Another eclectic selection of recently watched Blu-rays, from two atmospheric French mysteries starring Jean Gabin as Maigret (1958-59) to the nightmarish horrors of war in Eastern Europe in an adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s controversial novel The Painted Bird (2019), from violence tourism in near-future Brazil in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Bacurau (2019) to tenderness and violence on the American frontier in Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow (2020) and children faced with the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War in Frank Perry’s Ladybug Ladybug (1965).
With their second pair of releases, the folks at Cauldron Films have again dug deep into the fringes of genre movie-making, this time unearthing Sergio Pastore’s The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972), an Italian giallo from the peak period of that genre, and Tomas Aznar’s Beyond Terror (1980), a Spanish film which begins as a nihilistic story about a gang of vicious criminals and morphs into a supernatural revenge narrative.
Continuing their recent run of classic Hollywood restorations, Criterion have released an excellent edition of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), a sordid story of madness and criminality starring Tyrone Power in his best role as an opportunistic carny who cons his way to the top of respectable society only to plunge back down to the lowest depths. A remarkably grim movie to have been made by a major studio on an A-picture budget, it still remains a potent glimpse of existential horror.
Dorothy Arzner’s pre-Code romantic comedy/tragedy Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) is given a gorgeous presentation by Criterion from a new 4K restoration. This story of a vibrant heiress (Sylvia Sidney) and her marriage to an alcoholic writer (Frederic March) avoids the standard Hollywood cliches which would soon become entrenched as the Production Code imposed rules of behaviour on the characters who populated studio movies.
Yet another wide range of titles from Arrow Video from a restored silent classic to aliens over Tokyo, woods infested with zombies, food which consumes those who eat it, apocalypse in an alternate future Los Angeles, friendship destroyed by political conflicts, rich people facing the loss of their wealth and a naively admiring time capsule of the U.S. on the brink of the ’60s.
Criterion have released a stunning restoration of History is Made at Night (1937), Frank Borzage’s startlingly unpredictable mixture of romantic comedy, melodrama, noir and horror, which climaxes as a full-blown disaster film. Production began with only half a script and much of the film was improvised on the fly, yet it emerged as a wonderfully entertaining, continuously surprising testament to Borzage’s belief in the redemptive power of love.
Criterion’s new two-disk Blu-ray showcases Bong Joon-ho’s second feature, Memories of Murder (2003), a complex and disturbing account of an actual Korean serial killer case from the mid-1980s. Both satire and existential horror story, the film displays the same concerns and creative skill which marked Bong’s international 2019 hit, Parasite.
Indicator’s Columbia Noir #2 box set presents another six movies, hovering between A and B pictures, from the late ’40s to late ’50s. Crime, romance and a society shaken in the aftermath of the Second World War provide a background for portraits of characters torn by guilt, paranoia, betrayal and moral uncertainty.
Universal’s series of minor B-movies based on Simon & Schuster’s line of fiction and NBC’s long-running radio show called Inner Sanctum gave third-string horror star Lon Chaney Jr. a brief opportunity to get away from the monsters he played in the 1940s. Despite a low critical reputation, these atmospheric little movies are quite entertaining and receive a nice showcase in Eureka’s two-disk Blu-ray set.