Tag Archives: 1980s cinema

Kiss of the Spider Woman

kissofthespiderwoman 3
Kiss of the Spider Woman

Format: Blu-ray, DVD, VOD

Release date: 25 January 2016

Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye

Director: Hector Babenco

Writer: Leonard Schrader

Cast: William Hurt, Raúl Juliá, Sonia Braga, José Lewgoy, Milton Gonçalves

Brazil, USA 1985

118 mins

The story of the friendship between a political prisoner and his gay cellmate remains as potent and provocative as it was in 1985.

Thirty years on from its Cannes-feted debut, Hector Babenco’s adaptation of Manuel Puig’s 1976 prison-based novel has lost none of its dramatic power. Beautifully restored, this anniversary release, complete with a disc of extras (interviews, commentaries, etc), offers a timely reminder of a bold and brassy classic that challenged social and political norms in a magnificent manner.

The plot centres on a pair of seemingly mismatched prisoners: political activist Valentin (Raúl Juliá) and his gay cellmate, Molina (William Hurt). The latter recounts a tale of forbidden love, set during World War II, between a French chanteuse and a Nazi officer – a postmodern device, typical of the time, that offers a noir film within a film, and which also helps emphasise the poignancy of the film’s title. Molina’s real motives for his flamboyant storytelling soon become apparent as the action shifts beyond the pair’s cell into the wider prison complex. The authorities are determined to extract information from Valentin via his cellmate and Molina’s charms are their unconventional weapon.

Hurt’s electrifying performance as the camp Molina came at a time when the actor was hot property in Hollywood (his star shone brightly throughout the 1980s, before being resurrected in the early 2000s). Always one to challenge himself on screen and on stage, his Best Actor prize at Cannes was deservedly followed by a Best Actor Oscar and BAFTA the following year. It remains, in many ways, a career-defining performance for the thoughtful, bookish East Coast star.

Hurt’s co-star, the great Puerto Rican actor Raúl Juliá – whose career was cut tragically short in 1994, following a stroke – similarly offers an intense and sensitive portrayal of the politically engaged Valentin, who forms an unlikely bond with Molina before the two must part. The eventual love scene is relayed with a playful nod to the studios’ infamous Hays Code censorship.

The film appeared at a timely juncture for America, with Ronald Reagan’s right-wing grip on US domestic and foreign policy compounded by his administration’s attitude to the emergence of AIDS. Such was its resonance with audiences, the source material was further adapted for a stage musical in the decade that followed (although it received mixed reviews, it won a Tony Award in 1993).

Today, this much-praised film feels as relevant and provocative as ever, particularly in light of recent developments with LGBT and immigrants’ rights, as well as the sharp rise in inequality in many parts of the West. It’s a theatrical work that defies expectation, offering up a series of very fine set pieces (and performances) that feel as urgent today as they did in 1985.

Ed Gibbs

Watch the trailer:


Re-Animator 1

Format: DVD + Blu-ray steelbook

Release date: 2 June 2014

Distributor: Second Sight

Director: Stuart Gordon

Writers: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon

Based on thestory by: H.P. Lovecraft

Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale

USA 1985

86 mins

Being an impressionable teenager with a love of horror movies during the 80s was a glorious thing; VHS had revolutionized the consumption of and access to films, leading to an explosion of genre filmmaking that pushed the envelope in terms of graphic gore, nudity and outré laughs, which adolescents such as myself lapped up on a daily basis. While 70s horror had been brutish, nasty and, largely, grimly realistic, 80s horror, fittingly for a decade synonymous with gaudy excess, revelled in slapstick terror, outlandish amounts of adrenaline-fuelled, blood-splattered violence. The likes of The Evil Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, Basket Case, Bad Taste and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator all injected an energy, dark wit and invention into the genre that the more conventional slashers of the era sorely lacked.

In addition to the DVD limited edition and two-disc Blu-ray steelbook, Re-Animator is also available to download from 19 May and via VOD from 26 May 2014.

Gordon’s movie also breathed new life, excuse the pun, into the work of H. P. Lovecraft. The director’s loose, successful adaptation of Lovecraft’s serialized short story from 1922, ‘Herbert West–Reanimator’, led to a subsequent raft of generally forgettable movies based on the novels and short stories of the American author, who died in poverty before posthumously coming to be regarded as a seminal figure in the evolution of horror fiction. Since Re-Animator’s release almost 30 (!) years ago, Gordon himself went on to direct four more Lovecraft adaptations (with varying degrees of success): From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon and Dreams in the Witch-House, the latter as part of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.

Having revisited Re-Animator for the first time in many years, I’m glad to say that it still pushes all the right buttons and remains a hugely entertaining, frequently outrageous riot, from its scene-setting pre-credit sequence to its final shot of the lurid, green reagent being injected into a lifeless corpse. The gorgeous opening credits (kaleidoscopic neon diagrams of the human body) and Richard Band’s upbeat soundtrack, variously described as ‘inspired by’ or ‘ripped off from’ Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, aligned with the cast’s fully committed performances and Gordon’s evident who-gives-a-shit sense of fun, make Re-Animator an absolute blast to watch. In a performance that made him a cast-iron fan favourite, Jeffrey Coombs memorably stars as Herbert West, the gifted, arrogant and driven medical student who has discovered a potion that can restore life to the recently deceased. As West’s Frankenstein-like experiments spiral out of control in ever more outrageous ways, Coombs is ably supported by Bruce Abbott as Dan, West’s straight-laced student colleague at the medical school they both attend; Barbara Crampton as Dan’s girlfriend Megan, daughter of the school’s dean; and the late David Gale as West’s vain nemesis, Dr Carl Hill.

Listen to Alex Fitch’s interview with Re-animator producer Brian Yuzna.

Gordon’s movie is a joyously anarchic experience, as funny as it is grisly. Dead cats, shotgun-blast victims, entrails, limbs with lives of their own and headless corpses wreak bloody havoc after being subjected to West’s reagent, the side effects of which make the reanimated dangerously violent. To say any more regarding the plot would spoil the fun for the uninitiated, but if decapitations, eviscerations and a censor-baiting sprinkling of reverse necrophilia are your thing, then Re-Animator is a film you really need to have in your collection. As with many other 80s horror movies, Re-Animator is also testament to the fact that CGI effects are a poor substitute for practical ones. The tangible, messy and ingenious effects on display here are far more entertaining to watch than any computer generated image ever could be.

Neil Mitchell

Watch the original trailer: