New Discs from Arrow, Eureka & Powerhouse Indicator

INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND, Pascal Laugier, director/Arrow Video Blu-ray Aficionados of more extreme horror films realised that they might truly test their mettle with the rigorous endurance test that was Pascal Laugier’s remarkable Martyrs, a film made with devastating command of the medium which many more squeamish viewers admitted they couldn’t get through. This latest effort is less gruelling, but shows that the director has not lost an iota of his authority when it comes to stretching the nerves of the viewer. Yet another variation on the home invasion scenario, Laugier demonstrates that in the right hands of the right director, familiar material can be made to come up fresh as paint. And what particularly sells the scenario here is the committed playing of the actresses Crystal Reed and Mylene Farmer in the increasingly tense narrative. After a harrowing home invasion endured with her mother and sister several years ago, horror novelist Beth escapes into her writing – setting down the experience in her latest book, “Incident in a Ghostland”. But a return to the isolated family home reveals horrifying things about the ordeal.

RESCUE UNDER FIRE, Alfredo Martinez, director/Eureka  The descriptively-titled Rescue Under Fire is something of a find: an urgent, pulse-racing thriller made with real cinematic authority by debut director of Alfredo Martinez. A medical helicopter crashes in Afghanistan while trying to rescue ambushed party of America and Spanish troops. The Spanish army has a single directive: to rescue the crew of the helicopter and the injured, but massive danger threatens when an army of insurgents begins to surround them. While the scenario has echoes of Blackhawk Down, it plays as an original concept, brought off with real skill. Edgy performances by Ariadna Gil and Roberto Alamo lend veracity; this one deserves a wide audience – it’s to be hoped that it receives it.

ABSOLUTION, Anthony Page, director, Powerhouse Indicator Limited Blu-ray Edition  Those who (like this reviewer) watch a great many Blu-rays may have noted a certain phenomenon that work: a reappraisal of films in the new medium which may have been underregarded on their first appearance. Absolution is a classic case of this syndrome. Director Anthony Page’s compelling drama did not create much of a stir on its first appearance (apart from complimentary remarks about this sterling performances), that now looks like a very considerable piece of work – not least for Richard Burton’s remarkable performance as the authoritarian Father Goddard, further proof that the image of him as an actor who largely squandered his talent in films is misplaced. At a Catholic boys’ school, Father Goddard is a strict disciplinarian. When a pupil confesses to murder, the troubled Goddard finds his faith under siege

THE KRAYS: DEAD MAN WALKING Jonathan Sothcott, director/4 Digital Media  There have been several films detailing the bloody rule of Britain’s most famous gangsters, the Kray twins – and even films which conflated the brothers into one character (Richard Burton’s gay criminal in Villain) so something unusual has to be added to the mix and distinguish any new film from its predecessors. In this unusual British movie, director Jonathan Sothcott adds an element which he presents as being central to the ultimate destruction of the duo (played here by Marc Pickering and Nathan John Carter): their bizarre and ill-advised support for the psychopathic criminal Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell (terrifyingly played by Josh Myers). After springing Mitchell from a high security Dartmoor prison, the twins secrete Mitchell in a house where his instructions are not to show his face. He is supplied with prostitutes, one of whom is Lisa Prescott (played by Rita Symons), who turns out to be the only woman who — for a time at least — is able to deal with the dangerously deranged Mitchell. Another new element added here is the presence of Guy Henry as the gay politician Lord Boothby who was part of the Krays circle. Another way in which the film is unusual is its relatively discreet use of violence– not a given in any film detailing the story of the twins. That said, the atmosphere of menace is ever present.

THE BABY, Ted Post, director/Arrow Video Blu-ray  There are certain films which absolutely divide audiences, and Ted Post’s The Baby is firmly in that number. If you are an open-minded viewer prepared to take on board the unorthodox, this is certainly a viewing experience unlike any other – whether you like it or not. Social worker Ann Gentry (memorably played by Anjanette Comer) is the given an assignment, tending to a 21-year-old man with the mind of a child who is not yet out of nappies. But the really disturbing thing here is the man’s bizarre family led by his formidable mother played by Ruth Roman (best remembered for Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) and her equally odd daughters. You’ll know within a very short time whether this one is for you or not, but more adventurous viewers should certainly take note. Ted Post would direct the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force the same year, 1973.

MONKEY SHINES, George Romero, director/Eureka Blu-ray  if your memory of this later George Romero film is of the video issue, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with the murderous monkey shenanigans on offer here again. This was one of the films that proved there was more to Romero than marauding zombies. As usual with the late director, there is more on offer than just the tropes of the horror film, although they are delivered with customer authority. Romero’s earlier built-in comments on such things as the consumer society and conformity are here replaced by undercurrents concerning humanity’s relation to the natural world, but the main attraction here is the generation of suspense, something Romero was always had firmly under his belt. On Blu-ray in the UK as part of the Eureka Classics range, Monkey Shines is available in in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition. The film stars the little-known Jason Beghe and Janine Turner and the tense plot focuses the trained monkey Ella who transforms into a notable horror film monster. Copious special features

MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, John Carpenter, director/Fabulous Films  For many viewers, their first acquaintance with John Carpenter’s modern-day comic spin on HG Wells’ The Invisible Man would have been via panned-and -scanned VHS issues, so it’s infinitely preferable to see it in a handsome widescreen transfer. Of course Wells’ novel had already been treated to a matchless film adaptation with the director James Whale enjoying himself hugely – and even the most fervent defender of John Carpenter’s film would admit that if this new version is not in that class, but it has much to offer – not least special effects, which still mostly look impressive even in this digital era. Chevy Chase stars alongside Darryl Hannah and a villainous Sam Neil. Carpenter said due to the effects work “we essentially had to shoot the same movie twice”, as after normal takes the effects team would set up their bulky VistaVision motion control cameras to film the same elements again while gathering digital data for the computer-generated imagery. Chase would wear a blue bodysuit below his clothing, so that computer artists would erase his body through chroma key and match the clothes with computer-generated replicas so that even the inside of the clothing could be seen, along with other touches such as erasing the shadow made by Chase’s body. Along with blue eyeball sized contact lenses, Chase had to have his teeth and tongue stained with blue food colouring to make him disappear on the blue screen during filming.

SCHLOCK, John Landis, director/Arrow Video Blu-ray  If you’re an admirer of one of the best comic horror movies ever made, An American Werewolf in London, you may wish to sample a rough-and-ready earlier film by the director John Landis which is both a homage to and parody of ‘prehistoric apes on the loose’ movies. Making a virtue of his non-existent budget, Landis set out his stall early on in this often very funny if ramshackle parody – an extra interest is added by apprentice efforts from make-up man Rick Baker Rick Baker whose affection for filmic apes is well known.

CITY HUNTER, Jing Wong, director/ Eureka Entertainment  The all-too-brief film careers (before their early deaths) of such actors as James Dean and – in the martial arts field – Bruce Lee quickly lent a posthumous cult value to the stars’ reputations; one that has been denied such living actors as Jackie Chan, with his lengthy career (and equally lengthy filmography). But there is another factor in this situation — Chan’s appeal is not based on a measure of cool mystique as with the actors mentioned above, but through a combination of his audience-pleasing amiable personality and (most importantly) the astonishing athletic stunts that frequently put him in the hospital (often accompanied by his injured fellow actors – hence the end-credit sequences in his films showing the stunts that went wrong). City Hunter is one of his most winning efforts, here presented in a new Blu-ray transfer. Chan plays amorous private detective Ryo Saeba in an adaptation of the popular Japanese manga series, hired to find Shizuko Imamura, the runaway daughter of a publishing tycoon. When terrorists hijack the ship she is on, the stage is set for jaw-dropping action sequences by Chan; fans need not hesitate.

THE COLLECTOR, William Wyler, director/Powerhouse/Indicator Limited Blu-ray Edition  Few would argue that the director William Wyler did full justice to John Fowles novel in this otherwise strong adaptation of his novel, but that is only to judge it by the standards of one of the finest of modern novels. Look at The Collector as a film in its own right, and you will find that not only is Wyler’s command as surefooted as ever but the performances by Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar are beautifully judged pieces of film acting. John Fowles’ novel focuses on a disturbed young, unbalanced young butterfly collector (Stamp) who stalks and abducts a young art student (Eggar). Stamp and Eggar bagged Best Actor prizes for their roles at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, and the film still works remarkably well.

THE ROCKFORD FILES: Season One, Various directors/Fabulous Films  The writer Roy Huggins had been creating detective series as far back as the 1960s with such shows as 77 Sunset strip, but he will best be remembered for this amiable television spin on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe with the always reliable James Garner (who had played Marlowe on film) as the tenacious gumshoe Jim Rockford. The Rockford Files ran for 6 seasons and was one of the highest rated cop shows of the 70’s. Now fully restored and in high definition, the show has aged very well. Season One contains all 22 episodes from the classic TV series starring James Garner and Noah Beery Jr which was produced by TV legend Stephen J. Cannell (The A Team). James Garner was nominated for 15 Emmy Awards during his television career. His depiction of Jim Rockford won him the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1977. In the early 1980s Universal sued Garner for walking out of The Rockford Files during the sixth season. Garner countersued, claiming the studio had cheated him out of his share of profits from the series. The lawsuit lasted nearly eight years eventually being settled out of court. Garner won, having asked for $22.5 million, although the actual figure was never allowed to be disclosed. Charging $200 per day plus expenses, he’s not the cheapest detective available, but he’s the best. Jim relies on his brain not brawn to solve a case, and frequently his charm. An ex-convict, once imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Jim has a penchant for taking cases that are closed by the LAPD – those the police were sure had been resolved.

DEADBEAT AT DAWN, Jim VanBebber, director Arrow Video Blu-ray   Chaotic, kinetic and raw, this is a gruesome diversion that will push all the requisite buttons for those who like their entertainment sanguinary in the extreme. The central characters Goose (played by the director, Jim VanBebber) is a gang leader whose attempt to leave his criminal life behind is upended when his girlfriend is savagely killed. What follows is a revenge fantasy with all the stops yanked out. This disc is accorded a brand new 2K restoration, supervised and approved by writer, director and star VanBebber.

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR: The Complete Second Season, various directors/eOne  Kiefer Sutherland makes a welcome second appearance as the accidental Commander-in-Chief Tom Kirkman in this accomplished and ambitious US TV series. Despite the plethora of similar shows, this one has a particular character of its own, and a considerable asset is the presence of Natascha McElhone as the resilient First lady. The terrorists who took down the capital are still at large, and a variety of entertaining crises follow.

MYSTERY ROAD, Rachel Perkins director/Acorn  This piece has been touted as Australia’s answer to True Detective, but while that description verges on hyperbole, there is no denying the level of craftmanship from director Rachel Perkins with which this crime drama set against the backdrop of Australia’s outback is delivered. Aaron Pederson is quietly convincing as the hard-boiled indigenous detective Jay Swann, brought in to investigate the disappearance of two young men in a remote town. The fact that his partner Emma James is played by the always reliable Judy Davis is another considerable plus.

COLUMBO, Season One, Various directors/Fabulous Films  Dostoevsky may have done it first with his detective Porfiry slowly wearing down a murder suspect in Crime and Punishment, but this classic American series (the creators have acknowledged the literary source) ) is how most people will be familiar with the situation. The fact that it is established (and set in stone) in the very first episode here is remarkable, given how flexible this seemingly rigid format proved over many seasons – not least as a showcase of such considerable actors as Patrick McGoohan, cast several times in the seri.es as he and Peter Falk clearly liked working together It’s the landmark series that inspired an entire genre. Now Columbo television’s greatest detective comes to Blu-ray for the first time, fully restored and in hi-definition. Starring Peter Falk in his 4-time Emmy-winning role as the cigar-chomping, trench coat-wearing police lieutenant. This 3-disc collection includes every episode from the series’ first season, as well as the two original Columbo TV Pilot movies: Prescription: Murder and Ransom for A Dead Man. Columbo’s first season features solid guest stars such as Leslie Nielsen, Robert Culp, Ray Milland, Eddie Albert, Suzanne Pleshette, Don Ameche and Roddy McDowall. Columbo ran for 13 seasons and was one of the highest rated shows of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Season one, episode one, “Murder by the Book”, was directed by Steven Spielberg aged 25 years old. Spielberg used the rough cut of the series premier to land the director’s job on cult classic Duel.

 

 

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