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29 December 2023

Severin Films unearths CUSHING CURIOSITIES (review)

Besides Hammer horrors building monsters and battling vampires, Peter Cushing had a storied career in Hollywood, British television, and British cinema and CUSHING CURIOSITIES provides an overview of his lesser-known works including the longest restoration of the troubled production BLOOD SUCKERS and the rarely seen French comedy TENDER DRACULA.

REVIEW LINK: Severin Films (US) Region A/ALL (DVDCompare)

CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray specs: 

  • Disc One - Cone of Silence:
    • 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 Widescreen 
    • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono 
    • Optional English SDH Subtitles 
    • "Peter Cushing and His Miniature Soldiers" 1956 newsreel 
    • Illustrated Audio Interviews: 
      • Peter Cushing on "The Funster Show" with Paul Carrington 
      • The Guardian Interview with Peter Cushing from 1986 (plays over the film) 
      • Peter Cushing interviewed by Tony Dalton, author of "Terence Fisher: Master Of Gothic Cinema" 
      • "Cushing's View" 1973 interview with Peter Cushing on Whitstable and his late wife Helen
  • Disc Two:
    • Suspect: 
      • 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 Widescreen 
      • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono 
      • Optional English SDH Subtitles 
      • Audio Commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons 
    • The Man Who Finally Died: 
      • 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 Widescreen 
      • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono 
      • Optional English SDH Subtitles 
      • Audio Commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula", and Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir"
  • Discs Three and Four - Sherlock Holmes:
    • 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.24:1 Pillarboxed Fullscreen 
    • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono 
    • Optional English SDH Subtitles 
    • "A Study In Scarlet" 
      • Audio Commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen" 
    • "The Hound Of The Baskervilles: Part 1" 
      • Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen" 
    • "The Hound Of The Baskervilles: Part 2" 
      • Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen"
    • "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" 
      • Audio Commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir" 
    • "The Sign of Four" 
      • Audio Commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen"
    • "The Blue Carbuncle" 
      • Audio Commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir" 
    • Illustrated Peter Cushing 1974 Audio Interview with David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen" 
    • Lost Segments with optional Audio Commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons
  • Disc Five - Blood Suckers:
    • 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 Widescreen 
    • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono 
    • Optional English SDH Subtitles 
    • Audio Commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons 
    • "Stranger in the City" 1961 short film by Robert Hartford-Davis 
    • "Daddy's Girl" interview with director Robert Hartford-Davis' daughter Jean Hartford-Davis 
    • "Bite Me!" interview with "Tigon: Blood on a Budget" author John Hamilton 
    • "The Trip" interview with uncredited drug orgy actress Françoise Pascal 
    • "Hydra Phonics" interview with sound recordist Tony Dawe 
    • "Freedom Seeker" Title Sequence 
    • Theatrical Trailer
  • Disc Six - Tender Dracula:
    • 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 Widescreen 
    • English and French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono 
    • Optional English SDH Subtitles (for English dub) and English (for French dub) 
    • Audio Commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons 
    • "Love Me Tender, Dracula" interview with director Pierre Grunstein 
    • "Menez of Speaking" interview with actor Bernard Menez 
    • International Trailer
  • 200-page book "Peter Cushing: A Portrait in Six Sketches" by Jonathan Rigby.

ORDER FROM AMAZON!

28 December 2023

CineVentures' Best of 2023 Blu-ray/UHD Releases!

I participated in the DVDBeaver Blu-ray and 4K UHD of the Year 2023 poll and a number of my comments are excerpted throughout the coverage; however, I have included here my picks and comments in full.

Top Blu-ray Releases of 2023:

1. Messiah of Evil (Willard Hyuck, 1973) Radiance Films 

2. Unman, Wittering and Zigo (John Mackenzie, 1971) RA Arrow Video 

3. The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Riccardo Freda, 1962) RB Radiance Films 

4. Big Time Gambling Boss (Kôsaku Yamashita, 1968) Radiance Films 

5. Twilight (György Fehér, 1990) Second Run 6. Morgiana (Juraj Herz, 1972) Second Run 

7. The House That Screamed (Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, 1969) Arrow Video 

8. Red Sun (Rudolf Thome, 1970) Radiance Films 

9. Delirium (Renato Polselli, 1972) Vinegar Syndrome 

10. Amnesia (Martin Koolhoven, 2001) Cult Epics

COMMENTS: Restored in 4K from the only known materials, Radiance Films' MESSIAH OF EVIL looks imperfect, but it makes a valiant effort to make the film accessible to newcomers and supplement the long out-of-print Code Red edition with its exclusive extras while they started off the year with a Paul Schrader favorite in Kôsaku Yamashita's BIG TIME GAMBLING BOSS and the German avant garde RED SUN which introduces us to Rudolf Thome who most compelling understands and conveys the mystique of Uschi Obermaier. Vinegar Syndrome announced a 4K release of THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK for 2024, but Radiance's 2K-restored 2-disc set will surely hold its own if just on the basis of its overall A/V and extras package. 

Speaking of Vinegar Syndrome, the manages to give the sleazy, surreal, and sometimes sloppy sexy pseudo-giallo DELIRIUM a visual overhaul and extras that give viewers cause to rethink their first impressions of a twisted story. 

Arrow starts off the year with the definitive THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED and then tapped into the Paramount Pictures catalogue – for stateside release only, unfortunately for UK fans – and bowled us over with the once hard-to-see UNMAN, WITTERING AND ZIGO

Second Run closed out 2022 with a fantastic Andrzej Wajda box set but 2023 gave us more winners than we could fit on this list but TWILIGHT introduces us to Bela Tarr associate György Fehér and an adaptation of the same source novel as the Sean Penn film THE PLEDGE with a radically different approach as well as upgrading Juraj Herz's MORGIANA, a film he regarded as little more than an experiment but resonates with fans of the Gothic the world over. 

While Cult Epics introduced us to the essential early works of Marleen Gorris, it was the flashy, playful thriller AMNESIA that impressed us most. 

Top 4K UHD Releases of 2023:

1. Invaders from Mars (William Cameron Menzies, 1953) Ignite 

2. Shiver of the Vampires (Jean Rollin, 1971) Indicator 

3. Drowning by Numbers (Peter Greenaway, 1988) Severin Films 

4. Justine (Jess Franco, 1969) Blue Underground 

5. Philosophy in the Boudoir/Eugenie... The Story Of Her Journey Into Perversion (Jess Franco, 1970) Blue Underground 

6. City of the Living Dead (Lucio Fulci, 1980) Cauldron Films 

7. The Girl from Rio (Jess Franco, 1969) Blue Underground 

8. Martin (George A. Romero, 1977) Second Sight 

9. Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968) Arrow Video 

10. The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979) Arrow Video 

COMMENTS:  The 4K list is a little Franco-heavy, but this is the year where companies are willing to revisit his zoom-happy and soft-focus (sometimes just out-of-focus) films and see how much a 4K scan can wring out of them. 

Jean Rollin is also getting a revisit in 4K, revealing layers of detail where it would have been easy to assume that the previous masters were making the best of imperfect materials, and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD looks spectacular for a film not only shot in the 2-perf Techniscope format but further blown-up to 4-perf from a 1.85:1 image extracted from the center of the 35mm half-frame. 

Severin's DROWNING BY NUMBERS looks spectacular, and one hopes that this is a sign of more to come from the period before Greenaway started mixing film, video, and Paintbox. 

Second Sight finally delivered their restoration of George A. Romero's coming-of-age vampire film MARTIN (with their release of THE GINGER SNAPS TRILOGY at the end of the year a fitting companion piece). 

Arrow's access to the Paramount library not only gave us some thrilling Region A-locked Blu-rays but also the UHD debuts of cult classics BARBARELLA and THE WARRIORS, looking and sounding spectacular and lovingly kitted out with extras. 

Top Boxsets of 2023:

1. Cushing Curiosities: Cone of Silence/Suspect/The Man Who Finally Died/Sherlock Holmes/Bloodsuckers/Tender Dracula (Charles Frend, John Boulting, Roy Boulting, Quentin Lawrence, Graham Evans, Henri Safran, Victors Ritelis, William Sterling & Bill Bain, Robert Hartford-Davis, Pierre Grunstein, 1960-1974) RA Severin Films 

2. Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams: The Dungeonmaster/Dolls/Cellar Dweller/The Arena/Robot Jox (David Allen, Charles Band, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, Rosemarie Turko, Stuart Gordon, John Carl Buechler, 1984-1990) RA/B Arrow Video 

3. Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in Three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani: The Day of the Owl/The Case is Closed, Forget It/How to Kill a Judge (Damiano Damiani, 1968-1975) RA/B Radiance Films 

4. Danza Macabra Volume 1: Monster of the Opera/The Seventh Grave/Scream of the Demon Lover/Lady Frankenstein (Renato Polselli, Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo, José Luis Merino, Mel Welles, 1964-1971) RA Severin Films 

5. Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection: Almost Human/Syndicate Sadists/Free Hand for a Tough Cop/The Cynic, The Rat and the Fist/Brothers Till We Die (Umberto Lenzi, 1974-1978) Severin Films 

COMMENTS: While not quite as exciting as the two Christopher Lee volumes, CUSHING CURIOSITIES provides an overview of the work of an actor primarily known for his Hammer and Amicus horror appearances – in a more faithful take on the Sherlock Holmes tales than his turn in Hammer's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and switching from Van Helsing to the Count for a change in TENDER DRACULA – while VIOLENT STREETS offered the best presentations to date of Umberto Lenzi's Tomas Milian crime films with CD soundtracks and new extras, and the DANZA MACABRA set offered a quartet of Gothic rarities (two of which made their worldwide Blu-ray debuts). 

Arrow Video's ENTER THE VIDEO STORE not only provided definitive presentations of both popular and once-neglected Empire Pictures films but whets the appetite for the possibility of more Empire films that could use a digital overhaul. Radiance Films' COSA NOSTRA set offered an overview of Damiano Damiani's crime filmes as well as three fantastic Franco Nero lead performances. 

FAVORITE LABEL: Severin is knocking it out of the park this year with 4K exploitation, but Radiance Films is actually my favorite label as they expand their filmography, including curating Raro Video releases in the UK, being forced to utilize existing HD masters but doing their best to make them upgrades over the earlier US releases. 

Like Second Run – LAURIN is a masterpiece but the Blu-ray does not so much offer anything new as make the film more accessible to a wider market – Radiance have a number of noteworthy releases that just couldn't make the list no matter how impressive. 

FAVORITE Commentary (or commentaries): All three THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK commentaries provided food for thought, exploring different aspects from Gothic themes to comparing the different versions (including a novelization based on the script that clarified how much the structure had changed in production), while four commentaries on MARTIN offered everything from anecdotes to analysis, and Jeremy Richey's SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES track revealed the various artistic and intellectual influences on the production besides Rollin's fevered imagination.