Winter viewing: Vinegar Syndrome

Evil magician Avery Lauter (J.P. Luebsen) comes back from the dead in Kevin Tenney's Witchtrap (1989)

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.

Recent Indicator viewing

Juliet Bristow (Gayle Hunnicutt) discovers a body in Pompeii in Richard C. Sarafian's Fragment of Fear (1970)

Indicator continue to release exemplary editions of a wide range of movies, from obscure genre titles to classics to exploitation and occasional failed experiments. Recent viewing ranges from Max Ophuls’ exquisite domestic noir The Reckless Moment (1949) to Blake Edwards’ taut thriller Experiment in Terror (1962) and Arthur Lubin’s surprisingly good Gothic romance Footsteps in the Fog (1955).

Recent Eureka/Masters of Cinema releases

Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff) and the preserved body of the woman he loved in Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934)

Two recent two-disk sets released by Eureka in England provide two very different forms of popular entertainment. Two Films by John Woo contains a pair of top-notch martial arts movies from the first stage of Woo’s career, before he hit it big with the gangster films of the mid-’80s, while the three movies in their Bela Lugosi/Edgar Allen Poe set present some of the most deliriously perverse horrors of the pre-Code era. While the crown jewel is Edgar Ulmer’s expressionist masterpiece The Black Cat, the set’s revelation is the Easter egg inclusion of a “virtual director’s cut” of Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, which follows Tim Lucas’ suggestions, based on internal evidence, or what the film might have been before studio tampering made it a disjointed mess.

Euro Horror

Lucio Fulci as director "Lucio Fulci" going mad in Lucio Fulci's Cat in the Brain (1990)

Minor Euro-horror gets the deluxe treatment in several releases from Blue Underground, Grindhouse Films and Severin; three features by Dutch director Dick Maas – De Lift (1983), Amsterdamned (1988) and Down (2001) – and three from Lucio Fulci – Cat in the Brain (1990), Aenigma (1987) and Demonia (1990) – along with Simone Scafidi’s Fulci for Fake (2019), an illuminating documentary about Fulci.

Carroll Baker and Umberto Lenzi on Blu-ray

Carroll Baker is seduced by brother and sister Lou Castel and Colette Descombes in Umberto Lenzi's Orgasmo (1969)
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Unhappy with her career in Hollywood, actress Carroll Baker moved to Italy in the mid-’60s where she starred in a number of genre movies, including four erotic thrillers by Umberto Lenzi which bridge the gap between classic women-in-peril mysteries and the giallo. All four are collected together by Severin in their lavish The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection Blu-ray box set.

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).