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Cruising | William Friedkin’s controversial gay serial killer thriller gets a director-approved restoration

William Friedkin directs Al Pacino as an undercover cop pitched into New York’s gay underworld in Cruising – available for the first time on Blu-ray in a brand new director-approved transfer from Arrow Video.

New York is caught in the grip of a sadistic serial killer who is preying on the patrons of the city’s fetish clubs. Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) tasks young rookie Steve Burns (Pacino) with infiltrating the S&M subculture to try and lure the killer out of the shadows – but as he immerses himself deeper and deeper into the underworld, Steve risks losing his own identity in the process.

Taking the premise and title from reporter Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel, Cruising was the subject of enormous controversy at the time of its release (filming and screenings were picketed by sections of the gay community) and remains a challenging but deeply powerful thriller to this day, with Pacino’s haunted lead performance as its magnetic centrepiece.

It is also still the only Hollywood feature to shine a light on the gay fetish scene – just before another deadly killer struck the community – AIDS – with all of the poppers-fuelled club action being shot on location in New York’s Meat Packing District, with the club’s members all consensually appearing as themselves in the film’s most notorious scenes.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative supervised and approved by writer-director William Friedkin
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Newly remastered 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio supervised by William Friedkin
• Optional English subtitles
• New audio commentary with director William Friedkin, moderated by Mark Kermode (PF: An incisive look at the film’s production, themes and legacy, this is a must-listen and will make you want to watch the film all over again with fresh eyes and ears — I never knew how important the sound effects were or that there are subliminal shots of anal sex inserted in the murder sequences — and Friedkin also clears up a few long-asked questions, including the supposed lost footage and what that closing shot really means)
• Archival audio commentary by William Friedkin (PF: Having listened to the moderated commentary first, where Kermode bounces off ideas off Friedkin, I found this a bit too scripted – though its still insightful)
The History of Cruising: archival featurette looking at the film’s origins and production
Exorcising Cruising: archival featurette looking at the controversy surrounding the film and its enduring legacy
• Original Theatrical Trailer

 

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) | Rediscover Ulli Lommel’s disturbing German serial killer satire

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

From Arrow Video comes the rarely seen early-1970s German serial killer drama, loosely based on the true story of Fritz Haarmann, aka the Butcher of Hanover. Produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by Ulli Lommel, Tenderness of the Wolves was originally released on 29 June 1973, and became available on Blu-ray and DVD following a restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation in November 2015.

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

Haarmann was responsible for the murders of 24 boys and young men during the so-called ‘years of crisis’ between the two world wars in the Lower Saxony capital before being executed by the guillotine in 1925. His grisly case partly inspired Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M (starring Peter Lorre) as well as this near-forgotten gem from 1973, which I have been searching for ever since I read about it an issue of Stephen Thrower’s Eyeball magazine back in 1998.

In a supremely understated performance, a shaven-headed Kurt Raab makes his perverted boy killer a repellent, yet fascinating and (at times) sympathetic figure. He’s also one of cinemas most human monsters. Using his status as a police informant to procure his young victims – mostly runaways and street vagrants, the former petty thief dismembers their bodies, then sells their flesh on the black market to his friends and neighbours.

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While uneasy to watch, Ulli Lommel’s film expertly utilises the true crime thriller genre to let a disturbing socio-political commentary on how poverty creates a climate of indifference to rear its satirical head.

The film’s real horror, meanwhile, is not in the killings (although they are made all the more frightening because they are alluded to rather than shown), but in the in-actions of those who support and nurture a vile creature like Haarman: including the police, his neighbours and lowlife friends (who dare not cast the first stone in case their own darkness comes to light).

And this horror is presented in two chilling scenes: when a store-owner laughs off Haarman eyeing up her young son (knowing full well what he does to them); while another, barely 10, accosts him for sexual favours, but is never seen again after knocking on his door…

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

THE 2015 ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
• New high definition digital transfer on Blu-ray DVD, with original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 sound, and newly translated optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary, interview and introduction by director Ulli Lommel
Photographing Fritz: interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges
Haarmann’s Victim Talks: interview with actor Rainer Will
• An appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Gallery
• Trailer (in HD)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by the Twins of Evil
• Collector’s booklet

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The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) | The Texarkana Phantom Killer strikes again – on Blu-ray!

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

If you’ve seen the 2014 remake, well here’s your chance to see the original 1976 drive-in crime thriller which shocked audiences on it’s release, preceded the slasher phenomenon, and included a castaway from Gilligan’s Island amongst its victims, as Eureka! Entertainment has released a brand new HD transfer of the legendary film on Blu-ray and DVD.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Starring Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson, and directed by Charles B Pierce, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on one of America’s most baffling murder cases. In the spring of 1946, the small town of Texarkana is terrorised by a mysterious assailant targeting young lovers in parked cars. Baffled local deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) then calls in Texas Ranger JD Morales (Ben Johnson) to help him track down what the press call, The Phantom Killer, before he can strike again…

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

This American International Pictures (AIP) release has garnered quite a cult reputation over the years. Director Pierce was a former set decorator (he worked on AIP’s Coffy) before directing his first feature, the seminal faux Bigfoot documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek.

On the back of the success of Boggy Creek, Pierce again used documentary elements (and the same narrator) for his fictionalised thriller. He also added in some comic elements (including having himself play a bumbling cop), which ended up making the film’s violence all the more shocking: especially the now infamous death by trombone and the terrifying cornfield escape by Dawn Wells (aka Gilligan’s Island’s Mary Ann), who plays real-life victim Helen Reed.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

The Eureka! Entertainment Dual Format UK release includes a brand new 1080p high-definition transfer and progressive DVD encode, presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and this is a huge improvement on the prints that crop up on The Horror Channel in the UK, and also serve to really highlight the colourful Panavision cinematography.

The special features include trailers for the original and the 2014 remake; interviews with Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and director of photography James Roberson; a fascinating featurette Small Town Lawman about Prine; and an audio commentary with historians Justin Beaham and Jim Presley. In the US, the film is released through Shout! Factory with the same extras, but also includes Pierce’s follow-up, The Evictors (1979).

Maniac (2013) | Elijah Wood shows his dark side in this unhinged arthouse stalk-n-scalp slasher

http://www.film4.com/reviews/2012/maniac

As Film4 premieres director Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 serial killer thriller Maniac tonight at 11.15pm as part of their FrighFest season, here’s my review of the film which first appeared on Movie Talk.

Following the death of his prostitute mother, Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) struggles with homicidal tendencies in which he kills women and adds their scalps to his collection of vintage mannequins. After striking up a friendship with aspiring photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder), Frank tries desperately to have a normal relationship, but controlling his violent urges becomes a terrifying psychological battle…

Maniac (2012)

This remake of William Lustig’s infamous 1980 film, which also has elements of the notorious Don’t Go in the House thrown in, is more gruesome and disturbing than the original, especially as the viewer is forced to see everything, including some explicit acts of ritual murder, from the killer’s point of viewer.

Maniac (2012)

If Elijah Wood ever wanted to divorce himself from being known as loveable hobbit Frodo then he has succeeded with this gruesome film, playing a serial killer who kills women in an act of revenge/punishment against his dead mother, who forced him to watch her have sex with her clients when he was a child.

Maniac (2012)

Even though its hard to watch at times, Maniac is immaculately shot, and if director Franck Khalfoun‘s intention was to pay homage to Argento’s giallo classics The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails with his neon-lit, rain-soaked city night scenes and his PoV death scenes, then he has hit the mark in this visually stunning exercise in sado-voyeurism. The Rob electro score, meanwhile, is so hauntingly brilliant that I immediately rushed out and bought the Death Waltz UK release. Maniac has certainly got ‘cult’ written all over it.

FOUR FEARSOME CLIPS TO MAKE YOU SHIVER

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Henry Lee Lucas: Serial Killer (2009) |Antonio Sabato Jr’s psycho flick is sick, slick and perversely entertaining

drifter.jpg

An almost unrecognisable Antonio Sabato Jr plays against type as one of America’s most infamous serial killers in this true-crime drama from genre director Michael Feifer.

After drifter Henry Lee Lucas is arrested in 1983 for unlawfully possessing a firearm, he confesses to the murder of an elderly woman in a bid to get his treatment in police custody improved. More confessions follows – around 3000 – resulting in a journey from state to state under the watchful eye of a couple of Texas Rangers. But how can anyone tell truth from lie from a man as damaged as Henry Lee?

Director Feifer (who has made a career out of serial killer biopics and helmed the late Brittany Murphy’s final film, Abandoned) stops himself from overly dramatising Henry Lee’s life (1986’s Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer was a fictional account of the Lucas legend) and tries to stick with the facts.

But the director can’t help using a bludgeon to recount Henry Lee’s traumatised childhood at the hands of his abusive, alcoholic mother who he ends up killing (quite rightly so given the pain she inflicts on him); and Lucas’ years drifting through the Southwestern states with his necrophile confidante Ottis Toole (Kostas Sommer), raping and killing young hitchhikers along the way.

Sick, slick and perversely entertaining, true crime fans will lap this release up, while those looking for something more cerebral should look elsewhere. This goes into my Might See list.

Available on DVD (Cert 18)

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