Monday, August 12, 2019

THE PASSING - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Stitched-together and expanded to feature-length via a pair of the director’s pre-existing short films, John Huckert’s THE PASSING (1983) is precisely the kind of unusual and highly-compelling micro-budget discovery that fans of Vinegar Syndrome have grown accustomed to. As with Brian Damude’s must-have Canadian-lensed obscurity, the crime thriller SUDDEN FURY (1975), which they released last year, VS have once again provided another fantastic, extras-filled Blu-ray / DVD combo of the present atypical, science fiction-tinged film, which will hopefully warrant a looksee for anyone searching for something a little more esoteric, as opposed to just the same-old/same-old.

Elderly lifelong buds Ernie (James Carroll Plaster) and Rose (Welton Benjamin Johnson, playing a male character despite his traditionally female name) have been living together since the death of Ernie’s wife. While it’s never made abundantly clear, Rose may himself be dying, but has accepted his mortality with an equal amount of grace and melancholy. Ernie, on the other hand, tries his darnedest to ensure that the pair of them make the best of the rest of their lives; both these old guys know full-well that the end may be near and come without warning, however. Meanwhile, through a series of somewhat disconnected—at first disorienting—scenes involving Wade (director Huckert) and his family (including a rather startlingly graphic sexual assault on his onscreen wife), he winds up on Death Row for the accidental killing of his wife’s attacker. Despite the initial disjointed effect, these two disparate major plotlines do eventually intersect when Ernie is given the opportunity to participate in a new experimental procedure by means of his family doctor, whereas, rather than going to the gas chamber, condemned murderer Wade instead opts to take part in a heretofore-unknown experiment at a mysterious (fictional) institution known as the Maryland State Rejuvenation Center…

In spite of the narrative’s deliberately slow pacing, THE PASSING remains thoroughly engaging in its exploration of life and death… as well as reincarnation. Confounding at first—although both its gradually-comingling stories do come together in a logical manner eventually—the film frequently drifts into out-of-sequence flashbacks, generating a cryptic, verging-on-hypnotic aura over the course of the running time. The somewhat amateurish-if-earnest performances also add immensely to the proceedings, with principal performers James Carroll Plaster and Welton Benjamin Johnson as Ernie and Rose being especially memorable. Offering affecting psychological character studies that encompass love, loss, loneliness and the inexorable aging process from cradle to grave (“First thing you know, you’re 20. And now you’re 40. And then it just goes faster and faster!”), THE PASSING never becomes monotonously pretentious, even during some of its many tangential philosophical ruminations, while the scenes at the aptly-named Rejuvenation Center are spartanly sparse, displaying a highly-impersonal ambiance of cold, clinical sterility akin to some of David Cronenberg’s early works set in dehumanized, dystopian near-futures. 

Barely released theatrically, THE PASSING did receive a decidedly scant independent VHS videocassette release in the ’80s, then, in the early ’00s, budget-pack specialists Brentwood released it in no less than three separate, colourfully-titled box DVD sets, including Ancient Evil – 10 Movies, the dozen-pack Blood Soaked Cinema– Bite Night (“Twelve Times the Terror”!) and also Blood Thirst – 4 Movies. Given the film’s differing master print sources, VS succeeded in performing a mini-miracle bringing this long-passed-over rarity into the HD age with their newly-scanned 2K transfer taken from (quote) “16mm archival elements”. Shot and developed over a seven-and-a-half year period—how’s thatfor dedication!—utilizing recycled, reedited and newly-shot footage, things look surprisingly good in spite of the original celluloid’s numerous scratches, some occasional film jitter and what-have-you, but this is really nothing to quibble about at all, and the vibrant colour scheme during THE PASSING’s latter half really POPS off the screen upon occasion. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono audio track also sounds fine, with no real issues whatsoever, although it does sound a tad coarse and tinny whenever the score utilizes such hoary old ‘lo-fi’ 78rpm show-tunes as Ray Henderson’s classic “That Old Gang of Mine” (published by Irving Berlin, Inc. for The Ziegfeld Follies way back in 1923). 

The VS BD/DVD’s copious extras begin with a much-welcome audio commentary from director Huckert moderated by Tom Fitzgerald of EXP TV wherein they discuss the film’s still-humbler beginnings as The Water That is Passed, a short subject that probably best-resembles the finished feature it became. Director Huckert goes on to discuss his close relationship with principal actors Plaster and Johnson, as well as discussing Ernie and Rose, a second short film they made together, which likewise provided THE PASSING with still more additional footage to extend its running time; it’s also revealed how it was fellow Baltimore filmmaker John Waters—“The King of Trash” himself!—who suggested that Huckert might want to add some extra more-exploitable elements into his final product. It’s an interesting, relaxed and detailed discussion, that also includes plenty of anecdotes. Top marks all around! In Passing Time (22m31s), Cinema Arcana’s Bruce Holecheck interviews freelance DP Richard Chisolm, who discusses how he met director Huckert and producer Scott Guthrie and eventually got involved with the production. He describes Huckert as a (quote) “sensuous, dedicated filmmaker” and goes on to provide plenty of details about both the THE PASSING specifically as well as the Baltimore indie film scene of the time in general; reminiscences which include some of Chisolm’s later work (such as HBO’s much-lauded series THE WIRE [2002 – 2008]). In Water Under the Bridge (15m55s), writer and co-producer Mary Maruca is once again interviewed by Mr. Holecheck and reveals that John Huckert was one of her English students at the University of Maryland and was asked by him to co-write the screenplay, even though she playfully referred to herself as (quote) “such an ingénue”. She also speaks most highly of both Plaster and Johnson and their credible naturalism in front of the camera, discusses the stresses inherent in trying to shoot a film without any money, plus the (quote) “un-Godly amount of time it took to finish”. Like Chisolm, she also praises Huckert’s unwavering dedication to his pet project. 

In light of the film’s pieced-together structure, VS have also included Huckert’s short films in their entirety, including the aforementioned The Water That is Passed (27m50s, 1976), Quack (24m21s, 1976), Einmal (9m06s, 1979) and Ernie and Rose (28m48s, 1982). The extras conclude with a short-but-superb stills gallery (2m00s) of archive material. As per usual for VS, reversible artwork is also provided, while the first 2000 copies include a Limited Edition slipcover featuring artwork from Earl Kess, Jr. Order it from Vinegar Syndrome here

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

ROBOWAR - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Reviewed by Steve Fenton.
Let’s get one thing straight right at the start: coming as it did from 1988 (i.e., during the ‘last gasp’ of Italo trash cinema), as well as from low-end exploitationeer Bruno Mattei (using his infamous “Vincent Dawn” pseudonym), ROBOWAR is pure, undiluted exploitation mindrot that makes absolutely no bones about who and what it’s exploiting. Over the course of its brisk 88-minute runtime, it succeeds in—well, triesto, at least—ripping-off elements from ROBOCOP (as the title most obviously suggests), PREDATOR (especially that film!), the entire Rambo series, ALIENS, and also Arnold Schwarzenegger’s then-recent campy combat actioner COMMANDO, with a dash of Oliver Stone’s PLATOON thrown in for good measure.
Whole segments from ROBOWAR’s principal influence source PREDATOR are lifted almost verbatim and given the low-budget rerun-through. There are skinned human carcasses hung in trees and a bit where our mucho-macho ‘heroes’ use their arsenal of big guns like high-calibre Weed-Whackers in order to rout the hidden menace possibly lurking in the bush (“Whoever it was, it ain’t no more!”); indeed, as if to belabor this obvious nod to PREDATOR, there are numerous scenes of the heroes shooting wildly into the undergrowth elsewhere throughout, so obviously the minimal budget at least allowed for an unlimited amount of ammo to be fired-off! Playing one Major Murphy Black (“...better-known as ‘Kill-Zone’!”), Reb Brown leads a ‘crack’ expeditionary force of mercenaries somewhere deep in a Latin-American (or is it Southeast Asian?) jungle. Amongst others under Brown-as-Black’s command is well-seasoned spaghetti stunt-grunt Romano Puppo, who appears highly credible as the outfit’s grizzled, grim-faced senior member, Corporal Neil Corey (“Expert heavy weapons, top marksman rating…”), while Massimo Vanni, better-known to some as “Alex McBride”, plays Private Larry Guarino, alias “Diddy-Bopper” (?!) or just plain “Diddy” for short. As the squad’s shortest member and (quote) “crack reconnaissance man”, “McBride”/Vanni does a loose impression of Chuck Norris (circa that worthy’s Missing in Action stints), with mirror-shades, erect triceps, unkempt facial growth and all. Like Puppo an experienced fall guy in his own right, Vanni—best-known for his work on ’70s/’80s Italocrimers—also served as the film’s stunt coordinator (utilizing local Filipino stuntmen, who had plenty of experience in this sort of thing, as, not only were many European and American ‘tourist’ productions being shot in the Philippines at the time, but the nation simultaneously had its own then-thriving action movie industry too). Receiving plentiful screen-time herein, physically imposing (roughly 6-foot-5-inch) Pinoy actor Max Laurel (who played the titular snake/man-monster in both Jun Raquiza’s ZUMA [1985] and Ben Yalung’s sequel ANAK NI ZUMA [1987]) appears as Quang, the squad’s sole Asian (as in South Vietnamese) member and laconic pointman.
Collectively nicknamed BAM, an acronym for “Big-Assed Motherfuckers” (in our opinion, “BadassMofos” has a much better ring to it, but I guess something got lost in translation), our ‘dirty half-dozen’ are there to track down a renegade, gone-AWOL military cyborg as well as battle token revolutionary guerillas (who are present merely to up the gratuitous body-count during loads of chaotic combat scenes). Him—er, it?—known as “Omega I” is a bionic half-man/half-robot super-soldier invented by an unscrupulous techie named Mascher (played by Mel Davidson, wildly under- and overacting by turns) for use in militarily difficult theatres of war. To add some extra ‘dramatic tension’ to the proceedings, it develops that Omega incorporates various leftover bits-’n’-pieces of Reb’s ex-’Nam vet buddy, who was blown apart by a ’Cong land-mine.
Catherine Hickland (playing a chick named “Virgin” [yeah, right!]) is a blonde white missionary the squad picks up along the way, who eventually takes up arms—albeit without ever even coming close to actually shooting anything!—against the delinquent cyborg. Handling her M-16 like a squeeze-mop, rather than bother trying to come across like some kickass Sigourney Weaver clonette, Ms. Hickland instead plays seventh fiddle to the boys and steers clear of the gunfights. During these, lots of innocent incidental shrubbery (courtesy of the Filipino locations) and low-rent jungle real estate get blowed-up real good care of economical-if-energetic pyrotechnical effects.
Realization of the supposedly terrifying Omega droid is tawdrily shoddy in the extreme, it should—and indeed, must—be said. Super Force (1990), US TV’s own ROBOCOP rip-off from the same period, boasted a much more ominous-looking costume, and that guy was the hero! In the long run, ROBOWAR’s sub-state-of-the-art biomechanical menace comes across about as intimidating as your average 8-inch toy action figure. Indeed, the most-realistic aspect of Omega’s get-up is its black-painted football-cum-motorcycle crash helmet with smoked plastic visor; its least-convincing aspect being the urine-tinted, fuzzily digitized POV shots (accompanied by an overlaid gibberish of electronic tonalities) that indicate its heavily-pixelated worldview. For the most part, DP Riccardo Grassetti’s camerawork is efficiently functional, looking all the easier on the eyeballs in Severin’s pristine BD edition, and the crisp cinematography makes special makeup-man Franco Di Girolamo’s gnarly ‘putrefying cadaver’ effects appear that much gnarlier.
The affably dudebro-ish Brown—some of whose career ‘highpoints’ are a couple of Captain America TV movies and “Anthony M. Dawson”/Antonio Margheriti’s prehysterical schlock sci-fi epic YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983)—spends most of his screen-time looking like either a mildly-startled bullock or an embarrassed Myrtle Beach surfer dude (or both at once). Possibly the Omega reminded Reb of resident supervillain Overlord’s pet ’bots in YOR too much, and made him nervous? His California beach bum act (complete with jet-black headband, as per his onscreen surname) is mostly played tongue-in-cheek, although he really gives his all in some scenes (you’ll know ’em when you see ’em!). But, was our Reb starting to look more and more like Doug McClure (especially in his career moves) during this period in his career? At one juncture, Brown pins a guerilla to the side of a native hut with a thrown knife. With the punchline-timing of an Arnie or Freddy, he then proceeds to deadpan, “Don’t move!
After ROBOWAR and his work on Fulci’s lamentable and virtually unsalvageable ‘unfinished mantelpiece’ ZOMBIE 3, it seems as though Bruno Mattei’s best effort, in this writer’s opinion, shall remain the nasty nunsploitation shocker THE OTHER HELL (1981); although, since Mattei openly admitted he’d never made a good film anyway, my opinion is entirely disposable. In the present offering, the director throws our way sufficient explosions, f-bombs—including a surprising number from former ‘boy-next-door’ Brown—unexpectedly competent and grisly after-the-fact gore FX, as well as prodigious amounts of asinine dialogue, that there’s not much time left to dwell on ROBOWAR’s shortcomings, when all is said and done… it definitely does entertain, and that’s the main thing. 
Final verdict: ROBOWAR is an absolutely vacuous but fun timewaster for undemanding fans of such fare; nothing less, and certainly nothing more. As rampaging sub-zero cyborg exploitation goes, gimme FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER any day, but for 1980s future schlock sci-fi, the present film ain’t too shabby at all (especially when you consider some of the far-crappier and less-energetic American-made STV [“straight-to-video”] ROBOCOPPREDATOR imitations that were released back then). Al Festa’s noodly synth electrobeat/cheese metal score is late-’80s all the way, and doesn’t sound half-bad even in 2019; who cares that incidental songs are periodically superimposed atop the action on a seemingly random basis, without rhyme nor reason?! While it’s been very nearly 30 years (GULP!) since I last killed X number of brain-cells watching ROBOWAR, in retrospect—especially in light of its latest, optimal incarnation on Blu-ray—it looks a whole lot better (in more ways than one) than I remember it being the first time round. 
In conclusion: let’s hear it for Reb Brown, the “Doug McClure” of the ’80s and ’90s!
Like Mattei’s other unashamedly—and highly-enjoyable—rip-off, SHOCKING DARK (1990), ROBOWAR was also never officially released in either the U.S. or Canada in any form, and it first gained notoriety among discerning cineastes via Columbia Home Video’s Japanese VHS videocassette release. In English with Japanese subtitles, Columbia’s tape also retained the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it remained the optimum release for more than two decades prior to Severin’s long-overdue Blu-ray. Scanned in 4K from the original camera negative, this all-region edition is virtually flawless, boasting razor-sharp detail and a bold, lush colour scheme, which is especially attractive considering that the entire narrative unfolds in a tropical rainforest. However, this added clarity also draws attention to the film’s ‘rough edges’, including the hilariously thrifty robo-suit. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio is provided in both English and Italian (with optional SDH and newly-translated English subtitles, respectively), and while there are some minor differences between the two tracks, it’s pretty hard to resist the film’s animated and sometimes highly-surreal English audio, which at times is a real hoot (e.g., “C’mon, Doc, you walk like a ruptured duck!”).
Containing a whopping six (!) special featurettes, the extras begin with Robo Predator (23m06s), an on-camera interview with writer/director Claudio Fragasso (a.k.a. “Clyde Anderson”), who shares his memories of working with Bruno Mattei and their cost-effective technique of shooting two different films simultaneously, beginning with their earliest collaborations, THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA (1980) and THE OTHER HELL (1980), and later ROBOWAR along with Fragasso’s zombie film AFTER DEATH (1988), which they shot using only one camera! He also praises Mattei for his prowess as an editor, and how at one point he had to step in and direct a few sequences when Mattei fell ill. In Italian Rip-Off (9m18s), screenwriter Rossella Drudi gives her thoughts on the genesis of the film, and how she and Fragasso were commissioned to deliver a (quote) “part-PREDATOR, part-ROBOCOP, and part-ALIEN” film for producer Franco Gaudenzi. Drudi also admits how initially she wasn’t very fond of ROBOWAR, but after re-watching the film, she has become more forgiving (“It’s a nice movie. It’s very funny!”). Drudi pops-up again in Violence, She Wrote (21m05s) for a career-spanning interview, which is similar to the one she shared with Claudio Fragasso on Severin’s BD of VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (1983). Nevertheless, in this new featurette, she shares a number of interesting stories as one of the very few female screenwriters associated—at that time, at least—with the horror genre.
The film’s leading lady, Catherine Hickland submits to an interview in Robolady (11m34s), during which she reminiscences about the unforgiving Philippine locations and how (quote) “There were a lot of surprises there for me”; she also speaks fondly of the cast and crew, despite some of them only speaking Italian (including director Mattei). In addition she discusses leading man Reb Brown’s (quote) “utter commitment”, no matter what the scene called for (this dedication is never more apparent than when Brown daringly leaps from atop a lofty cataract into a pool far below, and also during a strangely poignant anticlimactic scene at the end when he convincingly sheds tears over what his fallen ’Nam comrade-at-arms has become). In Papa Doc’s War (12m50s), American actor John P. Dulaney briefly discusses his career in Italian cinema and how he ended-up in the Philippines thanks to his friend, actor Mike Monty; the hot ’n’ humid locations; and how Mattei instructed everyone to yell incessantly while firing their machineguns. Actor Jim Gaines, Jr. is interviewed in The Robo Warrior (9m02s), wherein he primarily talks about how ROBOWAR was shot simultaneously with AFTER DEATH, as well as relating a number of funny anecdotes. Finally, in War of the Philippines (17m32s), actor/stuntman Massimo Vanni, who went by the anglicized pseudonym “Alex McBride” for most of his ’80s work, speaks warmly of working with Mattei, and how he initially got to know him via his cousin, editor Vincenzo Vanni. He goes on to discuss Mattei’s and Fragasso’s working relationship and how he enjoyed making (quote) “homemade” versions of Hollywood blockbusters. 
Additionally, this already extras-packed release includes Catherine Hickland’s Behind the Scenes Home Videos (15m14s), which is narrated by Hickland herself and features most of the cast and crew enjoying their time on-set and also includes an appearance by long-time actor Luciano Pigozzi (see note below). ROBOWAR’s trailer finishes-off the extras. For the first 3000 copies of the run, Al Festa’s score is included on a bonus CD. The film is currently available through Severin as a Limited Edition Blu-ray, DVD or as part of a Robowar bundle. For you Canadian readers, copies can be obtained from Suspect Video.
Note: Evidently, some scenes featuring long-time Italian character player Luciano Pigozzi (a.k.a. “Alan Collins”) were shot, but for whatever reason got excised from the final cut. Coincidentally enough, the same thing supposedly happened to the same actor on Mattei’s hilariously out-of-whack Vietnam War-set poliziesco COP GAME (1988), yet the name “Alan Collins” remains in its opening credits (as it also does on ROBOWAR), despite Pigozzi himself being nowhere to be seen in the flesh. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

ESCAPE FROM WOMEN'S PRISON - BLU-RAY REVIEW

One of the many sleaze curios to come out of Italy during the ’70s, Giovanni Brusadori’s ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON (1978) is, despite its rather deceptive U.S. release title, only tenuously connected to the women-in-prison genre, but it nonetheless remains a gritty, squalid slice of erotica, which made its worldwide Blu-ray debut earlier this year from Severin Films.

Led by the revolutionary Monica Habler (Lilli Carati), four women escape from prison, but when their getaway driver—and Monica’s brother, Pierre—is wounded, they manage to sneakily obtain help from a passing busload of female tennis players on their way to a tournament. Thanks to a special radio bulletin, their identities are eventually blown, and then self-professed leftist radical Terry (Ines Pellegrini), suggests they hide-out at a friend’s nearby villa, unaware that the owner, a prominent judge (Filippo Degara), is also at home. While Anna (Zora Kerova), one of the tennis players, tries to negotiate the safety of her teammates with Monica, most of the women are locked away in the villa’s basement, where they are continually tormented by Monica’s fellow fugitives, Diana (Marina D’Aunia), Erica (Ada Pometti) and Betty (Artemia Terenziani), but as the police close-in, tensions escalate and further violence ensues…

Although never even stepping foot inside an actual prison, Brusadori’s film clearly establishes the notion that these captive women will never be ‘free’ and, as they seek shelter inside the judge’s big house, it becomes very much a prison unto itself (which is at one point cleverly symbolized by the iron bars in many of the home’s windows). Populated by a relatively obscure cast of actors led by the charismatic Lilli Carati (adequately dubbed on the English version by Susan Spafford) and Zora Kerova (fresh from her starring role in Claudio Giorgi’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVERrip-off, AMERICAN FEVER[1978]), many of the prurient goings-on—the film’s entire raison d’être—are highly in keeping with standard W.I.P. film tropes, including lesbianism (“You know how we managed to keep warm in prison? With the warmth of each other’s bodies!”), degradation, beatings, rape and even rising dissention among the imprisoned group; which, in the final act, leads into darker, even nastier territory still. In this respect, the film has more in common with Wes Craven’s seminal shocker LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), along with a number of similarly-themed Italian films such Franco Prosperi’s LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (a.k.a. TERROR, 1978) and Raimondo Del Balzo’s considerably tamer MIDNIGHT BLUE (1979).

Despite the film’s sleazy stature, ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON was little-known even during the VHS days, when it was paired-up (“2 films. 1 cassette.”) alongside Michel Levesque’s SWEET SUGAR (1972) on Continental Video’s big box VHS videocassette, for which it was severely edited in order to fit onto the double-bill VHS tape—as a result, the (quote) “horror and depravation of women behind bars” was a whole lot less horrible and depraved! EFWP also appeared on Canadian videotape through Videoline and VEC, whose releases surprisingly retained the film’s original export version under the title WOMEN AGAINST WOMEN: A TALE OF SEX AND VIOLENCE. In 2006, it appeared on DVD via BCI/Brentwood as a ‘Women Behind Bars Double Feature’ double-teamed with Rino Di Silvestro’s grimy Nazisploitation film, DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SPECIAL SECTION (1976), but, like its co-feature, it was taken from a VHS source. 

Presented in two variant cuts, Severin Films’ Blu-ray is a massive improvement when compared to the numerous murky VHS and DVD releases that preceded it. As per the film’s pre-credits disclaimer, the first cut was taken from a (quote) “dupe negative” via the film’s stateside theatrical distributor, 21stCentury Film Corporation. Running 83m11s, this print is full of scratches, jump-cuts, visual debris and the usual amount of grain, which is to be expected, but at the same time, detail is sharp and at times even relatively colourful. It definitely captures the spirit of the film’s grubby nature! The original Italian cut (which appears to have been taken from CineKult’s Italian DVD, but comes with the added bonus of English subtitles), is also present, running 94m12s. Presented in SD and considerably softer in appearance, much of the film’s political leanings as depicted by Carati’s character are expanded upon, as are a number of other expository scenes, but—BONUS!—this Italian version also contains a few more scenes of explicit nudity besides. In regards to the film’s audio, in spite of some light hiss here and there, the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is most satisfactory, highlighted by many of the film’s memorably colourful lines (e.g., “You can take that hand of yours and stick it up your wife’s bunghole!”).

Extras are provided by an informative on-camera interview with director Brusadori in Of Freedom, Sex and Violence (33m10s), wherein the one-time director talks about how he developed the idea after reading a (quote) “newspaper story about a female terrorist” and how he was influenced by the ’70s “Anni di piombi” or “The Years of Lead”, a sociopolitically chaotic time in Italy’s history; the film’s versatile Parma and Salsomaggiore locations; much of the cast and crew, including praise for DP Nino Celeste (“He was good, fast and knew how to solve problems”), as well as composer Pippo Caruso; and in general what an (quote) “extraordinary and wonderful” atmosphere there was on the set. The only other extra is the film’s Italian-language trailer (“A film that reflects our reality without exaggeration!”), subtitled in English, which advocates prison reform and, for some strange reason, is masked to an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. 

Politically-charged yet undemanding, ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON remains a solid, memorably scuzzy little programmer, which should thoroughly please most sleazaholics. Available on Blu-ray, DVD or as part of the Sleaze is Risen Bundle from Severin Films, or if you prefer, from DiabolikDVD. For you Canadian readers, order it from Suspect Video

Monday, July 1, 2019

THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Jean Brismée’s THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE probably remains one of the more widely-seen Euro Gothics, no thanks to a number of shoddy budget-priced releases that haunted both DVD and VHS bargain bins for years. At long last, this wonderfully atmospheric film makes its much-anticipated worldwide HD debut, thanks to the efforts of Mondo Macabro. As expected, it’s another stunner among MM’s long line of superb releases.

Berlin, 1945: World War II—economically and efficiently depicted using grainy newsreel footage, which actually works well in the film’s opening black-and-white sequence—is drawing to a close. At his chateau, Nazi General the Baron Von Runberg (Jean Servais) eagerly awaits the birth of his child, only to be left deeply disturbed when his first-born turns out to be a girl. This, due to an age-old familial curse, would bring dire misfortune to those of his bloodline. In one of the film’s oft-censored scenes, the Baron goes on to kill his peacefully sleeping newborn child with a bayonet… 

Following this grim opener, the action moves ahead to then-present-day of 1971. A young reporter is murdered on the grounds of the Baron’s vast estate shortly after enquiring about his family’s long-standing malediction (“It seems some sort of curse has plagued my ancestors for many centuries…”), an incident which happens to coincide with the arrival of a busload of tourists looking for shelter. Surreptitiously guided to the castle via a road closure by a strange, emaciated man (Daniel Emilfork) with a devilish smile, the tourists are given a chilling welcome as Hans (Maurice Degroot), the Baron’s servant, relates a number of gruesome murders that have occurred within the castle’s long and varied history, brought about by the Runberg curse. Later that night at dinner, the Baron tells of his ancestor Siegfried von Runberg, who, in the 12th Century, signed a pact with the devil, for which, in exchange, the eldest daughter of each successive generation of Runbergs are destined to serve Satan as a (quote) “kind of succubus”; a revelation which not only explains the events of the pre-credit sequence, but concludes with the mysterious arrival of a certain Lisa (Erika Blanc) on the very anniversary of this pact. Representing each of the seven deadly sins, the guests are, in due course, led to perdition as they succumb to temptation, until an aspiring junior priest (Jacques Monseau) amongst the group attempts to bargain with the devil himself in exchange for releasing their captive souls… 

Alongside Emilio P. Miraglia’s memorably-titled giallo THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971), this remains one of Erika Blanc’s most well-known roles. She commands the screen both with her ravishing beauty and her memorably sinister, demonic appearance. Blanc’s transformation from an impossibly gorgeous woman into a spine-chilling, ashen-faced succubus involves ingeniously simplistic yet brilliant use of makeup and some impressive camerawork from DP André Goeffers, and it’s a real testament to what wonders can be achieved with so little. Set amidst the Baron’s impressive baroque castle (“With that rain outside, this castle is spookier than ever!”), this perfect Gothic locale is, much like Lisa herself, also a harbinger of death. Early in the film, a chunk of the centuries-old castle’s façade—part of one of the gargoyles adorning its walls—breaks loose and almost kills one of the newly-arrived guests when it falls; a moment which neatly foreshadows the creepy supernatural events yet to come. A dungeon-set laboratory (wherein the Baron practices alchemy in his spare time) and a room filled with medieval torture implements also add some threatening ambiance for the film’s delightfully quirky characters to wander about in, whilst Alessandro Alessandroni’s lush and unforgettable score keep things moving along very nicely indeed. 

THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE has had a long and tumultuous history on home video, which began during the ’80s VHS boom, where it usually turned-up retitled as THE DEVIL WALKS AT MIDNIGHT from such cheapo American labels as Regal Video and Saturn Productions, as well as the Toronto-based skid-row outfit Interglobal Home Video, the latter of which released a crummy censored print recorded at the cost-cutting LP (“long- play”) speed. Applause Video also issued it as SUCCUBUS in a slightly different cut, but the best of the bunch was Monterey Home Video’s big box edition under its original export title of DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE. In 1998, together with Nigel Wingrove’s British imprint Redemption Films, Image Entertainment released a quartet of Euro horror / sleaze titles simultaneously onto DVD and VHS, one of which was DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE. Struck from an Italian print, it was, for the time, a very handsome release indeed, which not only reinstated the film’s original 1.66:1 framing (unfortunately, it was non-anamorphic, though), but also restored a long-unseen lesbian tryst between Ivana Novak and Shirley Corrigan as well. The film’s U.S. TV spot was the only extra included on the disc, but as an added bonus, it also contained an alternate Italian audio track, which featured a more full-bodied musical score, but not surprisingly, this alternate track did not include any English subtitles. Countless DVD bootlegs from the likes of Brentwood, Diamond and Platinum soon followed, but the less said about these, the better.

It was a long time coming, but Mondo Macabro finally issued this Gothic favourite onto Blu-ray in a brand-new 2K scan taken from the film’s original camera negative, and once again it’s shown in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but MM’s Blu-ray is a significant upgrade in every way, featuring beautiful, rich colours and picture-perfect, well-defined detail, a major upgrade which instantly renders the two-decades-old previous DVD obsolete! In an interesting discrepancy between Image’s DVD and MM’s new Blu, the film’s 1945 Berlin opening, which was presented in sepia tone on Image’s DVD, is now in black-and-white, and truth be told, it plays much better this way, which better incorporates all the newsreel footage. The English LPCM audio sounds clear and robust, but as an added—and very welcome—bonus, MM have also included the film’s original French-language audio track with optional English subtitles, which turns out to be far more refined and easier on the ears.

The extras begin with an enthusiastic audio commentary from author and film historian Troy Howarth, who goes on to cover plenty of ground, including discussing many of the film’s principal cast and crew; some of the film’s unique (quote) “murder set-pieces”; the dearth of Belgian horror films (“There tended to be a kind of snobby attitude about actually making such films…”), as well as the present film’s interesting production history. Howarth also reveals how THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE served as one of his introductions to Euro Cult cinema back in the ’80s and, despite his “misgivings” about some of the film’s padding, he readily admits it still moves along quite quickly, with some of the dialogue scenes even revealing some (quote) “wit and sparkle”. 

Further extras include a trio of on-camera interviews, beginning with director Brismée (32m40s), who discusses his involvement in the production through producer Charles Lecocq, a former student at INSAS, a subsidized Belgian film school which Brismée himself co-founded. He has fond memories of his directorial debut, and also mentions French cinematic stylist André Hunebelle’s (1896-1985) brief stint as a “technical advisor” on the film (he was on the set for just one day!). In the next interview (23m04s), assistant director and 2nd unit director Robert Lombaerts goes on to talk about his introduction to the film while working in television (“TV was pretty routine”), and due to DP Goeffers running behind schedule, he was promoted to 2nd unit director and put in charge of shooting the lesbian scenes with Novak and Corrigan; he also discusses the shoot’s Tournai location; how well the film sold all over the world (“You’re never recognized in your own country!”), and the how set designer Jio Berk was (quote) “very creative”. In the third interview (28m53s), experimental filmmaker Roland Lethem, whose friendship with Lombaerts allowed him to visit the set, admits he did not have much to do with the film at all (“I was jealous of all those guys!”), but it’s a fascinating interview just the same, in which he discusses his brief time at INSAS; his work as the Brussels correspondent for Midi-Minuit Fantastique (France’s first magazine devoted to fantastic cinema), which led to him befriending maverick Japanese filmmaker Seijun Suzuki after stumbling onto his incredible film GATE OF FLESH (1964); and also his experiences as an experimental filmmaker, a sequence which includes a number of eye-opening clips from his short films. Extras conclude with two English-language export trailers for the U.S. and U.K (which appear identical) and Hemisphere Pictures’ U.S. trailer (“THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE will leave its mark on you!”).

Earlier in the year, MM first issued this title in one of their highly-sought-after Limited ‘Red Case’ Editions, whose disc includes the exact same content as the standard release edition, but also included reversible artwork, lobby card reproductions and a terrific, highly-detailed, 10-page booklet on the making of the film, the Belgian film scene of the time and an in-depth look at one of the film’s writers, Patrice Rondard. Unfortunately, this version is now out-of-print. Order the standard edition from DiabolikDVDMondo Macabro or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS - BLU-RAY REVIEW

A long-time home video staple, Ed Adlum’s delightfully absurd INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS (1972) has both confounded and amused viewers for decades, and now, thanks to Severin Films, this lowly regional-rarity makes its Blu-ray debut in a stunning new transfer.

According to the film’s opening narration—which sounds uncannily like respected British actor James Mason (!)—the Druids are an ancient culture or (quote) “the secret people… the Sangroid blood-eaters” located in the (quote) “remote corners of the world”, one of which just happens to be upstate New York. After the town drunk stumbles into the local watering-hole and haemorrhages to death right on the barroom floor (“Somebody help that man in here! Sounds like he needs a drink!”), pathologist Dr. Anderson (Norman Kelly) and his assistant Don Tucker (Bruce Detrick) begin an investigation, during which they discover that the dead man’s blood continues to reproduce itself at an incredible rate (“His hemostatic balance was so disturbed… he blew himself to pieces!”). It’s soon revealed that a small offshoot of the Druids, led by Creton (Paul Craig Jennings) and his underling, Egon (Jack Neubeck), have been kidnapping and draining the townspeople of their lifeblood in hopes of finding a special blood-type with which to resurrect their long-dormant queen…

In spite of its deceptively tame PG-rating, INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS still manages to pack a visceral punch into its threadbare, convoluted narrative. The blood-draining scenes in particular are quite effective in their simplicity, taking place in a rundown dirty shack with the so-called “blood farmers” utilizing a rickety old pump—highlighted by a highly distinctive syphoning noise—to drain their victims of blood. A nasty eye-gouging, a bludgeoning and a shower murder (which inverts the usual stereotype by featuring director Adlum as the male victim) most certainly push the envelope of PG (“Parental Guidance Suggested”) even further. In between all the periodic splashing of blood, much of the film’s, um, ‘ambitious’ plotline is never really clarified. Completely defeated by the meagre budget, the proceedings are made all the more confusing by a number of either mismatched or improperly-developed ‘day-for-night’ scenes wherein dialogue alludes to it being the ‘evening’ or the ‘middle of the night’ when in actuality it’s clearly broad daylight in everyshot! All continuity inconsistencies aside, this slapdash approach only adds the to the film’s lovably schizophrenic nature. 

A popular title on home video around the world, it first appeared on VHS in the United States in 1984 courtesy of Regal Home Video in a big over-sized box and was subsequently rereleased in 1986 by Goodtimes Home Video (“Superior Quality Reproduction in Color” ha!), recorded at the—almost always untrackable—LP (“Long Play”) speed. IOTBF first appeared on DVD in 2001 courtesy of Retromedia Entertainment, whose non-amamorphic transfer left plenty of room for improvement. In 2013, Code Red issued the film on DVD as a double feature paired-up with Theodore Gershuny’s SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1971), and, while the transfer was 16x9, it was taken from a much darker, heavily-beat-up print, leaving it up for debate as to which edition was preferable in terms of image quality. As a nice bonus, the DVD also contained an audio commentary with Ed Adlum, moderated by Lee Christian. 

There’s no need for debate when it comes to Severin’s Blu-ray, which features an all-new scan taken from the original camera negative. The results are spectacular, to say the least! While limited by the film’s original humble, scrappy nature, the transfer is nevertheless clean, crisp and quite colorful—just about perfect, in fact. It should be mentioned that, from 29m52s-to-30m23s and 31m53s-to-33m51s, the film becomes slightly darker and coarser in tone. These visual variations seem to have been inherent in the film’s original materials themselves, as the same anomalies were also present in Retromedia’s earlier DVD too. Nonetheless, Severin’s new transfer is an eye-opening stunner. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is equally clean and free of any issues, while optional English SDH subtitles are also included. 

Showcasing brand-new bonus features, the most significant of these is an audio commentary with director Ed Adlum and his wife Ortrum Tippel (she also served as the film’s costume designer), which is effectively moderated by Kier-La Janisse, the author of House of Psychotic Women. The three delve into the film with all sorts of great anecdotes and facts related to low-budget filmmaking, including its short shooting schedule, which was shot over a period of just six days at Briarcliff Manor, New York in Westchester County. Adlum goes on to talk about one of his early concepts, which was conceived around the film’s memorable title (“The title is half the battle”) and co-written with Ed Kelleher, one of his associates from Cashbox, a music industry trade paper for which they both worked. He also speaks about everybody in the cast, including that mysterious James Mason voice-impersonator, who it turns out is Joel Vance, yet another Cashbox associate. Also, the misconception that it was actually Roberta Findlay who shot INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS is quickly dismissed; however, it is revealed that’s Roberta’s husband Michael did in fact shoot a number of (quote) “inserts”. Adlum also freely admits—and laughsat—his technical deficiencies and explains that the film (quote) “happened by accident”, going on to profess his love for trashy B-movies, such as Harmon Jones’ GORILLA AT LARGE (1954) and Colman Francis’ THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS(1961). 

Nothin’ You’d Show Your Mom (22m08s) is a wonderful career-spanning interview with Ed Adlum put together by Kier-La Janisse, wherein he talks about his love of movies and his dream of one day making one himself. But Adlum also talks about his brief recording contract at Atlantic Records, where he and his band, The Castle Kings, recorded the single “You Can Get Him Frankenstein”; his work at Cashbox and how most of his work associates funded IOTBF; his initial meeting with Mike Findlay, their collaborations and friendship (“We became drinkin’ buddies”), as well as his shock over Mike’s tragic death. Lastly, he goes on to talk about Replay magazine, a trade paper which he and his wife started about the jukebox and video game (a term that he created) industry, which made (quote) “nothin’ but money” during the industry’s golden age between 1978 and 1982. In Painful Memories (4m43s), Frederick Elmes, who has since gone on to become a major DP in Hollywood, briefly discusses his time on the film. In Harvesting the Dead (11m57s), actor Jack Neubeck talks about his introduction to the film’s production through actor Norman Kelley; the lack of a thorough script which resulted in a lot of improvisation; his “Eddie the Yeti” song from Michael Findlay’s notorious SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1973); and also relates his personal recollections of the Findlays. The film’s memorable trailer finishes-off the disc’s superb slate of extras.

Without question, Severin’s Blu-ray is most definitely the final word on this oft-released film, which can be ordered directly from Severin on both Blu-ray or DVD, or if you wish, via DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Following a lengthy hibernation from the home video market, James L. Wilson’s PG-rated horror anthology SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT (1979) has finally resurfaced on Blu-ray thanks to Code Red, and not only does CR’s restoration look terrific, it also features the long-unseen director’s cut too.

Exceedingly simple in its set-up, SOAWN serves as an interesting bridge between the more innocent horrors of yesteryear and the splashier, gorier ingredients found in the slasher films of the ’80s. Although far from a polished production, the film is also refreshingly ambitious (the director’s cut runs just over 118m!) and atmospheric, highlighted by a palpable air of impending doom.

Five college couples led by John (Matt Borel) are heading to his parents’ long-abandoned woodland cabin for a winter weekend getaway. Located on Lake Durand, which is better-known under the more colourful name of Coyote Lake (quote) “because of the weird noise the wind makes”, and according to an ancient Indian legend, this remote area is also supposedly home to ‘Shabata’, a (quote) “very evil, very powerful spirit”, which allegedly wreaked havoc in the past—a legend which Matt sneakily plans on exploiting for one of his (quote) “great stories”. 

Settling-in for the night, everyone sits around the fire drinking beer, and, thanks to Matt’s persistence, ‘entertain’ each other with a number of scary stories. These begin with Matt’s ‘The Moss Point Man’, an undemanding tale about a young couple who are terrorized by a strange sasquatch-type beast after their car breaks-down on a desolate woodland road. Next up, Matt’s friend Steve (Gil Glasgow) gets in on the act, telling a tale about an old—and supposedly haunted, natch—hotel, which is used for a fraternity initiation when three pledges are ordered to spend the night there, with uniquely disastrous results. In the third story (the one that was missing from Dimension Pictures’ original theatrical prints), Lauri (Jan Norton) reminiscences about an old Catholic cemetery in her hometown, which is haunted by the spirit of an old witch named Lorraine. “I think everyone is letting their imagination run away with them!” exclaims Elaine (Mary Agen Cox), the lone cynic amongst the group, who relates a far different tale about a young woman who, following an attempted rape, suddenly snaps and becomes a knife-wielding killer. So engrossed are they in their storytelling that the group fail to notice the howling and increasingly violent wind outside the cabin…

One of the more unique anthology films, SOAWN’s rudimentary premise is well-anchored by the film’s overall uncanny atmosphere, which commences in terrifying style. Simple, non-distracting white credits on a black screen unfold over the sounds of what seems to be a family besieged by screeching howls, deafening winds and their subsequent screams of terror (“John, it’s back! Don’t go out there!”); it’s an imposing and gripping opener, which sets the ominous tone wonderfully. In yet another cleverly novel concept, the four stories (which do build the film’s dramatic tension nicely) are also cast with the same actors from the wraparound story, which takes up quite a sizable portion of the film’s running time and actually turns out to be far more riveting than some of the story segments themselves.

Shot in and around Natchitoches, Louisiana, the isolated wooded locales, heavy with Spanish moss-covered, cypress swamp trees that are so prevalent to the area, add immeasurably to the film, especially during some of the cost-effective day-for-night photography. In an early scene at an out-of-the-way gas station (a typical horror movie trope), local colour is provided by William Ragsdale in an early role (the actor would go on to star in Tom Holland’s essential ’80s horror classic, FRIGHT NIGHT [1986]), and, according to an interview with actor Gil Glasgow (found elsewhere on this disc), the rather striking ‘giant’ seen lumbering around the gas station was actually the local real-life sheriff. 

Prior to Code Red’s Region A Blu-ray, the only game in town—outside of shoddy bootlegs—was VCI’s long out-of-print VHS videocassette of the theatrical version, which was issued in both a standard slipcase edition and in a large clamshell box, both of which commanded large sums of money within the collector’s market, but whose dark and murky panned-and-scanned transfers left a lot to be desired. Released earlier this year, Code Red’s long-awaited Blu-ray of this oft-requested title is taken from a (quote) “brand new 2K scan of the original 16mm A/B roll camera negative of the never-before-seen uncut 124-minute director’s edition”, which is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and, despite some inherent damage here and there, it’s miles better than its videotape predecessor and far easier on the eyes especially during many of the aforementioned day-for-night scenes. It should also be noted that, despite the “124-minute” running time listed on the packaging, this director’s cut actually only runs 118m44s. In terms of audio, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track also sounds quite good, which not only enhances the various and—all-important—sound effects, but Don Zimmers' effective score as well.  

The BD’s extras kick-off with an on-camera interview with actor Gil Glasgow (21m33s), during which he discusses how he initially became involved in the project, as well as discussing the film’s locations and the rest of the cast, plus the multiple characters they played and how James L. Wilson and writer / producer Richard H. Wadsack (quote) “were very hands-on, and learning as they went.” As an extra bonus, Code Red have also seen fit to include the truncated original theatrical version (91m29s), which was mastered from a worn print with duller colours and lots more print damage. It nevertheless makes for a terrific and welcome addition to the package. A rough-looking TV spot for the film finishes off the extras, along with a number of TV spots and trailers for some of Code Red’s other available and/or upcoming titles, including Eddy Matalon’s BLACKOUT (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s CONQUEST (1983). 

Although not out-of-print, Code Red’s SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT is only intermittently available through the Dark Force Superstore, so keep trying!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

THE POSSESSED - BLU-RAY REVIEW

While ostensibly referred to as a giallo in most circles, Luigi Bazzoni’s and Franco Rossellini’s stunning film THE POSSESSED (1965) is actually closer in spirit to a moody film-noir, and although it does feature a number of key elements specific to gialli, it feels wholly unique and is difficult to categorize. Highlighted by some truly outstanding photography, this shadowy, eerily menacing film has finally received its definitive release thanks to Arrow Video, which is further highlighted by a number of illuminating extra features.

Novelist Bernard (Peter Baldwin) breaks-up with his girlfriend Claudia over the phone, and even though he feels that he should—and wants to—love her, he still calls it quits just the same. Upon feeling compelled to visit a small lakeside town he used to vacation at as a child, he is this time lured by the prospect of meeting Tilde (Virna Lisi), a hotel maid who fleetingly caught his eye and with whom he has since become infatuated. However, upon his arrival, he learns from the hotel’s owner, Enrico (Salvo Randone) that she has since committed suicide, which prompts him to conduct his own investigation with the help of Francesco (Pier Giovanni Anchisi), a local photographer and journalist who believes Tilde was actually murdered. Confused and frustrated, Bernard is also haunted by fragmented memories, daydreams and an increasing paranoia as he gradually comes to suspect that Enrico, or possibly his edgy, brooding son Mario (Philippe Leroy), might be the culprit(s) behind Tilde’s death, which is further emphasized by Enrico’s daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese), whose jittery behaviour only confirms his suspicions. And just why is it that Adriana (Pia Lindström), Mario’s despondent newlywed bride, takes late-night walks alongside the ghostly, moonlit lake…?

This is a film filled with loneliness—despite all their daily social interactions, every character is consumed by it, either searching for something or someone. Bernard, a talented novelist, seems to have it all: a thriving career, a loving girlfriend, but there is nevertheless a void in his life (“I don’t feel anything, not for you, not for me, not for anyone,” he tells Claudia.). Hence, he hopes that Tilde may be the answer to his unhappiness. Enrico, the hotel’s middle-aged owner wanders the hotel entertaining his few guests as best he can (“If I were younger, I would have remarried myself. Women are a closed chapter…”), while Mario and Adriana are completely indifferent towards one another, despite having only just returned from their honeymoon. Adding to the overall bleak and lonely air, the unnamed Italian lakeside resort whereon the bulk of the action unfolds is also mostly boarded-up for the winter, with only a few remaining locals populating the town, which only seems to accentuate everyone’s unease. At one point, Irma confesses that there is “something very powerful hanging over me and my family” and how “we have no more guests,” revealing that she too is precariously on the brink. On the other hand, Tilde—who is only shown via photographs and some very brief flashback recollections (or are they fantasies?)—represents the sole glimmer of life and happiness in this emotionally barren landscape.

Released in Italy as LA DONNA DEL LAGO (trans: “The Lady of the Lake”), THE POSSESSED was adapted from a novel by Giovanni Comisso (also titled La Donna del Lago), which itself was inspired by a series of murders during the ’30s in Alleghe, a small town in northeastern Italy. THE POSSESSED was Luigi Bazzoni’s first full-length feature as a director and remains a remarkable accomplishment, which is simultaneously hallucinatory and meticulous in its approach to detail, its ambiance further highlighted by a number of significant, eye-catching images (including some almost otherworldly high-contrast photography) that captures the bleakness of the climate perfectly. Aided by stellar performances from American actor Baldwin and Italian character actor Randone, the film never wavers nor wastes any time, even when the narrative is toying with the audience as it moves between reality and Bernard’s subconscious. It is a thoroughly convincing and dramatically mesmerizing film! 

Previously available on untranslated VHS videocassette through the Canadian-based Italian-language label Master Video, the film eventually appeared on DVD in both Italy and Spain via Sinister Film and Filmax, respectively, but neither of those editions were English-friendly either. Sinister Film eventually released it onto Blu-ray, but once again it lacked any English audio or subtitles. In 2016, German label Koch Media released an elaborate 5-disc Blu-ray / DVD set of Luigi Bazzoni’s equally impressive, offbeat giallo FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON (1971), which also included a Blu-ray of LA DONNA DEL LAGO, but it only included Italian audio with optional German subtitles. Thankfully, Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray, which features a (quote) “brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative” looks absolutely stunning in every respect. Audio is provided in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono in both Italian (including newly-translated English subtitles) and English (a long-unheard audio track), which doesn’t have the same resonance as the Italian one, but it’s a fabulous—and very welcome—inclusion just the same. SDH subtitles are also included for the English track.

Aside from the immaculate transfer, Arrow have also included a number of worthwhile extras, beginning with a feature-length audio commentary from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas. He goes on to discuss the film in great detail in terms of its unique structure (and also its initial screenwriter Giulio Questi, future director of DEATH LAID AN EGG [1968]) and, in an apt comparison, he discusses many of the film’s similarities with Pupi Avati’s THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976), another film about a small Italian town harbouring (quote) “terrifying secrets”. During his critique, Lucas also discusses just how (quote) “well-cast” the film is; much of the talented personnel behind-the-scenes and many of the details surrounding the real-life crimes in Alleghe, as well as how it was future director Pasquale Festa Campanile (at the time working for a newspaper), who encouraged journalist Sergio Saviane to investigate—and eventually expose the murderers—of this once long-forgotten case. This all makes for another thoroughly engaging and informative listen! 

In the first on-camera interview, Richard Dyer on The Possessed (25m12s), film critic Dyer focuses primarily on many of the film’s ‘arthouse’ traits, including some of its aesthetic similarities to Ingmar Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957). Next up we get Lipstick Marks (11m52s), an interview with makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi wherein he talks about his early career (although Bazzoni’s film is barely mentioned!) and many of his approaches to makeup effects in general, as well as relating a funny anecdote about Anne Parillaud on the set of Randall Wallace’s THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998). Also, in Youth Memories (16m20s), legendary production designer Dante Ferretti discusses his start working alongside his mentor Luigi Scaccianoce (the credited art director on THE POSSESSED) on a couple of Domenico Paolella swashbucklers, and how he went on to become of one Pier Paolo Pasolini’s regular crew members. In the final—and most substantial—featurette, The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers (30m36s), director Francesco Barilli talks about his relationship with both Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni and how they (and a young Vittorio Storaro) worked on Bernardo Bertolucci’s BEFORE THE REVOLUTION (1964), which is how everything began for them. He speaks most fondly indeed about these early days of his career, and can’t help but heap praise on both of them (e.g., “Storaro learnt everything from Camillo.”). Of Luigi’s debut feature THE POSSESSED, Barilli remarks, “The black-and-white is amazing and the atmosphere is malevolent.” The doc also features a number of clips from much of the filmmakers’ work, and is easily the best featurette of the bunch. 

Lastly, the Italian and English trailers for the film are also included, and in the disc’s first pressing, a hefty 38-page booklet includes essays from Andreas Ehrenreich and Roberto Curti, who give incredibly detailed accounts of the film’s production, the Alleghe murders and Bazzoni’s career in general, which serves as a wonderful bonus to what is already an outstanding package. As usual, Arrow Video includes a reversible sleeve highlighting the film’s original Italian art and Sean Philips’ outstanding new artwork, which only further strengthens the distinct film-noir connection. This must-have disc is available from DiabolikDVD or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video