Blog Archives

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.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• 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.
• Trailers
• 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.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 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

Karloff in Maniacal Mayhem | Three creepy classics from the Universal vaults head to Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Maniacal Mayhem – the two-disc Blu-ray boxset featuring three tales of terror from the Universal archives starring Boris Karloff: The Invisible Ray (1936), Black Friday (1940) and The Strange Door (1951). Available from 17 October 2022.

Each film is presented in 1080p from 2K scans of the original film elements with optional English SDH. Also included is a limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on all three films by film writers Andrew Graves, Rich Johnson, and Craig Ian Mann.

While The Invisible Ray and Black Friday were previously included in the first volume of Scream! Factory’s Universal Horror Collection in the US, this is the first Blu-ray outing for The Strange Door

THE INVISIBLE RAY (dir. Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
This vintage sci-fi sees Karloff playing the first of his many sympathetic scientist-turned-society menace roles and is a direct follow-up to his first pairing with Bela Lugosi, 1935’s The Raven. He plays astronomer Dr Janos Rukh (Karloff), who is contaminated by a super-powerful element he dubs Radium X. Lugosi is Dr Benet, a fellow scientist who devises a temporary antidote. But when Benet presents the discovery as his own, Rukh becomes consumed by revenge and goes on a killing spree.

Featuring effective luminescent special effects from John P Fulton, some great sets (borrowed from Flash Gordon and Frankenstein), excellent performances from Karloff and Lugosi, and a thrilling climax in which Violet Kemble Cooper (playing Karloff’s mother) saves the day, The Invisible Ray is a sci-fi classic that still stands up today. Footage later turned up in the 1939 Lugosi serial, The Phantom Creeps

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

BLACK FRIDAY (dir. Arthur Lubin, 1940)
Karloff and Lugosi are at it again in this bizarre gangster/horror film penned by Curt Siodmak. Karloff plays amoral surgeon Dr Sovac, who transplants part of a mobster’s brain into the body of his dying college professor friend George (Stanley Ridges), creating a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure who starts murdering his former criminal associates.

This was the last of the Karloff-Lugosi Universal pairings. Unfortunately, they have no scenes together. Originally, Karloff was to play the professor and Lugosi the doctor. Still, Karloff didn’t want to do another dual role (he’d already down that in 1935’s The Black Room), so Lugosi got short shrift by the director and handed a minor role instead – which is a shame because this is quite a thrilling little gem, which plays more like a crime film than outright horror. Ridges, however, does an excellent job playing the two roles. Writer Siodmak later revisited the brain transplant idea in his 1942 sci-fi novel Donovan’s Brain and its subsequent 1953 film adaptation.

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

THE STRANGE DOOR (dir. Joseph Pevney, 1951)
Charles Laughton takes centre stage as the wicked 18th-century French nobleman Sire Alain de Maletroit, who has imprisoned his brother Edmond (Paul Cavanagh) in a dungeon for 20 years. Now he wants to ruin the life of his niece Blanche (Sally Forrest) by forcing her to marry the roguish Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley). But his plan is upset when Denis attempts to rescue the girl, aided by Karloff’s abused servant, Voltan.

Coming out a year before The Black Castle, this costume shocker based loosely on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson boasts an incredibly OTT performance from Laughton, who outshines everyone else in the cast – including Karloff, who stays in the shadows for most of the film.

In his biography, Charles Laughton – A Difficult Actor, Simon Callow wrote of his performance, ‘he messes sloppily around, pulling faces, slobbering, leering, chuckling, wheezing, a nightmarish display of an acting machine out of control’. He’s so spot on – and that’s what makes this so much fun to watch. 

You also get some wonderfully evocative Gothic sets and dressing, including a creepy cemetery and castle backdrop that’s pure classic horror Universal-style. Indeed this was the last of the studio’s period chillers before it headed into science fiction territory. Also appearing are Batman‘s Alan Napier and a fave of mine, Australian actor Michael Pate.

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
• Three radio adaptations of The Sire de Maletroit’s Door (Escape – 4 August 1947, Theatre Royal – 1 November 1953, CBS Radio Mystery Theatre – 6 February 1975)
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL FEATURES

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

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

Revolver | Sergio Sollima’s radical 1970s crime Italian thriller starring Oliver Reed fires up on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes director Sergio Sollima’s hard-hitting 1970s poliziottesco, Revolver, starring Oliver Reed and Fabio Testi, on Blu-ray from a brand-new 4K restoration as part of the Eureka Classics range. Available from 16 May 2022.

Milan prison warden Vito Cipriani (Reed) finds himself in a moral maze when kidnappers snatch his wife Anna (Agostina Belli) and demand the release of pretty crook Milo Ruiz (Testi).

Allowing Ruiz to escape, Cipriani plans to use him to get his wife back – but it soon becomes clear that powerful forces want Ruiz dead, as he is key to the assassination of a notorious French capitalist.

Gaining help from Ruiz’s lover, Carlotta (Paola Pitagora), to get over the mountain border, the determined lawman heads to Paris with Ruiz in tow to confront the kidnappers!

‘Makes Death Wish look like wishful thinking!’ was the tagline that accompanied Revolver upon its belated 1976 US release (where it was retitled Blood in the Streets), but this 1973 Italian crime thriller is much more than a gun-totting exploitation.

Versatile Italian director and screenwriter Sergio Sollima (17 April 1921 – 1 July 2015), gained international cult status with his trio of groundbreaking spaghetti Westerns, The Big Gundown (1966); Face to Face (1967); and Run, Man, Run (1968), before turning his eye to the poliziotteschi genre with 1970’s Violent City, starring Charles Bronson.

1973’s Revolver was his second crime thriller and again the highly-political, antiauthoritarian filmmaker brings to it his signature allegorical style to great effect. Here it’s all about corruption at the highest level and how his two protagonists find themselves at its mercy.

It’s bleak, hard-hitting and radical, bolstered by a powerhouse performance from Reed (who brings great depth to his character), a charismatic turn from Testi, adrenaline-inducing action scenes on the streets of Paris, and a terrific score from Sollima’s long-time collaborator Ennio Morricone (which includes the maestro’s classic Un Amico theme tune).

Due to poor handling by its producers, the film flopped in Italy and was relegated to the exploitation circuit in the US – but now we can fully appreciate its true worth courtesy of this new 4k restoration. A must-see!

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration
  • English and Italian audio options (I preferred the English track as you get Oliver Reed dubbing his own voice, although his accent is rather odd)
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Audio commentary by Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman (who supply some great trivia like Daniel Berreta, who plays pop star Al Niko in the film, is the Italian voice dub for Arnold Schwarzenegger)
  • Film scholar Stephen Thrower on Revolver (and director Sollima’s career)
  • Tough Girl: interview with Paola Pitagora (the Italian actress looks back at her time on the film, with some interesting anecdotes about Oliver Reed)
  • Action Man: archival interview with actor Fabio Testi (Filmed in June 2006, the still very handsome former actor discusses his career from stunt man to leading man, including his work with directors Sollima, Lucio Fulci and Stelvio Massi)
  • English credits
  • Original theatrical and international trailers
  • Collector’s booklet featuring essays by Howard Hughes on the making of Revolver and on Ennio Morricone’s ‘Eurocrime’ soundtracks
  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [2000 copies]

Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/revolver/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Guitar | Nicholas Ray’s ground-breaking 1954 Western gets a 4K restored Blu-ray release

Joan Crawford takes centre stage as Vienna, a saloon owner with a sordid past. Persecuted by the townspeople of an Arizona cattle town, Vienna must protect her life and her property when a lynch mob led by her sexually repressed rival, Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), attempts to frame her for a string of robberies she did not commit. Enter Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), a guitar-strumming ex-gunfighter who has a history with Vienna.

Misunderstood by US audiences upon release, this intensely stylised 1954 film from director Nicholas Ray was embraced by European cineastes and is now regarded as a Western masterpiece. Boasting some of the best examples of Trucolor photography in cinematic history, Johnny Guitar is a must-have in any home entertainment collection. It features knock-out performances from Crawford and McCambridge, solid support from Hayden, Scott Brady, Ernest Borgnine, Ward Bond and Ben Cooper, and a scenario that challenges Western tropes as it tetters into Douglas Sirk-styled Hollywood melodrama.

Johnny Guitar is now on Blu-ray in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series. If you missed out on last September’s Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase which is now discontinued, never fear as a Standard Edition is due out on 11 April 2022 (Pre-order here).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration of the original film elements, framed in the film’s originally intended aspect ratio of 1.66:1
  • New audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
  • New introduction by critic Geoff Andrew, author of The Films of Nicholas Ray: The Poet of Nightfall
  • New video piece by Tony Rayns
  • Never is a Long Time – A new video essay by David Cairns
  • New interview with Susan Ray
  • Archival introduction to Johnny Guitar by Martin Scorsese
  • Trailer
  • A 28-page collector’s booklet featuring an essay by author Howard Hughes, and an archival interview with director Nicholas Ray

The Indian Tomb | The ambitious 1921 German silent epic on Blu-ray

One of the grandest, most expensive films of the German silent era, The Indian Tomb – producer/director Joe May’s 1921 two-part adaptation of Thea von Harbou’s 1918 novel Das indische Grabmal – is an exotic mystical epic and an artistic wonder. It’s now out on Blu-ray in a 2k restoration print from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

A menacing Maharajah, marauding tigers and a mystical yogi all come to play in this captivating adventure. Conrad Veidt takes centre stage as Ayan, the dominating Maharajah of Bengal, who commissions architect Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fønss) to build a mausoleum for the great love of his life, the princess Savitri (Erna Morena).

But when Rowland accepts, he soon discovers the prince is a cruel tyrant whose real agenda is to entomb his wife over her affair with a British officer, Mac Allen (Paul Richter). Infected with leprosy and unable to escape the palace, Rowland’s only hope lies with his concerned fiancé Irene (Mia May), who sets out to save him – and the princess.

The Indian Tomb (Das indische Grabmal) should have been directed by Fritz Lang, who had co-written the screenplay with Harbou and had hoped to helm the project. Producer May, however, took charge citing Lang as inexperienced, which infuriated Lang and ended their working relationship. While this heady fusion of Weimar cinema and pulp serial was a success in Germany, it didn’t take off elsewhere and reviews were mixed. It’s only recently that May’s film has been reappraised.

Lang, however, did end up making his version, in 1959 (you can read about it here), and its success led to him returning to his most memorable cinematic creation (the master criminal Dr Mabuse) in what became his cinematic swansong (my review can be found here). May, meanwhile, emigrated to America in 1933 where he ended up specialising in mainly B-features for Universal (including 1940s The Invisible Man Returns and The House of the Seven Gables, both starring Vincent Price).

May’s take on Harbou’s tale is indeed impressive, mainly for its opulent sets (although the titular tomb isn’t as grand as you’d expect – it reminded me of a pimped-up Tardis) and some haunting imagery (especially the leper colony, the crypt of yogis buried alive, the tiger attack and Veidt decked out in an elaborate ritual costume worthy of Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World), but it loses points with the action sequences, where May’s camera remains static.

Regardless, it’s Veidt that we’ve all come to see. Resplendent in a turban, white suit and jodhpurs, he’s in fine, chilling form and he certainly acts up a storm in the second part when Savitri finally escapes the palace.

Giving Veidt a run in the sinister stakes, however, is Bernhard Goetzke, as the icy and impassive yogi Ramigani (Ayan’s Rasputin-styled advisor who seems to possess genuine supernatural powers). He’s so compelling. No wonder Lang cast him as Death in Der müde Tod the same year. Playing the unfortunate Mac Allan is Paul Richter. He would go on to play another legendary character, Siegfried, in Lang’s Die Nibelungen.

The two-parter may run around 3hours 40minutes in total, but it passes in no time thanks to the imagery and stylised performances. The ambient, avant-garde is quite good at first. But comprising of what seems to be just two thematic structures played on a loop it becomes rather repetitive. The video essay is very informative, especially about the creative talents involved in the production. But damn it, I now have to see Joe (and Mia) May’s eight-part 1919 serial, The Mistress of the World.

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• Presented in 1080p HD, across two Blu-ray discs from 2K restorations undertaken by the Murnau foundation (FWMS)
• Musical score (2018) by Irena and Vojtěch Havel
• Optional English subtitles
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Philip Kemp

Prophecy | The 1979 creature feature bears its claws on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1979 Paramount Pictures’ eco-horror Prophecy directed by John Frankenheimer on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range.

Government environmental advisor Dr Robert Verne (Falcon Crest‘s Robert Foxworth) and his pregnant wife Maggie (The Godfather‘s Talia Shire) travel to Maine to assess the environmental damage the lumber industry is having on a forest claimed by a local Native American tribe (dubbed the Opies).

When three lumberjacks are found mauled to death, the Opies blame a vengeful spirit called Katahdin – while the Vernes uncover evidence that the local paper mill’s use of mercury is causing birth defeats and making the wildlife grow to abnormal size.

After rescuing a mutated bear club trapped in a salmon fishing net, the Vernes and a couple of Opies (Armand Assante, Victoria Racimo and George Clutesi) find themselves under attack by the cub’s monstrous mutated mother.

I first saw Prophecy on its release on the big screen. It was one of the blockbuster summer releases of 1979 (alongside Alien) and this then 15-year-old monster kid was so excited to see it – mainly due to the poster featuring a mutant bear embryo, and that it was based on a novel by David Seltzer, who had penned one of my faves The Omen in 1976.

But I was pretty disappointed by what played before me. It all starts off great, with its interesting ecological storyline – but when the 15-ft momma bear appears with its melted pizza face, I just laughed – as did most audiences of the day.

Fast forward four decades and seeing it in this new Blu-ray release – its just as ropey. Which is a shame considering its sterling cast and credentials (especially Frankenheimer who had helmed such classic fare as Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate in the 1960s).

The big fault lies in its execution – particularly with the climactic scene that opts for a soundstage (complete with fake plants and wind machines) rather than where most of the film was shot (Crofton, North Cowichan in British Columbia), and the hilarious bear creature, which was a combination of a man in a suit (Tom McLoughlin) and a fur-covered model on wheels.

That saying, it’s still a fun watch with a gang of mates around. No bear hugs allowed though! Also welcomed are the great special features that accompany the Eureka Blu-ray (especially Seltzer and McLoughlin’s reminiscences).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a High Definition transfer
  • Optional English SDH Subtitles
  • New feature length audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith
  • New feature length audio commentary by film writers Lee Gambin & Emma Westwood
  • New interview with screenwriter David Seltzer
  • New interview with mime artist Tom McLoughlin
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann; and an archival interview

The Hands of Orlac | The thrilling 1924 silent classic shudders onto Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes director Robert Wiene’s silent horror The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände), starring Conrad Veidt, on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

Veidt plays Paul Orlac, a concert pianist whose hands are amputated after a train crash. Shocked to learn they have been replaced with the hands of a recently executed murderer named Vasseur, Orlac obsesses over the idea that he too will turn violent.

When Orlac’s wealthy father is murdered and fingerprints match the dead man’s hands, Orlac fears seem manifest. However, Orlac’s nightmare reaches new heights of terror when a man claiming to be Vasseur threatens to blackmail him.

Blending grand Guignol shudders with German Expressionism visuals, this 1924 Austrian adaptation of Maurice Renard’s 1920 thriller novel, Les Mains d’Orlac, reunited the director and star of Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920).

Featuring a wonderfully modernist set design, expressive performances and tightly executed scenes, this a silent cinema gem. And near-on a century from its release, many of the tropes conceived here continues to be used in many a film and TV thriller.

With his cadaverous looks and masterfully mannered characterisation, Veidt (who plays his playing his Orlac in a permanent state of fright) proves himself one of the true original Masters of Terror, while Wiene directs each scene like grand theatrical tableaux du dance.

There’s also excellent support from Alexandra Sorina (as Paul’s wife) who stilted movements reveal her character’s inner turmoil. While more mystery thriller with psychological overtones than straight-out horror, the film does boast a couple of very human monsters – most tellingly Paul’s horrid, unlovingly father, whose creepy house resembles a mausoleum.

Kudos to Johannes Kaltizke’s excellent avant-garde music score – which greatly reminded me of Les Baxter’s suite in the 1970 Vincent Price TV special, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Among the excellent highlights is an alternate 110-minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements by Film Archiv Austria
• LPCM 2.0 audio
• Original German-language intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (30min)
• FW Murnau Foundation alternate presentation [SD, 110 minutes]
• Scene comparisons highlighting some of the differences between the two versions of the film
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Philip Kemp, and Tim Lucas

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