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.

Recent fantasy and horror on disk

The arrival of wandering friar Fray Angel (Jorge Rivero) triggers violence and madness in Gonzalo Suárez’s Beatriz (1976)

A couple of new releases and a pair of slightly older disks offer a range of fantasy and horror from Julian Duvivier’s made-in-Hollywood anthology Flesh and Fantasy (1943) to three movies from Spain in the early ’70s in Vinegar Syndrome’s Villages of the Damned box set, from the inventive low-budget sci-fi of Yedidya Gorsetman’s Empathy, Inc. (2018) to Ben Wheatley’s folk-horror-tinged pandemic movie In the Earth (2021),

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.

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.

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).

Recent Severin viewing

Alice Campos (Florinda Bolkan) searches for her own past in Luigi Bazzoni’s Le Orme (Footprints on the Moon [1975])

It’s taken me a while to work through some of the many Severin box sets that have been piling up over the past year – the folk horror set All the Haunts Be Ours, House of Psychotic Women and the latest set of Italian movies Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection – along with some 4K special editions of movies by Dario Argento and Alex de la Iglesia.

Blasts from the past

Late Fall viewing: Oh, the horror!

George A. Romero 1940-2017

Late summer viewing, part two: Thrills and Chills

Twilight Crime

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