Monthly Archives: December 2019

Into The Spiderverse…… lucio fulci’s THE BEYOND In A Spanking New Shameless Edition.

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BD. Shameless. Region B. 18.

It’s highly likely that if you’re reading a Blog entitled “House Of Freudstein”, you won’t need me to regale you with the plot of lucio fulci‘s The Beyond (1981). Just in case, though… a woman inherits a New Orleans hotel that’s apparently been built over one of The Seven Gates of Hell (d’oh, what were the odds on that?) and everyone around her starts dying. Very messily indeed. Lots of other mysterious shit happens and eventually she and her potential love interest find themselves in Hell. Literally. That’s all, folks…

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Not much of a plot, is it? The enduring appeal of Fulci’s Horror masterpiece resides elsewhere than its highly disjointed narrative… in its regular, relentless outbreaks of mortifying violence and the sheer eldritch atmosphere with which it drips, thanks largely to the spellbinding score of Fabio Frizzi and exquisite, delicate / doomy photography of Sergio Salvati. Salvati buffs will have much to ponder in this handsome new 2k scan from Shameless, during the preparation of which the original colour elements of the film’s unforgettable prologue (in which an occult-inspired artist is chain-whipped, burned with quicklime and crucified by a posse of outraged rednecks) were discovered and for the first time ever, remastered.

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Usually screened in a sepia-tinted variation (that must have cost them a few squid… see what I did there?), this sequence has also been released in various territories in full colour and black and white variations. In this edition you’ve got  the choice of kicking the film off in any of those, plus the wholly new option of a golden “sepia on colour” (or the digital equivalent thereof) rendering. You can even, should you wish to, view all four versions simultaneously though I wouldn’t advise imbibing psychotropic drugs before doing so, unless you’re planning on spending the next few months in a rubber room.

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These new perspectives on the prologue are at the forefront of Shameless’s attempt to convince you to cough up for yet another edition of The Beyond, but as an added inducement there’s a supporting compliment of tasty bonus materials, some of which you might or might not have already encountered in earlier releases. The audio commentary from stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck is a bittersweet affair in which a desperately feeble-sounding Warbeck maintains his customary wit and charm in the face of his own impending death. In an alternative commentary track, DP Salvati discusses many aspects of the film, over and above his lighting of it in collaboration with a trusty crew of fellow Fulci regulars (particularly interesting to hear from him that Al Cliver’s role was originally intended for Ivan Rassimov). Interviewees Giorgio Mariuzzo (who co-wrote the film with Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti), Fulci’s close personal friend Michele Mirabella (“He fed me to the tarantulas but it helped to pay the mortgage”) and beautiful Cinzia Monreale are not, of course, short on stories of Fulci’s legendary eccentricities and contrariness, indeed a clip of him taking time out from the shooting of Demonia (1990), which has been floating around since bootleg VHS days, captures the great man in particularly florid form.

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Apparently Mariuzzo’s wife, the widow of Elio Petri, told him how highly Petri regarded lucio fulci as a technician. Taste makers, particularly in his own country, never afforded Fulci the same level of acclaim as Petri and co, but fuck ’em… nearly 40 years after the event, The Beyond (and many of his other films) are still being avidly consumed, analysed and cherished.

The soul that pines for eternity shall, indeed, outspan death.

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Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Man Who Shot Mathew Hopkins… NICKY HENSON Interviewed In 2016.

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“Nicky Henson has died after a long disagreement with cancer”. There’s been no shortage of bad news to close out 2019 but this latest saddener was announced by the Henson family earlier today in a wryly humorous style redolent of the man himself. Nick was a funny bloke, indeed probably best known for his role as the loutish lothario Johnson in Fawlty Towers, though it was the BFI’s Blu-ray release of Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973) which led to me interviewing him in 2016. The following excerpts comprise our discussions of his appearance in that cult effort and alongside his good friend Ian Ogilvy in Michael Reeves’ classic Witchfinder General (1968)…

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You’ve been pretty scathing about Psychomania over the years. I wondered if you’ve warmed to it at all over the various re-releases and promotional campaigns…

They showed it at NFT 1 the other night and believe it or not, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it at the cinema. I didn’t see it when it came out because I was always working in the theatre, then I would see it on television. They always screened it when I was playing in something really smart at the RSC or The National Theatre, playing opposite the Cusaks in Three Sisters or something like that. There must have been somebody at the BBC who, whenever I was playing in something smart like that, would always whack Psychomania on at one o’clock in the morning, so all the other actors could see it when they got home from work. They’ve done an extremely good job of restoring it…

The Blu-ray looks great.

Absolutely… and I really enjoyed some of the extras, too.

Some of them are quite bizarre, I mean, the thing about the Christian bikers?!?

Yeah! At the NFT they showed a motorcycling film by Dreyer from the 1940s, an extraordinary piece of work.

I wonder if you’re finally seeing some money for Psychomania because you’ve said that you were stiffed for a lot of these pictures…

British Equity never quite got it together as far as movies were concerned. It was like you made it then that’s it, done. You never got a penny whether it was on television, video, DVD, Blu-ray or whatever in fact it used to be on TV so often and the next night I’d go into the pub and everybody would say: “The drinks are on you” but I didn’t make anything out of it… not a penny!

Psychomania really was a staple of late night TV for a long time, there.

Absolutely, yeah, which is why, I suppose, there are generations of people who know the blimmin’ thing. I have people quoting lines from it to me in lifts, it’s really bizarre. Maybe I should start going to a few of these conventions, I’ve never been to one…

Oh you must, I think you’d enjoy it very much, maybe bump into a few old colleagues and and hopefully make a few bob in the process.

Maybe I should…

What does it say about the state of the British film industry at the time that such an odd movie could be made with such an unlikely cast?

Well, I suppose the last British film industry boom was back in the ’60s when the Americans all came over with money to make “Swinging London” movies… and we got greedy, people were making crappy movies along with the really good ones. Then that money went away and we’d never really looked after our own industry so we ended up going back to making ‘B-movies’ in a way, they were halves of double features. I did Psychomania because I was earning £35 a week during the first or second season of Frank Dunlop’s Young Vic company, of which I was a founder member. The film unions were still very strong at that time so you had to wrap at 5.30 and I could get back to the theatre and do a show in the evening. Instead of doing bad telly, which everybody sees, I chose to do bad films, in the belief that nobody would see them, not realising that they’d still be turning up on the telly, 20-30 years later. I was involved… you’ve got Beryl Reid who was going through a low-ish point in her carer… then you’ve got George Sanders…which was very sad.

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Was he masking his sadness with this debonair sort of facade or is it easier for you, as an actor, see through all that stuff?

I have to say that we had a very, very good time, we were just corpsing, laughing our way through the picture because it was so silly. He would turn to me and say: “You’re not actually going to say that are you?” and I’d say: “I have to! It’s in the script!” and we’d just get hysterical.

I suppose we have to discuss the chair…

Oh God, yes. The first day on the picture, a memo came down from the production department saying that to save money, nobody was going to get a chair with their name on the back so Beryl didn’t get one, I didn’t get one… fair enough. But ten days later George Sanders arrived. They’d squashed all his stuff into a few days because obviously he came more expensive than the rest of us. Chatham Bobby, the famous prop man down at Shepperton was so ashamed that he brought out this chair and written on the back – in BIRO – was “George Saunders”. (Laughs)

Did the debonair mask not crack at that point?

Well I only heard about it, because it was quickly smuggled away… very sad. It might just be an urban myth but allegedly he saw an answer print of the film, went back to his hotel room in Madrid and killed himself! I’m surprised he held out that long after the chair incident…

He’d had a wonderful life, anyway…

He’d had relationships with some of the most beautiful women in the world and been in so many wonderful movies…and underrated himself as an actor, was a much better actor than he thought he was.

Somebody asked him about all the women and he’s supposed to have said something like: “Dear boy, I’m fast approaching the stage of life where a satisfactory bowel movement is far preferable to a good fuck!”

Ha, he was still a very witty man.

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How do you remember Ann Michelle? Apparently she won’t talk about Psychomania now…

Really?

So I was led to believe.

She’s Vicky Michelle’s sister, isn’t she? Well again, we had a ball on it, laughed and giggled and played cards incessantly, an awful game which Don Sharp eventually put into the picture, they’re playing it in the cell. I don’t know, I haven’t seen them much since…. most of the cast who were still alive did get together a few years ago actually, when it was re-released on DVD and some of that appears in the extras on the new Blu-ray.

Yeah, there’s some nice footage on there of you meeting Mary Larkin again after all those years…

Yeah and there was Rocky Taylor, who injured himself quite badly later… and Vince Taylor of course, his dad.

The stunts in the movie are actually quite impressive, aren’t they?

They were very good and very dangerous. British stuntmen couldn’t and probably still can’t specialise. In America you can make a living just rolling cars or doing horse falls or jumps off skyscrapers or whatever but there’s so little industry here that British stuntmen have to be able to do everything, you know: “Yeah, I can do that, Guv!” Cliff Diggins, was my stunt double on Psychomania… I would never go and see someone doing a stunt for me, I just thought it was bad luck and Cliff did three stunts for me and ended up in hospital after each one! When you see me driving the bike off the motorway bridge… it was the M3, still being built.. he managed to hit the water before the bike and was dragged off to hospital. Then, when I drive through the wall, to prove whether Abby is dead or not… thus one of my great lines in the movie, “You’re not dead!”… the wall was made of polystyrene bricks which kept fading in the sun and rain so they kept repainting them and the paint must have been a third of an inch thick by the time he drove through it. The bike went through and he was left hanging on the wall like a character in a cartoon! (laughs)

How did you find Don Sharp as a director?

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Don was an amazingly patient man (laughs) because he had a couple of grumpy old actors plus a bunch of really indisciplined young actors… we were all messing about like mad, having the complete giggles because we thought the whole thing was a scream. He was also having to deal with eight bikes that never worked, they all kept breaking down. We had three mechanics working 24 hours a day to keep those things working. I mean, the reason I’d agreed to do the film in the first place was that I opened the script and it said: “8 chopped hog Harley Davidsons crest the brow of a hill.” I rang my agent immediately and said: “Yeah, I’ll have some of that!” When I got there, of course, there were all these clapped out BSAs and Triumphs, 350s and they were all falling to bits and I said: “Where are the Harleys?” and they said: “Oh no, we couldn’t afford them!” (Laughs)

Are you still biking today or have you hung up your leathers?

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I hung up my leathers five days after my fortieth birthday… I was doing a season down in Stratford, playing In The Merry Wives Of Windsor and As You Like it. I was staying in digs in Chipping Camden and I came off at a corner, in the middle of the night, on the way back from work. I went into a ditch, knocked myself out and the bike was on top of me, it burned through my Lewis leathers and I got very badly burned. My kids said: “Dad, no more!” so I had to stop it. But I’d been riding bikes right up till then.

They were some pretty substantial leathers you had on… you were wearing your own in Psychomania, weren’t you?

I was indeed, yes. I didn’t know that Lewis Leathers still existed, but they do…

… something else we learned from the extras on the Psychomania Blu-ray.

That’s right and a lot of the people who work there were at the NFT, the other night. I had two sets of their gear actually, black and brown ones to go with my black and brown bikes…

Psychomania is undoubtedly daft but its an intriguing snap shot of the British film industry and British society in general at a certain, not-too remote point in time…

Now it’s very interesting that magazines like Time Out call it one of the best British horror comedies ever because we really didn’t make it as a comedy! When I was watching it the other night at NFT 1, with a packed house, the film began and I started laughing, my wife was shushing me and saying: “You mustn’t laugh!” but then everybody else started laughing. People look at it through different eyes, now…

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I remember saying to the producer: “How did you get the money to put this crap together?” and he said: “Well, I’ve got a desk full of wonderful scripts but when I rang my backers and mentioned the one about a biker gang who come back from the dead and terrorise the neighbourhood, they said: ‘How much do you need? Let’s go!’ ”

Five years previous to this you were in a movie that’s usually cited as the best British horror film ever made and often mentioned when people are talking about the best British film, period… Witchfinder General.

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The BFI does this list of the best movies of all time, one for each year and yes, that was the 1968 one. It’s extraordinary that I’ve been in these two major cult films, one of which is very, very good and the other one… on which the jury’s still out! (Laughs) And now… I’ve done five films in the last year and these young guys coming out of film school making their first feature, so many of them want me doing a few days on their picture. It’s like I’m a lucky mascot, like a little bit of the “cult” thing is going to rub off on them… I mustn’t grumble about Psychomania because it’s still getting me work!

We’ve referred to George Sanders’ depression and suicide, did you form any opinion as to Michael Reeves’ state of mind when he died? Was it suicide or just that people had a very cavalier attitude towards the use of barbiturates in those days?

Well I knew Michael very well, through my friend Ian Ogilvy. Ian is my oldest and best mate, in fact we were at Rada together and he was the drummer in my band. I’ve known him forever and we are still mates. We’ve just made two movies together, actually.

We Still Kill The Old Way…

… and We Still Steal The Old Way, which hasn’t come out yet. The first one did so well that there’s been this follow up. No, I knew Michael Reeves vey well. It was a misadventure with Michael. It was the ’60s, he was a very nervous sort of young man and he had doctors who were looking after him. They were giving him stuff… barbiturates… uppers and downers, to get him to work and to stop working, We did have a “throwing away party” one night where we got rid of all the drugs he’d been prescribed but he obviously got more. I think what happened was that he got a prescription, got up one night and took some pills because he couldn’t sleep and then forgot and took some more. It was death by misadventure, definitely, he didn’t mean to kill himself.

He had so much to live for…

He was slated, I think, to shoot Bloody Mama next…

Yeah, he had so many projects lined up.

Absolutely.

Did you witness any of the famous friction that was going on between him and Vincent Price?

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Oh yeah. We were having a wonderful time with Vincent in the hotel every night…

All the other actors always say what fun he was…

Yeah, we were having a great time but Michael would be in his room, studying and getting stuff ready for the next day. Vincent knew that Michael hadn’t wanted him in the role, that was the problem. I was there that night they were shouting at each other, the last night of all night shooting at Orford Castle. I remember him shouting at Michael: “This is not how we do it in Hollywood! This is my 94th picture… how many pictures have you made?” and Michael replied: “ Three good ones!” We finished the shoot that night, Vincent walked off the set without saying anything to anyone and I think it was about a year later that Michael got this lovely, lovely letter from him saying basically: “I’ve never been so wrong… that’s the best performance I’ve given for years… of course you’ll never want to work with me again… anything I can ever do for you in Hollywood, anyone you need introducing to, just let me know.” When Michael died they had a retrospective of his work at the National Film Theatre, as it was then, including second unit work on other pictures… but Vincent flew from America at his own expense to introduce the evening and tell that very story, which was pretty good of him.

It must have been an amazing shoot to work on…

We knew that we were onto something special. All the unit did, they were just old fashioned British film guys, talking about our movie all the time and really working incredibly hard… we just knew that we had something good on our hands. Mike was a genius, he would have gone on to do extraordinary things. I’m sure of it… and Ian’s career and my career would then have been completely different!

Well thanks, Nick, it’s been a pleasure to talk to someone who’s been involved in such iconic film and TV moments… I feel I can’t wind this up without shouting: “You took him from me! You took him from me!” at you…

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Ha. You know the story behind that? It was a very long night, the last night of the movie, shooting all those scenes in Orford Castle and in the script I was supposed to shoot Vincent Price to put him out of his misery, in response to which Ian was going to come at me with the axe and I was gong to shoot him, too. We got down to that scene and I realised and pointed out that I had two flintlock pistols and I’d already shot a guard on the stairs so I could shoot either Vincent or Ian but not both. Mike said: “OK, I’ll rethink that… I’ll have to freeze-frame on Hilary screaming and cut to her screams echoing around the castle.” So that iconic ending was absolutely brought on at the spur of the moment, was about having to wing it at that moment.

That’s a lovely bit of happenstance because it works so beautifully…

Yeah, Time Out said it had more to say about the nature of violence than The Straw Dogs and what have you put together…

I don’t know how many times you’ve watched the ending or how closely, but there’s a shot where you get an almost subliminal movement of somebody on the stairway…

They put that together in the edit afterwards, maybe Mike sent a cameraman out to get a few more shots and they didn’t notice that.

I like it, it just puts another creepy twist on the whole thing, like there’s some kind of malevolent presence left lurking in the darkness…

(Laughs) There you are, that’s how these things start!

Well, we’ve dispelled a few myths today so maybe it’s incumbent upon us to start a new one…

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Directing By Numbers… QT8: THE FIRST EIGHT, Reviewed.

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BD. Signature Entertainment. Region B. Certificate TBC.

“Why are boys so obsessed with numbers?”, Clare Grogan asks the smitten John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory’s Girl (1980). “Why all this overkill about Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood being Quentin Tarantino’s Ninth Film?” I found myself wondering while watching it (and enjoying it rather more than I thought I would). Well, Quentin Tarantino is (kind of) a boy, isn’t he? “Boys” might, one imagines, feature prominently among his marketing people… then again, Tara Wood, the writer / producer / director of QT8: The First Eight is clearly a girl (or she’ll “be a woman… soon”) and numbers have already featured prominently in her C.V. In 2015 she executive produced Julian Beltran’s 3 Days and the year before that, she shared the writing, production and direction of the documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater.

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So why the big deal about 8 Tarantino pictures? I mean, Fellini made 8 1/2 (above)… and then some. It was only by watching this documentary, which collates the enthusiastic reminiscences and observations of some of QT’s key collaborators, plus selected sympathetic pundits, that I learned about Tarantino’s declaration that he will only make 10 feature films. Tim Roth seems particularly devastated by this pronouncement but I think you’d be wiser to take it with a sackful of salt, Tim. Why would he stop at 10? Maybe because that’s the amount of toes with which women are generally equipped, though the whole foot thing is, er, soft-pedalled, during this romp through many of Tarantino’s other signature obsessions. Another theme that doesn’t get much of a look in is his ongoing love affair with Eurotrash Cinema, though I’ve always wondered why he never uses any actors from that milieu, especially in view of Robert Foster’s comment herein that Tarantino boasts of being able to cast whoever he wants.

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While we’re crunching numbers, there’s always been something about Tarantino’s international status that hasn’t quite added up for me. Why, in 1991 (when QT had directed precisely one feature) was it seen as some kind of career boost for the likes of John Woo (who’d already made over 20 films, including A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Bullet In The Head in Hong Kong) to be endorsed by him? Ditto Ringo Lam, whose City On Fire (1987, above) was relentlessly pillaged for Reservoir Dogs. Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx absolve the director from the charges of racism that are sometimes levelled at him but cultural imperialism remains a worry… there’s a point in Wood’s doc, during its discussion of Kill Bill, where Hong Kong and Japan are casually conflated. Not a good look.

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Speaking of which, throughout this film there’s a lumbering, grumbling presence trying to make itself heard on the sidelines, finally making its unpalatable entrance with all the subtlety of Eli Roth’s character in Inglorious Basterds… Tarantino is credited with making a clean break with Harvey Weinstein after all the #metoo stuff broke (is that another reason for drawing a line under “the first eight”?) but Wood also reminds us of his admission that he always knew but never said anything. Viewers will have to make their own minds up but the intercutting of Weinstein reportage with Kurt Russell’s cartoony murderous exploits in Death Proof (2007) is heavy handed stuff and I don’t know what to make of the apparent attempt to shift responsibility for Uma Thurman’s car crash injuries to Weinstein.

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Such are the grouches of a QT sceptic. Devotees will enjoy and possibly (depending on how buffed up on Tarantino’s self-referential universe they already are) learn something from Wood’s hyperactive treatment of her subject, leaning heavily on hip animated recreations of many of the anecdotes delivered herein and charting Tarantino’s meteoric rise from hopeful fan boy sleeping on Scott Spiegel’s sofa and picking up a few dollars from Elvis impersonating on The Golden Girls to the toast of Cannes and (in the words of one contributor) “our Nouvelle Vague”.

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We await #10 … and whatever follows… with bated breath.

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Leave a comment

A Squirt Of Grease From The Nether Regions… Paul Verhoeven’s Scandalous SPETTERS Reviewed.

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BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 18. 

Like many of our antisocial media pals, I imagine, we at The House Of Freudstein held the obligatory November 2019 rewatch of Blade Runner and played the definitive game of “spotting all the onscreen stuff that didn’t actually make it to November 2019″… a list which now includes Rutger Hauer. That was a sad one… I well remember (how could I possibly forget?) the current Mrs Freudstein and I enjoying our very first snog to distract ourselves from a particularly rancid Rutger vehicle, David Peoples’ Salute Of The Jugger (1989). A much better film (albeit one in which Hauer plays a secondary, if not exactly minor, role) is Spetters, directed in 1980  by Paul Verhoeven.

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Verhoeven is a director whose career has paralleled that of Brian De Palma, both in the way that it has oscillated between auteurhood and the budgetary luxury / artistic compromises of big studio properties and the controversy it has often generated on account of its unabashedly sexual, violent and generally non-PC content (though, as with De Palma, history has tended to vindicate Verhoeven). PV’s previous hit, the Dutch resistance epic Soldier Of Orange (1977) had premiered in the presence of Holland’s Royal family but God only knows what Queen Juliana and co made of Spetters, a film which seemed to unite gays, women, the disabled, the religiously inclined and just about everybody else in a chorus of condemnation on its domestic release (one contemporary review even suggested that you could contract an eye disease from watching it), making the subsequent hoohah over Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) look like a comparative storm in a D cup. Maybe Her Majesty was sufficiently steeped in Dutch culture to recognise the parallels between Spetters’ vulgar vitality and the  more picaresque canvases of Pieter Bruegel the elder. Did this cautionary tale of ambition (never mind hubris) punished by nemesis remind her of Breugel’s masterpiece The Fall Of Icarus (below)? Perhaps she reacted favourably to the film’s update of the “three questing princes” theme? Perhaps not…

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… especially as the behaviour of Rien (Hans van Tongeren), Eef (Toon Agterberg) and (Hans (Maarten Spanjer) is anything but princely in the traditionally accepted meaning of that term (though I gather the concept has been subject to a major recent recalibration). “There are also heroes in blue collars” insists Verhoeven and the (anti)heroic attempts of these guys to escape grinding routine (and in one case, stifling religious fundamentalism) centre on motocross and the desire to emulate their dirt bike hero Gerrit Witkamp (Hauer), with plenty of partying thrown in. It would be fair to say that their sexual antics in this Satyricon by the Zuidersee are, er, frankly presented.

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They literally measure their dicks to establish who gets first crack at greasy spoon Aphrodite / Venus on the taco shell Fientje (Renée Soutendijk) but she has her own ideas. Like it says on the American poster, “Three men with dreams… one woman with a plan”. In other words, behind every great man there’s a great woman (because that’s the best poisition from which to stab him in the back, right?) Fientje works her way through Rien (until his dreams of sports stardom are shattered, along with his spine in a traffic accident) then Eef (until he discovers – under rather extreme circumstances – his true sexual orientation) and finally settles for the plodding but devoted Hans, with whom she calculates she can build a life a few degrees more comfortable than the one to which she has been accustomed. Perhaps her expectations have undergone adjustment (albeit along significantly less drastic lines than those of the male principals)… perhaps, like the true Sadean woman she is, she’ll abandon Hans as soon as somebody more promising comes along.

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Director Verhoeven ends his commentary track reflecting on the final shots of Fientje’s brother Jaap (Peter Tuinman), “the only character who has not changed in any way and disappears in the anonymity of the freeway… and the cars… and the landscape… and nature… life goes on”. Is that the sound of Icarus hitting the water… or somebody discarding a glob of deep fried dog food?

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In terms of Life imitating Art, Renée Soutendijk made a big impression in Spetters (and was also great in Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man, 1983) but never fulfilled her international potential in quite the same way as Hauer, co-star Jeroen Krabbé (who plays unscrupulous sporting mister fixit Franz Henkhof) or indeed Verhoeven himself. Soutendijk was most recently seen in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, which says it all, really. Hans van Tongeren was similarly tipped for great things but soon after finishing Spetters emulated his character Rien by taking his own life.

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The main feature has been scanned in 4k for this handsome Hi-def UK debut, on which it’s accompanied by a string of supplementary materials spanning Blu-ray and bonus DVD discs. In his interview Verhoeven talks about his own brief period of religiosity and how it influenced some of the imagery in Robocop (1987). Writer Gerard Soeteman discusses the “slice of life” philosophy under which Spetters was conceived, wondering why people need to fabricate stories when everyday existence is so compelling. He recounts as an example the exploits of his family members in the Dutch resistance (“That’s not a small cup of tea!”) A Dutch TV documentary from 2002 includes interviews with many of the principals and also those who originally opposed the film (one guy still detests it but the lady who fronted up one of the “anti-Spetters” action committees now finds the film “touching”) before concluding with the observation that its mercenary, self interested characters were a timely anticipation of the marketised society to come. There’s also a lengthy interview with DP Jost Vocano. Nederbeat fans already thrilled by Kayak’s main theme will be doubly delighted to glimpse former Focus bassist Bert Ruiter (then a member of Earth And Fire) turning up at Spetters’ Rotterdam premiere.

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Amy Simmons presents a sympathetic audio visual essay but perpetuates the notion that  Eef’s gang rape and his reaction to it are somehow “problematic”, seemingly unable to grasp that without these scenes, the film would degenerate from a critique of the gay-bashing mentality into an endorsement of it. She does point out that among the newer crop of directors, few can hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s habitual use of sex and violence to make important social points rather than as an end in itself. Indeed, Gaspar Noé would probably give his right arm to be Verhoeven… not to attain the same level of regard (because in this fucked-up world he’s probably at least as well regarded as the Dutchman in trendier circles) but to have a fraction of his integrity, talent and brains.

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“What A Time To Be Alive!” ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE Reviewed…

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BD. Second Sight. Region Free. 15

We’re not renowned for our Christmas spirit here at The House Of Freudstein. As a matter of fact, we’re irredeemable hard core Grinches. It would take more than some soppy Xmas flick to put a smile on our faces since that messy business with the Petersons… and as for the Boyles? Don’t even go there (“No Bob… not inside!”) Rom-coms? Musicals? All things uplifting? Fuck ’em… and we reserve a special place in our bloody basement for Johnny come lately zombie movies! Yeah, you can make money out of any old tat now by bunging a few living deadsters into it… but where were you people in 1981?

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The auspices were not remotely favourable, then, but bugger me backwards with a candy cane if John McPhail’s gory zombie rom-com musical Anna And The Apocalypse (2017) didn’t win our hearts when opening Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival in October 2018. Mr McPhail even attended to introduce it, slag off Netflix and tell us what stand up people we were for still turning out to watch films on the big screen. Flattery will get you everywhere, mate…

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Plot is pretty much wot it says on the tin: schoolgirl Anna (the incandescent Ella Hunt, above) and her school friends / adversaries / would be lovers make a song and dance about their relationship issues and express their commonplace hopes, dreams and fears against the back drop of an unfolding zombie virus meltdown. It’s a saga of human persistence against the odds or a statement of futility, depending on whether you’re the kind of person who considers your glass of egg nog half empty or half full. In fact, while you weren’t looking, somebody slipped something bitter sweet into your  Advocaat… consider that a public health Warnink.

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McPhail does a stand up job taking on a project that was intended for its wrtier, the late Ryan McHenry (to whom AATA is lovingly dedicated), being as it is an expansion of his original 2011 short Zombie Musical. It helped that McPhail got (no disrespect intended to the original participants) a much better OST (some real ear worms here from Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly) and cast. Special mention for Sarah Swire who plays Steph (the mislocated nerd who ultimately saves the day… or part of it, anyhows) and also choreographed the whole shebang. Paul Kaye essays one of those teachers most of us have suffered (if you never did, lucky you), the kind of guy who takes out the sour frustrations of his own miserable life on the kids he’s supposed to be nurturing and here finds an appropriate canvas on which to fully reveal his true hateful colours.

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The axing of Kaye’s duet with Mark Benton, plus the transformation of an an animated title sequence into an animated credits sequence largely account for the two different cuts of AATA, both of which are present and correct on this double disc set. You also get that original short. McPhail, co-writer Alan McDonald and composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly chip in with an audio commentary and there’s assorted “making of” / “behind the scenes” / “at the Edinburgh festival” (lummy, was Ms Hunt aware of just how wispy her outfit was before stepping out in this bit?) which is so “feel good” that it nearly tips over into the sort of wholesome tweeness that the film itself lampoons. Nearly, but not quite.

What a time, indeed, to be alive. Or what passes for it…

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Un-American Activities… Joe Losey’s TIME WITHOUT PITY And SECRET CEREMONY Reviewed

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Secret Ceremony. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

Indicator have been fair rattling out Joseph Losey titles recently, including The Damned aka These Are The Damned (1962) as part of their fourth Hammer BD box. Losey’s filmography is a notoriously uneven one, inevitably compromised by his Hollywood exile (for standing up to McCarthyite witch hunters) and subsequent search for a more convivial environment in which to make movies, scarcely less by his continuing adherence to Brechtian notions of alienation after he did settle in the UK.

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Like any Lefty worth his salt, Losey was fascinated by the power relations within social groups. In These Are / The Damned his scrutiny ranged from Clockwork Orange before their time biker gangs to deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. Time Without Pity (1957) concerns itself with the plight of the individual in conflict with The State / Society (a pretty extreme / capital case thereof), which is inextricably connected to the state of that individual’s relationship with his father. Secret Ceremony (1968) zones straight in on the treacherous terrain of power and corruption within one family.

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In TWP David Graham (Michael Redgrave) is a failed writer and an even worse excuse for a father. The only field in which he excels is alcoholism. He ends up attempting to dry out in Canada, in a joint so strict that he’s not allowed any mail whatsoever, even mail informing him that his son Alec (Alec McCowen) has been convicted of murdering his girlfriend Jennie (Christina Lubicz) and condemned to hang. Discharged from Rehab (but still drinking like a fish), Graham arrives back in Blighty on the eve of the execution and embarks on a frantic mission to stay the hangman’s hand, with the aid of his solicitor Jeremy Clayton (Peter Cushing). Alec seems resigned to his fate and is contemptuous of his deadbeat Dad’s sudden concern for his welfare but convinced of junior’s innocence, Graham begins to focus his suspicions on brash industrialist Robert Stanford (Leo McKern), at whose property the murder took place

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Watching TWP, I was reminded of Jorge Grau’s lesser known 1974 effort Pena De Muerte (= “The Death Penalty” but ludicrously retitled “Violent Bloodbath” in Anglo territories), a film which debates the rationale of capital punishment in any country whose judicial system is seriously skewed along class lines. In Losey’s picture Leo McKern gives a driving (in every sense of the term) portrayal of precisely the kind of swashbuckling, feckless entrepreneurial psychopath we are encouraged to worship these days, yay, even unto bailing them out for their fuck ups and financial car crashes.

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I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog that some of the awkward characterisations and conspicuous miscasting in other Losey films might be intentionally connected with his fixation on Brechtian alienation but there’s no need for any such get out clauses here, with a great cast doing their stuff impeccably. Jeremy Clayton was Cushing’s last role before Trence Fisher’s The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) transformed his career and the face of cinematic Horror forever. Redgrave’s Graham finally redeems himself in a barnstorming final twist which has a touch of the Sydney Cartons about it. Tis a far, far better thing he does…

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This cracking British noir was the first film that Losey made in exile which was released back in The States with his real name on it. From one Joe to another… up yours!

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Secret Ceremony, on the other hand, does have more than a smidgeon of Bertolt B. polemics about it. Mia Farrow (fresh off of Rosemary’s Baby) is Cenci, a childlike and plainly disturbed young woman who lives alone in an improbably opulent mansion in Holland Park. She encounters Leonora (Liz Taylor) on the top deck of a bus and becomes fixated on her on account of her resemblance to her late mother. As chance (and screenwriter George Tabori, adapting Marco Denevi’s short story) would have it, Taylor is also mourning a dead daughter whom Cenci resembles. Accepting her offer to move in (which sure beats living as a homeless prostitute), Leonora finds herself in a scathing battle of wits with the deranged girl.

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Suggesting that Losey had been boning up on his R.D. Laing (both men were former philosophy students), Secret Ceremony locates the source of Cenci’s malaise squarely in the family matrix. Leonora soon encounters and has to contend with her covetous Aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown) then along rolls Albert (Robert Mitchum), the sleazy step father who’s been molesting Cenci since childhood (not too difficult a bombshell to have anticipated, given the naming of Farrow’s character). Rough justice, of a sort, is finally served, though the final scene is open to a variety of interpretations.

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Taylor takes a lot of stick for many of her performances and this one is often singled out for particular derision, unjustly so in my opinion. Mitchum slides into the role of the cynical nonce with his accustomed louche alacrity and Farrow could have been born to play Cenci (though in fact she only got the part when Julie Christie turned it down). It says a lot for the quality of the cast that actresses of Ashcroft and Brown’s calibre are restricted to such minor roles. Much more fuss is made of Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) but this neglected oddity is every bit as compelling.

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If only all films of this vintage looked this good on Blu-ray. Indicator have managed a beautiful rendering of Gerry Fisher’s cinematography. Thankfully this is the unadulterated Secret Ceremony, minus the extra (non-Losey) scenes that Universal tacked on in an act of vandalism that they hoped would make the film more agreeable to American TV networks. You want to know about the special features on these discs? Of course you do and here, by the miracle of cut and paste, they are…

Time Without Pity, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • The John Player Lecture with Joseph Losey (1973, 80 mins): the celebrated filmmaker in conversation with film critic Dilys Powell at London’s National Film Theatre
  • New and exclusive audio commentary with Neil Sinyard, co-author of British Cinema in the 1950s: A Celebration
  • The Sins of the Father (2019, 16 mins): filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey, discusses Time Without Pity
  • Horlicks: Steven Turner (1960, 1 min): vintage commercial for the malted milk drink, directed by Joseph Losey
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, Joseph Losey on Time Without Pity, Jeff Billington on the MacMahonists and Time Without Pity, an overview of critical responses, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Secret Ceremony, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with authors and critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
  • Archival Interview with Joseph Losey(1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique, featuring the celebrated director promoting the release of Secret Ceremony and an appreciation by critic Michel Mourlet
  • The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey
  • TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): unique epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings, with Robert Douglas and Michael Strong
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey onSecret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies
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