Arrow Video has in a short few years become one of, if not the premiere label for not just genre aficionados to go for their home video cinematic fix, but for film buffs of all stripes to get high quality Blu-ray releases featuring high quality audio and video and usually a nice amount of extras accompanying them. I would say that Arrow are making Blu-ray's up to the Criterion standard, but I feel that would be doing the label a disservice, as they are setting a new high watermark for home video releases. They also put out so much that it is hard to keep track of their wonderful output. So I thought I'd put a spotlight on some of their more recent releases from the late September and early October period 2017.
Children of the Corn
Director– Fritz Kiersch
Starring – Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - Scott MacDonald
One Sunday morning after the local church service the adult population of Gatlin, Nebraska is decimated by a group of children lead by the evil Isaac (John Franklin) and Malachai (Courtney Gains). The pair lead a cult of local children who worship an entity within the cornfields "He Who Walks Behind The Rows", whose purpose is not entirely clear, but ask worship of the children, and their personal sacrifice the day after their 19th birthday. 3 years after the Gatlin massacre Vicky (Linda Hamilton) and her boyfriend Burton (Peter Horton) end up in Gatlin after hitting a murdered child who tried to escape Gatlin on their way to Seattle. They end up involved with a pair of young innocent children Job and Sarah who want out of Gatlin, and the cult, but see no way to do so. Also, they find themselves trapped in the small town by Isaac and the Children of the Corn.
I saw the first 6 or so Children of the Corn films when I was a kid as the sequels were coming out almost yearly on video, as they were sort of popular rentals at the time. As young as I was after the 6th I realized I'd had enough of the suffering these had inflicted on me. That being said, I refused to let my pre-teen self have the last opinion on a film, so when Arrow Video's Children of the Corn SE found its way into my home I thought it would be a perfect time for a revisit.
Unfortunately, though it retains popularity as a title in horror circles, it is by no means a good movie on any level. The film's opening sequence is quite solid, and the conclusion has some spark to it (though the graphics are sub Doctor Who in the 80's). The performances are solid at times, but lacking even from name performers like Linda Hamilton. The pacing is off, with not much happening between the the first 20 minutes and the last 20. But, that is what happens when a short story with not a lot of meat to it is expanded to feature length.
Arrow's Blu-ray of Children of the Corn is presented with a 1080p AVC encoded transfer in the 1:85:1 aspect ratio. I can say for certain that the presentation is solid, but overall the transfer is imperfect, which can probably attributed to whatever materials Arrow had as the source. Detail is solid in certain moments, and less so in others, colors especially in certain outdoor scenes tend to pop, but in the film’s darker moments, grain overwhelms to a distracting level. Audio is presented in a solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English and sounds quite goo for the most part with no truly distracting elements. The extras package includes multiple commentary tracks, a retrospective documentary, interviews, trailers, and much more.
The Film (2/5)
A Fish Called Wanda
Director– Charles Crichton
Starring – Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese
Country of Origin- U.K.
Writer - Scott MacDonald
Great art is built on the foundations of other great art. We find so many great artists of the present influenced by those of the past. Comedy is no different. Ealing Studios in the U.K. in the post World War II era became famous for their comedy films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets and the Ladykillers, and later in the 20th Century John Cleese became famous as part of the Monty Python comedy troupe with TV shows, records, and films. In 1988, Cleese would convince Ealing director Charles Crichton to come out of retirement for one last film, the heist comedy, now classic, A Fish Called Wanda which he would co-write, with Cleese, and direct.
A Fish Called Wanda is a simple to follow film, with enough complexity of plot to make rewatches quite enjoyable. It follows a group of criminals who as the story begins are planning, and executing a diamond heist. They are lead by Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Otto (Kevin Kline), among them is also stuttering animal lover Ken (Michael Palin), and George (Tom Georgeson). The heist itself goes off without a hitch, however, Wanda and Otto had planned to betray the others, while at the same time George had stolen the diamonds back, and hidden them elsewhere. This creates a situation where George is now in police custody awaiting a trial, and Wanda works with his barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese) to get the information of the diamonds whereabouts (that part unknown to Archie).
A Fish Called Wanda is is simply one of the great classic comedies. It is a film that is practically perfect from execution, pacing, writing, and performances. This is a film that is so well nuanced that there are bits of comedy both written and visual that can still be discovered after multiple watches and from different perspectives. The cast are, of course, top notch, and have amazing chemistry and fit their characters amazingly well. Cleese and Crichton do an amazing job, not just paying homage to the Ealing films, but also subverting the expectations of viewers and fans of them ever so slightly to create an updated and fun viewing experience.
Arrow presents A Fish Called Wanda in a very solid 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. This is a very nice solid transfer. Of course, using 80's film stocks it has some softness and the inherent grain that comes with it. This is, of course, natural, and expected. Colors are well reproduced, and detail is solid. Audio options are a DTS-HD 5.1 track and Mono track both in English, both are clear and crisp with no issues. Lots of extras many of which are ported over, however, we have commentaries, intros to the film, interviews, documentaries, and a new BFI appreciation of the film, amongst other goodies.
The Film (5/5)
Erik the Conqueror
Director– Mario Bava
Starring – Cameron Mitchell, George Ardisson
Country of Origin- Italy
Writer - Scott MacDonald
Mario Bava is known to most fans as a director of horror films at least at first glance, however, the great director of such film as Black Sunday and Twitch of the Death Nerve worked in every conceivable genre during his all too short career. This included western, crime, and comedy, but also oddly a couple turns into viking cinema including Knives of the Avenger and his third film 1961's Cameron Mitchell starring Erik the Conqueror.
Erik the Conqueror was inspired largely by the 1958 Kirk Douglas vehicle The Vikings. It opens with an epic battle on the beaches of England. The vikings have invaded, however, the British are successful at defeating the viking horde, and sending them back home. That is with the exception of one child, the titular Erik of the title who is taken in by the Queen and raised by his English captors. The film then cuts to 20 years later, and Erik (George Ardisson) is leader of the English Navy, and just in time for another viking invasion, this one unknowingly lead by his brother Eron (Cameron Mitchell).
I will admit the crying in the dub of the first battle scene nearly had me turn this one off, and send it to some other writer. However, I am glad I stuck with it, because though the plot is sort of a cliche viking affair, it's a lot of fun, and Bava's colorful visuals really push it over the top. There is quite a bit of excitement, and oddly romance at the center of the film, and overall the whole thing is quite enjoyable. But, there are sometimes when watching a Bava film for the sake of a Bava film is quite enough and the atmosphere he creates is just enough to push the film from decent to a truly interesting experience.
Arrow presents Erik the Viking in a splendid 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. There are a few soft moments and light instances of damage from the source, but overall the quality of the transfer makes up for it. The detail here is impeccable, blacks are inky and deep, and the colors...are OUTSTANDING. Audio is presented in HD mono and sounds quite excellent, and I had no complaints during my viewing. There is a nice slate of extras including a commentary by Tim Lucas, an interview with Cameron Mitchell by Tim Lucas, a comparison between Erik the Conqueror and the Viking, and the film's original ending.
The Film (3.5/5)
Don't Torture the Duckling
Director– Lucio Fulci
Starring – Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet,
Country of Origin- Italy
Writer - Scott MacDonald
I feel like I could leave my review at just that, but I won't. There are still a good number of Fulci classics not on Blu-ray (The Psychic, Peversion Story, Beatrice Cenci, etc), however, one of the most highly demanded was his 1972 entry in the giallo genre Don't Torture the Duckling. Don't Torture the Duckling has the distinction of being one of Fulci's greatest and most dramatically powerful films. It shows his skills as a filmmaker in full control of his formidable abilities.
Don't Torture the Duckling is set in the Italian village Accendura which is struck by a series of child murders. Early on a man is arrested who attempted to extract a ransom from one of the victim’s parents, but after he is under custody the murders continue, and the accusations begin to pile up as the rural townspeople begin to suspect the oddballs among them of the crime. A local witch (Florinda Balkan), a recovering drug addict Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), and an outsider journalist (Tomas Milian) attempt their own investigations outside of the police before it is too late.
Don't Torture the Duckling is an absolutely brilliant affair. It is a nice rural twist on the giallo genre. Though its twist can be easily predicted (not spoiling), the atmosphere, and journey are worth the price of admission. Also, it works as a statement that during troubled times, people will always try to blame the outsiders before all else. The film is a disturbing watch, in fact it might be Fulci's most disturbing film due to the nature of the murders, and then later, because of the rural justice enacted on some of the suspects. However, it is a highly recommended watch to fans of the director who may have let this one escape them.
The Blu-ray from Arrow is presented in a gorgeous 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that really let's the beauty of the rural settings shine. Colors are well reproduced and stable, grain is natural and kept in check, and black levels are solid. Audio is presented in both Italian and English mono tracks and are quite clear and crisp. Arrow has apparently made our wait for a Blu worth it with an excellent slate of extras. We get an excellent and deeply informative commentary by author Troy Howarth, an interesting and unique video essay from Diabolique's Kat Ellinger which explores the accusations of misogyny against director Fulci. there are also additional discussions about the film, an interview with Fulci, plus much much more.
DON'T TORTURE THE DUCKLING GIVEAWAY
If you are a fan of Don't Torture the Duckling and live in the U.S. or Canada keep reading.
Arrow Video has been kind enough to give us a copy of Don't Torture the Duckling to giveaway to one lucky ECAV reader. I like to keep these simple so the rules are to just email Scott@eurocultav.com with your NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE NUMBER, and also the title of your favorite FULCI film.
Content Ends 10/2/17.
Legend of the Holy Drinker
Director– Ermanno Olmi
Starring – Rutger Hauer, Anthony Quayle
Country of Origin- Italy/France
Writer - Scott MacDonald
Knowing Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner, Hobo with a Shotgun, and Blind Fury, I had no expectations on what to expect with Legend of the Holy Drinker. I sort of joked upon seeing the title that this was this a remake of Drunken Master to Blind Fury's Zatoichi. I then saw it was from the director of Tree of Wooden Clogs, and promptly shut up, and put it in my player.
Legend of the Holy Drinker stars Hauer as Andreas Kartack. An alchoholic man left homeless on the streets of Paris. He is given 200 francs by a man under the promise that he one day repays the loan to the church of St. Therese. That is about all the plot we get as we see Andreas attempt to recover and pay back his debt, but never quite getting there.
Hauer's performance is stunning, and he owns every frame he is in. The film has a wonderfully naturalistic tone to it, that make the actions take a more melancholic feel to them. It also has very poetic feel and presence to the whole thing that makes it addicting and hard not to recommend.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Academy comes with a beautiful 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that takes the grim tones of the film and translates them beautifully to high definition. The transfer has nice subtle textures, a nice natural grain presence, and well reproduced colors. The audio is presented 3 ways an LPCM 2.0 track in English, the same in Italian and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English. All the tracks sound quite solid, but the English ones seem to have the most naturalistic performances. Extras for this one are limited to an interview with Hauer and one with the film's screenwriter.
The Film (5/5)