Barry Forshaw’s DVD Choice

Barry Forshaw’s pick of the latest DVDs

APOCALYPSE NOW! Blu-ray

Francis Coppola, director/Optimum

Looking better than ever in this revelatory Blu-ray transfer, the finest encapsulation of the experience of the Vietnam War -- Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness -- has been painstakingly restored by his own Zoetrope studios under his close supervision, and is an essential purchase for all lovers of modern cinema. This release ties into cinema re-showings of the film.

TENEBRAE Blu-ray


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Dario Argento, director/Arrow

Another Blu-ray Dario Argento revelation. With Tenebrae (1982), the director’s enthusiasts can savour, at their leisure, all the brilliant visual imagination of this Italian master of the horror film – nobody else in the field (not even Brian De Palma at his best) could (at that time) wield a camera with such elegance. Here, a contrived plot and perfunctory characters are effortlessly transcended by sequences such as the astonishing camera ‘prowl’ around the house of two murder victims. To the accompaniment of a pounding score by members of Argento’s usual collaborators, Goblin, the director forsakes the supernaturalism of Suspiria and Inferno for a Hitchcockian plot involving a writer (Anthony Franciosa) plagued by a black-gloved murderer. Mention of Hitchcock is very relevant, as his ghost broods over the film (look at the sequence where Franciosa’s agent John Saxon waits in a shopping precinct before a murderous knife assault: the steady accumulation of menace through innocuous sights and sounds – shoppers, children – is as brilliantly handled as Tippi Hedren’s wait by the school-house in The Birds).

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DEEP END Blu-ray

Jerzy Skolimowski, director/BFI

Long overdue for such an impressive treatment (or, for that matter, any kind of DVD issue), Skolimowski’s erotic, surrealistic classic (with its bizarre, foreigner’s-eye-view of London) is showcased in a stunning 3-disc issue. It looks astonishing – though what the now-pious Cat Stevens would make these days of the use of his songs in this frank study of sexual mores is open to question. An unmissable issue.

GREAT CRIMES AND TRIALS

Various directors/Network

Narrated by Robert Powell, this fascinating four-disc set sheds light on some of the most notorious cases of the twentieth century. With unprecedented access to picture libraries, syndicated sources and over 250,000 hours of archive footage, this is an intriguing examination of such cases as cannibal Ed Gein who used the skin of his victims for lampshades (and whose crimes inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho and the more recent Silence of the Lambs); Amityville murderer Butch de Feo, Evelyn Dick, William Joyce (‘Lord Haw-Haw’), Grace Duff, Dr. Buck Ruxton, and Mark Chapman. Each episode combines new and archive interviews to reconstruct the story, examining the individual and his motives, explaining how the crime was committed and showing breakthroughs in investigations and details of the trial.

DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK

Jen & Sylvia Soska, directors/Bounty

Set in a stunningly-shot Vancouver, four friends have their lives disrupted and end up fighting for their very existence when they discover the body of a dead prostitute left in their trunk. Sleazy motel managers, chainsaw-wielding triads, and a brutal serial killer are all thrown in their path. Violent, outrageous and exhilarating, this debut feature is written, directed and produced by Jen & Sylvia Soska. Not, as they say, for the squeamish.

SALON KITTY Blu-ray

Tinto Brass, director/Argent

The most eye-opening film by director Tinto Brass (apart from his notorious and sexually explicit Caligula) is here available in high Definition for the first time, Salon Kitty is an unflinching narrative of excess within the Nazi Party at the time of World War II. The film has been newly transferred and restored in HD from the Brass’ own personal vault materials and is presented in its original widescreen format, completely uncensored and featuring 21 minutes of previously cut footage. Based on actual events, the story takes place in Berlin, in 1939, at the start of World War II. SS Officer Helmut Wallenburg (Helmut Berger) is instructed by his superiors to set up an elite brothel, the eponymous Salon Kitty, especially designed to serve high-ranking Nazi officials. The brothel madam is played by no less an actress than one of Ingrid Bergman’s great muses, Ingrid Thulin, and the sumptuous sets are the work of two-time Oscar-winning production designer Ken Adam.

WITCHFINDER GENERAL Blu-ray

Michael Reeves, director/Odeon

Michael Reeves’ enduring classic – the best (and most intelligent) horror film ever made in England – is granted an exemplary Blu-ray transfer here in its uncut form, rendering (at a stroke) all previous DVD issues of the film redundant.

THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE

Marc Munders, director/Fremantle Media Enterprises

Word of mouth made this sometimes shocking and unusual piece of sexually charged period drama a great success. Based on the best-selling book by Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and The White is uncompromising piece rendered by a stellar cast featuring Romola Garai as the prostitute Sugar, Chris O’Dowd, Richard E Grant, Mark Gatiss and an unrecognisable Gillian Anderson. Directed by Marc Munders (of The Devil’s Whore and Conviction fame) and adapted by Lucinda Coxon, it is a disturbing and unsettling vision of Victorian London.

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?

Narciso Ibanez, director/Eureka

Known only by reputation for years, this atmospheric example of Spanish unease is a striking and disturbing Eurocult item from the 1970s. When an English couple holidaying in Spain travel to a small, apparently deserted island, soon a grim truth reveals itself: all the adults have been killed by the child population, who are far from finished with their systematic slaughter. Striking cinema photography and real intelligence distinguish this hard-to-see item, available on DVD for the first time in the UK in its original uncut version.

L’AGE D’OR Blu-ray

Luis Bu�uel and Salvador Dal�, directors/BFI

One of film’s most provocative collaborations, L’Age d’or, is the joint product of Luis Bu�uel and Salvador Dal�, and this controversial and groundbreaking film is now released by the BFI in newly mastered High Definition for the first time, in a Dual Format Edition (containing Blu-ray and DVD versions) with extensive extra features. 80 years have not dimmed the impact of this bitter marriage of outrageous visuals and social commentary. Extras include a new HD transfer of the 1960 restoration of Un Chien Andalou, Bu�uel and Dal�’s equally shocking and provocative debut, which created a scandal at its premiere.

THE CLAIRVOYANT

Maurice Elvey, director/Odeon

The material itself may have dated – amusingly – but Claude Rains remains mesmerising as ever as the eponymous clairvoyant in this vintage, incident-packed drama.

FACCIA A FACCIA/FACE TO FACE

Sergio Sollima, director/Eureka

One of the most celebrated films from Italian genre master Sergio Sollima (of The Big Gundown), Faccia a Faccia (Face to Face) is an unusual western saga and a striking character piece with contains a metaphor about the rise of fascism. History professor Brad Fletcher (played by the always-reliable Gian Maria Volonte) is obliged to retire because of his poor health and moves west for the warmer climate. But he is taken hostage by famed bandit Solomon Bennett (the much less interesting Tomas Milian). With a characteristically jangling score by Ennio Morricone, this hard-to-see Italian western isn’t quite as impressive as its reputation suggested, but is still a collector’s item.

THE CRUEL SEA Blu-ray

Charles Frend, director/Optimum

Nicholas Montserrat’s novel The Cruel Sea showed life at sea during WWII on a boat charged with protecting convoys and seeking and destroying U-boats. A great success in its day, the novel had already sold over 4 million copies in just 2 years when Ealing decided to make the film version. Filmed aboard an actual Royal Navy corvette, the film stars Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden and Stanley Clarke, and is a powerful insight into the lives of heroes at sea during the war.

THE PACK

Franck Richard, director/Icon

Beginning in the mode of standard backwoods horror, this graphic and intense French piece suddenly spins off into a bizarre, blackly comic zone territory, both like and unlike many things we’ve seen before, but full of quirky personality.The debut feature from writer-director Franck Richard is in-your-face new wave Euro-horror with an intriguing cast of actors that includes Benjamin Biolay and award-winning Belgian actresses Yolande Moreau and Emilie Dequenne. Taking an isolated road trip (always a bad idea), Charlotte (Dequenne) has a run-in with a gang of (hilariously hideous) bikers at a roadside food van. What follows is outrageous and scarifying indeed – and will be catnip to lovers of the genre.

A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA

Alexander MacKendrick, director/Eureka

Who better than Alexander MacKendrick to direct Richard Hughes’ classic 1929 novel? The film adaptation by the director of Sweet Smell of Success, The Ladykillers and Whisky Galore begins with British parents living in the West Indies in the 1870s deciding to send their going-native children home to be schooled in England. However, when their ship is attacked by pirates and the children are accidentally transferred onto the enemy vessel, their presence begins to stir up trouble amongst the superstitious crew. With sterling playing by Anthony Quinn, James Coburn and the youthful Deborah Baxter (in a remarkable debut performance as Emily), MacKendrick teases out all the disturbing subtexts of the novel.

CROSS OF IRON Blu-ray

Sam Peckinpah, director/Optimum

The lacerating Sam Peckinpah war classic receives a welcome Blu-ray wash-and-rinse, looking more impressive than ever in this full digital restoration using the best available film elements.

THE KREMLIN LETTER

John Huston, director/Eureka

What a cast! This pitch-black spy thriller directed and co-written by the legendary John Huston may have found no audience in it day, but is now fascinating viewing, boasting in its cast Orson Welles, Max von Sydow, George Sanders, Bibi Andersson, and a creepily avuncular Richard Boone. The Kremlin Letter is a unique item.

HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR

Alain Resnais, director/Optimum

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Alain Resnais’ first feature, remains as mesmerising as ever, with its dialogue between a Young French actress and a Japanese man which reflects Hiroshima’s own attempts to ‘forget the unforgettable’, kick-starting what would become many filmic explorations of memory and forgetting. Exquisitely beautiful, intensely moving if stately in pace, it’s the defining film of modern French cinema. The director’s famously documentary Night and Fog has also been reissued, one of the first documentaries ever made about the Nazi concentration camps.

THE NEW YORK RIPPER Blu-ray

Lucio Fulci, director/Shameless Screen Entertainment

Whatever your views of Italian genre director Lucio Fulci’s graphic and unsparing shocker, it cannot be denied that it has been accorded deluxe treatment here in this visually striking Blu-ray transfer from the enterprising company Shameless, who are committed to showcasing Italian giallo thrillers in the best possible form.

COAST Blu-ray

Various directors/Acorn Media

The acclaimed BBC2 television series Coast returns to DVD with Coast and Beyond Series Six in a stunning Blu-ray edition to best show off its spectacular aerial film footage. Viewers can explore the shorelines and seas that connect our coastline and discover the outer reaches of this island country, and others. Coast’s intrepid and inquisitive (and it has to be said, sometimes twee) team of presenters led by Nicholas Crane alongside Dick Strawbridge, Mark Horton and Alice Roberts, traverse cliff tops, brave rough seas and lay out for the viewer the history and evolution of life as it is lived along the coast and beyond.

CARMEN Blu-ray

Francesco Rosi, director/Second Sight

A cheer for Second Sight Films, who have released this extensively restored edition of Francesco Rosi’s classic Carmen on DVD, but – most spectacularly – on Blu-ray. Bizet’s Carmen is accorder a nigh-definitive reading in Rosi’s, highly-acclaimed version starring legendary tenor Placido Domingo alongside a fiery Julia Migenes and Ruggero Raimondi as Escamillo. The film has been lovingly restored and is presented in a striking package complete with a new ‘making of’ documentary and other special features.

THE HALFWAY HOUSE

Basil Dearden, director/Optimum

If you’re an admirer of the Ealing supernatural classic Dead of Night (and who isn’t?), you will be intrigued by the studio’s other, hard-to-see venture in this field – far less dark and disturbing than its stablemate, but full of interest for aficionados of vintage British cinema.

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