Rough Cut Blog

Karloff at Columbia on Eureka Blu-ray

Dr. John Garth (Boris Karloff) is distracted by a murderer's impulses in Nick Grinde's Before I Hang (1940)

Eureka’s new two-disk Blu-ray release Karloff at Columbia is a real treat for fans of the iconic actor. Although it begins with Roy William Neill’s atmospheric period Gothic The Black Room (1935), the bulk of the set is devoted to what became known as the Mad Doctor Cycle, five extremely low-budget sci-fi tinged horrors in which Karloff plays scientists dabbling in research which the establishment frowns on; the authorities’ resistance tends to push him over into madness and murder and mayhem ensue. Long held in low esteem, these cheap movies are all entertaining and Karloff delivers sincere performances no matter how silly the trappings occasionally become.

Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator

Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards) escapes prison thinking he's going to be rich in Irving Lerner's City of Fear (1959)

With their third box set of Columbia Studios films noirs in just over half a year, Indicator again gather together six entertaining B-movies made in the shadow of Cold War paranoia; crime, violence and personal demons evoke a world destabilized by fear, betrayal and uncertainty. As before, the set is packed with commentaries featurettes and short films which illuminate the context from which the features emerged.

Weird Wisconsin: the movies of Bill Rebane

Railway man Ralph Meeker loses more than his mind in Bill Rebane's The Alpha Incident (1978)

A recent Arrow box set showcases yet another regional filmmaker who built a career on determination and very little money. Bill Rebane built his own studio in rural Wisconsin and beginning in the 1960s made a series of genre movies whose reputation echoes that of Ed Wood. The big surprise of the Weird Wisconsin set is that some of them are genuinely effective and entertaining.

Being human: two new Criterion releases

Erin "Tiny" Blackwell engages impishly with the camera in Martin Bell's documentary Streetwise (1984)

Two very different new releases from Criterion explore what it means to to maintain one’s humanity in the face of inhuman systems. Masaki Kobayashi’s overwhelming 9 1/2-hour epic The Human Condition (1959-61) follows a conscientious socialist into the brutal horrors of Japan’s occupation of Manchuria during the Second World War, while Martin Bell’s Streetwise (1984) and it’s sequel Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016) document the lives of homeless kids on the streets of Seattle during the Reagan era and the aftereffects of that experience in later life.

Home-Grown Horrors

Monsters emerge from a student's dreams in Jay Woelfel's Beyond Dream's Door (1989)

Vinegar Syndrome’s Home-Grown Horrors box set presents three ultra-low-budget regional movies on Blu-ray, really entertaining and looking better than they ever deserved to, and accompanied by surprisingly substantial extras about the fun and frustration of making movies without sufficient resources.

Getting serious

Jean Gabin embodies Georges Simenon's famous detective in Jean Delannoy's Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case (1959)

Another eclectic selection of recently watched Blu-rays, from two atmospheric French mysteries starring Jean Gabin as Maigret (1958-59) to the nightmarish horrors of war in Eastern Europe in an adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s controversial novel The Painted Bird (2019), from violence tourism in near-future Brazil in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Bacurau (2019) to tenderness and violence on the American frontier in Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow (2020) and children faced with the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War in Frank Perry’s Ladybug Ladybug (1965).

The second coming of Cauldron

The Medieval dead awaken to deal with modern killers in Tomas Aznar's Beyond Terror (1980)

With their second pair of releases, the folks at Cauldron Films have again dug deep into the fringes of genre movie-making, this time unearthing Sergio Pastore’s The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972), an Italian giallo from the peak period of that genre, and Tomas Aznar’s Beyond Terror (1980), a Spanish film which begins as a nihilistic story about a gang of vicious criminals and morphs into a supernatural revenge narrative.

Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Proud, ambitious Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power) has fallen as low as it gets in Edmund Goulding's Nightmare Alley (1947)

Continuing their recent run of classic Hollywood restorations, Criterion have released an excellent edition of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), a sordid story of madness and criminality starring Tyrone Power in his best role as an opportunistic carny who cons his way to the top of respectable society only to plunge back down to the lowest depths. A remarkably grim movie to have been made by a major studio on an A-picture budget, it still remains a potent glimpse of existential horror.