Before gaining fame battling David Bowie’s bewigged King Jareth in 1986’s Labyrinth, a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly starred in Dario Argento’s bizarre and eccentric horror Phenomena.
Sent to a posh Swiss boarding school by her absent film star dad, Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) learns of a serial killer targeting young girls in the area. With the help of Donald Pleasence’s wheelchair-bound entomologist, Jennifer discovers she has special psychic powers and a natural affinity with insects. She then uses these skills to track down the killer.
This being an Argento film, much mayhem ensues with lashings of grisly decapitations and stabbings, swarms of insects, a razor-wielding chimp and that classic horror staple – a monster in the basement.
Argento’s cameras really soar to great heights here. Taking his cameras out of Rome’s studios for a change, he really goes to town on the beautiful Swiss landscapes (the film was shot around Appenzell and Canton St Gallen). Watching Arrow’s new 4k restoration on blu-ray is a real treat watching on a big screen as you find yourself yourself flying high above the alpines, like one of the winged beasties buzzing about.
As with all Argento films, music plays a huge role, from the incongruous (Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade bellowing out during one death scene really spoils the atmosphere) to the sublime, courtesy of Goblin of course (the scene in which Jennifer is led to the killer’s glove by a firefly is truly haunting). After Profundo Rosso and Suspiria, this is one of band’s best-ever Argento scores.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of Phenomena when I first saw it on VHS back in the late-1980s, as it was such a big departure from Argento’s previous supernatural shockers. But it is actually much better than I remembered. In fact, I now ‘get’ what Argento was aiming for – a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale, with just a dash of surreal slash and gore. It’s not perfect, but it’s brutally beautiful work of cinematic art just the same – and probably Argento’s last truly great film.
Back in 2011 Arrow released a box-set containing a superb HD transfer of the Italian cut featuring some missing English audio sections, along with a ‘making of’ documentary, an interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti, and a Q&A with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. Now they have set their sights on creating the definitive home entertainment release – and if you look at what’s in the box, it just well maybe so.
• Brand new 4k restoration from the original camera negative (Arrow Video exclusive) of the 116-minute Italian version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• New hybrid English/Italian soundtrack 5.1 Surround/or Stereo with English subtitles
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Jennifer music video, directed by Dario Argento
• Rare Japanese vintage pressbook
• 110-minute international version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• The Three Sarcophagi: a new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie comparing the different cuts of Phenomena
• 83-minute Creepers cut on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• Of Flies and Maggots: feature-length documentary (March 2017) including interviews with Dario Argento, actors Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta, Daria Nicolodi and Fiorenza Tessari, co-writer Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, assistant director Michele Soavi, special optical effects artist Luigi Cozzi, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti
• Remastered soundtrack CD featuring the complete Goblin instrumental soundtrack, plus four bonus tracks by Simon Boswell and Andi Sex Gang
• Limited edition 60-page booklet
The iconic 1980s horror Fright Night is out in a dual-format special edition from Eureka Classics in the UK featuring a 4k digital restoration of the film and a coffin load of bonus material (check them out below). And the best news? It’s currently available on Amazon for just 8 quid (while the Limited Edition Steelbook is fetching £69.99).
This 1985 vampire movie certainly has plenty of bite – but also strikes the perfect balance of blood and guts horror and darkly comic humour. And alongside the same year’s, The Return of the Living Dead, it remains one of my personal favourites that I return to time and again.
If you love being scared, it’ll be the night of your life…
No-one will believe teenager Charley (William Ragsdale) when he tells them that a vampire called Jerry (Chris Sarandon) has moved into the house next door and is seducing and murdering young maidens there. He then turns to TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help. Lured by a $500 incentive by Charley’s girlfriend (Amanda Bearse), who happens to look like Jerry’s long-lost love, the one-time Great Vampire Killer discovers that Jerry is indeed a vampire as he casts no reflection in a glass – and so the deadly games begin…
Sarandon is every inch the smoothie-savage bloodsucker, while Stephen Geoffreys steals every scene he’s in as Charley’s bestie turned beastie ‘Evil Ed’. But the real star of this late night horror show is Roddy McDowall, whose character name is made up of two iconic horror actors – Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Alongside his turns in the Planet of the Apes films, this must rank as one of his career-best turns.
• 4K digital restoration, with original stereo PCM soundtrack and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options, plus English subtitles
• You’re So Cool, Brewster! Exclusive to this release, a two-hour version of the 2016 documentary on the making of Fright Night.
• What is Fright Night? 2016 video piece featuring cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Tom Holland: Writing Horror, a 2016 video piece featuring interviews with Holland and his collaborators (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Rowdy McDowall: From Apes to Bats, a 2016 video piece featuring archival footage of McDowall and cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Fear Fest 2 2008 reunion panel featuring Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Shock Till You Drop Present Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek, a three-part video interview on the film (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• The full electronic press kit, featuring extensive on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Stills and memorabilia from Tom Holland’s personal collection (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• G-rated and R-rated theatrical trailers (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Collector’s booklet (STEELBOOK EXCLUSIVE)
In the 1970s, the name Dan Curtis was synonymous with horror and fantasy on TV. Having cut his fangs on the long-running Gothic soap Dark Shadows in the late-1960s, he gave many a young horror fan sleepless nights – myself included – with genuinely frightening TV movies like The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror, adaptations of Victorian horror classics, including Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, and big-screen forays (Burnt Offerings being my favourite).
And towering above them all (to use a line from the trailer) is this handsome adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from a screenplay by the legendary Richard Matheson, with Jack Palance (who’d previously done Jekyll & Hyde) pulling on the well-worn cloak and fangs.
While the influence of Universal and Hammer’s Gothic classics is evident, Curtis’ teledrama aims to be more faithful to Stoker’s source material, but flavors it with some high romance by fusing the Count’s connection to real-life 15th-century soldier statesmen Vlad Tepes with a subplot about him pursuing the reincarnation of his beloved Elizabeth, who died at the hands of an invading army (something Coppola would also do in his 1992 adaptation).
Jack Palance reigns in the over-acting to give a deeply affecting performance. He plays Dracula as an obsessed stalker and a caged animal waiting to explode. And boy, doesn’t he so when his coffins are set on fire and he looses his lost love (a sensuous looking Fiona Lewis) a second time? Nigel Davenport gives his Van Helsing muscle, guts and intelligence, but Simon Ward is quite insipid as the floppy-haired Holmwood. However, it’s Penelope Horner’s brave Mina (oddly pronounced here) who comes off the real hero when she puts herself up as bait so the vampire hunters can capture, corner and kill the bloodsucker.
Now Curtis always made his images count (I still cant forget Trilogy of Terror‘s Zuni doll), and this macabre melodrama provides many that continue to haunt: the mist rising from a black Transylvanian lake; the pack of Alsatians racing toward Dracula’s mountain-top castle; Lucy’s tear-stained corpse and her rain-swept funeral cortège decked in the finest Victorian mourning garb (Goths will love that one), not to mention Palance’s vengeful Dracula pacing the room in circles, his cloak flapping about like some hideous black spectre.
The classy period drama also makes splendid use of the British and former Yugoslavian locations; a fleet of vintage carriages; a real-life castle (Trakoscan in Croatia); and some grand homes – especially so that old favourite, Oakley Court, in Windsor, which serves as the exterior for Carfax Abbey.
This Screenbound Pictures presentation (available on region free Blu-ray and DVD) has been transferred and restored in 2K HD from the original 35mm camera negative which gives great justice to Curtis’ atmospheric cinematography and is a fitting addition to their Screenbound Classic Movie Collection.
Once voted the ‘Best British film ever made’ in a poll by the BFI, 1949’s The Third Man has been given a stunning 4k restoration and is now available to own on DVD and Blu-ray in a collector’s edition that includes a host of brand new extras, from Studiocanal.
HUNTED…By a thousand men! Haunted…By a lovely girl!
Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a writer of pulp Westerns, arrives in post-war Vienna on the invitation of his childhood friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). But on arrival he finds that Harry has recently been killed by a car whilst crossing the street, leaving a grief-stricken lover, Anna (Alida Valli).
When local British investigating office Calloway (Trevor Howard) claims that Lime was an unsavoury criminal, Martins accepts an offer from a local book club to stay in Vienna in order to clear his friend’s name. As he investigates his friend’s last hours, he grows closer to the doomed Anna, and learns of an unidentified ‘third man’ at the scene of the accident, who may hold the key to the deepening mystery surrounding Harry’s death.
He’ll have you in a dither with his zither!
Upon its release in 1949, director Carol Reed’s atmospheric thriller The Third Man instantly became a classic, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, a BAFTA for Best British Film, and the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Robert Krasker. Featuring some of cinema’s most memorable set pieces and quotable lines, the film’s Viennese locations quickly etch themselves in the memory. The city may have been bombed out and strewn with rubble, divided into four sectors by the Allies, but it still stood tall in all its faded grandeur.
The film was also the masterwork of it’s key players – Carol Reed, Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, as well as Graham Greene, who wrote the script while holed up in the now legendary Hotel Sacher, where Cotten’s Martins stays in the film, and composer Anton Karas, who was then a musician for hire playing in the wine gardens of Vienna when Carol Reed first encountered him. His six week work on the soundtrack resulted in a unique and melancholy zither score that has since become iconic.
The 4-disc Blu-ray collector’s edition includes the Deluxe 4k restored print of the feature, the full soundtrack by Anton Karas, with zither music performed by Gertrud Huber, a set of postcards, and the following extras:
• Audio Commentary with Guy Hamilton, Simon Callow & Angela Allen
• Shadowing The Third Man featurette
• Interview & Zither Performance by Cornelia Mayer
• The Third Man Interactive Vienna Tour
• Guardian NFT Interview – Joseph Cotten & Graham Greene (Audio Only)
• Joseph Cotten’s Alternate Opening Voiceover Narration
• The Third Man: A Filmmaker’s Influence featurette
• Restoring The Third Man featurette
• Dangerous Edge: Graham Greene Documentary
Ganja & Hess (1973) | Hailed and damned and hailed again! Bill Gunn’s cult masterpiece now on Blu-ray in the UK
Some marriages are made in heaven, others are made in hell!
While studying the ancient Mythria tribe of Africa, wealthy anthropologist Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones) is stabbed with a ceremonial dagger by his unstable new assistant George (Bill Gunn), endowing him with immortality and cursing him to drink human blood. Following George’s suicide, his sassy, no-nonsense wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) comes look for answers, but ends up finding a unexpected soul mate in Hess, which results in the couple’s ritualistic union. But when Hess finally decides to seek salvation in a bizarre act of self-exorcism, Ganja isn’t so willing to give up her newly acquired immortality…
‘One of the most literate, allegorical, and evasive of all horror films’
David Walker & Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog
Before you sit down to watch this, be warned! Ganja & Hess is neither a blaxploitation film nor a vampire movie (which it was intended to be). It is, in fact, a hauntingly original, highly-stylised drama about sex, faith, addiction and African American identity. A cult film in the true sense of the word, its fractured history is the stuff of underground cinema legend.
US playwright Bill Gunn was in the right place and the right time when he was handed US$350,000 to make his debut feature. But though he was supposed to have made a blaxploitation horror to ride on the cape and coat-tails of Blacula and its sequel (reviewed here), he ended up giving his producers an enigmatic meditation on addiction with an improvised Bergmanesque bent and an newly-radicalised African American agenda. It earned rave reviews at Cannes, but wasn’t what the producers ordered. They responded by re-editing it (excising all of the arty bits) and releasing it as Blood Couple (as well as Double Possession and Back Vampire amongst others) for the drive-in and grindhouse circuits. Gunn was furious. And so should have been.
Gunn’s marginalised masterpiece ended up fading into obscurity, while the director himself died prematurely in 1989 (from encephalitis). But thanks to film historian David Kalat, a director’s cut of the film was eventually released in 1998, followed by a HD version in the US under the Kino label. Now, the film gets it UK debut on Blu-ray and DVD from Eureka! Entertainment.
An important work in African-American cinema, Ganja & Hess is much more than just a failed horror movie experiment. Inspired by Gunn’s vision, film-maker Spike Lee has even filmed a remake, entitled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, which hits US cinemas in February 2015.
Ganja & Hess is certainly difficult to digest in one sitting (especially the lengthy monologues), but it’s worth the effort. The images are many and multi-layered, fired by the director’s imagination and intellectual agenda; while the soundtrack is a fusion of soul and gospel, droning psychedelia, and primal screaming. The 16mm and 35mm film stocks used give the images a hazy, dreamlike quality that’s entirely suited to Gunn’s maverick style. And its worth noting that both George Romero’s Martin (1977) and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) share its gritty low-budget look and vampiric/addiction themes.
Cult film fans will recognise Duane Jones from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. He was actually working as a teacher at the time and only did the film as a favour for Gunn; while the guy playing Ganja’s well-endowed lover was in fact a teacher friend of Johnson’s. Ganja & Hess (yes it is a play on the word hash) is a must-have for any serious cult film collection.
THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
Ganja & Hess is available on Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) from 26 January 2015 in the UK from Eureka! Entertainment, and this what you get:
• 1080p high-definition transfer of the original 16mm film elements, presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary, recorded in 1998, with producer Chiz Schultz, actress Marlene Clark, cinematographer James Hinton and composer Sam Waymon . This is hugely informative and very entertaining, and helps fill in those gaps about the what the film is about. It was also included on the 2012 Kino release.
• Select scene commentary with David Kalat
• The Blood of the Thing. David Kalat leads a 29-min interview-based documentary. Very basic, but informative. It also appeared on the Kino release.
• Gunn’s original screenplay available via DVD-Rom and BD-Rom.
• Reversible Sleeve
• 24-page booklet featuring an essay on the history of the film and a vintage letter written by Gunn to the New York Times in 1973.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) | Val Guest’s British doomsday drama more explosive than ever in HD
Newly re-mastered by the BFI National Archive, the definitive version of the classic 1961 British science fiction thriller The Day the Earth Caught Fire is released this week in the UK by the BFI on both DVD and Blu-ray, and contains a host of worthy extras, including a commentary with director Val Guest, a newly-created documentary, a selection of bomb-related archive films and much more. See below for the full list.
ABOUT THE FILM
It’s quite scary how many of the themes explored in director Val Guest‘s riveting end of the world drama, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, are still relevant today, especially with regards to global warming, domestic unrest (as witnessed in the 2011 London riots), the fear of another Cold War with Russia, and our love/hate relationship with the media.
Set almost entirely in the frantic Fleet Street newsroom of the Daily Express during an unseasonal heatwave, this restrained British disaster movies follows a group of journos as they investigate increasingly bizarre weather conditions, only to discover that atomic testing by the US and the USSR has knocked the Earth off its axis causing it to hurtle towards the Sun. As the world waits for its likely end, the city’s teenagers enjoy jazz-fuelled riots in the streets (and in bathtubs) and when more bombs are exploded to try to reverse the damage, two newspaper headlines are prepared: World Saved and World Doomed…
There’s more talk than action in this 1961 British sci-fi, but Val Guest’s brittle script and documentary-styled direction is intelligent and sincere, providing a vivid depiction of British newspaper journalism (before it went to the dogs) as well as important social commentary (especially about those ‘in charge’), while the excellent cast breathes authentic life into their well-rounded characters. TV’s Rumpole of the Bailey Leo McKern is just super playing a gruff science editor, Edward Judd (Island of Terror) is the fed-up alcoholic reporter who discovers his inner-hero as the crisis unfolds, and Janet Munro (The Trollenburg Terror) is the no-nonsense secretary who spills the beans on the testing.
Guest, who also co-wrote and produced the film, also makes brilliant use of the London locations, including Fleet Street, the Daily Express building and nearby St Bride’s Avenue, which only serves to give his sci-fi an unnerving reality. Alongside When Worlds Collide, Crack in the World and Dr Strangelove, this is a sci-fi classic of note that’s worth revisiting time and again.
BFI SPECIAL FEATURES
• New 4K transfer
• Hot Off the Press: Revisiting the Day the Earth Caught Fire (2014, 34min) An illuminating documentary about the film and its legacy.
• Audio commentary with Val Guest and Ted Newsom. I haven’t heard this all the way through yet, as I wanted to see the Blu-ray restoration first. Which is just fantastic!
• Interview with Leo McKern (2001) The sound quality might be poor, but McKern is fab and its set in a pub near St Bride’s Lane.
• Audio Appreciation by Graeme Hobbs (2014, 9min) Budding film reviews take note, Hobbs has a way with words here.
• Original trailer, TV spots and radio spots
• Stills and Collections Gallery
• Three nuclear films from the BFI National Archive: Operation Hurricane (Ronald Stark, 1952, 33min); The H-bomb (David Villiers, 1956, 22min); The Hole in the Ground (David Cobham, 1962, 30min). The inclusion of these illustrates why the BFI Archives are so important in maintaining the legacy of British film and TV history.
• Think Bike (1978, 1min) This road safety film with actor Edward Judd is a real gem
• Illustrated booklet with credits and essays
• Blu-ray exclusive. The Guardian Lecture: Val Guest and his wife, actress Yolande Dolan interviewed by David Meeker at the National Film Theatre (1998, 63min)
The Day the Earth Caught Fire is out now from BFI on dual format Blu-ray and DVD. Click here to order.
Gerry Anderson fans rejoice! Following the news that the acclaimed documentary Filmed in Supermarionation will gets its UK premiere on 30 September, as the curtain raiser to the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder Sci-Fi season, Network have announced a special limited edition Blu-ray box-set will be released on 20 October.
Limited to 2,500 copies and available exclusively from networkonair.com and gerryanderson.co.uk (pre-orders start today 1 August), the covetable Supermarionation box-set marries the documentary with newly-restored key episodes from the Supermarionation spectrum. Also included is an expanded edition of Stephen La Riviere’s book, an exclusive one-off TV21 comic, and a wallet of postcards featuring newly created artwork.
THE FULL SPECS:
• Filmed In Supermarionation – Blu-ray edition features a wealth of special features including extended interviews and full length archive material. See the trailer below.
• This Is Supermarionation – Blu-ray
Lady Penelope and Parker host a four hour Supermarionation marathon (Four Feather Falls: Gunfight on Main Street; Supercar: False Alarm; Fireball XL5: Space City Special; Stingray: pilot; Thunderbirds: Terror in New York City; Captain Scarlet: The Mysterons; Joe 90: Hi-Jacked; The Secret Service: More Haste, Less Speed),
• HD21 – The Lost Worlds Of Gerry Anderson In High Definition – Blu-ray
Two additional Blu-ray discs of restored key episodes (Supercar: Crash Landing; Fireball XL5: Planet 46; Stingray: Plant of Doom; Stingray: Titan Goes Pop; Thunderbirds: Trapped in the Sky; Captain Scarlet: Treble Cross; Joe 90: The Most Special Agent; Supercar: Talisman of Sargon; Fireball XL5: XL5 to H2O; Stingray: Count Down; Thunderbirds: Atlantic Inferno; Captain Scarlet: Winged Assassin; Captain Scarlet: Noose of Ice; The Secret Service: A Case for the BISHOP)
• TV21 – Edition 243
Exclusive brand-new edition of the classic Century 21 comic TV21.
An exclusive wallet of A5-sized postcards featuring some of the Justin T Lee’s stylish graphics originally produced for the film and book.
THE TERRIFYING LOVER WHO DIED – YET LIVED!
During the autumn of 1885, Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) puts a stake through the heart of his friend Jonathan Harker after he falls victim to a vampire, Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). When Harker’s fiancée Lucy (Carol Marsh) is turned into one of the undead, Van Helsing brandishes his stake again, setting her soul free. Robbed of his conquest, Dracula seeks revenge by seducing Lucy’s sister-in-law, Mina (Melissa Stribling). Can husband Arthur (Michael Gough) and Van Helsing find a way to free her from Dracula’s blood lust before its too late…
DON’T DARE SEE IT… ALONE!
With it’s blood-splattered opening shot, Hammer’s 1958 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel welcomed in a new generation of horror – Hammer horror and all in colour. The gothic melodrama’s blend of the erotic with the horrific was a box-office success that set the benchmark for the studio’s subsequent output, and turned Cushing and Lee into one of cinema’s most famous double acts.
But it was another duo who were responsible for Hammer’s greatest achievement – director Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster. Their moral fairy tale about adultery forever changed people’s perceptions of Bram Stoker’s novel and relegated Tod Browning’s stagey 1931 version to the knacker’s yard. By turning Dracula into a demon lover who threatens the conservative values of the Transylvanian equivalent of home counties Britain, they also connected with a pre-permissive 1950s audience. It was shocking, but it worked. From now on, Dracula meant sex.
In 2007, Dracula underwent a BFI restoration, HD re-mastering and a theatrical re-release. In 2011, sections of an extended print were discovered in Tokyo. These included two scenes originally censored by the BBFC in 1958: Dracula’s seduction of Mina and Dracula’s disintegration (pictured above) After extensive restoration, the most complete version of the 1958 film has now been achieved. It has also gone back to using the original UK title, Dracula, rather than the US title, Horror of Dracula.
THE BLU-RAY RELEASE
Fully restored in high definition, at the correct aspect ratio, on Blu-ray and DVD, the Lionsgate UK release contains both restorations and a bounty of extras that will be of huge interest to fans – especially the four surviving un-restored Japanese film reels and the original shooting script. This release makes a perfect companion to Lionsgate’s restored version of Hammer’s first horror, The Curse of Frankenstein (read my review here).
For the first time in the UK comes the Blu-ray release of Roma, one of the most colourful spectacles in the cinema of Federico Fellini. This homage to Rome brings the Eternal City to exuberant outrageous life through a surreal mix of fantasy, documentary and autobiography.
Of all of Fellini’s wildly expressive art movies, Roma is the one I return to time and again. Why? Because it operates on a purely subconscious level. It’s blend of memory and fantasy creates a surreal travelogue that haunts you forever. And the director’s ornately orchestrated set pieces are not only a sensorial delight; they also seem to get to the core of what it is to be Roman.
Part one, set in 1939 on the eve of war, shows a young Fellini discovering the city’s bustling life for the first time, and this is wonderfully illustrated in a stunning scene in which an entire neighbourhood dine on steaming plates of pasta on a crowded street during a heatwave.
In the second part, set in the 1970s, an older Fellini is filming his documentary, in which he is trying to discover the real Rome. And it’s with these segments that he wields his cinema magic: A film crew struggles in the rain to shoot footage of a new ring road as prostitutes ply their trade on the roadside; archaeologists discover a 2000-year-old Roman house in a subterranean tunnel only for the frescos to fade before their eyes in a matter of seconds; and a motorcycle gang take a night through the deserted city, their headlights creating ghostly shadows of the facades of Rome’s most iconic sites, before disappearing into the darkness.
But it’s the papal fashion show that is the film’s high point. This comic communion of cartoon camp and Catholic pageantry is cinematic genius, and Nino Rota’s funereal score only adds to the religious ecstasy that unfolds. This is satire in its shiniest ecclesiastical garb, while the film’s closing shots, as the motorcyclists head into the night, makes for a seemless link to Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty which, in my mind, makes for an ideal companion piece to Fellini’s triumphant homage.
The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release includes a 1080p HD transfer of the international cut, restored in 2010 from a 35mm negative, with options to watch the film with or without subtitles, with English audio, and with separate music and effects tracks. There’s also an interview with Italian cinema expert Chris Wagstaff, deleted scenes and two trailers.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUM04XoQ4rU%5D
The Night of the Hunter (1955) | Charles Laughton’s Southern Gothic masterpiece gets a stunning new restoration
‘Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand left-hand?’
In search of stolen loot, itinerant preacher Harry Powel (Robert Mitchum), who has the words ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on his knuckles, arrives in a small Southern town where he marries then murders his former cellmate’s wife Willa (Shelley Winters) before chasing her two young children down river. But standing in his way is a elderly woman (Lillian Gish) who is prepared to protect the frightened children at all costs…
LAUGHTON’S SINISTER LOVE CHILD
Actor/director Charles Laughton’s child’s-eye-view 1955 adaptation of Davis Grubb’s 1953 Southern Gothic novel is unique among Hollywood’s golden age of films as its expressionistic style sets it apart from the kind of movies being made in the 1950s, and this is all down to Laughton’s surrealist sets and stylised dialogue and cinematographer Stanley Cortez‘s luminous monochrome camerawork, that brilliantly evoke the silent film masterpieces of FW Murnau (of Nosferatu fame) and DW Griffith (the casting of Griffith’s muse Lillian Gish is a knowing nod).
The film, however, was commercial and critical failure, which deeply depressed Laughton (he would never again take to the director’s chair), but it has since gone on to become a bona fide American cinema classic, garnering legions of fans and always topping best-ever film lists.
There’s also Robert Mitchum, who gives a career-best performance as Harry Powell – one of fiction’s greatest villains. His woman-hating corrupt reverend turned serial killer is truly terrifying and Mitchum plays him with a nonchalant charisma that’s totally Mitchum-esque, and this was best summed up when Laughton warned the film noir legend that the character he was to play was a ‘complete shit’, at which Mitchum famously replied: ‘Present’.
If you have never seen The Night of the Hunter, then the new restoration – which is now available to own on Blu-ray and returns to UK cinemas early next year – is the perfect way to rediscover Laughton’s dark fairytale and get spellbound by Mitchum’s powerhouse performance.
THE ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
The Blu-ray release features the 1955 film in its original aspect ratio (1.66:1) in a new digital transfer made from restored 35mm film elements, and includes a two-and-a-half-hour documentary on the making of the film featuring archive material give to the American Film Institute by Laughton’s widow Elsa Lanchester, an interview with cinematographer Stanley Cortez, isolated music and effects soundtrack, original theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork by Graham Humphreys, and a collector’s booklet.
THE UK CINEMA RE-RELEASE
The new restoration of The Night of the Hunter is also back in cinemas from 17 January 2014, opening at BFI Southbank in London, as part of the continuing Gothic season, and selected cinemas nationwide, courtesy of Park Circus.