Blog Archives

Identification of a Woman (1982) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s final film gets a 40th-anniversary restoration release

Michelangelo Antonioni’s rarely seen final masterwork, 1982’s Identification of a Woman (AKA dentificazione di una donna), is the director’s own bookend to his lifelong exploration of the imprecise nature of human relationships, incommunicability and alienation. Now it’s getting a 2K restoration release from CultFilms on Blu-ray and digital on-demand (from 12 September 2022).

After his wife leaves him, a film director (Tomas Milian) is searching for a muse while preparing his new film. He enters into a passionate affair with a striking young aristocratic woman (Daniela Silverio). But after a stranger orders him to stop seeing her, she vanishes shortly after… While searching for her, he encounters a young actress (Christine Boisson), who joins him on the hunt for his missing muse.

Tellingly prescient, Identification of a Woman is a spellbinding anti-romance depicting a modernising world beset by fear and was awarded the Anniversary Prize at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. Each frame, beautifully conceived by Antonioni and cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, is an essential part of the storytelling. Having undergone a new 2K restoration, this Blu-ray release finally does justice to the original vision of Antonioni’s painterly yet unsettling masterpiece.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Full HD 1080p from 2K restoration
• Original Italian audio
• New, improved English subtitles + closed caption subtitles for HOH
• New video essay by scholar Pasquale Iannone
Identification of a Director: a candid, in-depth interview with Antonioni’s wife Enrica Fico-Antonioni
With Michelangelo: an intimate hour-long video diary of Antonioni filmed by Enrica

Edge of Sanity (1989) | The lurid Anthony Perkins Jekyll and Hyde meets Jack the Ripper horror on Blu-ray

When his experiments into a new anaesthetic using cocaine go awry, respected London physician Dr Jekyll (Anthony Perkins) takes off into the night in pursuit of sensual pleasures under the guise of Mr Jack Hyde. As his wife Elisabeth (Glynis Barber) continues her charity work with Whitechapel’s fallen women, Jekyll’s growing addiction draws him into an escalating cycle of lust and murder as the seemingly unstoppable Hyde. Can he be saved? Does he want to be saved?

Produced by the legend that is Harry Alan Towers (AKA the king of the co-production deal), this 1989 independent horror is an intoxicating fusion of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Jack the Ripper’s real-life reign of terror over Victorian London – but with an interesting (contemporary) spin that incorporates the power of drugs to unleash the unconscious mind.

From an idea by Towers (under his Peter Welbeck pseudonym) and helmed with a surreal, lurid eye by French erotica director Gérard Kikoïne, Edge of Sanity afforded Perkins one of the best performances in his final years before his death in 1992. Sporting just a bit of red eyeliner and red lipstick, a pallid complexion, and greased down bangs, he brings his bisexual drug fiend Hyde to savage, livid life (and chews the scenery in the best possible way), and effectively counterpoints this with a gentlemanly, staid Jekyll, who is the embodiment of Victorian values.

The film also boasts hugely atmospheric lighting and camerawork, and evocative Budapest location work. Indeed just some set-up shots were filmed in London, but you’d never guess – except for one scene that takes place at Budapest’s famed Art Nouveau Gellért Thermal Bath. Kikoïne also makes excellent use of the red and pink-tinged brothel set for the film’s kinky hallucinogenic scenes that border on Ken Russell-styled excess.

Thanks to this new 2k restoration, this is the best the film has ever looked. Indeed I had only ever seen it before in a muddy VHS print, so this has been a revelation – as have been the extras, which add a new dimension to the horror slasher.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Audio commentary by writer David Flint and author/filmmaker Sean Hogan
French Love: an interview with director Gérard Kikoïne (French with subtitles)
Staying Sane: Gérard Kikoïne discusses Edge of Sanity (French with subtitles)
Edward’s Edge: an interview with Edward Simons
Over the Edge: Stephen Thrower on Edge of Sanity (ED: loved Stephen’s analysis of the film’s anachronisms which places Hyde into a late-1980s post-punk, goth and alt clubbing context and compares them with the visual style of Derek Jarman)
Jack, Jekyll and Other Screen Psychos: an interview with Jack the Ripper in Film and Culture author Dr Clare Smith
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jon Towlson

Outside the Law (1920) | Tod Browning’s silent gangster thriller starring Lon Chaney sure packs a punch

From the director who gave us Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932) and the legendary silent screen star who was the Man of a Thousand Faces, comes the gritty 1920 American crime drama, Outside the Law, on Blu-ray (from a 4k restoration) as part of Eureka! Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

While under contract at Universal Studios (1919-1923), director Tod Browning crafted a string of melodramas with strong female protagonists, including nine features with the studio’s leading actress of the era, Priscilla Dean, who was best known for her anti-heroine tough girl roles. Following his breakout role in 1919’s The Miracle Man, Lon Chaney became America’s foremost character actor thanks to his acting prowess and his incredible make-up skills.

Chaney and Dean first paired together in Browning’s 1919 melodrama The Wicked Darling, and on the back of that film’s success were reunited for Outside the Law, which not only showcases their talents but also Browning’s burgeoning aesthetic for melodrama and the grotesque. It also heralded the beginning of Chaney and Browning’s 10 picture collaborations which would result in some of their finest work on screen.

Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Outside the Law sees Dean playing tough gangster Molly Madden, the daughter of mob boss Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis) who is trying to go straight with the help of Confucianist philosopher, Chang Lo (E Alyn Warren). When he is framed for murder by notorious hoodlum Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney), Molly seeks out safecracker Dapper Bill (Wheeler Oakman) to stage a double-cross to get revenge. Let the chase begin!

Boasting elaborate set design, stylised camera compositions, meticulous editing, and thrilling action sequences, including a very bloody and violent climax that gives even today’s big-budget crime dramas a run for their money, Outside the Law is one of the most exciting, intelligent, psychological driven American silent crime dramas that makes it a certified genre classic.

While Dean is certainly the star of the film, it’s Chaney who steals every scene, and he gets to show his range and make-up skills in two very diverse roles: that of the vicious Black Mike and as Ah Wing, the heroic Chinese servant who ends up saving the day. Now, I know this is a [SPOILER], but Chaney gets to shoot himself in a cleverly-constructed scene that took two weeks to film. For that scene alone, it’s worth seeking out this gorgeous restoration release.

Now while much effort has gone into the preservation of the film, two short sequences were impossible to repair – and while it is unfortunately this happens during a crucial moment in the film, it is still great to see Outside the Law restored and made available to a new generation of cinema lovers more than a century after it was released.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures
  • Musical score by Anton Sanko
  • New video interview with author/critic Kim Newman
  • 1926 re-release alternate ending (from a rare Universal Show-At-Home 16mm print)
  • A collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Richard Combs

Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/outside-the-law/

Man Made Monster | Universal’s 1941 mad scientist shocker ignites on Blu-ray

Lon Chaney Jr makes his horror debut alongside Hollywood’s most exquisite villain of the 1930s and 1940s, Lionel Atwill, in Universal’s 1941 horror Man Made Monster, which makes its UK Blu-ray debut in Eureka Entertainment’s two-disc Three Monster Tales of Sci-fi Terror box-set (due out 11 April 2022).

THE TOUCH OF DEATH!
When carny Dan McCormick AKA Dynamo Dan, the Electric Man (Chaney Jr) miraculously survives a bus crash into a power line, electrophysiologist Dr John Lawrence (Samuel S Hinds) invites him to stay at his medical facility, The Moors, so he can study him and his seemingly natural immunity. But the kindly doctor’s assistant, Dr Paul Rigas (Atwill), has other plans.

In secret, Dr Rigas pumps Dan with increasingly higher doses of electricity so he can prove his theory that he can create a race of electrically-charged super slaves. Soon poor Dan becomes a ghostly glowing killing machine and nothing can stop him – not even the electric chair.

Man-Made Monster (the hyphen was added for the film poster) was originally planned to be a vehicle for Bela Lugosi when it was first mooted back in 1936 under the title The Electric Man. But it was shelved as being too similar to the same year’s The Invisible Ray.

In his first leading role, Chaney Jr gives an endearing turn as the gentle pooch-loving everyman in the film’s first half. But once he’s drugged up on Atwill’s electrical fixes, he turns into a mute, slow-moving monster. Luckily, we have John P Fulton’s effective special effects, some moody lighting and a great lab set to enjoy as well as Atwill’s feverish performance. This is possibly his most OTT mad scientist role and he milks the ripe dialogue to the hilt – most significantly his big speech when questioned about challenging the forces of Creation:

‘Bah! You know as well as I do that more than half the people of the world are doomed to a life of mediocrity – born to be nonentities, millstones around the neck of progress, men who have to be fed, watched, looked over, and taken care of by a superior intelligence.’

Atwill also gets some choice lines when revealing his insane idea to an elegant Vera West-styled Anne Nagel, who plays the film’s plucky heroine, June: ‘I’ve always found that the female of the species was more sensitive to electrical impulse than the male. Shall I show you how it was done?‘.

Shot in three weeks on one of Universal’s cheapest budgets, Man-Made Monster proved a modest winner at the box office when released in March 1941, and earned Chaney Jr a contract with the studio. It also kick-started his horror career which would be cemented when he reteamed with director George Waggner for The Wolf Man nine months later. Atwill, meanwhile, was facing a personal crisis. Just a few months after his character, Dr Rigas, commits perjury in the film’s big courtroom scene, Atwill was given a five-year probation sentence (and blacklisted) for the same offence over the 1941 alleged occurrence of a sex orgy at his home.

Be prepared for a tearful ending featuring Hollywood canine Corky (he’s so darn cute).

The Eureka Classics box-set, Three Monster Tales of Sci-fi Terror also includes 1957’s The Monolith Monsters and 1958’s Monster on the Campus. You can read my reviews on those films by clicking on the titles. Also included in the box set are brand new audio commentaries on each film, photo galleries and a limited edition collector’s booklet.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase
• 1080p presentations on Blu-ray
• Disc One – Man-Made Monster and The Monolith Monsters 
• Disc Two – Monster on the Campus (available in both 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios)
Man-Made Monster – Audio commentary with authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
The Monolith Monsters – Audio commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
Monster on the Campus –  Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Optional SDH subtitles on each film
• Collector’s booklet written by film scholar Craig Ian Man

Order from the Eureka Store: https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/three-monster-tales-of-sci-fi-terror/

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957) | The surreal East German Brothers Grimm fantasy that traumatised a generation

If you happen to have grown up in the UK in the 1960s, then you will most likely recall The Singing Ringing Tree – an East German import whose transmission in three parts on the BBC in November and December 1964 caused an entire generation of children to have nightmares.

The surreal fairy tale adventure, which was originally released in 1957 in East Germany, is a variation of the Hurleburlebutz story by The Brothers Grimm. It centres on a self-centred princess (Christel Bodenstein) and the wealthy prince (Eckart Dux) who desires to win her love by bringing to her the mythical titular tree as a gift.

He finds it in a magical garden ruled over by a malevolent dwarf (Richard Krüger, AKA Hermann Emmrich), but when the princess again rejects him on his return, he loses a bet with the dwarf and is turned into a bear.

The princess, however, still wants her tree so she forces her father, the King, to fetch it. But he too loses a bet with the dwarf who places an ugly spell on the princess. The bear then tells her that the only way to break the spell is if she mends her ways. Will she?

Having grown up in Australia (in the 1970s), I missed out on this classic children’s fantasy – but British friends of mine have very vivid memories – especially the dwarf and the weird giant fish that the Princess befriends. Seeing it now for the first time, I can see why it must have been disturbing for young minds of the era. But it’s also a cinematic gem. I call it East Germany’s answer to the Wizard of Oz. The production design and sets are truly magical. No wonder it was such a hit in his home country, and still fascinates today. Its themes, of course, remain universal – even for the woke generation.

Presented in high definition for the first time, this Network release includes the fullscreen English narrated soundtrack (which was the one shown on the BBC back in the day), as well as the widescreen theatrical version with the original German audio. You can also choose the alternative music-only soundtrack as well as alternative French and Spanish soundtracks. The other special features include a 2003 interview with Christel Bodenstein, an image gallery and a booklet containing an essay by cultural historian Tim Worthington.

Order from Network: https://bit.ly/3yRgVJy

The Great Silence | Sergio Corbucci’s Western masterpiece on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes the first-ever Blu-ray release in the UK of Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 revisionist Spaghetti Western, The Great Silence, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

The year is 1898, the year of the Great Blizzard, and a group of outlaws are hiding out in the mountains of Snow Hill, Utah after corrupt banker Henry Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli) puts a price on their heads. Now they are being hunted down and killed by a gang of bounty hunters led by the determined, yet vicious Loco (Klaus Kinski).

The outlaws hire Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunfighter, who kills his targets – always in self-defence – for a price. When Loco murders outlaw James Middleton, his widow Pauline (Vonetta McGee) offers Silence $1,000 to avenge her husband’s death, which sets him on his own path of personal revenge.

Corbucci’s bleak, brilliant and violent vision of an immoral, honour-less West, is widely considered to be among the best and most influential Westerns ever made. The second in his ‘Mud and Blood’ trilogy, which also includes Django (1966) and The Specialists (1969), it is also the Italian director’s Western masterpiece.

But it has taken decades since the film’s release to be regarded so – mainly due to its bleak and pessimistic tone and the devastating climax (spoiler alert: Loco wins big time) which resulted in the producers insisting on Corbucci filming a ‘happy ending’.

This version played well in Middle Eastern countries, while the original version did mediocre business throughout Europe, and never played in the UK until 1990 (as part of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome) and 2001 in the US. It’s only since its theatrical re-release in 2012 and 2017 that the film has attracted renewed interest – mainly over how Corbucci brilliantly subverts Western genre conventions and adds his own political subtext under the surface.

This Masters of Cinema Series features a 2K restoration print on Blu-ray and it’s a terrific way to see Corbucci’s masterpiece. Boasting terrific turns from Kinski (at his most restrained here), Trintignant (whose character was made mute because he had no command of English) and McGee (in a breakout debut that set her on the path to blaxploitation success); stunning landscapes (with Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto and San Cassiano in Badia, South Tyrol standing in for Utah); and Ennio Morricone’s lush, melancholic score (which he regarded as his personal favourite) conducted by Bruno Nicolai, you are in for a wild ride. There’s also a host of extras to savour – with my favourites being the Alex Cox audio commentary and the inclusion of 1968 documentary, Western, Italian Style. Plus, there’s that alternate ‘happy’ ending, which makes for a rather interesting debate.

Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-great-silence-il-grande-silenzio-limited-edition/

LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY CONTAINS

  • Limited Edition (3000 Copies Only)
  • O-Card Slipcase
  • Reversible Poster featuring the film’s original artwork
  • Set of 4 facsimile lobby cards
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration undertaken and completed for the 50th anniversary of the film’s original release 
  • English and Italian audio options 
  • Optional English Subtitles 
  • Brand new audio commentary with author Howard Hughes and filmmaker Richard Knew 
  • Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker Mike Siegel 
  • Audio commentary by director and Spaghetti Western aficionado Alex Cox, recorded live at the Hollywood Theatre, Portland in 2021.
  • Brand new interview with Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
  • Cox on Corbucci – filmmaker Alex Cox talks about Sergio Corbucci [15 mins] 
  • Western, Italian Style – 1968 documentary [38 mins] 
  • Two Alternate Endings (both fully restored in 2K), with optional audio commentaries 
  • Trailers 
  • Stills Galleries 
  • PLUS: A Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Western expert Howard Hughes

The Snake Girl and The Silver Haired Witch | This 1968 tokusatsu terror tale is a terrific delight

Japanese director Noriaki Yuasa is best-know for Daiei Studios’ iconic Gamera series which he helmed from 1965 to 1980. In 1968, in between Gamera films, he turned his eye to adapting Kazuo Umezu’s classic 1966 horror manga Hebi shōjo (AKA Reptilia), about a shape-shifting snake woman, for the big screen. The result was The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (Hebi musume to hakuhatsuma) – a tokusatsu terror tale that’s rarely been seen outside Japan since its release but gets a new life on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. And it’s a doozy.

A young girl called Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) is reunited with her scientist father and amnesiac mother after a long stay at a children’s home and is surprised to discover that she has an older sister, Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi).

With her father away on business, and her mother lost in her thoughts, Sayuri tries to befriend Tamami, who treats her with scorn, and is doted on by the family maid. Finding reptile scales on Tamami’s bed, Sayuri suspects her sister is a snake.

Moving to the attic, Sayuri begins having terrifying visions of a fanged creature and a witch that wishes to do her harm. But who is she? and why is she targeting her?

Yuasa’s 1968 horror is a revelation. I had never heard of the film before, and it doesn’t appear in any of my go-to reference books. But it’s got all the right ingredients to be a bona fide genre classic: a big house with shadow-lit passageways, a lab full of snakes and an attic draped in cobwebs, two genuinely scary monsters and a little girl heroine caught up in a nightmarish mystery.

Boasting haunting visuals, atmospheric production design and photography (that evoke Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the same period), a nerve-jangling score, and effective performances (especially Matsui, whose androgynous appearance serve to make this a Boys’ Own Adventure, too), The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is one to watch time and again.

Oh, and it doesn’t lack in shocks either: I had to turn away when poor Sayuri ends up having her hands repeatedly bashed while hanging for dear life from some scaffolding. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

● High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation, with original uncompressed mono audio
● Optional English subtitles
● Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
This Charming Woman: Interview with manga and folklore scholar Zack Davisson
● Theatrical trailer
● Image gallery
● Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork by Mike Lee-Graham
● Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Raffael Coronelli

The Brotherhood of Satan | The 1971 horror is devilishly good fun

Sam Peckinpah favourites Strother Martin and LQ Jones take the lead in the 1971 American indie horror The Brotherhood of Satan, which is now out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

After witnessing a gruesome traffic accident, widower Ben (Charles Bateman), his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) and daughter KT (Geri Reischl) find themselves unable to leave the southwest desert town of Hillsboro, where scores of families have been slaughtered and their children have mysteriously disappeared.

As the sheriff (Jones) and his deputy (Alvy Moore) try to make sense of the situation, the local priest (Charles Robinson) suspects a supernatural force is at work. The town’s physician Doc Duncan (Martin), meanwhile, is hiding a diabolical secret – he’s the head of a satanic cult whose elderly members are planning on transferring their souls into the bodies of the kids.

Filmed (in Albuquerque, New Mexico) in 1969, but not released until 1971 (through Columbia Pictures), The Brotherhood of Satan belongs in the top tier of the satantic panic movies of the 1970s – alongside my personal favourites Race With the Devil and The Devil’s Rain. Originally titled, ‘Come In, Children‘ it was produced by best buddies LQ Jones (who also wrote the script) and Alvy Moore (who is best known for his comic turn as Hank Kimball in TV’s Green Acres), and directed by Bernard McEveety (who did loads of TV shows like The Fall Guy and Charlie’s Angels).

The film certainly wears its indie credentials on its sleeve as Jones goes down the arthouse route with the film’s visuals and pacing; while also giving his actors loads of room to invest in their respective roles – just like John Carpenter would do in 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13.

Everyone is brilliant here, particularly so Reischl, who would find fame (and infamy) taking over from Eve Plumb as Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-1977). Martin also shows much light and shade with his duplicitous character, before launching into full-blown scenery-chewing in the climax; while the facial contortions of Helene Winston’s doomed witch Dame Alice will haunt you forever.

Jones and Co also seem to be paying homage to Roger Corman and his 1960s Poe films with one effective dream sequence (that uses distorted lens and colours) and with the design of the film’s set-piece – the coven’s lair featuring an enormous spider web and the kids displayed like mannequins on pedestals. It’s terrific, if incongruous to the film’s dusty desert setting and looks like a rock concert stage creation by way of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare. But then, the reason why it does look so out of place does become evident in the closing scenes. Interestingly, director Peter Sasdy’s Nothing But the Night, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, shares a similar pay-off.

This is a super release from Arrow, with some excellent extras – especially the interview with Alvy Moore’s daughter, Alyson. Although it would have been great to hear from LQ Jones, too.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary by writers Kim Newman and Sean Hogan
Satanic Panic: How the 1970s Conjured the Brotherhood of Satan, a visual essay by David Flint
The Children of Satan: interview with actors Jonathan Erickson Eisley and Alyson Moore
• Original Trailers and TV and Radio Spots
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Richard Wells
• Booklet featuring new writing by Johnny Mains and Brad Stevens.

Karloff at Columbia | Six classic chillers from the Master of Terror

From Eureka Entertainment comes KARLOFF AT COLUMBIA, six films comprising the entirety of the Master of Terror’s filmic output for Columbia Pictures, as a part of the Eureka Classics range from 3 May 2021.

All six are making their worldwide debut on Blu-ray, and it’s the first time they’ve become available on home video in the UK. There’s also a wealth of bonus content over the two discs, including four Inner Sanctum radio broadcasts, and a collector’s booklet featuring articles by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann. 

DISC ONE

The Black Room (1935, dir. Roy William Neill)
Released in the same year as Universal’s The Bride of Frankenstein and The Raven, this excellent Gothic chiller sees Karloff taking on a dual role as the twin sons of a Czechoslovakian baron in early 1800s Europe. The eldest Gregor is a brutal sadist, who abdicates in favour of his gentle brother Anton when confronted by an angry mob after several village girls disappear. He then secretly murders Anton and impersonates him.

Karloff is in fine form here and plays each twin with much light and shade (and the double exposure camera trick really works a treat). The sets, lighting and cinematography are all wonderfully atmospheric – with Universal’s expressionist influence much evident. My standout scene is when Allen Seiger’s camera tracks servant Maska (Cecil B DeMille’s daughter Katherine) as she moves quietly through a local graveyard as the castle set looms menacingly in the background (it all looks like something out of a dark fairy tale book).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939, dir. Nick Grinde)
Having been hidden under mountains of make-up in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein and a couple of Charlie Chan films, Karloff scored a role that proved so successful that Columbia went on the produce four more films with similar themes. These became known as Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle, and follow in this box-set. Here he plays Dr Savaard a dedicated scientist who is hanged after his experiments with an artificial heart resulted in the death of a volunteer. Brought back to life by a loyal assistant, he lures the six jurors that condemned him to his mansion which has been rigged with traps and kills them one by one.

Karloff pulls off a delicate balancing act here with aplomb, one that requires him to be kindly but also seething with vengeance, and to elicit sympathy even while he’s frying his victims with bolts of electricity or dosing them on poison. These set-pieces still hold up today, and I’m sure influenced films like 1973’s Theatre of Blood and the Saw franchise. Following this, Karloff was back in full-on horror mode with Universal’s Tower of London.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man With Nine Lives (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
In his second good-scientist-turn-bad role, Karloff plays the rather frosty Dr Kravaal, whose experiments in cryogenics could be a cure for cancer. But while testing the formula, Kravaal’s underground laboratory is invaded, and everyone ends up unconscious after the formula is dropped. A decade later, Kravaal is revived by medical researcher Dr Mason and his nurse Judith, but when his formula is destroyed by another revived patient, Kravaal plans to keep everyone prisoner and use them as guinea pigs until he can recreate the drug. Reviews at the time called this a ‘first-class shocker’ and like They Man They Could Not Hang drew on some controversial science – mainly American biologist Robert Cornish (who was a real-life Herbert West) and his ‘Lazarus’ experiments.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
The Corridor of Doom (12 October 1945) & The Wailing Wall (6 Novemeber 1945)

DISC TWO

Before I Hang (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
After creating an artificial heart and finding a cure for cancer, seeking an elixir to restore youth and prolong life came next in Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. Sentenced to hang after a mercy killing, brilliant scientist Dr Garth continues his experiments behind bars. Using the blood of a killer, he injects himself and becomes younger. When his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, he kills the prison doctor (Edward Van Sloan), but another convict is blamed. Pardoned, he returns home to resume his practice, but with his mind and body contaminated – his lust for murder continues.

Originally titled Wizard of Death, this third entry is a much more ghoulish affair than The Man With Nine Lives, and its bolstered by Karloff’s winning turn (which he described as ‘a cross between a ghoul, a zombie and a vampire’. It also features Evelyn Keys (The Face Behind the Mask) and Bruce Bennett (The Alligator People).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Devil Commands (1941, dir. Edward Dmytryk)
Karloff was somewhat tired of the crazed-scientist format by the time he filmed this last ‘serious’ entry. Here he plays Dr Julian Blair, who constructs a machine to communicate with his late wife, whom he believes has been trying to send out an electrical signal to him from beyond the grave. Working in secrecy in an old house in New England, he starts robbing graves for subjects in his experiments, which he carries out with the help of a medium (Anne Revere). After the death of a nosey housekeeper, however, the townsfolk rise up against him and just as he is about to achieve success (using his daughter as a conduit), his machine explodes.

While one reviewer called it ‘a hodge-podge of scientific claptrap’, The Devil Commands is one of the most inventive and thoroughly engrossing among Columbia’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. While based on sci-fi/fantasy author William Sloane’s 1939 novel The Edge of Running Water, there’s a strong HP Lovecraft vibe in the offing. It greatly reminded me of Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. I particularly like the lab scenes with all its gadgetry and those weird robot-like suits, and the final scene with the column of energy being sucked into the atmosphere is really ahead of its time. Karloff followed this with a hugely successful return to the stage – in Arsenic and Old Lace.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)


The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942, dir. Lew Landers)
Filmed on the back of Karloff’s success in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway, Columbia’s homicidal screwball comedy cast Hollywood’s foremost ‘boogie man’ as Professor Nathaniel Billings, a scientist intent on creating a race of superman for the war effort in the basement of a historic 18th-century inn. But things getting messy when he sells the place to the enterprising Winnie, while also continuing his experiments with the aid of Dr Lorentz (Peter Lorre), the local sheriff and doctor. Mix in a powder-puff salesman, a fascist planning to blow up a munitions factory, and Winnie’s concerned husband, and all manner of craziness ensues.

This was Karloff last film under his contract with Columbia, and it scored mixed reviews. It is great to see both Karloff and Lorre share quality screen time, but watching this only underlines the questions: just how good would they have been if Karloff had been given a chance to reprise his Arsenic and Old Lace stage role in Frank Capra’s 1944 film adaptation.

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
Birdsong for a Murderer (22 June 1952) & Death for Sale (13 July 1952)

Mothra | The heroic kaiju favourite saves the day in glorious Blu-ray

One of the most iconic Japanese kaiju, Mothra has appeared in several Toho features since its first appearance in Ishirō Honda’s 1961 monster fantasy adventure, which heads to Blu-ray in the UK for the first time, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

When the tiny twin Shobijin (singing duo The Peanuts AKA Yumi and Emi Ito) are abducted by a ruthless Rolisican capitalist, Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), Mothra hatches from her egg on Infant Island and swims to Tokyo where she cocoons herself around the Tokyo Tower. Reaching adult form, Mothra then flies to Rolisica’s capital and causes widespread destruction in a bid to force Clark to release the Shobijin.

Featuring fantastic special effects from the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, thrilling set-pieces orchestrated by director Honda and a terrifically catchy theme tune (sung by The Peanuts), Mothra is one of my all-time favourite Toho kaiju and one I have returned to time and again. But this new Blu-ray is a welcome sight as the gorgeous presentation here serves to highlight the film’s excellent production values; particularly so the elaborate sets and miniatures.

Although I would have loved to see the film’s entire soundtrack presented amongst the extras, the collector’s booklet featuring pieces from Japanese cinema experts such as Jasper Sharp make this Eureka release a must-have. It’s also the perfect companion piece to Criterion’s Showa-era Godzilla box-set – which I’m currently enjoying.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Includes original Japanese (101min) and international English dubbed versions (90min), with original mono audio presentations (LPCM) and English subtitles (Japanese version) and English SDH (English version
  • NEW interview with film critic Kim Newman on Mothra 
  • Two galleries featuring rare production stills, ephemera and concept art
  • Teaser and theatrical trailers
  • Collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp; a new interview with production designer Scott Chambliss; an extract from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s Ishirō Honda biography; and archival reviews and stills.
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