Movies Till Dawn: Thrills and Chills ’23

AmnesiA” (Cult Epics, 2001) Photographer Alex (Fedja van Huet) abandons his faltering career – too many visions of a past trauma interrupting the shoots – and joins his twin brother Aram (also van Huet) at their mother’s home, which appears to be a junkyard for old cars. There, past conflicts are dug up and revisited, including the truth behind their father’s violent end. Questions abound in “AmnesiA” – who is Carice van Houten (“Game of Thrones”), the mysterious hitchhiker (and pyromaniac) who joins Alex? Why is Aram’s arm in a sling? What’s going on with Mom (Sacha Bulthius), who keeps mistaking Alex for his father? – but you aren’t getting easy answers (or any answers, really) from director Martin Koolhoven, whose focus is on creating unnerving visuals through gloomy color palettes and a disorienting structure marked by gaps in action and information. The parade of weird behavior holds attention whenever Koolhoven’s style threatens to upend it, with the lion’s share of the bizarre shouldered capably by van Huet and van Houten. Cult Epics’ Limited Edition two-disc Blu-ray includes an 4K restoration of the film, as well as commentary by Koolhoven and van Huet; Koolhoven and van Houten are also interviewed together or alone in new and archival featurettes. Two projects by Koolhoven for Dutch TV – “Suzy Q,” about an Amsterdam teenager determined to break into Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful’s hotel room in 1967, and “Dark Light,” about a man held hostage by a woman on a farm – are also included.

Ace High” (1968, Kino Lorber) Greek bandit Eli Wallach escapes the hangman’s noose and relieves bounty hunters Terence Hill (as Cat Stevens) and Bud Spencer of their recent windfall before offering them a chance to recoup their win by helping him get revenge against two of the men who sent him to jail – casino owner Kevin McCarthy and hypocritical revolutionary Livio Lorenzon. Giuseppe Colizzi’s spaghetti Western sequel to his “God Forgives… I Don’t” feels overstuffed at 122 minutes, but Wallach’s abundant scuzzy charm in what is essentially an extended riff on his character from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” helps carry the picture over any rough spots, as does McCarthy’s oily villain and some impressive fight setpieces, including a concluding showdown in McCarthy’s casino set to a waltz. Hill and Spencer, who made dozens of Italian action films together (including the breezy “Trinity” pictures), take a back seat to Wallach here, where they’re joined by Brock Peters as a trapeze artist who teams with the trio. Kino’s remastered, English-dubbed Blu-ray includes commentary by “Repo Man” director Alex Cox, who knows his Italian Westerns.

The Assassination Bureau” (1969, Arrow Video) Crusading journalist/early 20th centuy suffragette Diana Rigg hopes to expose the titular organization – a cadre of professional killers largely responsible for global politics for centuries – by placing a hit on the son (Oliver Reed) of its founder; he gleefully responds by eliminating the other members while wooing the resolute Rigg. Breezy black comedy based on an unfinished novel by Jack London from director Basil Dearden and co-writer/producer Michael Relph labors, at times a bit too mightily, to maintain a blithe touch in regard to sanctioned murder and secret cabals with unlimited power. However, it has two exceptionally appealing leads, a capable supporting cast of scene-stealers (Telly Savalas, Curd Jurgens, Phillippe Noiret, Clive Revill), and location shooting in numerous countries and lavish, sprawling sets. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray gilds those images with a gorgeous transfer and informative commentary by Kim Newman and Sean Hogan; an appreciation by historian Matthew Sweet and promotional material all make for an ideal presentation.

Almost Human” (1974, Severin Films) Giulio (Tomas Milian) is such a loathsome and dangerous creep that even the bank robbers he works for want him gone; left to his own deranged devices, he decides to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy businessman, which puts him in the crosshairs of tough cop Henry Silva. Vicious Italian crime thriller by journeyman Umberto Lenzi takes the opposite tack of most American crime dramas, which show the antagonist losing control of the situation and playing into the hands of the law; here, Giulio screws up constantly but compensates by killing everyone around him in cold blood, including bystanders and a child. One can argue that the politics of the film (which flow both ways in terms of placing the blame for Giulio) are so inflexible that the massacre at the end of the film is the only possible conclusion, but there’s no denying that Milian – who graduated from the Actors Studio to play charismatic heroes and heels in numerous Italian films – is such a live wire that he almost compels you to watch his ugly behavior. “Almost Human” – part of Severin’s eight-disc “Violent Streets – The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection” box set – includes commentaries by screenwriter Ernest Gastaldi (who covers the production history) and Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth (who cover a far-ranging array of topics), as well as interviews with Silva, Lenzi, Gastaldi, and a still-feisty Milian. The disc is also paired with a CD of Ennio Morricone’s propulsive score.

The Peacekillers” (1971, Scorpion Releasing) Biker creep (future soap star Clint Ritchie) gets wind that his former mama (fellow daytime vet Jess Walton) has taken up with a guru (Paul Prokop) and lays waste to their commune in an attempt to reclaim her, prompting Walton’s brother (Michael Ontkean, one year before “The Rookies”0) to beat his ploughshare into a sword and give violence a chance. Rough biker exploitation from indie distributor Transvue Pictures spares no quarter in the grislier side of life on the road during the Aquarian Age but also folds some intriguing notions, not the least of which is an integrated biker gang with a Black female leader (Lavelle Roby, “Rocky”). Scorpion Releasing’s widescreen Blu-ray includes commentary by director Douglas Schwart and co-writer Michael Berk, who are best known as the creators of “Baywatch” (!), with co-star Gary Morgan (the tech-savvy biker Gadget); Schwartz and Berk also provide much info on the film’s backstory, as well as their own early careers, in a separate interview.

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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