In 1864, 18-year-old Ludwig II (Helmut Berger) ascends the throne of Bavaria. Following a scandal involving Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard) and his mistress Cosima von Bulow (Silvana Mangano), Ludwig is forced to expel them from Munich. Under pressure to marry, the latently homosexual king, who is having an intense relationship with Hungarian actor Josef Kainz (Folker Bohnet, agrees to an arranged wedding with his cousin Sophie (Sonia Petrovna). But the strain of this relationship, the war with Prussia, and fears of a conspiracy brewing his court play havoc on his mental state…
With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to King Ludwig II of Bavaria with this lavish 1972 historical drama that traces his bizarre 22-year reign, ending with his mysterious death in June 1886.
Sporting a sickly countenance and redden eyelids, Helmut Berger’s Ludwig cuts a miserable figure, who sinks further into despair and madness as he moves from one overly ornate palace and castle to another, which soon become gilded prisons, made all the more claustrophobic by the incessant rain and snow showers.
Featuring Armando Nannuzzi’s sumptuous cinematography and Piero Tosi’s Oscar-nominated costume design, Visconti mounts his epic of 19th century decadence on such an opulent scale – and in the very locations that the real king lived (*) – that it needs to be seen in its entirety to admire its dazzling operatic stature. And this new Arrow Academy release presents the film in its completed form in accordance with the director’s wishes, and – for the first time on home video – includes the English-language soundtrack.
Berger dominates every scene, but he does get some excellent support from the ever-reliable Trevor Howard, who is the spitting image of Wagner, and The House That Screamed’s John Moulder-Brown, as his mentally-unstable brother, Prince Otto, while Romy Schneider reprises her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the classic Sissi trilogy. The music includes Richard Wagner’s last original composition for piano, as well as works by Offenbach and Shuman. A melancholy masterpiece deserving of a revisit.
ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• 4K restoration from the original film negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut (1hr:15min) or as five individual parts (with the full pisodes 1-3 are on disc 2)
• Original Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles
• Original English soundtrack available with optional English subtitles (This version also includes the Italian soundtrack where no English track was recorded… which makes for any interesting experience. But if you are familiar with Italian, then it works quite smoothly)
• Interview with actor Helmut Berger (OMG! Be afraid! Be very afraid! Helmut is very candid and very eccentric)
• Interview with producer Dieter Geissler (who also did Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Without Warning and The Neverending Story)
• Luchino Visconti: an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
• Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico: an interview with the screenwriter
• Silvana Mangano – The Scent Of A Primrose: a portrait of the actress (30min)
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Cowie (first pressing only)
DID YOU KNOW?
(*) The film was shot on location in Munich and Bavaria, including Roseninsel, Berg Castle, Lake Starnberg, Castle Herrenchiemsee, Castle Hohenschwangau, Linderhof Palace, Cuvilliés Theatre, Nymphenburg Palace, Ettal, Kaiservilla and Neuschwanstein Castle.
When Under the Shadow had its UK cinema run late last year, everyone was raving about it and comparing it to the masterful Australian psychological horror The Babadook (you can read about that film here). Well now I’ve finally gotten to watch it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as those reviews, and so deserving of its – to date – 11 awards, including the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards and the Douglas Hickox Award at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Hickox, as some may know, was the director of my all-time favourite Theatre of Blood. And more awards are set to follow, as the horror thriller has also been nominated for two gongs at this year’s BAFTA’s taking place on 12 February.
Making his feature debut, writer and director Babak Amvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine. When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.
It’s a little unfair to compare Amvari’s thriller with The Babadook, as its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences. The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsuprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with a islamist republic.
Narges Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that is so engrossing to watch. So much so, that the film’s ending is a huge let down. I won’t reveal it here, but I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.
Under the Shadow (15) is out on DVD in the UK from Precision Pictures from Monday 20 January 2017
A hero dwarf, a scythe-wielding henchman, Christopher Lee playing a necrophile aesthete Count and a baroque setting that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tim Burton film makes for a fantastic voyage into vintage horror in 1964’s Castle of the Living Dead.
Set in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, this black-and-white chiller finds mad taxidermist Count Drago (Lee, looking wonderfully funereal with his neat goatee, dark-rimmed eyes and glossy black hair) creating a tableaux of embalmed women in the bowels of a creepy castle that’s festooned with stuffed ravens, owls and pelicans.
When a troupe of travelling performers fail to heed the warnings of a local witch (one of Drago’s failed experiments) and decide to perform for the Count, young dancer Laura (Gaia Germani) finds herself next to be added to Drago’s ghoulish collection. Her only hope of survival lies in the hands of an unlikely hero – a dwarf (Antonio de Martino).
This imaginative Italian production was directed by Luciano Ricci (using the name Herbert Wise) and screenwriter Warren Keifer. Now, if that last name rings a bell then it should because Donald Sutherland – who plays the dual role of a police sergeant and the ugly witch – would later name his son after Keifer.
It’s also the film in which future Witchfinder General director Michael Reeves got his break. The 20-year-old was initially employed to do second-unit work, but ended up doing a whole lot more. Though he never got to shoot any scenes with star Lee, he was responsible for introducing the character of the dwarf. And his sterling work on the horror would result in him directing his first picture, The She Beast, the following year. As a side note, Reeves also appears as one of the frozen officer’s in Drago’s gruesome gallery.
Beautifully shot in icy monochrome by Fellini’s cinematographer, Aldo Tonti, the film’s most memorable moments include a mock hanging (Reeves would later film a similar scene for the opening of Witchfinder General) and the henchman and dwarf dueling in a garden of surreal statues and on the castle ramparts (the real-life Odescalchi Castle and Bomarzo Park in Lazio, Italy).
Packed with nods to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Poe’s Roderick Usher, the legend of Bluebeard, and Hitchcock’s Psycho, this is an atmospheric exercise that gets better with age.
The 2012 DVD release available from Screenbound Pictures in the UK has been digitally remastered with restored original mono soundtrack, and includes the original trailer and notes by Michael Reeves’ biographer Benjamin Halligan.
The groundbreaking 1970s British TV children’s drama, Timeslip, gets a limited edition DVD set, featuring all 26 episodes of the four serials, a host of special features, and a ‘making of’ book from Network Releasing this week.
Devised by Ruth Boswell (The Tomorrow People and Shadows), Timeslip fused hard science and fantasy in its tale of two teenagers who discover the existence of a ‘time barrier’ that enables them to travel to different periods and locations – from World War Two to chilling visions of the future.
In The Wrong End of Time, teenagers Liz (Cheryl Burfield) and Simon (Spencer Banks), who are holidaying in St Oswald in the Midlands, are sent back in time to 1940 when the local naval base was taken over by German marines. In The Time of the Ice Box, they find themselves mistaken for scientific guinea pigs at an Arctic research station 20 years in the future.
The third serial, The Year of the Burn Up, sees our young heroes in an alternate 1990, where the misuse of science threatens the Earth. And, returning to the present day in The Day of the Clone, Simon goes in search of a missing Liz and has a fateful encounter with Charles Traynor (Dennis Quilley) – the man who put the duo on their time-travels in the first place.
Wasn’t the series made in colour?
With the exception of four episodes (parts 2 to 5 of Day of the Clone), the series was filmed in colour. However, the colour master tapes were found to be badly damaged in the 1980s – with only episode six of Time of the Ice Box remaining intact. This meant that only 16mm black and white film recordings, originally made for overseas sales, were all that remained. It was these that have been used for all subsequent video releases. However, the Time of the Ice Box colour episode is included in Network’s release.
• Behind the Barrier: 2009 feature-length documentary
• Beyond the Barrier: mini-episode
• ‘Making Of’ book by archive TV historian Andrew Pixley
• Back to the Barrier 2003: the cast return to the series location
• Day of the Clone 2007: Convention footage
• PDF archive featuring scripts and production paperwork
• Image gallery
• Disc text features – including an overview of Timeslip comic strip artist Mike Noble
Timeslip is released by Network as a limited edition DVD box-set (buy it here)
For more on the show check out the fan website: http://www.timeslip.org.uk/
Well here’s something for the most dedicated Doctor Who fans, it’s the 1995 direct-to-video adventure, Downtime, that was never sanctioned by the BBC, and only now getting a proper DVD release.
FIND THE LOCUS!
Written by Who writer Marc Platt, Downtime, is the unofficial sequel to the Second Doctor season five serials The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, in which the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) investigate a mysterious school run by the Second Doctor’s former companion Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) and explorer Professor Edward Travers (Jack Watling).
Victoria, however, is being manipulated by The Great Intelligence in a bid to manifest itself in the Earth’s computer. With the Doctor nowhere to be found, the Brigadier and Sarah Jane are on their own as they try to defeat the Great Intelligence and a new breed of Yeti…
Directed by the late Christopher Barry (who worked with William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s incarnations of the Time Lord), and featuring the likes of John Leeson (the voice of K-9) and Geoffrey Beevers, Downtime is released in a two-disc set from Koch Media in the UK on 16 November, and includes a behind-the-scenes featurette (with never before seen footage) and a look at the production’s editing, sound and visual effects work.
Stolen Assignment (1955) | Nostalgia fans will get a kick out Terence Fisher’s light-hearted battle of the sexes thriller
HE HAD A CAST-IRON ALIBI FOR MURDER…
When Ida Garnett (Joyce Carey) reports the disappearance of her niece, Margaret Crossley, to the police they have an obvious suspect for murder – her artist husband, Henry (Patrick Holt). But the only person who stands to gain from the death is not Henry… Enter Sunday Star crime reporter Mike (John Bentley) and his society page girlfriend Jenny (Hy Hazell) who end up in a battle of the sexes race to get an exclusive, much to the annoyance of the dogged Inspector (Eddie Byrne) in charge of the investigation…
…BUT THESE REPORTERS HAD OTHER IDEAS
Two years before Terence Fisher helped breathed new blood in the British Gothic horror genre with Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein, he directed Stolen Assignment, a light-hearted thriller for British Lion. Adapted from the story, Involuntary Confession, by Sidney Nelson and Maurice Harrison, this 62-minute B-feature was shot at Bray Studios, which was Hammer’s home of horror from 1951 until 1966 (the last film they shot there was The Mummy’s Shroud).
This being 1950s Britain, there’s a whiff of xenophobia in the film’s treatment of gypsies and a particularly out-dated gender remark over a male poodle being dyed pink. It also makes light of chequebook journalism and the issues surrounding such practices: the fact the two reporters’ influence the murder inquiry for the sake of a deadline is highly questionable. But it’s still very entertaining, with ‘Britain’s answer to Betty Grable’ Hy Hazell and future Crossroads star John Bentley making a great double act as the sparring lovers/reporters. Nostalgia fans will also get a buzz from the shots of Windsor High Street (has it changed at all?).
THE UK DVD RELEASE
Stolen Assignment is presented on DVD in a new transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection. There are no extras.
DID YOU KNOW?
The grand house that appears in Stolen Assignment (as seen in the clip below) was actually the historic listed Down Place, a 18th-century country house on the banks of the Thames which also featured in many Hammer productions, including the 1954 film noir The House Across the Lake, where it stood in for Sidney James’ mansion. Check out my review here.
Our Man In Marrakesh (1966) | Tony Randall dodges bullets, babes and baddies in an amusing Euro spy spoof
A MATTER OF MURDER IN MARRAKESH
American architect Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall) arrives in Marrakesh for a short break, but unwittingly ends up helping the mysterious Kyra (Senta Berger) dump the body of her recently murdered boyfriend. What the hell has he got himself into? Well, it soon transpires that Kyra is a CIA agent trying to flush out sleazy gangster Mr Casimir (Herbert Lom), who is waiting the arrival of a courier carrying $2million in cash to pay him to fix an important United Nations vote. But who could the courier be?
BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD!
Produced and written (as Peter Welbeck) by Harry Alan Towers, who was legendary in the 1960s for a slew of B-movie Euro thrillers, and directed by Don Sharp, who also helmed Tower’s Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee, Our Man In Marrakesh (re-titled in the US as Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!) is an amusing spy farce that spoofs Hitchcock’s 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much by way of 1959’s North by Northwest and Carol Reed’s Our Man in Havana.
Laconic Hollywood star Tony Randall, best known for Pillow Talk and the 7 Faces of Dr Lao at the time, got a busman’s holiday under the Moroccan sun along with a host of famous faces including Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski and Terry-Thomas, as well as Wilfred Hyde White, John Le Mesurier, Senta Berger and Towers regular, Margaret Lee.
Shot on location in and around a very cosmopolitan-looking Marrakesh, including the luxury La Mamounia hotel (which was also used in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much remake), as well as the city’s souks, a grand Riad, and the El Badi Palace (for the big climax), this entertaining slice of Euro silliness keeps you guessing over the identity of the courier.
Could it be John Le Mesurier’s mysterious travel agent or Wilfred Hyde White’s sanitary china salesman or someone else entirely? Terry-Thomas is simply hilarious as an aristocratic Berber with a love for cucumber sandwiches; while Gregoire Aslan, as cheery trucker Achmed, is the film’s unsung hero (he later appeared in Gordon Hessler’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). Another highlight is Malcolm Lockyer’s Euro spy score (all harpsicord and bongos), which has shades of his Dr Who and the Daleks film score lurking in the stirring strings.
‘Nothing to do with money is vulgar’ Mr Casimir (Herbert Lom)
‘The Windmill theatre now a cinema? Dreadful!’ El Caid (Terry-Thomas)
THE UK DVD RELEASE
Our Man In Marrakesh is presented in a new transfer from the original film elements from StudioCanal, and is released by Network Distributing. A trailer (featuring all the exciting bits), image gallery and pdf promotional material are also included.
IF YOU LIKED THIS… CHECK OUT…
My reviews for Harry Alan Towers’ House of 1000 Dolls, starring Vincent Price; The Girl From Rio, with Shirley Eaton and George Sanders; and The Bloody Judge, starring Christopher Lee. The UK Blu-ray of Don Sharp’s 1963 Hammer horror Kiss of the Vampire is also reviewed here.
The story of a girl who twice returned from the grave!
Taylor Mills CEO Ellen Garth (Georgina Cookson) is devoted to her business, her money and her husband Raymond (Gary Merrill), and is worth £1m dead. Feeling little more than a carer and 24-hr stud, Raymond drifts towards Ellen’s attractive young niece Alice (Jane Merrow), but is thrown out when the possessive Ellen catches them in a tender tryst.
With nothing to lose, Raymond joins Ellen’s shady attorney Richard Corbett (Neil McCallum) in an elaborate scheme to murder his wife. Events take a sinister turn when Raymond kills Ellen and buries her in a garden shed before the plan can be put in motion. But, as Ellen believed in life after death, there are signs that she is not content to remain in her grave…
…will live forever as a masterpiece of suspense!
This 1965 thriller (called The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die in the US) marked the directorial debut of the late Gordon Hessler (he died in January of this year at the age of 83), who had cut his teeth on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in the US, and would later helm the cult horror duo The Oblong Box (1969) and Scream and Scream Again (1970) in the UK, both starring Vincent Price, as well as Ray Harryhausen’s Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973).
The routine script is an adaptation of the 1959 novel by Jay Bennett, a former scriptwriter on the Hitchcock TV series, and shares similar themes to Henri Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), William Castle’s The Night Walker (1964) and even Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944).
Gary Merrill, best known for starring in 1950’s All About Eve with Bette Davis, was also a regular on the Hitchcock TV series. His age and looks certainly make him an unlikely gigolo here, but he carries it off quite well. And Jane Merrow, who plays the Lolita like Alice later turned up in 1967’s Night of the Big Heat and Hands of the Ripper (1971). Producer Jack Parsons was responsible for such cult genre fare as 1962’s Witchcraft, starring Lon Chaney Jr, in his only British film role, The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) and Don Sharp’s underrated Curse of the Fly (1965).
While Catacombs plays like a feature-length episode of a Hitchcock TV mystery, there are some disturbing moments that linger: like when Raymond is commanded by Ellen to carry her to bed for sex (it will make you cringe); or Ellen’s look-a-like getting a brick to the head then being set alight in a car that’s then sent over a cliff (vicious stuff). The catacombs of the title don’t actually appear in the film, but provide a vital clue in solving the mystery, and there’s more than one twist after the big reveal – which is straight out of William Castle’s The Tingler (1959).
THE UK DVD RELEASE
Catacombs is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio from Network Distributing as part of their British Film collection. The special features include image gallery and promotion material (in pdf form).
The Mad Ghoul (1943) | Murder, mutilation – and mirth? George Zucco’s nutty professor is on the prowl in the vintage Universal horror
A NEW SENSATION IN HORROR
Chemistry professor Dr Alfred Morris (George Zucco) has rediscovered an ancient nerve gas that was used by the Mayans during rituals of human dissection to appease their gods. When he discovers his new assistant, medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce), is in love the same woman, concert pianist Isabel Lewis (Evelyn Ankers), he devises a fiendish plan to break them up. He deliberately exposes Ted to the nerve gas, turning him into a mindless living dead slave, and only periodic heart transplants can return him to normal.
Thinking he is desperately ill, Ted breaks off his engagement with Isabel. Regretting the decision, Ted follows her six-city concert tour to try and win her back, but in each place he visits, corpses from local cemeteries start turning up with their hearts cut out.
With the Mad Ghoul now making the headlines, wisecracking reporter McClure (Robert Armstrong) and clueless detectives Macklin (Milburn Stone) and Garrity (Charles McGraw) set out to solve the mystery. Dr Morris however has a new rival for Isabel’s heart, her pianist Eric (Turhan Bey). Time to send out the ghoul again…
‘There’s something strange about the whole thing’
Throughout the 1940s, it was staple viewing to catch a Universal horror at your local cinema. The same year that The Mad Ghoul was released, the studio brought out Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, its first attempt to stir up dwindling box office receipts by multiplying its monsters, Son of Dracula (both starred Lon Chaney Jr), and the extravagant musical Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains. It also had a rival in RKO, whose haunting and intelligent horrors I Walked With A Zombie and The Leopard Man were breaking new ground.
Despite its B-movie budget and familiar mad scientist story The Mad Ghoul is whole lot of fun and has its roots in 1930s serials and screwball comedies. It also gives popular supporting actor George Zucco one of his few starring roles. In fact, he’s at his unctuous best playing the subtly evil Dr Morris that makes this otherwise mediocre affair worth checking out. The final shot of Zucco’s mad doctor frantically scratching at the dirt in the cemetery gives the film its biggest – and only real – chill. The film’s pro animal experimentation story however is certainly another one, and subtly alluded to by Bruce’s Ted: ‘I can’t help feeling a sense of evil in all this’.
This was the last film by ‘quota quickie’ director James Hogan (he died a week before the film’s release aged 53 from a heart attack). Bruce’s white-faced wrinkle make-up effects are by the legendary Jack Pierce (who probably did it in his sleep or after having oatmeal porridge for breakfast). Lillian Cornell dubbed Ankers’ singing voice, while the stylish gowns worn by Anker’s Isabel are by Vera West. Robert Armstrong, best known for his turn in King Kong, has one of film’s funniest scenes – he hides in a coffin to catch the ghoul.
Favourite cornball line: ‘She was tearing their hearts out with music’
Favourite non-PC line: ‘You can never tell with these musicians, a lot of them are pretty queer ducks.’
THE UK DVD RELEASE
The OEG (Odeon Entertainment) DVD release, part of their Hollywood Studio Collection, features a pristine print in a PAL 4:3 picture mode (Region 2), with Dolby Digital mono audio (although the soundtrack is quite scratchy in the first couple of reels and on the songs). All in all a great addition to any classic horror film collection.
Nowhere (1997) | Gregg Araki’s anarchic 1997 teen romp is like a US Skins with a touch of the surreal
HOW’S IT HANGIN’?
Student film-maker Dark Smith (James Duval) and his bisexual girlfriend Mel (Rachel True) hook up with their fellow alternative LA college friends and embark on a series of increasing surreal adventures involving drink, drugs and sexual encounters that result in total chaos at a hedonistic party.
THE DIRTY TRUTH
Gregg Araki’s polysexual 1997 teen romp, the last in his Apocalypse trilogy, is worth revisiting both for its exploration of issues like bulimia, drug addiction, sex and suicide, and for the cast of then-unknowns who have since become big names (including Ryan Philippe, Heather Graham and Mena Suvari). Araki’s style is wildly colourful both in its psychedelic, often surreal, visuals and quick-fire toilet humour – think Skins US style with a John Waters vibe.
There’s also his trademark mix-tape of cool tunes, from the likes of Suede, Marilyn Manson and The Chemical Brothers, playing in the background and a host of Hollywood celebrity cameos (Shock horror – Eve Plumb and Christopher Knight from TV’s The Brady Bunch pop up as white trash parents?). The film’s most surreal highlights include a zombie clown carrying a dead dog and an alien lizard vaporising three Valley Girls played by Rose McGowan, Shannen Doherty and Traci Lords.
This Second Sight Region 0 DVD (Cert 18) release, which follows the 2012 DVD re-release of Araki’s The Doom Generation, includes an audio commentary with the director, and actors James Duval, Rachel True and Jordan Ladd.
A Might See – mainly because of all the cameos.