Organized crime, political corruption and bourgeois complicity: four Italian Mafia movies

Cesare Mori is sent to Sicily by Mussolini to break the power of the Mafia in Pasquale Squitieri's The Iron Prefect (1977)

Radiance maintains its high standard with a pair of releases devoted to Italian films which tackle the intricate interconnections between organized crime, politics and civil society. Cosa Nostra (1968-75) is a three-disk set of collaborations between director Damiano Damiani and star Franco Nero which approach the theme using different genre tropes, while Pasquale Squitieri’s The Iron Deputy (1977) presents historical context with the fact-based story of a crusading official who uses brutal methods to break the hold of the Mafia on Sicilian society in the 1920s.

Spring 2024 viewing, part three

Violent J (Joseph Bruce) is perplexed that the government would designate him and his fans as a criminal gang in Tom Putnam & Brenna Sanchez’s The United States of Insanity (2021)

Yet more recent viewing, ranging from several documentaries about the intertwining of personal identity and the cultural products we attach ourselves to and consume to unsettling explorations of sex, violence and misogyny and an ambitious, though not entirely successful, work of folk horror from Switzerland.

Ghosts, demons and cinematic experiments

Cruel doctor Age Krüger (Udo Kier) returns from the dead to sire a son in Lars von Trier's The Kingdom (1994)

The new MUBI seven-disk set of Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom provides an opportunity to re-visit the original two seasons from 1994 and 1997 and finally see the elaborate blend of satire, soap opera and ghost story reach some kind of conclusion with the third season made in 2022; while it proves impossible to attain the unique energy of the original, which achieved a perfect balance between horror and comedy, The Kingdom: Exodus does tie up many of the loose ends left dangling for twenty-five years. An even stranger piece of experimental horror has been restored by Le Chat Qui Fume with their 4K edition of Leslie Stevens’ Incubus (1966) in which a pre-Kirk William Shatner confronts demons while speaking Esperanto.

The lasting pleasures of second-tier golden age Universal horror movies

Dr. Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff) makes unethical decisions to further his research in Arthur Lubin's Black Friday (1940)

Three two-disk sets from Eureka provide an overview of Universal Studios’ horror movies from the mid-’30s to the early ’50s, in the period when the first wave of early sound horrors petered out and briefly flourished again as low-budget B-movies as the Depression gave way to World War Two. Karloff and Lugosi are joined by notable, if lesser, genre figures like Lionel Atwill and Rondo Hatton in a mix of science fiction and the supernatural, with gangsters and Gothic trappings spicing the mix.

Buddy Giovinazzo’s American Nightmares

Johann (Heino Ferch) and Rafaella (Ornella Muti) have had enough of their old friend Mickey (James Russo) in Buddy Giovinazzo's The Unscarred (2000)

Severin’s recent release of Buddy Giovinazzo’s fourth feature, The Unscarred (2000), on disk reconfirms this outsider as an intriguing auteur; a chamber piece in which the psychological games of four old friends grown increasingly darker is a taut, polished piece of work which sent me back to watch his raw first feature, Combat Shock (1986), again. As technically different as the two movies are, both reveal a filmmaker with a bleak view of the world tempered by a deep empathy for broken people.

Lost films and alternative histories

A cultured ape (Zain Rahnat) teaches life lessons in Donn Greer's The Rare Blue Apes of Cannibal Isle (1975)

Film restoration is usually seen as an effort to preserve the canon, but there are vast areas of film history which may be less reputable, but still represent significant aspects of the past century’s most popular art form. In their recent six-disk, ten-movie set Lost Picture Show, Vinegar Syndrome highlight their own efforts to unearth and give new life to cheap, obscure, frequently disreputable examples of movies made far from the mainstream – sex. violence, politics and an occasional talking animal are on display in this ragged, sometimes enlightening, sometimes frustrating collection.

Movies and reality intersect in two recent releases

The sociologist (Flavio Bucci) grasps the metaphysical mystery in Giuliano Montaldo's Closed Circuit (1978)

Our relationship to movies is complex; we know that we’re watching illusions, yet the intellectual and emotional responses we experience are very real. Movies give us access to a seemingly infinite range of experiences which take us out of out immediate lives. Two recent releases delve into this phenomenon in visceral ways — Giuliano Montaldo’s Closed Circuit (1978) addresses the metaphysics of movie watching with humour and suspense, while Charlie Victor Romeo (2013) provides disturbing access to an aspect of real life we might prefer not to think about: the moments during which flight crews try to deal with catastrophic technical failures immediately preceding air crashes.

Blasts from the past

John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958: Indicator Blu-ray

Spectrum of Horror: from class to crass

British black-and-white fantasies

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