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When Gothic Meets Giallo Emilio P. Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

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When Gothic Meets Giallo: Emilio P. Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
When Gothic Meets Giallo: Emilio P. Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Throughout the 1960s and into the mid-1970s, two very different kinds of films dominated the Italian horror genre, each accompanied by their own distinctive iconographies. The gothic style is frequently associated with the remote past, cobweb-strewn castles, and ancestral curses, while giallo films emphasize the perils of modernity, and usually feature a masked and black-gloved killer picking off unsuspecting, albeit not always entirely undeserving, victims. As a rule, these modes were kept far apart. Still, one can point to a few illustrative exceptions, like Mario Bava’s unfairly maligned Baron Blood.

Then there are a matched pair of films from writer-director Emilio P. Miraglia, an elusive figure about whom little biographical information is available. Miraglia turned out only six films over the course of his attenuated career, working mostly in the crime thriller or poliziotteschi genre, but his two horror titles make for wildly entertaining—if, at times, somewhat unfocused—case studies in the fusion of gothic and giallo styles. Judging by the outside work of his screenwriting collaborators, Miraglia seems to have been the one inclined to bring the gothic chills, and it’s interesting to see how each film tips the scales in favor of one mode or the other.

It Had to Be Frank Sinatra Tony Rome and Lady in Cement on Blu-ray

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It Had to Be Frank Sinatra: Tony Rome and Lady in Cement on Blu-ray

20th Century Fox

It Had to Be Frank Sinatra: Tony Rome and Lady in Cement on Blu-ray

In Tony Rome and its sequel, Lady in Cement, Frank Sinatra tries to wear his boredom with the projects as a fashionably manly testament to his unimpeachable legacy as Chairman of the Board. He doesn’t so much act in director Gordon Douglas’s films as move through them, overseeing them, regarding his co-stars as he might have particularly irritating fans: as necessarily negotiated evils for the sake of living the life of Frank Sinatra. Even by the standards of icons, Sinatra’s ego is stifling in these films, for reasons pertaining both to politics and basic aesthetics.

The political resonance of Sinatra’s sleepwalking is unsubtly reactionary. Tony Rome and Lady in Cement were released in 1967 and 1968, respectively, when the counterculture was gaining brief prominence in pop culture, which is to say that Sinatra’s unconquerable heteronormative white he-man shtick (which had less to do with any particular performance than with a cumulative image) might have been wearing thin. This is about the time when it was growing less acceptable to call women “broads” while slapping them on the ass, expecting only their come-hither gratitude in return. But that’s precisely what Sinatra’s Tony Rome, P.I. for hire, gets away with in both films, as he’s defensively reasserting the old school’s right to do whatever it pleases to whomever it pleases. Besides embarrassing zoom shots of women’s derrieres, there are also unseemly jokes about escalating concerns over police brutality, and at the expense of men who’re coded as gay and those who burn their draft cards out of protest, which predictably show no sympathy for anyone who might have a problem with how the Man operates.

David Zucker and the Freeing of the Id Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear and 33 1/3: The Final Insult

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David Zucker and the Freeing of the Id: Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear and 33 1/3: The Final Insult

Paramount Pictures

David Zucker and the Freeing of the Id: Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear and 33 1/3: The Final Insult

Back in July, when President Barack Obama announced the Iran nuclear deal and its efforts to minimize nuclear facilities in Iran, David Zucker responded with a fake ad dwelling on countless hypothetical side effects involved in the proposition, most of which revolved around the assumption that Islamic Republic forces would be eager to prey on loopholes in the deal in order to more expediently annihilate America. In addition to badly miscasting Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, it perpetuated falsifications (such as the image of Muslims as interchangeable “ragheads” wielding AK-47s) and created one of its own in the punchline that our commander in chief might enjoy gay affiliations with Irani leaders. The little outburst of regressive thinking wasn’t unprecedented for Zucker, who stumped in 2008 for Mitt Romney, is on record about how “Democrats are so bad for the country,” and whose most recent directorial solo venture, An American Carol, took a left-wing scrooge on a didactic Dickensian tour through American history to re-instill within him the country’s noble values.

Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

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Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD
Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

It’s easy to forget that there was actually a time when Batman was fun. That time was 50 years ago, when the ripples of Fredric Wertham’s despicable anti-comic diatribe Seduction of the Innocent were still being felt. His book claimed that comics were sinful trash that converted the children—by God, the children!—into homosexual deviants. The television series Batman, which ran from 1966 to ’68 on ABC, knowingly acknowledged and lampooned Wertham’s seething, masturbatory harangue in a way that defied the era’s TV standards. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward, two unknowns cast largely for their affable faces, the series (now available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray in a snazzy, wallet-purging boxed set from Warner Home Video) remains one of the format’s great cultural touchstones. Replete with double entendres for the parents and giddy inanity for the kids, it’s everything Susan Sontag loved and loathed about camp amalgamated into a half-hour lark.

Women in Chains Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure

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Women in Chains: Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure
Women in Chains: Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s films are as intricate and enigmatic as you might expect from the man who scripted the seminal French New Wave puzzle-picture Last Year at Marienbad. They’re also slyly humorous, intellectually playful, and intensely and perversely erotic. This last element was present in the Alain Resnais film in a more diffuse fashion: discernible in the fetishistic attention lavished on Delphine Seyrig’s flamboyant costumes and the chateau’s rococo décor, and, more to the point, in an act of (at least hypothetical) rape and murder whose lack of depiction within the film itself formed the structural absence at the center of Robbe-Grillet’s labyrinthine narrative. In the films he both wrote and directed, this unruly and often sadistic eroticism takes center stage, even if it’s never entirely uncomplicated by the filmmaker’s love of ontological ambiguity and narrative uncertainty.

Trans-Europ-Express opens with a film director (Robbe-Grillet), his producer (Paul Louyet), and script supervisor (Catherine Robbe-Grillet) boarding the titular high-speed train headed for Antwerp. While on board, they brainstorm the director’s latest opus, which they immediately decide to set on board a train. Taking their cue from a magazine news headline, they concoct a “trench-coat tale” (not unlike the Lemmy Caution stories Godard pilfered for Alphaville) about a drug mule, Elias (Jean-Louis Trintignant), en route to Belgium on a trial run for his new employers. As their scenario unspools like the portable reel-to-reel tape it’s being recorded on, we will return to this compartment for a series of narrative tweaks and emendations. Lest all this seem too straightforward, Trintignant also plays a fictionalized version of himself (possibly), even though the director claims not to recognize him when attempts to share their compartment.

Mario Bava on Blu-ray Kidnapped and Black Sabbath

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Mario Bava on Blu-ray: Kidnapped and Black Sabbath
Mario Bava on Blu-ray: Kidnapped and Black Sabbath

Mario Bava had spilled plenty of blood by the time he reached his 1974 swan song, Kidnapped. But the film, originally titled Rabid Dogs, remains his leanest and meanest trip through hell’s outer rim. A group of ruthless robbers has just jacked 500 million lira, leaving a string of dead bodies in their wake, concluding their daring escape by kidnapping a father, his deathly ill child, and a young woman. From this point on, Bava sticks us right in the backseat of a sky-blue Opel Rekord with these lunatics and barely shows the decency to crack the window. Nor for that matter does he allow us much time outside the caravan once we’re there, but from these confined environs, the filmmaker provides a master study in crime-world nihilism, slathered in sweat, blood, and stink.

Consider if the hippies from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hadn’t kicked the hitchhiker out of the van and went roadtripping instead and you’re in the vicinity of what Bava has in mind here. Like Tobe Hooper’s classic, also produced in 1974, Bava strips the film of stylistic excesses, making the instinctual savagery of the murderous trio—Blade (Don Backy), Doc (Maurice Poli), and 32 (George Eastman)—all the more direct and frightening. Of course, Doc, the mastermind for all intents and purposes, serves as more of a moderator between the yawping hyenas that are Blade and 32, and their traumatized captives. Though compliant, Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla), the father, constantly and subtly prods at the control exerted over him, whereas the young woman, Maria (Lea Lander), is gripped by hysterical fear that only grows with intensity as the film progresses.

Watch the Trailer for BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown Series, Coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27

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Watch the Trailer for BBC Two’s <em>The Hollow Crown</em> Series, Coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27
Watch the Trailer for BBC Two’s <em>The Hollow Crown</em> Series, Coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27

Like your buzzworthy British stars and venerable greats in the same place? Then you can’t do much better right now than The Hollow Crown, a Shakespearean miniseries first broadcast on BBC Two in 2012, and coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27. Produced by Sam Mendes, the four-part epic includes adaptations of The Bard’s Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V, and features Ben Whishaw, Tom Hiddleston, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Irons, John Hurt, Patrick Sterwart, and Simon Russell Beale. The great Whishaw and Beale both won BAFTAs for their work in Richard II, which was also up for Best Single Drama. Focus World is releasing the complete, talent-packed series stateside. Check out the official trailer below.

Fonda Drive-In Flicks Dirty Mary Crazy Larry & Race with the Devil

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Fonda Drive-In Flicks: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil
Fonda Drive-In Flicks: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil

Back in its heyday, the drive-in circuit had its own self-sustaining infrastructure fed by production and distribution companies that specialized in churning out exploitation fare tailor-made for the easily distracted attention spans of audiences otherwise occupied with their own backseat antics. But the proliferation of home-video technologies over the last 30 years has put the kibosh on the entire ecosystem, with the few remaining stragglers often reduced to peddling second-run mainstream pabulum. Nowadays audiences are more likely to binge on the modern-day equivalent of drive-in fodder at late-night, booze-fueled congregations around somebody’s home-theater setup. The drive-in, in other words, has been effectively domesticated.

But the movies remain as rough-and-tumble and unpredictable as ever. Witness Shout! Factory’s “action-packed” twofer Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil, where “double your Fonda, double your fun” proves to be the organizing principle. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is one of the quintessential ’70s car-chase flicks, arguably on par with the more existentially rarefied likes of Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop, a raucous and anarchic rollick that’s filled with enough laid rubber, vehicular dust-ups, and last-second hairpin turns to satiate even the most ravenous fanboy.

Killer Smiles and Satanic Wiles Mr. Sardonicus & The Brotherhood of Satan

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Killer Smiles and Satanic Wiles: Mr. Sardonicus and The Brotherhood of Satan
Killer Smiles and Satanic Wiles: Mr. Sardonicus and The Brotherhood of Satan

As delightful as William Castle’s movies are in any venue, you lose out on one of their most appealing aspects—call it their rowdy carnivalesque dimension—when you watch them in the atomized privacy of your home theater. This point was brought home to me recently when I had the chance to watch Mr. Sardonicus in 35mm at a local repertory house, and then received Mill Creek’s admittedly excellent Blu-ray transfer for review. Differences in the film’s comparative impact had less to do with the size of the respective screens than with the viewing environment. Castle’s movies were meant to be seen in your local picture palace, crammed cheek by jowl alongside other moviegoers, shoveling popcorn out of a paper bag, and feeling the tug of tacky puddles of pop at your feet.

The ultimate promotional showman, Castle created an inventive series of publicity stunts in order to put his bargain basement productions over with viewing audiences. Whether it was sliding a skeleton along a string over their heads during House on Haunted Hill or rigging electric buzzers beneath select seats to deliver sudden shocks to their posteriors during fraught moments in The Tingler, Castle never met an attention grabber he couldn’t use. By all accounts, though, Castle was never content merely to reign as king of the gimmick flick. He also wanted to imprint his indelible persona on his films (it’s clear he relished playing the glib, shamelessly schlocky impresario), taking his cue to some degree from Alfred Hitchcock’s sardonic appearances on the master of suspence’s eponymous TV show.

Night’s Black Agents Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted

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Night’s Black Agents: Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted
Night’s Black Agents: Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted

The most recent Jean Rollin films to make their Blu-ray debut from Kino and Redemption Films mark a significant departure for the filmmaker. Forced by financial exigencies to eschew the timeless fairy-tale quality of his early-’70s vampire films, Rollin sets these more politically inflected (infected?) films squarely in the present day. Without entirely abandoning the atmosphere of off-kilter surrealism that dominated his earlier films, Rollin proves equally adroit at fashioning emotionally affecting and thematically resonant modern-day morality plays, films that bear comparison with the works of emerging genre visionaries like George A. Romero and David Cronenberg. With its high-rise setting and emphasis on sexualized violence, Night of the Hunted would provide an ideal double feature with Cronenberg’s Shivers, while The Grapes of Death is often compared to Night of the Living Dead, owing to its shambling hordes of pseudo-zombies, the Romero film it most closely resembles in theme and approach is in fact The Crazies.

Both films are linked at their most literal level. Each features a protagonist named Elisabeth, and taken together as a matched pair, the films provide a thoroughgoing critique of the dehumanizing and destructive forces unleashed by (post)industrial capitalism. The Grapes of Death opens with the mechanization of agrarian vineyards and prominently features that emblem of the Industrial Revolution: the locomotive. Night of the Hunted culminates by invoking the routinization of wholesale extermination during the Holocaust via cattle cars and incinerators. The creatures in these films aren’t Romero’s reanimated dead; they’re normal people slowly dying from an incurable disease, a fate that all too easily could befall any of us. The films derive their terrible poignancy from examining the ineluctable process by which their victim-killers’ humanity is progressively leached away.