“Versus” (2000, Arrow Video) To their chagrin, escaped convict Tak Sakaguchi and his Yakuza confederates discover that the remote location chosen for their meet-up is called the Forest of Resurrection for a reason: it’s a portal of Hell that causes the dead to return to life. A head-swirling Japanese mash-up of horror, “Matrix”-style meta-science fiction, samurai swordplay, and other genres and styles favored by cult film devotees, diehard critics, and teenaged boys (and combinations of all three), all deeply saturated in a broth of French New Wave cool and unchecked overacting, “Versus” might be interminable, were it not for director Ryuhei Kitamura‘s relentless pace and frenetic editing. The technical proficiency lends considerable energy and innovation to the endless battles and bloodshed, which should please fanboy and first-timer alike. Arrow’s 2-Disc special edition Blu-ray offers both the theatrical and expanded “Ultimate” 2004 versions (more blood, more zombies) and bundles them with commentaries by Kitamura and cast and crew, multiple making-of docs, deleted scenes, two short films with characters from “Versus,” and even a 20-minute edit for those who want just the salient points (who kills who).
“The Hills Run Red” (1966, Kino Lorber) Freed from prison after taking a five-year rap for stealing Union payroll gold, Thomas Hunter returns home to find his wife dead, his son missing, and his home destroyed, all courtesy of ex-partner Nando Gazzolo, who has parlayed their stolen loot into a life of wealth. Hunter immediately (and rightly) flips out, and with the help of mysterious stranger Dan Duryea, sets out on a trail of vengeance against his former friend. Italian-Spanish co-production (overseen by Dino De Laurentiis) doesn’t get the same critical appreciation as director Carlo Lizzani‘s other Eurowestern, the offbeat “Requiescant” – possibly due to its unfortunate pat ending – but remains an entertaining effort all the same, thanks largely to the teeth-baring, full-bore performances by Hunter – playing a far less cool variation on the standard spaghetti Western hero – and Henry Silva as Gazzolo’s certifiably insane hired gun. The score by Ennio Morricone (billed as Leo Nichols) is also a high point; Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by director Alex Cox (“Repo Man”), who smartly notes the picture’s unsung successful elements.
“Upondo & Nkinsela” (1984, IndiePix) Barndoor-broad but amusing South African feature built around 13 comic vignettes featuring the titular duo, played by comic actors Ndaba Mhlongo and Masoja Mota. Their antics are cut from the same cloth as American comedy shorts of the 1930s and 1940: Upondo’s loud mouth gets them into hot water, and Nkinsela struggles mightily to get them out of it. The scenarios are paper-thin, and usually anchored around everyday jobs (TV repair, taxi service) at which the duo fail miserably; there are also forays into haunted houses and a mix-up with gangsters, both staples of Three Stooges/Brown and Carney/Martin and Lewis efforts. The appeal here is the unbridled energy of the players and the chance to see South African productions from the apartheid era that would have been offered to Black residents, who were otherwise unable to see mainstream fare. IndiePix’s DVD is part of its long-running Retro Afrika series.
“Tintorera…Tiger Shark” (1977, Kino Lorber) Truly curious British-Mexican sharksploitation title from veteran exploitation filmmaker Rene Cardona, Jr., who focuses his film, about a rampaging tiger shark at a beach resort, on a no-strings-attached romantic triangle composed of stressed-out businessman Hugo Stiglitz, blissed-out British tourist Susan George, and swim instructor Andres Garcia. Though the shark devours an alarming number of guests – including a pre-“Three’s Company” Priscilla Barnes – no one seems to be particularly concerned until Garcia is consumed, which shakes Stiglitz out of his swinger’s stupor. Cardona spares no quarter in shedding stage blood during the shark attack sequences (as well as showcasing some unpleasant treatment of real sharks), but the tonal shifts between these scenes and the Hedonism II antics of Stiglitz and friends make for a delirious viewing experience – exactly the sort that sends cult film fans into a rapturous swoon. Kino’s Blu-ray includes informed commentary by writer Troy Howarth and NaschyCast co-host Rod Barnett.
“Bloodstone” (1988, Arrow Video) While honeymooning in Indian, American newlyweds Brett Stimley and Anna Nicholas come into possession of the colossal titular ruby, which puts them (whose voice is dubbed by David Soul!) in the crosshairs of a villainous international fence (long-running Euroheel Christopher Neame). Amiable American-Indian production inspired by the success of “Romancing the Stone” and other serial-style ’80s adventures, is buoyed by the energetic presence and magnificent coiffure of Tamil superstar Rajinikanth as a taxicar driver who aids the couple; one wonders what he made of Charlie Brill‘s brownface turn as a bumbling Indian inspector. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes commentaries by director Dwight H. Little and author Bryan Reesman, who provide perspective on the production and cast; an interview with eccentric producer Nico Mastorakis and a video essay on Rajinikanth’s massive popularity and long career.