Hammer Horror Classic Themes 1958 -1974 Silva Screen Records

Aficionados of the minatory and dramatic scores for the fondly-remembered Hammer films will have several of these pieces already in various iterations; the time when such music was hard to find on disc seems, thankfully, long distant. Needless to say, the éminence grise of the Hammer film soundtrack was the late James Benard, handsomely represented here with his vampire scores and his powerful themes for the Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out. A pleasing spruce-up job is done on the original soundtracks, and while there are some tracks which hardly repay listening (such as the deeply misfiring The Lost Continent), admirers will be more than happy.

Hammer Horror Classic Themes 1958 -1974 Silva Screen Records

New Books on Film and TV

Universal Terrors, 1951-1955 by Tim Weaver  McFarland  Tim Weaver is perhaps the doyen of writers and researchers on the classic 1950s era of American science fiction and horror films, and his interviews with the surviving writers, directors and actors of the period are an essential adjunct to any study of the subject. This weighty new volume might well be his most stimulating addition to the Weaver library, focusing on a more narrow range of films (just eight movies, in fact) than heretofore, but crammed full of the customary attention to detail and scholarship, which will be catnip to admirers of the genre. As with previous books by Weaver, one of the great virtues of this volume is the serious treatment accorded to a genre which in its day (and for many years subsequently) was simply not taken seriously. It is a credit to writers such as the assiduous Weaver that the situation has now changed, and his latest book will send you us back to those films he and his colleagues discusses with renewed interest.

I Am Not a Number by Alex Cox  Kamera Books, £9.99  Alex Cox is a man of many talents. There is his skill as a filmmaker (sadly underused of late) with such cult movies as Repo Man to his credit, along with his talent for communicating his immense love and scholarship concerning film – Cox’s introductions to eccentric and ambitious movies on television are firmly lodged in the memory of many a cinéaste. The ultimate cult television show is, of course, Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, in which the famously curmudgeonly actor took his John Drake character from the highly successful TV series Danger Man and placed him as ‘Number 6’ in a Kafkaesque prison The Village (although McGoohan, for a variety of reasons, never admitted that it was the same character). The show initially baffled viewers with its utterly surrealistic take on the thriller format (something taken to almost Olympian levels in the show’s astonishing, nation-baffling finale), and Cox’s take on this phenomenal series (that has never lost its cult appeal) is one of the most persuasive and provocative yet — of many. Subtitled ‘Decoding the Prisoner’, Cox’s very personal view of the show renders makes any future viewing of the episodes impossible without this guidebook to hand.

Black Masculinity on Film: Native Sons and White Lies by Daniel O’Brien  Palgrave Macmillan  A contemporary writer on film who brings a totally individual approach to the genre is the perceptive Daniel O’Brien, whose volume on the Italian ‘pepla’ (or ‘sword and sandal’) genre quickly became the definitive disquisition on the subject. This provocative new volume contains more of the writer’s incisive approach to his subject (a relatively underexplored one), with a rigorous analysis of the treatment of black males in film and literature, even taking in such subjects as the treatment of race in the 007 universe, along with studies of significant black American actors through the ages. It’s a fascinating volume for anyone with even a glancing interest in the subject, studiously avoiding tendentiousness.

 

New Blu-Rays: BFI, Network, Arrow, Warner, Final Cut

THE WAGES OF FEAR, Henri-Georges Clouzot, director/BFI Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray/DVD) Starring an impeccably cast (and sweaty) Yves Montand, Charles Vanel and Vera Clouzot, this most celebrated of French thrillers is based on the 1950 French novel Le Salaire de la peur, and has acquired a reputation – fully justified – as the great arthouse/action film, and has enjoyed not only a remake by William Friedkin (Sorcerer), but a sort-of-rejigging in Cy Enfield’s exemplary Hell Drivers. Looking at the splendid new BFI Blu-ray in 2017, it is remarkable just how well Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film stands up to the rigours of time, exerting an iron grip throughout its considerable length. The Wages of Fear was critically hailed upon its original release, propelling its director (whose other most celebrated film is Les Diaboliques) to international fame, and is now newly restored in 4K, and released by the BFI in a Dual Format Edition packed with special features. In a squalid South American village, four desperate men are hired by a US oil company to embark on a treacherous journey, transporting a volatile cargo of nitro-glycerine to a massive oil well fire. Friendships and courage are pushed to the limit in this nail-biting thriller by a director would go on to be dubbed the ‘French Hitchcock’.

THE THING, John Carpenter, director/Arrow  The classic Howard Hawks film (ostensibly credited to his associate, Christian Nyby),The Thing from Another World, has long been recognised as one of the most intelligent and authoritative of science-fiction thrillers, so when John Carpenter announced his remake, there was some scepticism, despite the director’s then-impressive track record. That scepticism was soon allayed, as this remake – now with classic status of its own — is an intelligent piece of filmmaking. Admittedly, the newer version perhaps lacks the keen characterisation of the Hawks original, but has a slew of impressive special effects. The Thing sees the director’s regular star Kurt Russell as part of the crew of an Antarctic research facility terrorised by a shapeshifting alien. Showcasing an impressive ensemble cast, a menacing score by Ennio Morricone, and jaw-dropping effects from Rob Bottin, this is an essential purchase for fans of one of the greatest sci-fi horrors put on screen, with the Blu-ray extras including behind the scenes footage, a new documentary, featurettes and a collector’s book.

MANINA THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS DAUGHTER Willy Rozier, director/Eureka Blu-ray  Slowly but surely, the missing sections of European cinema are being uncovered – and even if some of the newly excavated films (such as this deeply obscure item) are hardly undiscovered masterpieces, they are still of considerable interest. The film is basically a love letter to the young Brigitte Bardot, with the camera lovingly recording her bikini-clad form in a drama in which a Parisian student set to recover a lost treasure off the coat of Corsica; Bardot is the alluring siren he encounters.

SCARS OF DRACULA, Roy Ward Baker, director/Studio Canal  While nobody would argue that this is one of Christopher Lee’s most distinguished outings as the vampiric count, the appearance on Blu-ray of a late film in the Hammer canon will still be catnip to aficionados. The company’s well-oiled machine turned out this kind of product with authority, even when the flame of inspiration was burning low. In this new Blu-ray incarnation, it looks considerably more impressive than it did in earlier DVD issues.

DEATH BECOMES HER, Robert Zemeckis, director/Final Cut Entertainment  Admirers of this diverting comic extravaganza may look at the new Blu-ray with some trepidation – will Robert Zemeckis’s film still be as divertingly funny as we originally found it? There is no need for suspense – this is still a highly likeable couple of hours, with the only caveat being a miscast cast Bruce Willis playing against type as a henpecked husband; Willis certainly has comic chops, but not for this kind of role, which needed a Stanley Tucci type Ageing actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) is persuaded to take an elixir which brings her eternal life. Her rival for her husband Ernest’s (Bruce Willis) affections, Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn), has taken the same potion, and when the two of them try to kill each other, their bodies prove to be irritatingly indestructible.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, Jack Arnold, director/Arrow  For many years, Richard Matheson routinely dismissed the classic Jack Arnold, film of his novel The Shrinking Man as a travesty of his work – until he realised just what high esteem the film was now held in, and smoothly finessed his view. With this new Blu-ray, it looks better than ever. Legendary writer Matheson and Fifties creature feature director Jack Arnold delivered a thrilling and innovative sci-fi horror classic, a box office smash. Whilst on a holiday cruise with his wife, young Scott finds himself enveloped by a luminous mist which cover him in a strange, glittery dust. Several months later, he’s accidentally sprayed with an insecticide. Soon, Scott starts shrinking at an alarming rate, and before long he’s thrust into a terrifying world of gigantic cats, spiders and other over-sized pitfalls.

FOUR FILM NOIR CLASSICS, Various directors/Arrow  A highly collectable box set that assembles crystal clear high definition prints of a quartet of the finest entries in the Film Noir genre: The Dark Mirror (1946), directed by Robert Siodmak (The Killers), starring Olivia de Havilland; Secret Beyond the Door (1947) directed by Fritz Lang (The Big Heat), starring Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave; Force of Evil (1948), directed by Abraham Polonsky, and starring the legendary John Garfield; and Joseph H. Lewis’ brutal and brilliant The Big Combo (1955), with Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte. Limited to 2000 copies and packed with superb extras, the Dual Format box set also comes with a highly-collectable hardback book on all the films.

GOD OF WAR, Gordon Chan, director/Well Go  While never being much more than a lively and kinetic entertainment of no great substance, this is still a diverting period piece, which is made with some assurance by its director and stars. 16th century China, the east coast of the country is being attacked by ruthless Japanese pirates from Japan. General Qi Jiguang, who has been attempting to rout the invaders, enlists the help of a younger general to train up soldiers to try different tactics against this relentless attack. They lead a small army in a series of counter attacks, facing adversity at every turn, from corrupt bureaucrats, reluctant villagers, and the seemingly unstoppable and brutal pirates themselves, who outnumber the Ming army by twenty to one. Starring Sammo Hung, Vincent Zhao and Yasuaki Kurata, the director is Gordon Chan (director of The Medallion and Fist of Legend)

MONTPARNASSE 19, director Jacques Becker/Arrow   Released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK for the first time. A biopic charting the final year in the life of the Italian painter Modigliani, this is penultimate film from director Jacques Becker (Le Trou, Touchez Pas au Grisibi), who took over the film when Max Ophuls died. It features a marvellous performance from Gerard Philipe (La Ronde) as the ill-fated painter and Anouk Aimee (La Dolce Vita) as his lover. The end results are both hauntingly beautiful and savagely ironic.

DELIVER US (LIBERAMI), Federica Di Giacomo, director/Network  Initiated as a search for stories on obsession and Director, Federica Di Giacomo found a lot more than she bargained for; a crisis surrounding a shortage of exorcists in Italy. The resulting documentary follows the day to day life of ordinary citizens, constantly dealing with the battle of possession, from violent outbursts to writhing in rebellion, they seek the help they need from Father Cataldo and his weekly mass of liberation.

CÉLINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, director, Jacques Rivette/BFI  How will you respond to Jacques Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating? The film was Rivette’s most substantial commercial hit, and its reputation has grown over the years. If this writer has to admit to being immune to its charms, it’s still is an intriguing dissertation on notions of theatricality and identity set against the actual act of filmmaking and the viewing of films. Previously released by the BFI on DVD, it now comes to Blu-ray, in a new restoration. Special features include a new feature length commentary by Adrian Martin. Céline (Juliet Berto), a magician, and Julie (Dominique Labourier), a librarian, meet in Montmartre and wind up sharing the same flat, bed, fiancé, clothes, identity and imagination. Soon, thanks to a magic sweet, they find themselves spectators, then participants, in a Henry James-inspired ‘film-within-the-film’ – a melodrama unfolding in a mysterious suburban house with the ‘Phantom Ladies Over Paris’ (Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier), a sinister man (Barbet Schroeder) and his child.

STRIKE – THE CUCKOO’S CALLING, Micheal Keillor, director/Warner  Now that the secret is out – and we know it is Harry Potter’s only begetter JK Rowling behind the masculine sobriquet “Robert Galbraith” – we were all obliged to play catch-up with a book that created barely a ripple on its first appearance. In fact, the book was an accomplished piece that deserved its retrospective success — as does the solid TV adaption. As the beleaguered military policeman-turned-private eye Cormoran Strike investigates the apparent suicide of a supermodel, we are granted a measured but subtly involving reworking of crime l mechanisms as the detective moves across a variety of class divides, finding that the police have got things wrong. Strike himself is a distinctive addition to the overcrowded ranks of literary private eyes, perfectly incarnated by Tom Burke as Strike with Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott, leading a cast of acclaimed British character actors.

THE FARTHEST, Emer Reynolds/Screenbound  Put together with considerable skill is this documentary by Irish director Emer Reynolds about the first NASA spacecraft to leave the solar system. An inspired examination of humanity’s cosmic insignificants – the Voyager Space Mission, covering interviews with the spacecraft’s designer, scientists and the data analysers, who still to this day interpret the information Voyager sends back to earth. Sharing their views, opinions and stories help bring this documentary to life. It is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Twelve billion miles away a tiny spaceship is leaving our Solar System and entering the void of deep space – the first human-made object ever to do so.

 

 

 

BFI announces Blu-Ray releases for early 2018

 

The BFI announces today the new Blu-ray/DVD release lineup for January – March 2018. Highlights include a Derek Jarman Blu-ray box set, plus new to Blu-ray titles from Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau and Kon Ichikawa. The first release of 2018, on 22 January, will be When the Wind Blows, the moving and emotional masterpiece of British animation directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK. Adapted by Raymond Briggs (The Snowman) from his best-selling book, the film features an original soundtrack by Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), and a title song by David Bowie. On 26 February, Hotel Salvation premieres on both Blu-ray and DVD formats. This charming Indian film was released theatrically by the BFI to great acclaim in August and marks the emergence of a new talent in world cinema; the young director Shubhashish Bhutiani, whose work was likened by film critics to Bergman, Ozu and Satyajit Ray. The Blu-ray and DVD will also include Bhutiani’s award-winning short film KushAnother highlight of the BFI’s year-long celebration of India on Film, Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928) proved a sensational success as this year’s BFI London Film Festival Archive Gala film. The DVD/Blu-ray release on 26 February features the new restoration of the film by the BFI National Archive, accompanied by Anoushka Shankar’s stunning new score. Also out on 26 February is Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute (1975). The great auteur puts his indelible stamp on Mozart’s exquisite opera in this sublime rendering of one of the composer’s best-loved works. The film also has theatrical screenings at BFI Southbank and across the UK during winter 2017/2018. 26 March sees the release of a lavish Limited Edition Blu-ray box set of Derek Jarman’s first five feature films, celebrating his enduring legacy. Jarman’s multi-faceted work is inspirational in its fearlessness, yet remains touchingly personal. Through the provocativeness of Jubilee (1978), The Tempest (1979) and The Angelic Conversation (1985) Jarman invoked Elizabethan occultist Dr John Dee and explored alchemical imagery, while in Sebastiane (1976) and Caravaggio (1986) he revived key gay and homo-erotic figures from the past – with edgy and unmistakable style. The films are newly scanned at 2K from original film elements, alongside an exciting array of new and archival extras.  A second volume of films follows later in the year.  Daisy Asquith’s acclaimed documentary Queerama, recently seen in cinemas and on BBC Four, has a DVD release on 26 March. Created from the treasure trove of the BFI National Archive footage, the film follows a century of gay experiences with a soundtrack featuring the music of John Grant, Goldfrapp and Hercules & Love Affair.  On the same date, Jean Cocteau’s hugely influential La Belle et la Bête gets a newly restored Blu-ray upgrade. Cocteau’s version of the fairy tale transformed this morality tale into a poetic painting, inspired by Vermeer and Gustave Doré. And finally, Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge gets a long overdue High Definition release via a new 4K restoration, also on 26 March. Made in 1963, this wildly melodramatic tale of a Kabuki female impersonator who exacts a long-delayed revenge on the men who drove his parents to suicide, is a cinematic tour de force and a gem of post-war Japanese film heritage.

‘Numb’ from Strike Media

In the impressive thriller Numb (Strike Media) Husband and wife, Will (Jamie Bamber: Battlestar Galactica) and Dawn (Stefanie von Pfetten: The Man in the High Castle), are in financial crisis after learning the job Will was counting on to salvage their financial future has disappeared in the midst of a market collapse. They set out to drive home on the winter highway back to their city, and in a moment of altruism, pick up siblings Lee (Aleks Paunovic: Van Helsing) and Cheryl (Marie Avgeropoulos: The Inbetweeners, The 100), a pair of hitchhikers on their way to start a new life. In the midst of the night they nearly collide with an old man wandering on the snowy highway, hypothermic and horrifically frostbitten. While searching for his ID they discover a wad of cash, a hand drawn map with GPS coordinates, and a single gold coin inside his coat. Will and Dawn reluctantly go along with Lee’s plan to report him to the police as a John Doe and pocket the money. In an attempt to save their financial struggles, all four venture off into the snowy wilderness in search of the buried gold, but will they survive what is out there…

Numb will available to watch on Digital Download from 13th November

 

God of War (Gordon Chan, director) Michael Carlson

It’s a nice piece of synchronicity that the next film I saw after Blade Of The Immortal was God Of War, a Chinese wuxia war drama based on historical events of the 16th century. The film opens with Chinese soldiers under General Yu Dayou (Sammo Hung) being defeated by Japanese pirates who are preying on the coast of China. Yu is stymied by a lack of tactical imagination, inferior troops, and the politics of the Ming dynasty. Young General Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao) arrives to take charge, and wins the chess game against the pirates, driving them away. So far, so simple. The battle scenes are done well, and the tensions within the Chinese camp have a nice parallel with the Japanese invaders: the ‘pirates’ are largely ronin, battling for plunder and women, being supervised by samurai. The young Lord Yamagawa (Kaisuke Koide) is offended by this affront to the samurai ethos, but the commander, his sensei Kumasawa (Yasuaki Kurata) is playing his own chess game with a sort of zen patience which General Qi visually is shown to echo.

With the battle won, General Qi eventually wins his argument to recruit and train his own army, why General Yu is arrested by the Ming government. And when the Japanese return in force, Qi is put in a dilemma of having to defend three towns, including the one where his army’s families have been left behind, against a vastly superior force. Fans of non-stop action will be disappointed, not least because Sammo Hung plays such a small part (in fact I was half-convinced he would be released from prison and ride to the rescue in the final scenes). He and Zhao get one scene, in the prison cell, where they display their individual fighting skills, but Hung’s presence, his calm acceptance of his political fate is somewhat wasted here. That kind of fighting is not the point, however, because God Of War is a real historical drama, and so intent on proving the superiority of the Chinese to the Japanese it resembles wartime propaganda. That it was scripted by four writers reflects a somewhat disjointed structure, as it veers between action, intrigue, and even domestic drama. But at its best it reminded me of John Ford and his cavalry trilogy. Not only are there distinct echoes of Fort Apache in the training scenes (borrowed by Kurosawa for The Seven Samurai, then again by John Sturges for The Magnificent Seven), but it’s easy to see Capt. Kirby Yorke in General Qi. I might be stretching things to suggest a brief homage to Chariots Of Fire in one training scene, though without the Vangelis.

I found the historical backdrop fascinating, and the Ming subplot intriguing. Even more compelling is a subplot which recalls Ford’s Rio Grande: General Qi’s petulant and impulsive wife hen-pecks the great leader, before his men (including the leader of the miners Qi has recruited to form his new army) but when the Japanese attack comes, and his base city has to be defended by its population, Lady Qi (Regina Wan) stops being Maureen O’Hara and turns into a warrior as well. The battles are exciting, with new technologies introduced, three-eyed muskets and multi-pronged lances disguised as tree branches, as well as a ‘Crouching Tiger Cannon’ which is a bit deus ex machina, but for all the explanation, cheerleading, and historical details, what makes God Of War work is the interplay of characters, and the final showdown between Qi and Kumasawa reduces the vast scale of the drama down to great man. It’s effective. Zhao is hamstrung somewhat by his need to play humility, but Kurata is outstanding as the Japanese sensei, and Wan, who is the centre of virtually every moment she’s on screen, is worthy of O’Hara in her fiery scenes, and dynamic in her fight scenes. Ryu Kohata gets to have fun as the leader of the ronin, and the leader of the miners is played by Sammo’s son Timmy Hung, which ensures another individual fight with Qi.It’s uneven, and fans of non-stop action might be bored, but God Of War is a sort of thinking man’s wuxia, a return to form for director Gordon Chan, and a showcase for some personal conflicts within an epic backdrop.

GOD OF WAR is released on blu-ray, DVD and digital on 16 October.

 

This review appeared first at Michael Carlson’s Irresistible Targets (http://irresistibletargets.blogspot.com)

The Farthest: A Film by Emer Reynolds

The Farthest: A Film by Emer Reynolds, describes one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Twelve billion miles away a tiny spaceship is leaving our Solar System and entering the void of deep space – the first human-made object ever to do so. Slowly dying within its heart is a plutonium generator that will beat for perhaps another decade before the lights on Voyager finally go out. But this little craft will travel on for millions of years, carrying a Golden Record bearing recordings and images of life on Earth. In all likelihood Voyager will outlive humanity and all our creations. It could be the only thing to mark our existence. The story of Voyager is an epic feat of human achievement, personal drama and almost miraculous success. Launched 16 days apart in Autumn 1977, the twin Voyager space probes
have defied all the odds, survived countless near misses and almost 40 years later continue to beam revolutionary information across unimaginable distances. With less computing power than a modern hearing aid, they have unlocked the stunning secrets of our Solar System on a journey as revolutionary as the first circumnavigation of the globe and mankind’s first footprint on the moon.

The Farthest: A Film by Emer Reynolds is a Screenbound release

Expanded edition of Jonathan Rigby’s American Gothic

 

Jonathan Rigby has long been one of the UK’s most cogent authorities on the horror film, and when I published my own modest entry, British Gothic Cinema, I was fully aware that anything I wrote would be a in the nature of a footnote to his conscientious attempt to cover the macabre filmography of this country. In English Gothic (and addressing other points of the compass in Euro Gothic), his writing is always informed, provocative and often shot through dry humour – a pleasingly counterintuitive approach to the genre. Rigby’s American Gothic has long been the definitive guide to genre product from the US, but the paperback edition covered only the period up to 1956, and this very welcome (if belated) hardback edition remedies that omission by addressing — in the same beguiling fashion — later eras. Those who have eagerly devoured earlier books by the author need not hesitate – this expanded edition becomes another essential purchase for aficionados of the horror field.  American Gothic: Six Decades of Classic Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby by Jonathan Rigby is published by Signum Books

Barry Forshaw

New Blu-Rays from Sony, StudioCanal, eOne, Arrow

LIFE, Daniel Espinosa, director/Sony Blu-ray  Does it matter whether or not a film displays on its sleeve its antecedents, with very little attempt to hide them? Life is an efficiently made big budget science-fiction production that owes a great deal to other films such as Alien (nasty extra-terrestrial monster cutting a swathe through a spaceship crew), and in fact, the level of expertise on offer here is such that one doesn’t really mind the borrowings, particularly as Alien itself borrowed heavily from earlier SF movies such as Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires and Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space. What’s more, the shape-shifting monster here is a particularly unpleasant specimen and has its own character, very different from its inspiration. A solid cast (including Jake Gyllenhall, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson) makes the various imperilled space travellers characterful, although there is no single protagonist here similar to Sigourney Weaver in the earlier film. SF admirers need not hesitate.

SLEEPLESS, Baran bo Odar, director/eOne Blu-ray. Those with a taste for kinetic and relentless thrillers need look no further than Sleepless with Jamie Foxx toplining (read no further. If you wish to avoid a spoiler) as an undercover cop who has a single night – the eponymous sleepless one – to bring to justice a ruthless drug lord and save his own kidnapped son. Well cast (with Michelle Monaghan as a fellow cop who does not trust the Fox character), there is no subtlety here, but a variety of well staged action sequences maintain interest – though Foxx takes a totally unfeasible amount of physical punishment. The film is not to be confused with Dario Argento’s thriller of the same name.

DICTE: CRIME REPORTER, Various directors/Acorn Media International  The first series of this slice of Nordic Noir was generally well received (though it had nothing like the impact of such groundbreaking shows as The Killing); now Dicte Crime Reporter returns for its second series and following its run on More4, arrives on DVD courtesy of Acorn Media International alongside Dicte Crime Reporter Season One and Two Box Set. While (as mentioned above) the show has none of the innovative qualities of such shows as The Bridge, it is a solid and professional piece of work with a well-developed combative heroine. Divorced crime reporter Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle) has returned with daughter Rose to her hometown of Aarhus where she is trying to escape the past and build a new future. In season two Dicte is contacted by her father who she has been estranged from for many years and a sudden tragic turn of events finds her investigating a prostitution ring, diamond smuggling and a hit-and-run that not only links them but will bring the unknown, the unpredictable and the deadly into the lives of Dicte and police investigator John Wagner. From football hooliganism and match fixing to sado-masochism and murder, missing children and a mother’s lost love, Dicte is a brash, quick-witted reporter, who is not afraid to take risks or put her own life in danger. Even if it means straying to the wrong side of the law or jeopardising every relationship in her life, Dicte will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. The series is drawn from the crime novels of bestselling Danish author Elsebeth Egholm.

UNLOCKED Michael Apted, director/Arrow Blu-ray  It is always a good idea to hire the most capable of actors when your scenario is a touch on the thin side – which, surprisingly, is the case here, given that Michael Apted is not a man who neglects such thing as his screenplay. Which is not to say that the by-the-numbers action here is not engrossing, and given a certain energy by its very professional players. A lively spy thriller starring the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Noomi Rapace, a cast-against-type Orlando Bloom and an imperious John Malkovich, the film has a ticking clock scenario with London under threat from a biological attack. Deskbound CIA Analyst Alice Racine (Rapace) is summoned back into the field to investigate a possible chemical threat to the capital. Her interrogations reveal a complex plot of internal double and triple crosses. Unsure who to trust Racine has to fight the threat on the streets and on her wits, but the countdown has begun. For all its lack of ambition, Unlocked is unquestionably diverting fare.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, Henry Levin, director/Eureka Classics  Fans of 1950s cinema will be amazed how in the 21st-century it comes up fresh as paint, even if the original decision to use real lizards rather than stop motion animation decisively stops the film being a classic as in the many films in which the dinosaurs are created by Ray Harris has. Nevertheless it is highly diverting, particularly for the contributions frorm the always reliable James Mason — and with everything finessed with a superb Bernard Herrmann orchestral score. Jules Verne’s classic novel follows a band of intrepid explorers descending to the hidden reaches of our world. Professor Lindenbrook discovers a long hidden message that reveals the existence of a passage into the centre of the Earth. Leading a team of unlikely adventurers (including Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl and — in a cringe-making attempt at comic relief — a duck), the group’s daring will see them come up against exploding volcanoes, rockslides and flesh-eating reptiles.

YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW, Vittorio de Sica, director/Cult Films  While this not be may not be the best of the several films which co-starred Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, it is nevertheless professional and diverting. Its director Vittorio de Sica, admittedly some way past his best, still delivers a film which has a great deal of winning charm – but how can one expect less from his actors? In some ways, the film is a reminder of a lost era of cinema – it’s difficult to imagine something like this being made today, not least because there are so few actors and actresses with the particular combination of talents of the two Italian stars here.

SHOCK TREATMENT Jim Sharman, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  If you’re looking for something as groundbreaking as The Rocky Horror Picture Show was, you may be disappointed, but there is no denying the skill of this sort-of-follow-up, with moments of excess that are pleasingly diverting but without the charge of the original. From the writer and director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman, the film is available on Blu-ray for the first time. Several years on from the events of the original Rocky Horror Picture Show, Brad and Janet Majors find their strained marriage put to the test on popular Denton TV show Marriage Maze. Brad is heavily sedated and institutionalised, whilst Janet is given a radical makeover and primed for stardom. But what are the real motivations behind the kooky DTV crew and their enigmatic head-honcho, Farley Flavors? This is a digital transfer from original film elements High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation 5.1 and Mono audio options.

THE GRADUATE, Mike Nichols, director/STUDIOCANAL Blu-ray  Viewed today, it’s clear that The Graduate was one of the groundbreaking Hollywood movies in both its structure and sensibility – it’s a film whose influence can still be felt today, even though certain elements inevitably date (such as a certain broadness to some of the playing which undercuts the sharp satirical stiletto). Nevertheless, it remains a delight, not least for its principals, Dustin Hoffman (then unknown to us) and the matchless Anne Bancroft. The witty screenplay was written by Calder Willingham & Buck Henry from the novel by Charles Webb, and the use of the music of Simon & Garfunkel quickly became iconic. The film is 50 this year, and STUDIOCANAL have created a 4K restoration from the 35mm original camera negative by the Criterion Collection. The colour timing was done by referencing a previous colour grading that had been supervised by Grover Crisp at Sony Pictures and approved by director Mike Nichols. The 5.1 surround-sound remix, approved by the director, was created from the 35mm magnetic tracks and the original soundtrack recordings at Chace Audio.

VAMPIRA, Clive Donner, director/Fabulous Films  One of the great virtues of DVDs and Blu-rays is the opportunity to see films whose critical mauling stopped viewers from seeing them at the cinema. And while Clive Donner’s Vampira is undoubtedly the misfire that everyone said at the time, it still has more than enough elements to make it worth an hour and a half of time in your living room, where viewers are more-prepared to draw a veil over the misconceived notion of this Dracula spoof and enjoy the things which it does have to offer (admittedly not a great many). This Dracula spoof has David Niven as an urbane Transylvanian Count visiting London. Vampira was renamed Old Dracula for its North American release in an attempt to cash in on the success of Mel Brooks’ box office hit Young Frankenstein. The two films were shown back-to-back as a double bill in many locations.

VALKYRIEN, Various directors/Acorn/RLJ Entertainment  It’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with the flow of new Scandinavian crime series, and the hopes that most of us have for finding another cult series mostly frustrated. Nevertheless, there is much intriguing material out there, as this show — efficiently and professionally made – proves. Forbidden by hospital authorities to continue experimental research to save his terminally ill wife, a leading surgeon sets up an illegal hospital in an abandoned Oslo subway in this Norwegian drama. This eight-part series arrives on DVD as a two-disc set. Doctor Ravn (Sven Nordin) is desperate to find a cure for his dying wife Vilma (Pia Halvorsen). When the hospital stops her treatment, he continues to work in secret and is forced to compromise his ethics and join forces with corrupt civil defence worker and Doomsday prepper, Leif (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen), who has widespread knowledge of the city’s underground shelters and secret passages, as well as significant connections with the Oslo underworld. Together they build an illegal clinic in an old bomb shelter deep underground Valkyrien Square, Oslo. As Ravn continues his research to save his wife, he must also care for criminals who need to avoid the authorities. Ravn believes he will find a miracle cure, while Leif is convinced that the end of the world is nigh; who will prevail?

KILL, BABY… KILL, Mario Bava, director/Arrow Blu-ray  With this strikingly detailed 2K high-definition digital transfer, one of Italian director Mario Bava’s most atmospheric films looks better than it ever has before. While the film undoubtedly lacks the sheer impact of his amazing debut, Black Sunday, it’s still catnip for admirers of the director.

DR CYCLOPS, Ernest B Schoedsak, director/Fabulous Films  For many years, this seminal science-fiction film (in spectacular early Technicolor) was hard to see in the UK, and viewers became more familiar with Jack Arnold’s more ambitious take on a similar theme, The Incredible Shrinking Man. But when we finally were able to catch up with this striking 1939 piece, it proved to be well worth the wait. Set in the Peruvian jungle, this 1940 landmark science-fiction adventure, directed by pioneering filmmaker Schoedsak, follows four explorers as they search for a legendary physicist. When they discover their missing colleague, they find his brilliant mind has been warped by radiation and decide to return him to civilization for psychiatric help. But the half-blind, half-mad scientist will have none of that, and uses an experimental body altering device to reduce his former friends to one-fifth their normal size. Now, harmless items and small creatures suddenly become giant-sized instruments of death, The impressive use of special effects, which garnered an Oscar nomination, helped make this Technicolor SF outing a winner.

TOWER OF LONDON, Rowland V. Lee, director/Fabulous Films  One of the blots on the career of Vincent Price was the later version of Tower of London made with Roger Corman, which is a very shabby piece of work, hardly worthy of either man. Not so the original film, issued here by Fabulous Films, in which Price also stars in a smaller role with the sheer wattage of star power shoring things up in this Shakespeare-cum-horror spin. With typical panache Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff, carry this 15th century melodrama based on the life of Richard III. Sixth in line to the throne, Richard (Rathbone) is an ambitious man who, with the aid of Mord (Karloff) his executioner friend, treacherously disposes of the five who stand between him and the crown. Mercilessly this cold-hearted pair torture and kill the heirs in the infamous “Tower of London”.

VAMPIR CUADECUC, Pere Portabella, director/ Second Run  It is something of an achievement that this film was made at all, given the repressive Franco regime. Second Run’s release — on both Blu-ray and DVD formats — of Pere Portabella’s provocative film is welcome. Made clandestinely in Spain with the regime unaware, Portabella’s remarkable film on the surface appears to be a documentary on the filming of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) starring Christopher Lee and the striking Soledad Miranda. But Portabella ensures that his experimental ‘making of’ documentary and examination of vampire motifs imports powerful political points about the fascist regime. This release contains a new HD transfer of the film and sports a new and exclusive interview with director Pere Portabella, plus two short films and more.

VISITING HOURS, Jean Claude Lord , director/Final Cut  Looking notably better on Blu-ray than it did on VHS (which is how most of us first saw it). Visiting Hours (in dual-format Blu-ray/DVD) stars Michael Ironside, William Shatner and Lee Grant and Linda Purl. The film is capability directed by Jean Claude Lord. Deborah Ballin is a controversial middle-aged TV journalist, who is campaigning on air on behalf of a battered woman who murdered her abusive husband, claiming justifiable defence against the so-called victim. But her outspoken views championing women’s rights incense one of the studio’s cleaning staff, the psychopathic Michael Ironside character.

THE KILLER B MOVIE COLLECTION, Various directors/Fabulous Films  A new collection of some of the best-known SF movies of an earlier era, – highly collectable, even though the films range from the excellent (The Man From Planet X) to the execrable (Reptilicus). From Steve McQueen’s film debut in The Blob, to the monster movies The Deadly Mantis, The Creature Walks Among Us, The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes and Reptilicus to the SF adventures of The Man From Planet X, The Time Travelers, The Angry Red Planet and Doctor Cyclops (the latter discussed separately above), this 9 DVD set will transport you back to a different time in film-making, where big ideas did not need big budgets. For instance: The Blob, directed by Irvin S Yeaworth, with its cheap but spectacular special effects helped assure the film’s cult status. The most iconic cult reputation, of course, is reserved for Edgar G Ulmer’s atmospheric The Man from Planet X, the gem in the collection – that and other winners (such as The Creature Walks Among Us) more than makes up for the wretched Reptilicus with its ludicrous puppet monster. A genuine bargain box.

More Mario Bava from Arrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barry Forshaw writes: I’ve written about Mario Bava in Italian Cinema, and I’ve worked on Blu-rays for Arrow with producer Michael MacKenzie, but had no input into their latest Mario Bava special, the gorgeously colourful Erik the Conqueror. It’s Michael hmself who’s provided an enjoyable visual essay on the film’s indebtedness (homage or ripoff?) to Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings.