Arrow Heads Roundup — AUDITION, HORROR EXPRESS, and Mysteries from Luigi Bazzoni & Joseph H. Lewis

Arrow’s electric offerings from February span decades and genres, and our Editor’s Pick may surprise you

Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From the cult and genre fare of Arrow Video to the artful cinema of Arrow Academy, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.

Our Arrow Heads Roundups trail the actual releases a bit, but that’s because we try to actually view and review as many of these as we can first to provide some meaningful commentary.

In February, Arrow had a large, varied, and particularly strong slate of new releases, from a double dose of director Luigi Bazzoni with the gorgeously melancholy The Possessed and giallo The Fifth Cord, to the thrilling nightmare adventure of Horror Express, to Takashi Miike’s heralded masterpiece Audition.

Arrow Academy offered up a pair of breathlessly paced and pulpy noir mysteries from director Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy), My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark The Night.

Amazon links are included for titles below. If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Editior’s Pick: The Possessed (1965), aka The Lady of the Lake)

Directors: Luigi Bazzoni, Franco Rossellini

Obsessed with a woman he met in his travels, an author returns to the lakeside village where he encountered the beautiful Tilde, an employee at the hotel where he had stayed. He checks back into the same hotel, but the object of his affections is no longer there — not only is Tilde dead, but there’s a great air of mystery surrounding her passing. Officially, she committed suicide, but the whispers among the locals paint a different picture of scandal and murder.

While the Bazzoni co-directorial credit on this film (with Franco Rossellini) might seem to naturally pair it with the Fifth Cord among this release cycle, it’s actually more of a companion in spirit to the Joseph Lewis films My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night — a black and white murder mystery focused on a solitary character in a strange place, caught up in a whirlwind of conspiracy and paranoia.

The Possessed is an exquisitely gorgeous film, easily the prettiest of this particular grouping. Several dreamlike sequences employ a high-contrast look that adds to both its visual splendor and the surreal narrative which finds our conflicted protagonist in a state of woeful delirium.

I’d not heard of this film before, but it’s absolutely beautiful and deeply arresting, and ended up being my favorite film of this release cycle.

• Original Italian and English soundtracks, titles and credits
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio 
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack 
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack 
• New audio commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas 
• Richard Dyer on The Possessed, a newly filmed video appreciation by the cultural critic and academic
• Cat’s Eyes, an interview with the film’s makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi
• Two Days a Week, an interview with the film’s award-winning assistant art director Dante Ferretti
• The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers, an interview with actor/director Francesco Barilli, a close friend of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni
• Original trailers 
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich, Roberto Curti and original reviews

Audition (1999)

Director: Takashi Miike

Arrow has been bringing quite a lot of Takashi Miike’s filmography to Blu-ray, and for many, this is considered the crown jewel. Our subject is one Aoyama, a middle-aged widower who finally feels ready to remarry, several years after his wife’s passing. A well-meaning friend convinces him to use his position as an entertainment executive to meet some women — by using the casting of their upcoming film as an opportunity to “audition” the best and most beautiful ladies not only for the role, but for a relationship as well. It seems a perfect idea: hand-pick the best candidates and then ask them personal questions to determine their suitability.

The perfect candidate is found in Asami, a demure beauty who checks off all of Aoyama’s boxes and easily wins his heart. Head over heels in love, he takes her on a few dates and is ready to propose — when she abruptly disappears. His attempt to find her again takes him down a rabbit hole of distorted truths, bizarre discoveries, and nightmarish visions, and ultimately a harrowingly violent confrontation with the truth — Asami is not what she appears to be.

In the light of the allegations of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses and the #MeToo movement, Audition’s narrative framework of an entertainment executive rigging the audition process in order to engage a connection with a woman actually plays with even more urgency than it did in 1999, even if Aoyama’s intentions are far more innocent than the likes of sex-crazed Hollywood execs.

Jon Partridge reviewed this Blu-ray edition in full; you can read his thoughts here:

  • Brand new 2K restoriation of original vault elements.
  • Audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan
  • Brand new commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes examining the film and its source novel
  • Introduction by Miike
  • Ties that Bind — A brand new interview with Takashi Miike
  • Interviews with stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Osugi
  • Damaged Romance: An appreciation by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel

Horror Express (1972)

Director: Eugenio Martin

Set on the Trans-Siberian Express, the Spanish production Horror Express reunites the screen favorite pairing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as passengers on a train who encounter a malignant alien force, inadvertently freed from its icy tomb by Lee, an anthropologist. The ancient evil which works its way through the train’s passengers and crew, not only taking their lives, but absorbing their knowledge and even bodies as well, quickly gaining superior intelligence and “zombies” (of a sort) to its will. The effect upon its victims is both chilling and visually arresting; their eyes bleed and turn white — an effect which is explored by our protagonists as they make a startling discovery about the nature of their foe. The film combines the wintry setting and alien monster of The Thing From Another World, the locomotive mystery elements of Hitchcock, and the stars of Hammer Horror for something uniquely schlocky and fun.

Jon Partridge also covered this Blu-ray edition for Cinapse; check out his review below.

Additionally, Horror Express was previously released on Blu-ray by Severin; here’s my comparison of the two editions.

  • Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
  • Brand new audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
  • Introduction to the film by film journalist and Horror Express super-fan Chris Alexander
  • Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express — an interview with director Eugenio Martin
  • Notes from the Blacklist — Horror Express producer Bernard Gordon on working in Hollywood during the McCarthy Era
  • Telly and Me — an interview with composer John Cacavas
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing by Adam Scovell

The Fifth Cord (1971)

Director: Luigi Bazzoni

Franco Nero stars as a reporter investigating an escalating series of murders which increasingly implicate him as the primary suspect. As the bodies pile up, they’re all persons for whom he seems to be the connecting piece — often he is the last to have spoken to the victim, or the first to discover them.

I didn’t find this giallo thriller particularly compelling and its mystery aspect fell flat to me, but I like Nero as the leading man and the final act has a solid action finale. The film also notably employs a POV camera style for some stalking and killing sequences, which is used pretty effectively.

• Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford
• Lines and Shadows, a new video essay on the film’s use of architecture and space by critic Rachael Nisbet
• Whisky Giallore, a new video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie
• Black Day for Nero, a new video interview with actor Franco Nero
• The Rhythm Section, a new video interview with film editor Eugenio Alabiso
• Rare, previously unseen deleted sequence
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kat Ellinger and Peter Jilmstad

My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Answering a want ad for a job that seems too good to be true, a woman is kidnapped and whisked away to a isolated and foreboding mansion where she is forced to assume the role of Marion, wife to George and daughter-in-law to his mother and her “employer”, Mrs. Hughes. Her assumed family does not break the illusion, insisting that they only want to help her, and that her memories of a different life are the fevered imaginings of a nervous breakdown.

A prisoner in her new home, Julia — or could she be Marion? — attempts to outsmart or escape her captors, only to be stymied at each turn. She can’t expect any aid from any of the locals, either; they’ve already been caught wind of the rumor that she’s insane.

With a running time of just over an hour, My Name is Julia Ross is a fantastically paced high-concept noir thriller of paranoia and intrigue, directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy).

• Commentary by noir expert Alan K. Rode
• Identity Crisis: Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia — The Nitrate Diva (Nora Fiore) provides the background and an analysis of the film
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Adrian Martin

So Dark The Night (1946)

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Another thriller from Joseph Lewis, So Dark The Night similarly packs a breathless mystery into a lean runtime (70 minutes), and I enjoyed them both immensely. Famed Parisian veteran detective Henri Cassin takes a well deserved sabbatical to the countryside where he’ll finally have a chance to relax his weary body and mind. While on vacation, Henri becomes enamored with the innkeeper’s lovely daughter, and despite their differences in age and background, the disapproval of some, and her prior betrothal to a wildly jealous young man in her village, the pair fall madly in love and announce their engagement. At the zenith of their happiness, tragedy strikes.

Certain aspects of the plot will be familiar to fans of Hot Fuzz — in broad strokes, a hotshot policeman travels to the quiet countryside where he becomes embroiled in a murder case that proves to become the most difficult of his career, more personal and more perplexing than anything he ever encountered in the big city. The film is a solid mystery that keeps the viewer second-guessing, and like Julia Ross is highly recommended.

• Audio Commentary by critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme
• So Dark… Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia — Critic Imogen Sara Smith provides the background and an analysis of the film
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tonci Zonjic // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns

A/V Out.

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

Previous post Scream Factory Conjures Up a Collector’s Edition of THE CRAFT
Next post The Ties That Bind US