Movies Till Dawn: “Women’s Pictures”

A Woman Kills” (1968, Radiance Films) A string of murders involving prostitutes in Paris appears to come to an end with the execution of one of their own for the crimes, but the murders continue unabated, and serve as the glue that unites Claude Merlin (the executioner) and Solange Pradel (a police officer who investigated the murders) in a complicated relationship. French drama by Jean-Denis Bonan failed to find distribution and went unseen for nearly a half-century; the film borrows freely from various genres and techniques (New Wave, documentary, exploitation, thriller) and the civil/political unrest of the May 1968 riots in Paris, all of which coalesce into an avant-garde exploration of notions of morality and justice during a time marked by upheaval and war (Merlin is a veteran profoundly affected by his time in Algeria). If “A Woman Kills” doesn’t quite deliver as a mystery, it remains visually and aesthetically entrancing and delivers a memorably offbeat final act. With a bracing free jazz score by Bernard Vitet; Radiance Films’ Blu-ray features a 2K restoration of the original 16mm elements and commentary by historians Kat Ellinger (who notes the presence of French horror director Jean Rollin in the cast) and Virgine Selavy, as well as a selection of Bonan’s early shorts (including “The Sadness of the Anthropophagi, which was banned by French censors). A 2015 documentary on Bonan and extensive liner notes round out the package.

The Bride Wore Black” (1968, Kino Lorber) Five men are methodically stalked and murdered by a woman in black (and occasionally white, courtesy of Pierre Cardin) whose husband was killed on their wedding day as a result of the quintet’s careless, entitled shenanigans. Intended by director Francois Truffaut as a homage to Hitchcock. “Bride” is stylishly executed but operates in a far more ruthless moral universe than Hitchcock’s films, due largely to the fatalistic source material by author William Irish (Cornell Woolrich); Moreau’s exceptional turn is a forerunner for a generation of female avengers (including Tarantino’s Bride in “Kill Bill”) that followed. Kino’s remastered Blu-ray ports over vintage commentary by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman with Steve C. Smith, who provides observations on the score by Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann.88

Mississippi Mermaid” (1969, Kino Lorber) More Hitchcockian Truffaut by way of Cornell Woolrich, this time an adaptation of “Waltz into Darkness” transposed to the coast of Africa, where plantation owner Jean-Paul Belmondo is played for a fool by mail-order bride Catherine Deneuve, which only deepens his ardor for her. Their relationship, meant to echo Hitchcock’s most memorably moral-free lovers (see: “Marnie,” “Notorious,” etc.), is played for more humor and heat by the leads, and while the ambiguity of their fate (a nod to Jean Renoir, to whom the film is dedicated) may leave viewers feeling a bit cheated – as it did when “Mermaid” was released to middling box office numbers – the combined elements do well in suggesting the minute-to-minute uncertainties of a romance that one knows is bad, but can’t quit all the same. Kino’s Blu-ray has the full, uncut version of the film (123 mins) and vintage commentary by the same lineup on “Bride Wore Black.”

Magnificent Warriors” (1987, 88 Films) Michelle Yeoh, who is currently enjoying much-deserved acclaim in the West, built her reputation as a skilled actor and action performer in dozens of Hong Kong movies like “Magnificent Warriors,” which showcased her natural screen magnetism and exceptional martial arts skills. Director David Chung gives her an especially fun showcase here: Yeoh, as a spy for the Chinese Army during World War II, gets to play an Indiana Jones-styled adventurer, complete with bullwhip, and pulls off a laundry list of pulp action thrills, from biplane dogfights to hand-to-hand combat, with not only considerable aplomb but a smile to boot. The story itself is overstuffed with mistaken identities and characters (Derek Yee as a fellow agent and Richard Ng as a wily conman), but Yeoh remains the focus of the film and its primary appeal. 88 Films’ all-region Blu-ray release compiles vintage interviews with Yeoh and stunt coordinator Tung Wai, commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng, an English-language opening credit sequence, trailers, extensive liner notes, and even a fold-out poster.

Don’t Deliver Us from Evil” (1971, Mondo Macabro) French schoolgirls Jeanne Goupil and Catherine Wagener escalate their sociopathic games from mocking nuns and flirtations with Satanism to animal cruelty, desrtuction and ultimately murder; when their antics run afoul of the law, the pair devise a horrific exit strategy. Joel Seria’s alarming drama, based in part on the real-life murder case depicted in “Heavenly Creatures,” trucks in exploitation material but largely avoids the pitfalls of that genre by focusing on the duo’s unshakable belief in their own superiority, and how it rattles establishment entities around. The idea of young women defying the church, police, their parents, and – let’s be honest – male-centric society certainly shook the French government, which banned the film, citing its (mild, TV-movie-level) sexual content as a motivating factor. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray improves its previous DVD release with a 4K restoration and thorough commentary by Kat Ellinger; new and vintage interviews with Seria and Goupil detail the production’s history, while British crime expert Paul Buck lays out the murder case that inspired the film.

Death Game” (1977, Grindhouse Releasing) Left alone on his 40th birthday as his wife contends with a family emergency, San Francisco businessman Seymour Cassell is visited by Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp (“Valley Girl”), who finagle their way into his home with a story about a broken-down car and soon lure Cassell into a bathtub tryst. The pair’s visit soon turns from a “Penthouse Letters” fantasy to a terrifying nightmare as they Cassell captive, subjecting him to endless verbal and physical abuse, and finally sentence him to death in a mock trial. Hard-to-believe indie psycho-thriller from real estate whiz kid turned producer/director Peter S. Traynor turns its exploitation trappings inside out with the gale force (and apparently improvised) performances of Locke and Camp as former victims who use their abusers’ own psychological tactics to wage war on emblems of the society who used them and cast them aside. It’s heavy material for a horror-thriller title, and made exponentially weirder and more uncomfortable by the veins of coal-black humor that run through the story, including the pair’s left-field fate. Remade with good intentions but to no great effect by Eli Roth as “Knock Knock”; Grindhouse Releasing has the original on a two-disc Blu-ray struck from the original camera negative that includes interviews with Camp and the late Traynor (by Roth), as well as Locke and members of the production team, as well as commentary by Camp and Roth and by producer Larry Spiegel and DP/editor David Worth. Extensively detailed liner notes by historian/author David Szulkin chronicle the film’s complicated gestation and its position as a Zelig-like hub for an orbiting constellation of notables, including Clint Eastwood, “Godfather” producer Al Ruddy, Richard Pryor, Sissy Spacek, Bill Paxton, Dr. Seuss, and comedian Marty (“Hello dere!”) Allen.

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.
This entry was posted in Miscellanious and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply