Cannibal feast

The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) offers Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers)' daughters an unexpected form of liberation in Lucky McKee's The Woman (2011)

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).

Francesco Rosi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Painter Carlo Levi is escorted by police to exile in a remote village in Francesco Rosi's Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979)

Francesco Rosi’s most emotionally resonant film, a four-part adaptation of the memoir of painter Carlo Levi, who was exiled by the Fascist government in 1935 to a remote corner of Italy, is a rich, contemplative study of a Leftist intellectual who comes to empathize with the harsh lives of peasants left behind by the modernization of Italy. Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition serves the striking imagery well and provides substantial supportive supplements which provide historical context and situate the film in Rosi’s politically informed filmography.

Two swansongs

Nothing goes right on board Stan's inherited yacht in Leo Joannon's Atoll K (1960)

A pair of Blu-rays from England showcase the final works of major artists who were considered at the time to be in decline: Laurel and Hardy’s last feature, Atoll K (dir. Leo Joannon, 1951) is a bittersweet mess which captures the Boys’ enduring charm while making their mortality all too clear, while Fritz Lang’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) comes full circle by reviving his Weimar criminal mastermind in a Cold War context which paved the way for James Bond’s high-tech thrills.

D.A. Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus’ Town Bloody Hall (1979):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Feminism and masculinity go toe-toe-toe in Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker's Town Bloody Hall (1979)

In D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Town Bloody Hall (1979), the raggedness of the film – shot on the fly in 16mm – perfectly captures the chaos of the event it documents, a fractious panel held in New York on April 30, 1971, in which four feminists were pitted against Normal Mailer, who had just published The Prisoner of Sex, his problematic response to the feminist movement. Criterion gives the scrappy film a 4K restoration and loads the disk with fascinating contextual supplements.

In dreams

Anna (Charlotte Burke) finds herself in a landscape she drew in Bernard Rose's Paperhouse (1988)

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.

The good, the mediocre and the annoying

Calvin Lockhart as big game hunter Tom Newcliffe aims to bag a werewolf in Paul Annett's The Beast Must Die (1974)

A couple of recent disappointments from Indicator – excellent editions of two mediocre movies (Guy Hamilton’s Force 10 From Navarone [1978] and Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die [1974]) – are offset by the terrific French television series of adaptations from the Maigret novels and stories by Georges Simenon, fifty-four feature-length movies centred on a magisterial performance by Bruno Cremer as the famous detective.

Shameless exploitation

Family retainer Isidro (Giuseppe Carbone) plays with the contents of the crypt in Mario Bianchi's Satan's Baby Doll (1982)

Shameless is a British label dedicated to exploitation movies (with a mission statement emphasizing sleaze and outrage) which has been issuing mostly Italian genre titles for more than a decade with mixed results in terms of quality; thanks to a recent on-line sale, I just binged some of their releases which cover the spectrum in terms of quality (both technical and creative).

A frustrating evening

Michael (Hywel Bennett) can't avoid the distrust, even contempt, of Ellie (Hayley Mills)'s relatives in Sidney Gilliat's Endless Night (1972)

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).