In popular culture, and exploitation movies, cannibals are the disreputable cousins of the zombie; they have the embarrassing habit of eating unsuspecting people without any supernatural justification. There’s a distinct difference, though, between American and Italian cannibal movies – the former adhering to tropes related to serial killer stories, while the latter draw on anthropological ideas to provide a gloss of realism to graphic exploitation imagery. The contrast can be seen clearly between Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring (2009), Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) and Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ (2019) and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981).
A pair of Blu-rays from England showcase the final works of major artists who were considered at the time to be in decline: Laurel and Hardy’s last feature, Atoll K (dir. Leo Joannon, 1951) is a bittersweet mess which captures the Boys’ enduring charm while making their mortality all too clear, while Fritz Lang’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) comes full circle by reviving his Weimar criminal mastermind in a Cold War context which paved the way for James Bond’s high-tech thrills.
In D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Town Bloody Hall (1979), the raggedness of the film – shot on the fly in 16mm – perfectly captures the chaos of the event it documents, a fractious panel held in New York on April 30, 1971, in which four feminists were pitted against Normal Mailer, who had just published The Prisoner of Sex, his problematic response to the feminist movement. Criterion gives the scrappy film a 4K restoration and loads the disk with fascinating contextual supplements.
Three movies from the 1980s rooted in the intersection of dreams and reality are rescued from obscurity with excellent Blu-ray editions — two in recent Arrow releases, Harley Cokeliss’ Dream Demon (1988) and Mike Hodges Black Rainbow (1989), and one, Bernard Rose’s Paperhouse (1988), on a now out-of-print French disk.
A couple of recent disappointments from Indicator – excellent editions of two mediocre movies (Guy Hamilton’s Force 10 From Navarone  and Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die ) – are offset by the terrific French television series of adaptations from the Maigret novels and stories by Georges Simenon, fifty-four feature-length movies centred on a magisterial performance by Bruno Cremer as the famous detective.
Shameless is a British label dedicated to exploitation movies (with a mission statement emphasizing sleaze and outrage) which has been issuing mostly Italian genre titles for more than a decade with mixed results in terms of quality; thanks to a recent on-line sale, I just binged some of their releases which cover the spectrum in terms of quality (both technical and creative).
When my friend Howard came over for an evening of movie-watching recently, we ended up with a highly idiosyncratic double-bill of problematic features, one representing self-conscious art, the other polished commercial craft – neither entirely satisfying: Josej Von Sternberg’s The Saga of Anatahan (1953) and Sidney Gilliat’s Endless Night (1972).
New disk label Cauldron has launched with a pair of impressive Blu-rays which firmly declare the company’s devotion to exploitation and genre cinema: the Onetti Brother’s knowing tribute to the classic giallo, Abrakadabra (12018) and Italian genre master Sergio Martino’s unexpected genre blend of giallo, poliziotteschi and supernatural horror American Rickshaw (1989).
Having recently watched the latest features of Richard Stanley and Larry Fessenden, I decided to revisit their earlier work via Blu-ray upgrades of my DVD copies of Stanley’s Hardware (1990) and Fessenden’s No Telling (1991), Habit (1995), Wendigo (2001) and The Last Winter (2006). All these movies remain fresh and showcase their respective director’s skill in using genre to explore larger themes.
With a spectacular 4K restoration from the original three-strip Technicolor negative, Criterion have reinstated George Pal’s The War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953) to its place at the pinnacle of 1950s science fiction. While Barre Lyndon’s script, updating the story to the present and relocating it to California, strips H.G. Wells’ novel to its bare essentials, Pal and his production team turned interplanetary destruction into a glorious visual spectacle which hasn’t looked this good since the original Technicolor prints played in first-run theatres.