New Discs from Arrow, Screenbound, Eureka & BFI

THE LEGACY SEASONS 1-3 BOX SET, Various directors/NORDIC NOIR & BEYOND DVD & Blu-ray Box  While some Scandinavian crime dramas accrued an instant audience in the UK, others seem destined for a slightly more specialised following. The Legacy, of course, is not really a crime drama, but when I’ve spoken to writers, directors and actors associating the show, I found that nobody was reluctant to be slotted into that category, particularly if it increased the reach of the show. At the core of this modern-day Dickensian drama is its impeccable acting, and that remains the case with Season Three, assembled here with the earlier series in a collectable box. The Legacy first aired on Sky Arts. Signe (Marie Bach Hansen) has big visions and plans to expand her farm with a neighbouring farmer. Emil (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) has moved into Grønnegaard where he among other things takes care of Thomas’ and Isa’s daughter Melody (Smilla My Dahl Hougaard). Gro (Trine Dyrholm) challenges the Art Centre’s conventional thinking and discovers new sides of herself. Frederik (Carsten Bjørnlund) is a success abroad and is hardly ever home, until he has to dive into a complicated investigation filled with emotions. The Legacy is produced by DR Fiktion – the production house that also created The Killing and Borgen. The critically acclaimed drama was developed by Palm D’Or winner Pernilla August, who also directed Episode 9, and created by author Maya Ilsøe.

SCREENBOUND INAUGURATES TWO NEW EURO CULT LABELS WITH FEMALE VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE LAKE  It might be argued that there are three kinds of audiences for films: the mass cinema audience for the blockbusters, the arthouse aficionados (where directors such as Bergman & Co. reign supreme) and the dedicated enthusiasts for low-budget exploitation films loaded with copious amounts of sex and violence. Personally, I find myself happily belonging in all three, but I have to confess that there is a peculiarly illicit charge from sampling the sleazy delights of films at the lower end of the market. And if you share my taste for this disreputable fare, I have some good news. Screenbound has launched two brand new Euro cult film labels, with Maison Rouge concentrating on Euro Sleaze and Black House Films focusing on Euro Horror. Maison Rouge’s initial releases include one from master of Euro Sleaze Jess Franco – the maladroit but watchable Female Vampire (aka Bare Breasted Countess), followed by two Patrice Rhomm outings, Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg and Elsa Fraulein SS. The first release from Black House Films is the zombie epic Zombie Lake from French horror maestro Jean Rollin. Both imprints boast multiple poster art cards inside for collectors. In The Female Vampire, Franco’s innamorata Lina Romay is Irina, the beautiful last descendant of a family of vampires from distant Bohemia. When she takes Austrian writer, Baron von Rathony (Jack Taylor), as her lover, his fate is sealed. She Wolf of; Elsa Fraulein is the equally ramshackle 1970s women’s prison film set in South America, taking its cue from Don Edmond’s much tougher exploitation outing Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Stillberg is an ominous fortress turned detention camp for political prisoners and under the command of Helga Stiver, an ardent follower of the party in power, she brutalises the female prisoners.

SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER, Georges Franju, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Here, encapsulated in one cherishable issue, is the absolute justification for the Blu-ray medium: dusting off and restoring films which have been immensely hard to see and which have built up a great anticipation among viewers. This is Franju’s first film after the poetic horror classic Eyes Without a Face, featuring (albeit briefly) the charismatic character actor from that film, Pierre Brasseur. While the film is as visually striking as we would expect this director, there might be some initial disappointment that the whole thing turns out to be a rather slight Agatha Christiesque murder mystery rather than something as powerful and striking as its predecessor. But it is a particular pleasure to be able to finally encounter the film, and it is given the best possible presentation here, as one would expect from Arrow Films.

RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO, Alan Clarke, director/BFI Dual Format Edition Blu-ray/DVD  While many films strive to be likeable (with varying degrees of success), some achieve that admirable status without really trying – and that’s very much the case with Alan Clark’s raunchy and well-observed comedy drama. All the various elements (writing, directing, acting) coalesce here to pleasing effect. Following an acclaimed career in TV drama (much of which was made available in last year’s BFI box set release, Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC 1969-1989), director Alan Clarke achieved a box-office hit with the much loved raunchy comedy Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Adapted by Andrea Dunbar from her own play, based on her upbringing on Bradford’s Buttershaw estate, Rita, Sue and Bob Too contrasts bawdy laughs with astute social commentary. 30 years on and newly restored by the BFI, the film is released on Blu-ray for the first time in a Dual Format Edition.

BORN FREE, James Hill, director/Eureka Entertainment  Let’s be frank: there are those who will be immune to the charms of this family-friendly film, and it’s perhaps a legitimate complaint that the relationship between the human protagonists might have benefited from a touch more astringency. But there’s no denying the charm of the film and its various lions – along with its much-loved John Barry score (which is one of the key components). James Hill’s adaptation of Joy Adamson’s best-selling book starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers is on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a special Dual-format edition. Joy Adamson raised a lioness and eventually set her free, and the film is beautifully photographed on the vast, golden savannas of central Africa. When game warden George Adamson (Bill Travers) is forced to kill a menacing lion and lioness, he and his wife Joy (Virginia McKenna) adopt their three cubs. Two are sent off to zoos, but the third is kept – a female they name Elsa – to which they have become particularly attached. When Elsa becomes a full grown lioness, the Adamsons realise that she must be set free and taught to survive on her own.

THE CITY OF THE DEAD. John Moxey, director/Arrow Blu-ray  It is perhaps hard these days to remember just how eagerly awaited each new anthology horror film from the Amicus studio was awaited — and such films as Asylum and Tales from the Crypt played to packed, delighted houses. The primary force behind Amicus was, of course producer/writer Milton Subotsky, and this Christopher Lee-starring effort, while not an anthology, is a harbinger of the things that were to come, most notably for making a very an atmospheric and impressive film on a low budget. City of the Dead is also interesting for its anticipation of one of the strategies of Hitchcock’s Psycho – the films were made at the same time so there is little possibility of inspiration (unless Subotsky had read Robert Bloch’s original novel?).

EDWARD AND CAROLINE (UK premiere), CASQUE D’OR, TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, Jacques Becker, director/ Studiocanal  Some years ago, any recitation of the names of key modern French film directors would not necessarily have included that of Jacques Becker — but how things have changed! His former reputation is now restored beyond doubt, and this opportunity to see some of his key films is welcome indeed. Following on from the Becker season at the BFI. Studiocanal celebrates one of the great unsung heroes of French cinema with the release of four classic Becker titles: Casque d’or, Touchez pas au Grisbi, the UK premiere of Edward and Caroline, and his final masterpiece Le Trou, in a pristine new 4k restoration. Each title features brand new extras. Becker made only thirteen feature films in a relatively short period of time but his body of work contains some of the acknowledged masterpieces of French cinema in the post-war period. Born in Paris in 1906, he began his career as principal assistant to the great Jean Renoir during the 1930s. After surviving a year in a German POW camp in 1942, he started to direct his own films during the Occupation. His mentor’s fondness for realism and an unwavering sense of human decency greatly imbued his work. His films were eclectic and he tackled a variety of different genres putting his own unique spin on comedy, film noir and social drama. A creator of unmatchable, intense atmospheres, Becker practiced impressionism and realism equally, paying as much attention to the historical periods of his tales as he did to the psychology of his characters. Sadly, full appreciation of his work came after his death, and it was his technical and artistic mastery that soon earned him the ‘auteur’ accolade and particularly garnered the admiration of the Nouvelle Vague and its exponents such as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer.

THE ENTITY, Sydney Furie, director/Eureka Blu-ray  The director Sidney Furie’s career encompasses both classics (such as his film of Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File) and notably less successful ventures (such as the underwhelming Superman IV, which put that particular franchise in traction until its recent revival. The Entity is one of his most celebrated films, a supernatural drama with a remarkable performance by Barbara Hershey as a woman repeatedly assaulted by an invisible demon. For those who have only encountered the film on VHS, this Blu-ray is an absolute revelation, with both sound and image doing full justice to Furie’s vision.

12 ANGRY MEN, Sydney Lumet, director/Criterion/Sony Blu-ray  This celebrated drama (with its absolutely impeccable all-male cast led by Henry Fonda as the one genre arguing for the innocence of a Puerto Rican murder suspect) is a reminder of the days of truly adult drama – it is based on a famous TV version of the 1950s — and Sydney Lumet’s impressive film has been waiting for a transfer as impeccable as this. The above recommendation was, frankly, not really necessary.

PHENOMENA Dario Argento, director/Arrow Blu-ray. Even Dario Argento’s keenest admirers would not claim that Phenomena is the Italian director’s most impressive work, but having said that, it’s still a film from the period when his remarkable visual talents were in full flower, and there are certain sequences here (amidst the undeniable silliness) which remind the viewer just what Argento was capable of. When the sleepwalking Jennifer (played by Jennifer Connelly) arrives at a girls school in the ‘Swiss Transylvania’, gruesome happenings are in store when she encounters paraplegic entomologist Donald Pleasance. The real selling point here is here is the new 4K restoration of the film with its hybrid English/Italian audio track of the full-length version.

WE ARE X, Stephen Kijak, director/Mondo Edition Blu-ray & DVD/MANGA  Personally, I have to confess to no great enthusiasm for heavy metal, but the visuals on offer in this delirious extravaganza are (one has to admit) winning. From the Oscar-winning producers of Searching For Sugar Man, the film has been described as “The Japanese Guns N’ Roses… revolutionising metal in their own distinctive manner”

TERRAHAWKS: VOL 3, Various directors/Network  Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, made a return to puppet animation in the early 1980s with a new series produced with Christopher Burr. Appealing to yet another generation of children, Terrahawks introduced a new elite force to defend 21st century Earth against a host of alien invaders.


New Treasures from Titan Books

Flash Gordon: The Lost Continent by Dan Barry  While the celebrated EC science fiction comics of the 1950s, Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science-Fantasy and the short-lived Incredible Science Fiction are generally held to be the high water mark of the genre, they do have their rivals – there is the equally short-lived Jack Kirby title Race for the Moon, of course, and the books that in terms of narrative invention and artistic achievement rival the impressive entries listed above: DC’s SF comics, Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. Interestingly enough, although one artist worked only infrequently for the latter duo, he was in many ways the most important name behind them. And the name of that artist – and the answer to this paradox? It’s the multitalented Dan Barry, with his remarkable decades-long career. And the reason for his importance? Barry’s clean, efficient style — with its impeccable figure drawing and particularly notable use of design — was held up for DC artists as an exemplar for the company’s house style, a style that they were encouraged to adopt. While some artists (such as Gil Kane) found this restricting, he and others nevertheless produced some of their very best work in this period, and the Dan Barry template was highly influential. However, the artist’s own work was not primarily to be found in these books, but in his remarkable long-running stint on the most celebrated of all space heroes, Flash Gordon. And the latest volume in Titan’s splendid release of all the Barry strips of the earth-born space adventurer, The Lost Continent, is an absolutely essential purchase for anyone interested in the best illustrated science-fiction. As before, the production values of Titan’s Flash ‘dailies’ series are nonpareil in this large format, beautifully produced volume. These deceptively straightforward adventures are actually rather complex SF tales with Flash, Dale Arden (and, of course, Dr Zarkov) encountering a variety of menaces on beautifully drawn alien worlds (the planet Mongo – perhaps through overuse – has been retired in these tales). If the individual strips might have profited from being reproduced here at a larger size (as in earlier reissues of this material), that’s a small caveat, given the exemplary reproduction we are given here. What’s more, the strips are so well drawn and written that one even forgives the appearance of occasional boy companions for the hero, with little of the cosy sentimentality that one might expect. Those who have been eagerly consuming this series need not hesitate.

Titan books have also put admirers of the best graphic work in their debt with other volumes, such as a new addition to the Tarzan series in its celebrated Burne Hogarth period. Volume 4 is Tarzan and the Lost Tribes, with Hogarth’s art (admittedly not to every taste) splendidly showcased; the artist at his most stylised and individual. And from a Titan-related imprint, Quirk Books, comes two enjoyable collections put together with a marked sense of humour: John Morris’ The Legion of Regrettable Villains and Hope Nicholson’s The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen, both exploring the more quirky byways of the superhero world. Production values, as in the Dan Barry book discussed above, are exemplary, and the writing in these two volumes has a nice balance of scholarship and sardonic wit.

Flash Gordon: The Lost Continent by Dan Barry, Titan Books

Tarzan and the Lost Tribes by with Burne Hogarth, Titan Books

The Legion of Regrettable Villains by John Morris, Quirk Books

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson, Quirk Books