Movies Till Dawn: Skull-Busters’ Union (International Chapter)

Graveyards of Honor” (1975/2002, Arrow Video) Two takes on crime, ego, and self-destruction in Japan, courtesy of cult directors Kinji Fukusaku and Takashi Miike. Both features are based on the life of gangster Rikio Ishikawa, whose almost supernatural anger (and lack of self-control) landed him on the wrong side of various gangs, including his own, and the law. Fukusaku’s version follows the tenets of his previous jitsuroku eiga (“actual record films”), with heavy emphasis on a documentary aesthetic and layers of production grime; Miike’s “Honor” moves the story from post-WWII Japan to the then-present, and doubles down on the consequences of Ishikawa’s out-of-control behavior. The violence here has a layer of ruefulness that stands apart from the splatter-by-numbers approach in Miike’s other films (“Ichi the Killer,” etc.). Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray set offer hi-def presentations of both films, commentary by historians Mark Schilling and Tom Mes, and multiple featurettes and visual essays covering Fukusaku’s career, Miike’s damaged anti-heroes, and interviews with Miike and Fukusaku’s collaborators and admirers.

Dynasty” (1977, Kino Lorber) Berserk Hong Kong-Taiwanese martial arts film, made even more frenetic by the SuperTouch 3D process (created by exploitation filmmaker Michael Findlay), which has been restored by the 3D Film Archive. The plot – concerning an emperor’s son who battles a renegade general for control of his father’s territory – largely serves as a launching pad for a string of outrageous fight sequences highlighted by some very unusual weapons: giant extendable tongs that lop off heads (lots of decapitations here), metal claws, golden armor that becomes a bladed boomerang, a fistful of head-cracking coins, and so on. In true 3-D fashion, many of these items are thrust repeatedly at the viewer, which for kung fu and 3-D fans, should make for delirious good fun. Kino’s Blu-ray offers two different 3-D options and a set of glasses as well as a 2-D presentation; a trio of 3-D featurettes focused on photographs as well as a animated proto-music video and an explanation of the SuperTouch process rounds out this highly entertaining and offbeat disc.

Sword of God” (2018, Film Movement) Hearts and minds prove to be a difficult get for two medieval Polish knights, especially when the object of their domination –a pagan tribe – seems to already have the upper hand in terms of strength, strategy, and belief. Period drama by director/co-writer Bartosz Konopka – an Oscar-nominated documentarian – doesn’t offer much new insight into the idea of religious conversation and its impact on both deliverer and (unwilling) recipient, but does offer an abundance of brutal violence, which is well balanced by strong performances by knights Krzysztof Pieczynski and Karol Bernacki and Wiktoria Gorodecka as the tribe’s female leader, as well as striking cinematography by Jacek Podgorski. Film Movement’s DVD is subtitled.

Beasts Clawing at Straws” (2020, Artsploitation Films) A bag, stuffed with money and left unattended at a sauna, unites a trio of desperate types, each of whom see the cash as the ticket away from their problems, but come to discover that it’s more of an express route to bigger, bloodier concerns. Feature debut from South Korean director Yong-hoon Kim is needlessly overplotted, but also boasts an abundance of ’70s-cool style (which may be a detraction for some), a wicked sense of black humor, and an impeccable trio of leads – Bae Seong-woo, who discovers the bag; Jung Woo-sung, who needs it to keep a gangster from taking his hand; and Shin Hyun-bin, who wants its contents to fund a hit on her abusive husband – as well as Jeon Do-yeon as Hyun-bin’s steely boss. Artsploitation’s Blu-ray offers subtitled audio and the theatrical trailer.

Death Has Blue Eyes” (1976, Arrow Video) A pair of deadbeats – Vietnam vet Peter Winter and Greek racecar driver/rough trade Hristos Nomikos – break from their regular schedule of rip-offs and hustling to serve as reluctant bodyguards for Maria Aliferi, an apparent psychic targeted by Communist forces after observing a politically motivated assassination. Crazy-quilt grindhouse thriller from Greek director Nico Mastorakis mixes crime/conspiracy drama, psycho horror, and supernatural elements without much regard for how they mesh (or don’t); the Greek locations and freewheeling ’70s vibe keep things afloat when the story twists into improbabilities or absurdities. Arrow’s Blu-ray offers restored full-frame and letterbox presentations, interviews with Mastorakis and Aliferi, and selections from the velour score by Nikos Lavranos.

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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