Death Line (1972) | Mind the doors! – Gary Sherman’s grim but moving London Underground cannibal cult horror gets the HD remaster treatment
Fans of classic British horror need no introduction to director Gary Sherman’s London Underground-set cannibal film Death Line. Nearly 50 years on from its release on 12 October 1972 (in the UK), this oddly moving cult still packs a mighty punch, and features a standout turn from Donald Pleasence.
Previously available only on DVD and VHS (remember those?), Death Line (which got recut and renamed Raw Meat in the US) has been newly scanned to 2k resolution from the original 35mm camera negative for an exclusive UK Blu-ray release from Network – and it looks and sounds bloody fantastic! Finally time to ditch my second gen VHS!
Here’s my take on the exploitation cult, ‘But first were gonna get some tea… MARRRRSHAL!!!’
Following a visit to Soho’s strip joints, James Manfred, OBE (a sleazy James Cossins, from Fawlty Towers and Doctor Who fame) is attacked by a feral-looking bloke at Russell Square tube station. Finding him collapsed by a stairwell, university student Patricia (Patricia Gurney) and her American boyfriend Alex (David Ladd) alert a local police officer, but when they return to the scene – there’s no sign of the politician.
Assigned to investigate, Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence), takes an instant dislike to the youngsters and continues to question them, then finds himself being warned off the case by a secretive MI5 handler (Christopher Lee). Meanwhile, the assailant (Hugh Armstrong) is revealed to be one of the last surviving members of a family of railway workers who became trapped underground after a cave-in in 1892, and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. When his female companion dies, ‘The Man’ flies into a rage and kills three maintenance workers – then, when Patricia, finds herself alone on the tube at Holborn Station – he knocks her out and takes her back to his lair. Will she become his next meal – or does he just wants some company?
Writer/Director Gary Sherman has crafted a neat little fright film that belies its exploitation label, for at its dark heart lies a tragic class consciousness love story in which Armstrong brings great sympathy to the grotesque and violent cannibal, who resembles a destitute Jesus meets Rasputin, but with the shuffling gait of Boris Karloff’s drunken mute butler Morgan from James Whales’ Old Dark House. Despite his murderous impulses following the sad death of his partner, you can’t help but pity ‘The Man’ as he is credited in the film; and that’s compounded when he tries and fails to communicate with Patricia using the only words he knows: ‘Mind the doors!’.
Then there’s Donald Pleasence’s fantastic turn as the abrasive, tea-loving, hippie-hating Inspector Calhoun – who loves Queen and country, but despises his upper class MI5 superiors and even more so philandering politicians. He has some great scenes (particular with Heather Stoney’s WPC Alice Marshall and Norman Rossington’s DS Rogers) and gets in some lines like: ‘That’s handy, pop round and see if he’s a nutter!’ and ‘Get ur bloody hair cut!’. Alongside Alfred Marks’ Superintendent Bellaver in 1970’s Scream and Scream Again, Pleasence’s Calhoun most certainly gave rise to the sweary likes of John Thaws’ DI Jack Regan in TV’s The Sweeney a couple of years later.
Cinematographer Alex Thomson (who became Nicolas Roeg’s favourite camera operator) provides the stylishly grim imagery, making atmospheric use of the dark and dingy real life London Underground locations (it was partly filmed at Aldwych). So effective where these scenes that London Underground took offence to the subject matter and banned its advertising on any station platform! Meanwhile, Wil Mallone and Jeremy Rose’s rumbustious soundtrack is another highlight, perfectly capturing the sleazy vibe of Soho’s strip joints, while also chiming with the film’s sadder moments.
Keep an eye out for Keeping Up Appearances‘ Clive Swift as a detective and Christopher Lee (in just one scene) as the suited and booted bureaucrat.
Network’s exclusive UK Blu-ray release, includes the following special features…
• Mind the Doors!: an engaging interview with actor Hugh Armstrong, talking about his life and career
• Theatrical Trailer
• Image Gallery
• PDF Material
• Collector’s booklet
1960’s Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy from a Stranger in the US) was one of Hammer’s bravest ventures: an earnest precautionary tale with its intentions in the right place that never really got a chance on its original release. But its now ripe for rediscovery as it joins Indicator’s second volume of Hammer classics: Criminal Intent.
Adapted from a 1953 play, The Pony Cart, by Roger Garris, it follows a British family settling into a small Canadian town where the father, Peter Cater (Patrick Allen) has been appointed the new school principal. When daughter Jean (Janina Faye) claims that the town’s respected patriarch, Clarence Olderberry Sr (Felix Aylmer), offered her and her friend Lucille (Frances Green) sweets in exchange to seeing them naked, Jean’s horrified mother Sally (Gwen Watford) demands an investigation. But the ensuing trial sees Jean coming under some brutal cross-examining and the elderly Olderberry being found not guilty… a verdict that results in murder!
Hammer’s social drama boasts great turns from Allen and Watford as the concerned parents, while Janina Faye gives a career-best performance as Jean (in a role that she also played on the West End). As the elderly paedophile, knighted stage and screen actor Felix Aylmer must be one of Hammer’s most chilling monsters (with or without makeup), and the fact he never utters a word only makes his performance all the more unnerving – as you never know what’s really going inside his sick mind.
Cinematographer Freddie Francis adds a touch of cinéma vérité to the nerve-wracking courtroom sequences, which were all shot in a single take at Bray Studios, and he makes atmospheric use of some of Hammer’s favourite locations – Oakley Court (standing in for a sanatorium) and Black Park, as well as Burnham Beeches and a housing estate in Slough. The suspenseful score is from idiosyncratic composer Elisabeth Luytens, while director Frankel brings a tremendous amount of suspense to the proceedings (he would later helm Hammer’s The Witches in 1966).
Hammer purposely plays down the sensationalism to craft an insightful message movie which explores both predatory behaviour and how power and privilege can shield dangerous people from proper justice. Applauded by critics of the day, the film was quite ground-breaking – especially as child sexual abuse was still a taboo subject. But the film was denied a certificate that would have allowed children to see it, as it was deemed too upsetting. Even the film’s star Janina Faye did not see her fine performance for many years. While promoted as a warning for parents, the film was not a commercial success and quickly disappeared – becoming one of Hammer’s most elusive titles in their back catalogue.
Watching it afresh, it is a stark and impressive piece of cinema that continues to send a chill down the spine with its authentic exploration of a very real grim subject that refuses to go away. Brave, intelligent and way ahead of its time – this is Hammer at its most sincere.
• HD restoration with original mono audio and new improved English subtitles.
• Two presentations: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK); and Never Take Candy from a Stranger (US).
• New documentary: Conspiracy Theories: Inside Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (The film’s background and production are retraced by Indicator’s stable of Hammer experts, plus there’s some great archive audio interview excerpts from director Frankel).
• Appreciation of Gwen Watford by British cinema expert Dr Laura Mayne.
• An interview with Janina Faye, who looks back over her career with Hammer and recalls her role in the film.
• The Perfect Horror Chord: David Huckvale explores composer Elisabeth Lutyens’ ‘eerie weirdy’ musical compositions for Hammer (if you are musically inclined, this is a must).
• Actor and film-maker Matthew Holness explores the film’s message, intentions, cast and crew.
• Trailers From Hell commentary with Brian Trenchard-Smith, who succinctly does the same.
• Advertising and Publicity Gallery
• Press Material
• Exclusive booklet
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) can be found on Indicator’s Limited Edition Box Set, Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent, which includes three other classic thrillers from the vaults of Hammer Films (all world Blu-ray premieres): The Snorkel (1958), The Full Treatment (1961) and Cash on Demand (1961) .
I’m finally dipping into Indicator/Powerhouse’s fantastic box-set Hammer Volume One: Fear Warning, in which a quartet of classic chillers get their first-ever HD restorations (region free) with a host of exclusive extra features. Here’s my look back at 1964’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.
In 1900 Egypt, a team of archaeologists, including John Bray (Ronald Howard) and his Egyptology expert fiancée, Annette (Jeanne Roland), unearth the tomb of the Ra-Antef.
When Annette’s father is murdered, the expedition’s main backer, Alexander King (Fred Clark), hatches a plan to have the treasure and sarcophagus shipped back to England for a luridly sensational tour. But when the seals are cut during the exhibition’s opening night – the coffin is found to be empty.
Soon the beat of cloth-wrapped feet begin to sound in foggy Victorian London as the ancient avenger (Dickie Owen) pursues all those who defiled its tomb…
What happens next is entirely predictable: the mummy goes on the rampage as Annette gets herself involved in a love triangle with her wimpy fiancé John and charismatic arts patron Adam (Terence Morgan), before ending up in the sewer system with the lumbering bandaged evil.
This 1964 horror sequel is a far cry from Hammer’s original 1959 classic; with pretty lame sets (especially the desert scenes) and suffers from some middle of the road casting (and sadly lacking Hammer favourites Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), but US import Fred Clark certainly makes up for it as Alexander King, a PT Barnum meets William Castle showman with a heart of gold. A great comic actor, Clark would go onto co-star alongside Frankie Avalon in the Vincent Price spy spoof Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine the following year.
Burmese-born actress Jeanne Roland tries her best to present her educated Annette as an independent, modern (Victorian) woman, but ends up being little more than an alluring decoration.
This was Roland’s only starring vehicle for Hammer (she also suffered the same fate as many a Hammer scream queen – being dubbed), and later popped up in You Only Live Twice as Bond’s masseuse.
Hammer stalwarts George Pastell and Michael Ripper also appear – albeit too briefly, and future Virgin Witch director Ray Austin gets into a punch-up with Morgan’s Adam.
With its scenes of head crushing and severed hands, it’s surprisingly violent, and there’s a neat twist in the final act. Originally released in the UK and the US on a double-bill with The Gorgon, it actually proved a big success for Hammer despite its flaws.
• Blood and Bandages: Inside The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (very informative and illuminating anecdotes)
• An appreciation of Jeanne Roland by Diabolique editor-in-chief Kat Ellinger
• Interview with Michael McStay (2017): the British film and TV actor looks back at his time working for Hammer (his deaf person’s story is a hoot)
• Interview with composer Carlo Martelli on the use of sourced music for the film
• Super 8 Version: original cut-down home cinema presentation
• Trailer and Image Gallery
10 years after the death of the infamous Jigsaw killer aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie, Memento) and Hunt (Clé Bennett, Heroes Reborn) investigate a series of murders bearing the unique modus operandi of the Jigsaw killer. Has Kramer really returned from the grave to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a killer with designs of their own?
Director Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (Predestination) go back to basics with their reboot, which ditches the torture porn for a pure chill-ride that aims to recapture the same suspenseful thrills as Se7en – only bloodier. Matt Passmore (The Glades), Laura Vandervoort (Supergirl), Paul Braunstein (The Thing), Brittany Allen (All My Children) and Mandela Van Peebles (Baadassss!) are Jigsaw’s targets this time round, while Tobin Bell is back in his iconic role – and it’s not just a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo.
Horror fans will lap up the inventive death scenes, which involve booby-trapped rooms and firearms, and some truly deadly laser cutters. Kudos go to the film’s big set piece which involves a giant spiralator and a motorbike. In an homage to the franchise’s original inspiration, 1970’s The Abominable Dr Phibes, one trap sees the victims choosing between three syringes that contain a poison antidote, a saline solution and a flesh-melting acid.
Given its open ending and the huge business it did at the box-office (despite the mostly unfavourable reviews), it looks like the Saw franchise just might begin anew. Personally, I rather enjoyed it… unlike the previous ones.
SPECIAL FEATURES ON THE BLU-RAY AND DVD
• Audio Commentary with producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block
• I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Saw: A feature-length appreciation of the franchise, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew of the reboot discussing its visual design, sound score, special effects and much more.
• The Choice is Yours: Exploring the Props: A fascinating featurette (around 6min) in which Don Post’s pig masks and the iconic Billy puppet make a welcome return.
Hailed as ‘an engrossing hybrid of romantic decadence and spiritual austerity’, this 1924 German silent is considered an important early cinematic work as it contains Dreyer’s first clear use of Expressionism to reveal emotion, and this is much aided by the luminous photography of Karl Freund and Rudolph Maté, and the sumptuous production design of architect Hugo Häring.
Based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel Mikaël, and scripted by Thea von Harbou (best known for Metropolis and Woman in the Moon), the bittersweet love story centres on an elderly artist, Claude Zoret, who is driven to despair by his relationship with his young protégé, Michael.
Conceived as a screen version of Kammerspiel (an intimate ‘chamber’ piece for theatre), it also had a profound influence on several directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, who drew on the film’s motif’s for his script for 1925’s The Blackguard. It is also a landmark in gay cinema with regards to its frank portrayal of homosexual relations and desire – with the character of Zoret supposedly based on the real life painter Auguste Rodin.
The remarkable cast includes Benjamin Christensen (best known for being the director of the 1922 docu-drama Häxan) as ‘decadent’ artist Zoret; Walter Slezak (who would forge a career playing heavies and villains, including the Clock King in TV’s Batman) as his young protege, Michael; and Nora Gregor (from Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu) as the bankrupt Countess who swindles and seduces the Master and his muse.
And, in his only ever appearance as an actor, the film’s cinematographer, Karl Freund plays a sycophantic art dealer who saves the tobacco ashes dropped by a famous painter. Best known for photographing Lang’s Metropolis, Freund later emigrated to the US, where he directed 10 films, including the Universal horror classics, The Mummy and Mad Love, before helming TV’s I Love Lucy.
Available to order from Amazon: http://amzn.to/2AEcJ3r
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation from a new 2K restoration
• Score by Pierre Oser (piano, clarinet, cello) presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Full-length audio commentary by Dreyer scholar, Casper Tybjerg
• Exclusive video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns
• Illustrated audio interview with Dreyer from 1965
• A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp; a reprint of Tom Milne’s The World Inside Me from 1971; Jean Renoir’s 1968 tribute, Dreyer’s Sin; a translation of the original 1924 Danish programme; a reprint of Nick Wrigley’s essay from the film’s 80th anniversary DVD release; and a selection of archival imagery
While I already have Arrow’s previous Blu-ray of Dario Argento’s 1971 giallo Cat o’Nine Tales (aka il gatto nove code), I couldn’t resist upgrading to this 4K restoration, which also includes newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack. Now all I need is a 4k smart TV and Blu-ray player to see it properly. But having looked at it on my current HD system, it looks and sounds terrific.
As for the extras, well they are all brand-new with none crossing over from the previous Arrow release. Here’s the low-down…
First up is the audio commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman. Jones, of course, is Argento’s number one fan who has become a close friend and written the definitive book(s) on the director, while Newman’s comprehensive film knowledge is truly enviable.
It’s fun and very insightful (film nerds like me will lap up the trivia, especially those related to the Turin film locations); and you’ll see Catherine Spaak’s costumes in a whole different light after listening to Jones views on Luca Sabetelli’s outré surreal outfits.
As for the featurettes, Nine Lives, comprises an exclusive 2017 interview with Dario Argento, who confirms Jones’ comments that the film was the least favourite of his canon, as he felt it ‘too American’.
The Writer o’ Many Tails has screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti discuss his career (over 34 minutes) which included an infamous row between him and Argento over the credit for the screenplay.
Child Star is another Arrow exclusive, an interview with the film’s Cinzia De Carolis, who played Karl Malden’s niece Lori and is today a well-respected voice dubber.
Being a huge fan of film locations, Giallo In Turin was the one that I watched first. Disappointingly, we don’t get the guided tour that I had imagined, instead production manager Angelo Iacono discusses his first meeting with Argento, before recalling his memories of the cast and crew.
A huge bonus is the inclusion of the Original Ending, in which the fates of Anna (Spaak) and Lori (De Carolis) are revealed. But wait! As the footage is now lost, we only get a visual storyboard alongside the English version of the last couple of pages of the script. But the money shot is a single German lobby card containing an actual still of the final scene. Yeah!
Now, as I have the rare movie tie-in novelisation (one of only two written by Paul J Gillette – the other was Play Misty for Me), I had hoped it would contain this version. Unfortunately, it deviates totally from both the original ending and the final cut ending.
With stylish new artwork by Candace Tripp, a limited edition booklet, lobby card repros and fold-out poster also included, this latest Argento release from Arrow is a keeper. Now, I just need that 4K kit.
If you want to see my thoughts on Arrow’s previous of the film… READ IT HERE
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) | Billy Wilder’s melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective gets a first-time Blu-ray release
From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s underrated 1970 adventure comedy The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as part of The Masters of Cinemas Series on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Director Billy Wilder’s personal, melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective was originally conceived as a three and a half hour extravaganza, and he never forgave the studio for hacking it to bits (with many of the deleted scenes now lost forever).
What remains is rewarding, but it leaves you begging for more, as the bored Baker Street sleuth (Robert Stephens) investigates a mystery that takes him and his faithful companion Doctor Watson (Colin Blakely) from London to Inverness, and involves an enigmatic amnesiac (Geneviève Page), Holmes’ conniving brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee), Queen Victoria and – yes – the Loch Ness Monster.
Stephens plays Holmes with tortured, whimsical perfection, and both Blakely and Lee are perfectly cast in their respective roles, but it’s Irene Handl rather than the alluring Page who steals every scene she’s in. Her Mrs Hudson is a comic stand-out. Other familiar faces include the legendary Stanley Holloway, Clive Revill (The Legend of Hell House), Catherine Lacey (The Sorcerers) and Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula).
The film’s rich period detail and authentic locations is also matched by the witty script (one of 11 that Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wrote together) and the whole affair sparkles like a well-polished (rough) diamond.
• 1080p presentation
• Uncompressed PCM soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
• The Missing Cases (50 mins): A presentation of deleted sequences, using script excerpts, production stills and surviving film footage.
• Deleted Epilogue Scene (audio only)
• Christopher Lee: Mr. Holmes, Mr. Wilder – an archival interview with Christopher Lee about his experience working with Billy Wilder
• Interview with editor Ernest Walter
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet
The Battle of Algiers (1966) | Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece of political cinema resonates in a newly restored 4k release
From CultFilms comes the release of the newly restored 4K version of The Battle of Algiers, which arrives for the first time in the UK in dual format (Blu-ray/DVD).
A blistering attack on the savagery that was endured in order for Algeria to attain independence from the French, 1966’s The Battle of Algiers is one of the most influential political movies of all time and won many awards for its Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo.
The film concentrates on the years between 1954 and 1957 when guerrilla fighters began operating in the Casbah, the citadel of Algiers, which became a flashpoint for the French to regain territory. Told in flashback, it centres on one cell within the National Liberation Front (the FLN), which includes Ali la Pointe, a petty criminal who politically radicalised while in jail, then recruited by FLN commander El-hadi Jafar; Larbi Ben M’hidi, a top FLN leader, and three women who carry out a series of bombings.
Shot in a documentary style, using the actual locations of key events, and drawing on local people to dramatise the major players (including Algerian activist Saadi Yacef, whose 1966 memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger inspired the film – he plays El-hadi Jafar and also produced), Pontecorvo’s film possesses a realism that continues to astonish. It remains the perfect marriage of politics and cinema – like an Algerian take on Roberto Rossellini’s quintessential neorealist masterpiece Rome Open City (1945) fused with striking Eisenstein-esque visuals and the political eye of Pasolini.
Although made as a propaganda piece, the Algerian-Italian co-production is remarkably un-partisan in its approach: with the murderous consequences of the guerrillas’ bombing campaign and the French torturing their prisoners being given equal emphasis throughout.
The arresting opening sequence in which the camera looks out over the roof tops of Algiers sets the forceful tone of what follows, and the scene in which the French colonel, Mathieu (played by the film’s only actor, Jean Martin) proudly leads his paratroopers through the street is at once heroic but also utterly futile (it’s also a telling statement on colonialism).
But it’s the film’s vast crowd scenes that will stay with you forever – that and the carefully-curated score, which skilfully weaves Ennio Morricone’s action movie beats with indigenous drumming, the ululation chanting of the Casbah women, classical ostinato composition and Bach’s St Matthew Passion.
Digitally re-mastered in 4K and restored preserving the grainy, newsreel look that the director Gillo Pontecorvo designed, the restoration was made by the L’Immagine Ritrovata with the participation of the director’s son, cinematographer and director Marco Pontecorvo, in collaboration with CultFilms and was nominated for the Best Restored Version Award at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Special features include:
• New extra on the 4K restoration
• The Making of the Battle of Algiers (interview with Director Gillo Pontecorvo)
• The Real Battle of Algiers (interview with producer Saadi Yacef, head of FLN guerrillas in Algiers)
• Our War for Freedom (interview with FLN fighter Zohra Drif Bitat)
• Exclusive Presentation by director Paul Greengrass
• Exclusive interview with director Ken Loach
• Booklet hugely informative essays on the genesis of the film and it’s cinematic legacy
The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume Two (1961-1964) | Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and First Men in the Moon
From Indicator/Powerhouse comes three more classic Ray Harryhausen adventures presented with brand new 2K and 4K restorations, and containing a wealth of new and archival extras. Here’s the lowdown…
American Civil War prisoner Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) escapes in a balloon with other Confederate officers and a war correspondant Gideon Spillet (Gary Merril, aka Bette Davis’s ex) and end up on an unknown island in the Pacific along with shipwrecked aristocrats, Lady Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan). Holed up in a cave they nickname the Granite House, the plucky castways encounter strange creatures, pirates, an angry volcano and the charismatic Captain Nemo (beautifully underplayed by a blonde Herbert Lom).
This action-filled adventure, loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1874 novel, provides a field day for special effects man Ray Harryhausen, who conjures up a magnificent menagerie of oversized critters: including a giant crab (whose carapace was bought from Harrods Food Hall), a prehistoric Phorusrhacos (which looks like an oversized cassowary), a hive of bees, and a slumbering multi-tentacled cephalopod.
The picturesque Spanish locations (including Sa Conca Bay in Catalonia, and some others that would later be used in Jason and the Argonauts), evocative production design (especially the Nautilus and its Victorian-futuristic paraphernalia) and atmospheric score from composer Bernard Herrmann are an added delight to Harryhausen’s fantastical-take on a Boy’s Own-styled castaway adventure.
• 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• 2012 audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton (This is thoroughly enjoyable, and I love it when a genuinely surprised Ray keeps commenting on how sharp everything looks in the restoration – especially as he used filters to soften the actor’s faces in the first place. He also reveals many of his camera tricks, including using a cardboard cut-out for the Phorusrhacos)
• Audio commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven C. Smith (having heard everything from the master himself, I might leave this for a rainy day)
• Archive interview with Ray Harryhausen (featuring many of his storyboards)
• 2017 interview with actor Michael Craig (who talks about the difficulty of trying to act against an invisible crab on a beach filled with onlookers)
• 2017 interview with clapper loader Ray Andrew (who gives an entirely different account of that crab story)
• 2017 interview Kim Newman (on the shared cinematic universe of Jules Verne)
• Mysterious Magic: 2017 interview with visual effects animator Hal Hickel (on the huge impact Harryhausen’s work had on his career)
• Islands of Mystery: vintage black and white featurette (this one really beefs the film up – making you expect more monsters)
• Super 8 version (a cut-down version, in colour, with a narrator to paste over the gaps)
• Back to Mysterious Island: A preview of the 2008 Bluewater Comic that re-imagines the adventure for a younger generation (colourful, but not my cuppa tea, sorry)
• Isolated Bernard Herrmann score (just perfect to listen to over and over)
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Image gallery
With his father’s kingdom in the hands of a tyrant, Jason (Todd Armstrong) sets sail with the bravest men of all of Greece aboard the Argo on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, they encounter a host of mythical creatures and rescue Medea (Nancy Kovack), the high priestess of Colchis, who soon causes problems for the crew when she falls in love with Jason…
This spectacular mythological adventure marked the pinnacle in the career of Ray Harryhausen. A landmark in the history of movie special effects, it was this film that inspired many a budding young film-maker – from Nick Park to Peter Jackson (who provides one of the commentaries in this Indicator/Powerhouse release) and – on a personal note – fuelled my love for myths, fantasy and ancient history.
Harryhausen’s Dynamation effects are delivered with amazing imagination (and took him almost two years to complete). Jason’s climactic sword fight with a band of resurrected skeletons remains the film’s highlight of course, while the other weird creatures including the giant bronze automaton (Ray’s take on the Colossus of Rhodes), a band of hungry harpies (who torture poor old Patrick Troughton) and the magnificient seven-headed Hydra.
As well as Troughton, a host of other recognisable British actors provide great support, including Laurence Naismith and Nigel Green as Argus and Hercules, Douglas Wimer as Jason’s nemesis Pelias, amd Michael Gwynn and Honor Blackman as Olympians Hermes and Hera. This truly is the greatest mythical adventure film ever made.
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (despite the odd flashes of grain, this really is the best presentation of Harryhausen’s film we shall ever see)
• English mono and English 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalston (This one is filled with lots of behind-the-scnes anecdotes, some we’ve heard before on the other commentaries, and much of it is also explored in the three books that Ray and Tony have published – which are also a must have)
• Audio commentary with film-maker Peter Jackson and Randy Cook (Also very interesting, as Peter and Randy cover the film’s influence and legacy, although some of their conjecture is cleared up in the Harryhausen commentary)
• Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
• The Harryhausen Legacy: archival documentary
• Ray Harryhausen interviewed by John Landis
• The Harryhausen Chronicles: archival documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy
• Original trailers & TV spots
• Previews (Ghostbusters, Close Encounters, 20 Millions Miles to Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 7th Voyage of Sinbad)
• Image gallery
The world is shocked when a team of United Nations astronauts land on the Moon in 1964 only to discover that the Victorian British beat them to it – back in 1899!
In a Dymchurch nursing home, they track down the only survivor of the expedition, 91-year-old Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd)… Bedford then tells the assembled investigators how he travelled to the Moon with his fiancée Kate (Martha Hyer) and inventor Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) in a spaceship which Cavor had coated with a revolutionary anti-gravity paste. And what did they find living beneath the Moon’s surface? Only an insectoid population with advanced technological know-how.
HG Wells’ 1901 science fiction tale gets the Dynamation treatment from Harryhausen and his 20 Million Miles to Earth director Nathan Juran, based on a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, who was best known for his Quatermass series.
This is entertaining yarn finds Lionel Jeffries going full pelt with his cranky inventor act, while the always stalwart Judd provides some energetic heroics. Martha Hyer’s Kate, meanwhile, is a spirited and feisty creation that was not in Wells’ original novel, but proves to be most welcomed here (and not just on account of her looks).
The film’s stand out creature is the giant caterpillar-like ‘moon-bull’, while the Selenites (actually kids in rubber suits) could easily have come out of a classic Doctor Who adventure or even Lost in Space (which Juran would later direct). Boasting great production values in spite of its limited budget, and having a great sense of Victoriania, this is million times better than the 1967 Jules Verne-pastiche Rocket to the Moon and a Harryhausen adventure that I can happily revisit time and again.
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (It looks fantastic, especially the sequences involving the lunar surface and the Selenites’ underground city).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Tony Dalton and Randy Cook (there’s a wealth of information on offer here from the trio, with Harryhausen spending a lot of time chuckling at the film’s more comic elements, like Jeffries’ performance and improbably science. But then Ray does say, ‘you should never over analyse fantasy’. Now that’s something I totally agree with. He also reveals that his major influence for the stairs leading to the Grand Lunar’s throne room was 1935’s She – which was produced by Merian C Cooper, whose King Kong inspired Harryhausen in the first place).
• An introduction by Harryhausen fan Randy Cook
• Tomorrow the Moon: This vintage featurette is my favourite extra as it combines behind-the-scenes footage of the film (featuring producer Charles Schneer, Harryhausen and Juran, and some of the sets, and models) with the real-life US Apollo space project.
• 2017 interviews with special effects assitant Terry Schubert (who reveals how all the effects were created in a small space on a Slough trading estate); production manager Ted Wallis, clapper loader Ray Andrew (who has some great memories of cinematographer Wilkie Cooper) and title designer Sam Suliman (who wasn’t impressed with his titles).
• Isolated score by Laurie Johnson
• Trailer commentary from John Landis (who quickly runs out things to say)
• Image gallery
Read about the First Volume of The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen HERE.
The Vikings (1958) | This rip-roaring adventure is an epic must-see – and could have influenced Game of Thrones
One of the big hits of the 1950s, The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, gets its first time Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment, as part of the Eureka Classics range.
Prince Einar (Kirk Douglas) is the son and heir of Viking chieftain Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine). Slave Eric (Tony Curtis) is his unknowing half brother, the bastard offspring of Einar’s father and an English queen. When the Vikings kidnap princess Morgana (Janet Leigh), who is betrothed to the English King, Aella (Frank Thring), Einar and Eric engage in a bloody dual to win her hand…
The melodramatic tale at the heart of this searing Norse opera from director Richard Fleischer certainly takes a back seat to the glorious visuals. Shot in ‘Horizon Spanning’ Technirama and Technicolor, these come courtesy of cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who makes maximum use of the spectacular locations: Hardangerfjord in the Norwegian Fjords and Fort la Latte in Britanny.
The film-makers also go to great lengths to recreate an authentic Viking village, as well as long ships, armour and weapons; even the horses are the same breed that early Vikings rode; while the hand-to-hand combat scenes featuring clashing broadswords and axes aplenty, as well the occasional eye-gouging and hand-chopping, are expertly staged.
As our chain-mail and leather-clad macho heroes, Douglas and Curtis provide some gutsy Testosterone-fuelled performances, and a joined by a great supporting cast, including Janet Leigh (Curtis’ real-life wife) and Ernest Borgnine (looking like he needs a good wash and shave), as well as Aussie actor Frank Thring – best-known for playing Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur (and also as the villainous Dr Stark in TV’s Skippy), and Till Death Us Do Part‘s Else Garnett (aka Dandy Nichols) as Leigh’s maid.
While any similarity to actual history is purely coincidental, this epic slice of Hollywood adventure is a must-see and helped kick-off a whole sub-genre of imitators, including Mario Bava’s Erik The Conqueror and even spawned a TV series (produced by Kirk Douglas).
Intentional or not, there are also some interesting parallels with Game of Thrones. In the Viking saga, Odin is held as the one true god, just as the Lord of Light is in Thrones; there’s also a Red Witch character in soothsayer Kitala (played by Eileen Way, who cropped up in the 1960s Doctor Who movies); and both Jon Snow and Eric are bastards denied their royal birthright. There’s even a pit of hungry wolves – remember Ramsay’s hunting dogs?
Incidentally, there’s a recurring melody in the film’s music score that is not too dissimilar to a key theme in the original Star Wars. And, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the youthful Curtis bears a striking similarity to Dominic Monaghan of Lost and Lord of the Rings fame.
• 1080p presentation
• Original stereo PCM soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• Video interview with film historian Sheldon Hall
• A Tale of Norway (28 mins) –featurette about the making of the film, presented by Richard Fleischer
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet