New Blu-Rays from Powerhouse Indicator, Eureka & Arrow

WILLIAM CASTLE AT COLUMBIA, VOLUME ONE THE TINGLER (1959) 13 GHOSTS (1960) HOMICIDAL (1961) MR SARDONICUS (1961)/William Castle, director/Powerhouse Indicator  The British label Powerhouse Indicator continues its very welcome series of excavations of the byways of popular cinema– and in the process, is producing absolutely definitive packages which have everything (and more) that the collector could wish. Nothing could encapsulate the company’s range of ambition more than this delightful set. William Castle is most celebrated (and most notorious) for his outrageous showmanship and publicity gimmicks which – let’s be frank – are probably better remembered than the films themselves. But that is a real shame, as Castle’s funhouse horror movies are almost invariably lively and entertaining, delivered with an irresistible mix of straightfaced seriousness and tongue-in-cheek hucksterism – qualities perfectly encapsulated in the performances of the matchless Vincent Price, star of two of the best films in this collection, The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill, both of which look better in these new transfers than they ever have before. But perhaps the real revelation in this handsome set is Castle’s Homicidal, which is without doubt the most accomplished of all the homages-cum-ripoffs of Psycho to appear in Hitchcock’s wake. And even something as slight as the kiddie-friendly 13 Ghosts has things to applaud, particularly in a transfer as impressive as this – and the one period-set piece here, Mr Sardonicus, does full justice to Ray Russell’s novel, one of the best modern Gothic exercises in Edgar Allan Poe-style macabre. Of course, with this Blu-ray company, it is the extras that provide unique selling points – and they are very plentiful here. Castle’s famous publicity gimmicks (‘Illusion-O’, ‘Percepto’, the ‘Punishment Poll’, ‘Fright Breaks’, etc.) are celebrated, along with a slew of of new and archival extras: Jeffrey Schwarz’s feature-length documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, newly filmed introductions and appreciations, exclusive new audio commentaries, interviews with actor Pamela Lincoln and publicists Barry Lorie and Richard Kahn, archival featurettes, and much else.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, Lucio Fulci, director/Arrow Blu-ray  No genre director divides opinions as much as the Italian shockmeister Lucio Fulci – but for those who can find much to admire in his films (with some reservations!), a case can be made for his best work. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Una Lucertola nella Pelle di una Donna), while by no means a total success, is a fascinating pointer to later ideas in Fulci’s more blood-splattered epics. Basically a Hitchcock-style crime thriller set in a jaded ‘Swinging London’ milieu, it has several virtuoso set-pieces, Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2, 1979), Fulci’s calling-card movie, is a grisly Romero-inspired corpse epic in which state-of-the-art special effects of dismemberment and carnage offer a challenge to all but the most stout-hearted. It’s in this film that Fulci’s flat, comic-strip narrative grip flourishes – the plot (Ian McCulloch and Tisa Farrow stumbling through implacable, worm-infested zombie hordes) offers nothing of Romero’s claustrophobic image-making, but is powerful enough in its own way. And then we come to the film under discussion, now in a strikingly detailed Arrow Blu-ray. Despite his statements that he wished to concentrate on generating suspense in City of the Living Dead (Paura nella Città dei Morti Viventi, 1980) while playing down the horror aspects, Fulci provides more than enough graphic gore in his follow-up to Zombie Flesh Eaters. Certainly there is considerably less full-scale mayhem as the revived dead of Dunwich stalk their hapless victims, but the famous sequence of a girl being ‘willed’ to evacuate her entire inner organs through her mouth scores high in what Stephen King describes as the ‘gross-out factor’, and the zombies’ favourite method of dispatching the town’s inhabitants – clutching a handful of hair, scalp and brains from the back of peoples’ heads – was (surprisingly) left untouched by the British censor (while performing excisions elsewhere, restored in this uncut edition). There is an undoubted grand guignol energy tapped at times, with the usual satisfying atmospheric tracking shots down misty, threatening streets. Plentiful extras from Arrow, as ever.

HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD, Rüdiger Suchsland, director/Eureka Blu-ray  If you think that the Nazi period of filmmaking is of limited historical interest, think again — this utterly mesmerising documentary samples and examines one of the most striking and controversial eras in the history of German cinema (and also includes the celebrated documentary From Caligari to Hitler). Nazi cinema was of course state-controlled and the strictest censorship along ideological lines was exercised – but within the confines of these strictures, some remarkably accomplished work was done, as Rüdiger Suchsland’s film amply demonstrates. Along with the original German language version, there is an English language narration by the cult actor Udo Kier. As an examination of Weimar Republic cinema, this will — quite simply — never be bettered.

LONG WEEKEND, Colin Eggleston director/Second Sight Blu-ray  In an age when suspense/horror films are obliged to deliver the goods every 10 minutes or so, it’s really refreshing to see a film that trusts its audience’s patience and delivers its effects steadily but inexorably. On its first appearance, Long Weekend drew many plaudits for the director’s command of the medium, and the steady accretion of eerie elements is adroitly handled as the macabre climax approaches. The Australian-made film is possibly the best example of the revenge-of-nature theme which followed in the wake of Hitchcock’s The Birds (and, as a nod to The Master, there is an avian attack in this film). But director Colin Eggleston has different fish to fry with the troubled relationship between his hapless protagonists at the centre of the narrative here, and the excellent performances by his actors – unfamiliar then and now to British audiences — really pay off. The Guardian got it right: ‘Colin Eggleston’s hybrid horror and relationship drama sets man against nature in a kind of David Attenborough special gone heinously wrong.’ Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia’s (Briony Behets) relationship is on the rocks, so they head to the wilderness for an away from it all, make or break long weekend. But in their wake, they leave a trail of destruction – animals run over and tormented, their dog uncared for at home and fires started by their carelessness. They destroy both the countryside around them and any animal or creature that crosses their path…

THE MIRACULOUS VIRGIN, Štefan Uher, director/Second Run Blu-ray  Something of a find: Štefan Uher’s striking and elusive 1966 classic The Miraculous Virgin (Panna zázracnica) is a prime example of Czech avant garde/New Wave inventiveness.  This new issue also includes the director’s 1959 short Marked by Darkness (Poznačení tmou). For those with a taste for more adventurous film fare, this is a journey to take you into unusual realms.

CANDYMAN, Bernard Rose, director/Arrow Blu-ray  The reputation of Candyman has grown steadily over the years, as has that of its director Bernard Rose. And although the latter perhaps did not quite live up to the expectations of his early work, this new issue is a reminder of just how good he was — with a particular skill at finessing the visual aspect of his films. Starring Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen, this brand new 2K restoration (from a 4K scan of the original negative) is eye-popping fare.

THE MUSIC OF SILENCE, Michael Radford, director/4 Digital Media  Whether or not you are an admirer of the internationally acclaimed tenor Andrea Bocelli, this documentary about the blind singer’s life makes for a compelling experience – and that’s even without the copious examples of the singer’s art, recorded in impressively detailed sound.

TWELVE MONKEYS, Terry Gilliam/Arrow Blu-ray  Acquiring cult status almost immediately on its first release, Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. Is a film that has grown in appeal over the years. Those familiar with Terry Gilliam’s initial impact (even pre-Monty Python) as a protégé of Mad magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman will know that Gilliam’s quirky visual skills were in evidence from the very start of his career. By the time of this SF classic, we knew exactly what to expect him, and this is one of the director’s most fully achieved films.