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.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le cercle rouge (1970): Criterion Blu-ray review

Three unlikely partners come together to rob a Paris jewellery store in Jean-Pierre Melville's masterful Le cercle rouge (1970)

Criterion have re-released Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterful heist movie Le cercle rouge (1970) in a new dual-format 4K UHD/Blu-ray edition based on a 4K restoration by StudioCanal. Although there are no new extras (supplements adding up to almost two hours date back to the company’s original 2003 DVD release), the film looks better than ever, its narrative stripped to essentials as a meditation on professionalism, fate and the moral ambiguity of characters on both sides of the law.

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).

Dario Argento in decline

Strange costume choice for Christine Daaé (Asia Argento) in Dario Argento's The Phantom of the Opera (1998)

Four of Dario Argento’s later movies reveal a filmmaker in decline – but they all get excellent Blu-ray releases with pristine transfers and lots of extras. This is a mixed blessing for fans of Argento’s great movies from the ’70s and ’80s, who can see the movies’ weaknesses, but nonetheless appreciate occasional flashes of visual and narrative invention.

Hammer Vol. 6: Night Shadows from Indicator

Catherine Lacey appears briefly as wealthy, reclusive murder victim Ella Venable in John Gilling's The Shadow of the Cat (1961)

Indicator’s sixth box set of Hammer movies, Night Shadows, is a bit of a mixed bag, with a silly but entertaining Old Dark House throwback in John Gilling’s The Shadow of the Cat (1961), an overwrought psycho thriller in Freddie Francis’ Nightmare (1964), a historical adventure in Peter Graham Scott’s Captain Clegg (1962), and a pseudo-Gothic horror in Terence Fisher’s The Phantom of the Opera (1962).

The films of Eloy de la Iglesia

El Jaro (Jose Luis Manzano) turns to petty crime and drugs in Eloy de la Iglesia's Navajeros (1980)

Severin introduces the work of Eloy de la Iglesia, a little-known Basque filmmaker with three releases spanning the period from the end of the Franco regime to the transition to democracy in Spain. Two thrillers with a satirical edge made in the early ’70s give way to a trilogy of violent, neo-realist depictions of youth crime and drug addiction in the early ’80s. Dynamic and visceral, these films are deeply empathetic to members of the underclass – workers and dispossessed adolescents – and unflinching in their treatment of addiction and homosexuality in a repressive society.

Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator

Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards) escapes prison thinking he's going to be rich in Irving Lerner's City of Fear (1959)

With their third box set of Columbia Studios films noirs in just over half a year, Indicator again gather together six entertaining B-movies made in the shadow of Cold War paranoia; crime, violence and personal demons evoke a world destabilized by fear, betrayal and uncertainty. As before, the set is packed with commentaries featurettes and short films which illuminate the context from which the features emerged.

Blasts from the past

Recent Viewing part 2

The myth of Orson Welles’ failure

Recent viewing, May-June 2016, part one

Criterion Blu-ray review: Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blind Chance (1981)

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