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Pick of the Week
Fantomas – Three Film Collection [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A master villain toys with the police and a heroic journalist.
Why see it? This action trilogy from France offers tons of fun in the form of its James Bond-like set-pieces and shenanigans. There’s no real Bond character, of course, but the villain at the center of it all would feel right at home in Bond’s universe as he uses gadgets, disguises, and special weapons while making his home in an elaborate bunker. Some of the comedy plays broad — the police inspector mostly — but the films are legit fun pairing humor with some surprisingly good action beats. The movies are also damn attractive with widescreen cinematography capturing landscapes, car chases, and more in energetic color. And not for nothing, but Mylène Demongeot is a damn delight.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
The Corruption of Chris Miller [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? Two women welcome a stranger into their house with deadly results.
Why see it? This Spanish production is a terrific little thriller that almost defies categorization. Suspense, drama, giallo — the film shifts expectations throughout with its story of a young woman, her step mother, and the young man who invades their lives. Everyone has their own agenda, a sickle-wielding killer stalks the nearby towns, and sex is both a tool and a weapon. In addition to being an exciting watch it’s also an attractive one thanks as much to the cinematography as to the cast, and pairing that visual appeal with its narrative surprises makes for a memorable watch you’ll want to revisit more than once.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K scan and restoration, interview, short film]
Cujo [Eureka, UK]
What is it? A sick dog acts out.
Why see it? Stephen King’s classic — and still thrilling — novel about a poor mutt driven mad and violent by rabies gets a strong adaptation here. The film doesn’t get mentioned much, but it deserves more love as it’s a tight, emotionally affecting tale of terror. Dee Wallace is absolute aces here as an imperfect wife/mother forced to step up in the face of death. Eureka’s new Blu looks fantastic (I highly recommend picking it up while the limited edition is still available), and the extras are equally terrific. (Note: this is a region B release.)
[Blu-ray extras: Booklet, commentary, interviews, documentary]
Death Warmed Up [Severin Films]
What is it? A mad scientist plays around with mind control.
Why see it? This splatterific blend of horror/sci-fi appeared on the New Zealand scene a few years before Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, and while it’s not quite as fun as that gem it remains an entertaining ride. It’s a solid tale of science gone mad, but the clear highlight is the messy gore and body violence that accompanies the story. Hypnosis and mind control are never exciting on their own, but the film does good work crafting them into unsettling sequences and visuals.
[Blu-ray extras: Remastered, commentary, interviews, deleted scenes,VHS cut]
Khrustalyov, My Car! [Arrow Academy]
What is it? A doctor is harassed, imprisoned, and assaulted en route to trying to save Stalin’s life.
Why see it? Aleksei German’s (Hard to Be a God, 2015) penultimate film is a cruel and biting satire about the Soviet machine in the years leading up to Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. The doctor is first caught up in a sanctioned conspiracy regarding Jewish physicians, and then he’s imprisoned and brutalized. It’s dark stuff for a comedy — of sorts — but the humor comes through even if it doesn’t lead to big laughs. Arrow’s new release gives the film a face-lift in addition to so great supplements offering deeper insight and appreciation of German’s intentions and accomplishments.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, video essay, interviews, booklet]
Police Story 1 / Police Story 2 [Criterion Collection]
What is it? Two of the greatest action movies of all time.
Why see it? Jackie Chan’s filmography from the 80s and 90s are gifts that keep on giving for fans of fantastic action, brilliant choreography, and great fun, and the Police Story films are high up there. The first four are all gems, but these first two are simply brilliant as Chan orchestrates elaborately playful fights and ridiculous stunts. There’s a reason movies like Bad Boys II (2003) and Tango & Cash (1989) ripped off Police Story. Criterion’s new Blu-ray offers the restored films — that alone makes this a must-own — and adds plenty of extras showcasing the love for Chan over the years. Buy this release, and bathe in its glory.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K restorations, Hong Kong cut of Police Story 2, interviews, featurettes, TV episodes]
Tarantula [Scream Factory]
What is it? A mad scientist grows a giant spider because he’s an idiot.
Why see it? Genre films from the 50s were often prone to tales of science gone mad and the resulting monstrosities created from nature, and for my money this remains one of the best of the bunch. Spiders are already inherently creepy, and the film keeps it scary even as the beast grows to epic size. Solid effects (for the time) complete the illusion, and the human side of things stays compelling with some engaging characters and side stories. It’s a fun and fantastic ride into golden age horror/sci-fi.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
The Brain [Scream Factory]
What is it? A mad scientist develops mind control techniques with the help of a giant alien brain.
Why see it? 80s horror will never not be delightful, and this fun and occasionally bloody romp is yet another example why. Its commentary on the power of television doesn’t reach A Face In the Crowd levels obviously, but the observations are fun to watch unfold all the same. David Gale’s (Re-Animator) evil scientist makes for a solid human villain, but the star is the damn brain — complete with eyes and sharp teeth — that steals the show. It’s goofy fun.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scan, 3 commentaries, interviews, featurette]
Darkroom [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A killer begins offing people in and around a young woman’s family.
Why see it? Fans of slashers/giallos filled with suspects and red herrings will enjoy this late 80s thriller as it works overtime to point viewers in multiple directions. (But yes, the killer is the one you suspect the most.) Some blood, some style, and some sleaze combine for a fun genre effort highlighting the sketchiness of photographers and conservatives alike. Vinegar Syndrome cleans up the film beautifully and delivers what for most viewers will be a brand new experience.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K scan and restoration, interviews]
Dragged Across Concrete
What is it? Two bad cops on suspension become criminals.
Why see it? S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99) has already proven himself fairly divisive as a filmmaker, and his latest continues that trend. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn play cops who are rough guys prone to racist comments, and their downward spiral is paired with a low level crook (Tory Kittles) who sees a way to climb up. The film works mostly for its performances and a handful of tense sequences, but as is often the case with Zahler’s films, issues arise almost entirely from a script that doesn’t know when to stop. What it thinks are moral complexities or dramatic character beats are usually just filler. Speaking of, woof to the entirety of the Jennifer Carpenter storyline.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Emanuelle and Francoise [Severin Films]
What is it? A woman seeks revenge on the man who drove her sister to suicide.
Why see it? Joe D’Amato isn’t a filmmaker known for subtlety in his films, and while this sleazy romp is no different in that regard it does manage a small degree of pathos and power in the story. Both the beginning and ending are absolute downers which is something odd for a film that’s otherwise focused on T&A (and rub ‘n’ tugs, especially in the deleted scenes). As a revenge tale it’s oddly and grimly satisfying.
[Blu-ray extras: New 2K scan, interviews, deleted scenes]
Escape from Womens Prison [Severin Films]
What is it? Escaped female convicts terrorize some innocents.
Why see it? Movies about sex-hungry escaped convicts typically focus on dudes, so this film’s gender shift gives its exploitation thrills an extra twist. These ladies are every bit as cruel and aroused as their male counterparts, and the film delivers on its initial premise. There are some minor efforts made towards political commentary, but the focus is the foul play and the fucking. That’s not a bad thing, but if you’re looking for something more dense or satisfying you may be left with blue balls.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K scan, Italian cut, interview]
Grandmother’s House [Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A pair of orphans are sent to live with their grandparents, and nobody wants that.
Why see it? Look, old folks are creepy, and this horror thriller plays off that reality well in leaving viewers immediately suspect of the grandparents at its core. The kids take center stage, though, as they snoop around enough to discover some unsavory truths about their family line. It feels like M.Night Shyamalan may have seen this one years ago as a subconscious inspiration on his film The Visit, and while the stories differ enough if I’m being honest they’re both equally entertaining and fun enough.
[Blu-ray extras: New 4K scan and restoration, interviews, featurette]
The Hole In the Ground
What is it? A single mother fears her son may not be her son.
Why see it? Irish horror films have a flavor all their own as lushly wooded landscapes are paired with mythical terrors and fables. This debut feature from Lee Cronin follows in that mold with a supernatural tale of fear, isolation, and changelings. Cronin delivers fantastic atmosphere here, and the mother’s struggle is effective in its concern even if the actual horror and scares feel a bit underwhelming. It works because of its setting and tone, though. and it’s recommended for genre fans.
[DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? A group of girls in an underground boarding school discover the truth.
Why see it? This little dramatic-thriller takes an interesting turn with its seemingly futuristic tale, and while it takes some time getting there the journey is one fraught with danger and curiosity. We grow to care about these girls and fear for what lays ahead of them, and the film offers a slow drip of reveals letting viewers in on the details. It’s an engaging and occasionally suspenseful tale about the limitless cruelties humanity unloads on those beneath them.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, interviews]
What is it? A young woman gets mixed up with Mexican cartels and the DEA.
Why see it? This English-language remake of the Mexican original offers some casual thrills, but it also softens the edge of its predecessor. She finds herself in a terrible situation, but it too often feels like it plays it safe to ensure both her safety and the PG-13 rating. Gina Rodriguez is quite good, though, in the lead role, and it’s always great to find action films with female leads.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki
What is it? An old-school animator finds new life in new tools.
Why see it? Anime fans know the name Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro), and his announcement in 2013 that he was retiring was a sad day around the world. This documentary explores what he did next — the animator adamant about hand-drawn art finds himself intrigued by CG art and artists, and he begins a project using tools and techniques previously foreign to him. He’s a brilliant artist, and this glimpse into his process and struggles serves as a necessary reminder that even the best stumble and fumble.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Alternate cut]
What is it? A man is asked by his ex to kill her husband.
Why see it? You may recall the film’s theatrical release earlier this year that resulted in people losing their shit over its story turns and big reveals. That enthusiasm is half earned here with some truly bonkers choices, but rather than be a truly WTF gem like Winter’s Tale this little thriller is more of a generic setup given an absolutely ridiculous third act. There’s fun here, and Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jason Clarke are in on the joke for the most part, but I’d keep your expectations in check for how satisfying it will be.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Summer Stock [Warner Archive]
What is it? A woman’s struggle to save her family farm is complicated by the arrival of an acting troupe.
Why see it? The legendary Judy Garland and Gene Kelly headline this musical about love, family, and tractors, and it’s precisely as delightful as all of that sounds. Lots of dancing and even more singing make up the heart of the film, and it’s pretty great watching Garland’s character come alive over the course of the film. I’m not a big musical guy (with rare exceptions) so I’m not the best cheerleader for this kind of film, but it’s definitely a bright and lively watch.
[Blu-ray extras: Featurette, cartoon, short, song outtake]
Also out this week:
The Boxer [Shout Select], Hannibal – 4K UltraHD, Kuffs [Shout Select], Level 16, My Brilliant Career [Criterion Collection]
Related Topics: Home Video