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.
Ashley Thorpe’s Borley Rectory (2017) is an eccentric, hand-crafted “animated documentary” about the notorious “most haunted house in England”, using a small cast shot against green screen who are embedded in richly layered images reconstructed from old photographs. Calling up memories of silent film and spirit photography, Borley Rectory is a uniquely immersive spectral experience.
“Folk horror” is one of those categories which is hard to define – but you know it when you see it, like film noir.Two very different features and two dubious documentaries seem to fit the category – Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), Erik Blomberg’s The White Reindeer (1953), Malcolm Leigh’s Legend of the Witches (1970) and Derek Ford’s Secret Rites (1971) – all available in excellent Blu-ray editions.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition of Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (1922) reveals a startlingly complex and modern work; a multi-layered essay on the subject of the European witch craze of the 14th to 17th Centuries, the film is richly detailed exploration of religion, power and madness which still has relevance today.