Xmas Gift Ideas from Arrow, Eureka, Second Sight, Final Cut & BFI


GOMORRAH, INSPECTOR NARDONE & FOGS AND CRIMES Various directors/Arrow  The question I am always asked (if I’m doing an event relating to Scandinavian crime film and TV ) is: what’s next ? Well, here’s your answer: Italian crime. Arrow Films’ Noir label continues to scour the globe, bringing UK viewers accomplished foreign language film and television. Following the unprecedented success of the Danish dramas The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge, and French title Braquo, Nordic Noir have been responsible for the arrival of a host of new Italian shows to their roster of Noir titles. Such is the strength of Italian crime television that Arrow Films have launched Criminale Italia, a new subsidiary of their Noir label. Alongside the acclaimed modern-day Italian gangster epic Gomorrah, the label are showcasing the popular Italian shows Gomorrah, Inspector Nardone and Fog & Crimes on DVD. Based on a real figure, Mario Nardone was a true legend in Milan during the 50’s and 60’s. Straightforward, persistently stubborn but also endowed with a strong moral code and a great sense of humanity, Nardone has deep loves; including his long-suffering family, good cuisine and cracking jokes at every opportunity. The best bet in this batch? The lacerating Gomorrah.

KISS OF THE VAMPIRE Don Sharp, director/Final Cut/Media Sales/Blu-Ray  After their previous restoration work, the company that has given us splendid Blu-ray incarnations of classic Hammer Films has come up with a real winner this time, probably looking better than the film did in the cinema. A film which endured something of an underwhelming reception on its first appearance was Don Sharp’s Kiss of the Vampire (1964) – an idiosyncratic entry touching the customary bases, but with a subtly different identity from that of most of its stablemates — in which Ravna, an aristocratic bloodsucker, organises bacchanalias at his estate and holds the surrounding countryside in the grip of fear, with only a strong-minded authority figure as his nemesis. As with the torment endured by Peter Cushing’s character in Brides of Dracula, a punishing, almost masochistic self-torture is required to extirpate the bite of the undead (here, it is an incision on the wrist so that vampiric contamination may be burned away in similar fashion). The channelling of the erotic element here is (as in Robert Young’s Vampire Circus) located within a seductive, vampiric brother and sister who cast an ineluctable spell over a naïve young bride. The blue-blooded monster Dr Ravna is here played by the capable Noel Willman as a supercilious authoritarian figure, with none of the romantic appeal that Christopher Lee brought to such parts – but it is a decision which renders Ravna’s clash with his puritan opponent a meeting of cheerless equals. Interestingly, the score for Kiss of the Vampire (by the studio’s signature composer James Bernard) appears to belong to another film, one of a more delirious inclination, utilising (as it does) late romantic orchestrations in the fashion of a slightly more dissonant Rachmaninov.

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD Raoul Walsh, director SPIONE; Fritz Lang, director Eureka Blu-ray  Those viewers not prepared to watch silent films are really doing themselves a disservice if they don’t try this delightful Arabian nights fantasy, which preceded the classic Michael Powell colour remake. Douglas Fairbanks is charismatic in the title role, and even if Carl Davis’ score lifts heavily from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, it’s a perfect accompaniment to the derring-do. Eureka also have another early classic, Fritz Lang’s immensely stylish (and influential) Spione/Spies.

OUT OF THE UNKNOWN/OUT OF THIS WORLD, Various directors /BFI  These important BFI DVD releases (part of the SCI-FI: DAYS OF FEAR AND WONDER series) are very much of their time, but have elements that are strikingly imaginative and memorable. Out of the Unknown is the classic anthology science fiction series created by Irene Shubik and broadcast between 1965 and 1971. All 20 surviving episodes from the four original series have been released in a 7-disc box set. Ambition and intelligence are often undercut by quaint special effects; the problem is that most of the episodes are set in the future, exposing the meagre effects resources. But that hardly matters; these remain cherishable sets. Out of the Unknown has been produced by ‘professional fans’ in collaboration with the BFI in order to create the best possible release.

TAXI Luc Besson, director/Second Sight While its tone is sometime uncertain (how seriously do we take parts of this broad comic thriller?), there is no denying the appeal of this celebrated French car chase thriller Taxi, the product of acclaimed writer/director Luc Besson. The new Blu-ray (appearing for the first time courtesy of Second Sight) is an action comedy about a speed-obsessed, just-legal taxi driver obliged to cut a deal with the police or forfeit his licence. The film has given birth to three sequels, a remake and a TV show. Now the original film, with its lively car chases makes its debut spruced up in high-definition Blu-ray.

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE Tobe Hooper, director/Blu-Ray Second Sight  How many people who have not seen the film are aware that it is (for a great deal of the running time ) a black comedy? The Texas Chain Saw Massacre not only changed the face of horror in 1974 but still remains one of the most notorious horror films ever made. Now to celebrate its 40th Anniversary, a brand new restored version comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Second Sight. Widely banned on release, its cachet has not diminished and this harrowing tale of a depraved Texan clan and its chain-saw-wielding icon of horror Leatherface continues to stun and disturb audiences like no other film. Supervised by director Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has received a vivid 4K restoration and 7.1 audio mix, looking and sounding terrific. Released as a two-disc limited edition Steelbook blu-ray with a new audio commentary with director Tobe Hooper, plus a slew of other features.

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES Mikkel Nørgaard, director/Picture House Entertainment  One of the elements that distinguishes the remarkable crime novels of Jussi-Adler Olsen is the distinct quirkiness of their vision, and it is very much a literary vision (albeit filtered through translation for English speakers); it is also, inevitably, one of the most difficult elements for which to find a cinematic equivalent, and it is to the director Mikkel Nørgaard’s credit that that it is something that has been largely accomplished here; ensuring that the film is not a simple generic crime movie but something more complex and interesting (though it still undoubtedly looks as if its real home is on a TV screen). The writer himself kept a close watch on the film’s screenplay, and the results have undoubtedly paid off (Nikolaj Lie Kaas is distinctive if low key as the author’s copper Carl Morck) — The Keeper of Lost Causes, apart from pleasing a film audience may well help Jussi Adler-Olsen achieve the kind of sales in the UK that he already enjoys in Germany and the Scandinavian territories.

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE Val Guest, director/BFI  In this remarkable British film (one this country’s very best SF movies), there are points of interest galore. Particularly fascinating are long-vanished aspects of London: Fleet Street as the heart of the newspaper industry, Battersea funfair… oh, and an uncredited Michael Caine as a young copper trying to cope with the collapse of society… Newly remastered by the BFI National Archive, this definitive version of the classic British science fiction thriller is released by the BFI on both DVD and Blu-ray on 17 November 2014 as part of Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder. Both formats contain a host of extras, including a commentary with director Val Guest (the Quatermass films), a newly-created documentary, a selection of bomb-related archive films and more. When the USA and Russia simultaneously test nuclear bombs, the earth is knocked off its axis and set on a collision course with the sun. As the planet inexorably heats up and society slowly breaks down, Peter Stenning (Edward Judd), a washed-up Daily Express reporter, breaks the story and sets about investigating the government cover-up.

SIX GOTHIC TALES Roger Corman, director /Arrow Blu-Ray Limited edition box set There is simply no modern-day equivalent of the remarkable American actor Vincent Price, who may have regretted his typecasting in horror roles, but rose to the summit of the genre in a fashion that nobody before or since has matched. His best work was the series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he made for the talented director Roger Corman, and this handsome box set – with its excellent Blu-ray restorations — is the perfect way to collect these macabre gems. In The Fall of the House of Usher, a young man learns of a family curse that threatens his happiness with his bride-to-be. In The Pit and the Pendulum, a brother investigates the untimely death of sister, played by Barbara Steele. Tales of Terror adapts three Poe classics, Morella, The Black Cat and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, each starring a horror icon. The Raven is a comic take on the famous poem concerning three rival magicians. In The Haunted Palace, a newcomer in a New England town is suspected of being a warlock. And in The Tomb of Ligeia, filmed in Norfolk and at Stonehenge, a widower’s upcoming marriage plans are thwarted by his dead first wife. The six films boast a remarkable cast list: not just Price and Steele (Black Sunday), but also Boris Karloff (Frankenstein), Peter Lorre (M, The Beast with Five Fingers), Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man, Spider Baby), Basil Rathbone (The Black Cat) and a very young Jack Nicholson. Adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone, I Am Legend) and Robert Towne (Chinatown), these Six Gothic Tales now rank as classic examples of sixties horror cinema.


Sci-fi Days of Fear and Wonder James Bell, editor

It once seemed a lonely pursuit, being a science fiction aficionado. Before the derivative Star Wars and Doctor Who took over the world and the superhero movie reigned supreme at the box office, each new science fiction film was something of an event, and people like myself devoured each new one eagerly – good, bad or indifferent. And sitting in the front row of London’s Casino Cinerama at the first showing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – well, bliss it was in that dawn to be alive (people – strangers to each other — stood in the foyer later arguing about the film; can you imagine that today?). Sci-fi Days of Fear and Wonder, edited by James Bell (responsible for the earlier – and equally impressive — Gothic), is both a celebration of the new all-conquering juggernaut of filmic science fiction (we’ll forgive the title use of the phrase ‘Sci-fi’ rather than the cognoscenti’s preferred ‘SF’) and a thoroughgoing (but immensely readable ) analysis of the genre. The book is a splendidly illustrated and intelligently written tribute to a genre capable of ascending the heights (per ardua ad astra, indeed) and plumbing the depths. And the fact that it is produced under the aegis of the British Film Institute means that the films herein – from Forbidden Planet to Blade Runner and beyond — are treated with respect as well as affection, with such luminaries as John Clute and Jonathan Rigby producing essays that stimulate and provoke in equal measure. (Anyone wishing to sample the book should perhaps tackle Adam Roberts’ excellent ‘Brief History of Time Travel’.) This writer recently tackled for the BFI – as one of the sister projects to this book – a study of George Pal’s and Byron Haskin’s version of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, putting me in such illustrious company as Kim Newman and Mark Kermode. Kim Newman is also in this volume. What are you waiting for? (Sci-fi Days of Fear and Wonder (James Bell, editor/ISBN: 9781844578610) is published by BFI)



Sony to Issue Deliver Us from Evil

On DVD and Blu-ray from 5 January 2015 (courtesy of Sony Pictures Home entertainment.) is DELIVER US FROM EVIL, starring Eric Bana (The Time Traveller’s Wife, Munich, Troy), Édgar Ramirez (Zero Dark Thirty, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Olivia Munn (TV’s “The Newsroom”, Magic Mike). New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Bana), struggling with his own personal issues, begins investigating a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes.  He joins forces with an unconventional priest (Ramírez), schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the frightening and demonic possessions that are terrorizing their city.  Inspired by the book, which details Sarchie’s bone-chilling real-life cases.