Two recent two-disk sets released by Eureka in England provide two very different forms of popular entertainment. Two Films by John Woo contains a pair of top-notch martial arts movies from the first stage of Woo’s career, before he hit it big with the gangster films of the mid-’80s, while the three movies in their Bela Lugosi/Edgar Allen Poe set present some of the most deliriously perverse horrors of the pre-Code era. While the crown jewel is Edgar Ulmer’s expressionist masterpiece The Black Cat, the set’s revelation is the Easter egg inclusion of a “virtual director’s cut” of Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, which follows Tim Lucas’ suggestions, based on internal evidence, or what the film might have been before studio tampering made it a disjointed mess.
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).
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.
Francesco Rosi’s most emotionally resonant film, a four-part adaptation of the memoir of painter Carlo Levi, who was exiled by the Fascist government in 1935 to a remote corner of Italy, is a rich, contemplative study of a Leftist intellectual who comes to empathize with the harsh lives of peasants left behind by the modernization of Italy. Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition serves the striking imagery well and provides substantial supportive supplements which provide historical context and situate the film in Rosi’s politically informed filmography.
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.