The Criminal Acts of Tod Slaughter on Blu-ray from Indicator

James Dalton, the Tiger (Tod Slaughter) becomes desperate at the end of George King's The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

Indicator closed 2023 with one of their finest offerings yet – a four-disk, eight film box set of blood-and-thunder melodramas produced, and mostly directed, by George King and starring the inimitable Tod Slaughter as a roster of heinous villains portrayed with gleeful enthusiasm by an actor who devoted his long career to preserving an art form incubated on Victorian stages and largely fallen out of favour by the time these films preserved it with such relish. With striking restorations, mostly from original nitrate negatives, supplemented with commentaries, interviews and Slaughter-related ephemera, this is definitely the highlight of the past year.

Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence (1961): Criterion Blu-ray review

Documentary background detail in Allen Baron's Blast of Silence (1961)

Shot on a small budget, first-time writer-director-actor Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence (1961) is a taut film noir about an out-of-town hit man beginning to question his career as he closes in on his target in New York a few days before Christmas. Striking documentary images of the city, presented on Criterion’s Blu-ray from a new 4K scan, serve as background for the killer’s existential doubts.

Crime and Horror from Radiance

Cynthia (Barbara Steele) descends into the cellars in search of answers in Riccardo Freda's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962)

A sampling of releases from new U.K. label Radiance covers a range of favourite genres from the 1960s and ’70s – from classic Japanese yakuza film Big Time Gambling Boss (Kôsaku Yamashita, 1968), to the American indie horror Messiah of Evil (Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz, 1973); from the Swedish police procedural Man on the Roof (Bo Widerberg, 1976) to a pair of Italian Gothic horrors separated by a decade, the perverse The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Riccardo Freda, 1962) and The Night of the Devils (Giorgio Ferroni, 1972), a contemporary retelling of the final story from Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963); topped off with a revisit to Gordon Hessler’s Scream and Scream Again (1970), which seems to get better every time I see it. All of them come with excellent presentations and a wealth of extras, including commentaries, documentaries, interviews and visual essays.

Claude Chabrol’s La cérémonie (1995): Criterion Blu-ray review

Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) and Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert) become allies against the bourgeois Lalievres family in Claude Chabrol’s La cérémonie (1995)

Four decades into a career which began with the New Wave, Claude Chabrol delivered a masterpiece with La cérémonie (1995), a psychological mystery adapted from a Ruth Rendell novel. Sandrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert play a pair of working class women whose bitterness and resentment drive them on a collision course with the bourgeois Lelievre family. Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition provides some illuminating supplements on the director and his two stars.

Fall 2023 viewing: Arrow Video

Cloistermouth (Nicholas Hoye) panics when he realizes his privileged position is threatened in John Mackenzie's Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971)

A selection of new and slightly older Arrow releases range from ’70s Japanese gangster movies by Kinji Fukasaku to David Cronenberg’s icy adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1996), from an early feature by John Mackenzie combining a satire of class with psychological suspense to a sampler of sci-fi and horror movies produced in the ’80s by Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures.

The transgressive art of William Friedkin

Bad behaviour is attributed the Devil in William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973)

William Friedkin’s death in August prompted a look back at his most significant work from the ’70s and ’80s, a run of movies which were controversial and only intermittently commercially successful. At his best, Friedkin’s cool, detached approach to dangerous subjects resulted in powerful movies which influenced the direction of popular genres and his work from that period remains challenging today.

Cheap sci-fi and hardboiled noir in 3D

Members of the gang come down hard on Mike Hammer (Biff Elliot) and his secretary Velda (Margaret Sheridan) in Harry Essex's I, the Jury (1953)

A 3D restoration of Phil Tucker’s ultra-cheap Robot Monster (1953) doesn’t really help this oddly endearing slice of poverty row sci-fi, but Classicflix’s 4K restoration of Harry Essex’s adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury (1953) is a revelation of what a great cinematographer could accomplish with first-wave 3D technology; Spillane’s brutal noir was shot by John Alton, a master of light and shadow, and the sense of space and imagery which plays on multiple planes in almost shot makes this one of the most impressive looking 3D movies of its time.

Blasts from the past

Marcel Pagnol’s The Baker’s Wife (1938):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Kaiju mania

The real pleasure of fake commentaries

Viewing notes July-August 2015, part two

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