Folk horror and Argentine noir

Collage is used as an organizing principle in Kier-la Janisse's epic folk horror documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021)

The year gets off to an interesting start with a pair of excellent Argentinian films noirs – Román Viñoly Barreto’s The Beast Must Die (1952) and Fernando Ayala’s The Bitter Stems (1956) – beautifully restored by the Film Noir Foundation; Prana Bailey-Bond’s Censor (2021), a disturbing British psychological horror; and Kier-la Janisse’s Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021), an epic documentary exploring the folk horror genre.

The martial arts of Joseph Kuo

Brother Wan (Carter Wong) faces Shaolin Temple's final test in Joseph Kuo's 18 Bronzemen (1976)

Eureka’s Blu-ray box set Cinematic Vengeance gathers together eight movies by Taiwanese director Joseph Kuo in the 1970s, an independent specialist in low-budget martial arts movies. These films are packed with great action scenes; the fight choreography, camerawork and editing are exceptional and, although Kuo throws in occasional bits of broad comedy, the tone is often quite dark, with endings that refuse to offer battered characters any final sense of triumph.

Early winter viewing, part 2

A Chinese demon possesses a New York businessman in Barry Rosen's Devil's Express (1976)

I continue my cold-weather plunge into the cheap, cheesy and outre depths of exploitation, finding a few gems among the dross of low-budget horror, science fiction, fantasy and comedy, ending up with an unsettling documentary about someone who devoted his life to filmmaking at the expense of everything including his identity.

Paul Morrissey’s Gothic horrors

The Count (Udo Kier) reacts to non-virgin blood in Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula (1974)

It’s been a long time coming, but Paul Morrissey’s two unique Gothic horror movies from the early 1970s – Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974) – have finally arrived on disk in superb restorations, the former from Vinegar Syndrome, the latter from Severin. Both editions are packed with hours of extras, and Flesh for Frankenstein is finally available in 3D (both digital and anaglyphic) as well as flat. Together, the home video highlight of 2021.

Year End 2021

The Count (Udo Kier) is worried about his blood supply in Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula (1974)

It’s been a good year for movies on disk, with a remarkable range of releases from many companies which are devoting considerable resources to rediscovering, restoring and preserving movies in numerous genres. Ranging across nationalities and spanning cinema history, there was plenty to divert attention from a real world which has become so depressing and exhausting.

Gordon Parks’ The Learning Tree (1969): Criterion Blu-ray review

Newt (Kyle Johnson) navigates growing up in a racist society in Gordon Parks' The Learning Tree (1969)

Criterion’s new Blu-ray revives Gordon Parks’ semi-autobiographical film The Learning Tree (1969), significant as the first movie produced by a Hollywood studio directed by a Black filmmaker. In this coming-of-age story set in a small Kansas town in the 1920s, the typical problems faced by a boy leaving childhood are complicated by the deeply embedded racist attitudes which surround him.

The Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society (1993):
Criterion Blu-ray review

The police appear without warning in the Hughes Brothers' Menace II Society (1993)

The Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society (1993), an aggressively stylish debut made when the twins were just twenty, is a nihilistically violent depiction of life in Watts in which kids grow up surrounded by violence and learn that there are few other ways to deal conflict. Criterion’s new Blu-ray, mastered from a 4K restoration, is vividly colourful, with a collection of excellent new and archival supplements,

Ghosts, Monsters and Swordplay

Agi (Chiaki Kuriyama) with one Kato's Yokai-machine hybrids in Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War (2005)

Asian martial arts and fantasy movies can be exhilarating in their strangeness and invention, unbound by Western insistence on rational explanations. Arrow’s new box set Yokai Monsters Collection presents a world in which supernatural presences exist alongside human reality, while in Eureka’s release of Ching Siu-tung’s Duel to the Death (1983) martial artists defy the laws of physics in elaborately choreographed sword fights.