Truffles, a blood-fuelled car, zombies and a family in retreat from the modern world: recent viewing

Team members enforce their ideology off the field in Bill Milling's Wolfpack (1987)

Spanish zombies, rural American zombies, a Korean serial killer, monsters and illicit mindbending drugs, a blood-fuelled car, small-town fascism, an eccentric family in retreat from the modern world, and a man with a truffle-hunting pig – there’s no pattern here in my recent movie-watching other than a restless search for the original and the entertaining.

The future crimes of David Cronenberg

Artist Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) rests after a surgical performance in David Cronenberg's Crimes of the Future (2022)

David Cronenberg returns to his roots with a new movie which borrows its title and major themes from his early experimental feature Crimes of the Future (1970); once again nature responds to destructive human activity by accelerating the mutability of the body. This time Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) transforms his continually mutating body into an object of performance art, infusing the body horror with a powerful note of black comedy in the director’s best film since Crash (1986).

Winter 2022 Arrow viewing, part two

Gunfighter Manuel (director Robert Hossein) reluctantly comes out of retirement in Cemetery Without Crosses (1969)

More genre viewing from Arrow, including a bleak French Western, a silent film noir which recapitulates the history of Japanese cinema, a pair of low-budget ’80s slasher movies, a mash-up of anime and low-budget live-action post-apocalypse, and two box sets: Kenji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale and Battle Royale II and the Children of the Corn trilogy.

Winter viewing 2: Vinegar Syndrome partners

Misanthropic scientist Herbert Von Krantz (Daniel Emilfork) invents an anti-nuclear device in Jean-Louis Roy's The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967)

Recent releases from various Vinegar Syndrome partner labels offer a wide range of styles, from low-budget direct-to-video horror (Ronnie Sortor’s Sinistre [1995], Charles Pinion’s Red Spirit Lake [1993] and We Await [1996]) to a rediscovered slice of Cold War sci-fi/espionage from Switzerland (Jean-Louis Roy’s The Unknown Man of Shandigor [1967]).

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.

Tobe Hooper’s mangled career

Bill Gartley (Robert Englund), consumed by evil, is now barely human in Tobe Hooper's The Mangler (1995)

As a filmmaker, Tobe Hooper’s creative interests were not always in sync with audiences and critics. His mixture of theatrical performance and constructed-in-studio settings are on full display in the generally disdained Stephen King adaptation The Mangler (1995), whose uneven dramatic execution undermines an often impressively menacing horror-fantasy about the bloody appetite of capitalism, an inhuman force which devours those doomed to serve it. Hooper’s Spontaneous Combustion (1990), on the other hand, is a half-baked mess which mostly lacks any visual interest to make up for its many narrative inadequacies.

David Lynch’s Dune redux

The battle for Arrakeen in David Lynch's Dune (1984)

With a new 4K restoration of David Lynch’s Dune (1984), Arrow Films and Koch Media have given us pretty much the final word on this magnificent, yet almost fatally crippled, epic, surrounding it with hours of new and archival extras (including two commentaries on the Arrow, and Daniel Griffith’s feature-length making-of on the Koch). The Koch edition claims primacy, though, for including not only a soundtrack CD, but also the remarkable, unofficial fan-edit by the anonymous Spicediver, who has used all publicly available material to construct an intelligent, thoughtful three-hour version which reveals that so many of the theatrical cut’s acknowledged problems were the fault of Dino De Laurentis and Universal Studios, and not Lynch; there really is a coherent, comprehensible narrative in what was shot, yet it was ruined by idiots whose only concern was keeping the movie under 135 minutes.

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).

Early winter viewing, part 2

A Chinese demon possesses a New York businessman in Barry Rosen's Devil's Express (1976)

I continue my cold-weather plunge into the cheap, cheesy and outre depths of exploitation, finding a few gems among the dross of low-budget horror, science fiction, fantasy and comedy, ending up with an unsettling documentary about someone who devoted his life to filmmaking at the expense of everything including his identity.

Blasts from the past

Two more British Films from Network

Jodorowsky’s Dune: the triumph of imagination

Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin (1990)

Dr. Seuss’ Nightmare: The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

>