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The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast | A fitting farewell tribute to the goremeister who was born on this day in 1926

The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast

On 26 September 2016, Herschell Gordon Lewis – who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 15 June 1926, headed to the last drive-in in the sky aged 90. But, in doing so, he left behind an enduring legacy as the Godfather of Gore.

It was in 1963 that the exploitation film-maker decided to branch out from his nudie movies and attempt to emulate the success of American International Pictures (AIP) – but with his own style of shocking imagery (cow tongues, anyone?), bizarre visual slapstick and a ‘fuck-you ‘ attitude towards established film tropes. He ended up changing the horror cinema landscape forever.

In celebration of the schlock master, Arrow Video released 14 of HGL’s exploitation movies (including nine Blu-ray world debuts) in one giant box-set, filled with a bucket-load of bonus content, last October.

Blood Feast

Yes, his blood-n-guts epics are all presented in restored versions (Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore et al.), but also included are his rarely-seen exploitation flicks on sleazy photographers (Scum of the Earth), sex robots (How to Make a Doll), biker girl-gangs (She-Devils on Wheels), youths-run-amok (Just for the Hell of It), psychic witches (Something Weird) and hard liquor-loving hill-billies (Moonshine Mountain).

Color Me Blood Red

I’ve finally got my hands on the box-set and am now looking forward to some exploitation HGL’s movie madness. Now, bring on the moonshine…

WHAT’S IN THE BOX…
• Newly-restored from original and best surviving vault materials of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Moonshine Mountain, Color Me Blood Red, Something Weird, The Gruesome Twosome, A Taste of Blood, She-Devils on Wheels, Just for the Hell of It, How to Make a Doll, The Wizard of Gore, The Gore Gore Girls, This Stuff ll Kill Ya!
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the features and extras on 7 Blu-ray and 7 DVD discs
• Brand new introductions to the films by HGL
• Newly-produced interviews and featurettes, commentaries, and short films
• Two bonus Blu-rays featuring 1.33:1 versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore [limited editions exclusive]
• Bonus DVD: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore documentary [limited editions exclusive]
• 28-page HGL annual stuffed full with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material [limited editions exclusive]

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31 (2015) | Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent valentine to blood-soaked 1970s exploitation is a demented kill-ride

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

Following 2013’s supernatural misfire The Lords of Salem (which I rather liked, so check it out here), the shock rocker pays homage once again to 1970s grindhouse by tipping a blood-soaked Bozo clown wig to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse, by way of Stephen King’s The Running Man and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. But frankly, its not a par on those classics.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

The director’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie, heads up a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween night 1976 and let loose in a derelict factory where they are given 12 hours to fight their way to freedom through a maze of secret passages containing deadly traps and a cavalcade of homicidal clowns bearing sicko monikers like Psycho-Head, Sick-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and Doom Head.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

Placing bets on who will survive is Malcolm McDowell (who turns 74 today) as the bizarrely-named Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder, veteran British actress Judy Geeson (who was also in The Lords of Salem) and voice over artist Jane Carr. Bizarrely, their aristocratic 18th-century attire makes them look like they are appearing in a completely different film – and indeed they might well be as their characters are never fully explained.

Rob Zombie's 31 (2016)

Fans of Rob Zombie’s cult hits House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects will relish his return to ghoulish sadistic form, but this demented trip through the most blood-drenched funhouse this side of the late Hershell Gordon Lewis might leave everyone else colder than all those corpses that pile up before Sheri’s final girl showdown with the film’s most intriguing character, the psychopathic killer Doom Head (Richard Brake, who played the Night King on Game of Thrones).

Rob Zombie’s 31 is available on platforms like Shudder and YouTube (£3.49) but has yet to have an official DVD/Blu-ray release in the UK. A Region A Blu-ray is also available.

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The Driller Killer (1979) | Abel Ferrara’s notorious art house video nasty gets a deluxe HD restoration release

The Driller Killer (1979)

Abel Ferrara’s debut is in the exploitation ballpark, but it’s as much a product of Warhol low-budget artiness as the slasher genre.’ Empire

One of the most notorious of the video nasties, this 1979 exploitation-art-house crossover from future Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant and Welcome to New York director, Abel Ferrar was judged almost entirely on its video sleeve artwork with the film itself left out of the equation. Now it’s getting a deluxe Limited Edition Steelbook from Arrow Video with the disturbing film fully uncut.

The Driller Killer (1979)


Director Ferrara also goes in front of the camera to play struggling artist Reno, a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of late-1970s New York and the No Wave band practising in the apartment below. His grip on reality soon begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey…

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The Arrow Video release of The Driller Killer features a high definition restoration of the film, plus the following special features…

The Driller Killer SteelbookSPECIAL FEATURES:
• 4K restoration from the original camera negative of the never-before-seen pre-release version and the theatrical cut.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations in both 1.85:1 and 1.37:1 aspect ratios.
• Original Uncompressed Mono PCM audio.
• Audio commentary by Abel Ferrara, moderated by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) and recorded exclusively for this release
Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer, a brand-new interview with Ferrara (see a clip below).
Willing and Abel: Ferraraology 101, a new visual essay guide to the films and career of Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45
Mulberry St., Ferrara’s feature-length 2010 documentary portrait of the New York, available on home video in the UK for the first time ever.
• Trailer.
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens
• Steelbook Limited Edition features original artwork (2,500 copies).
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil (UK Amaray specs).
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only).

To celebrate Arrow Video’s release, we have been given this exclusive extra to share with you. In this new interview with Abel Ferrara recorded for this release, he discusses why he cast himself in the title role after initially asking David Johansen of The New York Dolls…

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Psychomania (1973) | The British black magic biker flick roars back into mirthful mayhem in high definition

Psychomania (1973)

Let’s face it, 1973’s Psychomania is seriously daft! But this bizarre British exploitation oddity is also the only Surrey-set satanic frog-worshipping zombie biker flick ever to be made in the UK. Now it’s about to raise hell amongst horror aficionados again as the BFI brings it back from the dead for a re-mastered 2k dual format release.

Psychomania (1973)

Set its own warped version of Walton-on-Thames where pram and shopping trolley-pushing suburbanites live cheek to cheek next to a ancient pagan site where legend has it that a coven of witches were turned to stone, Psychomania (I have no idea why its called that either) finds real-life motorbike fan Nicky Henson (taking time out from treading the boards at the Young Vic) donning his own leathers and revving up a clapped out AJS to head up The Living Dead, a group of posh-sounding Hell’s Angel’s types with a penchant for tie-dye, crochet knitted tops, multi-coloured name patches and singing mournful folk songs.

Psychomania (1973)

Bored shitless in suburbia, where the only fun they get is in knocking down cereal boxes at the Hepworth Way Shopping Centre, Nicky’s medallion man makes a pact with the Devil in return for the secret of immortality, commits suicide, then returns from the grave. Soon his gang (who come off like Eric von Zipper’s Rat Pack in the Beach Party movies) are following their leader in order to create more Beano-esque mischief down at the shops.

Psychomania (1973)

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well that’s what makes this black magic biker flick from director Don Sharp (who also helmed the Fu Manchu movies and the Tony Randall comedy Our Man in Marrakesh for Harry Alan Towers) so much fun. Plus there’s Beryl Reid as the high mistress of comfy sofas and veteran Hollywood actor George Sanders casting a long shadow as the ghoulish guardian of a big toad that possesses arcane powers (no idea why, either!).

Their scenes take place in what looks like a showroom for the crème de la crème of 20th-century chair design (some I spied in Taschen’s 1000 Chairs), and it’s also the setting for some improvised waltzes between Reid and Henson and some ridiculous straight-faced dialogue, like ‘I’m dead, Mother, but apart from that, I couldn’t be better!’.

Psychomania (1973)

And if that’s not enough to wrap your laughing gear around, wait until you see the dead coppers lined up inside the mortuary cool boxes (that ended up in Space 1999) and the wonky prison-set where Doctor Who’s Sergeant Benson (John Levene) presides. There’s also guest appearances from the like of Robert Hardy, Bill Pertwee and future EastEnder June Brown (who would follow this movie with David Hemming’s Jack Wild drama, The 14).

Psychomania (1973)

Mind you, the action sequences (which all take place on the newly built M3) are terrific and more than once did I find myself shouting ‘OMG’ at screen as those spluttering bikes narrowly missed coming a cropper; while a sequence involving Hatchet (Blood on Satan’s Claw‘s Denis Gilmore) jumping off a bridge in front of a oncoming Commer van is a standout. Playing one of the suicidal bikers is Britain’s oldest stuntman Rocky Taylor, who has worked on everything from James Bond to Harry Potter.

Psychomania (1973)

Topping it all, however, is the soundtrack by Donovan’s former arranger, composer John Cameron. A mix of 1960s pre-punk garage, doom-laden psychedelia, and blaxplotation-infused funk, peppered with ecclesiastical organ sounds and early prog. – it belongs in every film buffs soundtrack collection. And makes a fitting companion to this new BFI release, which is a must have.

Sadly, this was the final feature for 65-year-old George Sanders. The Hollywood legend, who had made a career out of being a cad in classics like Rebecca, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The House of the Seven Gables, committed suicide on 25 April 1972 in Spain – and some say this was the last thing he ever saw…

 

Psychomania (1973)

Did you know that the film’s titles feature the same font that was used in American International Picture’s Dr Phibes movies – there’s even a Rolls as well?

Psychomania (1973)SPECIAL FEATURES
• Newly re-mastered in 2K and presented in the original aspect ratio (1.66:1), with optional subtitles.
Return of the Living Dead (2010, 25 mins): featuring interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor.
Sound of Psychomania (2010, 9 mins): interview with composer John Cameron.
Riding Free (2010, 7 mins): interview with singer-songwriter Harvey Andrews.
• Interview with Nicky Henson (2016, 14 mins): who recalls his time on the film (much of which is a repeat of what he says in the 2010 featurette).
Hell for Leather (2016, 8 mins): Short film about the company who supplied the film’s costumes.
• Remastering Psychomania (2016, 2 mins):
Discovering Britain (1955, 3 mins) Fantastic vintage travelogue, narrated by the celebrated poet, about the Avebury stone circle.
Roger Wonders Why (1965, 19 mins): Amateur film which sees two Christian biker youths visit the 59 Club, and meet its founder Reverend Bill Shergold. You have to stick with it to understand why its included here.
• Original theatrical trailer.
• Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016, 91min, onscreen text): in lieu of an audio commentary, this is a hilarious subtitle trivia track, and works a treat.
• Collector’s booklet with new writings on the film; plus full film credits.

Dear God No! (2011) | This is biker-horror-sexploitation heaven

Dear God No!

INTO THE WOODS
Following a bloody fallout with their mob boss dad, two biker brothers and their sadistic Impalers gang invade the secluded cabin of a crazy scientist and his glum daughter. But they soon regret it when they unwittingly become guinea pigs in the scientist’s latest genetic experiment, while a sasquatch starts picking them off…

Dear God No!
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GRINDHOUSE-STYLE BLOOBATH
A huge fan of 1960s and 1970s drive-in exploitation movies, director James Bickert hits the jackpot in recapturing the sleazy vibe of those films with Dear God No!, a breast-tastic, ultra-violent trip that fuses John Waters-style humour with Roger Corman’s biker classic The Wild Angels, the trippy satanic film I Drink Your Blood and the 1970s faux documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek to create a grindhouse homage to die-for. Shot on super 16mm, Dear God No! is a drive-in lovers’ wet-dream. Just forget the lame acting and bad synching and enjoy the ride.

Dear God No!

THE DVD RELEASE
In 2012, a two-disc Impaler edition was released by Monster Pictures which included the Grindhouse Cut of the feature (with 1.32sec cut by the BBFC), collector’s booklet, audio commentaries, trailers, gag reel, two parodies and an animated short. In the US, Big World Pictures released a R1 DVD featuring the film uncut and unrated.

Dear God No! also screens today (Sunday 3 April) on The Horror Channel at 11.40pm

Coffy (1973) | The Godmother of Blaxploitation in motherf***ing HD

Coffy on Blu-rayOne of my Top Five re-releases of 2015 has to be Arrow’s Blu-ray release of Jack Hill’s 1973 thriller Coffy, one the best Blaxploitation films of the era, and the one that turned Pam Grier into a cinematic icon.

‘This is the end of your life you motherfucking dope pusher’
LA nurse Flower Child Coffin (Pam Grier), aka Coffy, goes on a one-woman mission to take down those responsible for turn her little sister onto heroine and putting her honest cop friend Carter (William Elliott) in hospital. Posing as a junkie hooker and a high-class Jamaican escort, Coffy works her way into the inner circle of drug-dealing pimp King George (Robert DoQui), where she finds the level of corruption is much closer to home than she expected…

Coffy (1973)

Coffy was a godsend part for exploitation actress Pam Grier. Her baddass vigilante was a landmark in 1970s cinema and redefined what it meant to be a powerful black woman on screen. As the street wise and fiercely independent hard-working nurse who isn’t unafraid to put her body and her life on the line to exact her own form of justice, she was the perfect modern, revolutionary heroine. And Grier brilliantly brought her to life.

Coffy (1973)

The American International Pictures actioner was also a career boast for B-movie auteur and director for hire, Jack Hill, who had previously lensed two ‘chicks in chains’ grindhouse movies (both with Grier), as well as the Lon Chaney Jr cult curio, Spider Baby, and also shot the US scenes for Boris Karloff’s infamous Mexican horror quartet.

Coffy (1973)

When Cleopatra Jones, AIP’s female Shaft project, ended up being picked up Warner Bros, AIP put Coffy together in just 18 days in a bid to beat them to the punch. Director Hill certainly delivered the goods, as audiences really dug the film. A follow-up, Foxy Brown, quickly followed, again with Grier in the lead, and Hill directing – and it was just as good.

Coffy (1973)

Despite it’s grindhouse veneer, Coffy‘s sex and violence isn’t done solely for cheap thrills. There’s a strong morale code running under the surface, while the racial issues it touches on reflected what was going on in 1970s America – and still does today, particularly in the light of those events in St Louis and Baltimore. But its Hill’s street smart script and tight direction that sets this Blaxploitation feature apart.

Coffy (1973)

But Coffy is also pure entertainment, with some great ‘guilty pleasure’ moments that stay with you forever, like the call-girl cat fight scene and Coffy hiding razor blades in her Afro. There’s also King George’s wicked fashions (he also gets his own theme tune) and the funky R&B Roy Ayers soundtrack (which peaked at No31 in the US charts in 1973). Oh, and let’s not forget THAT poster, which Tarantino called ‘the epitome of a great exploitation poster’. Grier followed this film with AIP’s Scream Blacula Scream, which also available on Blu-ray (click on the link for my review).

Coffy on Blu-rayTHE BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow’s director-approved presentation features a restored HD transfer (which looks fantastic btw) alongside an audio commentary with Jack Hill. Among the new interviews on this release is A Taste of Coffy, featuring Hill on making the film (19min), and The Baddest Chick in Town!, in which Pam Grier discusses the films and her inspiration behind the character (17min). Also included is an academic video essay on the Blaxploitation genre, image gallery, and a collector’s booklet, with new artwork packaging by Gilles Vranckx.

Foxy Brown, director Jack Hill’s follow up to Coffy, is also out on Blu-ray from Arrow, along with the director’s Spider Baby and Pit Stop, which are also on Dual Format (DVD and Blu-ray). Click on the links for my reviews.

Eaten Alive (1977) | Tobe Hooper’s horror hotel reopens on Blu-ray

Eaten Alive (1977)

Having hit pay dirt with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, director Tobe Hooper followed it with another taut Southern terror in 1977’s sleazy and psychotic exploitationer Eaten Alive.

Meet the maniac & his friend!
Deep in the Louisiana bayou, the decrepit Starlight Hotel is presided over by the mad, mumbling Judd (Neville Brand) – who keeps a pet croc in a large pond out front. The patron of this peculiar establishment may seem like a good-natured ol’ Southern gent – but he has a mean temper on him, and a mighty large scythe to boot…

Eaten Alive (1977)

Originally released in British cinemas under the title Death Trap and subsequently seized as one of the so-called ‘video nasties’ in the 1980s, this offbeat horror thriller was Hooper’s ‘not-so’ successful attempt to recapture the relentless energy and perverse aura of Texas Chain Saw.

It’s certainly dripping in atmosphere, and has a claustrophic, nightmarish feel, mainly due to fact the film was shot entirely on a sound stage (at the famed Raleigh Studios). Brand also gives an over-the-top-and-then-some performance as the psychotic hotelier.

Eaten Alive (1977)

Checking into Hooper’s gorefest are Chain Saw star Marilyn Burns and William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise), while The Car‘s Kyle Richards plays their young daughter. Also along for the ride are Hollywood veterans Mel Ferrer and Stuart Whitman, and Carolyn Jones (aka Morticia from The Addams Family).

The film was also released under a number of exploitation titles: Starlight Slaughter, Brutes and Savages, Murder on the Bayou, Legend of the Bayou, Horror Hotel, Horror House Hotel and Horror Hotel Massacre.

Following a new 2k transfer, Hooper’s stage-bound nightmare is being released in HD Blu-ray and standard DVD from Arrow Video, with a host of bonus features, from 21 September. Time again to check in – don’t you think?

Eaten Alive (1977)DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Brand new 2K transfer from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• Audio commentary with co-writer and producer Mardi Rustam, make-up artist Craig Reardon and stars Roberta Collins, William Finley and Kyle Richards
• New introduction to the film by director Tobe Hooper
• New interview with Hooper
My Name is Buck: Robert Englund discusses his acting career
The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball – The story of the South Texas bar owner on whom Eaten Alive is loosely based
5ive Minutes with Marilyn Burns: The star of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre talks about working on Eaten Alive
The Gator Creator: archival interview with Hooper
• Original theatrical trailers for the film under its various titles Eaten Alive, Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel
• US TV and Radio Spots
• Alternate credits sequence
• New cover artwork by Gary Pullin
• Collector’s booklet

First Man into Space (1959) | Look out! It’s the hideous cosmic monster that fell to Earth

First Man into Space (1959)Heavily inspired by Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Experiment, 1959’s The First Man into Space (which has nothing to do with Yuri Gagarin) was produced by British B-movie producer Richard Gordon after being rejected by American International Pictures. Shot in London and at air bases in Brooklyn and New Mexico, it was directed by Robert Day, who was no stranger to shockfests having helmed Boris Karloff’s Grip of the Strangler and Corridors of Blood the year before.

The most dangerous and daring mission of all time!
Daredevil pilot Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) becomes the first man to fly into outer space – but he is exposed to cosmic rays and when his rocket returns to Earth, he seems to have vanished. Dan’s brother Chuck (Marshall Thompson) assumes the worst, until hearing reports that a bloodthirsty creature is terrorising Sante Fe…

First Man into Space (1959)

The Picture That Leaps Out of the Headline!
When I saw this golden age sci-fi as a 10-year-old, I was truly terrified by that hideous one-eyed cosmic dust encrusted monster that Bill Edwards’ turns into after his experimental flight. He reminded me of one of my mum’s badly burned Sunday roasts (now they were terrifying).

Watching it today, I had completely forgotten about the copious amounts of stock footage and talking heads that take up most of the film’s running time until we get to the best bits – when the rubber-suited monster goes on the rampage. Well rampage is a bit strong, as poor Bill is just trying to get back to base to get into a high-altitude testing chamber so he can breathe properly again.

First Man into Space (1959)

Marshall Thompson, who had been in Fiend Without a Face and It! The Terror From Beyond Space plays it brave, but bland (he was way better in TV’s Daktari); while Marla Landi makes an OK scream queen as Dan Dare’s caring girlfriend (Landi would next appear in Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles before ditching acting to marry a baronet); and then there’s Roger Delgado pops up as a Mexican Consul. Dated but still one to seek out, if only for the burnt casserole monster – which was a big influence on the 1970s sci-fi, The Incredible Melting Man.

The OEG Classic Movies DVD release features a remasterd and restored print by the BFI (although it looked way grainy to me) presented in a PAL 4:3 aspect ratio, with no extras.

Island of Death (1976) | Greek exploitation’s most famous export gets a brand new 2k restoration

Island of Death_blu-ray_1

When Island of Death director Nico Mastorakis once asked a festival audience member, ‘What made you want to see this movie?’, he got a telling reply: ‘Because it was banned’. And that’s exactly the reason why I first sought out what has become Greek exploitation’s most famous export.

The movie that the censors don’t want you to see!
Originally on the British censors video nasty hit list in the 1980s for its depictions of bestiality and graphic violence, Island of Death ended up having some 20-minutes of footage excised by the BBFC. When it was eventually passed uncut and released on DVD in 2011 by Arrow Video, video nasty aficionados finally got the chance a chance to see the film as the director shot it. Now, the infamous lurid shocker has been given an exclusive 2k restoration by Arrow.

Island of Death

The lucky ones simply got their brains blown out!
Shot on the cheap over 18-days during the off-season on the Greek island of Mykonos, with a group of English-speaking non-actors in tow (some of whom also appeared in that other Mediterranean mess, The Devil’s Men, which was shot at the same time, but had star names like Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance attached to it), this psycho-sexual thriller follows a psychopathic British couple, Christopher and Celia, as they attempt to cleanse the island of immorality and perversion by killing anyone (mainly homosexuals, middle aged nymphomaniacs and hippies) who don’t meet their crazed ideas of purity. As an added kink, the couple photograph their murder spree that includes crucifixion, poisoning with paint, hanging from a plane wing, and being hacked to death with a mighty sword of justice.

Although the film boasts depraved acts of sex and rape, both human and animal, the results are little more than what you’d expect from a sex comedy, while the gore looks cartoon-like. The travelogue-like cinematography, which perfectly captures Mykonos’ picture-postcard scenery, and the incongruous folksy soundtrack only serve to make this film campier than the director intended.

Island of Death_blu-ray_2THE BLU-RAY ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
Arrow Video‘s director-approved dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition features not only a new 2K restoration of the film, but over seven hours of bonus content, including the making-of featurette, Exploring Island of Death (which drags on a bit), and a location featurette, Return to Island of Death (with Mastorakis playing tour guide. This one’s a winner for me).

Also included is an archive interview with the director, alternative newly-created opening titles, and five original tracks from the soundtrack, including the catchy theme song. A four-part documentary charting Mastorakis’ filmmaking career and trailer reel (featuring some real stinkers) make up the Blu-ray release extras, plus a reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Graham Humphreys and a collector’s booklet.

• Order from Amazon

 

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) | Walerian Borowczyk’s ravishing take on the classic tale is ripe for reappraisal on Blu-ray

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)
Walerian Borocywck’s 1981 arthouse take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic allegorical tale is a ravishingly surreal oddity laced with satirical dark humour, an important work within the director’s oeuvre, and one of the best interpretations of the iconic story. Now, from Arrow in the UK, the French-West German erotic thriller has been given an exclusive Blu-ray release.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

‘Long live the novelty of my sensations!’
A gentile engagement party for Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro) descends into murder and mayhem when a madman breaks into Dr Jekyll’s London townhouse and starts raping and killing his guests. But why is the good doctor never around whenever another guest comes under attack?

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is like peeping through a Victorian Mutoscope, where an Orton-esque farce or a scandalous Bunuel-esque drama unfolds like a perverse wet dream. Rape, sodomy and murder are all carried out in dark corners, behind flapping velvet curtains and closed doors, involving the pillars of Victorian society, before a bizarre metaphysical marriage of flesh, blood and sexuality brings the waking nightmare to a delirious climax…

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

If Borocywck wanted to place us inside Louis Stevenson’s own fever-infected unconscious when he dreamt up his original 1885 Jekyll and Hyde manuscript while recovering from a serious illness, then he certainly nailed it with this 1981 erotic thriller. And if he wanted to portray Jekyll’s transformation as a violent rebellious assault on Victorian morality, taste and decency, then he nailed that too.

With a meticulous eye for detail in the film’s sets, décor and ephemera, and gorgeous soft-focus camerawork that evokes sepia photo montages of old (like the work of Oscar Gustav Rejlander), Borocywck’s barely-seen film (it was only ever screened in soft-core sex theatres and arthouse cinemas) will make you swoon or snore – depending on what kind of cinephile you are.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

While I’m a big fan of Borowczyk’s aesthetics, what really drew me here was Udo Keir (as Jekyll) and Patrick Magee – two character actors whose careers have often skirted cinema’s lunatic fringe. I love them both in whatever they do (good, bad or dreadful), and Magee (playing a pervy General) certainly doesn’t disappoint, especially as his inimitable booming voice is retained on the dubbed English track.

Euro-cinema’s go-to weirdo Keir, meanwhile, is far more restrained than usual (he’s also dubbed, which is a pity), and doesn’t get to let loose except in the film’s key transformative bath scene – in which he thrashes about like a big kid at bath time – before turning into the eyebrow-less Mr Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg).

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

But the film’s most memorable moment – and it’s most accomplished – is the film’s long final scene in which Hyde/Jekyll and Fanny literally feast on each other inside a hansom carriage as it races through a fog-bound London. It’s key to Borowczyk’s themes of transcendence that get lost amid the shouting and sodomy earlier on in the film, but which play out with brutal beautiful carnality.

While Borowczyk is best known for his sensational erotic offerings like The Beast and Immoral Tales, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a poetically macabre offering that’s ripe for reappraisal and this meticulously-curated Arrow release is the way to go. It also looks and sounds fantastique, and makes for a great companion piece to the Borowczyk retrospective box set that Arrow released back in 2014 (and which quickly sold out).

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

THE ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• New 2K restoration (in all its diffused loveliness), scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noël Véry, with restored English and French soundtracks in LPCM 1.0, and optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary featuring a 1981 interview with Walerian Borowczyk and new interviews with cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy and filmmaker Noël Simsolo.
Happy Toy (1979): arty short based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope, which reveal’s Borowczyk’s naughty sensationalist side.
Himorogi (2012): this wordless short by Marina and Alessio Pierro is a sight and sound response to Borowczyk’s aesthetics.
• Interviews with Udo Keir, Marina Pierro, Alessio Pierro (on Himorogi), Sarah Mallinson and Peter Foldes.
• Appreciation by Michael Brooke.
Eyes That Listen: featurette on composer Bernard Parmegiani.
Phantasmagoria of the Interior: video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez.
Returning to Méliès – Borowczyk and Early Cinema: featurette by Daniel Bird.
• Theatrical trailer.
• Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design.
• Booklet, with new writing and archive materials (Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke have great fun with the production credits).

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