“The Beast Must Die” (1974, Severin Films) Wealthy hunter Calvin Lockhart invites a gaggle of Very Suspicious-Seeming individuals – among them Michael Gambon, Charles Gray and Peter Cushing – to his English manor home in order to determine which among them is a werewolf. The silly premise – made exponentially goofier by a third act “werewolf break,” in which the film stops to give viewers time to figure out the monster’s identity – doesn’t detract from the pulpy, whodunit-styled fun of this Amicus Films production, which is also enlivened by a game cast; if anything, “Beast” is a more energetic take on Gothic horror tropes than Hammer’s output from the same period. Severin’s Blu-ray –a 4K remaster – includes extensive audio interviews with Amicus chiefs Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, as well as an archival commentary track by and interview with director (and UK TV vet) Paul Annett and an audio essay by Troy Howarth that details the production history.
“Britannia Hospital” (1982, Kino Lorber) Lunatic parody of Thatcher-era England as filtered through the titular location, which celebrates its 500th anniversary as class riots rage outside its walls and terrorists detonate bombs throughout London. Inside the hospital is no better, as low-rent journalist Malcolm McDowell discovers (to his eventual dismay): a new wing, overseen by professor Graham Crowder, is dedicated to improving on human design by stitching together new people (quite literally) from terminal patients. Final film in a coal-black trilogy of satires ((preceded by 1968’s “If…” and “O Lucky Man!” from 1974) from director Lindsay Anderson and writer David Sherwin, all starring McDowell as a hapless naïf kicked by (and kicking against) various failed systems; it’s grotesque (lots of lopped-off body parts), but also alarmingly prescient in its vision of a heartless health care industry, an out-of-touch government, and anarchy in the streets. With Leonard Rossiter, Joan Plowright and (briefly) Mark Hamill and Robbie Coltrane, and music by Alan Price; Kino’s Blu-ray includes an interview with McDowell on his working relationship with Anderson and commentary by historian Samm Deighan.
“Reflections in a Golden Eye” (1967, Warner Archives Collection) Subverted desires run amuck at a Georgia military base in John Huston‘s adaptation of Carson McCullers‘ overripe Southern Gothic novel. Marlon Brando is top-billed as the base commander, who pines for Robert Forster, a virginal private given to nude horseback rides and sniffing the nightgown of Brando’s wife (Elizabeth Taylor) while she’s asleep. La Liz has her own dance card filled with an affair with another officer (Brian Keith) and humiliating Brando, which culminates in a public horsewhipping at a party. Space does not allow for the full details of Keith’s wife (Julie Harris) and her relationship with mincing houseboy Zorro David, but suffice it to say that, like the film itself, it’s over-the-top and borderline tasteless. Best enjoyed as full-tilt camp thanks to the unbridled performances (save Keith) and its striking original color scheme, which saturates the image in gold; both this version and a full-color version are included on Warner’s Blu-ray, as well as some unedited B&W footage taken on the set.
Thank you to Warner Archives for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.
“Gemini” (1999, Mondo Macabro) Sure, his parents don’t care for his amnesiac bride (Ryo), and his neighbors have grown angry with his decision to treat wealthy patients instead of those suffering from a plague outbreak, but life is otherwise a breeze for Japanese doctor Masahiro Motoki – that is, until his feral identical twin throws him down a well and assumes his identity. A departure of sorts for writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto, whose previous films focused on manic, surreal clashes between humanity and technology (“Tetsuo: The Iron Man“), “Gemini” plays as a grisly riff on the duality of good and evil/Jekyll and Hyde trope (it’s based on a story by cult favorite Edogawo Rampo), albeit tricked out with Tsukamoto signatures: garish makeup and lighting, ugly violence, a punishing soundtrack by Chu Ishikawa). The resulting film is aggressive enough to satisfy Tsukamoto diehards, but also with enough linear plotting to draw in newcomers; Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray includes a wealth of extras, including a making-of featurette directed by none other than Takashi Miike, as well as a multi-part behind-the-scenes doc, makeup demonstration, and footage from the Venice Film Festival premiere.
“The Barge People” (2018, RLJE Films) Two sisters and their combative boyfriends run afoul of barge dwellers while boating along an English canal (played by Bradford Upon Avon, Wiltshire); the ensuing dust-up gives a clear indication that when the film’s real antagonists show up – man-fish hybrids who prey on unwary travelers – the quartet is not going to work in concert to save their lives. As expected, director Charlie Steeds‘ creature feature is a lengthy catalog of gruesome ways for people (and mutants) to die, though to his credit, the bloodletting is showcased in impressive photography (for a budget production) and set to a shivery, Carpenteresque score by Sam Benjafield. RLJE’s DVD is widescreen.
Also from RLJE: “Cursed Films” is a five-episode series produced for the Shudder channel, which focuses on classic horror/fantasy films like “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist” that were seemingly marked by tragedy and strange occurrences. Interviews with cast and crew for these and other films, like “Omen” director Richard Donner and Linda Blair, carry the weight, though conversations with dark magic practitioners and the like tend to undermine what is essentially a serious doc-minded program.