The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


Viewed – 20 June 2017  Blu-ray

Cult Italian horror auteur Dario Argento’s 1970 debut, has all the trade marks that have distinguished his career right through to the present.  The black gloved killer, beautiful female victims, superb camera work, an effective, characteristically unnerving musical score, and grand set-piece murders.  Tony Musante plays an American writer travelling in Rome with his girlfriend (the gorgeously photogenic Suzy Kendall, who resembles like a young Suzanne George), when he witnesses an attempted murder on a local female gallery owner by a dark figure dressed in a black raincoat.  He quickly becomes amateur sleuth after the local detective takes away his passport, and soon further murders take place and he grows ever closer to unmasking the assailant.

Although by no means as graphic as the director’s other works, this well told murder mystery harks back to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock in both the theme and iconic imagery.  Dario Argento has been often labelled the Italian Hitchcock, and with this thriller such a label is hard to deny.  Yet although his work has become more abstract and bizarre over the years, and such creating a style that is distinctly his own, with this effective film, the director made a mark in cinema that introduced the world to a bold and brilliant new visionary.  Engaging performances by its lead actors (especially Musante), several colourful, odd-ball characters and situations that really get your pulse racing create a distinctly classy thriller right up their with the director’s best.  

Bird with the Crytsal Plumage

This newly restored 4k transfer from the always dependable guys at Arrow Video comes in a deluxe box set that boasts a vintage poster, a detailed booklet and the movie itself on both Blu-ray and DVD complete with a plethora of extras.  We get an essential audio commentary by Argento expert Troy Howarth as well as a new interview with the director, featurettes, trailers and newly commissioned artwork with a reversible sleeve.  Add to this 6 art cards.  The movie itself is in great shape with a clean, grainy image that only suffers from somewhat garish colours (which I’ll admit suit the era the movie was made in).  The soundtrack may only be in it’s original mono audio but is still effective, especially with composer Ennio Morricone’s memorable, haunting score.  An impressive treatment for a genuine classic of the Italian giallo genre.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

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Phenomena


Viewed – 10 May 2017  Blu-ray

International Version

I went through a phase of collecting the movies of revered Italian horror director Dario Argento in the early-to-mid 2000s, and had nearly every movie he’d made on DVD, whilst always trying to seek out the most complete, uncut versions of his art.  With the advent of Blu-ray I sort of began collecting again, to a less obsessive extent but have been happy to see some of his movies get deluxe releases in recent times.  Therefore we come to one of his more bizarre and most mistreated works.

Jennifer Connelly

Just prior to finding world-wide fame in children’s fantasy ‘Labyrinth’ this stars a young Jennifer Connelly as a student who comes to stay at an elite school for girls in Switzerland and quickly befriends her rebellious roommate.   However at the same time there have been reports of a series of brutal murders involving female students and with the help of a paraplegic insect expert played by genre legend Donald Pleasence and Jennifer’s own ability to communicate with insects, an investigation ensues to unmask a killer.

This blends two of Argento’s favourite styles; dark-fantasy and murder mystery and is very similar in tone to his acclaimed classic ‘Suspiria’, sort of a spiritual successor you might say.  However unlike that movie this lacks the excessive style and garish colour pallet (despite a few visual flourishes here and there).  We also get some woefully amateurish performances, even from Pleasance who sports a dodgy accent throughout (is he attempting Scottish?) and dialogue is delivered for the most part personality-free.  The plot is also a bit messy and not very well written with some faintly ridiculous moments (Jennifer declaring to a bunch of bullying schoolgirls “I love you all” and Pleasence happily sending Jennifer to track down a killer).  However if you can look past such shortcomings you still get an entertaining and suitably-violent ride with several great set-pieces and excellent use of a pulse pounding score by not only Argento regulars ‘Goblin’ but also ‘Iron Maiden’ and ‘Motorhead’.  Far from Argento’s best, but with a b-movie schlocky vibe to it all, there’s still fun to be had and remains streets ahead of the director’s more recent work.  There’s also a chimp brandishing a straight razor – so what’s not to love?

Arrow Video

The Blu-ray, another impressive job from Arrow Video comes with three cuts of the movie, the International Version at 110mins, the slightly longer Italian Version at 116mins and the heavily cut Creepers U.S. release at 83mins.  My preference is the International Version even if it has some long drawn out moments of throwaway dialogue that could easily have been trimmed.  The Italian Version is pretty similar but has inserts of Italian-only scenes complete with subtitles but is great for completionists.  I haven’t watched the Creepers cut but hear it’s not good at all.    The new 4k restoration of the image is very good however.  Clean and mostly pretty detailed.  The soundtrack (in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo) is also very pleasing even if dialogue sounded a bit low (especially noticeable when the music kicks in) and surrounds are given some love with the various music inserts.  Extras are plentiful with a feature length documentary consisting of new interviews with Dario Argento, actors Daria Nicolodi and Fiore Argento (no sign of Connelly sadly) and with production crew and effects artists.  We also get a brilliant commentary on the Italian Version by author Troy Howarth.  Rounding out the release is a detailed 60 page booklet.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Dressed to Kill


Viewed – 03 March 2017  Blu-ray

Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980.  This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento.  It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.

Dressed To Kill

A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine).  However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered.  A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.

A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film.  However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings.  This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game.  Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues.  The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable.  However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder.  The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz).  As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.

Blu-rayThe Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image.  Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor.  More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio.  I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK.  Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery.  There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh.  Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Body Double


Viewed – 23 February 2017  Blu-ray

A struggling actor (Craig Wasson – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) finds himself looking for somewhere to crash following the discovery of his girlfriend’s affair, but soon descends into an underworld of voyeurism, sex and a who-dunnit murder mystery.

Body Double

I’ve always admired the movies of prolific film-maker Brian De Palma and consider some of his output all time classics (Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables).  He has a distinctive visual eye and can put his skills to a number of genres.  However it’s when his movies attract comparisons to the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and also Italian shock maestro Dario Argento that I become the most interested.  Body Double bares a strong resemblance to both film-maker’s works but also has a perfectly sleazy tone that references a different time and is very much a celebration of 80s excess and exploitation.  The story for what it is isn’t that well done and is fairly obvious and easy to predict especially if you’re at all familiar with any of the cast.  However what is fun is De Palma’s cinematic eye that can make even mundane sounding sequences, like a journey through a shopping mall or a beach front terrace, enthralling due to some clever camera work and genuine tension.  Craig Wasson is likeable if a rather unsympathetic character, and I’d forgotten just how much fun Melanie Griffith used to be and is adept here at delivering some great lines which are probably too explicit to repeat.  Yet the movie is on a whole, especially considering De Palma’s impressive catalogue; a bit of an oddity and takes some alarming shifts in tone and style leaving me wondering what was the grand plan here…it really does feel a little thrown together.  For a piece of 80s genre sleaze however, I’d still say give this a chance.

Body Double Blu-rayThe Blu-ray suffers from a few smudgy scenes, especially towards the end of the movie for some reason … but this 4k restoration is otherwise decent looking with strong colours and some nice detail both in close-up and in De Palma’s grand wide shots.  Dialogue is also crisp and free of lip-sync that I could see, and is delivered in the original stereo as well as a 5.1 soundtrack, which although not really making much use of surrounds is effective, especially in the lengthy ‘Relax’ sequence (spot the cameo by Holly Johnson).  This collector’s edition from Indicator boasts a 40 page booklet that has an in-depth interview taken from 1984 as well as a ‘Brian De Palma’s Guilty Pleasures’ segment exploring the director’s influences.  The Blu-ray itself comes with a series of featurettes with interviews with cast and crew, some archive, others more recent and proves invaluable for those interested in film-making and that of the movie itself and it’s legacy.  Surprisingly no commentary which would have rounded this release off superbly but as it stands this is above average treatment for probably one of De Palma’s lesser efforts that still makes for a worthy purchase.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Baskin


Viewed – 27 August 2016  Online rental

Every now and then I feel up for a nasty little horror movie and have a pretty strong threshold of what I can endure with movies like Hostel and Saw standing out as good examples of the more extreme side of horror.  However it’s often the case that horror from foreign countries can push that envelope further as witnessed in the disturbing classic Martyrs.  So sitting down to this Turkish entry I was both excited and a little nervous.

baskin

A group of cops, hanging out at a late night restaurant, are called to an emergency at an old, abandoned police station in the middle of nowhere.  So sets up a night of terror, hallucinations and a descent into hell as the cops try to make sense of an increasingly bizarre and freaky situation.  Director Can Evrenol has gone on record as saying he was influenced by the movies of such Italian horror auteurs as Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, and if like me you’re at all familiar with either director, it’s in full force here; Argento’s decidedly weird colour palettes of blues & reds (and great use of music) … Fulci’s dream-logic narrative and revelling in gore etc.  This is less a movie about story, traditional structure and more about atmosphere, style and freaking out (or repulsing) the viewer.  In such respect it works wonders and jumps in time, dreams and reality whilst at first jarring, soon created a personality all it’s own, and I began to just go with it, awaiting the next nutty development.

This is pretty messed up stuff; satanism, lashings of blood, graphic throat slits, and at the centre of it all the horribly disturbing looking ‘Father’.  I won’t go into any more of what happens but rest assured this one is not for the easily offended or squemish (and it gets pretty sick) but definitely a movie for gore-hounds and those that like their horror to punch them in the face until they can’t take no more.  Yet it could have been scarier, and as there is little reason or logic to anything, I was left not really caring about any of the characters.  With that said, I still applaud the director for nailing a very effective style and delivering an ‘experience’ not easily forgotten.

Verdict:  3.5 /5