A pair of Blu-rays from England showcase the final works of major artists who were considered at the time to be in decline: Laurel and Hardy’s last feature, Atoll K (dir. Leo Joannon, 1951) is a bittersweet mess which captures the Boys’ enduring charm while making their mortality all too clear, while Fritz Lang’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) comes full circle by reviving his Weimar criminal mastermind in a Cold War context which paved the way for James Bond’s high-tech thrills.
Shameless is a British label dedicated to exploitation movies (with a mission statement emphasizing sleaze and outrage) which has been issuing mostly Italian genre titles for more than a decade with mixed results in terms of quality; thanks to a recent on-line sale, I just binged some of their releases which cover the spectrum in terms of quality (both technical and creative).
Having recently watched the latest features of Richard Stanley and Larry Fessenden, I decided to revisit their earlier work via Blu-ray upgrades of my DVD copies of Stanley’s Hardware (1990) and Fessenden’s No Telling (1991), Habit (1995), Wendigo (2001) and The Last Winter (2006). All these movies remain fresh and showcase their respective director’s skill in using genre to explore larger themes.
With a spectacular 4K restoration from the original three-strip Technicolor negative, Criterion have reinstated George Pal’s The War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953) to its place at the pinnacle of 1950s science fiction. While Barre Lyndon’s script, updating the story to the present and relocating it to California, strips H.G. Wells’ novel to its bare essentials, Pal and his production team turned interplanetary destruction into a glorious visual spectacle which hasn’t looked this good since the original Technicolor prints played in first-run theatres.
The label “visionary” gets tossed around far too easily, but it does apply to two filmmakers whose work begins in genre conventions yet rises to explore themes of horror and human fallibility in complex and original way: too long absent from the screen, Richard Stanley and Larry Fessenden have returned with some of the best work they’ve ever done – the former with the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Color Out Of Space and the latter with Depraved, a modern meditation on the narrative and themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
In 1964, Sidney Lumet’s serious movie about nuclear paranoia, Fail-Safe, had a tough time competing with Stanley Kubrick’s manic black comedy Dr. Strangelove, but it holds its own today as a portrait of a particular moment in social and political history. Meanwhile, Franklin Adreon’s pair of no-budget time travel thrillers from 1966, Cyborg 2087 and Dimension 5, are empty-headed entertainment which offer a touch of nostalgia to genre fans.