Authors: Anthony Nield (Editor)
Publisher: Arrow Films / MVD Visual
Date: April 11, 2016
Format / ISBN: 0993306012
Genre: Film History / Cult Movies / Home Video
Arrow Video’s first venture in publishing is this limited hardcover book that gathers many of the essays, intros, and preambles designed to not only accompany selected Blu-ray & DVD releases in England and America, but contextualize the films and series which represent a variety of genres that have been under-represented on home video on Blu.
On one hand, Arrow’s move seems natural: take some of the best essays out there written by historians, experts, and eccentric uber-fans designed to instill curiosity, and hopefully drag a newcomer to a previously unseen genre and whet their appetite for more. Why Criterion hasn’t done a similar move after decades of contextualizing and supporting their chunks of film history is a mystery – maybe it’s a case of too much already published, and therefore too late, or Criterion super-fans already owning the discs, making a book redundant – but Arrow’s move is also quite savvy in promoting the quality of insight and appreciation that’s part of their signature Special Editions.
Most of the essays within this hefty tome speak to familiars and newcomers, and the variety of subjects – specific directors, actors, and genres – cover a lot of ground, stretching from Asia, Canada, the U.S., Britain, and from perspectives that in most cases stem from a distinctly British stance.
Arrow’s raison d’etre is perhaps subliminally tied to the paranoia of the Video Nasties (a period covered in the book as well), as there’s a subtle sense that part of the company’s mandate is to bring out definitive editions of touchy films just in case the political paranoia shifts once again to the extreme, and overly sensitive, nanny-minded, special interest groups and tabloid publications drum up another wave of outrage over the horrors that are seeping back into the households of innocents – distinctive works of art and moral depravity.
Several of the films and filmmakers represented in the book – zombie and yakuza films, Christmas shockers, directors Brian De Palma, Jörg Buttgereit, George Romero, Tinto Brass, Wes Craven, Larry Cohen, Mario Bava, David Cronenberg – had their run-ins with censors, ratings boards, and suffered less than flattering video releases (if any) prior to DVD and Blu-ray, while others were genuine cult films whose fan bases remain solid: Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher, all things Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs (probably the best film about suburban paranoia every made), and the remarkable work of Asian filmmakers like Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter) and Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale), and striking actresses Pam Grier (Coffy) and Meiko Kaji (Blind Woman’s Curse, Lady Snowblood, Stray Cat Rock).
Also spotlighted are gialli (Blood and Black Lace), spaghetti westerns (Day of Anger), the aforementioned Christmas Horror (Christmas Evil) by Kim Newman, Food Horror (The Stuff), and last human on Earth sagas (rebranded as Empty Sci-Fi), and personal favourites include Robin Bougie’s chronology of ‘the golden age of exploitation’ with nods to Kroger Babb, and Douglas Weir’s compact history of super 8 ‘digest’ editions of films – edited down film versions of classic and major movies which were ultimately rendered into collector oddities once VHS and Betamax gave film fans the whole movie.
Kevin Gilvear’s profile of late great British labels who brought forth previously unseen and neglected Asian shockers is another fine chronicle of home video history, and Bougie provides an intro to another little-known genre, Brazil’s pornochanchada (women in prison porno mashup-ups) that sound completely insane.
A good essay will also provoke even naysayers into giving a film a second chance, and my personal favourite remains Vic Pratt’s Withnail & I, a movie I never quite got (I’ve several friends who could probably re-enact the script in seconds, and verbatim), but should give another go, if not to grasp its odd humour, than for the political subtext.
Actor Herve Villechaize is also spotlighted in a semi-poignant piece tied to Richard Elfman’s bonkers Forbidden Zone, and David Flint’s overview of Tinto Brass contextualizes the filmmaker as a rare survivor from the days of Italian sexploitation, finding his own niche when most of his colleagues and competitors had retired or simply died off. (If I had access to Brass’ early shorts and his Vanessa Regrave-Franco Nero couplet La vacanza and Dropout, I’d write a lengthy tome on his work, with a specific examination of his inventive editing techniques. One day.)
Canadians will be delighted by the nods to CanCon via Caelum Vatnsdal’s very personal essay on discovering David Cronenberg, and the history of CanCon via Rue Morgue’s Paul Corupe (both authors whose writings also appeared in the recent anthology The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul).
Organized into Cult Movies, Directors, Actors, Genres (and Sub-Genres), a few essays have been expanded from their original home video editions, and the book is prefaced by an intro from Ben Wheatley is one of several wholly new writings, including several of the aforementioned genre and home video essays.
The limited nature of Arrow’s videos (plus some being restricted as U.K. only editions) ensures there’s some essays collectors haven’t read, but what the book also rekindles is a renewed use of the physical film resource, a real guidebook for fans and unfamiliars that mandates sitting down and reading the hefty thing rather than scanning paragraphs for potentially interesting bits on a web page while fighting off shockwave ads flashing and shifting in the page margins.
It’s a book in which to get lost and keep among some of the other books which comprise one’s personal library and archive, preserving opinions and data that will likely fade as books go out of print, and websites fold, taking with them a chunk of ephemeral film history.
Given the monthly scope of Arrow’s output, it seems likely a Vol. 2 in already in the works.
© 2016 Mark R. Hasan
Category: BOOK REVIEWS