*indicates that the film is also available to rent, buy, or stream on various platforms.
“Master Gardener” (2022, Magnolia Pictures*) Joel Edgerton tends to wealthy Sigourney Weaver’s sprawling garden (and to Weaver herself) by day and to his own troubled psyche at night, until the arrival of Weaver’s grandniece (Quintessa Swindell) upends their carefully constructed thicket of emotional reserve. Transformation and redemption of a solitary man by Paul Schrader, who places “Master Gardener” in a sort of loose trilogy with his recent (and equally solid) “First Reformed” and “The Card Counter”; like those films, this is thorny material (pun intended) and eventually comes down to violence (Schrader wrote “Taxi Driver,” “Last Temptation of Christ,” etc.). As with those films, it’s never gratuitous or particularly cathartic; Schrader carefully stacks the deck for his characters until an explosion of sorts, and its accompanying fallout, is all that remains for options. Magnolia’s Blu-ray is widescreen.
“The Dead Mother” (1993, Radiance Films) Violent criminal Karra Elejalde kills an art restorer a robbery and wounds her young daughter; years later, he encounters her again, now a grown woman (Ana Alvarez) left mute and mentally impaired, and kidnaps her to prevent her from reporting him to the police. What follows is at times wholly unexpected, as director Juanma Bajo Ulloa pulls the film into more complex dramatic (and occasionally comic) territory than its ugly opening and Gothic color palette might suggest. Much of the heavy lifting is accomplished by the leads, who do well with difficult roles, though photography (by Javier Aguirresarobe) and Bajo Ulloa’s painterly compositions also assists. Radiance’s Limited Edition Blu-ray features a 4K restoration, a making-of doc with cast and crew interviews, extensive liner notes, and a CD of Bingen Mendizabal’s score; Bajo Ulloa is front and center with his darkly atmospheric 1989 short, “El reino de Victor,” and thoughtful commentary.
“The Fear” (1966, Mondo Macabro) An atmosphere of repression (for women) and permission (for the men) allows for a cascading series of tragedies to unfold at a farm in rural Greece. Black-and-white Greek feature from Kostas Manoussakis (his third and final) offers a bleak and brutish variation on Tennessee Williams and Erskine Caldwell’s heartland-as-psychosexual-hothouse template; mildly exploitative elements are leavened by Manoussakis’ largely assured formal compositions and gorgeous photography by Nikos Gardelis, which helped earn “The Fear” a nomination from the Berlin International Film Festival. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray, taken from a 2K restoration, includes a documentary on Manoussakis, whose career was upended by a string of misfortunes, and a photo montage of actress Elena Nathanali, who plays Anna, the sole member of the film’s farming family with a shot at escaping its stultifying orbit.
“After Dark, My Sweet” (1990, Kino Lorber*) After fleeing a mental hospital, violent ex-boxer Jason Patric falls in with a pair of desperate types – alcoholic widow Rachel Ward and alleged former cop Bruce Dern – who draw him into a kidnapping scheme. One of the better entries in the late ’80s-early ’90s wave of neo-noir, this adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel benefits from canny direction by journeyman director James Foley and its three leads, who all transmit degrees of moral failure and grasping need with near-perfect accuracy (especially Dern in one of his cagiest turns). Location filming in the dustiest parts of Mecca, Palm Desert, and Indio benefit from the 2K remaster on Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray, which also includes understated commentary by Foley and interviews with Patric and the always entertaining Dern.
“The Herd’ (2023, Dark Sky Films) Marrieds Ellen Adair and Mitzi Akaha already have a plate full of troubles – Adair’s messy upbringing by homophobic dad Corbin Bernsen, their recent loss of a child – when a viral outbreak (from the American South) puts them directly between warring groups of gun-happy militias and the murderous infected. Director Steven Pierce draws much of the tension for his “zombie” movie by positioning the genre’s increasing tendency towards run-and-gun politics against the current reality of “freedom” minded types whose idea of the word encompasses discrimination, casual violence, and a laissez-faire attitude towards common sense (like giving a gun to a grade schooler) and medical sensibilities. Opening soon in theaters, including the Laemmle in Santa Monica (starting 10/13) with VOD to follow.
“Tenebrae” (1982, Synapse Films*) Horror author Tony Franciosa’s violent body of work is cited as an inspiration for a series of vicious murders that coincide with his arrival in Rome. Writer-director Dario Argento put aside his “Three Mothers” trilogy of supernatural films (including “Suspiria”) for this return to the style-conscious, gore-soaked gialli or murder mysteries on which he built his reputation as a sort of European Hitchcock; effective as both a visually striking and supremely nasty thriller (the violence here is particularly unpleasant) and an assessment of Argento’s own established tropes within that genre (the voyeuristic POV, the seemingly meaningless event that’s later revealed to be of great importance), as well as an attempt to address accusations of misogyny in his work (his success here is a matter of personal interpretation). Long available in a severely truncated and incomprehensible form (as “Unsane”), the Synapse Blu-ray presents a 4K restoration of the original film in both UHD and Blu-ray formats with English and Italian language options. It includes three commentaries, including a new and highly informative track by Argento scholar Maitland McDonagh (vintage tracks by Kim Newman and Alan Jones and by Thomas Rostock are also included), interviews with Argento, McDonagh, co-stars John Steiner (once a high profile real estate agent in LA) and Daria Nicolodi (Argento’s ex and Asia’s mother) and co-composer Claudio Simonetti of Goblin, and a feature-length documentary on the history of the giallo that includes interviews with Argento and many other filmmakers that worked in the genre; international trailers, alternate credits, and multiple promotional images round out the set.