Movies Till Dawn: High Tension for the Holidays (2020 Edition)

Mad Max” (1979, Kino Lorber) Were it not for a certain chain of recent events, the crumbling Australia of George Miller‘s “Mad Max” – described as just “a few years from now” –seemed like a prescient vision of our immediate future. But having dodged that bullet in real life (for now, at least) doesn’t detract from the ferocious energy of “Max,” which not only introduced Miller and Mel Gibson (for better or worse) and launched one of the world’s most popular film series, but also wielded enormous influence over four decades of pop culture as a whole (everything from ’80s metal to “The Lego Movie 2”; see also the “Burst City” review below). Kino Lorber presents “Mad Max” in both Blu-ray and two-disc 4K UHD; both feature a new interview with Miller, as well as a 2015 commentary with DP David Eggby, art director Jon Dowding and special effects artist Chris Murray, a vintage interview with Gibson, several retrospective featurettes, and numerous trailers. Oh, and RIP the incredible Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the Toecutter in “Max” and the Trumpian Immortan Joe in “Fury Road.”

The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957, Warner Archives Collection) Peter Cushing is the industrious Baron Frankenstein, and Christopher Lee his pitiable monster in the film that not only brought England’s Hammer Films to international attention, but also helped (along with Hammer’s “Horror of Dracula” the following year) to revive interest in postwar horror films. Much has been made about the film’s innovations – the use of color (it’s the first British color horror film) and its depiction of the Baron in Jimmy Sangster‘s script, which imagines him as vigorous and ambitious but also possessed of a tremendous ego (compare Cushing’s Frankenstein to the agitated Colin Clive in the ’31 Universal ‘Frankenstein”). Director Terence Fisher’s brisk pace and the copious on-screen bloodshed certainly helped the film’s fortunes with younger viewers, whose demand for more Hammer chills turned the studio into an international horror hub for the next two decades and Cushing and Lee into unlikely stars. Warner Archives Collection’s two-disc Blu-ray presents “Curse” in a meticulous restoration that includes two aspect ratios for viewing, detailed commentary by historians Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman, and a wealth of extras (by Sir Christopher Frayling, among others) that pay homage to the film’s cinematographer Jack Asher and composer James Bernard, and the film’s place in horror history. Essential for classic horror fans.

Thank you to Warner Archives for providing this Blu-ray free for review.

“Burst City” (1982, Arrow Video) Supercharged 16mm madness from Japanese director Gakuryu Ishii (nee Sogo Ishii), with punks and bikers uniting to fight the construction of a nuclear power plant on their corner of a burned-out Tokyo. As with Ishii’s other shorts and features (“Electric Dragon 80,000 V“), maintaining a furious pace and energy is more of a concern than storyline; breakneck editing and film speed help to produce a torrent of visuals, which are well matched by a soundtrack by period punk acts like the Roosters and the Stalin, both of which are featured in the film. Such velocity might also suggest a ragged or ramshackle approach, but Ishii’s eye is as focused and as confident as those of his electrified protagonists. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Japanese film expert Tom Mes and interviews with Ishii, who details the seat-of-the-pants production history of “City,” and lighting director Yoshiharu Tezuka.

The Beach House” (2019, RLJE Films/Shudder) A weekend getaway at the titular location turns ugly in a hurry for chemistry student Lina Liberato and her lunkhead boyfriend (Noah Le Gros), who must contend first with unexpected fellow guests (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagle) and then a slow-building barrage of horrors from the ocean, ranging from a gooey fog to hideous parasites. What begins as an exercise in body horror and nature fear slowly, if ambiguously, adds a layer of cosmic terror to the equation; writer-director Jeffrey A. Brown and his solid cast (especially Liberato) manages to keep all three elements both in the air and in question through ghastly sights that may (or may not) be the product of imagination, buggy edibles, or horrible phenomena. That constant uncertainty produces an appreciable amount of shivers; no extras on the widescreen DVD.

A Girl Missing” (2019, Film Movement) A crime thriller in which the violence is almost entirely emotional, and the focus is less on the culprit or the victim but a third party who finds herself inexorably linked to both of them. Mariko Tsutsui stars as a private nurse whose quiet life is bulldozed when her nephew kidnaps her employer’s daughter. There’s a great deal going on between the lines in writer-director Koji Fukada‘s film, of which we are only made privy to parts – the employer’s other daughter has unrequited feelings for Tsutsui which never truly emerge, and the exact impact of the crime on her life, and what she plans to do about it, is kept vague – and while that lack of transparency can make for a somewhat frustrating experience, it does underscore the disjointed plot logic that is part and parcel to life-disrupting events. Tsutsui, who appeared in Fukada’s “Harmonium,” is very good in a largely subcutaneous role, and the visuals are appropriately icy and attractive. Film Movement’s DVD includes a making-of featurette and a 2015 short, “Love Comes Later,” which also details the toll of an unexpected event on an individual’s life.

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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