Ghosts, demons and cinematic experiments

Cruel doctor Age Krüger (Udo Kier) returns from the dead to sire a son in Lars von Trier's The Kingdom (1994)

The new MUBI seven-disk set of Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom provides an opportunity to re-visit the original two seasons from 1994 and 1997 and finally see the elaborate blend of satire, soap opera and ghost story reach some kind of conclusion with the third season made in 2022; while it proves impossible to attain the unique energy of the original, which achieved a perfect balance between horror and comedy, The Kingdom: Exodus does tie up many of the loose ends left dangling for twenty-five years. An even stranger piece of experimental horror has been restored by Le Chat Qui Fume with their 4K edition of Leslie Stevens’ Incubus (1966) in which a pre-Kirk William Shatner confronts demons while speaking Esperanto.

Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964): Criterion Blu-ray review

A crowd bears away a murdered student in the wake of a riot in Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba (1964)

Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964) uses the striking cinematography of Sergei Urusevsky to create a fever dream version of the Cuban Revolution, a series of archetypal moments of oppression and resistance leading to an ecstatic explosion of justified communal violence. Filled with heightened emotions rendered in breathtaking images and seemingly impossible camera movements, the film looks gorgeous in a 4K restoration on Criterion’s Blu-ray.

Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers on Blu-ray from Criterion

Alonzo (Lon Chaney) realizes that his romantic feelings for Nanon (Joan Crawford) will never be returned in Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927)

Criterion’s two-disk Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers showcases three of the director’s best movies, including the peak of his long collaboration with Lon Chaney in The Unknown (1927) and Browning’s masterpiece Freaks (1932) along with the lesser-known The Mystic (1925). Fine 2K transfers and some illuminating extras leave you hoping that more of Tod Browning’s work will turn up on disk in restored versions.

Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio/Executioners (1993): Criterion Blu-ray review

Flights of martial arts fantasy in Johnnie To & Ching Siu-Tung's Executioners (1993)

Before attaining international critical success with a series of cool, formally precise thrillers, Johnnie To made a pair of wildly inventive superhero movies fraught with anxiety about the approaching hand over of Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997. The Heroic Trio and Executioners (both 1993) mix fantasy, science fiction, traditional martial arts and modern action into a potent dystopian stew centred on three of Hong Kong’s biggest female stars – Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung. Criterion’s three-disk dual-formal edition showcases stunning restorations by L’Immagine Ritrovata.

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.

Cheap sci-fi and hardboiled noir in 3D

Members of the gang come down hard on Mike Hammer (Biff Elliot) and his secretary Velda (Margaret Sheridan) in Harry Essex's I, the Jury (1953)

A 3D restoration of Phil Tucker’s ultra-cheap Robot Monster (1953) doesn’t really help this oddly endearing slice of poverty row sci-fi, but Classicflix’s 4K restoration of Harry Essex’s adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury (1953) is a revelation of what a great cinematographer could accomplish with first-wave 3D technology; Spillane’s brutal noir was shot by John Alton, a master of light and shadow, and the sense of space and imagery which plays on multiple planes in almost shot makes this one of the most impressive looking 3D movies of its time.

Blasts from the past

Down Memory Lane

Mario Bava and Italian genre film: Horror

Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974): Criterion Blu-ray review

Recent Disks From England

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