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.