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A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) | Douglas Sirk ditches the melodrama to make an anti-war epic

A Time to Love and a Time to Die cover
During the last days of World War Two, a young German soldier (John Gavin) stationed on the Eastern Front becomes bitterly disillusioned with the war and the Nazi ’cause’ when he returns to his village, finding his love destroyed and his parents missing.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die cover
Douglas Sirk, best known for his lush 1950s Hollywood melodramas, directs a moving love story within the context of a fiercely anti-war film, based on a novel by All Quiet on the Western Front author Erich Maria Remarque.

A far cry from the soapy high camp of All That Heaven Allows or Written on the Wind, Sirk’s CinemaScope epic, A Time to Love and A Time to Die (which was originally released on 9 July 1958)  is an explosive and unforgettable experience and is rightly regarded as his masterpiece, counting New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard among its fans.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die cover
In 2009 Eureka Entertainment released the 1958 war-time drama on DVD, followed by the Blu-ray in 2013 – as part of its The Masters of Cinema Series – in its original 2:35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, with English SDH subtitles, optional isolated music and effects track.

The extras include, Of Tears and Speed: According to Jean-Luc Godard, a 12-minute, visually annotated recitation of Godard’s seminal essay on Sirk’s film; a 19-minute video interview with screenwriter Wesley Strick; Imitation of Life [Mirage of Life]: A Portrait of Douglas Sirk, a 49-minute documentary from 1984; trailer and collector’s booklet.

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The Amityville Horror (1979) | For God’s Sake, Get It On Blu-ray!

The Amityville Horror (1979)

Based on an allegedly real-life paranormal encounter experienced by George and Kathleen Lutz in the mid-1970s, AIP’s The Amityville Horror scared the willies out of me when I saw it on the big screen back in 1979. And after all these years, the seminal shocker remains a thrilling exercise in suspense thanks to Stuart Rosenberg’s masterful direction, the top production values, a chilling Lalo Schifrin score, and some great performances.

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James Brolin and Margot Kidder play the fraught couple who, along with Kathy’s three kids, buy a beautiful Long Island home, but they know nothing about the murders that took place there several years earlier.

And it’s not long before some inexplicable events start happening: Rod Steiger’s visiting priest turns into a sweaty nervous wreck when he’s bugged by a swarm of flies; the babysitter gets locked in a cupboard; and the Lutz’s little daughter gets herself an imaginary friend who turns malevolent.

Plus, there’s those spooky windows glowering like devil eyes, a vomiting nun, and James Brolin getting more mad-eyed, weird and sweaty while out chopping wood… Oh! and then there’s bubbling goo… Add some lightning and thunder and the family fleeing for their lives and you’ve got yourself the perfect scarefest.

The Amityville Horror (1979 film)

Along with Burnt Offerings, Poltergeist and The Shining, The Amityville Horror is haunted house horror at its chilling best. So this new Blu-ray release from Second Sight is welcome addition to my cult film collection; while the bonus features are just the icing on the cake.

Check them out here:
• Brolin Thunder: Interview with actor James Brolin (his comments on The Car made me roar with laughter)
• Child’s Play: Interview with actor Meeno Peluce
• Amityville Scribe: Interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern
• The Devil’s Music: Interview with composer Lalo Schifrin
• My Amityville Horror: Feature-length documentary with Daniel Lutz
• For God’s Sake, Get Out: Featuring James Brolin and Margot Kidder
• Intro by Dr. Hans Holzer, PhD. in parapsychology (author of ‘Murder in Amityville’)
• Audio commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer
• Original trailer, TV spot, radio spots
• Four reproduction lobby card postcards (SteelBook Exclusive)
• New optional English subtitles

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Madhouse (1981) | Ovidio G Assonitis’ bloody revenge tale is a LOL delight

From the man who gave us Tentacles, The Visitor, Beyond the Door and Piranha II: The Spawning, Ovidio G Assonitis, comes Madhouse (aka And When She Was Bad/There Was a Little Girl), an Italian-made/Savannah, Georgia-shot slasher that was once on the UK’s video nasty list – and its a genuine find, courtesy of Arrow who have dusted it off and given it a 2k-restored release.

Madhouse (1981)

Julia (Trish Everly), a teacher in a school for the deaf, has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary (Alison Biggers)… but Mary hasn’t forgotten. Escaping hospital, where she’s recently been admitted with a disfiguring illness, Julia’s sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling – promising a birthday surprise she’ll never forget…

Madhouse (1981)

While nothing as gut-wrenching violent as the British authorities felt necessary to outlaw, Madhouse is a curious concoction of serial killer thriller, giallo whodunit and gothic histrionics. Think Happy Birthday to Me (also made in 1981) meets Rebecca, but with added camp – courtesy of character actor Dennis Robertson doing his best Roddy McDowall impression as the overly-friendly and rather odd Father James.

Indeed, director Assonitis told his cast to go over the top with their characterisations and indeed they did – which makes for some wonderful LOL moments (especially Alison Biggers as the bonkers mad Mary). And true to his honorific title as the ‘Rip-Off King’, Assonitis also chucks in a purely Omen-esque element – a Rottweiler trained to attack on command. It’s grisly demise – a power drill to the head – will most undoubtedly upset dog lovers everywhere, but the special effects will have you howling…

Madhouse (1981)

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition presentations
• Original Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
• Interviews with cast and crew (my favourite is Edith Ivey – who knew she was Indian Princess Summerfall Winterspring on The Howdy Doody Show?)
• Alternate Opening Titles
• Theatrical Trailer, newly transferred in HD
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Marc Schoenbach
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film (first pressing only)

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Dario Argento’s genre-busting psycho-thriller The Bird With the Crystal Plumage gets a 4k-restored release from Arrow

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Back in 1970 Dario Argento’s directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage paved the way for a new wave of cinematic terror when the then 29-year-old auteur fused the traditional thriller and whodunit with shock and spectacle for the first time.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

In this landmark giallo, Tony Musante (who would later find fame as Nino in TV’s Oz) plays Sam, an American writer living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. After a series of other attacks and attempts on the lives of Musante and his lover Julia (played by British scream queen Suzy Kendall), Sam suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. In a bid to clear his name, he sets out to track down the killer  – who turns out to be… Well, that’s for you to find out.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

It was actually Bernardo Bertolucci who started the ball rolling on this production when he originally thought to adapt Fredric Brown’s classic thriller The Screaming Mimi for the big screen. But he ended up handing the reins over to Argento who, along with the celebrated editor Franco Fraticelli, made it his own. The film’s success would cement Argento’s reputation as the Italian Hitchcock, as well as usher in a wave of blood and black lace genre films with crazier and crazier titles.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Back in 2011, Arrow released a High Definition restoration of Bird on Blu-ray (that was slightly grainier than Arrow’s previous releases, but still stunning) presented in the original Univisium aspect ratio, and had the audio defaulted to the original Italian (which I prefer over the English mono). It also included contributions from directors Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino, and a booklet written by Alan Jones.

For their stunning 4k-restored limited edition dual format release, Arrow have really gone to town. So pull on some leather gloves, pour yourself a J&B on the rocks and let the deadly games begin…

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

• Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
• New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
• New interview with writer/director Dario Argento (this 30-minute monologue is a real treat and very instructive)
• New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Double-sided fold-out poster
• 6 Lobby Card reproductions
• Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook

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The Entity (1982) | The supernatural suspense pulsates and Barbara Hershey electrifies in Eureka’s HD release

From Eureka Entertainment comes the Blu-ray release of supernatural terror tale, The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey.

The Entity (1982)

Hershey stars as single mum Carla who, one night, is sexually assaulted in her bedroom by someone – or something – that she cannot see.  Met with scepticism by her attending psychiatrist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver), she is repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath, and in front of her children.

Could this be a case of hysteria or something even more horrific? Now, with a group of liberal-minded parapsychologists, Carla agrees to take part in a bizarre experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately capture the spectral fury…

The Entity (1982)

Penned by Frank De Felitta, the author of the disturbing reincarnation thriller Audrey Rose, who draws on a real-life 1974 case in California, and helmed by veteran director Sidney J Furie, this strange slice of spectrophilia horror hokum caused a protest when the film first opened in London cinemas.

The Entity (1982)

Whether you believe in the film’s premise or not, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be gripped by Hersey’s genuinely moving performance (she’s in nearly every scene), or get angry at the male characters, who regard her (and all women) as merely hysterical and seem to be engaged in a macho pissing game between each other.

Interestingly, the film was made at a time when the feminist establishment in the US was becoming increasingly autocratic and puritan, espousing dogmatic views that were anti – men, sex, art, porn and censorship. And watching the film today, you can see a deliberately provocative anti-patriarchal subtext that warrants further analysis. And while Martin Scorsese regards The Entity as the scariest horror films of all time, maybe its not supernatural elements that unnerves, but male fears of a woman’s true sexual power? It’s certainly food for thought.

The Entity (1982)

The HD remaster looks super, but it also shows up the so-so effects of the Entity when it’s finally trapped – it reminded me of a giant-sized Mr Whippy ice cream version of the Carroon-creature in The Quatermass Xperiment

Kudos, however, go to the pounding sound effects by Nightmare on Elm Street composer Elmer Bernstein, whose evocative score can also be heard in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.

The Entity is released on Blu-ray in the UK through Eureka Entertainment and is available from Amazon

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Ludwig (1973) | Luchino Visconti’s melancholy masterpiece gets a stupendous 4k restoration release

Ludwig (1973)Ludwig. He loved women. He loved men.
He lived as controversially as he ruled.
But he did not care what the world thought. He was the world.

In 1864, 18-year-old Ludwig II (Helmut Berger) ascends the throne of Bavaria. Following a scandal involving Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard) and his mistress Cosima von Bulow (Silvana Mangano), Ludwig is forced to expel them from Munich. Under pressure to marry, the latently homosexual king, who is having an intense relationship with Hungarian actor Josef Kainz (Folker Bohnet), agrees to an arranged wedding with his cousin Sophie (Sonia Petrovna). But the strain of this relationship, the war with Prussia, and fears of a conspiracy brewing his court play havoc on his mental state…

Visconti's Ludwig (1973)

With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to King Ludwig II of Bavaria with this lavish 1972 historical drama that traces his bizarre 22-year reign, ending with his mysterious death in June 1886.

Sporting a sickly countenance and redden eyelids, Helmut Berger’s Ludwig cuts a miserable figure, who sinks further into despair and madness as he moves from one overly ornate palace and castle to another, which soon become gilded prisons, made all the more claustrophobic by the incessant rain and snow showers.

Visconti's Ludwig (1973)

Featuring Armando Nannuzzi’s sumptuous cinematography and Piero Tosi’s Oscar-nominated costume design, Visconti mounts his epic of 19th century decadence on such an opulent scale – and in the very locations that the real king lived (*) – that it needs to be seen in its entirety to admire its dazzling operatic stature. And this new Arrow Academy release presents the film in its completed form in accordance with the director’s wishes, and – for the first time on home video – includes the English-language soundtrack.

Berger dominates every scene, but he does get some excellent support from the ever-reliable Trevor Howard, who is the spitting image of Wagner, and The House That Screamed’s John Moulder-Brown, as his mentally-unstable brother, Prince Otto, while Romy Schneider reprises her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the classic Sissi trilogy. The music includes Richard Wagner’s last original composition for piano, as well as works by Offenbach and Shuman. A melancholy masterpiece deserving of a revisit.

Ludwig Arrow Academy box-setARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• 4K restoration from the original film negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut (1hr:15min) or as five individual parts (with the full pisodes 1-3 are on disc 2)
• Original Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles
• Original English soundtrack available with optional English subtitles (This version also includes the Italian soundtrack where no English track was recorded… which makes for any interesting experience. But if you are familiar with Italian, then it works quite smoothly)
• Interview with actor Helmut Berger (OMG! Be afraid! Be very afraid! Helmut is very candid and very eccentric)
• Interview with producer Dieter Geissler (who also did Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Without Warning and The Neverending Story)
Luchino Visconti: an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico: an interview with the screenwriter
Silvana Mangano – The Scent Of A Primrose: a portrait of the actress (30min)
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Cowie (first pressing only)

DID YOU KNOW?
(*) The film was shot on location in Munich and Bavaria, including Roseninsel, Berg Castle, Lake Starnberg, Castle Herrenchiemsee, Castle Hohenschwangau, Linderhof Palace, Cuvilliés Theatre, Nymphenburg Palace, Ettal, Kaiservilla and Neuschwanstein Castle.

 

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Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) | Is this THE cult movie to end all cult movies?

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

This is not a sequel. There has never been anything like it!
Cult film history was made when maverick sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer joined forces with fellow boob lover Roger Ebert for their 1970 Hollywood satire, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. A fusion of rock, horror, exploitation and musical, it was a project made entirely by accident by two outsiders whom 20th Century Fox bravely gave free reign to in a bid to reverse their dwindling box-office receipts. The result was a freakish creation indeed!

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

This time… they’ve really gone
This wild ride follows band mates Kelly (Dolly Read), Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Petronella (Marcia McBroom), and their naïve manager Harris (David Gurian), as they are taken under the wing of a egocentric LA music mogul, Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John LaZar). But temptation leads our Scooby gang astray (well they do ride around in a combi-van) and their individual fates are all linked to the colourful characters they encounter, including heiress Susan (Phyllis Davis), pretty boy gigolo Lance (Michael Blodgett), sapphic fashion designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin), porn star Ashley (Edy Williams), heavyweight champ Randy (James Iglehart), and dedicated law student Emerson (Harrison Page).

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Painted with a gaudy psychedelic palette, this demented parody of Fox’s pill-popping 1967 melodrama Valley of the Dolls cranks up the soap opera elements to camp excess, while Ebert’s tongue-in-cheek moralising script shines a cynical spotlight on the Hollywood dream factory and the hippy movement – which was dealt a final death blow in the wake of the Manson family murders, and which inspired the film’s OTT drug-fuelled climax.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

The first of the shock rock!
Ebert, of course, not only gave the film its satirical edge and comic tone, but also its immensely quotable dialogue. And he should have got a special award for coming up with lines like: ‘You’re a groovy boy, I want to strap you on sometime’ and ‘You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance’? It’s bonkers, brilliant, and the stuff of legend, as is the incredibly catchy hippy folk rock score.

With help from stoner band The Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Sandpipers, Stu Phillips (who gave us the Battlestar Galactica theme and also worked with The Monkees) and soul singer Lynn Carey (whose full throttled voice is the one behind Dolly Read’s lip-synching) produced one of the greatest film musical soundtracks of all time. Its so deserving of a Rocky Horror-styled sing-along screening.

And what do critics know anyhow! When BVD was released it was labelled ‘garbage’, ‘sick’, and ‘a totally degenerate enterprise’. But it’s now the ultimate cult movie and – if you look closely – you can see its progeny today in shows like Desperate Housewives and Scream Queens.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release features a gorgeous transfer and is packed with extras. Most of these were made back in 2006 for the DVD premiere, but they are a welcome addition (especially as Ebert and two of the cast members have since died), as is the DVD extras of The Seven Minutes (see my separate review). This one’s going straight into my Top 10 releases of 2016.

The Special Extras in full:
• Intro from John LaZar in which he screams, ‘BVD is finally here on DVD. You know it’s your happening and it freaks you out’.
Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley: Meyer’s biographer and various journos discuss his wayward career (which rode the thin line between genius and crazy).
Look On Up at the Bottom: The Music of the Dolls: My favourite extra explores how Stu Phillips’ score paved the way for women in rock like The Runaways.
The Best of Beyond: The cast and crew on their favourite lines, breasts and scenes.
Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby! This short doco looks at the 1960s counter-culture’s dark side.
Casey & Roxanne – The Love Scene: Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers on their controversial lesbian scenes.
Screen Tests: Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom and Michael Blodgett (d 2007) and Cynthia Myers (d 2011) perform the same scene.
• Galleries: Behind the Scenes, Cast Portraits, Film Stills, Marketing Materials.
• Trailers
• Roger Ebert commentary (this is hugely entertaining and quite poignant considering Ebert was in grips of papillary thyroid cancer at the time, and had his lower right jaw removed in June 2006, which cost him his voice. Ebert died in 2013).
• Cast commentary with Erica Gavin, John LaZar, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Dolly Read.

Bad Timing (1980) | Nicolas Roeg hits a raw nerve with his masterful, yet much maligned psycho-sexual thriller

Bad Timing (1980)A possessive man . . . An independent lady . . . and a love that turns to tragedy
Parting amicably from her Czech army pilot husband (Denholm Elliott), troubled Milena (Theresa Russell) starts an on-off affair in post-Cold War Vienna with American psychoanalyst-in-residence, Dr Alex Linden (Art Garkunkel).

At first, Alex accepts Milena seeing other men, but gradually he becomes tormented by jealousy, while Milena resents that his interest in her is purely sexual. When Milena has an apparent drug overdose, a police inspector (Harvey Keitel) questions Dr Linden in a bid to start piecing together the sordid details of their all-consuming passion.

Bad Timing (1980)

A Terrifying Love Story
Nicolas Roeg‘s beautifully-executed, yet deeply disturbing 1980 film set in the city of Klimt and Schiele is a strange brew indeed – an arty, unflinching depiction of a destructive relationship, in which both Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell bring incredibly intensity to their roles as the bird-like Dr Alex Linden (who masks a fearsome control freak under his massive ginger afro) and the volatile Milena (who just wants to be loved, but ultimately is never satisfied).

Much maligned, Bad Timing remains one of Roeg’s most divisive films (he also described it as an apt summation of his career, believing himself to have often been ahead of time, instead of simply being of it).  But it’s certainly worth checking out again. Bleak, brutal and beautiful – at times you think Roeg is breathing masterful life into one of Egon Schiele’s erotic, macabre masterpieces that hang in Vienna’s famed Leopold Museum (which also features in the film).

Bad Timing (1980)

THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Released on Blu-ray as part of Network’s The British Film collection, Bad Timing is presented in a new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features include an interview with producer Jeremy Thomas, theatrical and teaser trailers, deleted scenes, gallery and promotional material in pdf format.

Victim (1961) | This landmark British classic remains a compelling drama about the love that dare not speak its name

Victim_1961_poster

With the ground-breaking 1961 British drama screening on Film4 today at 1.10pm, here’s a look at the film and the 2014 UK Blu-ray release from Network

Ssh! Don’t mention the ‘H’ word…
When youngster Jack Barrett (Peter McEnery) commits suicide in his prison cell after stealing money from his employers, respected barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), who is secretly gay and once had a dalliance with Barrett, risks his reputation, career and marriage to his loving wife Laura (Sylvia Sims) to track down a group of blackmailers preying on homosexual men…

Victim (1961)

A Daring Picture About the World’s Most Un-talked About Subject
This brave, banned and ballsy 1961 British drama could have ended Dirk Bogarde’s career – but it didn’t. In fact, it gave the matinee idol the kudos and respect that he so longed for, and made him one of the most admired actors of his generation.

Directed by Basil Dearden (who also did The Blue Lamp with Bogarde), Victim not only gave the 39-year-old actor his career-best performance, it also shone a very public light on the law of the time which made homosexuality illegal in the UK, and also on the ‘blackmailer’s charter’ that was destroying so many lives in its wake. Banned in the US on its release (the term ‘homosexual’ was outlawed at the time), Victim became a cause célèbre in Britain about attitudes towards homosexuality and a plea for reform (which eventually happened in 1967).

Victim (1961)

Today, this landmark film still packs a mighty blow as a tense and compelling drama, and has become a true British cinematic classic thanks to Basil Dearden’s assured direction, Janet Green and John McCormick’s powerful screenplay, and Otto Heller’s noir-esque monochrome cinematography. Supporting Bogarde there’s impressive roster of rich talent, including Sylvia Syms and Dennis Price.

Victim (1961) on Blu-rayTHE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Network Distributing Blu-ray release features the film in a high definition transfer made from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Dirk Bogarde in Conversation – an extensive interview with Bogarde where he talks frankly about his career
• Original theatrical trailer
• Four image galleries, including extensive promotional and behind-the-scenes shots
• promotional material PDFs

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMW7amjETYU%5D

Rabid Dogs (1974) | Mario Bava’s legendary lost psycho-drama is a blistering thrill-ride

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Lock the doors, roll-up the windows, and buckle up for the ride of your life!
One sweltering Friday morning, the Ajaccio street gang make off with the wages of a pharmaceutical company after a violent raid. When their driver is shot dead and their getaway car runs out of petrol, they take hostage a man on his way to hospital with his sick son in the back seat and a woman out shopping. The gang then head out of the city…

Rabid Dogs (1974)
Mario Bava is one of those film directors who really can turn his unique talents to any genre: horror, sci-fi, psychological thriller, fantasy. And his 1974 crime thriller Rabid Dogs (aka Cani Arrabbiati), is one that I have always wanted to see, but never got around to, mainly because Bava never got to finish it (the producer went bankrupt and the footage impounded), and the releases that came out after his death in 1980 were never his intended vision. Now, Bava’s psycho-drama has been given the Arrow makeover, and they should be commended for undertaking this once lost cinematic gem. It’s the best thing they have done, to date.

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Bava was really hurt by the failure of his dream project Lisa and the Devil (read my review of the Arrow release here), so he decided to try his hand at a crime thriller, which had become popular in Italy in the mid-1970s following the success of the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films. The veteran director drew his inspiration from a 1971 mystery magazine short story (which is reprinted in the collector’s booklet), then put his own spin on the story (adapted by Alessandro Parenzo) by setting it in real time, using real locations (mainly concrete highways, petrol stations and an underground car park), and giving it a docu-Hitchcockian vibe.

It was a departure for a filmmaker best known for artfully-conceived, studio-bound Gothic chillers and psycho thrillers drenched in vivid purple and green lighting effects. But for this sun-scorched thriller, he dispensed with artifice to get up close and personal with the sweating cast crammed inside a stifling hot car (you can almost smell the fear – and the BO), while we, the audience, watch as the power play between the criminals and their hostages builds to a blistering climax (and very clever twist ending).

Rabid Dogs (1974)

It’s this claustrophic technique that makes Rabid Dogs rise the countless other ‘poliziottesco’ films of the era, and why it has its champions in the likes of Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas (who supplies the audio commentary on the Arrow release and also helped rescue it from obscurity in the 1990s) and genre specialist Stephen Thrower, who best sums up the film as ‘a taut, energised, antagonistic film suffused with an amphetamine intensity that leaves the viewer knotted with anxiety and frustration’.(*)

What also grabbed me was the mesmerising performances; particularly Lea Lander (who reminded me of Karen Black), whose unfortunate hostage gets pawed at, slobbered over and humiliated by two of the thugs, Thirty-Two (played by Luigi Montefiori, aka Western star George Eastman) and Blade (Don Backy). These guys are so maniac with their facial expressions its quite unnerving to watch. Brilliant though!

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Interestingly, it was Lander who helped revive the film from obscurity in the first place by putting together the film’s original DVD release in 1998. The film was then re-edited and re-scored by Lamberto Bava (Mario’s son) and released under the title Kidnapped (a re-mastered HD version is included in Arrow’s release).

Arrow’s restoration, however, is a re-master of Bava’s intended version of the film and uses composer Stelvio Cipriani‘s original retro score (completed for Bava’s first cut), which is way better than the tinny synth track he created for Kidnapped. I could go on – but really just do yourself a favour and add this one to your cult collection. It’s a winner!

Arrow’s special features include both the Blu-ray and DVD presentation of Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped with new English subtitles. Also included is the 2007 documentary, End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped, an interview with Umberto Lenzi, and the alternate Semaforo Rosso title sequence.

(*) Quote from Stephen Thrower’s Fear by Noonlight [great title btw] article in the collector’s booklet
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