Bo Widerberg’s New Swedish Cinema from Criterion

A circus tightrope-walker (Pia Degermark) is swept away by romance in Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan (1967)

Criterion’s new four-disk Blu-ray set Bo Widerberg’s New Swedish Cinema introduces the work of a filmmaker who deserves to be better-known; a critic who rebelled against the dominant work of filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman which ignored issues of politics, economics and class, Widerberg drew on the French New Wave and New British Cinema to create politically engaged and expressive films which reflected contemporary Swedish society and recent history.

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.

The amateur passion of Michael J. Murphy

Director Alistair (Patrick Oliver) assumes the identity of the killer in his own movie in Michael J. Murphy's Bloodstream (1985)

Although I’ve so far only watched four of the ten disks in Indicators monumental Magic, Myth & Mutilation: The Micro-Budget Cinema of Michael J. Murphy 1967-2015, it’s time to say a few words about this remarkable English outsider artist whose ambition consistently outpaced limited resources; the set is an amazing act of recovery and preservation of a body of work which has survived only in compromised form, covering multiple genres and displaying the development of a genuine filmmaking talent. The most impressive release yet from one of the world’s finest companies.

Dragons and ghosts, resurrected in 4K

Julia (Mia Farrow) welcomes her own doom as expiation for her guilt in Richard Loncraine's Full Circle (The Haunting of Julia, 1977)

A pair of new 4K restorations resurrect two neglected films which deserve to be better known – Matthew Robbins’ Dragonslayer (1981), one of the finest fantasy films ever made which has never fared well on home video, but looks wonderful in this new edition; and Richard Loncraine’s atmospheric Full Circle (The Haunting of Julia, 1977), adapted from Peter Straub’s first horror novel, featuring Mia Farrow as a mother traumatized by the death of her child, who becomes immersed in a decades-old mystery when she moves into a haunted house.

Serendipity at the mall: disk discoveries from England and Australia

Compromised effects undermine producer George Pal's attempt to depict space travel in Byron Haskin's Conquest of Space (1955)

A recent trip to one of the last places in Winnipeg where you can actually buy movies on disk, armed with a bag full of DVDs and Blu-rays to trade, netted an interesting assortment of items, new and used, including some from the UK and Australia; it brought back the pleasures of in-store shopping and immediately being able to go home and watch what I’d just bought.

Román Viñoly Barreto’s El vampiro negro (1953)

The killer (Nathán Pinzón) tries to suppress his compulsion with self injury in Román Viñoly Barreto’s El vampiro negro (1953)

Flicker Alley and the Film Noir Foundation have released another fascinating Argentine movie from the early 1950s on the heels of two revelatory releases last year. Román Viñoly Barreto’s El vampiro negro (1953) is even more intriguing than Viñoly Barreto’s The Beast Must Die (1952) and Fernando Ayala’s The Bitter Stems (1956), being a reworking of Fritz Lang’s M (1931) from a very different perspective – that of a mother whose daughter is at risk from the serial child murderer.

More Italo-horror: The Good, the Bad and the Gory

Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) is trapped in a sado-masochistic relationship in Mario Bava's The Whip and the Body (1963)

Several new (and a couple of slightly older ) releases restore a range of Italian horrors from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, including a pair of artless movies by Bruno Mattei, Hell of the Living Dead (1980) and Rats: Night of Terror (1984); one of Mario Bava’s finest (and most perverse) Gothics, The Whip and the Body (1963), as well as his final made-for-television work, La Venere d’Ille (1979), co-directed by his son Lamberto; and a 4K restoration of Lucio Fulci’s gore masterpiece City of the Living Dead (1980).

Resurrecting a pre-tax shelter classic: The Rainbow Boys (1973)

Donald Pleasence, Don Calfa and Kate Reid hit the road in search of gold in Gerald Potterton's The Rainbow Boys (1973)

A relatively new label, Canadian International Pictures, has resurrected Gerald Potterton’s light and charming character-based comedy The Rainbow Boys (1973) in a fine Blu-ray edition with substantial extras. Another CIP release showcases Potterton’s National Film Board short The Railrodder (1965), a travelogue starring Buster Keaton towards the end of his life, along with John Spotton’s documentary about the making of the short, Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965), and another NFB travelogue, Eugene Boyko’s Helicopter Canada (1966), made to mark the country’s centennial.

Blasts from the past

Late winter viewing, part one

Brief viewing notes, July 2016

Movies and reality intersect in two recent releases

Styles of Horror, part two

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