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by Michael Barrett

15 Dec 2015


Savage Weekend (1981)

Scorpion Releasing has unearthed two low-budget shockers about psycho killers, which lots of viewers caught on TV at some time or another since the ‘80s, and reissued them on Blu-ray, complete with interviews.

Savage Weekend was shot in upstate New York in 1976 under the title The Killer Behind the Mask and languished for years before getting a release. Muddy censored prints have floated in the public domain, but this Blu-ray edition “in HD from the original vault elements” is the full dose, with more nudity than you might expect. It looks as good as it probably can, which still has its limits.

by Michael Barrett

9 Dec 2015


Going back a few decades into Japanese delirium, Stray Cat Rock contains all five films in Nikkatsu’s series, an off-the-cuff cocktail of the fermenting youth scene stirred with various genre tropes and shaken with violence. Tightly packed into fewer than 90 minutes, each movie’s ramshackle action is interspersed with musical numbers set in nightclubs. All the films were made in 1970, with the final installment coming out in January 1971, so watching them all together feels like a concentrated if distorted funhouse-dispatch from the era’s social unrest.

With no continuing characters or plotlines, the films are unrelated except by style, themes, and stars: mainly Meiko Kaji forming the tough-girl image she’d perfect in Lady Snowblood and Female Convict Scorpion. Stray Cat Rock  \is less essential than those but has the same appeal.

by Michael Barrett

9 Dec 2015


This simple, pleasant, anodyne, predictable family movie about a collie comes across like episodes of TV’s Lassie strung together. In fact, its origins pre-date Lassie, thanks to Albert Payson Terhune, a popular writer who bred collies at his New Jersey estate of Sunnybank. His sentimental and melodramatic stories were collected into the 1919 Lad: A Dog, a huge bestseller 20 years before Eric Knight’s Lassie Come-Home, but the popularity of the Lassie  show clearly encouraged Warner Brothers to make this movie.

by Michael Barrett

2 Dec 2015


John Brent (Stewart Granger) is in a position of trust at his shipping insurance company, one of only two people with the keys and combination to the safe. When his wife (Haya Harareet) leaves him and then causes a public scene at a business affair in their home, we learn that the source of his problems is a blackmailing dentist (Norman Bird), a grotesque little figure of the type that usually pops up in British thrillers. In another film, he might have been played by Richard Attenborough; in a comedy, Peter Sellers.

In a further twist, the blackmailer is himself manipulated by a mystery man—the secret partner of the title—into arranging a robbery at Brent’s company for which Brent will be framed. Once the dogged police detective (Bernard Lee, most famous as M in the James Bond films) is on the case, trying to wrap it up before his retirement and prodded by his more impatient colleague (Lee Montague), Brent must go on the run and track down the clues himself to clear his name.

by Michael Barrett

1 Dec 2015


Takashi Miike is probably the most prolific and prominent Japanese filmmaker to emerge in the direct-to-video era. He has a reputation for over-the-top violence, earned chiefly by Ichi the Killer  and Audition, but he’s not confined to that; just check out his sentimental The Bird People of China. Though he adopts different styles, one of his visual signatures follows the crime films of Takeshi Kitano in favoring unblinking shots while various activities occur more or less within our sight, thus creating tension between this formal impassivity and the frenetic or horrific content.

Happiness of the Katakuris  is one of his oddest movies, and that’s saying something. It doesn’t really have over-the-top violence; instead, it relies on morbid and grotesque humor as it tells the story of an inn where the guests keep dying freakishly, and the family keeps burying them to avoid bad publicity. By the way, it’s a musical. Brilliantly, some of the scenes go into Claymation in order to convey what couldn’t be done as well with special effects. Although I find this movie too long, and the musical numbers not well-staged, it has passages of delightful creativity and conveys an exuberance and joy we don’t often see.

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Violin Virtuoso L. Subramaniam Mesmerizes in Rare New York Performance (Photos)

// Notes from the Road

"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.

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