Sunday 29 May 2022

Vampyr (1932)

"Superb Package For a Uniquely Strange Film"

Carl Dreyer's strange, fascinating, highly influential vampire picture gets a 90th anniversary Blu-ray release of a 2K restoration by the Danish Film Institute (that apparently took ten years) from Eureka.

'Dreamer' (so the opening text informs us) and H P Lovecraft lookalike Allan (or David depending on the version) Gray arrives in the small French village of Courtempierre, only to become immediately involved in strange goings-on. One of the two daughters of a rich family is sick. The cause may be an old lady who is in fact a vampire and aided by a weird doctor. Reality becomes blurred as Gray becomes more involved, imagining himself being buried alive and eventually discovering the tomb of the vampire, whom he stakes with a metal spike. 

Based on not just Carmilla but apparently Carl Dreyer's response to the entire collection of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's stories in which that novella first appeared (In a Glass Darkly), VAMPYR is a unique piece of genre film-making that, a little like the events its protagonist experiences, seems itself to exist somehow out of time. Released the year after Tod Browning's DRACULA (1931) had set the template for 'mainstream' horror. Dreyer's film is stubbornly experimental, light on both plot and action, and very much the art house piece.

Despite its poor distribution and lack of commercial success, watching it today  it's easy to see just how much many celebrated horror film-makers (especially Europeans) were influenced. One can imagine Jean Rollin viewing that narrow grandfather clock and thinking how he'd like to see a very thin vampire lady emerge from it (he also pinched the swivelling skull for his 1971 LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES), and the cracked vampire's tomb at the end looks a lot like Dr Freudstein's at the climax of Lucio Fulci's 1981 HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY.

Eureka's disc comes packed with extras. There are two commentary tracks, one by film critic Tony Rayns and the other by film-maker Guillermo del Toro. Kim Newman has a 22 minute talking head piece in which he compares VAMPYR to Robert Eggers' THE WITCH, stating that if you're in the wrong mood when you watch these films you'll find them tedious but if you're in the right mood they'll haunt you for the rest of your life, and I'd definitely agree with him on that.

David Huckvale offers a superb and detailed breakdown of Wolfgang Zeller's music score, and Mr Huckvale is back to tell us more about In a Glass Darkly and its influence on the film. The Baron is a short film about Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, VAMPYR's star, who essentially funded it in return for the lead role (and he's not bad at all), and Jorgen Roos' 1966 Dreyer documentary is on here too. Don't forget to watch the censored scenes, which offer more footage of the staking and of the evil doctor's climactic suffocation in the grain mill. Finally, you get a 100 page book featuring stills, interviews, and essays and the entire package is housed in a hardbound slipcase. 

The 90th Anniversary 2K Restoration of Carl Dreyer's VAMPYR is out from Eureka on Monday 30th May 2022

Saturday 28 May 2022

Revolver (1973)

"A Cracking Oliver Reed Performance"

Following releases by Arrow, 88 Films and Fractured Visions, Eureka are also getting in on the poliziotteschi act by releasing Sergio Sollima's REVOLVER, which is out now on Blu-ray in a 1080p presentation from a 4K restoration.

Anna Cipriani (Agostina Belli), wife of prison warden Vito Cipriani (Oliver Reed) is kidnapped by a gang who demand the release of prisoner Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi), but Milo seems to have no idea who would want to do this. Vito grudgingly arranges for Milo to escape but picks him up outside the prison and together the two form an unlikely team trying to puzzle out what's going on. Could it be to do with that politician we saw assassinated at the beginning in the film's only bit of unintentional hilarity?

Lacking the kind of outrageous stunts and car chases that make the best of the poliziotteschi genre so entertaining, Sergio Sollima's film goes for social commentary and the idea that even people like Vito are pawns in the machinations of people much higher up. Unfortunately this makes for a rather bland film. Thank goodness, then, for Oliver Reed, who delivers a fantastic, riveting performance that alone makes REVOLVER a must-see. He won't let you take his eyes off him when he's on-screen and more than makes up for the somewhat more wooden performances of his co-stars.

REVOLVER is presented on Eureka's Blu-ray in both Italian and English language versions. In terms of special features, the first thing worth pointing out is that there are two sets of subtitles, because the menu doesn't, so toggle around with your subtitle control to get the one you prefer. One is a direct transcription of the English language dub, the other is newly translated from the Italian. 

Other extras include the always listenable Stephen Thrower talking about both the film and the career of Sergio Sollima for just over twenty minutes, a new Kim Newman - Barry Forshaw commentary track, an archival commentary with Fabio Testi, trailers and radio spots. The first 2000 copies come with an 'O' card slipcase and a booklet with essays on the making of the film and Ennio Morricone's Eurocrime soundtracks.

Sergio Sollima's REVOLVER is out on Blu-ray from Eureka now

Friday 20 May 2022

Ghosts of the Ozarks (2022)

"A Weird Western?"

And there just aren't enough of those, are there? So it's nice to see GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS getting a UK Digital release from Signature. 

We're in Arkansas just after the American Civil War. James (Thomas Hobson) is a medical man who has been invited by his uncle Matthew (Phil Morris) to come to the remote, isolated village of Norfork where a doctor is badly needed, the previous one having left under mysterious circumstances.

One evening James is beset in the forest by a man who tries to rob him of precious gems he doesn't have. Escaping he encounters a red smoke that seems to contain monsters, after which he almost immediately finds himself at the walled town of Norfork.

It's an odd place. David Arquette keeps trying to sell James hats. The bartender is blind and his wife (genre favourite Angela Bettis) plays the piano in a bar displaying paintings of people dancing in a ring and watched over by horned demons  Pretty soon James comes to realise that there's a lot that's weirder and more sinister going on in Norfork than just eccentric behaviour.

GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS isn't bad at all. The central idea is sound and the acting is fine. The problem lies with the direction and photography, both of which are flat and uninspired, giving the endeavour a 1970s TV episode look but without the graininess. As a result it's very difficult to think you're looking at anything other than actors on a set or a backlot. And that's a shame because with a bit more style and panache GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS could have been something with a very pleasingly weird atmosphere indeed. 

Better music would also have been an immense help, especially at the climax and I cannot help but point the finger and Director of Photography, Composer and Co-Director Matt Glass who may have just taken on a bit more than was strictly a good idea. One suspects budgetary constraints made it a necessity, because for all the professionalism on the acting front GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS still feels less a production by experienced film-makers and more a super ambitious student project. You can't fault them for trying, though, and despite what I've said above I actually found GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS well worth a watch, both for its ideas and the extent of its ambitions. Here's the trailer:

GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS is out on Digital from Signature on 23rd May 2022

Monday 16 May 2022

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse (2022)

Back in 2015, writer-director Kiah Roache-Turner's Australian zombie apocalypse horror comedy WYRMWOOD received its UK premiere at Glasgow Frightfest, where I said it had 'excellent pacing, superb characters and an original take on a well-worn theme'. Seven years later we have the sequel. WYRMWOOD:APOCALYPSE also premiered at Glasgow Frightfest and is getting a Blu-ray and Digital release from 101 Films.

If you haven't seen WYRMWOOD you may want to give that a watch first because the sequel follows straight on, featuring many of the same characters (and actors, although sadly no Leon Burchill as Benny). After an action-packed opening we meet Luke, who powers his shack using zombies on exercise bikes and spends his days finding specimens for the Surgeon (Nicholas Boshier from the excellent TV sketch show The Moth Effect).

Ostensibly these specimens are being used to find a cure for the zombie plague, but all is not as it seems. Luke joins forces with Barry and Brooke, the brother-sister team from the first film (Brooke is some kind of hybrid zombie, by the way), makes other allies along the way, and the whole thing comes to an ultra-gory climax.

For a film that looks like its budget was even lower than its predecessor (most of the action takes place outside and the only sets are a couple of tin sheds and a trestle table), WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE is a well made, vigorous action picture that never stops except to blow even more arms and legs off. It's clear that a lot of enthusiasm was put into making it and that sense of joy in creating all the mischievous mayhem is infectious. There's not a lot of plot, or character development, or anything other than gore and action, but WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE is fun, which is exactly what it's there for.

WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE is out from 101 Films on Digital and Blu-ray on Monday 16th May 2022