We caught up with all of Arrow’s April releases — here’s how they fared
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.
Welcome, dear reader, to the latest Arrow Heads Roundup. April brought us an international menu of selections from storied directors like Aleksey German (Russia), Alan Resnais (France), Enzo Castellari (Italy), and Takashi Miike (Japan)!
Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bit of “down” month for me as I disliked half of these titles (an unusual turn of events), but there are some great highlights as well. Let’s go to the films!
Editor’s Pick — Mélo (1986)
Director: Alain Resnais
Based on a 1929 play, this film follows the exploits of a love triangle from inception to conclusion. Happily married Pierre invites his childhood friend Marcel to a charming dinner with his wife Romaine. Once introduced, the two become fast friends, but their continued flirtation flares into an illicit love affair.
Incredibly, the film is completely engrossing despite being almost entirely built around extensive dialogue on very limited sets. The film is still noticeably built like a play in this way, even incorporating red curtains, but with more realism and cinematic flair. The camera work is fairly static, but even so occasionally makes deliberate movements to lend dramatic weight.
The characters encounter additional complications — Pierre falls ill, Marcel must travel for his work as a violinist, and Romaine suffers greatly under the burden of her infidelity — culminating in a thoughtful and emotionally complex conclusion that’s satisfying and haunting in equal measure.
Mélo is a symphathetic and exquisitely crafted examination of love, loyalty, and infidelity, making its 2K restored edition this month’s Editor’s Pick.
• Newly-filmed introduction by critic Jonathan Romney
• Several archive interviews with director Alain Resnais, producer Marin Karmitz, actors Pierre Arditi and André Dussolier, script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot, and set designer Jacques Saulnier
• Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: booklet written by Bilge Ebiri
Get it at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2YkZFhE
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Helmed by the great Enzo Castellari and starring Franco Nero (Django) and western legend Woody Strode, this 1976 film is a late-entry, old-fashioned spaghetti western treasure, trailing the heights of the genre’s popularity by a decade but staking a bold claim with legendary talent and a stylish and evocative approach culminating in a Christ allegory. Keoma (Nero) is a drifter who makes his way back to his hometown, where he’s met with a cold welcome by the malicious gang of brigands who have take over — among them his half-brothers who have always hated and resented him: the bastard son of an Indian mother.
In most respects, this is an all-around great spaghetti western, except that which is perhaps the most informative of the genre: its music. A comically terrible theme song constantly wails its way throughout much of the film, clumsily narrating in badly sung, non-rhyming, broken English what’s transpiring on screen.
Check out our Screen Comparisons, where we put Arrow’s new transfer up against the prior Mill Creek Blu-ray (spoiler alert: it’s a huge across-the-board improvement)!
Arrow’s disc features a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio, dual English and Italian presentaitons (subtitles, soundtracks, titles and credits), with newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack.
- New audio commentary by spaghetti western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke
• The Ballad of Keoma, a new interview with the legendary star Franco Nero
• Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, a new interview with director Enzo G. Castellari
• Writing Keoma, a new interview with actor and writer Luigi Montefiori AKA George Eastman
• Parallel Actions, a new interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci
• The Flying Thug, a new interview with actor Massimo Vanni
• Play as an Actor, a new interview with actor Volfango Soldati
• Keoma and the Twilight of the Spaghetti Western, a newly filmed video appreciation by the academic Austin Fisher
• An Introduction to Keoma by Alex Cox, an archival featurette with the acclaimed director
• Original Italian and international theatrical trailers
• Gallery of original promotional images from the Mike Siegel Archive
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips // booklet written by Simon Abrams and Howard Hughes
Scared Stiff (1987)
Director: Richard Friedman
An unusual horror film with a historical haunting, the relatively obscure Scared Stiff arrives on home video with a new 2K restoration. A troubled woman moves into an old manor with her son and fiance, who was previously her psychiatrist. She’s plagued by visions of the home’s previous denizens — a ruthless slave trader in 1857 and his family. The discovery of a hidden attic holding terrifying secrets seems to confirm her fears: the ghost of an evil man who murdered his wife and son still holds power within these walls — his family paralleling her own.
Scared Stiff interestingly toys with the idea of mental illness as horror. The biggest mystery is the fiance’s role in all this as she struggles against malevolent visions. Is he a well-meaning lover? An abuser taking advantage of her mental state? A reincarnation or possession of the home’s former owner? The film has an interesting setup which mixes in some low-key humor (a repeated gag involving a detective earns a dad-joke level chuckle) and its finale goes to a surreal place that recalls the Hellraiser franchise in its nightmarish set design.
• Brand new audio commentary with director Richard Friedman, producer Dan Bacaner and film historian Robert Ehlinger
• Mansion of the Doomed: The Making of Scared Stiff — brand new documentary featuring interviews with Richard Friedman, Dan Bacaner, Robert Ehlinger, actors Andrew Stevens and Joshua Segal, special effects supervisor Tyler Smith and special effects assistants Jerry Macaluso and Barry Anderson
• Brand new interview with composer Billy Barber
• Image Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options
Director: Takashi Miike
Despite the popularity of Takashi Miike, he’s got quite a lot of films that haven’t made it stateside, particularly to Blu-ray. Arrow has been pretty great about filling out his Blu-ray filmography, and the latest import is TerraFormars, based on a science fiction manga and anime series. As part of a long-term effort to terraform Mars, Earth sent some of its most hardy survivors — cockroaches — to gauge and transform the planet’s suitability. But after a few hundred years of evolution thriving in the new environment, the roaches have adapted humanoid physique and intelligence, becoming the dominant (and unwelcoming) species on the planet. Earth being Earth, we send a team of mercenaries to kill them all.
The gimmick is that the human soldiers are with enhanced with insect powers to combat the roaches, each mimicking a particular bug’s abilities. Even without considering the racist implications of the source material (for which the manga has been heavily criticized), it’s all pretty grotesque and edgelordy, sort of like a more abrasive Starship Troopers without the satire and endearing characters.
It’s not all bad — The film’s opening is actually pretty great, set on an Earth that’s clearly modeled after Blade Runner, and the design of the roaches is a highlight — all the more creepy and uncanny for their buglike approximation of humanity. But for me personally, this is another example of how I usually like the idea of watching a Takashi Miike film more than I actually enjoy the film.
Arrow’s edition features uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options and newly-translated English subtitles.
• The Making of Terra Formars — feature-length documentary on the film’s production featuring a host of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
• Extended cast interviews
• Footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical and teaser trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options // FIRST PRESSING ONLY: booklet with writing by Tom Mes
Get it at Amazon: https://amzn.to/32NzOOE
The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971)
Director: Riccardo Freda
Set in Dublin, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire centers on a Swiss ambassador and his family placed at the center of a murder scandal. Familiar genre stalwart Luigi Pistilli stars as Detective John Norton, investigating the family and striking up a relationship with the ambassador’s beautiful adult daughter (Dagmar Lassander). It’s an interesting setup with the considerations of politics and diplomatic immunity. The score isn’t bad and the Irish setting is pretty radical for the traditionally Italian genre.
But despite some promising setup, this is perhaps the worst giallo I’ve ever seen. It’s packed with an absurd number of red herrings and stylistic nonsense, with seemingly every meaningless side character announced by a zooming camera and jarring sound effects so they aren’t missed. It’s ludicrous to the point of parody.
Arrow’s presentation includes a 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio, and dual English and Italian presentations (subtitles, soundtracks, titles and credits), with newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack.
• New audio commentary by giallo connoisseurs Adrian J. Smith and David Flint
• Of Chameleons and Iguanas, a newly filmed video appreciation by the cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer
• Considering Cipriani, a new appreciation of the composer Stelvio Cipriani and his score to The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire by DJ and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon
• The Cutting Game, a new interview with Iguana’s assistant editor Bruno Micheli
• The Red Queen of Hearts, a career-spanning interview with the actress Dagmar Lassander
• Original Italian and international theatrical trailers
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys // booklet by Andreas Ehrenreich
Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998)
Of all of April’s offerings, this was the one that I was the most intrigued to check out. Sadly, it was also, for me, by far the biggest disappointment of the bunch.
A quick look at Letterboxd, where the film averages 4 out of 5 stars, demonstrates that I’m in the minority here. Interestingly, the effusively positive reviews there highlight all the same points that I do — a difficult to follow plot with little exposition, disgusting characters and situations, and a non-sequitur parade of squalor, chaos, and depravity — but put these in the plus column.
Maybe my lack of knowledge about Stalin-era Russia is partially to blame, but the cacophonous whirlwind of anarchy with an absence of exposition left me absolutely befuddled. The film has been described as a black comedy, but the Kafkaesque nightmare which unfolded didn’t sit that way with me at all. I could find no hint of humor in deplorable conditions, detestable characters, frustrating narrative, and constant awfulness including sexual assaults — one involving children and another a vicious gang rape.
Technically, the film is soundly crafted. The black and white photography is quite beautiful and Gilliamesque (if frequently overlit), and there’s a chaotic, explorative sensation in the camera movements which place the viewer in the environment. More poignantly, the film comes from a deeply personal place for director Aleksey German, who was 15 at the time of the film’s setting, and clearly channeling aspect of his own childhood remembrances into the mix.
This film comes from such an explicit and undeniable place and voice that I don’t feel qualified to pass judgment on it as history or art. It’s too deep, too personal, too specific for that kind of dismissive analysis — but I will say that I completely hated the experience. By design, it would seem.
For anyone interested in the film, Arrow’s edition is the ultimate statement on the matter, with a number of features to help contextualize and decode the film. The 2K restoration from the original camera negative, uncompressed 2.0 stereo audio (Russian), and newly translated English subtitles.
• Audio commentary by producer Daniel Bird
• Between Realism and Nightmare, a new video essay on Khrustalyov, My Car! and the films of Aleksei German by historian and film critic Eugénie Zvonkine
• Diagnosis Murder: Jonathan Brent on The Doctors’ Plot, the academic talks about Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign which provides the backdrop for Khrustalyov, My Car!
• Aleksei German, the veteran film historian and critic Ron Holloway interviews the Russian director
• German… At Last, an interview with Aleksei German by producer Guy Séligmann
• Re-release trailer
• Double-sided fold-out poster // Limited edition 60-page booklet with new writing by Gianna D’Emilio, archival essay by Joël Chaperon, and original reviews
Get it at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XXYkOw
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.