EVIL Spirits and Japanese Internment Camps in “The Terror: Infamy” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Chester Nakayama floats through life living with his immigrant parents on Terminal Island in San Pedro, California during World War II. A photographer hobbyist who helps on his father’s fishing boat and studies at a university, Chester doesn’t have steady employment and has recently learned his girlfriend, Luz, is pregnant with his baby. But those are not the height of Chester problems, or his family’s, when the country of Japan declares war on the United States by bombing Pearl Harbor and mysterious deaths surrounding the Nakayama family point to ancient Japanese beliefs of a Yūrei, or a ghost, clinging to a grudge. As the years past, Japanese American citizens are move from one internment camp to the next with no end in sight being projected as potential spies for the country of the rising sun and for Chester, Luz, and his family and friends, the Yūrei’s scheme endangers Chester’s life and legacy.

Following the success of the Ridley Scott (“Alien”) produced AMC horror television series, “The Terror,” the second season aims to build a new path of dread with a storyline plucked from the late 1900’s of two stranded artic explorer British ships trying to navigate a Northwest passage and now placed in a whole new and different, massive turbulent story and setting laid out in the early-to-mid 20th century during World War II America with Japanese Internment camps.  The second season comes with a partially new title, “The Terror:  Infamy” along with a new cast and new crew as well.  The subtitle’s double entendre refers to the then era United States 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech given to the public after the assault on Pearl Harbor and also refers to another American infamous time of the mistreatment of the country’s own citizens, the Japanese Americans, placed into internment camps and constantly scrutinized as potential Japan spies.  “Infamy” showrunners Guymon Casady, David Kajganic, Scott Lambert, Alexandra Michan, Jonathan Sheehan, and David W. Zucker, along with Ridley Scott, return to the AMC, Entertainment 360, EMJAG Productions, and Scott Free Productions series.

At the tip of the ensemble cast spear, most consisting of Japanese heritage actors and actresses, is Derek Mio as the Yūrei plagued Chester Nakayama.  Perhaps the biggest role for the Mio, the role transcends Chester from a stagnant part-time fisherman on the dead-end Terminal Island settlement of San Pedro, California to a responsible man of action that sees Chester fight for his family, his wife, his children, and even fight for his country despite the maltreatment in order to course his loved ways safely through a plethora of evil.  While the character grows in an arc of accepting responsibility as a son, husband, and father, Mio never expresses the range of a story of his magnitude that takes him across various domestic terrains and on the other side of the conflict-engulfed world as he’s afflicted by a malevolent spirit.  Constantly confident and seemingly unafraid, Chester just simply endures the hardships along “The Terror’s” bombardment of grim reality.  Comparatively, the younger Japanese American generation are culturally more expressive next to the immigrated older generations in Chester’s father (Shingo Usami) and eldest family friend Nobuhiro Yamato (“Star Trek’s George Takei”) who we witness keep mostly in line with their stoic composures.  Takei, born in 1937, and his family were actually forced into living in converted horse stables and official internment camps across the country during the War and that gives the series a morsel of 100 times it’s weight in authenticity with firsthand experience. Along with the deep sympathies and an infinite amount of shame for the wrongfully imprisoned citizens of war, there’s also immense compassion for Chester’s wife, Luz, played by Chrstina Rodlo (“No One Gets Out Alive”). Rodlo runs the gambit of emotions that convey happiness with her time with Chester, to despondent loss, and to fear while on the run from the American government as well as an evil spirit who threatens her child. Just like the first season of “The Terror,” character staying power is often short lived as the horror and, well, the terror catches up to them in one way or another, but we see fine performances from Miki Ishikawa (“I Don’t Want To Drink Your Blood Anymore”), Naoko Mori (“Life”), Alex Shimizu, Lee Shorten, Hira Ambrosino, and Kiki Sukezane as the incessantly stubborn Yūrei and C. Thomas Howell (“The Hitcher”) with another flimsy performance as a hardnose major serving as head of an internment camp.

Subtly contrasting two very different kinds of horror between the yore of the fantastical Kaiden ghost stories coming to fruition with the Yūrei and the very non-fictional blight on American history that was falsely imprisoning American citizens with Japanese roots no matter what age. Both unsettling constructs are unequivocally provided equal weight in dread much like with season one that showcased the dog-eat-dog desperation of man isolated and trapped in extreme terrain with the supernatural forces of nature with a monstrous, polar bear like creature hunting them down one-by-one. Though the same dance, but a different song, season two has a very welcoming different take of blending of yore with lore that separates itself into a new entity, a new engagement, and a new facet of terror very befitting to the anthological series. Eventually, “Infamy” starts to lose steam when the Yūrei side of the story insidiously infringes fully into the fold when Chester and Luz have fled the internment camps and are living in nowheresville New Mexico. The camps fade away from the story and also from our consideration with only bits and pieces to chew on just to check in on principal characters and has a resolution that’s about as cheated as the Japanese Americans survivors given $25 by the American government to start a new life. Yet, “The Terror: Infamy” is poignant and informative, a better picture of what really happened on the American home front better any textbook could ever properly depict, and exposes the mainstream into the Kaiden-verse of Japanese culture.

The 2-disc, 10-episode Blu-ray set comes from UK distributor, Acorn Media International, with each episode with a runtime on an average of 40 to 45 minutes long and a total runtime of 419 minutes. The region 2, PAL encoded release is presented in a standardized for television widescreen format of 16X9 and the Acorn release doesn’t present a flawless picture with noticeable issues with severe cases of banding and compression artefacts around the darker portions of the scene and trust me, “Infamy” is plenty dim and leaden between John Conroy and Barry Donlevy’s cinematography unlike the previous season’s artic white landscape that brightens much of the frame. The Dolby Digital soundtrack produces a better product with satisfactory quality in all categories of score, ambient noise, and dialogue and is accompanied by well-synced and timed English subtitles. Bonus features include a look at the series part 1 (for disc 1) and part 2 (for disc 2) and the biographical and inside the head look at the characters through the eyes of their portrayers. “Infamy” is UK certified 15 as it contains the AMC edginess of bloody graphic content as well as some offensive language. “The Terror” series as a whole has remarkable historical insight commingled with soul-stirring, skin-crawling old wives’ tales. “Infamy” may not supersede its predecessor but is still one hell of an engaging and unique story that salivates us into wanting a third season.

Southern EVIL Hospitality. “Girl on a Chain Gang” reviewed! (The Film Detective and Something Weird / Blu-ray)

Become Tethered to the “Girl on a Chain Gang” Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

Three young Northerners travel down to the deep South city of Caron’s Landing for Civil Rights improvement on voter registration. Their convertible is pulled over by two sleazy deputies with a hankering to stick the activists with trumped-up charges and accost them with an official arrest that forces them to be before a drunk, aggressive named Sheriff Sonny Lew Wymer, Carson Landing’s very own unofficial head of the municipality between his unwavering loyal kin and those in his pocket with blackmail to gain an indefinite number of favors, for swift money-mulcting and to be the victims of Sonny Lew’s judge, jury, and execution sentencing of segregated injustice. An onslaught of abusive authority sends the lone woman of the three activists to do hard labor on a black chain gang and as she attempts to escape, she must survive Sonny Lew’s hound-led manhunt with intent to shoot-to-kill.

Hard to believe that we still live in a society where the surface level racism has improved over the centuries but systemic racism remains a vein-slithering and venomous asp prevalent still in not only public society but in education, justice system, and, well, just about everywhere you can think of and films like Jerry Gross’s “Girl on a Chain Gang,” though ostentatiously sleazy and exploitative as the title sounds, would still ring smidgens of truth profoundly, yet subtly, engrained across the nation even though the Gross’s film was released over half a century ago in 1966 when that pure hatred and ugliness was at peak efficiency, especially in the deep Southern U.S. The producer from New York City who promoted “I Drink Your Blood” and “Son of Dracula,” with Ringo Starr nonetheless, found a knack in presenting exploitation in his directorial feature debut – “Girl on a Chain Gang.” Originally called “Bayou” before a title and script rework, the Dan Olsen original story was penned by Gross and shot more locally to the auteur in Long Island, New York. Nicholas Demetroules cowrote the edgy-for-its-time script full of malversation under the Jerry Gross Productions banner with a logo that looks the hell of a lot like Warner Brothers.

Part of “Girl on a Chain Gang’s” suffocating sleaze success is due in part to William Watson’s rotten-to-the-core, corruption performance as the devilishly intelligent and despicable Sheriff, Sonny Lew.  The “It’s Alive III” actor, who made a name for himself in indie westerns as mostly playing a character on the wrong side of the law, debuted his forte into villainhood affairs with this particular Jerry Gross production by portraying an alcoholic lawman with dirt on the most townsfolk of Carson’s Landing and can persuade them like pawns or like lemmings to exact his will.  Watson’s good at what he molds for the cigar chewing Sonny Lew by never letting up  his foot off the lewdness gas pedal that drifts around internal state investigations into his distortion of the law and even around his own cronies and county bumpkins with secret banter codes that’s clear to them but ambiguous to the naked understanding.  The three young northerners are chosen to reflect the stereotypical justifications to be oppressed by racists eyes just for the way they look in skin and in dress despite their education and suitable for society behavior.  Because one man is African American and the other two whites consort with him, the activists become relentlessly targeted by the bigoted brigade led by Sonny Lew, colluded his deputies (Ron Charles and Peter Nevard), the town drunk (Matt Reynolds), the see-nothing, do nothing bar own (James Harvey), and the unlicensed town doctor (Phillip Vanyon) who is too frightened of Sonny Lew to act on his conscious.  The woman in the mix, Jean (Julie Ange, “Teenage Mother”) reduces down to being the principal object of exploitation inside the story as the titular girl in the chain gang and out being given illusionary promises of future leading lady roles by Gross yet that undertaking never fleshed out.  Between Watson and Ange, a genuine baseline of power over someone else is greatly disturbing and not terribly far from reality.  Most of the other performances are a bit ostentatiously cliched regarding small town Southerners complete with cowboy hats, being sloppy drunkards, and take with a gimmicky draw.  The cast rounds out with Arlene Farber (“Two Girls for a Madman”) as the town floozy, Sam Cutter as Sonny Lew’s public defender uncle and, also including, Ron Segal, Henry Baker, Horace Bailey, Wolf Landsman, Earl Leake, and Richard Antony.

For 1966, “Girl on a Chain Gang” is pretty dark.  Of course, some explicit and taboo subject material that were not acceptable to show on screen back then must be read between the lines, but nonetheless, there’s enough icky and sordid personalities to get your blood boiling and your palms sweaty because of how purely contentious these themes can strike at the heart of a morally conscious soul.  The hammy acting in the second half almost makes a joke out of the context and one can become caught up and lost in the blinding caricatures spouting off ridiculous renditions of the ignorant South population that isn’t supposed to have one funny bone in its body. Though the title is eye-catching and provocative, “Girl on a Chain Gang” is selling more sexism than racism. Jean is only shackled with the chain gang for the last 10-minutes or so, just enough time for a whipmaster’s disparaging remarks to be heard and for two black men to form an escape plan. The title doesn’t speak to much of the three Northerners as a whole being subjected to bigot atrocities and without reading the back cover, you’d think the 95-minute runtime would be entirely a woman in prison film of this poor and young fresh meat working the pickaxe, sweating, and chained to a row of harden convicts with both convict and guard having their way against her will. No. Jerry Gross knew how to market this film, to catch people’s attention, by selling savage social representation as dressed sexploitation.

The Film Detective and Something Weird Video unearthed the Jerry Gross debut long thought to be inspired by the murder of three civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1964 and gave it the special edition Blu-ray treatment. A well-preserved transfer is now cleaned-up eye-candy for a high-definition look this black and white feature presented in now the fairly archaic 1.37:1 aspect, aka Academy, ratio with only a few lingering thin scratch marks throughout. Trust me, we’ve seen far worse transfers and the scratches here are evident but only if you’re keeping an eye out for them. The high contrast and detail offer a good, delineated view of events on average, pulling an average of approx. 20 Mbps. Certain exterior scenes are poorer than others with a slightly more washed brightness. The English language DTS track wavers between a muted mono and a lossy 2.0 with the dialogue suffering the most and so will you know if you’re not wearing headphones as you’ll be up-and-down on the volume of your remote control. There’s a rife static hissing that does random clean up from time-to-time. The audio tracks are clearly unstable whereas the video files have fared better with Hi-Def upgrade. The not rated disc does come with bonus features including software material of a short history from genesis-to-death on Jerry Gross hosted by film historian Chris Poggiali and hardware material in the form a 14-page essay booklet by Something Weird Video’s head-honcho Lisa Petrucci and a novelty ticket of certification of jury service where you can fill in your own name to state you sat in judgement and witnessed the trail of “The People of Caron’s Landing vs. Miss Jean Rollins.” “Girl on a Chain Gang” abstracts only a fraction of deep-cutting prejudice but that makes this roughie old-timer no less important and still remains satisfyingly excessive in its violence.

Become Tethered to the “Girl on a Chain Gang” Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

The Best Spies Seek Thrills When Taking Down EVIL! “Deathcheaters” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

If Anyone Can Hide from the Grim Reaper, It’s the “Deathcheaters” on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment!

Vietnam War brothers-in-arms Steve Hall and Rodney Cann banded together well after the fighting was over and channeled all their pent up energy into being adrenaline junky stuntmen for movies, television series, and commercials as a living and as a lifestyle.  When the two Australians are duped and setup into a high speed chase and a daring rescue mission by one of their country’s own clandestine government agencies in a ploy to test Steve and Rod’s daredevil abilities, they pass the qualifying assessments and are offered an espionage job by agency head under the pseudonym of Mr. Culpepper who has no other incentive to provide other than the job to be the most challenging, death-defying operation to gorge on by two extreme sport enthusiasts.  Unable to resist, the stuntmen embark to a secret base on a remote island of the Philippines where they’ll dodge bullets, explosions, and over 100 guards to fight their way in and out to obtain classified documents for their country.

“Deathcheaters” became the third viewing adventure involving the actor-director combination of stuntman Grant Page and director Brian Trenchard-Smith that falls right in between “The Man from Hong Kong” and “Stunt Rock” and clearly delineates an understanding that Grant Page was a genuine fascination for Trenchard-Smith who sought to take the daring stuntman out of solely stunt role and puree him into a leading man role, showcasing Page’s hang-gliding, dune buggy, and skyscraper falls,  for the director’s second feature film released in 1976.  And, then, there’s John Hargreaves who we will dive into his there-but-not there presence later on. “Deathcheaters” is an ozploitation action-comedy that fulfilled two of Trenchard-Smith’s obsessions – stuntmen and spy films – from a story by the director and penned to script by Michael Cove and is produced by Trenchard productions alongside a conglomerate of production companies, including “Mad Max’s”  Roadshow Entertainment (a subsidiary of Village Roadshow), D.L. Taffner (“Ghost Stories”), Nine Network Australia, and the Australian Film Commission.

Undoubtedly, “Deathcheaters” stars Grant Page as the relationship unattached and cocky Rodney Cann whose only other interest besides bedding the single ladies is his enamored basset hound, Bismark.  Cann’s best friend, Steve Hall, is newly hitched to Julia who more-or-less disapproves of her husband’s risky vocation.  “Long Weekend’s” John Hargreaves plays the cheeky Steve Hall with sarcastic charm, matching his complement stunt partner and while Hargreaves has the chops to pull of the persona, the late Sydney born actor is well behind the curve when matched up with Grant Page.  Page is a stuntman playing a stuntman while Hargreaves is an actor portraying to be a stuntman and, unquestionably, that delta shows pretty radically when Page is driving the dune buggy, is descending rapidly from a tall building, or scaling a rock cliff without a harness and Hargreaves is relatively stationary.  Hargreaves has his moments but is greatly overshadowed by the veteran Page.  Before she was Brian Trenchard-Smith’s wife, “Stunt Rock’s” Margaret Gerard was John Hargreaves on screen romance who is vocal but wishy-washy on her husband’s exploits, even on the highly dangerous, international espionage mission assigned by the enigmatic Mr. Culpepper (Noel Ferrier, “Turkey Shoot”).  “Deathcheaters” round out with Judith Woodroffe, Drew Forsythe, Annie Semler, and Vincent Ball.

“Deathcheasters’ falls on the heels of the martial arts success of “The Man from Hong Kong” and is another stunt celebratory film from the ozploitation director with a penchant for large explosions and need-for-speed car chases.  All the stunts were perfectly poised in design and well executed.  Trenchard-Smith isn’t at all afraid to have the camera right in the middle of the action, strapping the 16mm camera to whatever plausible to place the audience in the action with the heroes.  As much as Trenchard-Smith goes full throttle with a tour de force, the same tricks become a little stale after, unfortunately, having previously watched “Stunt Rock” and “The Man from Hong Kong” that also featured self-set wet-gel fires, hang gliding, free falling, and among others aerobatic and dangerous acts that are seemingly in Page’s limited bag of showstopping routines.  There’s rarely anything new in “Deathcheaters” that warrant an awe response and that can be cliched, tiresome, and overall detrimental to the experience unless you’ve never seen a Trenchard-Smith film. If you’re one of those people never to have popped in one of his films, don’t expect “Deathcheaters” to be gritty, tough-as-nails, spitfire. Many of Trenchard-Smith’s earlier films, including “Deathcheaters,” sells solely on the witty, clean banter and a knack for the implied something really terrible happened to the bad guys with nothing ostentatiously explicit in the demise category. “Deathcheaters” can be wholesome, light, and aromatic of a repartee trashcan, but you get some great stunt work, explosions, and a car chase from this 1970’s Australian picture.

Like “The Man from Hong Kong” and “Stunt Work,” “Deathcheaters” too receives the Ozploitation Classics Blu-ray honor bestowed upon it from Umbrella Entertainment as spine number 10. Newly scanned in high definition 4K for the first time, John Seale’s cinematic vision has never looked better in this region free release, presented in standard widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The original vault materials held up nice enough to warrant a clear picture with only a few, brief blemishes. The super 16mm shot film, blown up to 35mm, often still feels ever so lightly flat in contour definition and in color; yet all the scenes look naturally aboriginal from the masters. The English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 mono is a naturally lossy single speaker audio mix that doesn’t exact full representation of the action on screen though robust in fidelity. Dialogue perceives feebler during exterior scenes as capturing dialogue competes with the elements due to poor boom placement or just inferior equipment. Like the other releases, bonus features are nicely packed with a newly extended interviews with Brian Trenchard-Smith, Grant Page, and John Seale from the Not Quite Hollywood documentary, a new audio only interview Remembering “Deathcheaters” with executive producer Richard Brennan, new liner notes from Trenchard-Smith, a 2008 commentary with the director, executive producer, and leading lady Margaret Gerard (listed as Margaret Trenchard-Smith), Trenchard-Smith trailer reel, theatrical trailer, and a Trenchard-Smith directed bonus feature in “Dangerfreaks – The Ultimate Documentary.” The clear snapper case is housed inside a cardboard slipcover and inside the snapper’s liner is a 16-page comic book adaptation from Dark Oz, much like Umbrella accompanied with “Stunt Rock.” “Deathcheaters” shows its age but still pulls out all the stops with amazing stunt choreography and gave way to Grant Page being solidified lead man material, even with his corny one-liners, and simultaneously building upon Brian Trenchard-Smith’s early career in a niche field of being obsessed with overachieving, arrogant, and unafraid stuntmen.

If Anyone Can Hide from the Grim Reaper, It’s the “Deathcheaters” on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment!

A Snapshot Celebration, Averting the EVILs of Typecasting, for the Iconic Actress “Sylvia Kristel: The 1970s Collection” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Sylvia Kristel.  A name that is synonymous to eroticism.  Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen.   In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.

“Playing With Fire”

In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid.  Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety.  The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession.  Or is it her who possesses him? 

Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.”  A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions.  Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative.  Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves:  Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations.  His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader.  Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective.  The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person.  Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline.  Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.

Pastorale 1943

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen.  When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son.  Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.

On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”).  Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978.  Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.

“Mysteries”

After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred.  Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure.  As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.

Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company.  Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer.  The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen.  The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig.  Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town.  None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence.  “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder.  Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion.  “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.

“Julia”

Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house.  While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose.  Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex.  Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.

On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.

Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

EVIL Infiltrates to Seduce All Your Women! “The Vampire Lovers” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

“The Vampire Lovers” Now Available at Amazon.com!

The Karnstein family’s notorious legends of evil spread vast throughout 18th century Germany. Once thought their wicked leeching of nearby villages exterminated after the Baron Joachim von Hartog dispatched all the villainous vampires after his sister fell victim to their seductive fangs. However, years later, the aristocratical General von Spielsdorf and his niece Laura find themselves in the unexpected company of a houseguest with Marcilla, the beautiful daughter of a new neighboring countess. Days later, Laura unexplainably dies from continuous nights that drain her of energy and flourish her mind full of nightmares of being strangled by a large wild animal. In the wake of her death, Marcilla also disappears. Sadden by the news of her friend’s death, Emma and her father take in the daughter of a travelling countess named Carmilla to provide Emma with cheery, distracting company in a time of distress, but the mysterious cycle of enervation and nightmares start back up all over again and it’s up to the survivals of Laura’s death to stop death before it’s too late.

Unlike any other Hammer horror film you’ve ever seen before prior to 1970, “The Vampire Lovers” blazed the trail for permissiveness of the era’s newly reformed certification system that moved the bar from 16 years order to 18 and kept in line with society’s leniencies toward the favoring sex and free love.  “The Vampire Lovers” opened up to not only a new line of exploitation and violence at the turn of the decade but also introduced the longtime fans to new faces, especially actresses, who would accumulate labels and prominence inside the genre that last until this day.  Based from the story of “Carmilla” from Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, relatively new at the time Hammer director Roy Ward Baker (“Scars of Dracula,” “Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde”) took the Harry fine and Michael Style adapted original story and ran the distance with the screenplay from Tudor Gates whose writing forte was not specifically well-known within horror genre nor was horror Gates’ personal interest, yet Gates tweaked the Le Fanu female vampire tale to accentuate more of lesbian themes in a very turmoiled time when lesbianism, or just being gay, was seen as a disease or an unstoppable influencing evil force amongst the young people.  Fine and Style serve as producers in this co-production between Hammer Films and American International Pictures.

“The Vampire Lovers” comes under an atypical rule of the protagonist role or roles.  Previous Hammer films oriented themselves with a male lead from Christopher Lee’s domineering monster Dracula to the fearlessly courageous vampire hunter played by Peter Cushing, but “The Vampire Lovers” has Hammer trade in the masculinity presence for femme fatale with the introduction of Ingrid Pitt (“Wicker Man”) in the role of the hungry Karnstein vampire, Carmilla as well as Marcilla and Mircalla as the sneaky creature of the night infiltrates estates. Pitt’s exotic look and uninhibited attitude discerns obvious sex appeal for the Polish actress who can also act with gripping emotion that develops compassion for her malevolent facade. Add another pretty face and innocently sensuous woman arm-to-arm to Pitt with then 20-year-old Madeline Smith (“Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell”) and you have a two-front protagonist made up of women. Tack on the dark features and piercing blue eyes of Kate O’Mara (“The Horror of Frankenstein”) and “The Vampire Lovers” evolves into the something unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Hammer horror trifecta as once the scene settles into the narrative’s girth, the dynamic turns into a love triangle of unspoken women intimacies and jealousy, under the guise of supernatural persuasion, rears its ugly head. The menfolk really do feel absent from the excitement despite being pivotal pieces to the story and despite being the iconic representation in face and name of Hammer films. Peter Cushing’s longstanding work with the company has branded him forever legendary in the eyes of horror fans young and new. As the benevolent General von Spielsdorf, “The Horror of Dracula” Cushing looks wonderfully regal, gentlemanly dashing, and epitomizes the very essence of a strong male figure who also takes a very noticeable backseat for much of the second and into the third act. Same can be said for that other vampire portrayer who’s not Christopher Lee, Ferdy Mayne (“The Fearless Vampire Killers”) as the village doctor with a scene plopped here and there to inch the story along as a motivational vessel and another player caught in the Karnstein fang-game. “The Vampire Lovers” sees through to move plot significant characters, played by notable actors, to and from the storyline with performances from George Cole (“Fright”), Jon Finch (“Frenzy”), Dawn Addams (“The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll”), Pippa Steel (“Lust for a Vampire”), Harvey Hall (“Twins of Evil”), and Douglas Wilmer as the Baron Joachim von Hartog who give a great opening expositional prologue that sets the background and tone of the film.

Laced in the traditional gothic style we all know and love from Hammer Films, “The Vampire Lovers” has grandiose late 19th century interiors and costumes with the latter gracing the starlets with strikingly bright tropical colored dresses that are elegant beyond the more stiff, and sometimes more imperialistic, outfits representing the period.  In a way, the outfits contrast against the brooding gothic prominence that speak of subversive liberation much paralleling the very thematic elements of lesbianism, sexual motifs, and a nearly an all-encompassing female lead.  If sex was ever a subtle insinuation in previous Hammer film it was not so subtle in “The Vampire Lovers” that consistently and constantly thickened the sexual tension and produced blunt scenes of eroticism between two or more women.  Even with the powerful commingle of womanhood desires, as much as it was depicted to be devasting to their lifeblood, Tudor Gates’ narrative still pit them up against nearly impossible odds when the male characters, no longer duped by the formalities of chivalrous intentions, figure out what’s really happening under their noses, in their households none the less, and band together to put a to a heart-staking stop to the macabre madness aka metaphorical lesbian evil.  The story has the women’s lusts and desires, whether their choosing or not, be an outlier from normalcy, yet on the other hand, nudity flourishes within the new laxed certification guidelines that see in some way, shape, and form four actresses baring skin in what what would have been considered risqué X-certificated scenes prior to 1970.  “The Vampire Lovers” is by far a perfect film with a lack of character context, such as with the male vampire on horseback indulging his penchant for observing Camilla’s attacks from afar and doesn’t proceed to explain further or with more insight to who he is and what his position may be within the Karnstein family ranks, as well as the narrative format with early on into the story being bit choppy and disorienting when Carmilla assaults nightly the General’s fair niece as a furry beast in the confines of a lurid nightmare.

Deserving of a collector’s edition, Shout Factory subsidiary horror label, Scream Factory, presents a new Blu-ray release of “The Vampire Lovers” scanned in 4K of the original camera negative.  Scream Factory should be extolled for their color grading toward Hammer transfers as the release looks stunning with quality stability and richness that brings the era alive.  Transfer also appears free from any kind of major blemishes and barely of any smaller ones. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono has resolute fidelity in the best possible audio offering “The Vampire Lovers” will likely see now and in future releases with a clear dialogue track and a Harry Robertson score that relives the classic studio orchestra in compelling fashion. The release comes with a slew of special features including an exclusive new interview with film historian Kim Newman, who also shows up again in archived interviews in the “Feminine Fantastique: Resurrecting ‘The Vampire Lovers'” (Scream Factory lists it as Femme Fantastique on the back cover) featurette commentary snippets from John-Paul Checkett and David Skal and other historians and collectors of Hammer Films. Audio commentaries with director Roy Ward Baker, star Ingrid Pitt, and Screenwriter Tudor Gates, audio commentary with film historians Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, two interviews, one of them new, with co-star Madeline Smith that span about 10-15 years apart, Trailers from Hell: Mick Garris on “The Vampire Lovers,” a reading of Carmilla by Ingrid Pitt, a single deleted scene of Baron von Hartog radio spot, still gallery, and the theatrical trailer round out the bonus material. The 89-minute, Region A encoded, R-rated version runs solo as the only main feature and the transfer Scream Factory uses, or licenses, is the edited version of Ingrid Pitt’s bath scene that cuts away to a medium closeup of Madeline Smith holding a towel for Pitt who’s standing up in the tub and then cuts back to Pitt’s bare backside. However, in the “Feminine Fantastique” featurette, you can experience the unedited brief full-frontal of Ingrid Pitt standing up in the tub if that tickles your fancy. The collector’s edition sports reversible cover art with original poster art on the inside and a newly illustrated, and superbly beautiful in its simplicity, front art by Mart Maddox sheathed inside a cardboard slipcover of the same Maddox art. Turning a corner into vast opportunities for more violence, explicit nudity, and unrestrained vampire gore became a new dawn for Hammer Films without entirely prostituting themselves with wayward tactics to the point of unrecognition as “The Vampire Lovers” still emitted gothic characteristics and a partial token cast and now made even more alluring with a feature packed collector’s edition from Scream Factory!

“The Vampire Lovers” Now Available at Amazon.com!