Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part III. – Top 30 DVDs #11-20.
John Savage in The Killing Kind (1973)
Legends of the Poisonous Seductress #1: Female Demon Ohyaku (1969)
Legends of the Poisonous Seductress #1: Female Demon Ohyaku (Synapse Films / Ryko)
Legends of the Poisonous Seductress #1: Female Demon Ohyaku (Yoen Dokufuden Hannya no Ohyaku, 1968) is the first film in a trilogy of pinky violence films released by Synapse / Ryko. I haven’t had the opportunity to see the other two films in this series yet, but Female Demon Ohyaku is an incredibly effective revenge tale featuring some bold black and white cinematography by Nagaki Yamagishi and impressive direction by Yoshihiro Ishikawa. The film stars the lovely Junko Miyazono as Ohyaku Dayu and she’s very good here as a young tightrope walker who falls in love with a handsome thief (Kunio Murai). After the two are involved in a failed plan to steal money from the local government, Ohyaku Dayu is tortured and her lover is brutally killed, so she vows revenge on his murderers. Legends of the Poisonous Seductress #1: Female Demon Ohyaku is one of the earliest examples of the pinky violence genre and the film is surprisingly erotic and brutal at times. The adult nature of the movie’s themes and its period setting give Yoshihiro Ishikawa’s movie an air of gravitas that is often missing from typical pinky violence productions. The Legends of the Poisonous Seductress series was never theatrically released outside of Japan but thanks to Synapse, western viewers now have the opportunity to see these fascinating films. The DVD includes a nice looking widescreen presentation of the film with English subtitles, commentary by Chris Desjardins (aka Chris D.), trailers for all three of the Legends of the Poisonous Seductress films and liner notes written by Chris Desjardins as well.
Julia Foster and Tom Courtney in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Warner Home Video)
In some ways Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) could be viewed as a sort of older sibling of Lindsay Anderson’s If…., but Richardson’s film is a quieter movie in many ways and its power comes from the almost documentary-style direction Richardson uses while employing popular New Wave techniques such as montage and jump cuts to tell his tale. The film centers on an angry and self-destructive youth named Colin, who’s played wonderfully by the British actor Tom Courtney. Courtney may have been a few years too old for his role, but his world-weary looks only add to the effectiveness of his performance in my opinion. The film is based on a novel by Alan Sillitoe who also wrote the screenplay. Sillitoe had previously written Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was made into a film by Karel Reisz, and although both of Sillitoe’s novels helped give voice to Britain’s “angry young men” in the late fifties and early sixties, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a very different work that has a much stronger anti-establishment message than Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Besides Lindsay Anderson’s If…., The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner also shares a sportsmanship theme that is somewhat comparable to Anderson’s This Sporting Life, but neither of these films should be viewed as simple “sports” films. This Sporting Life and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner use football and long distance running as mere background elements to round out their complex narratives dealing with masculine pride and male identity in Postwar Britain. I hope to write more about this wonderful film in the future, but I will add that the new Warner DVD includes a terrific looking transfer of the film that has been enhanced for widescreen displays and the original theatrical trailer. I wish Warner had included more extras with this important release as well as a commentary track, but since this is the first time the film has officially been made available on Region 1 DVD, I can’t complain too much.
Helga Line and Tony Kendall in The Loreley’s Grasp (1974)
The Loreley’s Grasp (Deimos Entertainment / BCI Eclipse)
After being disappointed by Amando de Ossorio’s The Night of the Sorcerers (1973), which was also released on DVD last year by Deimos / BCI Eclipse, my expectations were extremely low for the director’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1974) (1974). Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised by this terrific film, which is undoubtedly one of the Amando de Ossorio’s most entertaining efforts. The Loreley’s Grasp is basically a monster movie with an attractive European cast, but Amando de Ossorio’s creative direction and writing combined with the beautiful locations, groovy fashions and the unusual folktale elements in his sctory really elevated the material in my opinion. The Loreley’s Grasp is stylish and occasionally trashy fun that is well worth a look if you enjoy European horror movies as much as I do. I’m grateful that Deimos / BCI Eclipse is making an effort to release so many previously hard to see Spanish films on DVD and The Loreley’s Grasp is definitely one of their strongest releases. The newly restored widescreen transfer looks terrific and the DVD comes with some nice extras including a theatrical trailer, two audio tracks (English subtitled and dubbed), the Spanish credit sequence, still gallery, and informative liner notes by author Mirik Lipinski.
Malpertuis (Barrel Entertainment)
I’ve admired Harry Kümel’s marvelous vampire film Daughters of Darkness (1971) for many years but I’ve never had the opportunity to see any of the directors other movies. Thankfully that changed this year after Barrel Entertainment released Kümel’s fascinating Malpertuis (1971) on DVD in 2007. Malpertuis is an unusual and surreal film that mixes fantasy and horror elements with Greek mythology. The cast includes the talented British actress Susan Hampshire who starred in Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (another film on my list of favorite DVDs of 2007) and the enigmatic Orson Welles, who manages to make a big impression here even though his role is rather limited. Harry Kümel’s direction might seem a little muddled at times, but I was totally enchanted by this beautiful film and it was easily one of the most interesting movies I was introduced to in 2007. The film was definitely helped by Gerry Fisher’s color photography and a wonderful Georges Delerue score. While watching Malpertuis I was reminded of Guy Green’s underrated film The Magus (1968) that appeared on my list of Favorite DVDs last year. Both films share a similar sensibility and they would make for an interesting double feature. This two-disc DVD set is loaded with noteworthy extras including two versions of the film (the director’s cut and a copy of the English language version that debuted at Cannes in 1972), a trailer, multiple featurettes including Susan Hampshire: One Actress, Three Parts and Orson Welles Uncut, which collects rare outtakes of Welles on the set of Malpertuis while the cast and crew discuss what it was like to work with him. The DVD also features Audio commentary from Harry Kümel and a lengthy interview, but unfortunately the director comes across as a rather ungrateful and bitter man with a limited sense of humor. I was more impressed by the 7-minute featurette about the surreal novelist Jean Ray that was included on the DVD and it made me eager to seek out his work. Overall this is a really remarkable release!
Jean-Baptiste Thierree in Muriel (1963)
Muriel (Koch Lorber Films)
The more I’m exposed to Alain Resnais, the more I fall in love with his work so I was thrilled that Koch Lorber decided to release the director’s award-wining film Muriel (Muriel ou Le temps d’un Retour, 1963) on DVD last year. I had never seen Muriel before but I was utterly transfixed by the film. Like Resnais’ previous films, Muriel explores complex themes about memory and the passing of time as it’s experienced by people who have been deeply traumatized by events that are often beyond their control. Muriel stars the lovely and talented Delphine Seyrig in one of her least glamorous roles as a widowed woman in France trying to make sense of the past, while her family and friends struggle with the after-effects of the Algerian War. I loved the way Resnais creatively played with montage and color in Muriel, but the film occasionally appears slightly static if you compare to his earlier efforts such as the magnificent Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) but it also has an intimacy that draws you in completely. This is probably due to the lack of dolly shots in Muriel, which are often one of the director’s most notable trademarks. Critics love to use words like “impenetrable” when discussing Resnais’ films and I personally find his work complex but very accessible. As much as I love the visual poetry Alain Resnais is able to manifest in his work, I’m really drawn in by the language at times that has a lucidity and pure magic that I find utterly compelling. No matter what writer Resnais is collaborating with, the director is able to bring his own rhythm to the screenplay, which easily distinguishes the work of one of France’s greatest auteurs. He makes visual poetry. The Koch Lorber DVD contains a nice widescreen presentation of the film with English subtitles, the original theatrical trailer and an interview with author Francois Thomas.
Sally Smith in Naked You Die (1968)
Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972)
Malcolm McDowell in O Lucky Man! (1973)
Links to the first, second and fourth part of my Favorite DVD Releases of 2007 list can be found below:
– Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part I. – The DVD Year in Review – An Introduction
– Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part II. – Top 30 DVDs #1-10
– Favorite DVDs of 2007 Part IV. (#21-30)
The last part of my Favorite DVD Releases of 2007 – #21-30 will be posted tomorrow.