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.
More random viewing: two obscure independent films from the BFI, Margaret Tait’s poetic Blue Black Permanent (1992) and Maurice Hatton’s gritty fake-umentary about the film business, Long Shot (1977); and three from Twilight Time – George Sluizer’s interesting Americanization of his existential thriller The Vanishing (1993), Terrence Young’s straightforward fact-based crime saga The Valachi Papers (1972), and D.W. Griffith’s monumental but deeply troubling Birth of a Nation (1915).
Severin Films recent Blu-ray special edition of Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s Jack the Ripper (1959) is ambitious but compromised; the atmospheric horror film is presented in three different versions, all of which have serious issues with the transfers (print damage in one case and incorrect aspect ratios in the other two). More satisfying, technically and creatively, is Severin’s Blu-ray edition of Richard Stanley’s typically idiosyncratic documentary The Otherworld (2013).
In his early work, Sydney Pollack explored various genres from a distinctly literary perspective before becoming a maker of prestige, middlebrow Hollywood entertainments; excellent Blu-ray presentations of his best features – Castle Keep (1969), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) and Jeremiah Johnson – reveal a promise not entirely fulfilled in a long career.
Terry Gilliam began to forge an identity separate from Monty Python with a film which seems superficially Pythonesque, but on closer look is a darker, richer and more dangerous view of an absurd world. Criterion’s new Blu-ray of Jabberwocky draws out every detail of a richly imagined Medieval world of blood, filth and horror viewed through Gilliam’s comic lens.