The Gate (1987) | The cult horror favourite restored, remastered and still lots of fun!

The Gate (1987)

From Lionsgate UK comes 1987’s The Gate, as part of their ongoing Vestron Collector’s Series, restored and remastered on Blu-ray.

While their parents are away for a long weekend, break 16-year-old Al (Christa Denton) and 12-year-old Glen (Stephen Dorff) have free reign of their suburban home. But it soon turns into a supernatural battleground when Glen and his best friend Terry (Louis Tripp) unwittingly unleash demonic forces from a large hole in the backyard…

Though not much happens in the first half hour of this Poltergeist meets Home Alone offering, things really liven up when an army of pint-size trolls begin to start crawling out from ‘the other side’.

What The Gate lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for it with its ‘wink and a smile’ fan-boy approach that plays fast and furious with some classic horror tropes like the ‘monster in the closet’ and the ‘thing under the bed’, while also chucking in a great gag involving the lyrics of heavy metal records being linked to black magic and satanism.

The practical special effects may have some rough edges, but they still look terrific: especially the ankle-sized demons (a winning combination of forced perspective and people in full rubber suits), and the climactic sequence in which Glen, armed with a toy rocket, takes on the film’s gigantic HP Lovecraft-inspired serpentine demon.

So sit back and prepare to channel your 12-year-old self once again with this gleefully ghoulish fun-ride.

The Gate (1987)

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary with director Tibor Takacs, writer Michael Nankin, and sfx designer/supervisor Randall William Cook
• Audio commentary with the sfx crew, including Randall William Cook, Craig Reardon, Frank Carere and Bill Taylor
• Isolated Score and audio interview with composers Michael Hoenig and J Peter Robinson
• Eight new and archival behind-the-scenes featurettes with the cast and crew
• Trailers & TV Spot
• Galleries

WATCH IT ON THE BIG SCREEN: Lionsgate UK’s free screenings at the Monday Film Club at The Alibi in Dalston, East London finish tonight (26 March) with The Gate. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/178367812773304/

The Gate copyright: Programme Content and Photography: ©1986 The Gate Film Productions Inc. all Rights Reserved. Package Design: © 2018 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Wishmaster (1997) | The demonic djinn escapes again onto Blu-ray

Wishmaster (1997)

From Lionsgate UK comes 1997’s Wishmaster, as part of the Vestron Collector’s Series, restored and remastered on Blu-ray.

In 1127 Persia, a demonic genie (Andrew Divoff) is trapped inside a fire opal by a quick-thinking sorcerer before he can unleash his evil on the land. In present day America, the opal finds its way into the hands of an antique appraiser, Alex (Tammy Lauren), who has strange visions while handling the gem.

Seeking answers, Alex hands it over to her best friend Josh (Tony Crane) to analyse. But when the gem explodes, the evil djinn is released and tricks Josh into wishing for a ‘fatal’ end to his pain. Taking on human form, the djinn begins granting wishes in exchange for souls, while seeking out Alex who becomes the instrument of his evil plans…

Wishmaster

Presented by horror maestro Wes Craven and produced by Pierre David (Scanners), Wishmaster was one of those 1990’s titles that I missed first time round. But now that it’s undergone a re-master, I thought it high time to check it out. And it’s not as bad as I expected.

Peter Atkins, the screenwriter of the first two Hellraiser sequels, crafts a pleasing slice of horror hokum with the genuinely engaging Lauren (The Young and the Restless) in the hot seat as the fearless female protagonist. Atkins also provides some delicious dialogue for Divoff’s camp Pinhead meets Freddy Krueger creation to hiss under the mountain of prosthetics (to me, he looks slightly reminiscent of Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness in Legend).

Wishmaster (1997)

Fantasy fiction fans will have a field day recognising the surnames of some of the characters (including ‘Charles’ Beaumont and ‘August’ Derleth), while the cameos from some icons of the horror genre are the real reason to check this title out. Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Tony Todd (Candyman) and Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees) all get the tables turned on them with some inventive death scenes; Phantasm’s Reggie Bannister pops up as a pharmacist, while Angus Scrimm narrates; and there are also turns from Ted Raimi (Evil Dead), John Carpenter favourite George ‘Buck’ Flower as a drunken bum (of course), Verne Toyer (as a mini djinn), sfx guru Tom Savini and the film’s director Robert Kurtzman.

Wishmaster (1997)

Wishmaster did reasonable business on its release, despite some critical drubbing, and the character rose again for three sequels – but they turned out to be a textbook case of ‘the law of diminishing returns’. Even the versatile Divoff ditched the character after the first sequel (though he did end up playing a similar role in 2000, playing Mephistopheles in Brian Yuzna’s Faust: Love of the Damned). But do check this one out – especially as there’s a drinking game just waiting to happen with that hit list of horror cameos.

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SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary with director Robert Kurtzman and screenwriter Peter Atkins
• Audio commentary with actors Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren and Robert Kurtzman
• Isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Harry Manfredini
Out of the Bottle: Interviews with Robert Kurtzman and co-producer David Tripet
The Magic Words: Interview with screenwriter Peter Atkins
The Djinn and Alexandra: Interviews with Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren
Captured Visions: Interview with director of photography Jacques Haitkin
Wish List: Interviews with Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Ted Raimi
• Trailers, TV & Radio Spots
• Archive ‘Making Of’ featurette & EPK
• Behind-the-scenes footage compilation
• Galleries

SEE THE FILM ON THE BIG SCREE: Throughout March, Lionsgate UK are taking over the weekly, free entry Monday Film Club at The Alibi in Dalston, East London, with Wishmaster being screened on Monday 19 March. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1633296950113773/

Wishmaster copyright: Programme Content and Photography: © 1997 Artisan Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved. Package Design: ©2018 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.

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Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) | Hammer’s bravest venture is ripe for rediscovery in HD

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

1960’s Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy from a Stranger in the US) was one of Hammer’s bravest ventures: an earnest precautionary tale with its intentions in the right place that never really got a chance on its original release. But its now ripe for rediscovery as it joins Indicator’s second volume of Hammer classics: Criminal Intent.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

Adapted from a 1953 play, The Pony Cart, by Roger Garris, it follows a British family settling into a small Canadian town where the father, Peter Cater (Patrick Allen) has been appointed the new school principal. When daughter Jean (Janina Faye) claims that the town’s respected patriarch, Clarence Olderberry Sr (Felix Aylmer), offered her and her friend Lucille (Frances Green) sweets in exchange to seeing them naked, Jean’s horrified mother Sally (Gwen Watford) demands an investigation. But the ensuing trial sees Jean coming under some brutal cross-examining and the elderly Olderberry being found not guilty… a verdict that results in murder!

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

Hammer’s social drama boasts great turns from Allen and Watford as the concerned parents, while Janina Faye gives a career-best performance as Jean (in a role that she also played on the West End). As the elderly paedophile, knighted stage and screen actor Felix Aylmer must be one of Hammer’s most chilling monsters (with or without makeup), and the fact he never utters a word only makes his performance all the more unnerving – as you never know what’s really going inside his sick mind.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

Cinematographer Freddie Francis adds a touch of cinéma vérité to the nerve-wracking courtroom sequences, which were all shot in a single take at Bray Studios, and he makes atmospheric use of some of Hammer’s favourite locations – Oakley Court (standing in for a sanatorium) and Black Park, as well as Burnham Beeches and a housing estate in Slough. The suspenseful score is from idiosyncratic composer Elisabeth Luytens, while director Frankel brings a tremendous amount of suspense to the proceedings (he would later helm Hammer’s The Witches in 1966).

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

Hammer purposely plays down the sensationalism to craft an insightful message movie which explores both predatory behaviour and how power and privilege can shield dangerous people from proper justice. Applauded by critics of the day, the film was quite ground-breaking – especially as child sexual abuse was still a taboo subject. But the film was denied a certificate that would have allowed children to see it, as it was deemed too upsetting. Even the film’s star Janina Faye did not see her fine performance for many years. While promoted as a warning for parents, the film was not a commercial success and quickly disappeared – becoming one of Hammer’s most elusive titles in their back catalogue.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

Watching it afresh, it is a stark and impressive piece of cinema that continues to send a chill down the spine with its authentic exploration of a very real grim subject that refuses to go away. Brave, intelligent and way ahead of its time – this is Hammer at its most sincere.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• HD restoration with original mono audio and new improved English subtitles.
• Two presentations: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK); and Never Take Candy from a Stranger (US).
• New documentary: Conspiracy Theories: Inside Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (The film’s background and production are retraced by Indicator’s stable of Hammer experts, plus there’s some great archive audio interview excerpts from director Frankel).
• Appreciation of Gwen Watford by British cinema expert Dr Laura Mayne.
• An interview with Janina Faye, who looks back over her career with Hammer and recalls her role in the film.
The Perfect Horror Chord: David Huckvale explores composer Elisabeth Lutyens’ ‘eerie weirdy’ musical compositions for Hammer (if you are musically inclined, this is a must).
• Actor and film-maker Matthew Holness explores the film’s message, intentions, cast and crew.
Trailers From Hell commentary with Brian Trenchard-Smith, who succinctly does the same.
• Advertising and Publicity Gallery
• Press Material
• Exclusive booklet

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) can be found on Indicator’s Limited Edition Box Set, Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent, which includes three other classic thrillers from the vaults of Hammer Films (all world Blu-ray premieres): The Snorkel (1958), The Full Treatment (1961) and Cash on Demand (1961) .

Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent

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The Lair of the White Worm (1988) | Ken Russell’s wild take on Bram Stoker’s novel uncoils on Blu-ray

Lair of the White Worm (1988)

From Lionsgate UK comes The Lair of the White Worm, as part of their ongoing Vestron Collector’s Series, restored and remastered on Blu-ray.

Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Scottish archaeologist Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi) unearths an unusual animal skull while digging in the garden of a Derbyshire B&B run by his girlfriend Mary (Sammi Davis) and her sister Eve (Catherine Oxenberg).

Could it be linked to the local legend of a worm-like dragon (the Lambton Worm), which was said to have been slain by a distant relative of the current Lord of the Manor, James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant)? Could it have something to do with the disappearance of the girls parents many years beforehand? And why does the strangely alluring Lady (Amanda Donohoe) steal it?

As our our Scooby gang investigate, they unwittingly uncoil a centuries old mystery involving a pagan cult and human sacrifice…

Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Mercurial director Ken Russell treads a fine line between titillation and terror in this, his wildly OTT tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1911 gothic novel. Amanda Donohoe camps it up big time as the very wicked Lady Silvia Marsh, a country-house aristocrat who enjoys worshipping a snake God and fanging the locals while wearing next to nothing. A shaggy-haired Peter Capaldi (who has since earned himself iconic status playing a certain Time Lord) gets an hilarious scene warding off a bloodsucking copper with a pair of bagpipes, while a fit looking Hugh Grant (fresh off the Edwardian gay love story Maurice) plays it typically posh and daft.

Russell’s schoolboy humour might be a tad lame, but his shocking visual asides at Catholicism (nuns and dildos) are wonderfully irreverent, and the practical special effects are an inventive highlight. Donohoe’s tight-fitting costumes are also a seductive treat and the chilly location shoots that include the Peak District and Manifold Valley in Staffordshire are gorgeously lensed. Stoker purists, however, will probably be greatly offended.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentaries with director Ken Russell and Lisi Russell
Worm Food: Special effects artists Geoffrey Portass, Neil Gorton and Paul Jones (who were all 18 or 19 at the time) talk about their experiences working on the film
Cutting for Ken: interview with editor Peter Davies
Trailers From Hell featuring producer Dan Ireland
Mary, Mary: interview with actress Sammi Davis
• Theatrical Trailer
• Still Gallery

NEWS JUST IN: Throughout March, Lionsgate UK are taking over the weekly, free entry Monday Film Club at The Alibi in Dalston, East London, with The Lair of the White Worm being screened on Monday 12 March. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/events/802548666603104/

Lair of the White Worm copyright: Programme Content and Photography: © 1988 Vestron Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved. Package Design: © 2018 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Doctor Faustus (1967) | Richard Burton’s mesmerising adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s tragic play

Doctor Faustus (1967)

First up, a bit of history about how this 1967 film came about. Back in 1944, while completing a six-month course in Oxford, a 19-year-old Richard Burton got his first standing ovation – in the Oxford Dramatic Society (OUDS) performance of Measure for Measure. His then English tutor, Neville Coghill, made Burton promise that he would one day return to Oxford to act in another OUDS production.

In 1966, Burton kept that promise when he and his wife Elizabeth Taylor (who had now become the darlings of the cinema following the success of Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew) appeared in Coghill’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy Doctor Faustus at the Oxford Playhouse. The money raised from the sold-out shows ended up going towards the building of a 50-seater extension, now known as the Burton Taylor Studio.

Doctor Faustus (1967)

A year later, Burton reunited with Coghill to record the performance on film for prosperity – the result being this very film. Again using OUDS undergraduates, it was shot at the Dino de Laurentiis studios in Rome over three weeks, with Burton making his directorial debut and using a team that included Vittorio De Sica’s favourite cinematographer Gábor Pogány (who would go on to photograph Burton’s Bluebeard in 1972).

Doctor Faustus (1967)

In an abridged version of Marlowe’s 1588 play (which also manages to slip in elements from The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine), Burton takes on the title role of the Wittenberg University scholar whose craving for arcane knowledge leads him into using necromancy to conjure up the demon, Mephistopheles (wonderfully played by Andreas Teuber, who later ditch acting to become a professor of philosophy).

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Faustus then makes a pact with Lucifer (David McIntosh): his soul in exchange for 24 years with the demon as his servant. But when Mephistopheles starts to become untrustworthy, Faustus decides to renounce magic and repent. In a bid to keep his to his pact, Lucifer arranges for the personification of the seven deadly sins to visit the scholar. But failing to see them as warnings, Faustus spends his remaining years in constant conflict with himself before he is summarily dragged to Hell at the appointed hour…

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Elizabeth Taylor (in her sixth of 11 films with Burton) makes a silent cameo as Helen of Troy, and her mute turn was not treated kindly by critics of the day – nor was the film, which was called ‘a sad example of university drama at its worst’ and dismissed as a vanity project for the couple.

Doctor Faustus (1967)

Regardless of those negative reviews, Doctor Faustus is the nearest you’ll ever come to seeing Burton delivering an as-live stage performance. And here he is is, in full flight, with that fantastic booming voice bringing Marlowe’s blank verse and prose to dramatic life.

Also impressive are the nightmarish visuals (especially Faustus’ descent into Hell and the faceless monks) and the moody sets littered with skulls and bathed in primary hues of red, blue and green that evoke the 1960s Gothic horrors of Mario Bava and Roger Corman.

Providing the electronic Wagnerian theme music is Mario Nascimbene, best known for scoring genre films like The Vikings (1958) and One Million Years, BC (1966). Keen ears will recognise Helen of Troy’s theme as it was also used as main title theme for 1968’s The Vengence of She. Doctor Who fans should look out for Ian Marter (aka Harry Sullivan in the Tom Baker years) in the roles of Pride and the Emperor.

As for Elizabeth Taylor, well, she may appear to be solely decorative and a cunning ploy to sell the film as another Burton-Taylor film, but like her hubby, she’s mesmerising every time she appears on screen in yet another fantastical wig and costume.

Doctor Faustus is out on DVD (region 2) in the UK from Fabulous Films

Doctor Faustus (1967)

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Inferno (2009) | Documenting Henri-Georges Clouzot’s all-consuming passion

Inferno (2009)

French director Henri-Georges Clouzot is best-known for his critically-acclaimed suspense films, Le Corbeau, Les Diaboliques (which inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho) and Wages of Fear. But by the mid-1960s, as cinema took a step to the left ‘Bank’ with the rise of the French New Wave, Clouzot and his thrillers were dismissed as old hat (which was pretty weird considering how much young bloods like Truffaut and Godard admired Hitchcock’s Psycho). But owing to his international reputation, Clouzot got a blank cheque from US studio Columbia to make any projected he wanted.

Set in a lakeside resort in Auvergne, 1964’s L’enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot (aka Inferno) was to be a sun-scorched elucidation on the dark depths of jealousy with Romy Schneider (famous for the 1950’s Sissi period dramas) playing the harassed wife of a controlling hotel manager (The Leopard‘s Serge Reggiani).

But the production – which involved three crews and 150 technicians – was cursed from the outset. Reggiani fell ill and had to be replaced, the crew suffered badly from a July heatwave, the lake they were using as a location was about to be drained for a hydroelectric project and Clouzot suffered a heart attack. After three weeks, the film was shut down…

Inferno (2009)

But that’s not the end of the story as Clouzot had one more film in him – and it was a beauty. After getting the all-clear from his doctors and finishing a number of TV documentaries, Clouzot filmed La Prisonnière (1968), which incorporated stylistic elements from the aborted L’enfer.

Having just seen the new 4k restoration at a special screening in London, I can safely say this final work is Clouzot’s finest (and I shall be writing about that at length soon). But it would not have been possible without L’enfer – whose surviving footage forms the bases of this César Award-winning 2009 documentary.

Thirty years after Clouzot’s death in 1977, his widow, Inès de Gonzalez, found herself trapped in a lift with film-maker Serge Bromberg, during which time he learned that Inès had 185 cans of film (about 15 hours) of the unfinished film.

Entrusted with the material, Bromberg and fellow film-maker Ruxandra Medrea used selected bits of the expressionistic original rushes, screen tests, and on-location footage to reconstruct Clouzot’s original vision, while also shedding light on the ill-fated endeavour through interviews, dramatisations of unfilmed scenes, and Clouzot’s own notes.

The result is quite dramatic, especially as it puts a spotlight on the notoriously meticulous director who became increasingly alienated and paranoid (especially with his cast) as his dream project became an all-consuming passion – much like the Arabian Nights animation, The Thief and the Cobbler, the 30-years-in-the making but never finished project which took over the life of Richard Williams (and became the subject of the must-see 2012 documentary The Persistence of Vision).

The Arrow Academy release includes a HD Blu-ray presentation of the documentary, with original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, optional English subtitles, and the following extra…

• Lucy Mazdon on Henri-Georges Clouzot, the French cinema expert and academic talks at length about the films of Clouzot and the troubled production of Inferno
They Saw Inferno, a featurette including unseen material, providing further insight into the production of Inferno
• Introduction and interview with Serge Bromberg
• Stills gallery
• Original trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil
• Illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by Ginette Vincendeau

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The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) | Hammer’s ancient avenger stalks Victorian London in HD

I’m finally dipping into Indicator/Powerhouse’s fantastic box-set Hammer Volume One: Fear Warning, in which a quartet of classic chillers get their first-ever HD restorations (region free) with a host of exclusive extra features. Here’s my look back at 1964’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

In 1900 Egypt, a team of archaeologists, including John Bray (Ronald Howard) and his Egyptology expert fiancée, Annette (Jeanne Roland), unearth the tomb of the Ra-Antef.

When Annette’s father is murdered, the expedition’s main backer, Alexander King (Fred Clark), hatches a plan to have the treasure and sarcophagus shipped back to England for a luridly sensational tour. But when the seals are cut during the exhibition’s opening night – the coffin is found to be empty.

Soon the beat of cloth-wrapped feet begin to sound in foggy Victorian London as the ancient avenger (Dickie Owen) pursues all those who defiled its tomb…

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

What happens next is entirely predictable: the mummy goes on the rampage as Annette gets herself involved in a love triangle with her wimpy fiancé John and charismatic arts patron Adam (Terence Morgan), before ending up in the sewer system with the lumbering bandaged evil.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

This 1964 horror sequel is a far cry from Hammer’s original 1959 classic; with pretty lame sets (especially the desert scenes) and suffers from some middle of the road casting (and sadly lacking Hammer favourites Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), but US import Fred Clark certainly makes up for it as Alexander King, a PT Barnum meets William Castle showman with a heart of gold. A great comic actor, Clark would go onto co-star alongside Frankie Avalon in the Vincent Price spy spoof Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine the following year.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

Burmese-born actress Jeanne Roland tries her best to present her educated Annette as an independent, modern (Victorian) woman, but ends up being little more than an alluring decoration.

This was Roland’s only starring vehicle for Hammer (she also suffered the same fate as many a Hammer scream queen – being dubbed), and later popped up in You Only Live Twice as Bond’s masseuse.

Hammer stalwarts George Pastell and Michael Ripper also appear – albeit too briefly, and future Virgin Witch director Ray Austin gets into a punch-up with Morgan’s Adam.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

With its scenes of head crushing and severed hands, it’s surprisingly violent, and there’s a neat twist in the final act. Originally released in the UK and the US on a double-bill with The Gorgon, it actually proved a big success for Hammer despite its flaws.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Blood and Bandages: Inside The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (very informative and illuminating anecdotes)
• An appreciation of Jeanne Roland by Diabolique editor-in-chief Kat Ellinger
• Interview with Michael McStay (2017): the British film and TV actor looks back at his time working for Hammer (his deaf person’s story is a hoot)
• Interview with composer Carlo Martelli on the use of sourced music for the film
• Super 8 Version: original cut-down home cinema presentation
• Trailer and Image Gallery

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Der Todesking (1989) | Jörg Buttgereit’s ‘Let Us Die’ existential horror gets a deluxe release in HD

DER TODESKING

The second feature film from German underground director Jörg Buttgereit, Der Todesking (aka The King of Death) gets the Arrow treatment on Blu-ray and DVD.

Der Todesking (1989)

‘In six days, God created heaven and earth. On the seventh, day he killed himself…’
And so, we The Brotherhood of the Seventh Day’ say ‘ Let Us Die’!

As a chain letter from an unseen, unknown group circulates encouraging its recipients to end their lives, a series of grim murder-suicides unfold over the course of a week while a body rots in limbo… But could this all be in the mind of a schoolgirl?

On Monday, a hard-working white collar worker climbs into a bath and takes a lethal overdose of pills.

On Tuesday, a slacker settles down to watch a Nazi death camp exploitation VHS film in which a victim is castrated with a pair of shears. But when his wife returns, he pulls out a gun and blows her head off (and then frames her bloodstains). But it all turns out to be a movie playing on TV in a room where a man’s dead body hangs.

On Wednesday, a woman pining for her former lover takes a rest on a park bench, where a man divulges his marital problems that ended in his wife’s decipitation. The woman then aims a gun at the man’s head. But before she can shoot, he takes the gun from her and blows his head off.

Der Todesking (1989)

On Thursday, the names of several people who committed sucide appear over shots of a bridge where people have jumped to their deaths.

On Friday, a woman living alone is so jealous of the couple in the apartment opposite that she schemes to interrupt their love-making. But when she tries calling the couple, she gets no answer because they have just joined the Brotherhood of the Seventh Day’s suicide cult.

On Saturday, a projector plays several reels of 16mm film in which a woman ties a camera to her body and heads to a heavy metal gig where she films herself shooting a gun at the concert-goers before turning it on herself.

On Sunday, a man, driven to madness by some unspecified mental disturbance, repeatedly slams his head into a wall before collapsing in a pool of his own blood.

Der Todesking (1989)

Jörg Buttgereit is most one of those Marmite directors whose transgressive films (Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2) you either ‘get’ or loathe. I’m certainly a big fan of his DIY underground style of film-making, which elevates the super 8mm home movie format (and 16mm) into arthouse territory.

Der Todesking is Buttgereit’s most accomplished work: an unapolegtic existential howl of rage laced with dark humour and the odd cinematic in-joke. Tuesday’s episode is an homage to the king of existential European art cinema, Jean-Luc Godard: beoming a joke about art, just like Weekend and Pierrot Le fou. While the other vignettes deal with some very serious issues: rejection, depression and mental illness.

But the episode that inventively fuses art with social comment is ‘Saturday’. Made up of bits of found-footage (surely ground-breaking back in the 1990s), it may have been inspired by the 1966 murder of 16 people by the Texas Tower Sniper, Charles Whitman (which informed Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets), but it also has continued relevance – especially when you consider the awful gun-led murder sprees (mainly in the US) that continue to dominate the news and make us question our humanity.

Der Todesking (1989)

Der Todesking is all bound together by some polar opposite imagery: a rotting corpse in limbo (like a Francis Bacon painting: all fleshy tones set against a blackened backdrop) and a little girl happily drawing a image of Death (which bizarrely has become a popular tattoo) in a playground where the gay laughter of other children can also be heard. What’s most unsettling about these striking sunlight scenes is that all that we have just witnessed might have come from the imagination of the little girl. It’s food for thought and worthy of discussion.

Arrow’s release features a brand-new director-approved HD transfer from the original 16mm negative in high definition (on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD), with the original stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray), and optional English subtitles.

Der Todesking (1989)

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary by Jörg Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen
From Bundy to Lautréamont: Jörg Buttgereit interviewed at the 2016 Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (the same place where Der Todesking had its British premiere on 14 October 1990)
Todesmusik: actor and composer Hermann Kopp on his numerous collaborations with Buttgereit
Skeleton Beneath the Skin: Graham Rae on the phenomenon of Todesking tattoos (plus, tattoo gallery)
• The Making of Der Todesking: Vintage production featurette (viewable with both an English-language audio track and a German-language audio track with subtitles)
The Letter: This is the alternate English-language chain letter insert used for the original UK VHS release
Eating the Corpse: Footage from the January 25 1990 premiere in Berlin at the Sputnik cinema using music from the film
Corpse Fucking Art: 1992 documentary on the making of Nekromantik, Der Todesking and Nekromantik 2 (choice of English-language and German-language with subtitles)
Die Reise ins Licht: Short film by Manfred O Jelinski (1972, 27mins) – Based on an LSD trip, this is a cardboard and paper 2001: A Space Odyssey-styled sci-fi set in a Blake’s 7 quarry. It’s actually more entertaining than John Carpenter’s student lo-fi Dark Star, and features some evocative bombed out ruins. Jelinski also provides an optional commentary – in broken English, which he apologises for.
Geliebter Wahnsinn (aka Beloved Madness): Short film by Manfred O Jelinski (1973, 7mins) – The hypnotic soundtrack (which reminded me of the Oz-electronic outfit, Severed Heads) is a perfect fit to the fusion of double-exposure and cut-ups that make up this widely experimental oddity.
Der Gollob: Short Super 8mm film by Jörg Buttgereit with optional audio commentary (1983, 25 mins, HD) This is Buttgereit’s take on Alien, in which some cops (played by Buttgereit and some mates) track down a pink putty-faced monster (a transmutated pizza) in the basement of a suburban Berlin house.
• Image Gallery
• Trailer Gallery

DER TODESKING

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Jigsaw (2017) | The horror franchise gets a reboot – but is it any good?

Jigsaw_Steelbook_3DFrom Lionsgate UK comes Jigsaw, the eighth instalment in the top-grossing franchise, on digital (19 February) and Blu-ray, DVD, Steelbook and a new full series Saw box-set all (26 February).

Jigsaw (2017)

10 years after the death of the infamous Jigsaw killer aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, Memento) and Hunt (Clé Bennett, Heroes Reborn) investigate a series of murders bearing the unique modus operandi of the Jigsaw killer. Has Kramer really returned from the grave to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a killer with designs of their own?

Jigsaw (2017)

Director Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (Predestination) go back to basics with their reboot, which ditches the torture porn for a pure chill-ride that aims to recapture the same suspenseful thrills as Se7en – only bloodier. Matt Passmore (The Glades), Laura Vandervoort (Supergirl), Paul Braunstein (The Thing), Brittany Allen (All My Children) and Mandela Van Peebles (Baadassss!) are Jigsaw’s targets this time round, while Tobin Bell is back in his iconic role – and it’s not just a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo.

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Horror fans will lap up the inventive death scenes, which involve booby-trapped rooms and firearms, and some truly deadly laser cutters. Kudos go to the film’s big set piece which involves a giant spiralator and a motorbike. In an homage to the franchise’s original inspiration, 1970’s The Abominable Dr Phibes, one trap sees the victims choosing between three syringes that contain a poison antidote, a saline solution and a flesh-melting acid.

Given its open ending and the huge business it did at the box-office (despite the mostly unfavourable reviews), it looks like the Saw franchise just might begin anew. Personally, I rather enjoyed it… unlike the previous ones.

Jigsaw (2017)

SPECIAL FEATURES ON THE BLU-RAY AND DVD
• Audio Commentary with producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block
I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Saw: A feature-length appreciation of the franchise, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew of the reboot discussing its visual design, sound score, special effects and much more.
The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props: A fascinating featurette (around 6min) in which Don Post’s pig masks and the iconic Billy puppet make a welcome return.

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Michael (1924) | Carl Th. Dreyer’s bittersweet silent classic gets a luminous 2K restoration

Michael (1924)From Eureka Entertainment comes the 2K restoration of Micheal from multi award-winning director Carl Th. Dreyer (Vampyr) as a world exclusive on Blu-ray from 12 February 2018.

Michael (1924)

Hailed as ‘an engrossing hybrid of romantic decadence and spiritual austerity’, this 1924 German silent is considered an important early cinematic work as it contains Dreyer’s first clear use of Expressionism to reveal emotion, and this is much aided by the luminous photography of Karl Freund and Rudolph Maté, and the sumptuous production design of architect Hugo Häring.

Michael (1924)

Based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel Mikaël, and scripted by Thea von Harbou (best known for Metropolis and Woman in the Moon), the bittersweet love story centres on an elderly artist, Claude Zoret, who is driven to despair by his relationship with his young protégé, Michael.

Michael (1924)

Conceived as a screen version of Kammerspiel (an intimate ‘chamber’ piece for theatre), it also had a profound influence on several directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, who drew on the film’s motif’s for his script for 1925’s The Blackguard. It is also a landmark in gay cinema with regards to its frank portrayal of homosexual relations and desire – with the character of Zoret supposedly based on the real life painter Auguste Rodin.

Michael (1924)

The remarkable cast includes Benjamin Christensen (best known for being the director of the 1922 docu-drama Häxan) as ‘decadent’ artist Zoret; Walter Slezak (who would forge a career playing heavies and villains, including the Clock King in TV’s Batman) as his young protege, Michael; and Nora Gregor (from Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu) as the bankrupt Countess who swindles and seduces the Master and his muse.

And, in his only ever appearance as an actor, the film’s cinematographer, Karl Freund plays a sycophantic art dealer who saves the tobacco ashes dropped by a famous painter. Best known for photographing Lang’s Metropolis, Freund later emigrated to the US, where he directed 10 films, including the Universal horror classics, The Mummy and Mad Love, before helming TV’s I Love Lucy.

Available to order from Amazon: http://amzn.to/2AEcJ3r

Michael (1924)

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation from a new 2K restoration
• Score by Pierre Oser (piano, clarinet, cello) presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Full-length audio commentary by Dreyer scholar, Casper Tybjerg
• Exclusive video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns
• Illustrated audio interview with Dreyer from 1965
• A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp; a reprint of Tom Milne’s The World Inside Me from 1971; Jean Renoir’s 1968 tribute, Dreyer’s Sin; a translation of the original 1924 Danish programme; a reprint of Nick Wrigley’s essay from the film’s 80th anniversary DVD release; and a selection of archival imagery

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