Vinegar Syndrome distributes a number of smaller labels which offer a wide range of genre releases, from the ultra-low-budget Wakaliwood productions of Nabawana I.G.G. in Uganda to the impressively polished small-budget sci-fi of Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl’s Prospect (2018), from the gritty ’80s exploitation of Norbert Meisel’s Walking the Edge (1983) to the mythic spaghetti western-noir of Roland Klick’s Deadlock (1970).
Three recent box sets from Arrow will satisfy a wide range of genre appetites with five thrillers from Italy in the ’70s, four spaghetti westerns from the ’60s, and Daiei’s 1966 trilogy of period fantasies featuring a statue which comes to life to punish various cruel warlords who oppress local peasants.
Director Bill Duke uses a mixture of film noir and blaxploitation tropes to explore the political complexities of being Black in the U.S. in Deep Cover (1992), his neon-tinted crime drama about an undercover cop (Laurence Fishburne) infiltrating the West Coast cocaine trade, now released in an extras-loaded 4K restoration by Criterion.
With their third box set of Columbia Studios films noirs in just over half a year, Indicator again gather together six entertaining B-movies made in the shadow of Cold War paranoia; crime, violence and personal demons evoke a world destabilized by fear, betrayal and uncertainty. As before, the set is packed with commentaries featurettes and short films which illuminate the context from which the features emerged.
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.
Indicator’s four-disk John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958 box set raises some interesting questions about the nature of auteurism and how the ways in which a filmmaker comes to be defined influence how different films are viewed. Two of the movies in the set – The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) and Gideon’s Day (1958) – tend to be seen as minor and extraneous to Ford’s core body of work, yet both are among his most entertaining even if they don’t advance his familiar thematic preoccupations.
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.
Bingeing has been my default viewing mode for some time, but it’s only more recently that it’s come to encompass indulging in multiple releases by a particular company – which in turn is a result of those company’s offering regular sales and discount packages of monthly releases. The most prominent examples of this are Vinegar Syndrome and Severin Films, both of which specialize in genre and exploitation titles, pulling me into deep, often sordid, black holes.
Indicator have done their usually exemplary job with a pair of recent box sets – one devoted to the five Fu Manchu movies written and produced by Harry Alan Towers in the late 1960s, all starring Christopher Lee in racial drag; the other showcasing six films from Columbia Pictures rather loosely gathered together and labelled film noir.