Lost films and alternative histories

A cultured ape (Zain Rahnat) teaches life lessons in Donn Greer's The Rare Blue Apes of Cannibal Isle (1975)

Film restoration is usually seen as an effort to preserve the canon, but there are vast areas of film history which may be less reputable, but still represent significant aspects of the past century’s most popular art form. In their recent six-disk, ten-movie set Lost Picture Show, Vinegar Syndrome highlight their own efforts to unearth and give new life to cheap, obscure, frequently disreputable examples of movies made far from the mainstream – sex. violence, politics and an occasional talking animal are on display in this ragged, sometimes enlightening, sometimes frustrating collection.

The Criminal Acts of Tod Slaughter on Blu-ray from Indicator

James Dalton, the Tiger (Tod Slaughter) becomes desperate at the end of George King's The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

Indicator closed 2023 with one of their finest offerings yet – a four-disk, eight film box set of blood-and-thunder melodramas produced, and mostly directed, by George King and starring the inimitable Tod Slaughter as a roster of heinous villains portrayed with gleeful enthusiasm by an actor who devoted his long career to preserving an art form incubated on Victorian stages and largely fallen out of favour by the time these films preserved it with such relish. With striking restorations, mostly from original nitrate negatives, supplemented with commentaries, interviews and Slaughter-related ephemera, this is definitely the highlight of the past year.

Monsters, killers and existential dread on Blu-ray

Fatma (Fatma Oussaifi) herself is drawn towards the flames in Youssef Chebbi’s Ashkal: The Tunisian Investigation (2022)

Recent releases cover a range of horrors, from a 4K restoration of the classic Canadian working class slasher My Bloody Valentine (1981) to a 4K restoration of Stephen King’s mad dog tale Cujo (1983) to a pair of low-budget ’70s monsters – Creature From Black Lake (1976) and Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) to Ashkal (2022), a haunting Tunisian police procedural with supernatural overtones, and World of Giants (1959), an obscure, short-lived TV series about a six-inch tall secret agent.

The Exotic Ones: exploitation and religion from the Ormond family

The film business being what it is, it’s not surprising that there are many odd corners still waiting to be explored – one of the oddest being the Ormond family, dad Ron, mom June and son Tim. After a successful career in vaudeville, June and Ron turned to independent production in the late ’40s with a string of poverty row westerns starring Lash LaRue, followed by a wide range of exploitation movies for the drive-in circuit – jungle adventure, hicksploitation featuring bootlegging, stock car racing, country music, spiced with sex and violence. Then in the late ’60s, they found God and made a series of evangelist movies, using all their exploitation skills to warn churchgoers about the evils of Communism and the inevitability of Hell. All of this is gathered together in Indicator’s box set From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved Films of the Ormond Family, compiled in collaboration with filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn and biographer Jimmy McDonough.

Vinegar Syndrome January releases

Dr. Pretorius (ted Sorel) returns very much changed in Stuart Gordon's From Beyond (1986)

Vinegar Syndrome begin 2023 by casting a wide net to gather a range of exploitation movies from Hong Kong, Mexico and the U.S. It’s a mixed bag encompassing Stuart Gordon’s classic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation From Beyond (1986); three extreme horrors featuring iconic actor Anthony Wong; a sordid Mexican movie about a psychopath killing and raping for Satan; Tom Chaney’s Frostbiter (1995), a derivative low-budget horror from Michigan featuring ambitious special effects, miniatures, stop-motion animation and Evil Dead-inspired excess; and Curt Siodmak’s minor oddity Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956), the first from a new sub-label, Vinegar Syndrome Labs, intended to gauge interest in this kind of obscure title.

The Pemini Organisation on Blu-ray from Indicator

John Drummond (Edward Woodward) expresses his grief through violence in Peter Crane's Hunted (1972)

Indicator unearth an obscure corner of ’70s British cinema with a box set of the three movies made by recent filmschool graduates who formed a production company called The Pemini Organisation. Despite extremely low budgets, director Peter Crane and writer Michael Sloan benefited from skilled technicians and high-profile casts who give the films professional polish; but the vagaries of commercial distribution made them disappear until this revival on disk fifty years later.

Blasts from the past

Hangover Square and the mysteries of adaptation

Stanley Kubrick 8A: Male Anxiety and War
Full Metal Jacket (1986)

Year End 2023

Stanley Kubrick 2: The Business – Spartacus (1960)

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