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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1964, Sidney Lumet’s serious movie about nuclear paranoia, Fail-Safe, had a tough time competing with Stanley Kubrick’s manic black comedy Dr. Strangelove, but it holds its own today as a portrait of a particular moment in social and political history. Meanwhile, Franklin Adreon’s pair of no-budget time travel thrillers from 1966, Cyborg 2087 and Dimension 5, are empty-headed entertainment which offer a touch of nostalgia to genre fans.