View from the Couch: All the Colors of Giallo, At Eternity’s Gate, Horror Express, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.
Blood and Black Lace, one of the films showcased in All the Colors of Giallo (Photo: Severin)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO (2019). Director Sergio Martino’s 1972 giallo film All the Colors of the Dark has just been released on Blu-ray by Severin Films, but perhaps even more noteworthy is the outfit’s related release of All the Colors of Giallo. The title is the name of the included 90-minute documentary in which various filmmakers and film scholars discuss the history of the giallo flick (for the uninitiated, giallo refers to Italian films and novels that often combine mysteries with slasher elements or other lurid ingredients), yet the real story with this release is the inclusion of a generous four hours of trailers promoting a whopping 82 giallo films. The line-up begins with 1963’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and ends with 1983’s A Blade in the Dark; along the way are such staples as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Black Belly of the Tarantula, and Don’t Torture a Duckling. The giallo films were predated by Germany’s similar Krimi films, and, going the extra mile, this compilation also includes 90 minutes of Krimi trailers, plugging a total of 32 movies (a hefty number of them co-starring Klaus Kinski). The actual documentary is interesting if rather choppy and incomplete, although it pays the proper tribute to such genre giants as Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Yet it’s the massive collection of giallo trailers that provides the true education — and in the process also offers no small measure of home-viewing recommendations.
For those keeping track, the giallo trailers are on a Blu-ray while the Krimi trailers are on a DVD. Extras include audio commentary by author Kat Ellinger (All the Colors of Sergio Martino); an interview with The Giallo Pages editor John Martin; and an interview with film historian Marcus Stiglegger. The collection also includes a CD soundtrack featuring 20 musical selections from various giallo films.
AT ETERNITY’S GATE (2018). The greatest performance found in any movie released in 2017 was the one delivered by Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project, a film that also earned my vote as the best of its year (see the complete Best & Worst of 2017 here). Every single critics’ group worth its salt — a whopping 31 in total, including the major four (NY, LA, National Society, National Board) — gave the Best Supporting Actor award to Dafoe for his remarkable and low-key turn. Alas, later-in-the-season outfits like the Broadcast Film Critics, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the Academy, and, shamefully, my own Southeastern Film Critics Association predictably preferred Sam Rockwell’s showboating, look-Ma-I’m-acting! turn as a lovably racist cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Perhaps the Academy felt guilty about its wrong choice, since practically nobody predicted Dafoe to immediately nab another nomination this year, this time as Best Actor for his intense work as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate. The performance is certainly worthy, with Dafoe nearly matching the intensity displayed by Kirk Douglas when he essayed the role in 1956’s Lust for Life. Julian Schnabel, a successful painter before becoming a successful director (Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), has opted to bypass creating a traditional biopic, choosing instead to mix fact and fiction to provide a look at Van Gogh’s tortured mental state during his final years. The slow pacing will deter many, but the offbeat result is often fascinating.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Schnabel and co-writer and co-editor Louise Kugelberg, and a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018). For those seeking nothing more than a rollicking good time, this biopic of the rock band Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury largely gets the job done. Rami Malek delivers an incendiary performance as Mercury, those playing his bandmates (Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, and Joe Mazzello as John Deacon) are perfectly cast, and the recreation of one of the group’s final at-bats — the appearance at 1985’s Live Aid — is smashing. But those looking for some depth — or, heck, even some historical context — will be sorely disappointed, as the film wreaks havoc on chronology, ignores key albums and songs, and takes factual liberties that will raise ample sets of eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic. Mercury’s homosexuality and subsequent death from AIDS are noted, but peeks at his lifestyle are mainly channeled through sly glances here and there with beefy bodies as well as a one-dimensional villain in Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), Mercury’s part-time lover and part-time manager. Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13, as the film’s producers and band members May and Taylor (both heavily involved with the making of the movie) were clearly shooting for a frothy, toe-tapping smash along the lines of the ABBA-approved Mamma Mia! But this story deserved a deeper and more shaded rendition, one worthy of the dynamic figure at its center. It should have been — excuse the clumsy co-opting — “Killer Queen” rather than a compromised biopic that will only intermittently rock you. The weakest of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees, Bohemian Rhapsody earned five nominations overall, including a Best Actor bid for Malek.
Blu-ray extras include the complete Live Aid movie performance; a piece on Malek’s turn as Mercury; and a look at recreating Live Aid.
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994). The working definition of a word-of-mouth hit, Four Weddings and a Funeral opened modestly stateside in the spring of 1994, not reaching the #1 slot until its sixth week. This $5 million production ultimately ended up with an impressive $52 million in the U.S. coffers, still just a fraction of its monstrous $245 million international take. It’s that rare romantic comedy that deserved its riches, given its penchant for avoiding brain-dead formula almost every step of the way. Hugh Grant plays Charles, a congenial British bachelor who begins to question his own philosophy on life after he falls for Carrie (Andie MacDowell), a charming if blunt American he keeps bumping into at the title events. The script by Richard Curtis is by turns poignant, observant and wickedly funny, and the note-perfect supporting cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas as Charles’ best friend Fiona, Simon Callow as the garrulous Gareth, and Rowan Atkinson as a befuddled priest. Thanks to one lovely scene, the movie provided renewed interest in W.H. Auden’s 1936 poem “Funeral Blues” (aka “Stop all the clocks”). Four Weddings and a Funeral earned two Academy Award nominations, for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay; missing out was Grant, absolutely beguiling in his star-making performance.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Curtis, director Mike Newell and producer Duncan Kenworthy; deleted scenes; a trio of vintage making-of featurettes; a new interview with director of photography Michael Coulter; promotional spots; and the theatrical trailer.
HORROR EXPRESS (1972). Also known as Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express, this Spanish-British co-production managed to build a sturdy cult following during the 1980s, and it’s subsequently been released on DVD on approximately two dozen occasions. The reason for such a high output, of course, is because the film fell into the public domain, allowing any idiot to release it in a barely watchable edition marred by wretched sound and picture. Severin Films offered the first decent version back in 2011, and now Arrow Video comes along with its own sparkling Blu-ray edition. Set at the start of the 20th century, this finds genre superstars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing cast as rival scientists who team up once a monster long frozen in ice breaks loose on the Trans-Siberian Express and starts murdering crew members and passengers alike. There’s much more to the film than this deceptively simple synopsis — should I drop a hint that a dinosaur makes an appearance? — but part of its allure is that it takes all manner of detours, both fun and far-fetched. Telly Savalas appears briefly as a thuggish Cossack, and there’s a suitably loopy turn by Robert De Niro look-alike Alberto de Mendoza as a fanatical priest. It’s always a pleasure to see Lee and Cushing perform together, and here they’re especially ingratiating, with Lee projecting authority and Cushing getting off some amusing quips — when someone suggests that one of them might be the monster in disguise, he retorts, “Monster? We’re British, you know!”
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film scholars Stephen Jones and Kim Newman; an interview with director Eugenio Martin; an interview with producer Bernard Gordon in which he discusses the McCarthy era and the Hollywood blacklist; and an interview with composer John Cacavas.
JACK THE RIPPER (1959). While the 2001 Jack the Ripper film From Hell remains woefully underrated, this 1959 take on London’s notorious serial killer falls more into the underseen camp. A British production that was brought stateside by prolific producer Joseph E. Levine, it’s similar to the Johnny Depp picture in that it also subscribes to the popular theory that the man who was murdering Whitechapel prostitutes in grisly fashion was actually a person with medical knowledge — most likely a doctor. Thus, the suspects are plentiful in this version, as there’s the grouchy Dr. Tranter (John Le Mesurier), the pompous Dr. Rogers (Ewen Solon), the friendly Dr. Urquhart (Garard Green), and, in the best monster-movie tradition, their facially scarred hunchback assistant, Louis Benz (Endre Muller). Scotland Yard’s Inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne) isn’t having much luck cracking the case, so his friend Sam Lowry (Lee Patterson), an American detective, arrives to lend a hand. With an intelligent script by Hammer mainstay Jimmy Sangster (Horror of Dracula), an appropriately oppressive atmosphere, and a clever denouement, this remains one of the finest Ripper films to date.
Severin’s Blu-ray edition of Jack the Ripper contains both the complete US and UK versions of the film — the UK cut goes lighter on the gore, while the US version not only ramps it up but also contains one gruesome color shot in an otherwise black-and-white film. Extras include audio commentary by Sangster, co-director Robert S. Baker, and assistant director Peter Manley; alternate takes of some scenes that were filmed for release in the rest of Europe (these include nudity); an interview with author Denis Meikle (Jack the Ripper: The Murders and the Movies); and the theatrical trailer.
SUMMER LOVERS (1982). Summer Lovers is pornography, pure and simple. No, no, I don’t mean porn in the sense of X-rated erotica, all heavenly bodies exchanging bodily fluids — frankly, this timid film is about as alluring and arousing as one of those 1960s nudies in which heavyset husbands and housewives play volleyball au naturel. But while some movies qualify as “food porn” by lingering on sumptuous banquets of edibles (Babette’s Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman), others can be tagged “travel porn” by focusing on gorgeous locales made for vacations (Under the Tuscan Sun, Eat Pray Love). This belongs to that second classification: Filmed in the Greek Islands of Santorini, Mykonos and more, it offers one breathtaking shot after another, all captured by cinematographer Timothy Galfas. It’s a good thing Summer Lovers is such a physical beauty, because there’s not much occurring inside its head. Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah play Michael and Cathy, Americans arriving in Greece for fun and sun. Both amused and intoxicated by the rampant nudity on display by the other tourists, the pair struggle to elevate their own game — a real challenge, since Michael has opted to woo and bed a French archaeologist named Lina (Valérie Quennessen). Initially angered, Cathy eventually becomes friends with Lina and they end up sharing Michael. Written and directed by Randal Kleiser, Summer Lovers manages to become more trite as it unfolds, but for an undemanding experience that’s easy on the eyes and the ears (the latter thanks to a lively pop soundtrack as well as Basil Pouledouris’ score), one could do worse: One could be watching Kleiser’s equally sun-dappled — and truly brainless — The Blue Lagoon instead.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Kleiser; a vintage making-of piece; and the theatrical trailer.
TARZAN GOES TO INDIA (1962) / TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES (1963). One of the best of all films featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ durable jungle denizen, 1959’s Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (recently released via the Warner Archive Collection and reviewed here) was followed by 1960’s Tarzan the Magnificent, in which Tarzan (returning star Gordon Scott) squares off against a villain played by Jock Mahoney. Tarzan the Magnificent (alas, not available on Blu) was Scott’s final hoorah (yodel?) in the part, with Mahoney interestingly taking over the role for the next two entries. Unfortunately, Mahoney is a far less interesting Tarzan than Scott (and neither, of course, could touch Johnny Weissmuller), and his two efforts prove to be only middling installments. In each picture, Mahoney’s Tarzan leaves the comforts of Africa to travel further east in an effort to help out friends in need. In Tarzan Goes to India, he’s summoned to save hundreds of elephants that will drown once a dam under construction finally opens; his primary opponent is an American overseer (Leo Gordon) who enjoys slaughtering elephants for profit. Tarzan’s Three Challenges is the marginally better bet of the pair, as Tarzan journeys to Thailand to protect a young boy (Ricky Der) who has been chosen to become the new ruler, a decree opposed by the dying king’s warmongering brother (Woody Strode). Tarzan Goes to India and Tarzan’s Three Challenges were both shot on location as opposed to being filmed on studio backlots, and both offer prominent billing for their pachyderm co-stars (“Gajendra, King of the Elephants” and “Hungry the Baby Elephant,” respectively).
There are no extras on the Blu-ray for Tarzan Goes to India. The only extra on Tarzan’s Three Challenges is the theatrical trailer. (Incidentally, and to avoid confusion among cinephiles who pick these up, I noticed that the supporting cast erroneously listed on the back of the case for Tarzan Goes to India is actually the supporting cast for another film: 1968’s Tarzan and the Jungle Boy, starring Mike Henry.)
Tarzan Goes to India: ★★½
Tarzan’s Three Challenges: ★★½
Short And Sweet:
AUDITION (1999). Seeking someone to replace his dearly departed wife, a widower (Ryo Ishibashi) holds fake tryouts for a movie, with the real purpose of the auditions being to find him a beautiful young bride. Out of the 30 prospects, he quickly settles on the meek Asami (Eihi Shiina), little realizing she will soon turn his life into a living hell. A slow burn of a film that eventually erupts into shocking violence of the “torture porn” variety, this celebrated effort from Japanese director Takashi Miike has lost none of its power to disturb, although its sexual politics (is the movie feministic or misogynistic?) remain as muddied as ever.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Miike and scripter Daisuke Tengan; separate audio commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes; a new interview with Miike; and theatrical trailers.
THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1958). The participation of Willis O’Brien is the chief point of interest in this sci-fi outing from the nuclear-obsessed 1950s. The co-creator of the landmark effects employed in 1933’s King Kong had a hand in creating this picture’s titular creature, a long-dormant (and radioactive) dinosaur that initially pops up off the coast of Cornwall before heading off to destroy London. Despite being light on monster sightings, the Cornwall-set first half is actually more interesting than the London-set second half, though the effects remain entertaining throughout.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Oscar-winning special effects legends Dennis Muren (Return of the Jedi, Jurassic Park) and Phil Tippet (ditto), and the theatrical trailer.
VALENTINE (2001). Thirteen years after various classmates reject him at a high school dance, a disturbed man seeks to slaughter all the mean girls (Denise Richards, Jessica Cauffiel, Jessica Capshaw and Katherine Heigl) but might spare the one (Marley Shelton) who treated him OK. This is a routine slasher flick from the Scream branch, one which only goes completely off the rails with a final twist that doesn’t make sense on any of about 10,000 levels.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Jamie Blanks, joined by Phantasm writer-director Don Coscarelli; a vintage making-of featurette; deleted scenes; new interviews with Richards, Shelton and Cauffiel; an interview with composer Don Davis; behind-the-scenes footage shot by Blanks; and the music video for Orgy’s “Opticon.”
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