Pieces (1982) | Juan Piquer Simón’s bonkers Spanish slasher gets a 4k restored limited edition Arrow release
Back in 2011 Arrow Video released Juan Piquer Simón’s 1982 splatter hatchet job Pieces uncut on DVD, with just a handful of fun extras. Now, they have gone further by creating a new 4k transfer from the original camera negative to present both the US theatrical version and the original director’s cut (Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche) with the original score (by Librado Pastor, who only ever composed four film scores) in a limited edition 3-disc dual format box-set loaded with bonus content.
These include archive interviews with the director and actor Paul L Smith (of Midnight Express fame), new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo (Slugs), a fan appreciation featurette, and an audio interview with producer Steve Minasian (Don’t Open Till Christmas, Slaughter High). The alternate re-score by Umberto is also a special feature, while a separate disc features the original 16 track score. Podcasters The Hysteria Continues supply the well-informed audio commentary, while artist Marc Schoenbach has come up with the new artwork (way less gory than Jeff Zornow’s 2011 artwork), and a collector’s booklet is also included.
Best served as a splatter spoof than an exercise in excessive violence, Pieces is a real guilty pleasure despite its flaws (and there are many), and this new release from Arrow is a real step up from their 2011 DVD release. So, if crazy Spanish splatter is your bag, then I’d highly recommend adding it to your collection.
The 10th Victim (1965) | It’s the Pop Art and deadly bullet bra that makes this 1960s sci-fi satire so achingly cool
IT’S THE 21ST-CENTURY AND THEY HAVE A LICENCE TO KILL
In the near future (from a retro 1960s perspective that is), war and violence has been replace with The Big Hunt, a government-backed televised sport in which players take turns to be either Hunters or Victims in a hunt to the death which offers a huge cash reward and lucrative advertising deals.
Huntress Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), whose weapon of choice is a double barrel bikini bra gun, scores a major deal with the Ming Tea Company to kill her tenth victim live on camera at Rome’s Temple of Venus. When the Big Hunt computer selects famed hunter Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) as the victim, Caroline poses as a TV reporter wanting to run an exposé on him. Unsure as to whether she is his hunter, Poletti is reluctant to take her down, especially when he starts falling for Caroline. But with a vindictive ex-wife wanting his assets and an impatient mistress (Elsa Martinelli) waiting in the wings, the Italian playboy soon discovers he has more than one reason to watch his back…
POP (ART) GOES THE SEX FARCE
For this 1965 Italian comedy sci-fi, director Elio Petri adapts Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story, The Seventh Victim, into a parody of the Euro spy craze (that came in the wake of the Bond films) and Italian rom-coms (of the kind that often featured Marcello Mastrioanni being chased by women), as well as a satire on bourgeois consumerism.
For his achingly cool visual palette, Petri dips his distinctive brush into contemporary popular culture, drawing on haute couture, modern design and Pop Art imagery to create a gorgeously framed Vogue fashion spread brought to vibrant comic book inspired life. Ursula Andress looks absolutely stunning here in André Courrèges‘s Space Age fashions, thanks to Fellini’s favourite cameraman, Gianni Di Venanzo, who also gives Rome a wonderfully futuristic look. And because Italian cinema just wouldn’t be the same without its iconic mood music; Piero Piccioni gives us a catchy score, with Italian songstress Mina providing the high-pitched harmonies.
The Tenth Victim harks back to man being hunted for sport pictures like 1932’s classic The Most Dangerous Game, but with a 1960s-futuristic spin. Petri fittingly places much of the action in the shadow of that last monument to gladiatorial conquest, the iconic Coliseum, while taking pot shots at television elimination shows which, frighteningly, is becoming a reality today. But the sci-fi on display here is nothing like the dark dystopian nightmares of similarly themed films like The Running Man, Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. Instead, Petri opts to tell his story as a romantic comedy that’s more about love, marriage and divorce than futuristic fights to the death (there’s not even a drop of blood in sight). Still, this madcap saturated supercolour sci-fi sex farce is so retro cool, you’ll want to screen it over and over…
THE UK RELEASE
The Shameless Screen Entertainment dual format release is sourced from HD master restored in the original widescreen film format, with a choice of English or Italian audio with subtitles, and is released for the first time in UK in a Numbered Collector’s Lenticular Edition. The special features include an interview with Kim Newman and Paola Petri (the late director’s wife), trailers and photo gallery.
DID YOU KNOW?
The brassiere that Ursula Andress sports in the film really did shoot, and was the inspiration for the Fembots in 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
More (1969) & The Panic in Needle Park (1971) | Love and heroin create a deadly cocktail in two cinema greats that will have you hooked
First up is Barbet Schroeder’s More, which created quite a stir on its release back in 1969, and has since gained a cult following – notably because of its Pink Floyd soundtrack and Ibiza setting. Next up is director Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic In Needle Park, which came out two years later and starred Al Pacino in his breakout role, and was equally controversial because of its realistic portrayal of heroin addicts in New York City.
Despite their different geographic locations and cinematic approach, the two films are both about wildly passionate love affairs fuelled by a shared addiction to heroin, and both explore the characters’ relationship with their particular setting.
In More, the island of Ibiza, a picture-postcard paradise of azure blue skies, emerald seas and dazzling white-washed houses, becomes the backdrop for German student Stefan (Klaus Grunberg) to seek out Estelle (Mimsy Farmer), an enigmatic young woman he briefly meets in Paris. Despite warnings to stay clear of the secretive girl, Stefan is spellbound and tracks her down on the island. When Estelle steals a stash of ‘horse’ (the street name for heroin at the time) from local bigwig Wolf, she convinces Stefan to try some. But just as Stefan’s love for Estelle is all consuming, so is the drug. Soon Stefan is hooked and when Wolf hunts the couple down, he is forced to work for Wolf to pay back what Estelle stole.
In stark contrast to Ibiza’s sun-drenched beaches, The Panic in Needle Park takes place in a real-life section of New York City’s Upper West Side, which was infamous for being a haven for drug addicts in the 1970s. Here, with car horns blaring and people racing about, small time hustler Bobby (Al Pacino) introduces the naïve, restless Helen (Kitty Winn) to his world of dealing and scoring. Helen’s growing addiction is played out in coffee shops, seedy hotels, back alleys and the local jail where she and Bobby both end up spending time before returning to life on the streets. But where More ends abruptly, and tragically, The Panic in Needle Park shows an addict’s life is a constant cycle of big ups and major downs.
Being phobic about needles, the hardest thing for me to watch were the scenes involving actual drug injections (it was these scenes that made the films so controversial when they were first released). And they still retain their power, especially Panic with its inventive documentary approach and all-too realistic performances from Pacino and Winn (who won a Best Actress award at Cannes for her role).
The Panic in Needle Park and More may be relentlessly grim in their outlook, but they still fascinate and their themes are just as valid in today’s society. In fact, they should be mandatory in any anti-drug campaigns in schools.
The 2011 dual format BFI release of More contains a re-mastered print of the film and a newly commissioned 17-minute documentary on the story behind it; plus trailers for Schroeder’s films other including La Vallée and Maîtresse, illustrated booklet, biographies, and notes on the Pink Floyd soundtrack.
The 2011 Second Sight release of The Panic in Needle Park is the film’s first-ever UK widescreen release, and includes some very informative interviews with director Schatzberg (who originally tested Robert De Niro for the role of Bobby), cinematographer Adam Holender (who lensed Midnight Cowboy), and writer Joan Didion (who talks about what is was like researching the script in the actual locations which have now been totally gentrified).[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-M-ryiDJw%5D [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNeN9ZU2CSM%5D
The Phantom of the Opera (1929) | Is this the definitive release of the celebrated silent cinema horror classic?
BEHOLD THE PHANTOM
In the first-ever screen adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, Lon Chaney, gives his most famous performance as the deformed Erik, a former Devil’s Island escapee who commits murder and mayhem in a bid to turn the woman (Mary Philbin) he is infatuated with, into a star.
THE MASTERPIECE OF HORROR THAT SHOCKED CINEMA FOR DECADES!
The 1925 film was a hugely lavish production, with a scaled-down replica of the Paris Opera house being built on a dedicated soundstage (that’s still used today). Despite numerous production problems, the film was a box-office hit that launched the Hollywood gothic style of the 1930s, beginning with Tod Browning’s Dracula and James Whale’s Frankenstein, while Chaney’s skull-like make-up was so horrific it made some cinema patrons scream and faint.
With the arrival of sound, Phantom was re-issued, but only fragments now survive. Original prints of the film were also fully tinted, with some sequences in two-colour Technicolor, and a rooftop scene using a special process that enabled the Phantom’s cloak to show red against the blue night sky. This Photoplay restoration re-instates all these effects, and is accompanied by Carl Davis’ celebrated 1996 score which draws heavily on Charles Gounod’s Faust – the opera that is performed in the film. Rent the film now on BFI Player (£3.50).[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYvbaILyc2s%5D
THE BFI RELEASE
The UK 3-disc dual format edition includes the following:
• A newly-restored 2k scanned presentation of the tinted and toned 1929 version comprising elements from three sources (the 35mm George Eastman House master positive, a 35mm colour dupe negative of the masked ball made in 1996, and 35mm dupe negative sections made in 1996 from an original 16mm print), new opening and closing titles, and a 5.1 mix of Carl Davis‘s 1996 Channel 4 Silents Series score.
• The 103min 1925 version newly transferred in high definition from the Photoplay Productions 16mm print and digitally remastered, with a newly commissioned piano accompaniment by Ed Bussey.
• Original 1925 trailer (featuring Bussey’s music) and 1929 sound re-issue trailer (featuring recreated soundtrack).
• An edited version of Reel 5 from the lost 1929 sound re-issue (12 mins).
• The ‘man with a lantern’ footage believed to have been shot for non-English speaking territories.
• Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces documentary (2000, 86 mins, DVD only).
• Booklet featuring new essays, including extensive notes on the film’s restoration history.
• Channel 4 Silents restoration souvenir programme on PDF.
If you want to know more about the enduring legacy of The Phantom of the Opera, check out the documentary Unmasking the Masterpiece from the folks at The Witch’s Dungeon (who supplied the photos above) over in the US. Click here for more information.