The Long Hair of Death (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD) – Raro Video, the American arm of an Italian home video company, is one of only a couple of disc labels with a tightly-defined mission, in this case a focus on classics of Italian cinema that ranges from auteur masterworks to genre landmarks and cult items. The Long Hair of Death (1964) is one of the latter, a moody Gothic horror from genre stalwart Antonio Margheriti (whose name was immortalized by Quentin Tarantino in Inglorious Basterds) starring Barbara Steele, the British actress who became the most striking and mesmerizing star of Italian horror cinema in the sixties.
The preferred genre of the prolific Margheriti (whose films were often signed with the anglicized pseudonym Anthony Dawson, as it is here) was science fiction but, being an Italian director in the genre pool of the sixties (and later the seventies and eighties), he did it all: peplum, fantasy, crime, action, westerns, and of course horror of all kinds. His Gothic horrors of the sixties are among his best and this, his second collaboration with Steele (after Castle of Blood, 1964), is a minor beauty of the genre, a medieval revenge film with an innocent burned for witchcraft, a corrupt aristocracy, a curse, a ghost, and a sweet, sweet revenge. Steele is the eldest daughter of the woman framed for murder and burned alive and as she sacrifices her maidenhood to Count Humboldt to stop the trial by fire, his cruel son Kurt (George Ardisson, looking like Italy’s answer to Doug McClure with bad attitude) ignites the “test” blaze, which is quite literally a maze of bundled straw surrounding the accused It’s a great scene, with the woman scrambling up on a cross in the center of the inferno as pyres rage around her to spit a curse upon the family, and Steele soon follows, murdered to cover up the sins of the Humboldt family. Only when her innocent young stepsister Lisabeth is grown into a young beauty (Halina Zalewska) and forced into marriage to the scheming Kurt does Steele return, this time as the embodiment of her mother. She takes the name Mary and poses as a seductive traveler who immediately becomes of object of Kurt’s obsession. She turns seductress and appears to encourage Kurt to murder his wife but her true motivations are more insidious.
It’s a little slow as these things go, with the story just creeping along as Margheriti’s camera drinks in the atmosphere of the gorgeous castle locations and the secret passageways and ominous crypts and dungeon sets. It’s an atmosphere of plague and pestilence, though the ravages are only glimpses outside the castle walls (the peasants are, of course, locked out), but the worst seems to be over (coincidentally as Mary appears) and the local priest prepares to preside over a celebratory ceremony that looks positively pagan. The tension between peasant superstition, religious power, and the purely self-serving rule of the corrupt aristocracy makes an interesting backdrop that, while never really explored, figures in the finale as revenge is served.
The rest is about the beauty of figures that float through the atmosphere of Margheriti’s sets and locations and the mesmerizing presence of Steele, whose scary beauty is delicate and vulnerable yet feral and fierce. She is equally compelling as the innocent maiden of the opening scenes, the seductress in the castle, and the avenging dark angel of her wronged mother. But even if the film meanders more than it unnerves, more interested in creating elegant images and moments than tension or mood, the finale is perfectly orchestrated and it delivers a deliciously cruel poetic justice with echoes to Bava’s Black Sunday, the film that made Steele an icon of Italian horror.
This appears to be an excellent transfer from less-than-stellar source materials. At its best the image is sharp and clean, with excellent detail and a rich gray scale in the black and white image, but the sharpness can vary from shot to shot. That may be inherent in the original photography or a matter of restoring the complete film from different sources (there are no notes on the provenance of the elements or the transfer apart from “New HD Transfer Digitally Restored). It has English language credits and both Italian and English language soundtracks, but it also has brief scenes of nudity that were surely not in the American release. There is a light, almost ghostly spiderwebbing of what looks like emulsion cracks through a few sequences over what is otherwise a strong image but no other glaring damage. It’s likely the best materials available for the film and the digital transfer is very good, delivering a strong, steady image. Note that the English soundtrack features an (unidentified) American actress dubbing Steele’s lines and a poor visual match to the lips, so I favor the Italian soundtrack with subtitles.
Also features an introduction by Chris Alexander, editor of Fangoria and Delirium Magazine and director of Blood for Irina (he makes the claim for this as Steele’s finest Italian Gothic moment), and video interviews with Edoardo Margheriti (the director’s son) and screenwriter Antonio Tentorio, all shot on standard definition video, probably a decade ago or so, and the accompanying booklet features a short essay on the film and the Italian Gothic horror genre by Alexander.
The Skeleton Twins (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as estranged siblings who are brought together after the failed suicide of one interrupts the attempted suicide of the other. This is a damaged family and Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader) are self-destructive in their depression, almost willfully making choices doomed to ruin whatever equilibrium and happiness they’ve managed to secure. Which isn’t much, truth be told. Maggie is married to a warm nice guy (Luke Wilson) while having affairs and lying about her efforts to get pregnant and Milo, an out of work actor, uses the homecoming to reignite the disastrous relationship that left a lot of damage behind. The studio is pushing the comedy angle but this is very much a drama with an undercurrent of dark humor carried by the excellent performances and superb chemistry between Wiig and Hader, old friends and co-stars who really capture a sense of old rhythms behind their anger and conflicts.
Blu-ray and DVD with two commentary tracks (one with director/co-writer Craig Johnson and stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, the other featuring Johnson with co-writer Mark Heyman and producer/editor Jennifer Lee), deleted scenes with optional director commentary, two featurettes, and the usual outtakes and gag reel, plus an Ultraviolet Digital copy of the film (in HD for the Blu-ray edition).
This is Where I Leave You (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is another family film, or rather a film about family, a comedy about four grown siblings (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll) reunited for their father’s funeral and essentially drafted by their mother (Jane Fonda) to sit shiva for him: seven days at home to perform a Jewish ceremony for a man who had no use for ritual or religion. If you like the performers you might enjoy the film, but there’s nothing fresh or even interesting to the familial conflicts (one brother arrives after catching his wife in an affair, another is bitter that he’s the only one who stayed behind to take over the family business, and there is the self-absorbed jerk and eternally juvenile loser) and film gets by on the likability of the cast as there’s not much to the characters. Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, and Timothy Olyphant co-star and Shawn Levy directs.
Blu-ray and DVD with the “The Gospel According to Rabbi Boner,” featuring outtakes with actor Ben Schwarz. The Blu-ray also includes two featurettes with director Shawn Levy and writer Jonathan Tropper and deleted and extended scenes, plus an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
Lords of Illusion: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) follows the release of the first-ever director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed with the Blu-ray debut of Barker’s final directorial feature. Scott Bakula stars as a Los Angeles private investigator on the trail of a magician (Kevin J. O’Connor) whose act is more than an illusion.
The two-disc set features both the theatrical version and the longer director’s cut, which was release on DVD more than 15 years ago. It’s been remastered for the Blu-ray debut and it features commentary by Barker, a new interview with storyboard artist Martin Mercer, and an hour of “Original Behind-the-Scenes Footage,” including interviews from the production, plus the archival featurette “A Gathering of Magic” (which is in standard definition), deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and a note from Clive Barker.
Also new and notable:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD), the new live-action reboot of the ever popular heroes in the half shell, is produced by Michael and stars Megan Fox and Will Arnett with the CGI heroes.
Magic in the Moonlight (Sony, DVD, Digital, VOD) is Woody Allen’s latest, a lightweight romantic comedy set in 1920s Britain and starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone.
The Maze Runner (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) is another dystopian franchise based on a young adult trilogy of novels.
Stoneheart Asylum (Millennium, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), a horror film directed by Brad Anderson, stars Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess. Ben Kingsley, and Michael Caine.
You can own Peter Pan Live! (Universal, DVD) mere weeks after Alison Williams flew through the live TV event. Danny Miller live-blogged the event. Here’s what he had to say.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Men, Women & Children (Paramount, Digital HD, VOD), Jason Reitman’s story of how personal disconnection in the social media age, stars Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner. It’s available on cable VOD weeks before disc.
You can buy digital editions of the The Equalizer (Sony, Digital HD) with Denzel Washington, A Walk Among the Tombstones (Universal, Digital HD) with Liam Neeson, The Guest (Universal, Digital HD) with Dan Stevens, and Opposite Sex (Cinedigm, VOD, Digital HD) with Mena Suvari and Kristin Chenoweth before they are available on disc.
Arriving on cable VOD weeks after disc is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Fox, VOD). Also on Cable On Demand: No Tears for the Dead (CJ Entertainment, VOD) and The Divine Move (CJ Entertainment, VOD).
Classics and Cult:
Kinoshita and World War II (Eclipse Series 41) (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Yentl (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Funny Lady (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Inherit the Wind (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Heaven and Earth (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Fortune (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
My Uncle Rafael (MVD, DVD, Digital)
Werewolf Woman (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD)
Don’t Look in the Basement (Film Chest, DVD)
TV on disc:
Arrested Development: Season 4 (Fox, DVD)
The Americans: The Complete Second Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Makers: Volume 2 (PBS, DVD)
Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (Lionsgate, DVD)
Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Season Two (PBS, DVD)
The Devil’s Hand (Lionsgate, DVD)
At the Devil’s Door (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Altina (First Run, DVD)
Levitated Mass (First Run, DVD)
Mentor (Garden Thieves, DVD, VOD)
Hi-8: Horror Independent 8 (Wild Eye, DVD)
Cam2Cam (IFC, DVD)
The Devil’s Hand (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD)
Mentor (Garden Thieves, DVD, VOD)
Love the One You’re With (Image, DVD)
The Device (Image, DVD, Digital)