Friday 27 November 2020

He Came From the Swamp (1966 - 1977)


"Makes Al Adamson Look Like a Genius"

If someone had asked me to compile a list of movie directors whose work I never expected to see a Blu-ray boxset devoted to, then William Grefe would have been close to the top. And yet here we have, courtesy of Arrow Films, seven movies and a documentary about the Florida-based film-maker. Unfortunately it's sadly lacking two of his best-known films - STANLEY (famous for being the one about the snakes) and IMPULSE (famous for featuring William Shatner going full Shat as a sleazebag who marries women and then murders them for their money). So now I've told you what you don't get, let's take a look at what you do:

Disc One

Sting of Death (1966)

In which a man becomes a killer jellyfish monster through the miracle of special effects that consist of a repurposed wetsuit and a plastic bag placed on his head. Parents should advise their children that they should not copy this. Nor should they be putting plastic bags on their heads, or even watching STING OF DEATH, a pretty terrible film that alternates 'beach party'-style gyrating with attacks from Mr Jelly. There are a lot of crash zooms into young ladies' gyrating bottoms during the dance sequences. "What more do you want from filmed entertainment?" asks Frank Henenlotter in the documentary on disc four. Quite a lot actually, Frank. Quite a lot.

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

In the good old days of double bills if you didn't make both movies you didn't get to keep all the money. And so we have DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, rustled up by William Grefe over a weekend and making use of the idea that a restless Native American spirit could manifest itself by the convenient ultra low-budget use of animals. It doesn't work and neither does the reanimated corpse that we finally get to see after a good hour of interminable wandering around that will have your finger wandering to the fast forward button. Or possibly the eject one.

Extras on disc one include new introductions for each film by William Grefe and commentaries on both films ported over from the Region 1 Something Weird DVD release with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter which are both worth a listen for nuggets of Drive-In movie gossip. Continuing the theme there's a look at Spook Shows (a cultural phenomenon more common to the US than the UK) by Doug Hobart while C Courtney Joyner gives us a history of the entertainingly-named rock and roll monster genre.

Disc Two

The Hooked Generation (1968)

There's plenty of drug taking, drug dealing and a fair bit of spaced out dancing, quite a bit of it on the inexpensive location of a motorboat as our three dodgy central characters turn on, tune in and drop out, although by the end of the film you'll be wishing they'd dropped over the side of the boat at the beginning. It's all dull, uninspiring stuff with a little bit of violence to try and spice up the mix. It doesn't work.

The Psychedelic Priest (1971)

A bit like being stuck with the spaced out person at a party who's no fun but just won't stop talking to you, this one is the interminable 80 minute tale of a priest who discovers the drug scene via a group of hippies and embarks on a variety of thoroughly uninteresting adventures. Another one for completists.

Extras include archive commentaries on both films with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter, new introductions from the director and behind the scenes footage from THE HOOKED GENERATION. You also get two short pieces (about eight minutes each) on the making of each film with Chris Poggiali

Disc Three

The Naked Zoo (1971)

The sex-filled drug-fuelled non-stop party lifestyle of the jobbing author (it's all true, you know!) is depicted with little coherence but a surprising star turn from Rita Hayworth in this psychedelic mishmash of double-crossing, murders and at least one quite terrible song. The print looks as if a couple of reels have been rescued from the jaws of a combine harvester and the opening shows that even films like ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER required some style and talent to make them work. Which is not the case here, unfortunately.

Mako Jaws of Death (1976)

It's time for some crap sharks! Actually that's not really fair. The sharks in this are likely just as good as any other sharks. The problem is that they've found themselves in a William Grefe movie. Richard Jaeckel is the man who develops a telepathic connection with them and trains them to kill. MAKO is kind of a cross between JAWS and WILLARD but is too slow moving to be anywhere near as good as either. It does however feature what must be the largest man ever to be eaten in a sharksploitation movie.

Extras include commentaries on both films, seven minutes on shark films by Michael Gingold, audio interviews with screenwriter Robert Morgan and star Jennifer Bishop, Barry Mahon's recut version of THE NAKED ZOO and MAKO on Super 8

Disc Four

Whiskey Mountain (1977)

I wish I could say the final film in the set is something good but sadly it isn't. WHISKEY MOUNTAIN probably looks better through the bottom of a bottle of J&B but I'm not going to test the theory. Instead I'll just say this immensely slow moving tale of its four lead characters riding around on their motorbikes, going off to search for treasure and encountering troublesome hillbillies can't even be saved by the presence of exploitation star Christopher George (from CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE EXTERMINATOR). 

They Came From the Swamp (2020)

Better than any of the films is this two hour plus documentary on the making of them, filed with interviews with key personnel, lots of remembrances from Grefe himself and the always energetic Frank Henenlotter to offer his opinion at every given opportunity. In some ways this is the film to kick off watching the set with as it helps contextualise everything else.

The Bottom Line: Arrow did a fantastic job with their Herschell Gordon Lewis set a couple of years ago. This year has seen Severin Films come up with the remarkable achievement that is their Al Adamson box set. Compared to such fare, He Came From the Swamp just doesn't really cut it. A major part of the problem is the films themselves, which aren't made with the skill (yes I said skill) of the Lewis or Adamson pictures and just aren't as watchable. While there are quite a few extras here, some of the featurettes could have been much longer. Arrow calls Michael Gingold's piece on shark movies a 'deep dive' but it's only seven minutes. Similarly the 'That's Drugsploitation!' piece deserves more breathing space.

If you find the history of late 1960s and early 1970s drive-in cinema fascinating, or if you find yourself watching all the films in your HG Lewis set over and over and are pining for more of the same (but of lesser quality) then this is the set for you. However, everyone else should probably have a long hard think before handing over the cash for this one. 

HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFE COLLECTION is out from Arrow in a four disc Blu-ray set on Monday 30th November 2020

Friday 20 November 2020

Short Sharp Shocks (1949 - 1980)


If you went to the cinema in the UK up to the mid 1980s you may well have ended up watching a British short film before the main picture. This was because of a ruling that a proportion of every cinema programme shown in the UK had to include British content. It was funded by a levy on cinema tickets and the intention was to help fund British movie-making and keep the industry going. It all came to an end in the 1980s when the Thatcher government stopped it.  Many of the films were of the 'Why I Love Birmingham' (thanks Telly Savalas!) or 'Billy's Time Bike' variety, but some were weird, a few were strange and every now and then you'd get something that was outright horror. For an excellent summation of the British short horror film I'd recommend Darrell Buxton's monograph that also goes by the title Short Sharp Shocks. The very last short film I remember seeing at the cinema was Martin Holland's SUPERHERO (1982) starring Koo Stark, which played as the UK support to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V A NEW BEGINNING during its release in October 1985. SUPERHERO isn't on this new set from the BFI (because it took place mainly in a comics shop and wasn't horror at all) but a whole collection of interesting and disturbing shorts are. So let's see what we've got here:

Disc One:

Lock Your Door (1949) and The Reformation of St Jules (1949)

These are less short films and more 'Jackanory-style' talking-to-camera pieces as author Algernon Blackwood tells an imagined audience two of his spooky stories within the comfort of his (presumably studio) study. It's rare to have any kind of record of authors of this period performing their own work and these provide a valuable record of one of the genre's most important practitioners doing just that. 

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

Welsh acting god Stanley Baker plays Edgar Allan Poe, reciting the title story within the confines of a gloomy garret and filmed in crackly black and white. Thought lost for many years, this twenty minute piece is this result of restoration work on a print from a private collection.

Death Was A Passenger (1958)

Terence Alexander boards a train and recognises a nun who helped him escape the Nazis under similar circumstances during the war in this rather slight tale directed by 'Zichy' (first name actually Theodore). Easily the least of the films on the set so if this is one of the first you watch don't worry, they do get better.

Portrait of a Matador (1958)

And this one *is* better in a kind of early proto-Twilight Zone / Amicus kind of way. Why is painter David obsessed with the portrait he painted of matador Manuel during a trip to Spain? Is it because Manuel hated it, died as a result of bull-fighting injuries but before he did swore he would have revenge on David for depicting him in such an unflattering manner? Most notable to BritHorror fans for appearances by Sandra Dorne (Richard Gordon's 1963 DEVIL DOLL) as the one who causes all the trouble and Hammer actress Yvonne Romain (billed here as Yvonne Warren) who plays Manuel's sister.

Extras on disc one include a a couple of interviews with Kate Lees of Adelphi Films,  one on the history of the company and another about the rescue of THE TELL-TALE HEART.

Disc Two:

Twenty-Nine (1969)

Graham Baird (Alexis Kanner, best known for appearing in the last three episodes of The Prisoner) wakes up in a strange bed wearing strange clothes. He gradually starts to piece together what happened over the last twenty four hours. Or does he? By the end of this one I still wasn't sure exactly what had happened. This one boasts an interesting cast, including Justine Lord who was in The Prisoner episode The Girl Who Was Death along with Kanner, Robert Lang, and Yootha Joyce as a prostitute. 

The Sex Victims (1973)

When lorry driver Jack Piper (Ben Howard, who plays the man who wants to rob Peter Cushing at the end of FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE) sees a naked woman on horseback on a lonely country road, his relentless pursuit of her leads him into the world of the supernatural. The subject matter of THE SEX VICTIMS would have benefitted from less perfunctory direction (imagine what Jose Larraz could have done with this idea) but nevertheless there's the feel of Celtic myth or Greek tragedy to this one, which despite an intrusive and rather annoying 1970s music score still manages to evoke a sense of adult fairy tale in its proceedings. Felicity Devonshire (from the opening titles of Graham Stark's THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN DEADLY SINS) plays the girl and there are roles for Jane Cardew (THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW) and Alun Armstrong (from far more reputable stuff than any of the above).

The Lake (1978)

Barbara (Julie Peasgood from HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS) and her boyfriend Tony (Gene Foad) spend a sunny afternoon having a picnic near a lake where a man killed his entire family before disappearing. As with his 1981 Machenesque feature length horror THE APPOINTMENT, director Lindsey C Vickers manages to conjure a gradually mounting sense of dread using virtually no resources at all with this one. When's THE APPOINTMENT going to get the BFI flipside treatment, then?

The Errand (1980)

After working for cult UK directors Pete Walker and Norman J Warren, screenwriter David McGillivray's first project post 1978's TERROR was this short SF-horror crossover. In a near-future a soldier at a specialist training facility (Edward Kalinski from FRIGHTMARE) is sent on a special mission. But when he is almost killed he finds it difficult to obtain help. Finally the truth behind why he was sent into the field is revealed.

Disc Two's extras include a lengthy interview with the irrepressible David McGillivrary who offers an engaging career overview with elements that will be familiar to many, especially those who have read his book (he leaves out the spicier bits, naturally). There's also an interview with Julie Peasgood (18 minutes) and another with Peter Shillingford covering his career in British cinema as both cinematographer and producer. Finally there are image galleries for TELL-TALE HEART, THE LAKE and THE ERRAND, script galleries for THE LAKE and THE ERRAND and the original short story of the latter. The first pressing also comes with a booklet featuring new writing on the films from Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Josephine Botting. 

Short Sharp Shocks is out in a two-disc Blu-ray set from the BFI on Monday 23rd November 2020


Thursday 19 November 2020

Concrete Plans (2020)


"Like a British Coen Brothers Movie"

Or even a Welsh one, seeing as CONCRETE PLANS is set there, was filmed there, and some of the financing came from Wales as well. Writer-director Will Jewell's sharp thriller which premiered at London Frightfest in October is getting a digital release from Signature Entertainment on their Frightfest Presents label.

High in the remote Welsh mountains five builders are employed to renovate a farmhouse. It's all part of a plan by their employer to avoid paying inheritance tax. As their work progresses and their pay still fails to materialise, the shady pasts of the five men begin to surface as the situation quickly escalates into violence.

A clever script and a talented cast including Upstart Crow's Mr Burbage himself Steve Speirs and James Lance from JANUARY (aka ESTRANGED) both elevate CONCRETE PLANS to the level of a superior thriller that never goes quite where you expect it to thanks to Will Jewell's directorial sleight of hand. 

The variety of regional accents on display, plus important plot points mentioned almost in passing or in radio announcements, means you need to pay attention but it's all very much worth it. Easily one of the best of the many releases so far on the Frightfest Presents label.

Will Jewell's CONCRETE PLANS is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on the Frightfest Presents label 

on 23rd November 2020

Sunday 15 November 2020

King of New York (1990)


Arrow Films continues to add to its catalogue of releases directed by Abel Ferrara with KING OF NEW YORK, which is coming out on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD. For those of you unfamiliar with the film and who attended this year's Grimmfest or October Frightfest and saw the Arrow trailer reel, this is the film that had the scene where someone bursts into a room announcing "Room service, motherf*ckers!"

Drug kingpin Frank White (Christopher Walken) gets released from prison and immediately sets about putting his gang back together, gaining new members, and asserting his dominance over the other drug lords who have taken his place during his absence. His ostensible reason for killing everyone is that he wants to make enough money to save a local hospital. Meanwhile the NYPD is in pursuit and keen to employ as much violence to deal with him and his gang as Frank routinely does with his own problems.

Boasting a fabulous cast of soon-to-be familiar faces including  Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, David Caruso and Wesley Snipes, Ferrara's film is a slick, beautifully shot, fashion-conscious 1990s gangster picture whose ultimate message is that all violence begets is more of the same. Regular composer Joe Delia delivers an effective synth score that at times feels classical in its aspirations and at others pounds along with the action. 

Arrow's disc is a 4K restoration with stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 sound options on both the UHD and Blu-ray discs. On the DVD it's stereo only. Extras include two audio commentaries, one with Ferrara which starts with a crash and the hiss of the opening of beer bottles before Mr Ferrara begins his sweary reminiscences, stating he is only doing the commentary because he has been paid $5000 in cash. The other is with producer Mary Kane, composer Joe Delia, casting director Randy Sabusawa and editor Anthony Redman and is more sober. There are also separate interviews with Ferrara and producer Augusto Caminito. There are also two Ferrara documentaries looking at his career. The first is an edition of the French TV show Cineastes de Notre Temps and the other is A Short Film About the Long Career of Abel Ferrara. You also get the usual image gallery, trailers and TV spots. The DVD is missing the French documentary and the Caminito interview. The first pressing comes with a collectors' booklet featuring new writing on the film from Brad Stevens (Ferrara's biographer) and Iain Sinclair. 

Abel Ferrara's KING OF NEW YORK is out from Arrow on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 16th November 2020

Thursday 12 November 2020

Dawn of the Dead (1978)


"An Amazing Achievement. The Ultimate DAWN OF THE DEAD set"

Oh yes, Second Sight have outdone themselves with this, an immense, affectionate and one could say almost obsessive tribute to one of the most famous horror films ever made, being released on Blu-ray and 4K UHD no less. George A Romero changed the landscape of horror with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 1969, but it was 1978's DAWN OF THE DEAD that popularised the frequently colourful, often splatter-filled, usually nihilistic, over the top, doom laden subgenre that to this day is what fans everywhere think of when the term 'zombie movie' is mentioned.

So where to start? The plot: the zombie apocalypse has just begun, and we're only just slightly further on in timeline terms from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Four individuals - Fran (Gaylen Ross), her boyfriend Stephen (David Emge), and two state troopers Roger (Scott H Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree) escape the city and end up in an enormous shopping mall which they convert into somewhere they can live. But the dead are massing outside and there are threats in the form of other human beings, too.

George Romero was one of a group of innovative directors who created work that was a dream for horror fans. While never skimping on the splatter (and employing makeup maestros like Tom Savini to ensure the effects looked as real as possible) Romero's work was intelligent, informed, satirical and political - the perfect answer to the absurd claims still prevalent at the time that the horror genre was a waste of time. How many of us pointed those critics to DAWN OF THE DEAD back in the day? They wouldn't have watched it but it didn't matter. George was our hero and he still is.

And he didn't make DAWN OF THE DEAD alone. Another key genre figure and genius movie director, Dario Argento, provided a major contribution and rock band Goblin to provide the music score, with Argento retaining rights to cutting the film for European distribution while Romero did the edit for the US. Which begins to explain why there are so many discs in this set. Let's take a look at what we get (along with the extras, shall we?)

Disc 1

This is George Romero's theatrical cut, (127 minutes) meaning it's the version US audiences will have seen under the title DAWN OF THE DEAD when the film was released in US cinemas unrated (you can do that sort of thing in the US, or at least you could) back in 1978. UK audiences didn't see this version because it had to be cut for an 'X' and it went out under the title ZOMBIES, and was also the version Alpha Video put out on UK VHS in the 1980s. The film uses its Goblin score only sparsely, with much greater use made of library music tracks. The sound mix on this disc is something special, with Mono, Stereo and 5.1 options. Second Sight have given us a 4K scan and  restoration of the negative supervised and approved by DP Michael Gornick. 
        Extras include a Romero, Savini, and Christine Forrest commentary track ported over from the old DVD release, plus a new commentary from Travis Crawford.

Disc 2

Romero's cut still had stuff he took out that he would have preferred left in, though, and so we get what is known as the 'Cannes' cut which is ten minutes longer (137 minutes). Second Sight's disc is a 4K scan in HDR10+ with mono soundtrack. This one has a ported over commentary from producer Richard P Rubinstein.

Disc 3

The Argento cut! And the one the UK censor wasn't happy to pass because all the violence 'lacked justification'. So everywhere else in Europe got to see this one except the UK, which got a cut version of what's on Disc 1. Anyway, the Argento cut is a bit shorter (by seven minutes) but feels a lot tighter and more action-packed, thanks in part to a lot more use of the Goblin score. Somedays it's actually my preferred version and if you're always ignored it on previous DAWN sets give it a go as it really does feel like a different film to the Romero version. Sound options are mono, stereo and 5.1 surround so let 'The Goblins' pulse through those speakers. The commentary track on here is from the four leads.

Disc 4

The extras! Fans will have seen Roy Frumkes' extensive and detailed DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD before, and there's also the The Dead Will Walk documentary from 2014.

But there's loads of new stuff including an hour with Zombies and Bikers (including Savini and a host of familiar Romero names and faces), a half hour tour of the Monroeville Mall, 13 minutes with Tom Savini on the effects, a new interview with actor Richard France (Dummies! Dummies!), a new piece on the logistics of the production, a previously unreleased 20 minute archival Romero interview and 13 minutes of Super 8 footage of the mall shot by one of the zombie extras at the time. You also get trailers, TV and radio spots.

But you also get...

Three CDS! The first is the Goblin soundtrack, bumped up to 17 tracks (the previous Varese CD only had 10) with extra and alternate cuts. The other two are library tracks from the DeWolfe music library. Trunk Records previously released a single CD of library music in the UK but obviously these expand on that.


The novelisation for those who haven't kept their Sphere paperback (UK) from 1978!

A new 160 page hardback book with 17 new essays and a whole bunch of marketing materials and behind the scenes stills!

A great big box to keep it all in!

So - three different versions of the film all in 4K with different sound options. Three soundtrack CDs, a disc packed with extras and books and goodies as well. Second Sight have set the standard by which all future box sets dedicated to a single film will be measured. It's an amazing piece of work and fans are going to be absolutely delighted. If you're still not convinced here's the trailer for the set:

George A Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD is out from Second Sight in 4K UHD and Blu-ray in the most amazing sets ever dedicated to a single film from Monday 16th November 2020

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020)

The reboot of the TREMORS series continues with this, officially the seventh film to bear the name (and one cast member from the original, as well as a couple of familiar faces) and getting a Digital, DVD & Blu-ray release from Universal on 16th November 2020.

Before we go into detail about this latest instalment there are bound to be readers thinking TREMORS 7? I didn't even know there was a TREMORS 2! So just for you, here is a quick summary. The first four films are as follows:

TREMORS (1990)




The first was directed by Ron Underwood and all had the involvement of that film's screenwriters, Brent Maddock and SS Wilson. After this we get:




These last three represent a reboot of the series without Maddock and Wilson and all directed by Don Michael Paul. So what's this one about?

Evil entrepreneur Bill (Richard Brake) has abducted four of the giant earthworm graboids (the phrase coined for them by Victor Wong in the first film), genetically altered them (because we are still in the era of JURASSIC PARK) and dropped them onto an island to be hunted for sport. Of course he has reckoned without their ability to mutate further, and soon perennial graboid hunter Burt Gummer (Michael Gross, the unlikely star of the entire franchise) is called out of retirement by ex-girlfriend Jas (UK TV regular Caroline Langrishe who was also in HOLOCAUST 2000 and Bertrand Tavernier's DEATHWATCH) to blow them all up with the aid of Jon Heder and his gang of island researchers.

You know if you want to see this by now, don't you? I'm sure you can also guess that while it's not a patch on the original film TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND provides 100 minutes of monster-bashing fun, this time amongst some gorgeous Thai scenery. 

Universal's Blu-ray comes with extras that were not provide for review but include The TREMORS Top 30 Moments, The Monsters of TREMORS and The Legend of Burt Gummer. After appearing in seven of these there's not a doubt that he is.

TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND is out on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 16th November 2020

Saturday 7 November 2020

Play For Today Volume One (1970 - 1977)


"Fantastic. Let's Have More"

Play For Today, late and very much lamented by many, was a series of original single dramas made and shown by the BBC from 1970 to 1984. Around 300 of them were made over this time, and they covered a wide range of social and political issues using a wide variety of storytelling styles. Play for Today could be angry and biting one week, gentle and wistful another, and hilariously funny another. You never knew what you were going to get, which for many was part of its appeal. Peppered into the mix time to time was horror like John Bowen's Robin Redbreast (reviewed elsewhere on here) or A Photograph (included in this set) or Vampires (hopefully to be included on a future release).

The BFI are releasing seven Play For Todays in a box set, along with original scripts and an excellent detailed book with essays on each story that gives added context in terms of the socio-cultural attitudes of the time (for those who aren't old enough to have been there!). So without any further ado, here's what you get:

Disc 1

The Lie (1970)

Written by Ingmar Bergman (translated by Paul Britten Austin) and directed by Alan Bridges, best known to readers here for 1966 low budget British SF classic INVASION, The Lie tells the story of a disintegrating marriage. Gemma Jones (wearing a wig that only John Waters' regular makeup man Van Smith could possibly love) and Frank Finlay play the professional couple who sleep in separate beds, lead separate lives and even have separate lovers, with everything coming crashing down about their ears during a climax that has Finlay hacking through a door with an axe to get at his faithless wife. Did Stanley Kubrick see this? Probably. 

Despite its UK setting there's a very European feel to the locations, and especially to the kinds of houses people live in. Posh dinner parties are held with guests standing talking on balconies more suited to the Mediterranean than the obviously awful freezing weather.

It's a typically Bergmanesque tale of gloom and misery with a fascinating cast of familiar faces including Richard O'Sullivan, Jennifer Daniel, John Carson and Joss Ackland. If those eerie violins in the soundtrack seem familiar that's because it's by BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW's Marc Wilkinson. 

Shakespeare or Bust (1972)

Three miners (Brian Glover, Ray Mort and Douglas Livingstone) from Leeds go on a pilgrimage to Stratford on Avon with the intention of seeing Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra, travelling by canal barge to get there. On the way they meet a variety of colourful characters, pursue a gorgeous woman they spot on another boat (Katya Wyeth familiar to readers here from Hammer Films and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) and getting involved in a number of shenanigans before finally reaching their destination, which comes complete with guest appearances by Richard Johnson (best known here for ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS) and Janet Suzman. Utterly charming, this was one of three plays to feature the same three characters and it makes one hope the BFI release 'The Fishing Party' and 'Three for the Fancy' in future sets. 

Disc 2

Back of Beyond (1974)

Desmond Davis (CLASH OF THE TITANS) directs this tale of lonely Olwen (Rachel Roberts) living an hermetic lifestyle in her tumbledown farm in Wales. She makes an unlikely friend in the form of teenaged Rachel (Lynne Jones) whose parents would prefer if she didn't bother with the 'old woman'. 

A fascinating time capsule of a time now long gone, with beautiful location photography in and around Hay-on-Wye and boasting an excellent, melancholy and slightly sinister music score from John Addison, Julia Jones' Back of Beyond (the fourth and last of her Play For Todays) is an unexpected delight. Filmed at what looks like the height of summer the story constantly feels as if it's about to develop into kind of folk horror tale that ITV children's show Shadows was doing so well at around the same time. It never quite does, even though people refer to Olwen as a witch and it's obvious she wants to pass on what she owns to Rachel, whose parents seem to have their own mysterious reasons for shunning the woman. 

A Passage to England (1975)

Anand (Tariq Yunus) lives in Amsterdam with his sick uncle (Renu Setna) and his cousin Pramila (Emily Bolton). He needs to get his uncle to the UK for treatment but they have no passports. He asks Onslow (Colin Welland) if Onslow and his small crew will take them on Onslow's boat. In exchange Anand will sell Onslow one of the gold bars his uncle has converted his savings into for a knock down price in cash. As Onslow remortages his boat, a plan starts to form that maybe he could keep the gold and the money and get in with the immigration authorities in England. But who is double crossing whom?

This one's written by Leon Griffiths (Minder) and directed by John MacKenzie (THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY and APACHES) who gives this caper a slightly gritty edge that helps build the suspense as to what is actually going to happen. Frequent Pete Walker collaborator Stanley Myers provides the score. 

Disc 3

Your Man From Six Counties (1976)

This one's written by Colin Welland and set in contemporary Ireland. Young Jimmy (Joseph Reynolds) witnesses his father blown up in a Belfast pub bombing and moves to Ireland to live with his Uncle Danny (Donal McCann) and Aunt Mollie (a pre-Oscar-winning Brenda Fricker). But the tensions Jimmy left behind in Northern Ireland are still very much present in the tiny village he finds himself living in, and he ends up becoming the focus of many of them. 

Like Back of Beyond, Your Man From Six Counties has beautiful scenery as the backdrop to its considerably more political story. Carl Davis provides the melancholy music score for this one. 

Our Flesh and Blood (1977)

Jan (Alison Steadman from Abigail's Party and a vast amount of other TV) is expecting a baby with husband Bernard (Bernard Hill, best known to one generation for Boys From the Blackstuff and another for LORD OF THE RINGS). Jan wants a 'natural birth' (still a novel concept in 1977) and Bernard wants to support her, despite his boss and colleague treating Jan's pregnancy as a mistake on Bernard's part, refusing to reschedule interviews and suggesting a sports car might be a better investment than a child. Richard Briers (best known to one generation for The Good Life and another, rather wonderfully, for COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES) is the icy head of the maternity ward, embodying what were perceived as the attitudes and principles of late 1970s medicine, urging Jan to take the drugs and wanting Bernard to leave because 'fathers just get in the way'. 

Disc 4

A Photograph (1977)

Michael (John Stride), a media personality "for the intelligentsia" who reviews the arts for the BBC is sent a photograph of two girls sitting outside a caravan. His wife Gillian (Stephanie Turner) is convinced he is having an affair and there's the implication that it isn't the first. There's the suggestion he is up to something he shouldn't be, and it's obvious all is not too happy at home. To placate his wife Michael goes on a search for the caravan but only horror waits him at the end of his journey.

Written by John Bowen (Robin Redbreast and The Ice House amongst others), A Photograph builds slowly and almost imperceptibly to a full-on horror climax that feels as if Pete Walker might have directed it. To say any more would be to spoil the surprises but this is a splendid 72 minutes of television that gradually tightens the knot on its lead character with plenty for the viewer to think about afterwards. 
    As mentioned above, extras on the discs are limited to the scripts but the real bonus here is the detailed book that accompanies the set and provides detailed essays on each film. Thank you BFI. Let's have some more of these. 

PLAY FOR TODAY Volume One is out on Blu-ray in a four disc set from the BFI on Monday 16th November 2020