Heading into Q3 sees the big hitters usually start to clog up the release schedules... and while this is indeed true this month, with some huge 4K releases of new and catalogue titles dropping through letterboxes, we also have some really quite wonderful smaller releases to keep our wallets ticking over and getting us into some serious purchasing practice for the upcoming holiday period.
So, sit back and let me be your guide through the globe-trotting September blu-ray release schedule with some outstanding films being made available this month for your delectation and audio-visual titillation…
The Boys Next Door
(1985, 101 Films, Region B UK Blu-ray, Release Date 6th September 2021)
A seething, nihilistic, hugely fascinating existential road trip, akin to Malick’s Badlands but firmly rooted in the 80s culture of socio-economic excess, this tale of two young men on a killing spree across downtown LA remains hugely powerful.
Its casting of the incredibly handsome Maxwell Caulfield and Charlie Sheen, as these two deemed early on as life’s losers, works to place us firmly in the film’s wheelhouse from its opening – initially feeling like a very 80s high school comedy, it soon morphs into something else as the film’s themes of repressed and unrequited love, latent homosexuality, existential and generational angst all bubble up through our characters, fuelling their violent trip through all kinds of different LA sub-cultures.
Shocking outbursts of violence occur and feel horribly real, even with the very 80s LA rock soundtrack blaring underneath them and as the film progresses to its inevitable finale, whilst sympathy isn’t quite what director Penelope Spheeris and the film elicits, there is almost a shocked understanding and acceptance of the acts from the audience with what we’ve witnessed, all thanks to the really quite subtle and wonderful job Caulfield and Sheen do in giving these characters real depth.
A questionable opening that gives a guide through 70s and 80s infamous serial killers feels very out of place and the police investigation, led by Caulfield’s Grease 2 buddy and legendary Shooter McGavin-to-be Christopher McDonald, is almost an afterthought, but that shouldn’t take anything away from this hugely interesting and relatively underseen genre gem.
The disc is special too from 101 Films – a huge raft of new and interesting extras, including cultural commentary and interviews with cast/crew, are all well worth your time, while the a/v is solid (due to source limitations). Nicely priced too, this is well worth picking up for fans of more interesting 80s cinema.
Film: 8/10 Video: 7/10 Audio: 7/10 Extras: 8/10 Overall: 8/10
Luz: The Flower of Evil
(2019, Fractured Visions, Region B UK Blu-ray, Release Date 6th September 2021)
A stunningly beautiful meditation on religious zealotry that is rife with rich themes – male power over women, the corruption of ‘purity’ by human nature, emotions and technology, the desperation to find some form of utopia at all cost, etc – and influences (The VVitch and Hagazussa immediately spring to mind) is sadly just too dense and narratively scrawny to really hook the viewer in.
Reminiscent of Jodorowsky in its aesthetics – blazing, over-saturated colours and a 70’s sheen of grindhouse-style print damage and heavy grain give scenes of horrible brutality an immediate El Topo comparison – it makes superb use of its Columbian locations, with so many of the compositions using subtle but effective VFX to heighten every shot to an almost dreamlike quality. But horribly portentous and pretentious voice over and dialogue replaces narrative and ultimately its 104 min runtime feels very long.
The film threatens to drop interesting beats in amongst the main ‘plot’ of a small rural community held in a vice-like grip by a religious maniac whose three daughters’ journey to adulthood sparks the crumbling of his carefully controlled world - a small boy is chained up as a reincarnation of Jesus but ultimately doesn’t do or say anything, while a tape recorder threatens some kind of ‘The Village’ type reveal but is ultimately there just to let us know this isn’t taking place in some long distant past. But it’s an empty threat, the film content to rely instead on that insanely dense dialogue to relay its themes to the audience rather than any real sense of traditional narrative.
Come for the amazing visuals and the equally haunting soundtrack, but don’t be surprised if that’s all you come away with.
The disc from Fractured Visions does justice to the content, with a gorgeous and rich transfer and a lossless 5.1 Spanish track that has some standout moments of heft and subtlety. There are even some decent extras too – including a commentary track and an hour long making of – but sadly these continue that sense of pretension over from the main feature and had me switching off long before they were finished.
Film: 6/10 Video: 9/10 Audio: 9/10 Extras: 6/10 Overall: 6/10
(1976, StudioCanal, Region B UK Blu-ray, Release Date 13th September 2021)
In another world, Joseph Losey’s wonderful 1976 classic would be a riotous doppelganger flick – Alain Delon is a brilliantly amoral art dealer in Paris, casually making money off people in desperate need and thinking nothing of having casual affairs with his best friend’s wives. A case of mistaken identity leads him into a slow, downward spiral of his own obsession with finding out who this other ‘Mr Klein’ is, often to the point of where his judgements around his own personal safety are now seriously compromised…
But setting this in Paris in 1942, just as the Vichy Government were beginning to round up Jews (his doppelganger is seemingly Jewish) on behalf of the occupying Nazis elevates this significantly, with those notions of personal obsession, destiny and karmic fate, taking on a much more symbolic and terrifyingly mythic status given that infamous time and location.
Alain Delon is interestingly cast – at once seemingly bored thanks to his very bourgeoise lifestyle, yet remaining confident in his own ability to convince anyone of who he is, his performance could be seen to be a little cold. Yet come its tragically downbeat ending, we finally see through his façade and Delon reveals himself perfectly cast in the role. Other great faces include Jeanne Moreau and Michael Lonsdale, but the real star is Losey – his film at once classical yet grounded in a grim reality thanks to a lack of real soundtrack and the narrative punctured by ever-threatening inserts of the grim progress of the round-up of the Jews by those in power, constantly reminding us of the background and the impending reality of the situation.
Powerful and fascinating, it does suffer from some huge narrative coincidences, but like Delon’s classic Le Cercle Rouge, these just add to the mystique and lyrical nature of the film and its themes. Just superb.
The new 4K restoration from StudioCanal looks and sounds sublime – gorgeous detail, nicely textured and realistic and robust colours. The French mono soundtrack is clear as a bell and the English subtitles are in the most part perfectly fine. Extras include over 80 mins of new interviews looking at the film and of Losey and are all well worth your time. A fantastic disc all round.
Film: 9/10 Video: 9/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 8/10 Overall: 9/10
(2017, Acorn Media, Region B UK Blu-Ray, Release Date 13th September 2021)
An absolutely stunning opening - which gives new meaning to the term "things that go bump in the night" - gives way to a film more concerned with giving us a series of fantastically eerie set pieces than a robust narrative. Yet when they are as brilliantly constructed as they are here, that really is not a problem…
The first act presents us with a number of seemingly unconnected events - as well as the opening, we also see a mysterious man who hides in cupboards and under beds that seemingly vanishes at will and a newly buried young child who doesn't want to stay buried - all taking place in a single street in Buenos Aires, and brings together a team of paranormal investigators, including a local cop who is related to one of the families involved, to start researching what's going on.
The second act then focuses on these characters and the film takes an almost inevitable pause as the scares are largely kept offscreen during this section, before returning in spades for the film's doozy of a finale. And it’s here that the film will either live or die for the viewer - it will live because of a series of fantastically orchestrated set pieces, all shying away from the traditional cattle prod jump scare and giving us something much more tense and dread-filled; yet it could just as easily die because the narrative behind all this is almost casually dismissed, with no really satisfying conclusion drawn from it all.
A very well-regarded, and justifiably so, little horror from Argentina, it makes the leap from Shudder mainstay to disc with aplomb.
Sadly, no comment can be made on the disk quality as the film was provided as a screener link.
Film: 8/10 Video: TBC Audio: TBC Extras: TBC Overall: 8/10
(2017, Acorn Media, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 13th September 2021)
The synopsis of this US/Mexican co-production has this as another generic possession / messiah / antichrist movie. But after the first act, it was anything but...
Three acts of unspeakable horror against children complete the first part of the film - a maternity ward stabbing spree, a kindergarten class shooting and a school swimming lesson electrocution let you know this is pretty strong stuff. It’s never graphically portrayed but the fact that the film depicts these at all shows it’s got something of a backbone. A horribly grim and gritty backbone that sees a burnt-out cop and a paranormal investigator trying to find out what's going……and what's going on seems to be linked to Tobin Bell's heavily tattooed satanic preacher.... or is it?
The second act kick starts the investigation into these events and a hugely effective piece of VFX work handily explains what's going on – think of it as a modern update of The Omen III. And yet by the time we get to the film’s final act - a terrifyingly claustrophobic set piece in the subterranean drug smuggling tunnels under the US/Mexico border - the investigation has given us plenty of red herrings as well as superbly orchestrated scares to see us through to the end with something of a little more substance than the usual low budget horror fare.
A nice antidote to the current crop of anaemic modern US studio horror, this US/Mexican production, another on regular rotation over on Shudder, offers up a strong take on a well-worn genre.
Sadly, again no comment can be made on the disc quality as the film was provided as a screener link.
Film: 8/10 Video: TBC Audio: TBC Extras: TBC Overall: 8/10
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
(1992, Criterion, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 13th September 2021)
Having only seen the first two seasons of Twin Peaks once and not considering myself a huge fan, coming to this was both intriguing and somewhat terrifying…
Following Laura Palmer in the week before her death in, out and through the small town of Twin Peaks, this is very much a David Lynch film. His key themes of skewering the ‘American Idyll’ by peaking behind the curtain of Small Town USA with his use of terrifying and obtuse imagery, woozy atmospheric music and an all-round sense of general confusion is all present and correct... only more so.
Noticeably lacking the insane humour of the series, for the most part this really does delve into seriously dark stuff – sexual abuse, notions of self-worth, generational hypocrisy, it’s all here and Lynch goes for the jugular. And yet does so in such a way that you can see how the stark and seemingly random imagery matches perfectly to his themes, often resorting to the weird to explain how the characters view themselves, others or what’s going on around and to them. Deep and dazzling stuff indeed.
But it’s still so… Lynch. The opening prologue looking into a similar murder and all the FBI scenes are completely insane and mostly redundant (to me anyway), feeling more like lip service to the TV show than part of the main narrative. And I’ll be the first to admit to not picking up all the little nods and winks to long-time fans of the show. But even without that invested history in this small, weird little town, this was most certainly a challenging, fascinating, infuriating and mostly very David Lynch film, which, to give it its due, has convinced me to head back to Twin Peaks for another, much longer visit.
Criterion do a solid job with AV, offering a nicely organic looking image and room enveloping lossless 7.1 audio track. Extras include two 20 min interviews with Lee and Badalamenti and a 30 min sit down with Lynch and the Family Palmer, which is every bit as obtuse as the film itself.
Film: 7/10 Video: 8/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 5/10 Overall: 7/10
No Retreat, No Surrender
(1986, Kaleidoscope Entertainment, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 13th September 2021)
Think of this as The Room of JCVD movies…
Barely in it for more than five minutes and every single one of those sees him pulling a face straight out of the Widow Twanky playbook, there’s no surprise that this film was chosen by the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 live tour some years ago for some real-life cinematic heckling. An amateurish mash-up of The Karate Kid and Rocky IV, this is only now being sold purely off the back of JCVD’s presence in what was only his second billed appearance and a fairly troubled production for the Muscles from Brussels (he was sued by several of the cast and stunt team for repeatedly hitting them during scenes when told not to, leading to accusations of a lack of self-control).
Its simply not very good at all. It strays close to ‘so bad, its good’ territory when the ghost of Bruce Lee shows up, looking nothing like actual Bruce Lee mind, to train our young whippersnapper, the Michael Jackson dance off scenes causes the skin to nearly crawl off the body and the plot thinks that ‘LA Karate’ vs ‘Seattle Karate’ is a compelling reason for physical violence. But even with all that, and a cast that had seemingly never set foot in front of a camera before being told ‘action!’, it’s just poor. Not fun poor. Just… poor. Even some near decent fight choreography doesn’t help.
JCVD fans avoid this. Especially if you think the 88 Films JCVD collection isn’t quite what anyone would call ‘top tier’.
It’s a barebones disc with no extras or language options outside of the English mono track that has a touch of hiss present throughout some of the music tracks. The image looks ok – opticals are rough as expected, and whilst fairly soft, it has limited print damage and looks solid, with natural colours and no obvious signs of digital tinkering.
Film: 4/10 Video: 7/10 Audio: 6/10 Extras: 0/10 Overall: 4/10
(2021, Signature, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 13th September 2021)
This little known/seen sequel to a little known/seen Australian alien invasion movie continues the franchise exactly as it started… by cramming every possible cinematic trope and plot beat known to man into a single very long feature.
We’re now two and half years into the alien invasion that began in the first film and Sydney is on the verge of collapse. Most of the characters return, only now with added generic battle weariness as they go about their generic humanity saving business, including rescuing generic friendly alien collaborators from generic villainous humans, all while uncovering a generic mythical planet-killing weapon that has been hidden here for a generic number of years…
Get the picture?
Now before the critical evisceration picks up too much steam, there is one crucial thing to note amongst all this generic invasion ‘stuff… it never quite loses its Australian heritage. It has the tone and vibe of Farscape meets the future war sections of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, meaning lots of old school puppetry that isn’t trying to be massively nostalgic but just is, incredibly serious war room meetings punctuated every few words by everyone calling each other ‘mate’ and everything played for a huge sense of fun, even amongst all the killing, death and destruction. It even has Jason (Hello!) Isaacs as a hilariously moustachioed alien called ‘Steve’ who has done nothing since crashing in Roswell but watch movies…
It’s not the kind of film you ever ‘choose’ to watch. It’s the kind of film that if you stumbled across it late at night and had nothing better to do, you’d gladly fall asleep to it with a knowing smile on your face. Mate.
The A/V on the blu was bang average – the huge amounts of CG used looked ok, but never anything more. The lossless 5.1 shows its budget but has moments of fun, while the extras are little more than the usual EPK fluff.
Film: 4/10 Video: 6/10 Audio: 7/10 Extras: 3/10 Overall: 5/10
Duel to the Death
(1983, Eureka, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 20th September 2021)
A deliciously energetic and batty Hong Kong classic is given a spiffy new release from the kind folks over at Eureka.
The narrative – every decade a fight takes place between the best swordsmen of China and Japan and as the next dual approaches during the Ming Dynasty, all manner of corrupt influences try and sway the outcome – is just the skeleton for the insane fight choreography and not so thinly veiled political commentary to hang on. As our heroes arrive at the fight’s location, they’ve already had to battle suicide ninjas, feisty women pretending to be men and even their own masters. And only then does the real fighting kick in…
It’s all about insane flying, gravity defying mid-air gymnastics and the fastest swordplay seen this side of The New Dragon Gate Inn. It’s bonkers, it’s bloody (the final fight is reminiscent of Python’s The Black Night in terms of its equal opportunity damage), it’s editing makes the Bourne films look like they were shot by Andrei Tarkovsky and its effortlessly brilliant. Those wanting any sense of gritty realism to their martial arts, look away now as this is firmly in fantasy wuxia territory and because the film is almost wall-to-wall action, there’s no hiding from it.
Even better, the disk comes with the ‘classic’ English dub, all hilariously inappropriate accents and Joey Tribbiani voice acting, and it all contributes to a supremely entertaining Hong Kong B-picture featuring some of the coolest swordplay seen on film. An utterly nutty and bloody delight.
The disc has some tricky A/V to deal with – even with a new 2K restoration, lots of shots are blurred so there’s really inconsistent video quality, which ranges from excellent to terrible, all source related it appears. Audio also has a Cantonese mono track if the hilarious English dub isn’t your bag (it really should be your first port of call) and extras include a new 30 min chat with the screenwriter, archive interviews with stars and an audio commentary. A really solid disc for a superb film.
Film: 9/10 Video: 7/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 7/10 Overall: 9/10
Earwig and the Witch
(2021, Studio Ghibli, Region B Blu-ray, Release Date 27th September 2021)
The first new Studio Ghibli film in seven years, the first to move away from its traditional and much lauded hand-drawn style (in favour of 3D/CG) and based again on a novel from Diana Wynne Jones (author of Howl’s Moving Castle) this is packed full of quaint, gentle English-ness but is sadly lacking in the story department.
A baby is left at an orphanage and grows up to be a very precocious, very rebellious and very contented little girl. One day, she is adopted against her will by a very odd looking and creepy couple who do little to hide who they really are – he is a demon wizard and she is a witch and they need some help in their business of spell casting. Putting the young girl to work, they soon find that she is just as much a handful as she ever was back at the orphanage...
Very much feeling like its aimed at youngsters with its Pippi Longstocking-esque tale of wish fulfilment for every child who ever lived and its sub-Pixar animation style, it's bright, breezy and smile-inducing, but seeing as it never really aims to appeal to adults as well, even when it starts to introduce some bizarre 70’s prog-rock elements, it feels an odd mix. Add in a massively stunted narrative that suddenly ends (literally) just as you feel it should get going and the whole thing doesn’t feel much at all like a Studio Ghibli movie. It’s a pleasing enough diversion but with none of the narrative or thematic depth that the studio is known for, its likely to only appeal to your kids rather than you.
The A/V is splendid, with the both English and Japanese lossless 5.1 soundtracks handling the music really nicely. There are some solid extras but nothing too grand, however there are various special editions being released that may address this.
Film: 6/10 Video: 8/10 Audio: 8/10 Extras: 5/10 Overall: 6/10
So that’s it for another month – and yet another really strong release schedule. Halloween next month sees all us horror nerd’s geek out as it welcomes the most wonderful time of the year with some new low-fi horror courtesy of Arrow, Ben Wheatley’s new mind masher, some Samuel Fuller re-releases (wait…. they’re not horror?????? I know…. I’m just throwing a bone to the two people reading this who don’t like the king of all genres….) and a stone cold 50’s horror/sci-fi classic from the BFI. A cracking month coming up so tune in next time for your essential guide to all things unashamedly 1080p.
Please let us know how right or wrong we are, and tell us what most enjoyed on Blu-ray in September 2021 in the discussion!