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…
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.
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.
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
• 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
• CD containing the complete Hagazussa Soundtrack by MMMD
When the beautiful singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) is slain in her chic apartment, the men in her life become suspects. There is Martin Blair (Dan Duryea), her alcoholic musician ex-husband, nursing a broken heart; there is the shady nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre) who has been sneaking around her place, and there is Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), the adulterer who found his mistress’s dead body and fled the scene. When Bennett is convicted and sentenced to death, his long-suffering wife Catherine (June Vincent) joins forces with the heartbroken pianist Martin Blair to uncover the truth…
Directed by Hollywood veteran Roy William Neill (best known for his 11 Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone), 1946’s Black Angel is a film noir, adapted from a novel by the acclaimed crime writer Cornell Woolrich, that is ripe for rediscovery, boasting a suspenseful narrative, strong performances and atmospheric, meticulously lit cinematography.
It is presented here in a new restoration by Arrow Films, with a host of extras.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• New audio commentary by the writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode
• A Fitting End, video appreciation by film historian Neil Sinyard
• Original trailer
• Gallery of original stills and promotional materials
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
• Illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by author Philip Kemp
While I already have Arrow’s previous Blu-ray of Dario Argento’s 1971 giallo Cat o’Nine Tales (aka il gatto nove code), I couldn’t resist upgrading to this 4K restoration, which also includes newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack. Now all I need is a 4k smart TV and Blu-ray player to see it properly. But having looked at it on my current HD system, it looks and sounds terrific.
As for the extras, well they are all brand-new with none crossing over from the previous Arrow release. Here’s the low-down…
First up is the audio commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman. Jones, of course, is Argento’s number one fan who has become a close friend and written the definitive book(s) on the director, while Newman’s comprehensive film knowledge is truly enviable.
It’s fun and very insightful (film nerds like me will lap up the trivia, especially those related to the Turin film locations); and you’ll see Catherine Spaak’s costumes in a whole different light after listening to Jones views on Luca Sabetelli’s outré surreal outfits.
As for the featurettes, Nine Lives, comprises an exclusive 2017 interview with Dario Argento, who confirms Jones’ comments that the film was the least favourite of his canon, as he felt it ‘too American’.
The Writer o’ Many Tails has screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti discuss his career (over 34 minutes) which included an infamous row between him and Argento over the credit for the screenplay.
Child Star is another Arrow exclusive, an interview with the film’s Cinzia De Carolis, who played Karl Malden’s niece Lori and is today a well-respected voice dubber.
Being a huge fan of film locations, Giallo In Turin was the one that I watched first. Disappointingly, we don’t get the guided tour that I had imagined, instead production manager Angelo Iacono discusses his first meeting with Argento, before recalling his memories of the cast and crew.
A huge bonus is the inclusion of the Original Ending, in which the fates of Anna (Spaak) and Lori (De Carolis) are revealed. But wait! As the footage is now lost, we only get a visual storyboard alongside the English version of the last couple of pages of the script. But the money shot is a single German lobby card containing an actual still of the final scene. Yeah!
Now, as I have the rare movie tie-in novelisation (one of only two written by Paul J Gillette – the other was Play Misty for Me), I had hoped it would contain this version. Unfortunately, it deviates totally from both the original ending and the final cut ending.
With stylish new artwork by Candace Tripp, a limited edition booklet, lobby card repros and fold-out poster also included, this latest Argento release from Arrow is a keeper. Now, I just need that 4K kit.
If you want to see my thoughts on Arrow’s previous of the film… READ IT HERE
Viva l’Italia! (1961) | Roberto Rossellini’s celebration of Italy’s national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi is a cinematic triumph
From Arrow Films comes Robert Rossellini’s 1961 historical tour-de-force Viva l’Italia! on Blu-ray and DVD with a brand-new 2k restoration.
To celebrate the centenary of Italy, director Roberto Rossellini was commissioned by the Italian government in 1960 to make a biopic of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the country’s national hero, tracing his most famous military campaign, the 1860 Expedition of the Thousand, in which he liberated the south of Italy from the Bourbons.
Rossellini said of the film: ‘Of all my films, I’m proudest of Viva L’Italia! I consider it important as a work of research, the most carefully done of all my films. It is a documentary made after the event, trying to figure out what happened. I tried to place myself in front of the events of a century ago, the way a documentarist would have done who had the good fortune to follow Garibaldi’s campaign with his camera.’
This is World Cinema classic is must-see and having recently visited Sicily myself, I must say I got quite emotional watching this compelling 138-minute epic.
Featuring sweeping, majestic vistas of the Italian landscape, and using many of the locations where Garibaldi’s campaign took place as his Camicie rosse (Red shirts) marched across Sicily, sailed over the Strait of Messina into Calabria, then headed north through Campania (where the strategic Battle of Volturno took place) and onto Naples (where King Francis II ruled), Rossellini’s drama is as as much a spectacular visual feast as it is an important historical account of a defining moment in Italian history – the unification of the country.
It also serves as a powerful David and Goliath parable in which a band of ill-equipped, untrained volunteers (mainly poor farmers and workers) stood up against the might of a powerful army – and won!
Restored by Arrow from the original negative, and given a 2k restoration, this presentation (on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD) is the first UK home video release of Viva l’Italia! in any format. It also includes the original Italian mono soundtracks with optional (and may I say excellent) English subtitles.
Also included is an alternate shorter cut of the film originally prepared for the US market, a visual essay on Garibaldi and an interview with Rossellini’s assistant on the film, Ruggero Deodato (best-known for Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park, who greatly admired the legendary neo-realist director).
Cult film fans might get a kick out of knowing that the cinematographer, Luciano Trasatti worked on a slew of Peplum films as well as some Euro horrors like Jesùs Franco’s Count Dracula (1970), and watch out for Tina Louise, aka Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, who pops up as a French journalist.
• Garibaldi: Alternate shorter cut of the film originally prepared for the US market
• Viva Rossellini: Interview with Ruggero Deodato
• I Am Garibaldi: a visual essay by Tag Gallagher, author of The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films
• Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillip
• Booklet containing new writing on the film by film-maker and critic Michael Pattison
Step inside! You’re frightfully welcome! The hit horror House franchise opens its creaky doors once again with the release of all four instalments on DVD and Blu-ray, with 2k restorations and all uncut.
For those who didn’t snap up the House: The Collection box-set back in March 2017, you can now add these beauties to your home cinema collection as individual releases.
Having looked at the bonus extras on offer, Arrow have added some newbies, including the first draft screenplay of House, vintage Making Of featurettes of House and House II, and workprint footage of the final two instalments, alongside all the other great special features that were featured in the Collection box-set.
Makes for a great stocking filler! And don’t those covers look cool?
If you want to read more about the House franchise, check out my original post HERE
Identicals (2015) | This British indie sci-fi wants to be Blade Runner meets The Man Who Haunted Himself
In a futuristic Britain, a mysterious organisation called Brand New-U offers customers the chance to upgrade themselves by becoming ‘Identicals’ – doppelgängers that may walk and talk like you, but are living much better lives than you. Good-looking lad about town Slater (Lachlan Nieboer) seems to have it all, including the love of his life, Nadia (Nora-Jane Noone).
When she suddenly disappears, Slater is led to Brand New-U, where he makes a deal to take on a new identity in a bid to find Nadia. But as his quest turns into obsession, his identities start to blur, and what he must find in the end is himself…
This Irish-made British sci-fi indie thriller from Bafta-winning short-film director Simon Pummell is a brave attempt at fusing the futuristic worlds of Blade Runner, William Gibson and a Total Recall-styled story with a heavy dose of existential dramatics – the kind that was tackled so brilliantly by Basil Dearden in The Man Who Haunted Himself (check out my review of the Blu-ray release here).
Newcomer Lachlan Neibor (whose appeared in Torchwood and Downton Abbey) is certainly the one to watch, as he dominates nearly every scene as the wideboy Slater and his various doppelgängers, who operates as a conduit for Pummell’s exploration about ‘the strangeness of our contemporary world’.
With his brooding good looks and action man heroics, Neibor could give Jack O’Connell a run for his money (and he could be his double). As for the film itself, well it certainly looks super stylish, but it seems that Pummel (making his feature debut here) and his team have spent so much time on the film’s production design that they’ve forgotten to give the film’s difficult to follow story some heart and soul in which audiences can empathise with. Still, it could be the making of Neibor.
Identicals is out on VOD now and DVD on 22 August 2016 from Arrow Films
When it comes to my favourite Dario Argento films, in my cinematic eye, two stand out as supreme masterpieces: Suspiria, a bewitching blend of the surreal and the fantastique, and Deep Red, which must be THE quintessential giallo. But what makes the thriller so gripping to revisit time and time again – aside from the fact that it keeps getting re-released?
Murder, mayhem and black-gloved killers were central to Argento’s early gialli, and it was with Bird, Cat and Flies, (aka the Animal Trilogy) that he brought stark terror to the genre and introduced the killer’s PoV stylistic device (which Carpenter copied in Halloween). But in Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso), he did so much more. He fused his thriller with an arthouse kink and a surreal theatricality, with the highlight being an inspired homage to film noir in the recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks diner in a neon-lit Rome street where the first murder takes place (actually Turin’s Piazza CLN).
David Hemmings (who got the part because of his role in Antonioni’s Blow-Up) is Marcus Daly, an English jazz pianist based in Rome who witnesses the brutal slaying of a visiting European psychic. After he becomes front-page news thanks to Daria Nicolodi’s over-eager reporter Gianna, Daly starts his own investigation. But when incriminating evidence is left at the scene of another murder, Daly realises the killer is hot on his trail. It’s then a race against time to solve the mystery, which has links to a children’s lullaby and a deserted old mansion, before the killer strikes again…
Deep Red also saw Argento embracing elements horror and the supernatural for the first time, with the film’s most evocative scenes taking place inside a crumbling grand art nouveau mansion (actually the 1902 Villa Scott in Turin), set to the pulsating beats of Goblin’s landmark prog rock soundtrack, which became the benchmark for many of Argento’s subsequent film scores. Topping it all were the imaginatively staged murder set pieces, involving stabbing, scalding and being and bashed to a pulp, all domestic terrors that set the nerves on edge and made your skin crawl.
Now, while Argento certainly must be praised for the film’s visual style (and style is certainly the substance of Deep Red, which was the whole point), it’s the film’s script that brings it all together. And that’s down to Bernardino Zapponi, who was hired on the back of his work on Federico Fellini’s phantasmal Toby Dammit segment in Spirits of the Dead. One can only wonder what kind of film Deep Red would have been without Zapponi’s involvement as he is key to Argento’s ‘truly terrifying magnum opus’ (to borrow a quote from Argento expert Alan Jones).
THE ARROW 4K RELEASE
It was only back in 2011 that Arrow brought out a bloody gorgeous 2k restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, which blew my mind with its sharp picture and excellent sound. Now comes the 4k restoration, which totally trumps that release, ironing out much of the grain that I never knew was apparent in the earlier version until I did a comparison.
The 2011 release came with two uncut versions of the film; interviews with Argento, Nicolodi and Goblin composer Claudio Simonetti; and a commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock. These have all been replicated here, but with brand-new transfers of the directors cut and the export version. Another bonus is the inclusion of the film’s soundtrack featuring all 28 tracks that originally appeared on the 1996 Cinevox CD. Newly commissioned artwork has also been for the packaging, this time from Belgium artist Gilles Vranckx.
THE DIRECTOR’S CUT AUDIO
There’s a choice of Italian with English subtitles or a hybrid English/Italian audio track on the director’s cut, but my preference is for the hybrid version, as you get to hear David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi in English. But the reinserted scenes that were originally left out of the export cut only have Italian audio. While this might make for a disconcerting experience, you do get more battle of the sexes interplay between Marcus and Gianna.
This must be one of Arrow’s fastest-selling releases ever, as it’s already sold out on their website and is currently changing hands for up to £90 online. So, if you are lucky to bag yourself a copy, then turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and let the screaming begin.
He Is A Human Time Bomb. He Must Be Stopped Before He Kills Us All!
Astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar), a man barely alive after a disastrous space mission to the rings of Saturn has become exposed to a mysterious organism, which has taken possession of his flesh, and is now turning him into a goopy flesh-eating ghoul. Escaping from his hospital bed, Steve embarks on a murderous rampage of the local countryside. Can concerned scientist Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and dim-witted sheriff Neil Blake (Michael Alldredge) stop the melting human time bomb before the body count rises?
A NEW PEAK IN TERROR
Director William ‘Bill’ Sachs originally envisioned his 1977 sci-fi as a comic book spoof called The Ghoul from Outer Space. He may have lost that fight, but his grisly humour is still very much evident; a turkey leg mistaken for a decapitated limb is a standout, as are the closing scenes in which Steve’s liquefied remains gets unceremoniously shoveled into a rubbish bin.
Taking its cues from the 1950s classics The Quatermass Experiment, The First Man Into Space (the crusty blood sucking creature scared the hell out of me as a child) and The Hideous Sun Demon, and with clear nods to James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Sachs’ sci-fi is a silly popcorn treat that well deserves its reputation as a cult classic thanks to its riotous dialogue and comedic performances (especially Myron Healey as the General). But the real hero here is make up legend Rick Baker whose blood, pus and mucous dripping effects are simply amazing (they look even better on Blu-ray). The film also served as a launch pad for emerging SFX talents like Greg Cannom and Rob Bottin.
I first learned laid eyes on The Incredible Melting Man back in 1978 when it featured on the July cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Declaring it as cinema’s ‘New Horror Creature’, I had to see it. But it never came to Australia, so I had to settle on the superb New English Library novelisation by Phil Smith (which I still treasure), until it eventually came out on VHS in 1986. What a disappointment that was! The Vestron Video print was muddy, the sound shoddy, and with most of the action taking place at night, I couldn’t see any of Baker’s fine work. But when MGM released the film on DVD as part of their Limited Edition Collection (in 2003), I thought my search was over as the print was excellent. Now we have Arrow’s Blu-ray release to savor. Not only it is based on a new HD master from MGM, it also includes some must-see extras. Oh the joy! I feel 13 all over again. Let the melty mayhem ensue.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow’s High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature is transferred from original film elements in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono 2.0 sound (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray). The High Definition master was produced by MGM and made available for this release via Hollywood Classics.
• Audio Commentary with William Sachs (very illuminating)
• Super 8 digest version of the film (this 200ft seven-minute Super 8 variant was the cutting edge of home cinema in the 1970s – look how far we have come?)
• Interview with William Sachs and Rick Baker
• Interview with make-up effects artist Greg Cannom
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Gary Pullin
• Collector’s booklet featuring essays on the history of the film by Mike White and an excellent brief history of Super 8 digest by Douglas Weir (who supplied the 8mm digest version).
Mark of the Devil (1970) | Barf bags at the ready again as the sick cult horror gets an uncut HD UK release
Once proclaimed as ‘positively the most horrifying film ever made’, 1970 cult shocker Mark of the Devil finally arrives uncut in the UK on 29 September 2014.
WE MUST NEVER WEAKEN IN PERFORMING GOD’S WORK
A bloody and brutal critique of 18th-century religious corruption, Mark of the Devil sees horror icon Udo Kier play an apprentice witchfinder whose faith in his master Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) becomes severely tested when they settle in an Austrian village. Presided over by the sadistic Albino (a memorably nasty turn from Reggie Nalder), the film presents its morality not so much in shades of grey as shades of black.
LIKELY TO UPSET YOUR STOMACH
This notorious 1970 Euro-shocker, which was made to cash in on the success of Michael’s Reeves’ Witchfinder General, was British director Michael Armstrong‘s second feature and the film that established his international cult status. The film also had a great gimmick, getting cinemas to employ medical staff to handle fainting patrons and handing out vomit bags (they’re quite the collector’s item now).
Smashing box office records wherever it played, Mark of the Devil was a big hit despite it being either banned outright or heavily cut in many countries including the UK. Now acknowledged as a genre masterpiece, British audiences can once again revel in its vileness as Arrow Video presents Armstrong’s horror classic fully uncut in goretastic HD, alongside a selection of fantastic extras.
THE DUAL FORMAT UK RELEASE
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements in its original 1.66:1.
• Optional English and German audio (a real bonus)
• Optional English subtitles
• Newly-translated English subtitles for the German audio
• Audio commentary by Michael Armstrong, moderated by Calum Waddell
• Mark of the Times: Documentary on the ‘new wave’ of British horror directors that surfaced in the 1960s and 1970s, featuring contributions from Michael Armstrong, Norman J Warren (Terror) and David McGillivray (Frightmare)
• Hallmark of the Devil: Michael Gingold uncovers the history of controversial film distributors Hallmark Releasing
• Interviews with composer Michael Holm and actors Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner and Herbert Lom
• Mark of the Devil: Now and Then – a look at the film’s locations
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Illustrated collector’s booklet