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Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

Images

(1972; BD release date: March 20)
A pregnant children’s author’s (Susannah York) husband (Rene Auberjonois) may or may not be having an affair. While holidaying in Ireland, her mental state becomes increasingly unstable, resulting in paranoia, hallucinations, and visions of a doppelgänger. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Though not the rarest film in Robert Altman’s rather impressive filmography, Images has certainly been overshadowed by the likes of M.A.S.H. (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), and Nashville (1975). Made at the height of his creative strength (as far as I’m concerned, at least), this darker, existentially disturbing portrait of ordinary madness is perhaps the closest the director ever got to making a real horror film. While I’d stop short of categorizing Images under any specific genre subheading, there’s no denying its unnerving power and the impact of its shocking moments. Altman’s films already carried an uncanny quality during this era; movies like 3 Women (1977, itself inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, 1966), The Long Goodbye (1973), and even Popeye (1980) seem to exist outside of reality, even when the nature of reality isn’t an important theme. The fact that an existential crisis is at the very center of Images means that Altman’s innate ability to concoct illusory imagery is more important here than arguably any other time in his filmmaking career.

At its best, Images is like New Hollywood’s cracked-mirror reflection of Italy’s then-thriving giallo tradition – one that sets itself apart with its focus on character and psychological games over stylish murder set-pieces. Gialli often revolved around the mental breakdowns of high society women who question their sanity as suspicious events occur around them. In many cases, they are even revealed to be the mysterious and malevolent force behind the carnage. Many will also point out Images’ resemblance to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), in which Catherine Deneuve portrays an emotionally disturbed woman who suffers a profound mental breakdown tied to an implied sexual assault in her past (noting that a number of gialli were also inspired by Polanski’s film). And, if you’d permit me to make yet another comparison, I’m also struck by the additional parallels to Sam Peckinpah’s brutal Straw Dogs (1971). The curious correlations include the Irish vacation setting, the central character’s isolation, the paranoia stemming from implied infidelities, the cruelty and entitlement of men, and the desperation of violence. When set against each other, the two films feel kind of like opposing analyses of toxic masculinity and feminine sexuality.

As I stated above, Images remains a relative rarity within Altman’s catalogue, but it was released on DVD in America (via MGM), Germany (via Pidax), and Italy (via Cecchi Gori TV). For the film’s Blu-ray debut, the original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K, followed by extensive grading/restoration performed by Da Vinci Resolve. Arrow warns that some inserts were culled from ‘next-generation’ dupe materials and used to fill holes in the negative. Indeed, there are a couple of dips in quality (usually shifts into greater darkness), but the 1080p, 2.35:1 image is pretty consistent, overall. The film was the second collaboration between Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, following the stunning, snow-capped western, McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Zsigmond opts for a very dark, warm, and gritty look, which doesn’t lend itself to the sharpest or cleanest transfer. The 4K scan helps draw out as much detail as possible, including a thin, constant flutter of fine grain. The transfer has been well-scrubbed of other print-based artefacts, though some of the fuzzy edges can probably be blamed on slightly misaligned colour printing.

The original mono has also been remastered and is presented in uncompressed LPCM audio. As a mostly dialogue-driven production, the lack of stereo enhancement isn’t a problem. Even during those moments where music is an important element, the general clarity is impressive enough to pull surprising depth from the single channel treatment. That said, the sound designers do play with the ‘reality’ of sounds, so directional placement could’ve expanded upon its creep factor. John Williams’ Oscar-nominated musical score is combined with progressive rock keyboardist Stomu Yamashta’s more abstract sound design to create an entirely un-Williams-like tone that will give you shivers.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Daughters of Darkness podcasters Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan – Ellinger, the author of Daughters of Darkness and All the Colors of Sergio Martino (both pub: 2018), and Deighan, the author of Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (pub: 2017) discuss Images, its place in Altman’s filmography, the movie’s roots in Gothic Romance, the extended careers of the cast & crew, and actress Susannah York’s book, In Search of Unicorns (pub: 1973), which is quoted throughout the film. They also draw comparisons to other ‘women’s films’ with horror bases that I completely overlooked, including Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955), Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face (French: Les yeux sans visage, 1960), and John D. Hancock’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971). I highly recommend listening to this particular track.
  • Scene-select commentary by writer/director Robert Altman (totalling 35:52) – These selections from Altman were recorded for release with the MGM DVD. The director mostly talks about his technical choices and describes the on-screen action.
  • Imagining Images (24:31, SD) – The second MGM-produced extra is an interview featurette with Altman and Zsigmond. The director and cinematographer cover casting, York’s book, building the narrative while filming, and, of course, their photographic processes.
  • Interview with actress Cathryn Harrison (6:04, HD) – In this new interview, the former child actor recalls being cast in Images while on holiday and rehearsal/improv with the rest of the cast.
  • An appreciation by musician/critic/author Stephen Thrower (32:26) – The author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (pub: 2007) discusses the film at length, from its earliest inception and the other movies that may had inspired it, through production and release.
  • Trailer


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up


Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

Sleeping Dogs

(1977; BD release date: April 17)
Smith (Sam Neill) is a man escaping the break-up of his marriage by finding isolation on an island off the Coromandel Peninsula. As he settles into his new life, the country is experiencing its own turmoil: an oil embargo has led to martial law and civil war, into which Smith reluctantly finds himself increasingly involved. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Arrow’s press will tell you that Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs “almost single-handedly kickstarted the New Zealand New Wave,” but the truth is even more relevant than that. You see, Donaldson’s film is considered to be possibly the first 35mm feature produced entirely in the country, which makes it not only the predecessor to Vincent Ward’s Vigil (1984) and Lee Tamahori’s Once Were Warriors (1994), but all Kiwi cinema, from Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987) to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003). And movies not made by Peter Jackson, too, of course. Sleeping Dogs is also notable for being the feature acting debut of Sam Neill (whose portrayal in Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, 2016, might be a nod to this earlier character). So, with all of its importance as a ground-breaking production in mind, does Sleeping Dogs stand the test of time on its own merits as a film?

Ian Mune (who co-stars as Bullen) and Arthur Baysting’s screenplay was adapted from Christian K. Stead’s 1971 novel Smith’s Dream. The book’s storyline and themes sit well with the New Hollywood character dramas of the period that I assume the filmmakers were taking their cues from. Like those American forerunners, Donaldson sets the intimate story of a single man’s somewhat mysterious personal dilemmas against the backdrop of political upheaval and to the tune of popular folk & rock music. Sleeping Dogs sets itself apart from that model with the scale of its political upheaval (which is initially presented as a separate issue from the protagonist’s narrative before growing into an unruly, near-Kafkaesque mess), as well as the more conventional thriller trappings that take over as the story progresses. The emphasis on car chases, shootouts, and other action that closes out the third act might’ve cheapened a lesser film, but the taut direction and crisp pacing ensures that these moments are genuinely thrilling and suspenseful. The downbeat finale also jibes with the film’s intended message. Donaldson did not stick to the arthouse after making his debut. In fact, his post- Sleeping Dogs career includes some of the most unabashedly silly Hollywood blockbusters (and wouldbe blockbusters) of the ‘80s and ‘90s, including Tom Cruise’s bartender drama Cocktail (1988), Giger-inspired erotic sci-fi thriller Species (1995), and my personal favourite Jaws by way of volcano movie, Dante’s Peak (1997).

Stateside, Sleeping Dogs has only been released on a double-feature DVD by Anchor Bay entertainment alongside Donaldson’s Smash Palace (1982), though that disc is well out of print. For this Blu-ray and HD debut, Arrow borrowed a transfer from the New Zealand Film Commission. According to specs, the NZFC restored the footage from original film elements, but they don’t specify if they were negative or printed elements. I don’t know enough about the film to make any guesses as to how it is ‘supposed’ to look. I suspect that the heavy contrast and occasionally crushy shadows are not exactly what Donaldson and cinematographer Michael Seresin intended. This isn’t a huge problem, though, because edges remain tight and major details are not lost in the crush. However, there are still clarity issues with the transfer, most of which seems to be related to the scan itself, rather than the condition of the material. Specifically, its grain sometimes appears noisy and some of the blends are patchy – both artefacts that tend to signify less than perfect telecine scanning. Colour are rich, particularly where lush forest greens are concerned, and quite consistent. I suspect that those ‘in the know’ may accuse the skin tones and other neutral hues of being overly yellow, but this is only an occasional issue.

Arrow has included the original stereo soundtrack alongside a 5.1 remix – the first in uncompressed LPCM and the second in DTS-HD Master Audio. The differences between the tracks are pretty minimal, especially in terms of clarity, but I think I prefer the remix slightly more for its discreet center channel, which solidifies dialogue and incidental effects. Both tracks have some problems with the volume levels jumping up and down during quieter moments, but that’s about it as far as distortion is concerned. Music is credited to British actor/composer David Calder, composer Mathew Brown, and Murray Grindlay of Monte Video and the Cassettes. The intense piano and string are offset by the largely mellow pop/rock/folk songs I already mentioned in the review above. All of the music gets a slight boost from the 5.1 mix’s LFE channel and is otherwise mostly contained to the stereo speakers, thus matching the 2.0 track.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with writer/director Roger Donaldson, actor Sam Neill, and writer/actor Ian Mune – This charming track was taken from Anchor Bay’s DVD. The participants aren’t exactly high-energy, but the content is good, at least in terms of anecdotes, if not concrete, screen-specific making-of information.
  • The Making of Sleeping Dogs (28:41, HD) – This first behind-the-scenes featurette was produced alongside the film in 1977. It’s quite informative, considering it is essentially an EPK, and features interviews with Donaldson, Mune, Neill, and actors Nevan Rowe and Warren Oates, alongside loads of on-set footage.
  • The Making of Sleeping Dogs (67:37, HD) – This second documentary was made in 2004 for the film’s Aussie and US DVD debuts (it also appeared on the AB disc). It sets the original behind-the-scenes footage and interviews alongside newer interviews with Donaldson, Neill, Mune, author Carl Stead, co-screenwriter Arthur Baysting, actress Donna Akersten, camera operator Paul Leech, songwriter Murray Grindlay, composer David Calder, and many others, who, in addition to discussing the film, revisit some of the major locations.
  • Theatrical trailer


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up


Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

(1988; BD release date: March 27)
When Mike and his girlfriend Debbie warn the local police that a gang of homicidal alien-clowns have landed in the nearby area (in a spaceship shaped like a circus big-top, no less), the cops are naturally sceptical. Before long, however, reports are coming in from other anxious residents detailing similar run-ins with the large-shoed assailants. There can no longer be any doubt – the Killer Klowns from Outer Space are here and they’re out to turn the Earth’s population into candy floss! (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

If your movie/TV show needs practical effects, stop-motion animation, and/or unusual props – all with a quirky edge and real personality – you might want to contact the Chiodo Brothers. Otherwise known as Stephen, Charles, and Edward, the Chiodos began their lucrative and specialized career in the early ‘80s and remain among the most sought-after people in their field, even in the age of CG dominance. At the height of their ‘powers,’ the Chiodos combined their efforts to write and direct a horror/comedy that would utilize all of their talents. The title told fans everything they needed to know – Killer Klowns from Outer Space. It is exactly what you think it is, nothing more, nothing less.

Equal parts ‘50s throwback, ‘80s satire, and effects demo-reel, Killer Klowns was destined for a cult following and is well-made enough to earn that status. Really, the craft on display is the key component, making the demo-reel aspects both the best and worst things about the movie. The title critters and their over-the-top, murderous antics are about as close as practical, (mostly) in-camera effects have ever gotten to re-creating the visual tones of animation. The spaceage circus set design is one-of-a-kind and matches the production values of vastly more expensive movies from the era. It’s hard not to admire the Chiodos’ ambition. On the other hand, all of their innovative efforts seem to have been invested in these effects, costumes, and art direction. As a sci-fi/horror movie, Killer Klowns is so dependent on replaying established genre cliches that there’s no room for creativity or surprises – the story and character just exist to get us from one klown-themed gag to the next. Had it worked entirely as comedy, this lack of uniqueness wouldn’t have really mattered. Sadly, the Chiodos’ sense of humour is a bit stiff and their version of camp is muddled by awkward pacing and bland performances. The puns and one-liners simply aren’t funny enough to carry the glacial set-ups and every moment away from the klowns becomes a feat of endurance. Perhaps if a bit more emphasis had been put on being scary (or maybe even gory?), rather than silly, the audience could be put more off-guard and jokes could’ve landed better. It’s perfectly fine for a movie called Killer Klowns from Outer Space to be dumb, but it’s inexcusable for it to be so dull when klowns aren’t on screen.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space has enjoyed a pretty healthy life on home video thanks to its cult following. This includes VHS releases from Media Home Entertainment and MGM, a Laserdisc from Image Entertainment, a special edition DVD from MGM, and a Blu-ray version of that MGM special edition. Arrow produced a UK-exclusive Blu-ray (recycling most of the MGM disc) in 2014, which begs the question: why do fans need yet another version of this film? Well, Arrow is going to try their best to convince you, beginning with a brand new 4K restoration, taken from the original camera negative. Unfortunately, I don’t have the MGM disc at my disposal for a direct comparison, but I can definitely vouch for the fine quality of this particular 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer. Details and textures are wonderfully complex, all with no obvious DNR enhancement and only minor over-sharpening artefacts. Grain levels appear accurate and do not overwhelm the consistency of shapes or decrease the vibrancy of cinematographer Alfred Taylor’s candy-coloured palette. It’s doubtful we’ll ever see Killer Klowns look better than it does here.

Arrow has remastered and included the original 2.0 and remixed 5.1 soundtracks and presents each in uncompressed audio (LPCM and DTS-HD Master Audio, respectively). The remix has obvious advantages in terms of the aural depth that discrete center and LFE channels offer. When put up directly against the stereo track, it comes out slightly ahead in clarity as well, particularly when it comes to the minimalistic sound effects. Dialogue is uneven in both cases, usually due to environmental issues – as in some locations are more drier or more echoey than others. John Massari’s synth musical score is a bit on the thin side on either mix, but does get a decent bass boost on the remix.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director/producer/writer Stephen Chiodo, producer/writer Charles Chiodo, and producer Edward Chiodo – This energetic, but patchy track was recorded for the MGM DVD and also appeared on Arrow’s previous Blu-ray edition.
  • Let the Show Begin! Anatomy of a Killer Theme Song (10:38, HD) – Singer Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee of The Dickies talk about their catchy title theme and unused incidental tracks.
  • The Chiodos Walk Among Us: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking (23:41, HD) – A look at the brothers’ inspirations and the technically impressive shorts they made during their childhood and college years.
  • Chiodo early films – The remaster and new interviews are nice, but these collected short films are the most endearing aspect of this re-release:
    • Land of Terror (1967, 7:38, HD)
    • Beast from the Egg (1968, 7:26, HD, with optional commentary)
    • Africa Danny (1970, 16:58, HD)
    • Eskimo (1971, 7:03, HD)
    • Sludge Grubs (1972, 6:54, HD)
    • Free Inside (1974, 12:20, HD)
  • Behind the Screams with the Chiodo Brothers (29:54, HD) – Raw, shot-on-video footage from the set. Some of it is set to music from the film.
  • Two deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by director Stephen Chiodo (4:36, HD, unmatted 1.33:1)
  • Blooper reel (2:49, SD)
  • Image galleries
  • Arrow archive featurettes:
    • Bringing Life to These Things: A Tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions (7:58, HD) – Stephen Chiodo leads a tour of the brothers’ studio, complete with additional video footage from behind-the-scenes of Killer Klowns, and complains about CG animation.
    • Tales of Tabaco (18:01, HD) – Actor Grant Cramer chats about his career and being cast in Killer Klowns.
    • Debbie’s Big Night (10:39, HD) – Actress Suzanne Snyder also offers a breakdown of her career and impressions of making the movie
  • MGM archive featurettes:
    • The Making of Killer Klowns (21:40, SD) – A roundtable interview with the brothers.
    • Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr. (14:52, SD) – Charles Chiodo introduces and interviews special effects supervisor Gene Warren, Jr.
    • Kreating Klowns (12:49, SD) – A second Charles Chiodo-run interview with creature fabricator Dwight Roberts.
    • Komposing Klowns (13:15, SD) – A final featurette is an interview with composer John Massari.
    • Klown Auditions (3:55, SD) – Rehearsal footage
  • Trailer


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up


Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

Two Thousand Maniacs!

(1964; BD release date: May 15th)
The victims of a Union Army attack magically reappear on the 100th anniversary of their slaughter to wreak bloody vengeance on six Yankee tourists. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

The Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, peaked pretty early in his professional career. His first gore movie, Blood Feast (1963), was his most influential work and his second gore movie, Two Thousand Maniacs, was his masterpiece. Obviously, ‘masterpiece’ is a relative term when describing Lewis’ work, but even detractors and serious cineastes can agree that he hit upon something special with this oddball fusion of Brigadoon, Confederate resentment, and Grand Guignol silliness. During his intro on this very Blu-ray, Lewis expresses a feeling of guilt that Blood Feast was such a hit, because he had put so little effort into making it. He wondered what might happen if he tried to make a good movie and this is about the closest any of us will every get to that milestone. Two Thousand Maniacs’ gore gags are creatively constructed to be macabre carnival games, skirting the line between hilarity and horror in a way the director would never quite capture again (the far more mean-spirited Wizard of Gore, 1970, comes the closest, but is too mean-spirited). While Tim Sullivan made a lacklustre semi-sequel in 2005 called 2001 Maniacs, I think the current political climate could easily accommodate another sequel/remake – one that acknowledges the harsh truth of modern social parallels and ends with the hillbilly antagonists getting their comeuppance. Just a thought.

For a long time, Something Weird Video was H.G. Lewis’ home on North American home video. It appears that most of their releases are still in print (and the ones that aren’t are available for download from SWV’s site). Over the years, SWV only issued five Lewis flicks on Blu-ray (with help from Image Entertainment). These include a triple-feature Blood Trilogy release of Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, and Color Me Blood Red (1965), and a double-feature containing Wizard of Gore and Gore Gore Girls (1972). Arrow Video originally collected fourteen of the maestro’s films in their Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast collection and is slowly reissuing the big ones as standalone double-features. According to their notes, Arrow scanned most of the source materials in 2K and the completed film grading and digital restoration in house – except for Two Thousand Maniacs, which, according to the title card, was sourced from SWV’s original restoration. This reissue features that same transfer in 1.78:1 (note that the Feast collection includes an alternate 1.33:1 framing), 1080p transfer and the quality is just about as high as we can expect from the material, minus the handful of standard definition inserts SWV used to fill in holes in their source. Details are superior to their older DVD counterparts, including tighter element separation (the use of soft focus and zoom techniques mean that patterns are usually somewhat fuzzy), but the extremely vivid colours are the more worthwhile upgrade, given the almost Technicolor-esque hues Lewis used to set his film apart from its grimy grindhouse counterparts. Grain levels vary from scene to scene, but tend to appear natural, rather than noisy/snowy. Small white flecks and scratches shimmy over most frames, but the effect is minor and there’s very little compression noise (aside from the SD frames/shots).

The original mono soundtrack was apparently transferred from various prints and existing DVDs by SWV and is presented in uncompressed 1.0 LPCM. As it is in all of Lewis’ earliest movies, the sound design is particularly patchy, because so much of the footage was shot without production sound. On top of this inherent aural inconsistency is the fact that the multiple audio sources can shift the sound quality suddenly from shot to shot. The most severe shift occurs during the barrel-roll stunt, where the tone of the vocals drop about two octaves; however, this was an error on Lewis’ part, not damaged film or bad SD sources. Distortion effects are largely corrected, though there are still buzzes and pops sprinkled throughout every movie. I’m reasonably positive that nothing could be done to make the vocal performances less tinny, so we’re just gonna have to live with it. The music, some supplied by Lewis himself and some by Larry Wellington, tends to have decent depth and bass accompaniment (I suppose there were clean soundtrack albums lying around somewhere?).

Extras include:
  • Newly recorded director intros (1:59, 2:09, HD)
  • Two Thousand Maniacs commentary with director H.G. Lewis and producer David F. Friedman, moderated by Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney (from the SWV DVD)
  • Bonus movie: Moonshine Mountain (1964, 1:25:00, HD) – Moonshine Mountain (aka: White Trash on Moonshine Mountain) is a hillbilly companion piece to Two Thousand Maniacs that sat at the forefront of yet another exploitation boom – rednecksploitation. Rednecksploitation, or hicksploitation if you prefer (perhaps hixploitation?), really broke-out about a decade after Lewis’ film with the likes of Harry E. Kerwin’s God’s Bloody Acre (1975), Bethel Buckalew’s The Pigkeeper’s Daughter (1972), and, of course, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). In other words, Moonshine Mountain is basically ground zero for Rob Zombie’s entire career. Lewis has compared the film to Arthur Ripley’s bootleggers vs. mobsters classic, Thunder Road (1958), which is a good indicator of his dramatic ambition. This is a valuable curiosity for Lewis completists and almost works as a folk musical (it’s basically a feature-length episode of Hee Haw with a little more plot and no celebrity guests), but the yokel jokes wear thin during the first 15 minutes. The next hour is utterly mind-numbing.
  • Two Thousand Maniacs Can’t Be Wrong (9:54, HD) – Tim Sullivan, who directed the remake/semi-sequel 2001 Maniacs (2005), shares his memories of the original movie.
  • Hicksploitation: Confidential (7:14, HD) – A visual essay that explores the depiction of Southern culture in exploitation movies.
  • David Friedman: The Gentlemen’s Smut Peddler (9:22, HD) – A tribute to the late producer featuring Lewis, Sullivan, fellow schlock filmmaker Fred Olen Ray, and editor/Grindhouse Releasing CEO Bob Murawski.
  • Herschell’s Art of Advertising (3:33, HD) – The director’s how-to guide for selling exploitation movies.
  • Two Thousand Maniacs outtake reel (16:28, SD)
  • Two Thousand Maniacs and Moonshine Mountain trailers


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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