Barry Forshaw's DVD Choice

Pick of the DVDs.

Universal Horror Classics

Various directors/Universal

Although some perfectly creditable work is being done in the horror film field these days, many film aficionados hanker for the days of the wonderful black-and-white horror classics turned out by Universal Studios in the 1940s when the studio was incontrovertibly top of the tree in this department. And it is particularly welcome to see this generous batch of movies from that era given spanking new transfers. There is the eccentric Son of Frankenstein, with the estimable team of Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in charge of the macabre narrative; the influential Werewolf of London, with Henry Hull under the lycanthropic spell, the minor cult classic Dracula's Daughter (with its still surprising lesbian subtext) and the much-admired Son of Dracula, where the miscasting of blue-collar Lon Chaney Jr as the aristocratic monster of the title is triumphantly overcome by Robert Siodmak's atmospheric direction. There are a host of other titles in this batch (including the enjoyable House of Frankenstein, and James Whale's wonderful version of HG Wells' The Invisible Man, not to mention a copper-bottomed classic from the 1950s, Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon). A treasure trove indeed.

Sword of Honour

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Bill Anderson, director/4DVD

This sprawling and intelligent adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's classic trilogy of novels has the same destabilising shifting of tone (from serious to parodic) to be found in the original books, but it is a more than serviceable literary adaptation. Extra added value is provided by a pre-007 Daniel Craig as Waugh's beleaguered hero Guy Crouchback; Craig is too young for the part, but once again proves that he is a remarkably capable actor. In the same batch of releases, there is a welcome reappearance for the delightful TV adaptation of Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn.

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Identification of a Woman/L'Avventura

Michelangelo Antonioni, director/Mr Bongo

Two very different films from one of the greatest directors in the history of the cinema: L'Avventura is, of course, the film classic that changed the face of cinema with its visual beauty and cool existential tone. It looks as impressive in the 21st century as when it was first released. Interestingly, that film (despite its arthouse credentials) centred on an unresolved mystery, as does the much later Identification of a Woman. Intriguingly, the latter now looks rather like Antonioni's essay in the Italian giallo thriller form, with what is essentially a crime novel plot. Gialli, however, usually provide a resolution, however implausible -- and that has never been part of the director's agenda.

What How They Done to Your Daughters?

Massimo Dallamano, director/Shameless

Speaking of gialli, here's a full-fledged example of the genre, resplendent in the poster colours that are the trademark of the genre. The naked body of a schoolgirl sends the police on the trail of a teenage prostitution ring, while a machete-wielding killer in black leather bloodily complicates things. Fans of the genre will find that this very knowingly pushes us all buttons, but while Shameless is to be applauded for its enterprise, it's a real shame that once again they have opted to only include a crassly dubbed version without providing the original Italian soundtrack -- with which the film would seem considerably classier than it does now.

The Orphanage

Juan Antonio Bayona, director/Optimum

Visually stunning and surprisingly ambitious, this is both a beautifully structured ghost story and a character study of a woman driven to extremes. Performances match the stylish direction.

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