It’s that time of year again. How to decide what’s “best” out of the six-hundred-plus movies I watched in 2020? It’s an impossible task, so here’s a fairly random selection of things which may not be best, but certainly appealed to me and stuck in my memory.
With the release of Second Sight’s massive edition of George A. Romero’s genre-defining Dawn of the Dead – all three cuts restored in 4K, plus commentaries and a supplementary disk with almost seven hours of new and archival documentaries and featurettes, and no less than three CDs of music including the complete Goblin soundtrack and hours of library tracks – the late, great director is given his due. Arrow’s 2017 three-disk set of early features, Between Night and Dawn, illuminates how he got there.
Like a monumental battle between formidable rival kaiju, Criterion and Arrow have released competitive Blu-ray sets devoted to Japanese monster movies. Criterion’s Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films 1954-1975 and Arrow’s Gamera: The Complete Collection offer eight disks of monster mayhem in packages too big to fit on my shelves. Binging more than two-dozen of these movies dragged my brain blissfully back to childhood.
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).
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.
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).
Jörg Buttgereit’s transgressive films are notorious for their gore and disturbing subject matter – murder, suicide, necrophilia – yet for all their graphic exploitation imagery, they display genuine artistry and a serious perspective on life, death and the emotional and psychological ties which bind being and non-being.