A few notes about disks from a couple of companies I’ve previously had little experience with – 88 Films and 101 Films, both from the UK – plus three box sets from Arrow.
As usual, there’s no coherent pattern to what I spend my time watching. In the past few months, I given my overtaxed attention to quite a few movies from the ’70s and ’80s – British sex comedies and cop movies, Italian gialli, French and Spanish thrillers, Chinese martial arts movies and an Australian superhero musical – plus a pair of recent Korean action movies and two ultra-low-budget do-it-yourself movies from the ’90s.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.