Creeping Horror | Eureka Classics presents four chillers from the Universal vaults on Blu-ray
From Eureka Entertainment comes Creeping Horror, four Universal Pictures chillers on UK Blu-ray as part of Eureka Classics range from 17 April 2023.
Murders in the Zoo (dir. A. Edward Sutherland, 1933)
Kathleen Burke, who played the panther woman in 1932’s Island of Lost Souls, encounters more horrors as Evelyn, the tormented wife of sadistic big-game hunter/zoologist Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwill) who uses his animal expertise to eliminate his rivals, and regards Evelyn as one of his caged animals, to be owned and mistreated. Just like Island of Lost Souls, Murders in the Zoo caused a bit of stir on its inital release owing to its genuinely frighening scenes: the film opens with Atwill sewing up some poor man’s mouth, while poor Burke ends up being torn to pieces after she’s thrown to alligators. Atwill delivering one of his most depraved, brutal performances, Randolph Scott is the dull as dish water hero, and loveable Charlie Ruggles provides the comic relief. I’ll be watching this one again.
Night Monster (dir. Ford Beebe, 1942)
All manner of spooky old dark house cliché’s abound in this enjoyable ‘quickie’ in which a series of murders occur after a wealthy, reclusive paraplegic (played by Ralph Morgan) invites the three doctors treating him to his gloomy home by a swamp. While top-billed, those masters of menace Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill get relegated to playing a grim humoured butler and one of the doctors (who gets bumped off in the first 20minutes), while the mix of victims and suspects is an indian mystic who conquers up a kneeling skeleton in one of the film’s most bizarre scenes, a creepy hunchback and the titluar Night Monster who is exactly who you think. Stock footage from Ghost of Frankenstein was used in the film’s Rebbeca-esque climax.
Horror Island (dir. George Waggner, 1941)
In between making The Wolf Man and Man Made Monster director George Waggner helmed this B-grade horror mystery in which The Mummy’s Hand‘s Dick Foran and Peggy Moran take a treasure cruise to an island off the coast of Florida with The Cisco Kid‘s Leo Carillo to seek out a pirate’s fortune, but a villian called ‘ The Phantom AKA Panama Pete’ is also after the booty. This noisy, messy comedy mystery wants to be another The Ghost Breakers, but fails on every level. Give it a miss!
House of Horrors (dir. Jean Yarbrough, 1946)
The one-and-only Rondo Hatton is ‘the Creeper’, a disfigured giant killer who is rescued from drowning by struggling sculptor Marcel de Lange ( Confessions of a Nazi Spy‘s Martin Kosleck) and ends up becoming his bone-crushing instrument of revenge on the critics who denigrated his work. Virginia Grey is the female reporter who cannily deduces that Lange is behind the killings, while Alan Napier plays one of the critics who gets his just desserts after dissing Lange’s work as ‘tripe’. Hatton had appeared uncredited in a host of films before landing this, the first of two starring roles (the other was The Brute), but both were released posthumously after his death from a heart attack on February 2, 1946. He has since gone on to become a cult icon and its worth getting this box-set just for this film (which I am certain had an influence on the Vincent Price-horror classics House of Wax in 1953 and even Theatre of Blood 20 years later. A highlight for me were the expressionist cubist sculptures that grace Lange’s studio.
- Limited Edition slipcase
- 1080p presentation of all four films across two Blu-ray discs
- Optional English SDH
- Audio commentary tracks on Night Monster and House of Horrors with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
- Audio commentary tracks on Murders in the Zoo and Horror Island with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
- Stills Galleries
- Trailers for Horror Island and Night Monster
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann and Jon Towlson
Bob Clark: Horror Collection | A trio of terror on limited edition Blu-ray from 101 Films
From 101 Films comes the limited edition UK Blu-ray release of the Bob Clark: Horror Collection, which brings together three of the American film-maker’s 1970s ground-breaking genre films: Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), Deathdream (AKA Dead of Night) (1974) and his slasher masterpiece Black Christmas (1974). Amongst the wealth of special features is the must-see documentary, Dreaming of Death, newly commissioned artwork, and a collector’s booklet. Available from 3 April 2023.
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)
Clark’s third directorial effort is an oddball comedic zombie horror in which a smarmy theatrical director (Alan Ormsby, who also wrote the screenplay and did most of the make-up effects) takes his troupe to an island to ‘act out’ a satanic ritual using the corpse of Orville Dunworth (Seth Sklarey). But they soon find themselves fighting for survival when the dead rise from their graves…
Despite its low budget and questionable acting, Clark’s Night of the Living Dead homage is an effective and atmospheric chiller, which benefits from a script littered with eminently quotable dialogue, colourful costumes, and cartoon-like scares (especially when the dead start to walk). The cast’s commentary about their experiences making the film (many while still in college) is a hoot – and I wish someone would do a remake from their perspective. Indeed, Clark had plans to do one before his tragic death in 2007 (in which he and his son were killed in a head-on car crash with a drunk driver).
• Commentary with Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin
• Alan Ormsby Interview
• Memories of Bob Clark
• Confessions of a Grave Digger: Interview with Ken Goch
• Grindhouse Q&A
• Cemetery Mary – Music Video
• Dead Girls Don’t Say No – Music Video
• Photo Gallery
Deathdream/Dead of Night (1974)
When young American soldier Andy (Richard Backus) is shot and killed in Vietnam, his grief-stricken parents and sister refuse to accept the news. But when Andy suddenly returns, something is terribly wrong. The family suspect PTSD as Andy’s behaviour becomes erratic and then violent, but when he starts to visibly decay, it soon becomes apparent he’s one of the walking dead with an insatiable blood lust.
Posited as a critique of the Vietnam War, this is one of the most inventive and thought-provoking variations of WW Jacobs’ classic horror short story, The Monkey’s Paw, and marks Clark’s maturity as a filmmaker. Disturbing and tragic, it’s much more than just a horror film. It’s a haunting character study about the nature of man and war, thanks to Alan Ormsby’s insightful screenplay and Backus’ controlled yet menacing performance as the young man turned into it a monster because of his exposure to war. As Andy’s parents, who deal with their son’s transformation in very different ways, kudos go to John Marley and Lynn Carlin (who previously co-starred together in John Cassavetes’ Faces in 1968). The film also benefits from some gruesomely realistic make-up effects from Alan Ormsby (and, under his tutelage, Tom Savini).
• Dreaming of Death: This new feature-length documentary on the work of director Bob Clark is a must-see. In fact, it’s worth getting the box-set set just for this. Giving us the lowdown on the director’s three horror films are filmmaker/Delirium editor Chris Alexander, Black Christmas actress Lynne Griffin (who reveals all about the infamous plastic bag rocking chair scene), actor Art Hindle, composer Paul Zaza and author Simon Fitzjohn (Bob Clark: I’m Going to Kill You).
• Brand New Audio Commentary with Travis Crawford and Bill Ackerman
Black Christmas (1974)
As Christmas break begins, a group of sorority sisters, including Jess (Olivia Hussey) and Barb (Margot Kidder), begin to receive obscene phone calls that put them on edge. Initially, Barb encourages the caller but stops when he responds threateningly. Soon, Barb’s friend Claire (Lynne Griffin) goes missing, and a local girl is murdered, leading the girls to suspect a serial killer is on the loose. The police (led by John Saxon) finally act when a teenage girl is found dead in the park – setting up a wiretap to the sorority house, but no one realises just how near the killer really is!
Originally titled Silent Night, Evil Night in the US (because Black Christmas sounded like a blaxploitation title) and retitled Stranger in the House on US TV screenings (where it caused a bit of controversy), this 1974 stalk and slasher marked Clark’s first Canadian feature and the last of his genre films (although some do consider his 1979 Sherlock Holmes film, Murder by Decree as a horror) before finding fame and fortune with Porkys.
While it received mixed reviews on its release, it is now quite rightly regarded as a masterpiece of the horror genre and a key inspiration for John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween and, indeed, the whole slasher genre that followed in its wake. It has the perfect blend of chills, superb acting, strong, effective characterisations, and an evocative soundtrack – as well as one of the most chilling final shots in a horror movie moments ever – that makes it annual viewing in my household. And as for Nick Mancuso’s scary, demented phone voice? It chills me every time.
• Commentary with director Bob Clark (who provides the final word on his horror masterpiece)
• Commentary with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea
• Commentary with actor Nick Mancuso
• Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
• Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
• Black Christmas Legacy
• 40th-anniversary reunion panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
• TV and Radio Spots
• 12 Days of Black Christmas featurette
• Black Christmas Revisited featurette
• Midnight Screening Q&A with Bob Clark, John Saxon, and Carl Zittrer
Four Film Noir Classics | A second helping of hard-boiled genre gems on Blu-ray from Arrow
Take a walk through the shadowy streets of American film noir in four atmospheric classics courtesy of Arrow.
In The Suspect (1944), a genial shopkeeper, Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton), is constantly nagged by his shrewish wife, Cora (Rosalind Ivan), while secretly yearning for a pretty young stenographer Mary Gray (Ella Raines). When Cora falls to her death, the police are suspicious, and Marshall’s neighbour (Henry Daniell) sees a chance for blackmail. This superb Edwardian-set thriller is a fascinating character study, especially Laughton’s performance in which he reigns in his usual scenery-chewing to give a subtle, compelling turn as the film’s unlikely ‘villain’. You can also see that director Robert Siodmak was beginning to hone his noir credentials here, which he’d perfect with 1946’s The Killers.
The Sleeping City (1950) sees an undercover policeman (Richard Conte) investigating a murder and narcotics racketeering at New York’s Bellevue Hospital with the help of a nurse (Coleen Gray) whom he finds falling in love with. Directed by George Sherman, this tense, semi-documentary thriller remains one of the few films of the era to be shot entirely on location, including many scenes in and around Bellevue.
In Thunder on the Hill (1951), convicted murderer Valerie Carns (Ann Blyth) is being transported for execution when a flood strands her and her guards at a convent hospital, where Sister Mary Bonaventure (Claudette Colbert) becomes convinced of Valerie’s innocence and sets out to find the real killer. Three years shy of becoming the King of Hollywood melodramas, Douglas Sirk made a number of noir thrillers, and this is one of the best. Although it’s a bit studio-bound and the killer’s identity pretty obvious from the outset, it does boast nice turns from Colbert as the sleuthing nun, the wonderful Gladys Cooper as the Mother Superior, and making his Hollywood debut, Australian actor Michael Pate, who’s servant character is key in solving the whodunnit.
In Six Bridges to Cross (1955), streetwise delinquent Jerry Florea (played by Sal Mineo) is shot and wounded by rookie policeman Eddie Gallagher (George Nader) while fleeing the scene of a robbery. Despite this, the two develop a friendship as Eddie and his wife (Julie Adams) take Jerry under their wing, trying to keep him on the straight and narrow. As an adult, Jerry (now played by Tony Curtis) marries and seems to settle down until an armoured security company across the street from him is robbed of $2.5m dollars. Directed by Joseph Pevney with cinematography by Oscar-winner William H Daniels, this crime noir, inspired by the 1950 Great Brink’s Robbery in Boston, Massachusetts, marks Sal Mineo’s screen debut and gives Tony Curtis a meaty character to play (although his accent reminded me of the cartoon character Top Cat at times).
This showcase of lesser-known noir classics features sterling performances from a host of screen greats, as well as taut direction, stunning cinematography, and superb screenwriting from the likes of Oscar Saul (A Streetcar Named Desire), Jo Eisinger (Gilda, Night and the City), Andrew Holt (In a Lonely Place) and Sydney Boehm (The Big Heat).
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentations of all four films
• Original lossless mono audio on all films
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all films
• Audio commentaries by scholars and critics Farran Smith-Nehme (The Suspect), Imogen Sara Smith (The Sleeping City), Josh Nelson (Thunder on the Hill) and Samm Deighan (Six Bridges to Cross)
• It Had to be Done, author and scholar Alan K. Rode on the career of director Robert Siodmak
• The Real Deal, author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas looks at realism and reality in The Sleeping City
• José Arroyo on Thunder on the Hill, a new appreciation by the esteemed film scholar and critic
• Style and Place, film critic Jon Towlson examines the work of cinematographer William H. Daniels
• Vintage radio play versions of The Suspect and Thunder on the Hill starring Charles Laughton, Ella Raines, Claudette Colbert and Barbara Rush
• Theatrical Trailers
• Poster and stills galleries
• Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow
• Double-sided fold-out posters for each film featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow
• Hardback collector’s book featuring new writing on the films by film critics Kat Ellinger, Philip Kemp and Jon Towlson
The Final Programme | Robert Fuest’s psychedelic 1970s sci-fi get a newly-restored UK Blu-ray premiere release
Jon Finch heads a starry cast as the flamboyant anti-hero of this dystopian, darkly humorous sci-fi thriller from maverick British writer/director Robert Fuest – best-known for the Dr Phibes black comedy horror films starring Vincent Price and TV’s The Avengers.
Based on Michael Moorcock’s 1968 novel, and produced by David Puttnam, The Final Programme is presented here in a new restoration making its UK Blu-ray premiere, which brilliantly showcases Fuest’s flamboyant and stylish visuals and production design.
In a far-off future, mankind is in a state of decay. But a group of scientists believe they have found the means to move humanity on to its next level in the creation of an ideal, self-replicating – and thus immortal – human being.
Jerry Cornelius, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and playboy adventurer, is vital to the project’s success: his recently deceased father devised the formula of this ‘final programme’.
However, the formula is captured on microfilm hidden in the vaults of the family’s mansion, and jealously guarded by Jerry’s drug-addicted, psychopathic brother, Frank…
Joining Finch in the psychedelic adventure are Sterling Hayden, Jenny Runacre, Graham Crowden, Patrick Magee, Ronald Lacey and Harry Andrews – as well as genre faves Julie Ege and Sarah Douglas.
Weird, wild, and the most Fuestian of the director’s oeuvre, The Final Programme is available to buy on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from 20 February 2023.
The special extras on the new Studiocanal release include an interview with Jenny Runacre, Kim Newman (who cites the film as Fuest’s masterpiece) taking a brief look at Fuest’s career, the Italian title sequence and trailers. The Blu-ray edition included four collector’s art cards.
You can read my full review of THE FINAL PROGRAMME by clicking on the title link.
Available to pre-order HERE.
Audrey Rose (1977) | The underrated supernatural thriller gets an Arrow 2k restoration release
Master filmmaker Robert Wise began his career with horror classics The Curse of the Cat People and The Body Snatcher for producer Val Lewton. His career would go on to include westerns, thrillers, science fiction and musicals, earning him two Academy Awards for Best Director. In 1963 he returned to his Lewtonian roots with the classic ghost story The Haunting; in 1977, he returned once more with the supernatural thriller Audrey Rose.
All parents Bill (John Beck) and Janice (Marsha Mason) wish for is a quiet, peaceful life with their 11-year-old daughter Ivy (Susan Swift). But their dreams turn to nightmares as Ivy is besieged first by terrifying ‘memories’ of events that never occurred… and then is stalked by a mysterious stranger (Anthony Hopkins) who claims that Ivy was, in fact, his daughter in another life.
Released in the wake of The Exorcist and The Omen, Audrey Rose is an intelligent, heartfelt drama that approaches its subject with an open mind and seriousness of intent that caught many off guard but typifies Wise’s previous genre forays. Sensitively played by a sterling cast at the top of their game, this underseen gem deserves a place on the shelf of any fan of classic horror. And boy, can little Susan Swift scream the house down…
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration by Arrow Films from a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-Ray presentation
• Original lossless mono audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary by film critic Jon Towlson
• Faith and Fraud, a brand new interview with magician Adam Cardone about reincarnation and belief in Audrey Rose
• Then and Now, a brand new featurette looking at the New York locations used in the film
• I’ve Been Here Before, archive visual essay by Lee Gambin looking at reincarnation in cinema
• Investigator: The Paranormal World of Frank De Felitta, an archive interview with the author and scriptwriter of Audrey Rose
• The Role of a Mother, an archive Interview with Marsha Mason
• Hypnotist: Inside the score for Audrey Rose, an archive interview with film music historian Daniel Schweiger
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
• Collectors booklet featuring new writing by critics Kimberly Lindbergs and Johnny Mains
The Cat and the Canary (1939) & The Ghost Breakers (1940) | A double-bill of ghosts and gags with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard on Blu-ray
From Eureka Entertainment come the Bob Hope/Paulette Goodard classics The Cat and the Canary (1939) & The Ghost Breakers (1940) on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
The Cat and the Canary (dir. Elliott Nugent, 1939)
A decade after the death of an eccentric millionaire, his remaining relatives gather for the reading of the will at his abandoned mansion set deep in the Louisiana bayous. His niece Joyce (Paulette Goddard) is named the sole inheritor, but under the condition that she does not go insane within the next 30 days.
Timid radio actor Wally (Bob Hope) vows to protect Joyce, who must spend the night in the haunted mansion along with her jealous relatives, a creepy maid and a homicidal maniac who has just escaped from a nearby sanitarium…
A slick mix of wisecracking comedy and spooky thrills, The Cat and the Canary turned Bob Hope into a Hollywood star and won Paulette Goddard a 10-year contract with Paramount. One of the earliest ‘old dark house’ mysteries, first filmed as a silent in 1927, it was tailored to Hope’s characteristic style, which he’d go onto hone in his buddy comedies with Bing Crosby, and gave Goddard the chance to shine as the spirited heroine.
Stylishly staged, it boasts wonderfully gloomy performances from George Zucco as a stiff lawyer and Gale Sondergaard as the sinister housekeeper. Following this film, Zucco and Sondergaard went on to play the villainous Moriarty and The Spider Woman in Universal’s big-screen Sherlock Holmes adventures opposite Basil Rathbone. The success of the film led to Hope and Goddard re-teaming for The Ghost Breakers (1940).
The Ghost Breakers (dir. George Marshall, 1940)
Larry Lawrence (Hope), sought in connection with a murder he didn’t commit, eludes New York police by hiding in a steamer trunk belonging to Mary Carter (Goddard), who is sailing to Cuba to take possession of an inheritance – a haunted castle.
Sensing that Mary is in danger, Larry and his valet Alex (Willie Best) precede her to the island, which is seemingly inhabited by a ghost, a zombie and perhaps even a flesh ‘n’ blood fiend…
Romance, comedy and chills are all on offer in this follow-up, with Hope and Goddard battling earthly and un-earthly foes—and trying to keep from ending up as ghosts themselves.
This was the third film version of the 1909 play of the same name, and although it delivers on the gallows humour and atmospherics, the whiff of political incorrectness does permeate. Still, it’s a classic treat, and features a young Anthony Quinn in a dual role (just a year before his breakthrough performance in 1941’s Blood and Sand, starring Tyrone Power).
Hope also shows his Republican colours in one joke (which he repeats in the 1949 radio adaptation). Director George Marshall remade the film in 1953 (Scared Stiff), featuring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, plus a cameo from Hope and Bing Crosby.
• 1080p presentation of both films from scans of the original film elements supplied by Universal, with The Ghost Breakers presented from a new 2K master
• Optional English SDH
• Audio commentary tracks on both films with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
• Kim Newman on The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers
• The Ghost Breakers radio adaptation (4 April 1949) – Do listen to this, as it’s a lot of fun, and Hope’s interaction with the live audience is a hoot.
• Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann
Available to order from Eureka Store: https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-cat-and-the-canary-ghost-breakers/
The Most Dangerous Game (1932) | The influential pre-Code adventure thrills again on Blu-ray
Back in 1924, American author and journalist Richard Connell published what has become one of the most popular and influential short stories ever written (in English) – The Most Dangerous Game. It centres on Sanger Rainsford, a New York City big-game hunter who gets the tables turned on him after he gets washed up on a Caribbean island where he is hunted down by Russian aristocrat General Zaroff and his deaf-mute servant. It’s been adapted countless times – on film, radio and television – and continues to inspire film and television makers, video game developers and even the creators of Paintball.
But the very first film adaptation remains the best – RKO Pictures’ 1932 fast-paced pre-Code adventure starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, and Leslie Banks, which is now out on Blu-ray, from a 2K restored scan as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
McCrea takes on the role of the heroic big-game hunter (called Bob here), while Banks is the egotistical Zaroff. Fay Wray, meanwhile, plays a character created especially for the film (for added scream queen/romantic interest value).
Taking advantage of the jungle sets created for co-producers Ernest B. Schoedsack, and Merian C Cooper’s King Kong (including that famous gigantic log), The Most Dangerous Game was filmed at night after Kong had concluded for the day, with many of the cast and crew (including McCrea and Wray) pulling double duty on both productions.
In many respects (such as the excellent production design, optical effects and Max Steiner score – which he pulled together at the eleventh hour), it comes off as a screen test for King Kong. But it really is its own beast – mainly thanks to Leslie Banks’ hypnotic, OTT theatrical performance.
The Masters of Cinema Series 2K restored scan Blu-ray release looks and sounds fantastic and includes some super extras, most notably three radio adaptations featuring Orson Welles and Keenan Wynn (1943); J Carrol Naish and Joseph Cotten (1945) and Paul Frees and Hans Conried (1947), which all dispense with the Fay Wray character and include many lines from the film’s screenplay.
I also particularly enjoyed the audio commentary and totally agree with Stephen Jones’ idea that McCrea and his ripped shirt in the closing scenes inspired the Doc Savage pulp magazine covers that began in 1933, a year after The Most Dangerous Game hit US cinemas.
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restored scan
- Optional English SDH & Unrestored audio
- Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
- Kim Newman on the ‘hunted human’ sub-genre
- Film scholar Stephen Thrower on The Most Dangerous Game
- Merian C Cooper: Reminisces (1971 audio interview, July 1971)
- Suspense 1943 radio adaptation
- Suspense 1945 radio adaptation
- Escape 1947 radio adaptation
- German theatrical trailer
- A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann
The Spine of Night (2021) | An animated ultraviolent fantasy horror thrill ride
Ultraviolent barbarism and cosmic horror collide in an epic animated fantasy from animator Morgan Galen King and Love, Death, & Robots‘ Philip Gelatt. The culmination of seven years of painstaking handcrafted work, The Spine of Night, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD following its exclusive release on the Shudder streaming service.
The film opens with a swamp witch, Tzod (Lucy Lawless), seeking out an ancient guardian (Richard E Grant), who possesses knowledge about a sacred blue flower with mystical properties. Together they share stories about how the bloom has shaped not only their fates but also all existence. What follows is a centuries-spanning saga involving a tomb robber, star-crossed lovers, a maniacal necromancer and winged assassins.
Utilising the old-school rotoscoping process (where the art is literally drawn over reference footage of live-action performers mapping out the movements of the story), this ambitious animated feature echoes the same style used by Ralph Bakshi in Wizards (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978) and Fire and Ice (1983), only with a great deal more blood, gore, ultraviolence and nudity (just check it out below).
That rare technique is crucial to the filmmakers’ vision here, and it certainly pays off with a spellbindingly surreal sword and sorcery thrill ride with an existential bent that is certain to please genre fans and is the anti-thesis of the cartoony animated styles currently employed by Pixar, Disney and their ilk.
The Acorn Media International Blu-ray/DVD release includes an excellent ‘Making Of’ featurette, and two shorts, Exordium (8mins) and Mongrel (3min).
The Owl Service (1969) | Alan Garner’s landmark Welsh valley-set children’s drama on Blu-ray
Broadcast in the UK during the winter of 1969/1970, this adaptation of Alan Garner’s 1967 novel of the same name, about an ancient story being brought back to life in a ‘modern/1960s’ Welsh valley, weaves a heady brew of the supernatural, sexual jealousy and class divide. Now, the eight-part Granada Television/ITV series is available on Blu-ray from Network in the UK.
Alison (Gillian Hills), her mum Margaret (who is never seen), her new husband Clive (Edwin Richfield) and his son Roger (Francis Wallis) are taking their first holiday together in a country house in the Welsh countryside, which Alison has inherited from her late dad. The house staff includes the rather peculiar groundskeeper Huw (Raymond Llewellyn), frightful housekeeper Nancy (Dorothy Edwards) and her son, Gwyn (Michael Holden).
When Alison discovers a service of old dinner plates with a pattern that turns into owls when traced on paper, she sets in motion a centuries-old legend that’s connected to Blodeuwedd, the woman made of flowers, who appears in the Welsh epic poem The Mabinogion.
Regarded as something of a landmark, The Owl Service is not your typical children’s TV drama (especially given the way it addresses adolescent sexuality within a pagan context and uses experimental editing to infuse the story with supernatural elements). The cast is all excellent in their respective roles, though Edwards and Llewellyn chew the scenery at every chance, and their bizarre characterisations so belong to the weird universes of The League of Gentlemen, Twin Peaks and their ilk – as does the final episode, which is OTT bonkers surreal.
And if you are a film location fan like myself, you might like to know that The Stone of Gronw replica, created for the series, still lies in situ on the bank of the River Dovey today. I will so be paying a visit one day soon.
• Archive interviews with Alan Garner from 1968 and 1980
• Commentaries on selected episodes by writer/broadcaster Tim Worthington
• Image gallery
• Limited edition booklet written by Stephen McKay, Chris Lynch and Kim Newman
ORDER FROM NETWORK: https://new.networkonair.com/the-owl-service/
The Owl Service is out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Network
The Ballad of Tam Lin | Ava Gardner casts a seductive spell in Roddy McDowall’s off-kilter British fantasy curio on Blu-ray
In her last major lead role and 44th feature, Hollywood legend Ava Gardner holds seductive sway in the rarely seen, often overlooked 1970 British fantasy, The Ballad of Tam Lin, which was also the sole directorial credit of Roddy McDowall (who ‘escaped’ the Planet of the Apes to do his pet project). It’s certainly a weird one, and that’s probably why I love it so much. Think part folk horror/part Blow-Up style Swinging Sixties critique, shot through a psychedelic lens.
Based on a folkloric Robert Burns poem, the fantasy centres all on Gardner as the Praying mantis-like Michaela Cazaret, an immortal witch/creature whose current lover/victim is London photographer Tom Lynn (Ian McShane). With her coterie of thrill-seeking hipster hangers-on (who imbue her with the energy she needs to survive), Michaela heads to her moorland estate in the Scottish Borders for some psychological fun and games. But when Tom falls for the local vicar’s daughter Janet (Stephanie Beacham), who soon falls pregnant, Tom is doomed to ritual sacrifice…
Gardner’s presence permeates the screen thanks to McDowall’s devoted direction, and she looks every inch the screen goddess thanks to cinematographer Billy Williams’ lighting and framing. McDowall pre-planned every shot, and the results are sublime. He then paired his meticulously curated images with a heady mix of musical styles, including songs by folk favourites Pentangle and an evocative score by composer supremo Stanley Myers.
Supporting the divine Gardner is a bevvy of up-and-coming British talent, including McShane and Beachman, as well as Joanna Lumley, Madeline Smith and Jenny Hanley, elder statesmen Cyril Cusack and Richard Wattis, and also a pre-Rocky Horror Peter Hinwood and pre-Withnail and I Bruce Robinson.
Of course, the big question is, why didn’t McDowall go on to direct more films? Some say that as a keen/professional photographer, he had done what he set out to do. Another theory is that he was so stung by the debacle (which is explained in the audio commentary and booklet) that caused the film to sink into obscurity (after its truncated 1972 US release at The Devil’s Widow) that he just gave up. It’s a pity, as I would have loved to see what he’d do next. Still, if he had, he may not have continued with the Apes films (particularly my favourite, 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).
I am so pleased it has been given so much renewed love in this BFI UK release. But it is the extras that make this a must-have for any cult film collector – as it includes an insightful audio commentary by the BFI Flipside co-founders, plus interviews with cast members Ian McShane, Stephanie Beacham and Madeline Smith, and Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee. Also included are some typically offbeat extras that so fit the BFI Flipside’s quirky and obscure agenda. An Australian Blu-ray release was also put out in November 2021 by Imprint, with a mix and match of similar extras (check them out below).
- Presented in High Definition in the original aspect ratio 2.35:1 // BD50: 1080p, 24fps, PCM 2.0 mono audio (48kHz/24-bit)
- Audio commentary by BFI Flipside co-founders William Fowler and Vic Pratt (2021)
- Love You and Leave You For Dead (2021, 11 mins): Ian McShane on Tam Lin
- An Eerie Tale to Tell (2021, 10 mins): Stephanie Beacham on Tam Lin
- Ballad of a B-Movie: Revisiting Tam Lin (2021, 12 mins): an interview with Roddy McDowall biographer David Del Valle
- Legendary Ladies of the Silver Screen: Ava Gardner (1998, 18 mins): Roddy McDowall remembers Ava Gardner and The Ballad of Tam Lin in this adoring archive introduction
- Adventures Along the Way (2022, 32 mins): an interview with Madeline Smith
- Listening In (2022, 27 mins): Jacqui McShee, the lead singer of the seminal British folk group Pentangle, recalls the writing and recording of the film’s cult soundtrack
- Hans Zimmer on Stanley Myers (2021, 20 mins, audio only): the much-loved composer discusses the work of Stanley Myers
- Red Red? Red (Jim Weiss, Chris Maudson, John Phillips, 1971, 34 mins): an impressionistic study of a commune in Devon where people dress up, play instruments, make love and take part in strange revolutionary games
- Border Country (26 mins): rare short films from the BFI National Archive reveal rural lifestyles at Scotland’s edge
- Theatrical trailer
- Booklet with a new essay on the film by the BFI’s William Fowler, essays by Sam Dunn and Corinna Reicher, a contemporary review by Tom Milne from Monthly Film Bulletin and notes on the special features and credits
ORDER from the BFI Shop: https://shop.bfi.org.uk/the-ballad-of-tam-lin-blu-ray.html
THE US IMPRINT EXTRAS NOT PORTED OVER
• Audio Commentary from author and journalist Dr Adam Scovell
• Interview with Cinematographer Billy Williams;
• Interview with Actress Delia Lindsay
• Interview with Actor Kiffer Weisselberg
• Interview with Assistant First Director Peter Boyle
• Tam Lin & the representations of the witch in film Visual Essay from author Kat Ellinger