Movies Till Dawn: The Wide World of Thrills and Chills Edition

Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition” (1997, Shout! Factory/GKIDS) A tribal prince in feudal Japan is inflicted with a curse after an attack by a woodland god corrupted by an iron ball in its body. To lift the curse, he travels to the manufacturing town where it was made, and finds himself between the town’s imperious leader and her daughter, who’s determined to stop humankind from encroaching on the forest where she lives. Award-winning animated fantasy-adventure from writer/director Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”), who draws on Japan’s history to craft an epic that is both visually dazzling and thematically complex; the film’s humanistic messages, which suggest that average people, not superheroes or politicians, will be the ones to find common ground, despite their differences, through care for each other and their world, remain not only relevant but also crucial today as they were two decades ago. The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Studio Ghibli and GKIDS offers the Japanese language track and English dub (provided by Disney/Miramax, which distributed the film in the U.S.), which features Claire Danes, Minnie Driver and Billy Crudup among the voice actors; a look at the recording session for that track, feature-length storyboards and a documentary about Miyazaki’s 1997 promotional visit to the States fill out the disc, which is bundled in a hardcover slipcase with a CD of the film’s soundtrack and a lavishly illustrated booklet featuring essays by critic Glenn Kenny, statements from Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki and poetry about the characters penned by Miyazaki himself.

GKIDS also has “Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki” (2016), an affectionate documentary about the director as he announces his retirement, only to return to work at Ghibli to launch a new project, his first effort with CGI. What starts on an elegiac note becomes instead a short but effective look at a creative vision unencumbered by age, industry whim and technology.

Ikarie XB-1” (1963, Second Run) En route to a mysterious “White Planet” in the Alpha Centauri system, the multinational crew of the titular spacecraft contends with a host of challenges, from a derelict ship loaded with nuclear weapons to the boredom and loneliness of a two-year journey through space. Czech-made science fiction, based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem (“Solaris”), can be seen as an apparatchik vision of the ’60s-era space race or a prime example of the Eastern Bloc’s contemplative, elaborately appointed science fiction; however you see it, “Ikarie XB-1” is a gorgeous Formalist dream, with a striking futuristic design that reportedly influenced Stanley Kubrick’s work on “2001.” Second Run’s all-region Blu-ray bundles the 4K restoration of the film with opening credits and “Twilight Zone”-styled closer for the American edit, titled “Voyage to the End of the Universe,” as well the pro-science Czech short “The Most Ordinary of Occupations,” made the same year as “Ikarie.”

Dominique” (1978, Vinegar Syndrome) After driving his English wife (Jean Simmons) to suicide, American businessman/cad Cliff Robertson discovers, to his dismay,that she may not be resting in peace. “Diabolique” and a half-dozen other thrillers handled the gaslight-from-the-grave premise with more finesse than this British film, sluggishly directed by director Michael Anderson (“Logan’s Run,”) for producer Milton Subotsky (“Tales from the Crypt“), but it can at least boast a few stylish shivers (e.g., Robertson’s encounter with Simmons’ ghost) and a cast of British pros, including Jenny Agutter, Simon Ward, Ron Moody and Michael Jayston (who’s interviewed on the disc) to carry them out. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD combo features a 2K scan taken from the 35mm negative and an interview with assistant director Bryan Cook.

The Golden Head” (1964, Flicker Alley) Two mismatched thieves – urbane George Sanders and a disheveled Buddy Hackett – are thwarted in their plan to steal a golden bust of St. Laszlo from a Hungarian cathedral by the impossibly cheery children of a vacationing British inspector. Harmless blend of Disney-styled children’s mystery-adventure and travelogue, distinguished largely by the Cinerama widescreen process, which does well by scenes of the Budapest Ballet and other colorful sights, though the weird energy produced by the pair-up of Sanders and Hackett will have its appeal to the psychotronic minded. Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray/DVD pairs a restored “Golden Head” – which is presented in its Smilebox format – with two Cinerama shorts: “Fortress of Peace,” about the Swiss Army, and “The Tale of Old Whiff,” the first and only cartoon shown in Smell-O-Vision, which, as the name implies, was accompanied by various scents blasted into theaters. A reproduction of the press book and promotional material is also included.

The Corruption of Chris Miller” (1973, Vinegar Syndrome) The arrival of Barry Stokes – who may or may not be the man in the Charlie Chaplin mask seen brutally murdering actress Perla Cristal – at the ornate home of widower Jean Seberg and her daughter (former child star Marisol) complicates a relationship already fraught with knotty psychodrama. Well-crafted giallo-style thriller from Spanish arthouse director Juan Antonio Bardem (he’s Javier‘s uncle), who largely avoids veering into the exploitation lane (save for some ugly business with Marisol and a bodybuilder) in favor of genuine suspense and hothouse sexual tension. Impossible to see outside of grainy VHS bootlegs, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD is a must-have for Euroshock completists for its xx picture and supplemental features, which includes the original (and darker) ending, a Spanish TV retrospective of Bardem’s career, and a featurette on Seberg’s short and tragic life with comments from friends and family.

The Naked and the Dead” (1958, Warner Archives Collection) A clash of wartime ideologies between hard-bitten sergeant Aldo Ray, upper-class lieutenant Cliff Robertson and hawkish general Raymond Massey play out as U.S. Marines try to take a small Pacific island during World War II. Film adaptation of Norman Mailer‘s 1948 seemed doomed from the start – translating its profane dialogue to the screen was among the key problems – and while Warner’s solution (adding somewhat salty romantic subplots involving Ray’s dancer spouse, played by real-life burlesque queen Lili St. Cyr) was a dud, the battle sequences, orchestrated by veteran director Raoul Walsh in Panama, for  are intense and at least suggest the brutality evoked in Mailer’s novel. With a host of great character actors in the supporting cast, including Richard Jaeckel, L.Q. Jones, James Best and TV director Jerry Paris; Warner’s Blu-ray includes the trailer.

 

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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 The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, 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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