Movies Till Dawn: High Tension for the Holidays 2018

Await Further Instructions” (2018, Dark Sky Films) Fractious British family discovers that their tense holiday celebration has become more unpleasant due to an unseen force that issues increasingly violent demands through their television set. An appropriately nasty parable for nasty, divisive times, director Johnny Kevorkian generates maximum tension when he focuses on how the family members’ fears and prejudices push them to extremes; the ending plunges into straight-ahead horror, which proves gruesome, if less impactful. Dark Sky’s Blu-ray includes cast and crew interviews, as well as storyboard and concept art visualizations.

Detective Squad 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards!” (1963, Arrow Video) Private eye Jo Shishido goes undercover to stop stolen military munitions from falling into the hands of gangsters. What sounds like a routine (albeit amazingly titled) police actioner is, in the hands of director Seijun Suzuki, a riot of outrageously violent, hyper-stylized action set-pieces, with frequent interludes of comic mugging a musical number and the singular performance of lead Shishido, who manages to be unflappably cool despite his surgically enhanced cheeks. Pure heaven for Japanese cult/crime devotees; Arrow’s Blu-ray includes an appreciation by critic Tony Rayns and the trailer.

A Simple Favor” (2018, Lionsgate) Overcompensating single mom Anna Kendrick is dazzled by high-powered Blake Lively, and ignores a host of warning signs in favor of martinis and glamour by osmosis; when Lively goes missing, Kendrick becomes a daring amateur sleuth, much to her own surprise. Overplotted comedy-thriller by Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) has style to spare (upscale homes, Lively’s wardrobe, Serge Gainsbourg on the soundtrack) and biting dialogue, but works best when the leads are allowed to show off their skills at comic pas de deux. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray offers a surprising amount of extras, from three commentaries (Feig with various combinations of cast and crew), an alternate ending and numerous making-of featurettes.

The Day of the Jackal” (1973, Arrow Video) Tense thriller follows twin tracks – the meticulous preparations of an icy-veined gunman (Edward Fox) hired to kill French President Charles De Gaulle, and the painstaking investigative efforts by Michael Lonsdale‘s police inspector to stop him. Long considered among the gold standard for conspiracy-fueled suspense dramas for director Fred (“High Noon”) Zinnemann‘s exacting attention to the granular and frequently cold-blooded details of the plan, which helps “Jackal” retain its vise grip on viewers in the face of newer, more tech-heavy titles. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes a vintage interview with the director, and a new appreciation by biographer Neil Sinyard.

Maniac” (1980, Blue Underground) When not murdering women or bemoaning his childhood abuse, psychopath Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) woos a fashion photographer (Caroline Munro) until the two worlds collide, with the expected ghastly results. Blue Underground chief William Lustig‘s horror debut is essentially 88 unbroken minutes of ugliness, and should be avoided by the easily offended; for hardcore grindhouse types, it’s an outrageous shocker, anchored by Spinell’s go-for-broke turn as a destructive toddler in grown-up schlub clothes and Tom Savini‘s gruesome special effects, but it’s also efficiently filmed, supremely creepy and summons up some genuinely nightmarish images. Blue Underground’s 4k-restored, three-disc limited edition set bundles multiple commentaries by Lustig, Savini and various crew with outtakes, cast interviews and a Spinell bio, as well as a jaw-dropping promo reel for an unmade “Maniac” sequel.

The Grissom Gang” (1971, Kino Lorber) Meatpacking heiress Kim Darby is kidnapped by the titular crew – a feral, murderous gang of hillbillies and oily hood Tony Musante – and discovers that her best chance for survival is to submit to the romantic attentions of the simple-minded but devoted Slim (Scott Wilson). Bleak, cynical period thriller from Robert Aldrich (“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”), based on the scandalous novel by James Hadley Chase, sidles too closely at times to exploitation as it wades into its characters’ warped proclivities, but the performances are top-notch: Darby and Wilson are believable innocents, Musante is a world-class creep, and Robert Lansing and Connie Stevens lend grit and bite as opposing outsiders with keen interest in the Grissoms. Kino’s Blu-ray includes an interview with the late Wilson and commentary by historians Nathaniel Thompson, Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell.

Snowflake” (2017, Artsploitation) In a future where vigilantes, would-be superheroes and Messiah aspirants sow blood-soaked disarray in the streets, a pair of thugs seek revenge for the murder of their families and a few clues to their own future, which they obtain by hunting down the screenwriter of the movie itself. Broadly comic and absurdly violent German action-fantasy from Adolfo Kolmerer and William James – a favorite on the fantasy-horror film festival circuit – leans too heavily at times on its self-reflexive/meta elements, but the performers’ enthusiasm and an aggressive visual palette should win over cult fans. Artsploitation’s Blu-ray includes a lengthy making-of featurette.

Young Dillinger” (1965, Warner Archives Collection) A stint behind bars convinces Johnny Dillinger (Nick Adams, “Rebel Without a Cause”) to fall in with fellow troublemakers in training Pretty Boy Floyd (Robert Conrad) and Baby Face Nelson (future “A-Team” producer John Ashley). Breezy, totally fabricated actioner plays like a ’50s JD pic with tommy guns; direction by Terry Morse (who helmed scenes for the American release of “Godzilla”) echoes episodic TV, save for a nod to “Gun Crazy” in a frantic scene viewed from a back seat. But “Dillinger” looks and sounds polished, thanks to Stanley Cortez (“The Magnificent Ambersons”) and Shorty Rogers, respectively, and features a host of memorable supporting mugs, including John Hoyt (sleazy surgeon), Victor Buono (criminal mastermind), Three Stooges foil Gene Roth (judge) and even Ted Knight, for crying out loud. Warner’s DVD-R is fullscreen and B&W.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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