Alex Cox’s Walker (1987): Criterion Blu-ray review

William Walker (Ed Harris) sees American expansionism as a mission from God in Alex Cox's Walker (1987)

Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Alex Cox’s masterpiece Walker (1987) revives this deconstruction of America’s self-mythologizing at a time when its themes are more pertinent than ever; imperial attacks on domestic and foreign societies driven by a toxic mixture of religious self-righteousness and unfettered capitalist greed have been on the rise for decades and Walker traces the roots back to the mid-19th Century doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

One-Shot Wonders: samurai slaughter and zombies

Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) wants to keep shooting when real zombies attack in Shin'ichiro Ueda's One Cut of the Dead (2017)

When filmmakers attempt to tell a story in a single sustained shot they encounter a number of technical issues because they have to abandon many of the tools developed over the history of cinema. Two recent Japanese movie approach the challenge in very different ways, one (Yuji Shimomura’s Crazy Samurai Musashi [2020]) succumbing to the inherent limitations, the other (Shin’ichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead [2017]) interrogating those limitations with great comic effect.

Early Mexican horror from Indicator

Cristina (Marta Roel) tries to overcome Alfonso (Enrique del Campo)'s reticence about betraying Eduardo (Carlos Villatoro) in Fernando de Fuentes’ The Phantom of the Monastery (1934)

Two new releases from Indicator illuminate the origins of Mexican horror (best known from the work of filmmakers like Chano Urueta, Fernando Mendez and Rafael Baladon in the 1950s and ’60s) in the early days of sound in the 1930s when filmmakers first strove to create an indigenous industry rooted in Mexican history and culture. Ramon Peon’s La llorona (1933), rooted in a local folk legend, was the country’s first sound horror movie, while Fernando de Fuentes’ The Phantom of the Monastery (1934) uses a Twilight Zone-like narrative to teach three characters a moral lesson. Both films have been impressively restored on disks which include a commentary and informative featurettes which illuminate their position and influenbce in Mexican cinema.

Budd Boetticher’s A Time for Dying (1969) from Indicator

Cass (Richard Lapp) tries to suppress his fear by feigning an equal determination in Budd Boetticher's A Time for Dying (1969)

Indicator’s recent Blu-ray of A Time for Dying (1969) resurrects the final feature of writer-director Budd Boetticher and actor-producer Audie Murphy, and odd, slightly crippled western made quickly to pay off some debts. Mixing the naivety of young, inexperienced characters with amoral brutality, it ends on a disturbingly note more in tune with end-of-the-’60s cynicism than the moral certainties of an earlier era’s westerns in which this movie superficially seems to have its roots.

Winter viewing 2: Vinegar Syndrome partners

Misanthropic scientist Herbert Von Krantz (Daniel Emilfork) invents an anti-nuclear device in Jean-Louis Roy's The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967)

Recent releases from various Vinegar Syndrome partner labels offer a wide range of styles, from low-budget direct-to-video horror (Ronnie Sortor’s Sinistre [1995], Charles Pinion’s Red Spirit Lake [1993] and We Await [1996]) to a rediscovered slice of Cold War sci-fi/espionage from Switzerland (Jean-Louis Roy’s The Unknown Man of Shandigor [1967]).

Winter viewing 1: Vinegar Syndrome

Detective Linda Masterson (Cynthia Rothrock) investigates a killer martial artist in Kelly Makin's Tiger Claws (1991)

A long cold winter, a working-from-home schedule and pandemic-induced malaise means I’ve been watching a lot of undemanding genre movies over the past few months. One of my primary sources in the past couple of years has been Vinegar Syndrome, a company whose dedication to unearthing obscure, often forgotten genre movies equals my own passion for watching them. Although by no means a complete account of my VS viewing, here are brief notes on two dozen titles.

Blasts from the past

D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: “Company” (1970):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Notes on Recent Viewing, part one

Vinegar Syndrome summer binge, part one

Looking back …

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