Movies Till Dawn: Crime and Punishment, USA

Positive I.D.” (1987, Kino Lorber) Emotionally pulverized and withdrawn from her family after a sexual assault, Stephanie Rascoe finds a mix of release and revenge in a loophole law that allows her to assume a different identity and pursue her attacker, who has been freed from prison. Little-seen since its release, Writer/director Andy Anderson‘s psychological study/thriller addresses weighty and timely issues – the vagaries of the legal system, the dangers of obsession and score-settling, the stifling qualities of suburbia – and is more or less (more in terms of direction, less in performance) successful in coalescing all of them into a very dark but compelling low-budget drama that feels like a precursor to the recent “Promising Young Woman” and the underrated “A Vigilante.” Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by writer Bryan Reesman.

Don’t Tell a Soul” (2020, Lionsgate Home Entertainment). Effective indie thriller with Jack Dylan Grazer (“It”) and Fionn Whitehead as sweet-and-sour brothers whose burglary of a house is interrupted by security guard Rainn Wilson, who falls into an abandoned well while pursuing them. The scenario reveals unpleasant truths about each of the three participants – Whitehead has bloomed into a vicious bully like their late father, Grazer is trying to retain a shred of empathy, and Wilson (solid and surprising as always) is, as is often the case in seemingly cut-and-dry thrillers, not exactly the helpless victim. Writer/director Alex McAulay does well with both the taut mechanics of the plot and creating a bleak backdrop that would allow such behavior to seem plausible; Lionsgate’s DVD includes a making-of doc.

Vigilante” (1982, Blue Underground) Blue collar New Yorker Robert Forster is reluctant to join Fred Williamson’s take-back-the-streets campaign until thugs under the aegis of gang boss Rico (salsa great Willie Colon) kill his son and injure wife Rutanya Alda, which puts him on the vengeance trail. Grindhouse favorite from director and Blue Underground chief William Lustig (“Maniac”) delivers on the death-wish fulfillment front without stooping too far into the cheapo action pitfall of celebrating murder, while also offering a few minor key notes on Forster’s downward spiral as a result of embracing vigilantism. Lustig’s direction is brawny and the supporting cast, which includes the great Woody Strode and Joe Spinell, is appropriately gritty. Blue Underground’s three-disc Limited Edition set bundles Blu-ray and 4K UHD editions of the film with three commentaries featuring Lustig, Forster, Williamson and a new track with historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson; new and vintage interviews with the cast and crew (including composer Jay Chattaway) and numerous US and foreign trailers and TV spots round out the set.

Sudden Fear” (1952, Cohen Media Group/Kino Lorber) Playwright Joan Crawford dumps actor Jack Palance as the romantic lead in her new drama but finds his off-stage woo irresistible – a terrible decision, as Palance and his galpal (Gloria Grahame) are also scheming to kill her in order to get their hands on her sizable estate. Solid and stylish suspense thriller gives Crawford a chance to play sympathetic (without resorting to histrionics) and Palance a showcase for his menace; both netted Oscar nods for their performances, as did Charles Lang‘s cinematography and Sheila O’Brien‘s costume design, though special mention should also go to Grahame, as the venomous mistress, and director David Miller’s use of San Francisco locations (Pacific Heights in particular) as both visual appeal and plot device. Cohen and Kino’s Blu-ray offers a 2K restoration and enthusiastic commentary by historian Jeremy Arnold.

My Name is Julia Ross” (1945, Arrow Academy) Nina Foch, an unemployed American in London, takes a much-needed job as secretary to wealthy widow Dame May Whitty, but soon finds that she’s more prisoner than employee; trapped in Whitty’s home, Foch is subjected to weapons-grade gaslighting by Whitty and the staff, who tell her that’s she’s actually the wife of Whitty’s certifiably deranged son (George Macready). Clever and well-paced B-thriller from Columbia Pictures and Joseph H. Lewis, whose signature camera angles and deep focus are skillfully employed here; Foch is a resourceful hero and Macready a decidedly creepy villain with an unpleasant obsession with knives. Remade, to good effect, by Arthur Penn as 1987’s “Dead of Winter“; Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray includes commentary by noir historian Alan K. Rode and a review of Lewis’s films for Columbia, as well as an essay by historian Adrian Martin.

Whodunit?” (1986, Vinegar Syndrome) A gaggle of aspiring actors and musicians summoned to remote Creep Island (played by the San Fernando Valley) to make a low-budget movie are picked off by an unseen assailant who appears to be taking his or her orders from the lyrics of a New Wave song (“Boil me, burn me…”). Absurd independent horror film, which draws on the “Ten Little Indians” trope is too sluggish in spots to work up consistent interest, but the song lyric angle is amusingly bonkers and the murder set pieces (death by battery acid, chainsaw, etc.) are memorably gross and vicious. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray packages a 4K restoration with informative commentary by the Hysteria Lives podcast crew and interviews with several of the cast members, one of whom relates how actor-turned-director William T. Naud planned to pay the actors with clips for their casting reels.

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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