A round-up of recent viewing, as usual heavy on horror and exploitation.
Minor Euro-horror gets the deluxe treatment in several releases from Blue Underground, Grindhouse Films and Severin; three features by Dutch director Dick Maas – De Lift (1983), Amsterdamned (1988) and Down (2001) – and three from Lucio Fulci – Cat in the Brain (1990), Aenigma (1987) and Demonia (1990) – along with Simone Scafidi’s Fulci for Fake (2019), an illuminating documentary about Fulci.
We love stories about bad people; even better, we love stories about bad people who begin to have doubts about themselves and the lives they’ve lived. Two new releases from Criterion explore that self doubt in genres tailor-made for such characters – the western (Henry King’s The Gunfighter, 1950) and the gangster film (Stephen Frears’ The Hit, 1984).
With volume 3 of their World Cinema Project box sets, Criterion has released another treasure trove of largely unknown (in the West) features spanning five decades and six countries, from the Expressionist horror of Mexico’s Dos Monjes (1934) to the Neo-realist horrors of life on Brazil’s streets in Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1980), with stops in between in Indonesia, Iran, Mauritania and Cuba.
Pete Schuermann’s The Creep Behind the Camera (2014) is an odd hybrid, begun as a documentary and incorporating interview clips, but mostly a dramatization of the story of Art Nelson aka Vic Savage, a talentless sociopath who dreamed of being a movie director but was sunk by a lack of talent and his own increasingly violent sociopathy. Synapse’s Blu-ray includes along with the feature, a wealth of extras including a 2K scan of Nelson’s no-budget monster movie The Creeping Terror (1964).
Unhappy with her career in Hollywood, actress Carroll Baker moved to Italy in the mid-’60s where she starred in a number of genre movies, including four erotic thrillers by Umberto Lenzi which bridge the gap between classic women-in-peril mysteries and the giallo. All four are collected together by Severin in their lavish The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection Blu-ray box set.
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).
Criterion’s new Blu-ray release gives Claire Denis’ haunting, enigmatic Beau Travail (1999) a gorgeous hi-def presentation. This loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd is a film poem to the mysteries of desire set on a Foreign Legion outpost in the arid landscape of Djibouti, centred on a remarkable performance from Denis Lavant.