Miscellaneous May 2022 viewing

Would-be actress Stella (Susan Ermich) enrols in a prestige acting school in Andreas Marschall's Masks (2011)

Bertrand Tavernier’s epic eight-part documentary Journeys Through French Cinema (2017) offers a personal and idiosyncratic history rooted in the filmmakers personal passions; Enzo G. Castellari’s The Big Racket (1976) and The Heroin Busters (1977) showcase the cynical, violent action of Italian genre movies of the ’70s; Andreas Marschall turns homage into effective horror in the retro-giallo Masks (2011); and Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch Miller’s documentary Other Music (2019) captures an experience all-but-lost today with their account of the final days of a great independent record store in New York City.

Winter viewing 1: Vinegar Syndrome

Detective Linda Masterson (Cynthia Rothrock) investigates a killer martial artist in Kelly Makin's Tiger Claws (1991)

A long cold winter, a working-from-home schedule and pandemic-induced malaise means I’ve been watching a lot of undemanding genre movies over the past few months. One of my primary sources in the past couple of years has been Vinegar Syndrome, a company whose dedication to unearthing obscure, often forgotten genre movies equals my own passion for watching them. Although by no means a complete account of my VS viewing, here are brief notes on two dozen titles.

Recent disks from England, part two: Arrow

A young woman's psychic powers make her a target of nefarious forces in Nico Mastorakis' Death Has Blue Eyes (1976)

Arrow’s big pre-Christmas sale brought a wide range of titles, some old, some new: Juan Simon Piquer’s Spanish slasher Pieces (1982), Chelsea Stardust’s horror comedy Satanic Panic (2019), Giancarlo Santi’s spaghetti western The Grand Duel (1972), Lee Min-jae’s horror comedy Zombie for Sale (2019), Jill Gevargizian’s psycho horror The Stylist (2020),Nico Mastorakis incoherent first feature Death Has Blue Eyes (1976), a Japanese double bill of sci-fi crime movies, Nobuo Adachi’s The Invisible Man Appears (1949) and Mitsuo Murayama’s The Invisible Man vs the Human Fly (1957), Riccardo Freda’s mix of melodrama and giallo Double Face (1969), Jacques Tourneur’s late film noir Nightfall (1956), and Giorgio Ferroni’s atmospheric Gothic horror Mill of the Stone Women (1960).

Dario Argento in decline

Strange costume choice for Christine Daaé (Asia Argento) in Dario Argento's The Phantom of the Opera (1998)

Four of Dario Argento’s later movies reveal a filmmaker in decline – but they all get excellent Blu-ray releases with pristine transfers and lots of extras. This is a mixed blessing for fans of Argento’s great movies from the ’70s and ’80s, who can see the movies’ weaknesses, but nonetheless appreciate occasional flashes of visual and narrative invention.

The second coming of Cauldron

The Medieval dead awaken to deal with modern killers in Tomas Aznar's Beyond Terror (1980)

With their second pair of releases, the folks at Cauldron Films have again dug deep into the fringes of genre movie-making, this time unearthing Sergio Pastore’s The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972), an Italian giallo from the peak period of that genre, and Tomas Aznar’s Beyond Terror (1980), a Spanish film which begins as a nihilistic story about a gang of vicious criminals and morphs into a supernatural revenge narrative.

Euro Pulp

Delphine Seyrig conveys elegant ennui as the Countess Elizabeth Bathory in Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness (1971)

A selection of European genre movies from the 1970s and ’80s ranges from sadistic killers to cannibals to elegant vampires, from bad fashions and electro-pop music to old families sinking into decadence, from masters of exploitation like Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato to the artful Harry Kümel.

Winter viewing: Severin Films

Graf Saxon (Howard Vernon) engages in gruesome medical experiments in Adrian Hoven's Castle of the Creeping Flesh (1968)

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.

Blasts from the past

A Poverty Row evening

Sabu and the Kordas

Paul Morrissey’s Gothic horrors

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le cercle rouge (1970): Criterion Blu-ray review

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