it was refurbished and split in two. The other extras include AXS TV: A Look at Big Bad Wolves and the theatrical trailer.

 

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