A pair of colourful Robin Hood adventures from Hammer Films and an atypical home-invasion thriller from action specialist Enzo G. Castellari are showcased in two recent releases from Indicator.
The film business being what it is, it’s not surprising that there are many odd corners still waiting to be explored – one of the oddest being the Ormond family, dad Ron, mom June and son Tim. After a successful career in vaudeville, June and Ron turned to independent production in the late ’40s with a string of poverty row westerns starring Lash LaRue, followed by a wide range of exploitation movies for the drive-in circuit – jungle adventure, hicksploitation featuring bootlegging, stock car racing, country music, spiced with sex and violence. Then in the late ’60s, they found God and made a series of evangelist movies, using all their exploitation skills to warn churchgoers about the evils of Communism and the inevitability of Hell. All of this is gathered together in Indicator’s box set From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved Films of the Ormond Family, compiled in collaboration with filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn and biographer Jimmy McDonough.
Although I’ve so far only watched four of the ten disks in Indicators monumental Magic, Myth & Mutilation: The Micro-Budget Cinema of Michael J. Murphy 1967-2015, it’s time to say a few words about this remarkable English outsider artist whose ambition consistently outpaced limited resources; the set is an amazing act of recovery and preservation of a body of work which has survived only in compromised form, covering multiple genres and displaying the development of a genuine filmmaking talent. The most impressive release yet from one of the world’s finest companies.
Criterion’s new 4K restoration of Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963) provides an excellent showcase for this pitch-black satire about the collapse of the British class system after World War Two and the dissolution of Empire. Harold Pinter’s script (adapted from Robin Maugham’s novella), Losey’s direction, Douglas Slocombe’s rich black-and-white cinematography and and a superlative cast – Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Wendy Craig and Sarah Miles – combine to create one of the defining British films of the 1960s.
A pair of new 4K restorations resurrect two neglected films which deserve to be better known – Matthew Robbins’ Dragonslayer (1981), one of the finest fantasy films ever made which has never fared well on home video, but looks wonderful in this new edition; and Richard Loncraine’s atmospheric Full Circle (The Haunting of Julia, 1977), adapted from Peter Straub’s first horror novel, featuring Mia Farrow as a mother traumatized by the death of her child, who becomes immersed in a decades-old mystery when she moves into a haunted house.
A recent trip to one of the last places in Winnipeg where you can actually buy movies on disk, armed with a bag full of DVDs and Blu-rays to trade, netted an interesting assortment of items, new and used, including some from the UK and Australia; it brought back the pleasures of in-store shopping and immediately being able to go home and watch what I’d just bought.
Three recent releases spanning nine decades offer radically different viewing experiences, from James Whale’s pre-Code courtroom drama The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933), rife with bourgeois misogyny, to Patrice Leconte’s Man on the Train (2002), steeped in existential weariness, to Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Something in the Dirt (2022), in which the residents of a nondescript Los Angeles apartment discover a portal to cosmic horror.
Thrillers may exploit real-world issues for story material, but often distort and trivialize reality in their quest to entertain. The terrorism which erupted and spread during the 1970s is used in quite different ways in Otto Preminger’s Rosebud (1975), John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday (1976) and Andrew V. McLaglen’s North Sea Hijack (1980).