News DVDS & Blu-Rays from Sony, Eureka, BFI, Arrow

BLADE RUNNER 2049, Denis Villeneuve, director/Sony 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™, DVD and Limited Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray  Given the reputation — much burnished over the years – of Ridley Scott’s original Philip K. Dick adaptation, the bar was set high for any sequel, however belated. And although there were a few dissenting voices, the response to Denis Villeneuve’s modern riff on concepts taken from the original film has been remarkably positive, with the many admirers of the film pointing out its intelligence – and the best science-fiction customarily display that very quality. The film stars Ryan Gosling as K and Harrison Ford reprising the role of Rick Deckard. Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years. The package is loaded with extras, but the disc’s principal appeal lines in the film’s astonishing futuristic visuals.

THE HOUSEMAID, Derek Nguyen, director/ Eureka Blu-ray  While the accoutrements of this Gothic chiller are occasionally familiar, the imagination of the director Derek Nguyen frequently takes his narrative into territory notably underexplored by this genre — and to considerable effect. First-time director Nguyen makes a striking debut with The Housemaid [Cô Haû Gaí], a haunting gothic romance which blends bold eroticism with a pervasive sense of dread. Linh is a docile and hardworking poor orphaned girl who comes to Sa Cat seeking a housemaid job. Sebastien Laurent is a French captain and owner of the Sa Cat rubber plantation. For years, the massive mansion is rumoured to have ghosts, particularly those of Camille – Sebastien’s late wife—and the mistreated plantation workers. Once Linh comes to Sa Cat, she begins to hear strange sounds, have frightening dreams, and witness bizarre occurrences.

SCORE, Matt Schrader, director/Dogwoof  Anyone who knows the score (pun intended) will be aware that one of the reasons that movies can have such a mesmeric effect on audiences is the power of a film’s musical soundtrack – orchestral or otherwise.Music  plays an immensely persasive role in the total experience offered by the cinema. This fascinating documentary features virtually every important composer who has worked in the cinema, from the early days of Max Steiner’s King Kong through the more modern era of the matchless Jerry Goldsmith (Planet of the Apes and Chinatown) and up to the present with Hans Zimmer, who scored such films as The Dark Knight and Gladiator. Needless to say, the musician who is probably the best known of all film composers, John Williams, is given his full due – and we are even able to compare his score for Superman with Hans Zimmer’s later Man of Steel.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS, Richard Burton, Nevil Coghill, directors/Fabulous Films  While Richard Burton was the first to admit that he had somewhat squandered his talent in films unworthy of him, there are several filmic records of just what a remarkable actor he was — such as this 1967 adaptation of the performance by Oxford University Dramatic Society, with Burton in a powerful assumption of the title role (and a cameo by a wordless Elizabeth Taylor). It’s demanding fare, and not the easiest of viewing experiences, but Burton is always remarkable.

ORCHESTRA REHEARSAL, Federico Fellini, director/Arrow Academy  Mention Fellini’s name to most cineastes and they will be more likely to conjure visions of his earlier classics such as La Dolce Vita and 81/2. But hardcore admirers at the late Italian director have long made a point of tracking down everything he worked on, and this curiosity is well worth their efforts; it’s a quirky and enjoyable satire from Fellini, in collaboration once more with Oscar-winning composer Nino Rota. An Italian television crew visits a dilapidated auditorium (a converted 13th-century church) to meet an orchestra assembling to rehearse under the instruction of a tyrannical conductor. The TV crew interviews the various musicians who each speak lovingly about their chosen instruments. However, as petty squabbles break out amid the different factions of the ensemble, and the conductor berates his musicians, the meeting descends into anarchy and vandalism. Made in 1978 for Italian television, Orchestra Rehearsal, an allegorical pseudo-documentary, is possibly Fellini’s most satirical and overtly political film, This special edition features a new 2K restoration of the film, rare poster and press materials, and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film.

WOODFALL: A REVOLUTION IN BRITISH CINEMA, Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Desmond Davis/BFI (8-disc Blu-ray box set)  It’s difficult in the 21st-century to remember the impact that the 1960s British New Wave of filmmaking had in its day with one film company producing many of the most durable classics at a time when cinema was shaking off the over-comfortable (and rather stilted) trappings of middle-class drama which had held sway for so long. This new 8-disc set celebrates the 60th anniversary of Woodfall Films and includes eight iconic films (many newly restored and available on Blu-ray for the first time) that revolutionised British cinema and launched the careers of the likes of Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Rita Tushingham. These are: Look Back in Anger (Tony Richardson, 1959), The Entertainer (Tony Richardson, 1960), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz, 1960), A Taste of Honey (Tony Richardson, 1961), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962), Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963) (New 4K digital restorations of the original theatrical version of the film and the 1989 director’s cut), Girl with Green Eyes (Desmond Davis, 1964), The Knack… and how to get it (Richard Lester, 1965). With copious special features, this an unmissable set.

GOMORRAH – THE SERIES, various directors/Arrow TV DVD & Blu-ray  Slowly but surely, this Italian series – which boasts nary a sympathetic character — has built a reputation as one of the most powerful and unusual crime series, with its excoriating picture of the Latin criminal underworld. The series is based on the best-selling non-fiction investigative book by Roberto Saviano. Saviano infiltrated and investigated a Naples based Italian crime organisation called Camorra. Since the book has been published Saviano has to live in exile as he has been threatened by the Camorra. The series does full justice to Saviano’s dark vision.

THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, director/ Eureka Entertainment Blu-ray  If you are an admirer of the director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s wittily written and intelligent films (Mankiewicz was equally accomplished as writer and director), you owe it to yourself to track down this now little-seen drama which followed up his classic All About Eve, and features a scene- stealing performance by Humphrey Bogart. While looking every single one of his years, it’s hard to think of a contemporary actor who has anything like Bogart’s appeal, not to mention a luminous appearance by Ava Gardner in the title role. A high point in the already success-laden career of Mankiewicz (A Letter to Three Wives, All About Eve), and one of the most glamorous and extravagant films from Hollywood’s Golden Age, The Barefoot Contessa is a tragic drama about the tumultuous rise and fall of fictional Hollywood actress Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner). plays down on his luck writer and director Harry Dawes, reduced to working for an egotistical and abusive producer, Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens)

THE WITCHES, various directors/Arrow Academy  For many years, this beguiling portmanteau film was hard to see, but sounded intriguing with its variety of directors and stars, including Clint Eastwood (and with the legendary and seductive Silvana Mangano at the centre of each episode), so this opportunity to finally catch it is not to be missed – even though one episode (the bizarre, would-be comic tale directed by Pasolini) tests the patience.

PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN, Angela Robinson, director/Sony  This highly unusual piece deals with the curious sexual ménage involving the creator of Wonder Woman and his two female lovers. It is based on the extraordinary true story of the man behind of one of the most iconic super heroes ever conceived, and the seductive secret life he kept from his fans. Harvard psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans, Beauty and the Beast) was roundly criticized for the creation of his feminist superhero, but it was his personal life, with his polyamorous relationship with his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall, The Gift) and their lover, Olive (Bella Heathcote), that was more provocative than any adventure he had ever written.
TANGO ONE, Sacha Bennett, director/Universal  Based on the novel by UK thriller author Stephen Leather (Murder in Mind, London’s Burning) and directed by Sacha Bennett (Get Lucky, We Still Kill the Old Way), Tango One is a fast-paced crime thriller about how far one man will go to rescue his daughter, and save his criminal empire from collapse. When three undercover recruits are assigned an impossible mission to take down one of the world’s most wanted men, notorious drug dealer, Den Donovan (Vincent Regan), they have no idea who they are dealing with. As the undercover recruits inch closer to their target, they are each drawn in by the charismatic criminal leader – too close, perhaps, to remember the rules.


Strike: The Silkworm on DVD

The second instalment of the acclaimed TV detective series based on J.K. Rowling’s best-selling crime novels written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, Strike – The Silkworm will be available to own on DVD from 19th February 2018, courtesy of Warner Bros Home Entertainment.British actors Tom Burke as ‘Cormoran Strike’ and Holliday Grainger as ‘Robin Ellacott’ lead an all-star cast of acclaimed British actors, including Natasha O’Keeffe (Peaky Blinders, Misfits), Kerr Logan (Alias Grace, Game of Thrones), Monica Dolan (W1A, The Casual Vacancy, Wolf Hall), Lia Williams (The Crown, The Missing), Tim McInnerny (Spooks The Greater Good, Eddie The Eagle, Sherlock), Jeremy Swift (The Durrells, Downton Abbey) and Sarah Gordy (Holby City, Upstairs Downstairs) for the major BBC One series; Strike – The Silkworm. 

Tom Burke, who most recently starred in BBC’s epic War & Peace as ‘Fedor Dolokhov’ and in The Musketeers as ‘Athos,’ is Strike, a war veteran turned private detective operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street.  Following his success in solving the Lula Landry case, Strike’s detective agency has been busy. A new client Leonora Quine appeals to Strike’s sensibilities with the case of her missing author husband, that leads Strike into the depths of London’s literary world. 

Holliday Grainger, who most recently starred in BBC’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover as Lady Constance Chatterley, is Robin Ellacott, Strike’s assistant.  Robin’s beginning as a temporary secretary, has evolved into her current role as Strike’s indispensable assistant; working alongside him and delving deeper into the hidden meanings and concealed secrets of the Bombyx Mori case. 

Strike – The Silkworm is executive produced by J.K. Rowling (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Casual Vacancy), Neil Blair (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Casual Vacancy), Ruth Kenley-Letts (The Casual Vacancy, The Hour), Tom Edge (The Crown, Lovesick) and Elizabeth Kilgarriff (for the BBC) and is based on a script by Tom Edge. Directed by Kieron Hawkes (Fortitude, Ripper Street) and produced by Jackie Larkin (Stella Days, Kings)


The Silkworm was published to critical acclaim in 2014, building on the global success of its predecessor The Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013 and followed by Career of Evil in 2015.  All three books were number one Sunday Times bestsellers in both hardback and paperback and Little, Brown has sold in total over four million copies worldwide across all editions.


Cormoran Strike is one of the most memorable and distinctive detectives in crime fiction today and Robert Galbraith is among the genre’s most celebrated writers, shortlisted for the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger in 2015 and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2016.



CAT O’ NINE TAILS and other new Blu-rays

CAT O’ NINE TAILS, Dario Argento, Director/Arrow Blu-ray  Firstly: a declaration of interest: I contributed the booklet notes for this disc – so I’m obliged to say something different here! One of the greatest causes for celebration in the DVD/Blu-ray revolution has been the appearance of all the major films of the massively talented (if wildly inconsistent) Dario Argento – the ultimate giallo craftsman, as we reminded as his 1971 horror mystery Cat O’ Nine Tails gets a superb limited edition 4K restoration. In the early part of his career (as I noted in Italian Cinema: Arthouse to Exploitation), Argento’s s astonishing visual and aural assaults on the sensibilities of the viewer put the emphasis on the total experience of film rather than intellectual appreciation of a well-written script (his horror films are definitely not for those who demand carefully constructed, literate screenplays!). Usually to the throbbing, high-decibel accompaniment of the music of Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (his long-time collaborator), the films of this energetic Italian are a breath-stopping rollercoaster ride of painterly visuals and graphic horror. Argento’s feature film debut, the poetically titled The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo, 1970), augured well for his career – a commercial success in 1970, it looks a fascinating dry run for many ideas to be more fully developed in later films. Tony Musante plays an American writer in Italy who witnesses a murderous assault through glass (prefiguring David Hemmings in the later Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, 1976); he is trapped between sliding glass doors while attempting to aid the bleeding victim (Eva Renzi) – and this sequence seems to be the one people remember over the years – probably because Musante’s subsequent tracking down of the black leather-clad murderer is handled with rather less panache than Argento was to develop in subsequent films. Deep Red is stunning evidence that Dario Argento’s delirious visual talents have been consistently in evidence from his earliest films to Inferno (1980). A tortuous Hitchcockian thriller (with a relatively unguessable denouement), it is better constructed than Suspiria (1977) – the film it has most in common with – and the plot-spinning between the big, operatic set-pieces is better throughout. Cat O’ Nine Tails, filmed in English in 1971 starred bland James Franciscus and the ever-reliable Karl Malden in a baroque and byzantine thriller that consolidated Argento’s reputation as a master genre director. A break in at a genetics lab leads to a spiralling vortex of bloody murder. The limited edition Blu-ray is packed with extras, and features a new audio commentary, new cover artwork and comes with a poster, lobby cards and a limited edition booklet with notes by this writer.

WIND RIVER, Taylor Sheridan, director/Sony  Taylor Sheridan’s film has been steadily acquiring something of a reputation for its effortless command of the material – not to mention its vivid sense of place. A gripping crime thriller set in the unforgiving snow plains of Wyoming. Elizabeth Olsen stars as a rookie FBI agent tasked with solving the brutal murder of a young woman in a Native American reserve. Enlisting the help of a local hunter (Jeremy Renner) to help her navigate the freezing wilderness, the two set about trying to find a vicious killer hidden in plain sight. The closer they get to the truth the greater the danger becomes with a town full of explosive secrets ready to fight back.

LEATHERFACE, Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury, directors/ Lionsgate Blu-ray   While this is a perfectly efficient horror prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, delivering the requisite frissons, it curiously fudges one important possibility: characterising its monstrous chainsaw-wielding protagonist as a young man; there is not a great deal more to him here than in Wes Craven’s film. It didn’t matter in the latter, as he was just one of a group of memorable bogeyman, but the title here suggests we might learn a little more. The maniac is certainly unmasked in this gruesome prequel to Hooper’s original, exploring the origin of the fearsome horror icon, from the directors of the extreme French masterpiece Inside. A young nurse is kidnapped by four violent teens after they escape from a psychiatric hospital, and take her on a road trip to hell. Pursued by an equally deranged, trigger-happy lawman out for revenge, one of these teens is destined for tragedy and horrors that will destroy his mind – moulding him into the monster who becomes Leatherface. The directors – masters of horror Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury – are a perfect fit for the material, having shocked audiences with their 2007 Gallic debut Inside.

HOUNDS OF LOVE, Ben Young, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  Hounds of Love is proving to be something of a Marmite film, inspiring admiration and its opposite in equal numbers. But there is no denying the gusto with which director Ben Young tackles his lacerating material. The UK Blu-ray debut of this intense thriller showcases an Aussie gem, based on real life crimes. It stars Ashleigh Cummings as a young girl who must fight for her life, after being abducted by a dangerously deranged couple, Stephen Curry and Emma Booth. In the tradition of Wolf Creek and Snowtown, The Hounds of Love was a success from writer/director Ben Young. This is an unnerving psychological thriller.

NEW WORLD, Park Hoon-Jung, director/Eureka/Montage  The director Park Hoon-Jung was celebrated as a screenwriter for such films as I Saw the Devil but here makes an adept move into directing and proves himself to be one of South Korea’s most able directors. The head of South Korea’s biggest crime syndicate is murdered in mysterious circumstances, and a violent power struggle follows his death. This is a gangster film of some style and panache.

THE ZERO BOYS soundtrack, Hans Zimmer/Arrow  Arrow Records have issued their second release – the original soundtrack to Nico Mastorakis’ action-horror hybrid The Zero Boys. There will be a limited edition translucent blue vinyl (500 copies). This previously unreleased gem combines adrenaline pumping electronic compositions by the legendary film composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Inception) with tasteful orchestral cues by the renowned scorer of cult films Stanley Myers (Frightmare). This limited vinyl edition has been newly mastered from the original 1/4” analogue tapes by James Plotkin and is presented on 180 gram wax, housed inside a 350gsm sleeve.
BLACK SABBATH, Mario Bava, Director Arrow Blu-Ray. Those who caught this portmanteau chiller on its first British cinema release will not have realised that they were seeing a watered-down version of the Italian original (as were. of course, American audiences). But here is a chance to see one of the key works by Bava, the late master of macabre atmosphere, in uncensored form. The episode ‘The Drop of Water (theoretically – but mendaciously — based on a story by Chekhov) is the standout.



SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING 3D and other new Blu-Rays Barry Forshaw

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, Jon Watts, director/Sony Blu-ray 3D  The sheer pleasure afforded by this second reboot of the Spider-Man franchise came as a surprise to many – surely every possible permutation had been explored in the earlier five films? But as the character’s cameo in Captain America: Civil War proved, Marvel has plenty of new ideas for its signature character – although, as seen in the new film, these new ideas dated back to the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko conception of Peter Parker’s alter ego. Closer in fact, than any earlier version. And apart from a clever screenplay, with its perfectly judged humour and character beats (not to mention crowd-pleasing action sequences) it is the casting of the British actor Tom Holland that sets the seal of success on the enterprise. As for the 3D aspects of the Blu-ray, they are stunningly realised.

THE APARTMENT, Billy Wilder, director/Arrow Academy Blu-ray  If it’s some time since you have seen The Apartment, it’s time to do yourself a favour and make a re-acquaintance. Looking better than it ever has in a fresh Blu-ray spruce-up, Billy Wilder’s bitter-sweet comedy drama stars a matchless Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in Oscar-nominated performances. The duo play a couple who start an unlikely romance in late-1950s Manhattan. A note perfect production that went on to win Best Picture at the 1961 Academy Awards, many regard this as the cynical Wilder’s best work.

DEMONS OF THE MIND, Peter Sykes, director/StudioCanal  Inspired horror film work was being done in the decade of the 1970s. The achievement of the late Christopher Wicking as a screenwriter was generally (as the writer wryly admitted to me) generally compromised and altered in some way, but almost invariably something of his highly individual and unorthodox skills remain in the finished films – which is the case with Demons of the Mind (1972), a later Hammer outing directed by Peter Sykes in which a doctor finds discovers that two children are being kept held captives in their house by their father; his probing uncover incest and supernatural possession. that occasionally has glimmers of some of the visual style of the late Michael Reeves, but the plot (a sort of Gothic reworking of Forbidden Planet’s ‘Monster from the Id’) is sabotaged by acting that is either overblown (Robert Hardy, Patrick Magee) or blank and indifferent (Paul Jones, Gillian Hills). But Wicking’s customary interest in investigating the darker recesses of the human psyche still leaves its imprint on this flawed but interesting film.

THE CREMATOR, Juraj Herz, director/ Second Run   If your taste is for the unorthodox in cinema, Juraz Herz is unquestionably a directive whose work you should sample . It is not for every taste, but it is safe to say that this is a filmmaker whose vision is quite unlike that of his contemporaries, and his work offers a strange and disturbing experience. Presented from new HD materials, Second Run has issued a Blu-ray edition of a film that has been described in many ways – as surrealist-inspired horror film, as an expressionistic political allegory, a pitch-black comic satire and as a dark and disturbing tale of terror. It’s a brilliantly chilling film, a unique mix of Psycho, Dr Strangelove and Repulsion, and is set in Prague during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. It tells the story of Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský), a professional cremator, for whom the political climate allows free rein to his increasingly perverse and deranged impulses for the ‘salvation of the world’…

WHITE PALACE, Luis Mandoki, director/Fabulous Films Blu-ray  Another example of the Blu-ray revolution giving a new lease of life to some films well worthy of rediscovery. Susan Sarandon and James Spader give powerful performances in this steamy, critically acclaimed love story from director Luis Mandoki. Max Baron (Spader) is a successful St. Louis advertising executive who’s been in mourning since the death of his young wife. A chance late-night encounter introduces him to Nora Baker (Sarandon), and unexpectedly turns his life upside down. An earthly, vibrant and fiercely independent woman, Nora works in a hamburger joint, lives on the wrong side of town and has at least 15 years on Max. Yet despite the differences, Max finds himself hopelessly in love in this touchingly offbeat romance, co-starring the ever-reliable Eileen Brennan.

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA, Matt Cimber, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Sometimes, directors have one remarkable and individual film in their CV, with other, subsequent work far less impressive. A classic case of this syndrome is the director Matt Cimber, whose one cult classic this bizarre, sexually-charged film is. His other work shows very little of the vision and imagination to be found here. Molly Perkins in a career-best performance is a woman whose strange and violent fantasies involve tying up male victims before killing them with a razor. But how real are her fantasies? The film’s reputation has grown over the years, and this new Arrow disc looks splendid.

THE ERIC ROHMER COLLECTION, Eric Rohmer, director/Arrow Blu-rays  A cherishable box set, featuring some of the best films by this utterly unique and highly-influential auteur, who was a leading light of the French New Wave. The collection of films is released in a collectable Limited Edition Blu-ray box set, beautifully packaged and loaded with extras, including a lavishly illustrated booklet with new writing on the film.

RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER 3, Zackary Adler, director, Signature Entertainment  The all-out bare knuckle prequel to the Britcrime thriller Rise Of The Footsoldier comes to home video starring Craig Fairbrass and a strong cast in a brutal and bloody real life story of Essex, drugs and rock and roll. Ruthless Essex gangster Pat Tate blazes a path from Marbella to the Medway in the late 80s, peddling pills and snorting coke and crushing anyone who gets in his way, in his quest for cash and power. Double- crossed by an ex-pat drug baron, Tate ends up in prison. Undeterred, he establishes himself as top dog inside, and gets himself in shape in preparation for his release – when he plans to reclaim his turf the only way he knows how – with violence, and no mercy.

HOUSE 1-5, various directors/Arrow Blu-rays  If the first movie in this comedy horror series was to your taste, you will be pleased by this impressive Blu-ray transfer and some intriguing extras (it’s always instructive – if a little sobering – and see what changes time has wrought on the actors in current interviews). For those coming anew to the series, the rubbery prosthetic creatures may be a little hard to take; it goes without saying that CGI effects have rendered these puppets more than a touch on the obsolete site. But those with fond memories of House will have a fun time.

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, Juan Carlos Medina, director/Lionsgate  Peter Ackroyd’s chef d’ouevre Hawksmoor was inexplicably passed over by filmmakers, so I suppose we should be grateful that the writer’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem enjoyed a creditable film adaptation, although it is one that did not in the end quite do justice to the source material. The vengeful monster of Jewish mythology has a human equivalent in 19th-century London as refugees arrive in Britain from Europe. Detective Inspector John Kildare (nicely underplayed by Bill Nighy in a film full of larger-than-life characterisations) is tasked with tracking down the serial killer of the title. Visually stylish and full of the kind of Victorian music hall exuberance found in the novels of Kate Griffin rather than Ackroyd’s novel.

HAMMER: VOLUME 1: FEAR WARNING, Various directors/Powerhouse Blu-Ray Box  In splendid new Blu-ray transfers, here’s a tempting collection of lesser known Hammer films, including Fanatic, Maniac, and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. But perhaps the most interesting film here is the one the studio (and its makers) were ambiguous in their reaction to. Almost everyone connected with The Gorgon (1964) was prepared to admit – in rueful retrospection – that a key element of the film has simply not been up to scratch — and disappointment of audiences had seriously hurt the film’s prospects. It was, in fact, the vision of the titular monster — the same syndrome, in effect, which had sabotaged another Hammer project, the distinctly non-frightening devil dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which had similarly drawn audiences’ attention away from the excellences to be found elsewhere in the film (notably, in both films, the nonpareil acting).

HAMMER: VOLUME 1: FEAR WARNING, Various directors/Powerhouse Blu-Ray Box

HAMMER: VOLUME 1: FEAR WARNING, Various directors/Powerhouse Blu-Ray Box  In splendid new Blu-ray transfers, here’s a tempting collection of lesser known Hammer films, including Fanatic, Maniac, and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. But perhaps the most interesting film here is the one the studio (and its makers) were ambiguous in their reaction to. Almost everyone connected with The Gorgon (1964) was prepared to admit – in rueful retrospection – that a key element of the film has simply not been up to scratch — and disappointment of audiences had seriously hurt the film’s prospects. It was, in fact, the vision of the titular monster — the same syndrome, in effect, which had sabotaged another Hammer project, the distinctly non-frightening devil dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which had similarly drawn audiences’ attention away from the excellences to be found elsewhere in the film (notably, in both films, the nonpareil acting). If this seems a touch unfair given the limited screen time these creatures were given, it was nevertheless short-sighted of Hammer executives not to see that cheeseparing and haste in this crucial respect would not be forgiven by audiences – not least because the build-up to the appearances of the eponymous monsters was so appetite-whettingly staged. But the compromise goes deeper than that, given the iconographic value of these particular ghastly apparitions.

The setting chosen for the Hammer Gorgon (Megaera rather than rather than the better-known Medusa) to wreak her petrifying havoc on those unlucky enough to cross her path was a period Prussia, some distance from the historical antecedents of the mythological Greek monster. As ever, Terence Fisher was aware that he could rely on the copper-bottomed production design of the inventive Bernard Robinson – and that the public would cut him some slack for his performers. But the fires were burning lower than usual: while Christopher Lee’s performance (for once, in a sympathetic savant role) seems less engaged than usual, Peter Cushing, as ever invested his character (a university professor) with the understated authority that was the actor’s stock in trade – and which lent such verisimilitude to so many of the films he appeared in. Nether, however, invested their role with quite the customary authority.

But the film has one other key asset – another actor quite as reliable Cushing: the luminous Barbara Shelley, lending to her role (as always for Hammer) a plausible inner life that granted a flesh and blood reality to her crinolined, corset-wearing heroine. In most of their films, Hammer’s head honchos Michael Carreras and Anthony Hinds were canny enough to promote the pretty innocuous blondes who invariably served as juvenile-leads-for-the-menacing, but both men were also well aware that an actress of Shelley’s calibre was required for key female roles, such as Shelley’s in The Gorgon (and it should be noted that there is an assumption here that the reader will be familiar with the film and not disturbed by revelations). Shelley’s reined-in, self-conscious character is (as contemporary viewers of the film no doubt guessed) capable of transforming herself into the snake-headed monstrosity whose gaze can transform her victims into stone, and viewers – then and now – might speculate on how much more effective the film’s tentative mythological charge might have been had the actress herself been permitted to play the eponymous Gorgon ( the part was in fact played – to no great effect — by the actress Prudence Hyman); the fact that the creature’s face is merely that of a middle-aged woman with sinister lighting and a head full of immobile plastic snakes might be compensated for had we been allowed to see Shelley as Megaera. But while the film’s incidental pleasures are many (staging, mise-en-scène, acting), it isn’t just the fact that Fisher seems less galvanised by the project than usual – it is the writing (by John Gilling) which has not discerned any creative spin for the scenario. The interpolation of the Gorgon legend into a potentially militaristic Prussian setting is not fruitful, and even popular entertainment film such as this might have done something with the confluence of a society dedicated to war and a central character whose image is nothing less than the face of death, but that was not on the agenda here. Part of the problem is that Terence Fisher and John Gilling don’t quite know to do with their petrifying Greek monster, other than conform to what the E.M. Forster once dismissively said of several Dickens characters: simply appear in order to do the action is expected of them and then retire, with no particular development. The various quadrilles executed here by the characters between castle, asylum and other settings have a formal rigour, but insufficient eerie charge, though Fisher’s restrained but expressive romantic instincts infuse the material, through the often startling visuals, full of lustrous colour and atmospheric lighting effects. All of this hardly makes up for the fact that Hammer’s most accomplished actress, Barbara Shelley, isn’t really a given enough to get her teeth into (but to some degree that is dictated by the exigencies of the narrative, which has to withhold certain facts).

American Assassin from Lionsgate

From Lionsgate: an explosive start to the new year… the fast-paced thriller AMERICAN ASSASSIN starring DYLAN O’BRIEN and MICHAEL KEATON will be available to download and own from January 2018. After the death of his girlfriend at the hands of terrorists, Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) is drawn into the world of counter-terrorism, mentored by tough-as-nails former U.S. Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Keaton). Enlisted by the CIA the pair investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on military and civilian targets and discover a pattern to the violence. Their mission is to stop a mysterious operation intent on starting the next World War. Also starring DAVID SUCHET and TAYLOR KITSCH and based on the best-selling Vince Flynn series of novels AMERICAN ASSASSIN is a brutal espionage thriller full of epic action scenes guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

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.