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by Michael Barrett

22 Dec 2015


The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

Two British horror films that were previously released on US discs only as no-frills on-demand DVD-Rs from MGM Limited Editions have now been upgraded to Blu-ray, with extras imported from the UK DVD versions.

The Quatermass Xperiment is a milestone, as Hammer’s first horror film. Director Val Guest, who adapted it with Richard Landau from Nigel Kneale’s blockbuster BBC-TV serial of 1953, thought of it as a sci-fi film in which he emphasized realism both via handheld newsreel photography and in general design and performance. It is sci-fi, of course, but audiences responded to its horrific aspects of an astronaut whose possession by an alien turns him into a mindless vampiric blob. Hammer promptly launched more of the same, and the rest is horror history.

by Michael Barrett

21 Dec 2015


Faust (1926)

Fans of that enduring and universal art form known as silent cinema (and isn’t that everyone?) have a few new riches to treat themselves to on Blu-ray, this holiday season.

First up is F.W. Murnau’s Faust, a monumental 1926 production full of effects and operatic gestures. Its ambitions are announced when it opens with three puppet Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding through the sky as an enormous winged demon bargains with a shining archangel for the fate of Earth.

by Michael Barrett

16 Dec 2015


In 1924, English climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine perished, disappearing into cloud cover while attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Nobody knows if they made it to the top, but audiences saw the expedition footage shot by Captain John Noel, which he assembled in the documentary feature The Epic of Everest. It contains the longest telescopic shot to date, at two miles distance, providing the world’s last glimpse of the specks that were Mallory and Irvine against a snowy expanse. (This isn’t, however, the same final glimpse recorded by climber Noel Odell, who was closer.) Mallory’s body was found in 1999.

The British Film Institute has performed its own amazing feat in digitally restoring this film frame by frame, using more than one source print, and applying the original tints and tones audiences saw in 1924. The resulting clarity is almost miraculous, and the effect is enhanced by Simon Fisher Turner’s newly commissioned score, which combines modern synthesized tones with instrumental melodies. There are several examples of ambient sounds and effects, especially in the footage of Tibetan villages and people.

by Michael Barrett

15 Dec 2015


Gene Kelly pioneered dancing with cartoon characters when he teamed with Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Aweigh (1945). Years later, when directing Invitation to the Dance (1952, released 1956), Kelly put himself into an entire animated segment. Both examples were handled seamlessly by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera of MGM’s animation department.

In 1967, Kelly worked with them again when he produced, directed, and starred in the one-hour TV special Jack and the Beanstalk. It won an Emmy for Best Children’s Program, beating out ABC’s Discovery  series and two Peanuts specials. Now that it’s available on demand from Warner Archive, we can perceive that this is the least impressive of Kelly’s three animated experiments, and there’s no way it should have trumped It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

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.

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