The Wicker Man: The Final Cut

The Wicker Man Final Cut
The Wicker Man: The Final Cut

Format: Cinema

Release date: 27 September 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal UK

Director: Robin Hardy

Writer: Anthony Schaffer

Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland

UK 1975

84 mins

So here it is again, resurfacing once more, this time in a handsome restoration, apparently the most complete version there is ever likely to be*, after a 40-odd year journey from cult oddity to classic status. In 1972, Robin Hardy’s film was very much the bottom half of a double bill with Don’t Look Now (there’s a night at the movies!). Heavily edited and under-ballyhooed, The Wicker Man seemed destined to sink without trace. Later, after decades of late night viewings, Hardy’s film began to be seen, together with the messy, oddly beguiling Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971), as being in the vanguard of a British sub-genre that never blossomed, a road not taken – call it the folk horror film, or horror pastoral. Today, that sub-genre seems to be on the up again, at least for as long as Ben Wheatley’s got anything to do with it, and so it’s a good time for The Wicker Man to be back on our screens.

If you haven’t encountered the film before, it goes like this: Edward Woodward plays Police Sergeant Howie, a devout Christian officer, tasked with flying to a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison. Upon arriving at Summerisle, however, he finds his efforts frustrated by the locals, who variously deny that the girl is missing, or that she existed at all. As he tries to find out what lies behind these contradictions, he is appalled to discover that he is surrounded by practising pagans, whose belief system has held sway over the island since the 19th century, and is currently overseen by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). The fields are filled with copulating couples, the schoolchildren are being taught about phallic symbols, and the whole island seems transfixed by a cult of fertility, except, as he discovers, the previous year the crops disastrously failed. Could the islanders be planning to sacrifice Rowan to appease their gods? As the May Day festivities approach, and with no help coming from any quarter, Sergeant Howie desperately resolves to find, and rescue, the girl.

The restored ‘Final Cut’ version of The Wicker Man is released on Blu-ray/DVD in the UK by Studiocanal Home Entertainment on 14 October.

If the presence of Christopher Lee and Ingid Pitt, who pops up as a librarian, suggest links with the Hammer tradition, The Wicker Man largely plays against them. Lee, here, gives a much more nuanced and playful performance than he was generally required to deliver in a cape. The film is contemporary rather than period, location shot rather than studio bound, and benefits hugely from found imagery and the use of non-pro actors. It builds a sense of nightmare from an accumulation of creepy details, mostly seen in broad daylight, and a ripe vein of folk weirdness that seems miles away from Hammer’s dusty castles. And moreover, it is, oddly enough, a musical of sorts: besides the incidental score by Magnet, we have the locals in the Green Man bursting into Paul Giovanni’s largely saucy numbers at the drop of a hat, and maypole dancers and fire leapers accompanied by catchy little ditties (the song ‘Gently Johnny’ has been restored for this version, sung, distractingly enough, by a Neil Gaiman lookalike). This is before the landlord’s daughter and island’s Aphrodite, Willow (Britt Ekland, and body double) has her finest screen moment, tunefully testing Woodward’s faith by writhing naked against his door. This kind of thing didn’t happen in your average Amicus production (more’s the pity…) While its influence has grown over the years, The Wicker Man still has the feel of a film apart, an island detached from the mainstream.

‘Only as a comparative religion’ is schoolteacher Miss Rose’s (Diane Cilentro) blithe reply when asked if she teaches Christianity in her classes. And that’s very much the name of the game here, as Howie’s dutiful, establishment religion is repeatedly contrasted with the shag-happy islander’s unorthodox beliefs. However, Anthony Schaffer’s** script plays sly games with our sympathies. A young audience in post-hippy 1972 would be expected to find much to like about Summerisle’s horny paganism, and a lot of fun is had at Howie’s expense as he boggles at the rampant sexuality and freaky-folky business on display. In this cut, we see him in church at the outset, singing hymns and taking communion, and these images recur later on, the church rituals looking cold and empty against the pagan rites, with their animal eroticism. For much of the film he looks a bit of a fool, especially when resisting the advances of Willow, trembling in his brown pyjamas. But… slowly our sympathies turn; the locals may be colourful, but they’re also evasive, mocking and increasingly sinister. Howie may be a humourless, self-righteous stiff but, largely thanks to Woodward’s performance, he’s also human, and admirably driven, on the side of the angels. At the climax of the film, the islanders swaying rendition of ‘Summer Is Icumen In’ seems brainwashed and deranged, while Howie’s ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, by contrast, has some kind of powerful dignity. Take your pick, you heathens!

*If you’re curious, the ‘Final Cut’ is the version Hardy assembled for distributors Abraxas in 1979, now cleaned up and looking decidedly spiffy. For those only familiar with the short version, this means a little restructuring, plus a brief bit of Howie on the mainland, the song ‘Gently Johnny’ as mentioned above, and a sequence introducing a kilt-wearing Lord Summerisle on Howie’s first night on the island. For my money this scene telegraphs the rest of the movie a little too much, but hey, it’s nice to see it.

** Incidentally, the title credit actually reads ‘Anthony Schaffer’s The Wicker Man’. Offhand, I can’t think of any other film that credits the screenwriter this way. Odd. And well deserved.

Mark Stafford

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Format: DVD

Release date: 26 September 2005

Distributor: Filmgalerie 451

Director: Roland Klick

Writer: Roland Klick

Cast: Mario Adorf, Marquard Bohm, Anthony Dawson, Mascha Elm Rabben, Sigurd Fitzek, Betty Segal

West Germany 1970

85 mins

A young man named Kid, in a dusty two-piece suit and with a bullet wound in his arm, walks across an astoundingly stark and shimmering desert carrying a metal suitcase and a machine gun. After collapsing from exhaustion, his body is eventually discovered by Mr. Dump who opens the suitcase to find a vinyl 45-inch single and a pile of stolen money. His initial plan is to take the money and run, until Kid gains consciousness and forces Mr. Dump at gunpoint to take him with him and remove the bullet from his arm.

Mr. Dump reluctantly drives them back to his refuge, a desolate and squalid mining town whose only other occupants are Mr. Dump’s deranged and psychotic wife and their mute, feral daughter. Refusing to remove the bullet from Kid’s arm, a power struggle between the two men ensues as Mr. Dump desperately tries to exploit the situation for his own means. That is until the mysterious Mr. Sunshine arrives to split the cash and settle old scores. As night turns into day, the situation increasingly escalates towards unhinged paranoia and extreme violence, with any chance of hope obscured by blood, dust and the intrusion of bleak reality.

Although Roland Klick’s Deadlock (1970) may have taken its cue from Spaghetti Westerns and classic American crime movies, it’s also fair to say – like the best cult movies of the 1970s – that it takes place within a universe of its own making. Much like Kaneto Shindō’s Onibaba (1964), its small cast of tormented and tormenting characters never leave the confines of their isolated location, with very little indication of an outside world. It’s almost as if a group of classic archetypes have broken free from their own movies and found themselves lost within the last film at the edge of the earth.

Klick uses the sparse surroundings of Israel’s Negev desert to great effect, creating a crumbling portrait of arid decay and brutal, unforgiving desperation. His inventive framing and overtly stylistic compositions give the film a dreamlike quality – with the occasional moment of controlled psychedelic surrealism – without bubbling over into nonsensical self-indulgence. Add to this the superb film score by Krautrock legends Can and you’ve got yourself an incredibly unique and unforgettable piece of German cinema. In fact, the way in which Klick lets the Can track ‘Tango Whiskey Man’ slowly imbed itself into the narrative (it’s the single hidden in the suitcase with the money) is one of the clever touches that gives the film a certain charm.

Despite Klick’s ambitious experimentalism, he never gets sidetracked and thankfully refuses to neglect certain genre expectations, with a plot and place that’s as firm and gritty as the landscape on which it takes place. A thrilling, entertaining and distinctive example of B-movie pragmatism delivered with artistic scope.

Robert Makin

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Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 23 September 2013

Distributor: BFI

Director: Saxon Logan

Writer: Saxon Logan

Cast: Heather Page, Bill Douglas, Joanna David, Nickolas Grace

UK 1984

50 mins

It’s 1984, and somewhere in England there is a rain-lashed, crumbling house called Albion where the Britains live. Marion (Heather Page) and Alex (Bill Douglas) are a pair of siblings whose already fractious relationship is clearly tested further by the power cuts, leakages and broken windows inflicted on their inherited property. They are visited by the Paradises, Angela (Joanna David) and Richard (Nickolas Grace); he’s an utterly appalling yuppie type given to cracking AIDS gags, she’s a bit of a doormat enduring his hot-and-cold running abuse. Richard and the ineffectual, leftish Alex take an instant dislike to each other and so follows an excruciating drunken evening of unbridled hostility and resentment, with Marion taking the opportunity to aim various digs at her brother (‘he’s not a writer, he’s a translator… writers have style’), also revealing that he once tried to strangle her in his sleep. After an uncomfortable meal at a restaurant, the quartet return to Albion where relations deteriorate further. They all go to bed. And then things get nasty…

Saxon Logan’s Sleepwalker (1984) is genuinely odd, and remains so after repeat viewings. A 50-minute-long state of the nation, four-hander play whose genes have been spliced with a stylised giallo slasher. It’s full of overt symbology, the characters are clearly archetypes, the performances are exaggerated, and given this, one might expect Sleepwalker to hit its viewers over the head with a well telegraphed message, but it’s a bit slippier than that. The doomy synth chords and Bava/Argento gel shots (and blimey, there’s a lot of blue here) suggest one type of cinema; the intricate emotional dynamics, political wrangling and oneiric imagery suggest another. The result is disquieting and elusive. A card at the end of the credits reads ‘this film is dedicated to imperfect cinema’, which seems accurate. There’s something not quite right about Sleepwalker, which, as I write this, makes me want to see it again

The BFI disc of Saxon Logan’s film is part of its Flipside line, a treasure trove of vintage British weirdness. It comes with a lengthy, and ultimately moving, interview with the director, plus the two short films he made before Sleepwalker, which are witty and visually inventive, and suggest, once again, that Britain tends to squander and ignore its singular talents. Logan had the good fortune to work as Lindsay Anderson’s assistant on O Lucky Man!, and the bad luck to emerge as a filmmaker just as the UK industry entered one of its most barren and moribund phases. He recounts in the interview a painful screening of Sleepwalker for Rank distribution executives, in which his film, which had been received with enthusiasm and a Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, was met with disapproving bafflement. He moved into documentaries. And it looks like we missed out on some idiosyncratic cinema.

Also on the disc is Rodney Giesler’s The Insomniac, a delightful 45-minute curiosity from 1971, wherein an everyday working stiff (Morris Perry) achieves a kind of freedom in a sunlit, nocturnal dreamworld, including some X-certificate loving with Carry On starlet Valerie Van Ost, before reality rears its ugly head. Great stuff.

Mark Stafford

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt

Format: Cinema

Release date: 27 September 2013

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Margarethe von Trotta

Writers: Margarethe von Trotta, Pam Katz

Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Janet McTeer, Klaus Pohl, Julia Jentsch, Ulrich Noethen, Axel Milberg

Germany, Luxembourg, France 2012

113 mins

Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt is not a documentary, but a dramatisation of the best-known episode in the life of the German-American political theorist. In 1961, while she was a professor at the New School in New York, Arendt went to Jerusalem to report, for the New Yorker, on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, following his abduction from Argentina by Mossad. Wary of the judicial process, suspicious of the Israeli government, Arendt refused to prejudge Eichmann. And perhaps she allowed herself to take her contrariety too far.

First, she seemed to go too far towards exculpation of Eichmann, in order to put across her big idea about the banality of evil. We have now all become used to this idea as part of the landscape of cruelty and suffering: in the modern world monstrous things are not usually done by monsters, but by ordinary people. But the dramatic crux of the film is Arendt’s even more controversial criticism of Jewish leaders under Nazi rule, which she took far enough to look like blame.

So she blamed her fellow Jews and exculpated the Nazi – er, maybe you’ve overthought that one a bit, Professor Arendt? Was this stubborn devotion to truth, or was she carried away with her own ideas?

There are some flashbacks to her youthful engagement (philosophical and physical) with Heidegger, the Nazi-in-waiting, and some other mildly awkward episodes in her personal life. Dialogue is spoken in the actual languages supposed to have been used by the people portrayed: mainly German, with interludes in English, while archive film is incorporated, surprisingly smoothly. This portrait of an intellectual woman is handled more calmly and seriously by von Trotta than one can imagine it would be by a British filmmaker. Glamourisation, conjecture, pathos, symbolism, and messages are eschewed.

Arendt is let off lightly, but I guess it’s tempting to side with her when the alternative might look like siding with the Israeli government and the people who tried to hound her out of her job. Not really an edifying episode in intellectual history, but an interesting story told with appropriate restraint.

Peter Momtchiloff

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Classe tous risques

Classe tous risques
Classe tous risques

Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 September 2013

Distributor: BFI

Director: Claude Sautet

Writers: Claude Sautet, Pascal Jardin

Based on the novel by: José Giovanni

Cast: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Sandra Milo, Marcel Dalio

France 1960

110 mins

A train station in Italy. Two small children receive a furtive send off before boarding a train alone with their mother. Their father, a fugitive gangster, has decided that it’s time for the family to return home to France after ten years in hiding, but to finance the move, Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) needs to pull off one last job, a brazen theft in broad daylight in Milan. Of course, that theft only increases the unwanted attention from the police, and Davos’s flight to the border, and eventually to Paris, is a dramatic, dangerous and ultimately tragic grasp at freedom, which underpins Claude Sautet’s fantastic thriller about a once-powerful man now struggling for his survival.

Based on a novel by José Giovanni, written after the author’s release from jail, Classe tous risques (Consider all Risks) gets off to a dynamic start, with Davos’s getaway from Milan relayed in a terrific action sequence, involving cars, motorbikes and a boat landing on the French shore under the cover of night. But when the worst happens, Davos finds he must turn to his former partners-in-crime for help. His ‘friends’ in Paris now live more respectable lives, safe only because he took the fall for their misdeeds in the past, culminating in his exile. But now, years later, they are reluctant to pay their debts. Instead of becoming personally involved, they send Eric Starck, a young man-on-the-make (played by a terrific Jean-Paul Belmondo) to pick up Davos in the south of France and bring him back to Paris.

Davos, who should be more concerned with the welfare of his family, is quietly furious and turns to plotting his revenge, seeking payback for this latest betrayal – with the help of Eric, who goes above and beyond the call of duty to protect Davos and his children. From this point on, despite clear indications of the brutality that lurks below the gangster’s charismatic exterior, Sautet sets up a blend of moral ambiguities and dilemmas, making it almost impossible not to empathise with Davos – even if his actions can’t be condoned.

Classe tous risques is released in the UK as a BFI Dual Format (DVD/Blu-ray) edition on 24 February 2014.

Classe tous risques is a taut, original gangster film told with simplicity and a compelling directness, with bare-bones exposition and a neorealist touch. But there are also deeper, more thoughtful issues in play with Sautet’s no-punches-pulled exploration of the conflicts between loyalty and family, and the code of honour among thieves. The result is a tour de force, which is rounded out by a soundtrack by Georges Delerue and beautifully composed cinematography from Ghislain Cloquet. In one memorable shot, a woman that Davos and Eric encounter, having only just realised that she might be in the company of criminals, is caught between Eric in the background, while in the foreground, a telephone – a link to the cops – is separated from her by a pane of glass. Her moment of hesitation as she decides between right and wrong is exquisite.

It’s only a shame that Classe tous risques was utterly eclipsed on its original release by Belmondo’s other film, Breathless, coming out in the same year, and the ensuing excitement over the French New Wave. But the real mystery lies in why Sautet rarely returned to the underworld of gangsters and criminals during his career, choosing instead to focus on dramas set in the world of the bourgeoisie – films which, admittedly, brought him more success than this overlooked, but rich contribution to the genre.

Sarah Cronin

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The Fly (1958)

In Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958), starring Vincent Price, David Hedison, Patricia Owens and Herbert Marshall, a scientist (Hedison) is obsessed with developing a molecular matter transmitter. When he attempts to test the invention himself, he is unwittingly joined by a companion – a fly that has sneaked into the transportation pod with him. Unchanged in its ability to terrify, Andrew Cheverton revisits the brilliant classic horror/sci-fi thriller, released in the UK on Blu-ray by 20th Century Fox on 16 September 2013.

The Fly Comic Strip
Comic Strip Review by Andrew Cheverton
More information on Andrew Cheverton can be found here.

Eyes of the Spider / Serpent’s Path

Eyes of the Spider1
Eyes of the Spider

Format: DVD

Release date: 9 September 2013

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Title: Eyes of the Spider (Kumo no Hitomi)

Writers: Kiyoshi Kurosawa Yoichi Nishiyama

Cast: Sh&#333 Aikawa, Dankan Ren Ohsugi, Shun Sugeta

Title: Serpent’s Path (Hebi no Michi)

Writer: Hiroshi Takahashi

Cast: Sh&#333 Aikawa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Y&#363rei Yanagi

Japan 1998

83 & 85 mins

Despite his status as one of Japan’s most talented and consistently interesting directors, a great many of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s films have yet to see an English-language release. Most of the neglected titles come from before the release of Cure, the 1997 psycho-thriller that made the director a key figure on the international film scene. Like many of his contemporaries, the young Kurosawa started out directing erotic films for Nikkatsu’s well-established ‘Roman Porno’ (romantic pornography) line, before branching out into other areas, including an effects-driven haunted house movie (Sweet Home, 1989), a superior slasher movie (The Guard from the Underground, 1992) and a number of made-for-TV horror films, comedies and yakuza thrillers.

Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider were both filmed in 1997, shortly after Cure was completed. Although not sequels in the traditional sense, the two films are linked by central concepts and casting, with both films starring Sh&#333 Aikawa, at the time a major star of the V-cinema or direct-to-video scene. Many of Kurosawa’s early films, including Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider, were V-cinema movies, and he credits his time working in the field with providing valuable experience and affording an opportunity to experiment with a variety of different film genres. Serpent’s Path is one of these experiments; following its completion Kurosawa reworked the script, shifted the focus of the piece and turned it into Eyes of the Spider.

Written by Ring scriptwriter Hiroshi Takahashi, Serpent’s Path begins with two men – Nijima, a schoolteacher (Sh&#333 Aikawa) and Miyashita (Teruyuki Kagawa), an ex-yakuza – kidnapping a third (former comedian Y&#363rei Yanagi) and chaining him to a wall in an abandoned factory. Miyashita explains the reason for the kidnapping: he believes their hostage is responsible for the abduction and murder of his 8-year-old daughter. Naturally the man protests his innocence, but his protestations are ignored. After being forced to eat off the floor and denied the use of toilet facilities, the hostage eventually says that he knows who really murdered Miyashita’s daughter.

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In Eyes of the Spider Sh&#333 Aikawa stars as another man called Nijima, although a different character this time. The film starts with him murdering the man who killed his daughter. From this point, Nijima’s life begins to unravel, as his marriage collapses and he ends up working for the yakuza. Throughout all this, the man seems to be almost sleepwalking, as if killing his daughter’s murderer has left him with nothing to live for.

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Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider were both shot in Kurosawa’s typically understated style, using long takes and a minimum of camera movements. Neither of these films are traditional revenge thrillers, and Kurosawa’s purpose here is to explore the differing effects that achieving vengeance can have upon an individual. There are some last minute revelations, but these are not Hollywood-style twists, merely factors designed to shed new light on the events that have taken place. Kurosawa’s interest here is not in complex plots but in characters, something that has been a trademark of many of his films. Devotees of the director’s work will find these two films an interesting insight into Kurosawa’s early career, another glimpse into the background of a unique filmmaker. Those unfamiliar with Kurosawa’s films are probably better off starting with either Cure or the terrifying Pulse (2001), before investigating Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider, although there is still plenty to enjoy here.

Jim Harper


Kin Dza Dza

Format: DVD

Distributor: Ruscico, Mosfilm

Director: Georgiy Daneliya

Writers: Georgiy Daneliya, Revaz Gabriadze

Cast: Stanislav Lyubshin, Levan Gabriadze, Evgeniy Leonov, Yuriy Yakovlev, Irina Shmeleva

Soviet Union 1986

135 mins

Kin-dza-dza! is one of the strangest artefacts in all of Soviet cinema. It’s a science fiction satire in which Vladmir and Gedevan, a gruff Russian construction worker and a Georgian student, find themselves accidentally transported to Pluke, a barren desert-world with a barbaric, bureaucratic society. Gradually realising that they are not in a ‘capitalist country’, the two men begin a long and farcical voyage home that more closely resembles the theatre of the absurd than it does any preconceived notion of cinematic science fiction. The men befriend two locals, Bi and Wef, and are soon busking their way across Pluke and becoming ensnared in various misadventures that stem from the planet’s bizarre and unbendable social rules, and its two-tier social structure of ruling Chatlanians and subservient Patsaks.

There are many things to note about Kin-dza-dza!: the satire that struck a chord with a Soviet audience experiencing the first flourishes of glasnost but that can seem impenetrable to a contemporary audience; the ‘used future’ mise-en-scene that anticipates the subversive combinations of salvagepunk, with items that look like ships and ferris wheels half-submerged in the arid desert; the buried Christian themes; the melancholy-comic dirge that constitutes the film’s score.

But one of the most noteworthy things is the film’s creative use of language: the bizarre Plukanian tongue, which rivals A Clockwork Orange’s ‘nadsat’ as a futuristic dialect, despite mostly consisting of the word ‘koo’. The near identical ‘kyoo’ is a swear word, and there are a few other specific terms, such as ‘pepelats’ for spaceship, ‘etsilop’ for police, ‘etsikh’ for prison, and ‘Gravitsapa’, which they spend much of the film trying to obtain so that they can get back home.

Soviet science fiction had always been an arena for voicing social critique and ridicule, and could be cloaked in futuristic and fantastical trappings. Danelia and his co-writer Revaz Gabriadze (the founder of Tbilisi’s puppet theatre) took advantage of the far-fetched scenario by foregrounding Georgian-ness against the wider expanse of Russia proper. Georgian, which shares neither an alphabet nor a common root with the Russian language, is the first language of both writers, and some of the language used in the film comes from their native tongue. ‘Etsikh’ is from the Georgian word ‘tsikhe’ for fortress, while the film’s title, named for the galaxy that Pluke is found in, comes from ‘kindza’, the Georgian word for coriander. Most humorously, they capitalised on the non-Russian word ‘katsap’, used to describe Russians in other Soviet republics. The scriptwriters reversed the word, and also reversed the social order so that the Russians find themselves on the lower social strata.

The philosophers Deleuze and Guattari used ‘minor literature’ to describe work done from the point of view of a minority in the ‘major’ language of the coloniser. Kin-dza-dza! transposes elements of minor literature to cinema. The script reflects the frustrations of having a language imposed from above, most of it sounding like an unfamiliar, monotonous noise, but it also demonstrates the strangeness, potential and richness of language; French, Georgian (ideal for creative obscenities), German and English are all heard in the film along with Russian.

The puppet-like gestures that the lowly patsaks have to perform when confronted with their superiors back up this linguistic satire, where gesture becomes a grotesque parody in which power relations are laid bare. This is also true for the busking, done from inside cages, with Vladimir sawing the violin back and forth in a threadbare parody of musicianship.

Near the film’s conclusion, the desert is exchanged for a verdant paradise as Vladimir and Gedevan touch down on the planet Alpha, where they meet patrician overlords in white robes. Perhaps intended to represent the Soviet elite, the Alpha race don’t prove to be the key to redemption or restoration for Vladimir and Gedevan, despite their advanced society and utopian veneer. The film constantly raises questions, but answers few of them. The rules on these other planets simply ‘are’, and if they are not followed, then one risks ending up trapped in a box or transformed into a cactus.

Kin-dza-dza! is still adored in Russia and former Soviet republics, but is little known in the Anglophone world. Some of its humour and reference points may appear to be Soviet specific. But as we move towards an increasingly confusing and complex society, Danelia’s film is likely to become increasingly relevant, and perhaps the glossy new animated version (which was released in Russia in April 2013) will bring this salvagepunk prototype to wider acclaim.

John A. Riley

Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile

Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 19 August 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Directors: Alan Ormsby, Jeff Gillen

Writer: Alan Ormsby

Cast: Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson

USA 1974

84 mins

Deep within America’s rural Midwest the dutiful and devoted Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) looks after his elderly, overbearing and bed-ridden mother (Cosette Lee) in a secluded farmhouse. Fanatically religious and slightly insane, Ezra’s mother believes that the wages of sin are gonorrhoea, syphilis and death, and has instilled in Ezra a hatred for all women. Following her own death, Ezra sinks into deep despair, and as loneliness pushes him further towards madness, he decides to dig up her body and carry on as if nothing has changed.

In an attempt to restore his mother to her former self, Ezra begins to study taxidermy in the hope of creating a new skin for his deceased parent. At first he experiments with animal skins, and then resorts to stitching together the flesh scraped from recently deceased corpses. But when the results are less than perfect, Ezra’s morbid pursuit becomes homicidal when he decides that he needs younger, fresher material to work with.

Released the same year as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen’s cult horror Deranged also took its inspiration from the horrific exploits of legendary serial killer Ed Gein. Although not as well known and revered as Tobe Hooper’s seminal slasher, Deranged certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as its contemporary. It has also been noted that Deranged is far more faithful to the life of Ed Gein and his dreadful crimes.

Unforgettably foreboding and with a deep sense of the macabre, it’s also surprisingly well paced and directed. Much like Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (1968), it’s a master class in pragmatic B-movie aesthetics and how to be as effective as possible within the constraints of an extremely limited budget, crew, cast and locations. The minimal sets, small clutch of characters, and the device of an omnipresent journalist who randomly appears to narrate the story and fill in the gaps add to the surreal atmosphere, rather than hindering the film. There are also some incredibly garish and grimy interiors that give the film that authentically 70s feel of opaque gloom.

As we witness one man’s bizarre descent into psychopathic madness, the film effortlessly progresses from pitch-black gallows humour to something far more harrowing and nightmarish. Along with the deadpan dialogue, the scenes involving Ezra driving his mother back from the graveyard and a bizarre date with a sex-craved clairvoyant are the most overtly humorous. But it’s Ezra’s rotting dinner guests, his banal, workmanlike attitude towards his actions, and his cold-blooded and predatory hunt for his final victim that linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

The previously censored brain-scooping scene (created by the legendary Tom Savini) may be the film’s most notorious aspect, but its most unsettling and effective element has to be Roberts Blossom’s perfectly judged performance as the unhinged Ezra, turning Deranged into one of the few 70s exploitation horror films that actually lives up to its title.

Robert Makin

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 6 September 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Kim Ki-duk

Writer: Kim Ki-duk

Cast: Lee Jeong-jin, Jo Min-soo

South Korea 2012

104 mins

Representing a true return to form for the Korean maverick filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, Pieta is a relentless, brutal and brilliant exploration of the human psyche set within the cramped industrial grounds of Cheonggyecheon, a regeneration project in downtown Seoul.

Gang-do works as a collector for a loan shark in the aforementioned industrial area, which is slowly turning into a slum. In the opening hour of the film he visits the various borrowers in their machine shops. If they can pay the instalments, there are no problems; but if someone can’t afford to pay, then Gang-do disables them in order to collect on the insurance policy that they were made to sign at the start of the loan. It’s a cruel method and Gang-do blankly goes about his business: crushing hands, chopping off limbs and even throwing people off buildings.

However, one day a woman turns up on Gang-Do’s doorstep, claiming to be the mother who abandoned him. At first he’s unmoved – he treats the woman as obscenely as possible in an ever-elevating number of tests – but she never waivers. Slowly but surely the two start some sort of kinship. However, this happiness is not to last long.

Out of this bleak ugliness, Kim Ki-duk fashions a tale that more than justifies the use of the title (translating as ‘piety’ or ‘pity’). His story is dotted with characters who come to terms with abandonment, not only through each other, but also through the ever-changing society they exist in.

Pieta is released on DVD in the UK by Studiocanal on 14 October 2013.

Cheonggyecheon is an industrial nightmare: a once thriving hub of small metalworks and other industrial shops now slowly being swallowed whole by urban renewal. Its inhabitants are equally lost: most have given up on their dreams simply to survive while others have never even had the chance to dream. Within this landscape Kang-do is at first the very exaggeration of evil: an unstoppable force who acts as some sort of angel of deliverance, whether he is collecting money or gutting fish for his dinner. However, it is with the appearance of his mother that the very first touches of humanity infiltrate him and his world. And it is this humanity which will create the tragedy that Kim Ki-duk so brilliantly brings about.

In the role of Gang-do, Lee Jeong-jin is a marvel to watch, his slow transformation almost impossible to tear away from. He is well matched in the intensity of his role by the actress Jo Min-soo, who brings a sense of disturbing mystery to the role of the mother who simply will not leave her son. It’s the very forceful nature of the relationship which makes Pieta one of the most astounding films of the year, ending with a final image that will stay with viewers for a long time to come.

A haunting, bleak but poetic tale told using stark cinematography and harsh lighting,the film may turn off some viewers with its violent and relentless nature. However, anyone who can get past its surface aggression will discover one of the more delicately crafted character studies of modern cinema, and a testament to the talent of director Kim Ki-duk, who continues to shock and astound in equal measure.

Evrim Ersoy

Watch the trailer: