A continuing exploration of releases from Arrow Video and Arrow Academy
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, 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 to our Arrow Video Roundup! Here’s a look at a bunch of Arrow discs from June 2019. Why June 2019? Well, I try to watch as many of these as I can and so this column’s calendar runs late. That said, it was a pretty strong month, with a couple of truly great thrillers and a neat box set of horror rarities (…and also a Klaus Kinski movie).
Editor’s Choice: THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)
When a small remote town is seemingly wiped out overnight, investigators set out on a fascinating and terrifying mission to retrieve and identify the contaminant and its potential impact.
Written by Michael Crichton and expertly directed by Robert Wise, 1971’s The Andromeda Strain is perhaps the first modern techno-science-thriller of its particular kind. Crichton’s novels revel in expert technical and scientific detail, and this film adaptation does an incredible job of translating that depth to the screen with exact procedural exploration of dealing with a biological threat in a secret, highly secure facility (whether these depictions are fictionalized or real is almost irrelevant, this analysis certainly feels completely accurate and believable).
But if the film were just a technical tour-de-force, fascinating though it may be, that probably wouldn’t be enough. The story is great, too — the plot involves a race against time in which the brilliant scientists tasked with investigating the incident must analyze the very few clues they have to provide urgent, decisive answers to the President in what could be not only a deadly new plague, but possibly also a matter of national security in the face of biological warfare.
Aspects of this film’s influential style became commonplace in the big-budget sci-fi that arose in the 90s, incorporating thoughtful explorations and depictions of science (whether real or imagined), and playing it against politics or marrying it to blockbuster action — think Contact, Independence Day, Deep Impact, Crichton’s own Jurassic Park, and the like. And yet, while films like these are often tremendously fun to watch, The Andromeda Strain still feels singular in its laser-focused attention to projecting realism.
Our own resident molecular biologist Jon Partridge, who obviously knows far more than I about such things, enthusiastically reviewed the Blu-ray:
As is Crichton’s wont, the film is rooted in science and procedural aspects of CDC containment, which play off well against the overall thriller angle. The tone is one thing to appreciate, another is overall production values which are stunning, attention to detail, authenticity (see the extra features for more), as well as some stark beautiful design on show, as well as impressive visual effects by Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running)… While Andromeda does veer something a little more predictable/blockbustery towards the end, it remains impactful.
In addition to legacy Making Of featurette and interview with Michael Crichton, the disc includes a Trailer & TV Spots, Radio Spots, a new half-hour exploration with Kim Newman and audio commentary by critic Bryan Reesman.
Get it at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2M978ZJ
AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT Vol. 2
Following up on their 2016 set, Arrow once again collected three lesser-known 70s folk horror films and given them a terrific reintroduction to modern audiences. Vol. 2 consists of Dream No Evil (1970), Dark August (1976), and The Child (1977). Justin Harlan reviewed the full set upon its release:
All in all, these aren’t necessarily incredible once lost gems. Yet, all three films are worthy of a watch or two, at very least. There’s so much great history, anecdotes, and film discussion packed into the features that it’s a collection diehard horror fans will want to add to their collections for the features alone.
I personally didn’t watch all three, but checked out The Child on Justin’s recommendation as his favorite of the bunch. It’s sometimes poorly acted and the editing feels particularly rushed in the way that characters’ dialogue pops back and forth without natural pauses. But there’s definitely a charm to these kinds of films. For me, it’s a nostalgia — not for these specific films, but for these kinds of films — turning on the TV as a young kid and encountering some bizarro lo-fi scary movie, thereafter forgotten. That’s precisely the kind of movie that AHP is collecting with these incredible sets, recreating a sense of discovery for the weirdness of yore.
The set includes commentaries, interviews, and remembrances of all three films, which as Justin pointed out are particular interesting for their obscurity and the specificity of gaining a window into such small pockets of filmmaking history. Plus a limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by Stephen R. Bissette, Travis Crawford and Amanda Reyes.
Get it at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Z2Z1TG
THE RUNNING MAN (1963)
Director: Carol Reed
Wow, what a terrific little slice of intrigue! I greatly enjoyed The Running Man, in which a pilot (Laurence Harvey) and his wife (Lee Remick) stage his death in order to cash in on a bogus insurance claim — his carefully plotted revenge for a prior claim which was refused on a technicality.
Faithful Stella obediently goes along with husband Rex’s wild plan, mourning his death and giving him a funeral, and taking a meeting with insurance claim investigator Stephen (Alan Bates) before rushing off to reunite with Rex in Spain — their entire lives ahead of them as wealthy vacationers.
But things go sideways fast when Stella bumps into the insurance investigator again, who says he’s taking a holiday of his own. In the way that travelers do, Stephen loosely joins up with Stella and her other new friend (Rex), and indeed seems to be increasingly smitten with the beautiful widow. Meanwhile, Rex is convinced that the whole thing is a ruse to catch them, and will go to desperate lengths to protect his new wealth.
This clever plot is immensely entertaining and brilliantly executed, and the characters and their interactions and shifting loyalties are fascinating. Remick is especially wonderful and you can completely see why Stephen would fall in love with her immediately… or does he really? Things aren’t always what they seem in this exciting caper from director Carol Reed (The Third Man).
The disc features an audio commentary by author Peter William Evans and new featurette On The Trail Of The Running Man, with crew member interviews.
Get it at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2S5sf2R
DOUBLE FACE (1969)
Director: Riccardo Freda
A fiery car crash kills the wife (Margaret Lee) of a wealthy businessman (Klaus Kinski), bringing a sudden end to a tempestuous and complicated relationship. The sullen widower then encounters a wild twist of fate at a party where a new underground porno film is screened: while her face isn’t shown, he recognizes the form of his wife he believes to be deceased as one of the performers, setting him off on a chase to discover the truth.
I’m mixed on Freda and not at all a fan of Kinski, so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this watch, but it greatly exceeded my expectations. Double Face is actually a pretty well-put-together giallo mystery with style to spare and a neat hook.
The disc features both Italian and English presentations of the film, new audio commentary by author and critic Tim Lucas, an image gallery and impressive featurettes. Amy Simmon presents video essay on the director, The Terrifying Dr. Freda, while composer Nora Orlandi gets both an interview and a dedicated career exploration, The Many Faces of Nora Orlandi by Lovely Jon.
Get it at Amazon: https://amzn.to/36N74Hc
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.