Movies Till Dawn: May Queens

The Reckoning” (2020, RLJE Films) After resisting the untoward advances of her squire landlord (Steven Waddington), 17th century London widow and mother Charlotte Kirk finds herself accused of witchcraft and facing unspeakable torture at the hands of steely witchfinder Sean Pertwee. This impressively appointed period supernatural thriller fits well into director Neil Marshall’s recent efforts to build genre films around strong female leads (see also “The Descent,” “Doomsday”), and benefits from Kirk’s redoubtable presence as victim-turned-avenger. Kirk who also co-wrote the film, has a fine grain grit that helps balances the film’s uneven elements: a frequent tilt towards grisly witchsploitation a ala ’70s costume gross-outs like “Witchfinder General,” scenery chewing from Pertwee, and unfocused plot sojourns (a dalliance with a Devil straight out of Benjamin Christensen’s “Haxan” never gels). Kirk and the production designs keep matters above board; RLJE’s DVD includes deleted scenes.

A Regular Woman” (2018, Corinth Films) Tragic drama, based on a real-life case of honor killing in Germany’s Turkish-Kurdish community. Almila Bagriacik’s bright teenager Aynur recalls the case from the grave, having been executed by her youngest brother for refusing to commit to an abusive arranged marriage and pursuing Western freedoms like a career and relationship with a German man (Jacob Matschenz). The rigidity and eventual terror campaign by her family is harrowing, but it’s the response by the German police, who refuse to aid Aynur unless there is physical evidence of her family’s threats, that lands the most sickening hit. Meticulously crafted by director Sherry Horrman; Film Movement’s DVD is subtitled.

Switchblade Sisters” (1975, Arrow Video) Tough girl Maggie (the aptly named Joanne Nail) writes her own ticket into the Dagger Debs, an all-female satellite crew of a high school vice ring, the Silver Daggers. When the latter’s leader (Asher Brauner) falls for Maggie (by way of assault), this sets in motion a power struggle with the Debs’ deeply unhinged leader, Lace (voice-over vet Robbie Lee), with venomous support by Debs second-in-command Patch (Monica Gayle), that eventually leads to all-out war (with a tank). One-of-a-kind exploitation thriller by Jack Hill (“Coffy”) is the ’70s equivalent of a ’50s juvenile delinquent/girls-in-prison pic, with every line from F.X. Maier’s hyperbolic script delivered as a sneer, boast, or gritted-teeth threat; its politics have not aged well, but the entire affair is pitched at such a level of pure fantasy (one expects the Debs to break into song at any moment) even the transgressions can’t be taken seriously. It is, however, deliriously paced and performed, and Hill’s subversive tendency to slip dramatic depth into his drive-in fare is evidenced here by the complicated relationship between Lace and Patch. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes new commentary by historians Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, who discuss the film’s feminist leanings and unique elements; archival extras include multiple interviews with Hill and members of the cast and crew and visits to the location (the Oinkster, Moonlight Rollerway).

Outside the Law” (1920, Kino Lorber) Tough-as-nails jewel thief Priscilla Dean and her crime boss father (Ralph Lewis) go straightafter receiving the low down on Confucianism from the philosophical Lo Chang (Caucasian actor E.A. Warren) in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but a false murder rap on her father by thug Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney, Sr.) sends Dean back to the heist business to clear his name. Chaney plays two roles in this crime drama, the second of his 10 collaborations with director Tod Browning (“Dracula”) – he’s also Lo Chang’s servant, Ah Wing – and if the yellowface portrayals are galling (the stereotyping is mild but present), Dean is a first-rate action hero, even when saddled to a soppy romance with gangster Wheeler Oakman (her real-life husband) and cute stuff with Stanley Goethals’ neighborhood waif. Location shots of San Francisco circa 1920 and glimpses of an uncredited Anna May Wong are unfortunately minimal; the Kino Lorber Blu-ray features what is probably the best possible presentation of this century-old film and bundles it with commentary from American Film Institute archivist Anthony Slide, a new score by Anton Sanko, and Browning’s alternate ending.

The German Friend” (2012, Corinth Films) The past upends a romance between Sulamit and Fredrich, both children of Germans living in Argentina, on two occasions: first, with the revelation that Fredrich’s father is a former Nazi officer, which divides Sulamit and her Jewish parents, and later, when Fredrich, rejecting his father’s history, puts more energy into radical politics than their relationship. Writer-director Jeanine Meerapfel drew on her own life for this bittersweet drama, which works better in intent than execution (unfocused script with ambiguous ending). But “German Friend’s” international locations look beautiful thanks to Victor (Kino) Gonzalez’s cinematography, and Argentine actress Celeste Cid does well by a role that in the wrong hands, might play as a pushover. Corinth’s DVD is subtitled.

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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