Movies Till Dawn: Worldly Matters, Pt. 1

* indicates that this title is also available to rent, buy or stream on various platforms. Please note that streaming options may differ from these home video presentations in terms of visuals, supplemental features, etc.

Special Silencers” (1982 (?), Mondo Macabro) Career Indonesian heel W.D. Mochtar is again up to no good in this delirious Indonesia action/horror hybrid. Here, Mochtar’s ends are relatively modest (take over a small village), but the means by which he chooses to accomplish it are, to put it mildly, outlandish: he dispatches the current village headman (Darussalam) with tiny red pills – the “special silencers” of the title – which, when consumed, cause a full-grown tree to erupt from the victim’s body, with the expected showers of gore. Indonesian action star Barry Prima and one-time off-screen spouse Eva Arnaz are the high-kicking heroes who oppose him. Cult movie-minded viewers looking for a deeper, weirder flex are advised to explore Indonesian exploitation titles like “Special Silencers” and others carried by Mondo Macabro; their unique cinematic space – a world where black magic co-exists with dudes in feather cuts and flare jeans, where stinky shoes are a lethal weapon, and where the threadbare and the exotic combine to create something wholly alien and familiar at the same time – provides the sort of intoxicating disorientation available from only the most outre movie experiences. Mondo’s Blu-ray for “Special Silencers” – the first ever legal Western video release – features both the Indonesian theatrical cut and a longer version with deleted scenes culled from a Dutch VHS source; commentary by Filipino exploitation expert Andrew Leavold and a 25-minute featurette on Indonesian fantasy/horror films rounds out this mind-expanding disc.

“Tender Dracula” * (1974, Severin Films) Horror star MacGregor (Peter Cushing) casts off his bogeyman persona to pursue romantic roles – an odd choice, given that he’s in his senior years, but such is the logic in this odd French comedy-thriller. Panicked over the potential box office loss, producer Julien Guiomar dispatches two nitwit assistants (Stephane Shandor and Bernard Menez) to MacGregor’s island castle in order to convince him to change course, sends two free-spirited actresses (Miou-Miou and Nathalie Courval) to – sweeten the deal? It’s all unclear, which is also an apt description for “Tender Dracula” as a whole, which draws on a diverse (and at times, diametrically opposite) array of sources: the broad comedy of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” the grotty arthouse eroticism of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin’s Euro-horror titles, the Gothic Technicolor aesthetic of the Hammer horror titles that made Cushing a star, and a smattering of musical and counterculture comedy (how else to explain the castle that launches into space a la “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”?). The parts don’t gel at all, but the approach is delivered with polish and visual style to spare (Karl-Heinz Schafer’s score is a gas), and the sheer spectacle of seeing Cushing drop his steely/fatherly persona and play against type (and dance a waltz and, in one jaw-dropping scene, spank Miou-Miou) should be seen, at least once. “Tender Dracula” makes its Western disc debut courtesy of Severin’s staggering and wholly enjoyable “Cushing Curiosities” set, which bundles it with several other obscurities from his vast c.v., including the British thrillers “Cone of Silence” (1960), “Suspect” (1960), and “The Man Who Finally Died” (1962), as well as the surviving episodes of his 1968 “Sherlock Holmes” series for the BBC, the bizarre psychedelic vampire pic “Bloodsuckers,” and a 200-page (!) book on Cushing by horror historian Jonathan Rigby. He’s also tapped to make sense of “Tender Dracula” with fellow historian Kevin Lyons on a commentary track, while director Pierre Grunstein and co-star Bernard Menez offer recollections, most of which hinge on affectionate recollections of Cushing and complete bafflement over the film itself.

Black Tight Killers” (1966, Radiance Films) Akira Kobayashi, a war photographer with weapons-grade rakish charm, falls head over heels for flight attendant Chieko Matsubara, but his attempts to pitch woo are undone when they are caught up in a struggle between trenchcoat-clad gangsters and a squad of go-go dancers who double as ninjas. Giddy Pop Art exercise from director Yasuharu Hasebe, whose tenure under director Seijun Suzuki is evident in the film’s brawny action sequences and frequent headlong flights into candy-colored fantasy material seemingly informed in equal parts by French New Wave cinema, James Bond, Jack Kirby/Joe Simon’s efforts for Marvel Comics, and Roy Lichtenstein. One does not need to be a student of the cool and ruthless crime pictures released by “Killers’” studio, Nikkatsu, to draw full enjoyment from it; Hasebe’s film is almost critique- and dismissal-proof, daring you to find fault with its formidable cadre of dancing ninja and their array of absurd but lethal toys. Radiance’s Blu-ray boasts an HD transfer that makes his color compositions pop, as well as a one-two punch of well-informed commentary by critic Jasper Sharp and liner notes by Chris D., who fill in any possible gap in your understanding of the picture’s primary architects (including Hasebe, who is featured in a separate and amiable interview) and postwar Japanese film in general.

The Belle Starr Story” * (1968, Raro Video) Elsa Martinelli plays the real-life titular outlaw in this Italian-made Western, which in most reference material is simply listed as the sole entry in the “spaghetti Western” subgenre to be helmed by a woman (Oscar winner Lina Wertmuller of “Swept Away” fame). Less of a biography or standard issue shoot-em-up, “Belle Starr” is largely focused on the dense sexual politics that independent women faced (and continue to face) in a male-dominated culture; king-sized George Eastman serves as the thorn in Belle’s side, demanding physical and emotional fealty from a woman with a long history of (literally) fighting for her independence. Pacing and structure are the primary issues here – Wertmuller loves a flashback (and a flashbacks inside flashbacks) – but the film’s focus and Martinelli’s turn deflect most roadblocks. The Raro Video release (distributed by Kino Video) features the Italian-language version of the film (with English subs); it’s a vast improvement over the American release, which is shorter in length, in standard-def and badly dubbed. Observant commentary by critic Samm Deighan rounds out the disc.

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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