View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Nastassja Kinski in Cat People (Photo: Shout! Factory & Universal)
By Matt Brunson
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
BELLE (2021). Given the stateside title of Belle (in its native Japan, it’s called The Dragon and the Freckled Princess) and a plot involving a fierce yet sensitive beast and the beauty who loves him, it’s not hard to dig up this animated film’s roots. But while taking a central idea from the classic fairy tale (and with a special emphasis on Disney’s toon version), this imaginative piece from writer-director Mamoru Hosoda (the Oscar-nominated Mirai) is very much its own, uh, beast. Suzu is an insecure teenage girl who, prodded by her best friend, creates an online character in a virtual world known as “U.” Suzu’s alter ego Belle is a singing sensation who attracts a record number of followers, but her mixed feelings about her newfound (albeit anonymous) success temporarily get shelved after she encounters an intimidating creature known as The Dragon. Belle runs just over two hours, and its length is felt in several lighter sequences that keep the story needlessly idling. But the film’s weightier moments make an impact, whether it’s the tragic opening, the anti-bullying stance, or the surprising turn that takes the movie in an unexpected direction.
Shout! Factory and GKIDS debuted Belle in a Blu-ray edition just this past May, but that handsome package looks like a heavily rented Blockbuster VHS copy of Home Alone in comparison to this 4K set offered by the two outfits. I kid, I kid, but truthfully, this new three-disc edition is truly wondrous, packed with such goodies as a 60-page booklet, art cards, a poster, and a sticker. As for the extra features, they include all the ones from the Blu-ray (a making-of featurette, a conversation with Hosoda, a piece on the music, and scene breakdowns) as well as a few new ones, such as interviews and promo events.
CAT PEOPLE (1982). With apologies to Psycho, The Wolf Man, and a handful of other superb achievements, it’s likely that 1942’s Cat People is my all-time favorite horror film. Produced by Val Lewton (The Body Snatcher, Bedlam) and directed by Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past), this influential hit not only added a film noir coat to a horror flick base, it also managed to provide plenty of food for thought, given its various standings as a treatise on sexual hang-ups, as a study of American xenophobia in the face of Eastern European exoticism and eroticism, as a roiling examination of the ego/superego/id push-pull, and as a textbook film-school staple for its brilliant use of light and shadows. Writer-director Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake, on the other hand, has little more on its mind than kink. Nastassja Kinski is the alluring Irene, who learns that if she has sex with any man aside from her pervy brother (who else but Malcolm McDowell), she will turn into a werecat. Naturally, she’s freaked out by her sibling’s incestuous advances, more so since she has a sweet spot for a handsome zoologist (John Heard). Schrader, generally an excellent scripter (Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ) and a solid writer-director (Blue Collar, First Reformed), seems at a loss on how to tackle what’s arguably the most mainstream project of his career — the result is a lamentable misfire, with slick visuals and a few bravura scenes neutered by occasionally risible shot selections, a couple of glaring plotholes, and a psychosexual ambience that’s more fizzle than sizzle. Now as then, the film’s best component by far is David Bowie’s superb theme song “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” penned by Bowie and Giorgio Moroder.
Extras on the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary by Schrader; interviews with Schrader, Kinski, McDowell, Heard, and Moroder; matte paintings; and photo galleries.
EQUUS (1977). The rumor goes that when Sylvester Stallone started to say “Richard…” at the 50th Academy Awards ceremony, Richard Burton started to rise from his seat, assuming he had won Best Actor for Equus. Instead, he had to quickly slink back down, since the winner turned out to be another Richard: Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl. This is utter nonsense, as can be confirmed by a quick YouTube search; had it been true, though, who could blame Burton for thinking the trophy was his, given the high caliber of his performance? One of several stars to play the part of Martin Dysart on the stage (Anthony Hopkins and Anthony Perkins were among the others), Burton proved he was up for the cinematic adaptation, delivering a formidable performance as a psychiatrist whose latest patient is a teenage lad named Alan Strang (Peter Firth, also imported from the stage). Strang has been placed in a psychiatric hospital for committing a horrific crime — he blinded several horses — and Dysart works to unravel the reasons behind the youth’s shocking act. A Tony Award winner for Best Play, Equus met with less enthusiasm on the silver screen — even with playwright Peter Shaffer (Amadeus) adapting his own work and the direction in the capable hands of Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Fail-Safe), the movie was criticized for stripping the work of its theatricality (mainly, the horse constructions and costumes were replaced on film by real animals; see also War Horse). Yet Lumet’s handling of the material doesn’t miss a beat, and the only real trace of an encroaching staginess can be found in some of Dysart’s lengthy monologues. In addition to Burton’s bid, the movie also earned Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Firth) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
GIALLO ESSENTIALS (1972-1974). Arrow Video’s Giallo Essentials series continues with a third box set in less than a year, again housing a trio of unearthed Italian murder-mysteries. Given the box colors, the first volume was dubbed the Red Edition, the second was tagged the Yellow Edition, and this one is the Black Edition.
The best film in the set, Smile Before Death (1972) finds teenage cutie Nancy Thompson (Jenny Tamburi) returning home from boarding school just after her mother has apparently committed suicide. But Jenny believes her mom was murdered, and her two suspects are her stepfather Marco (Silvano Tranquilli) and his mistress Gianna (Rosalba Neri). Nancy and Gianna become friends while she and Marco become lovers, and it’s not long before alliances seemingly shift and the manipulations begin. This is the sort of gleeful giallo where one final plot twist (and it’s a biggie) is followed by a darkly ironic coda to sweeten the dealings. All three leads are excellent.
The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive (1972) is a delirious picture that, while primarily a giallo, also manages to tap into the nunsploitation genre that was particularly popular during the 1970s (e.g. 1973’s The Nun and the Devil, 1978’s Killer Nun) but overspilled into the following decades as well (e.g. 1981’s The Other Hell, 1993’s Dark Waters). At a convent where the nuns tend to self-flagellate, a womanizing priest (Maurizio Bonuglia) breaks off his simultaneous affairs with two married women (Bedy Moratti and Eva Czemerys) and is subsequently murdered. The suspects are plentiful — one of the women, one of their spouses, one of the nuns, or someone else? — and the case grows even more complicated when the lead inspector (Renzo Montagnani, very good) falls for one of the wayward wives. Plenty of quirky touches as well as an imaginative set design help this one stand out.
Unless Golan, Globus, and Cannon Films are involved, it’s nigh impossible to completely botch an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None). The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974) isn’t a complete washout, but it’s nevertheless an overall disappointment, taking the Christie template and running it through some grasping and unconvincing scenarios. With select scenes whose theatrics and atmospherics bring to mind the far superior The Last of Sheila (released the previous year), this places a group of insufferable rich people in a crumbling building and proceeds to have them knocked off by an unknown assailant. Making the scene of the crimes a dilapidated theater is a nice touch, but the characters aren’t a particular interesting lot and tedium sets in before long.
Smile Before Death and The Killer Reserved Nine Seats offer both the Italian and English soundtracks, while The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive is only in Italian. Extras on all three titles consist of film critic audio commentary and an image gallery. Other bonuses include never-before-seen extended nude scenes for Smile Before Death, front and end titles for the lost English-language dub of The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive, and interviews with actor Howard Ross and screenwriter Biagio Proietti for The Killer Reserved Nine Seats.
Smile Before Death: ★★★
The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive: ★★★
The Killer Reserved Nine Seats: ★★
HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021). Halloween Kills is the follow-up to the 2018 Halloween, a belated and alternate-universe sequel to the 1978 classic even though both sport the same name. As I noted in my review of the ’18 edition, “This is what happens when a valuable franchise is entrusted to the guys who foisted Your Highness upon an unsuspecting world.” But while fratboy filmmakers David Gordon Green and Danny McBride (the former serving as writer-director, the latter as co-scripter) made a rampaging mediocrity four years ago, they’ve created an out-and-out bomb this time around. Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) survived the fire seen at the end of Halloween, so he continues his killing spree around his Haddonfield hometown. The mother-daughter-granddaughter tag team of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Karen Nelson (Judy Greer), and Allyson Nelson (Andi Matichak) is again determined to stop him — so, too, is citizen Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), who leads a mob of unquestioning sheep who repeatedly bleat, “Make Haddonfield great again!” — I mean, “Evil dies tonight!” Halloween Kills is a depressing disaster, with the filmmakers as mechanical as their hulking hero in finding groovy new ways to slay people. There are several new characters who promise to bring amusement and originality to the series, but, nope, they’re merely there as cinematic cannon fodder. Green and McBride laughably try to inject real-world meaning into the film, but they bungle the assignment: For instance, the movie is anti-vigilante until it suddenly decides to become pro-vigilante. And just when it seems like this can’t go any lower, along come those final, cynical shots.
Halloween Kills has been reissued on 4K + Blu-ray as a limited edition steelbook. Extras include making-of featurettes; a gag reel; and a Kill Count that tracks all 31 slayings in the film.
THE TENTH MAN (1988). The Tenth Man, the penultimate novel by Graham Greene before his death in 1991, was made into a TV movie three years after its publication. Yet because the film was a Hallmark Hall of Fame production — often meaning a larger budget and an A-list cast — it bears the distinction of looking like a theatrical feature and even played movie houses in select countries. Set in France during World War II, this stars Anthony Hopkins as Jean-Louis Chavel, a wealthy Parisian lawyer who gets randomly scooped up by the Nazis and tossed into a jail with 29 other Frenchmen. After the prisoners are informed that one out of every 10 must face a firing squad in the morning, a makeshift lottery is employed and Chavel is one of the unlucky three. He offers all his money and property to anyone who will take his place; one young man (Timothy Watson) dying of tuberculosis volunteers, prematurely sacrificing his life so that his sister Thérèse (Kristen Scott Thomas) and mother (Brenda Bruce) will live in comfort. When Chavel is released three years later, the now-impoverished attorney moves incognito back to his estate, accepting Thérèse’s offer of a position as handyman. This sets the stage for some interesting character dynamics, as Thérèse hates Chavel for in effect killing her brother, not knowing that the man to whom she’s becoming attracted is the very person she loathes. The situation becomes even knottier when another person (Derek Jacobi, nabbing an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor) turns up claiming to be Chavel. A late surge of erratic pacing strips the ending of some of its power, but overall this is a nicely understated drama featuring a strong performance by Hopkins.
The Blu-ray offers the movie in both 1.33:1 (old-school TV ratio) and 1.78:1 (widescreen theatrical ratio). The only extras are trailers for other films from Kino starring either Hopkins or Scott Thomas.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
The Body Snatcher
Giallo Essentials: Red Edition
Giallo Essentials: Yellow Edition
The Last of Sheila
The Last Temptation of Christ
The Other Hell
Ten Little Indians (1989)