Byron Haskin’s The War of the Worlds (1953):
Criterion Blu-ray review

The Martian war machines advance relentlessly in Byron Haskin's The War of the Worlds (1953)

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.

Hi-def Italian mayhem

A writhing pile of victims rise from the pit beneath Michele Soavi's The Church (1989)

I just got hold of three Scorpion Releasing special editions of Italian horror movies from the beginning of the genre’s decline in the late 1980s. Despite their flaws, Michele Soavi’s The Church (1979) and The Sect (1991) and Dario Argento’s Opera (1987) are packed with style and Scorpion have made them shine with 2K restorations and hours of informative extras (two disks each for the Soavi titles, and three disks for the Argento) in beautifully designed packages.

Another mixed bag …

Emily (Mariclare Costello) haunts a Connecticut idyll in John Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
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Another seemingly random collection of movies, this time including some cheap exploitation, cheesy fantasy, horror and noir. I revisit an old favourite, re-evaluate a low-budget Canadian film from the ’70s, and finally catch up with a couple of movies I’ve wanted to see for decades.

A post-Covid 3D evening

One of the few eye-poking moments in Owen Crump's 3D Korean war movie Cease Fire (1953)

To mark our emergence from the Covid lockdown, my friend Steve and I ate barbecued bratwurst and watched a couple of movies which emerged from his big 3D TV screen: Owen Crump’s Korean war docudrama Cease Fire (1953) and John Brahm’s B-movie horror The Mad Magician (1954), Vincent Price’s threadbare follow-up to the hit House of Wax.

New features by two favourites

Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) being absorbed by the Color in Richard Stanley's Color Out Of Space (2019)

The label “visionary” gets tossed around far too easily, but it does apply to two filmmakers whose work begins in genre conventions yet rises to explore themes of horror and human fallibility in complex and original way: too long absent from the screen, Richard Stanley and Larry Fessenden have returned with some of the best work they’ve ever done – the former with the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Color Out Of Space and the latter with Depraved, a modern meditation on the narrative and themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Bleak Britain

Mrs Ross (Edith Evans) lives in a world beset by forces beyond her control in Bryan Forbes' The Whisperers (1967)

The British have a tendency to indulge in miserablism, a characteristic that filmmakers have been turning into powerful dramatic art for decades. Bryan Forbes’ The Whisperers (1967) and Ray Davies’ Return to Waterloo (1984) approach it from very different directions, but both create powerful portraits of people living depressing lives.

Why do I do it?

Roger Cobb (William Katt)'s dead Vietnam buddy Big Ben (Richard Moll) is pissed off in Steve Miner's House (1985)

It’s a puzzling personal aberration, but I continue to find myself drawn to bad movies because they become available on disk in attractive packages. This time out, Arrow’s substantial box set of the four features in the completely disposable House franchise.

Perverse Families & Dysfunctional Kids

Girly (Vanessa Howard)'s eroticized immaturity is used to trap unsuspecting men in Freddie Francis' Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

While they form one of the main building blocks of society, families are often mysterious when viewed from the outside, providing opportunities for mystery, suspense and horror since we began telling ourselves stories. Outsiders who penetrate the strange membrane between community and family may be faced with codes and rituals which can turn dangerous … as in four recently viewed movies: Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961) and Games (1967), Freddie Francis’ Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970) and Ted Post’s The Baby (1973).

Who are we to laugh at the past?

Peter Falk in his first starring role as Nico in Julian Roffman's The Bloody Brood (1959)

We tend to feel superior to the styles, attitudes and behaviour of earlier generations, forgetting that we’ll probably look ridiculous to those who come after us. Two Kino Lorber Blu-rays, Julian Roffman’s The Bloody Brood (1959) and Robert Thom’s Cult of the Damned (1969), offer interesting time capsules.