Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: The Miracle Worker (Dir. Arthur Penn, 1960)

Helen Keller lost her sight, hearing and ability to speak at 19 months old after contracting a mystery illness (although, Doctors now believe it was more than likely Scarlet Fever). Over 25 years, she learnt to communicate and learn. Her schooling took her from Alabama to Boston and New York before she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904 aged 24 and so – following the publishing of her memoir The Story of My Life – began her career of social and political activism (women’s suffrage, birth control, pacifism, socialism), and as an lifelong advocate for the blind and deaf before co-founding the ACLU.

By Keller’s side, during this time and until her own death in 1936 was Anne Sullivan. Sullivan became Keller’s teacher at just 20 years-old when she left The Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts for rural Alabama and the cotton plantation that the Kellers lived on.

It is this time period – well, that first month to be exact – that is the basis for The Miracle Worker. Keller’s story would have its genesis in TV before heading for the Broadway stage. It was adapted for the screen by William Gibson (who originally wrote the stage play) with Arthur Penn directing his own Broadway hit in 1962. Both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke reprised their roles from the stage to screen to critical acclaim including two gold and shiny Academy Awards which they both received, respectively, following the film’s release.

While it opens rather histrionically, with a scene between Kate Keller (Inga Swenson) and the Captain (Victor Jory), thankfully the film quickly finds it dramatic feet with those early moments giving weight to the immediacy Helen’s hearing, speech and sight were lost as a baby. The first seven years pass in the blink of an eye and the young Helen is now wild, unruly, almost feral because no one understands her (or even really tries to). Instead, they allow her to get away with erratic behaviour and even violence, a concept far easier on their lives.

Our introduction to Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) is at the train station bidding her current students’ farewell as she leaves for Alabama. The slight Irish lilt is a little distracting given that the real Anne, although the daughter of Irish immigrants, was allegedly born in Boston, however, it serves as way of establishing the difference in background of the woman – whose own sight was damaged at aged five – and the Kellers who reside on the plantation property.

It is during this travelling montage that we see flashes of Anne’s memories and her humble beginnings. Images are out-of-focus and superimposed within the frame, almost like photographs that have not been properly developed. It’s an excellent touch and however fleeting immediately flag the aspects of life Anne is haunted by. Within moments of meeting each other, Helen learns the word ‘D-O-L-L’, however, with family members still around offering unnecessary commentary describing Helen as either a ‘monkey’ or ‘fencepost’, Anne’s job is never made any easier.

Bancroft’s Sullivan takes no prisoners. She is pushy, likes to challenge the rules with her quick temper, and as a result her relationship with the Captain comes across as a pre-cursor to that of George Banks and Mary Poppins. The two are continually at logger-heads not helped by his ‘Southern Gentleman’ ways, booming voice and dismissive, tyrannical nature. Anne attempting to teach Helen is a long, arduous task. Yet, at no point is the child pitied. Duke humanises her, makes Helen a fully formed character who happens to have a disability. One which her family seeks to define her by.

These scenes between are utterly compelling but hard to watch. They’re wrought, fraught with repetition and open-handed slaps and biting – not just on Helen’s part – it is at times amusing without necessarily meaning to be and can even be described as abusive but it is a means to an end. Anne is determined to teach the ‘problem child’, make her unlearn all those awful habits her family have ignored even encouraged, and submit to learning.

While there is the occasional diegetic sound – a pair of heavy boots smacking against the wooden floor as the girl thrashes about during a tantrum or the smashing of plates – scenes between the two leads are largely silent, only occasionally punctuated lovingly by Laurence Rosenthal’s melodic soundtrack and the instrumental leitmotif of the song ‘Mockingbird’. Aram Avakian’s editing is flawless and Ernesto Caparrós cinematography stunning under Penn’s directorial eye. Yes, it is staged and the camera tends to be static more often than not but it works.

Holding all of this together are two extraordinary performances, supported ably by Swenson, Jory and Andrew Prine (as Helen’s older half-brother James). Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke are superb together and it is more than easy to see why they both won the critic’s favour and countless awards for these roles – so ingrained in her career was The Miracle Worker that Duke would not only play the Sullivan role on TV in 1979 (opposite Melissa Gilbert) but would go onto direct a run of the play in Washington during 2011. You root for both teacher and pupil throughout and by the breath-taking and cathartic ending, you love them.

Fact has been blurred somewhat, and some truths left out altogether, however, it isn’t terribly important. There is the question of whether this film could be made in this day and age without severe backlash (one tends to think not in the wake of ‘woke’). Yet, even without knowing Helen and Anne’s real history; the grit, determination and sheer awe-inspiring narrative and gutsy performances on display here are more than enough for an audience to invest in.

Disc Extras

The film has now been restored in 1080p from a high definition digital transfer by Eureka Entertainment, as part of their Classics range and is released, available on Blu-ray for the first time, this week.

The disc restoration is evident especially when original footage is viewed via the theatrical trailer (2:21). The clean-up is very good, scratches are minimal, there is still some grain visible but extreme close-ups are crystal clear serving both women’s framing, Bancroft’s pores often visible and Duke’s child-like open face and vacant eyes transfixing (the resemblance between the 16-year-old actress and her eldest son Sean is striking).

Extras are kept to a minimum on this release when compared to some of Eureka’s other releases. However, in addition to the theatrical trailer there is an audio essay provided by critic and author Amy Simmons (11:14), who not only places the picture within historical context but also discusses the thematics of Arthur Penn’s oeuvre. It’s an interesting albeit short essay played over a slide show of stills (one can’t help but feel an extended version would have made an excellent commentary for the entire film). However, the film and its performances make up for any lack some may feel.

Accompanying the disc is a collector’s booklet featuring new essays by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and film critic/author Richard Combs.

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Monkey Shines (Dir. George A. Romero, 1988)

Following his death in July of 2017, George A. Romero’s back catalogue has been made more readily available and given the ‘label’ treatment. The Criterion Collection released Night of the Living Dead (1968), Arrow Video curated Before Night After Dawn – a boxset containing a trio of his more obscure titles – while Eureka Entertainment released a limited edition Dual Format disc of his 1988 film Monkey Shines as part of their Classics range.

Law student and athlete Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) – A. Mann, get it? – is involved in a life-changing accident which leaves him paralysed from the neck down. Growing increasingly frustrated within his newly adapted home, overbearing mother and (Joyce Van Patten) and dwindling personal relationships, he attempts to take his own life. His despair and cry for help is heard by closest friend Geoffrey (John Pankow), a scientist (with an increasing addiction to speed) who has, not only, been injecting himself but primates with a serum containing human tissue. In an act of generosity, Geoff donates one of his Capuchins to service monkey trainer Melanie Parker (Kate McNeil) who trains Ella (Boo) to assist Allan, and hopefully lift his spirits by restoring some of his independence. Over time, Ella becomes a loyal and affectionate companion, however, their bond starts to take a sinister turn when Ella starts to act out.

Based upon Michael Stewart’s novel of the same name, Monkey Shines was Romero’s first – and subsequently last – foray into working with a studio. The fact that he returned to independent projects after this experience speaks volumes. As does the film itself, or at the very least the way it has been put together. There are multiple subplots over the course of the lengthy 113-minute duration which don’t always work but nearly always feel one too many. The pacing, however, is purposeful, allowing the audience time to empathise with Beghe’s Mann. The ‘horror’ is internalised, tension implied yet rarely seen with an overarching and prevalent theme of mental health.

The thing about Romero’s films is that while they are weighted in the horror genre, they tend to be far richer and allegorical in tone, beyond the odd scare, which make them all the more intelligent and effective. However interesting this film appears though, it never feels like a complete Romero, and certainly not that ending. When Ella’s ‘instinct’ kicks in and goes full throttle – combined with the inexplicable score – it becomes laughable. Riffing off Alien (1979) feels like a huge misstep. Thankfully, the alternate ending – George’s ending – is included in the disc extras. Spoiler: it works so much more convincingly (and satisfyingly) than the one the studio insisted on.

Studio interference aside, this is Romero at his most Hitchcockian, reminiscent of something his Creepshow collaborator Stephen King would write with shades of Rear Window and hues of Vertigo, and yet still feels somewhat original. There is plenty of merit outside of those last ludicrous moments, and fans of the Pittsburgh-native filmmaker will lap up this presentation, especially Tom Savini’s FX. Those monkey-point-of-view shots are inspired and Beghe’s simian teeth prosthesis so subtle few will spot them.

Though it may not be one of Romero’s more thoughtful pieces of work, somewhat neutered thanks to the studio, Monkey Shines is highly entertaining. A melodrama-horror about a man and the literal monkey on his back, played here by the remarkable capuchin Boo.

We still miss you, George.

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Multiple Maniacs (Dir. John Waters, 1970)

He is regarded as The Pope of Trash and now John Waters’ third feature film, unavailable for decades, has been “restored, remastered and re-vomited” by premium label The Criterion Collection, following a limited release in arthouse theatres.

Multiple Maniacs stars Waters’ merry band of misfits, including David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey. Those who would appear in most of his subsequent films, and led by the Queen: Miss Lady Divine, who we first see lying naked on a chaise longue, her Rubenesque derrière framed and in close-up. She leads the sideshow of “freaks” within Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion, a travelling band of “real, actual filth”. There’s a naked human pyramid, bra fetishist, a women giving oral pleasure to a bicycle saddle, a Jonesing addict, “actual queers kissing” and a bonafide puke-eater. Of course this is all a ruse, a front to house psychotic kidnappers and murderers. The brains (and beauty) of the outfit is Lady Divine. She’s the leader, the matriarch, think Ma Barker by way of a transgressive Elizabeth Taylor, who will do right by her people if they do right by her. Woe betide anybody who, for example, cheats or betrays.

Shot on 16mm and made with a $5000 budget – via a loan by Waters’ father – Multiple Maniacs is deliberately offensive and grotesque. It has an avant garde sensibility, with low contrast grainy black and white film stock, which makes the sprawling chaos, horrible camerawork and zoom abuse more bearable. For all its gleeful delinquent subversion, it actually has a lot of charm. Sure, it glorifies carnage and wears its anti-establishment, anti-bourgeois respectability, and sacrilegious, cannabilistic heart on its sleeve but it does so with such veracity, it’s admirable. Disgusting and atrocious, it may be but it’s also hilarious.

Hippy values take a few knocks, there’s a definite anti-war vibe to the denouement but it celebrates art via the Warhol and Lichtenstein pictures on an interior wall, its Czech New Wave style, and even surrealism – it’s hard not to think of Dalí when Lobstora rears its rapey pincers. Nothing is sacred. Least of all Catholicism. There is religious iconography dotted amongst the mise-en-scène, and The Stations of the Cross is even recreated as Divine receives a seemingly never-ending “rosary job” from Mink Stole, in a Church pew. All to the strain of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

Waters and his maniacs deliver on the blackest of comedies. All dialogue is frantic, emphatic and, at times, stilted and a little repetitive but that’s the Waters way. He and his friends, some from childhood, some dropouts from NYU created a filmmaking family which celebrated difference, embraced outsiders and misfits, and forged an artistic front for freaks. Divine was the heartbeat; loud, brash, crude, angry and trashy. She didn’t give two flying kitten heels what people thought of her, she knew she was beautiful.

In the words of the great auteur himself (oh, he’d hate that): “To understand bad taste one must have very good taste. Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating but must, at the same time, appeal to the especially twisted sense of humour, which is anything but universal.” Multiple Maniacs is a transgressive, blasphemous, and iconic piece of celluloid. It won’t be for everyone, but for those of us with a wicked sense of humour and good bad taste, it will be a religious experience.

Blu-ray Review

Limited Edition Blu-ray Review: Under the Shadow (Dir. Babak Anvari, 2016)

In Two & Two (2011) – Babak Anvari’s BAFTA-nominated short allegorical film – a teacher (Bijan Daneshmand) attempts to re-educate his male pupils with some basic arithmetic, claiming that what they have always been taught is no longer true. The writer-director packs quite the punch with very little exposition and a whole lot of nuance when depicting the absurdity of an authoritarian regime/dictatorship. Which all bodes well when your next film – and first feature – is an effective little horror (and would become BAFTA award-winning in its own right). It is also a lovely touch to have that same actor play the University Dean who is responsible for shattering Shideh’s dreams of becoming a Doctor.

Under the Shadow is set in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and Shideh (Narges Rashidi) can no longer study medicine having been removed for her political beliefs. We are never party to what exactly her transgression is but suffice to say with the mention of ‘radical left groups’ she was – and probably still is – against the war that is currently waging in her country.

Once her chador is removed, we can ‘see’ some of her transgressions. Her hair cut (in a bob style), dress (westernised), and her autonomy around her home; the partnership with her husband, exercising to Jane Fonda. she’s also the only woman in the building who drives. This is a ‘modern’ woman, oppressed by external tradition and reduced to the confines of her four walls, and even those are not so secure with the shelling, daily explosions and air raids which can send residents into a panic at any given moment.

When her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) receives his draft notice, Shideh is left with her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) as, one by one, all her neighbours pack up and move onto safety. The exacerbating factor a shell crashing through the roof of their building, killing the elderly resident within and leaving a gaping hole. The hole is covered with a sheet which appears to undulate in the wind like a bodily organ, flapping in and out like a heartbeat. A visual metaphor of a damaged culture, while the cracks in the ceiling – it can be argued – relate to Shideh’s psyche. Ever increasingly isolated, Shideh and Dorsa begin to experience things which may be the product of a child’s imagination or something altogether more supernatural.

Djinn is a malevolent spirit which has its history in Early Arabia and then later in Islamic mythology and theology. An entity that travels on the wind until it finds somebody to possess. Often dismissed as a superstitious belief, the spirit is reported to enjoy the souls of children (much like Krampus in European culture, or el Cuco in Latin America). It may explain Dorsa’s fever or not, after all Shideh was also once a child. Evil wants to hurt them alleges one neighbour while another, Mrs. Fakur (Soussan Farrokhnia), attempts to allay her friend’s fear: “people can convince themselves of anything if they want to”.

Tight framing adds to the oppressive atmosphere as mother and daughter’s fear and anxiety builds. Tension is slow-burning, and jump scares are few and far between yet effective when they do occur. There’s no score (music is only played during opening and closing credits) so is reliant upon diegetic noise and whistling winds. We’re never sure of the time of day given the constantly closed curtains and disturbed sleep patterns.

What appears to be mere moments gives the impression of hours. As people leave we can assume the passing of days and weeks yet the costumes of the leads mostly remain the same. Natural and artificial also play havoc with this, along with the production design: one location, open doors, hallways, and reflections in the television mean the constantly moving camera plays tricks with the eyes – was that something moving or not? Shideh’s lip is bruised from the constant biting, insecurity, anxiety, stress. Like all amazing genre films – nothing is ever quite how they appear and this film is all the better for it building beautifully the general sense of unease.

It seems apt that when she is preparing to fight, Shideh’s weapon of choice is a pair of scissors – as if tethered to a more domesticated past, her own mother’s apron strings or the chador in this instance. While the malevolent being appears to be set on persecution – even referring to the character as a ‘whore’ and ‘bad parent’ – it’s important to remember that Djinn is not inherently evil or good, and this entity could, at some point, be Shideh’s mother from beyond the grave.

A matriarch disappointed that her daughter will no longer practice medicine but needs to save her by forcing her to leave the building. Think back to the picture frame which houses Shideh’s mother’s portrait, the fractured glass obscuring the image within, it now laying down on the shelf hidden from view – but before that, the draped material serving as a backdrop in the photo is identical to the chador the entity embodies itself within. This reading further strengthens the mother-daughter links throughout, and the expectations a patriarchy levels at women, generally, but more so during the kind of regime in Tehran of the 80s.

As a first feature, Under the Shadow wears its influences well: Polanski’s apartment trilogy (Repulsion [1965], Rosemary’s Baby [1969], The Tenant [1976]) with a sprinkling of Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water via a domestic social realist drama in the ilk of Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi. It’s a rich and visually arresting film which checks all of the above as well as featuring, at its heart, a really affecting horror fable. A 1980s Tehran-set horror film filmed entirely in Farsi – the first of its kind.

Finally, it has been given the kind of release it deserves courtesy of Second Sight that includes plenty of extra features, including five new interviews with the filmmaker, cast and crew, as well as a lively commentary between Director Anvari and film critic Jamie Graham, in which every aspect of the film’s genesis, production and release is covered.


Two & Two (8:48) – Babak Anvari’s BAFTA-nominated short film shown in its entirety. It’s the one extra which can be watched before the main feature.

Escaping the Shadow (23:53) – A long interview with Anvari who begins with his own childhood nightmares growing up in 80s Iran before his move to Britain. He talks at length about the filmmaking process, his cast, shooting in Jordan and expands upon things mentioned in the commentary. He’s a delightful interviewee, and while it is not the most imaginatively filmed featurette, Anvari’s charisma shines through.

Within the Shadow (12:52) – Star of Under the Shadow, Narges Rashidi discusses her own childhood in Iran and Germany and career now she is LA based. She describes the film as a ‘beautiful gift’, and again, static camera and a by-the-book interview reveals an excitable and rather lovely person.

Forming the Shadow (16:11) – Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill talk all things ‘producer’, how they met Babak, the script, the film’s potential and their brief disappointment at not having to sell the film when it premiered at Sundance. A lot of their anecdotes are repeated in the commentary track.

Shaping the Shadow (13:29) – Anvari’s close collaborator and DoP Kit Fraser talks about his involvement from before the script was even written.

Limited Edition Contents – This set is limited to just 2000 copies, comes in a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy and with a soft cover book with new essays by Jon Tovison and Daniel Bird (unavailable at time of review). Plus behind-the-scenes photos, concept illustrations, and a poster with new artwork.

Blu-ray Review

Limited Edition Blu-ray Review: Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose, 1992)

It is interesting to note that the titular character of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film Candyman was a painter, an artist determined to leave behind a legacy; never to be forgotten: “I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing…” The myth – dating back to 1890 – surmises that Daniel Robitaille (although we wouldn’t learn his name until the first sequel) was educated and enslaved, on account of his father’s invention which assisted in the mass production of shoes after the Civil War.

Robitaille was commissioned to paint the portrait of a wealthy landowner’s daughter. The two fell in love and when a child was conceived, fear of miscegenation led to a mob chasing the artist from town to the outskirts where his hand was sawn off, and his body smothered in honeycomb for bees to devour. 100 plus years later and, according to folklore, his soul and bloody hooked stump continues to haunt Cabrini Green, now home of the projects.

At least that’s what the legend suggests as it is told and retold, embellished by the storyteller, and those who believe in the Candyman (Tony Todd). For Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), the myth becomes a major part of her research. She and colleague Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are students at the University of Illinois researching urban legends as part of their thesis, within an academic department where being smug, white and male is a given. None more so than Helen’s own husband Trevor (an immensely slippery Xander Berkeley).

Helen discovers that there is a connection between her building and the apartments at Cabrini Green, after looking into the unexplained death of Ruthie Jean – a woman of colour who was mutilated in her bathtub by a killer who allegedly burst through her wall brandishing a hook. Helen interrogates the myth, and through her investigation we see just how limited her perspective is (in both literal and cultural terms), she is oblivious to anything outside of her area of interest until the myth has been appropriated. Only then does she (figuratively) wake up.

Rose – not unfamiliar with literary adaptations – has given audiences variations on numerous works of literature including his Tolstoy quintet of Anna Karenina (1997), Ivans XTC (2000), The Kreutzer Sonata (2008), Boxing Day (2012), Two Jacks (2012), and more recently his take on Frankenstein (2015). Candyman was his first authored screenplay, based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden (which can be found within volume five of his seminal anthology Books of Blood). The Faustian-inspired story transposed Liverpool to Chicago, Helen’s surname became Lyle (from Buchanan), her thesis – which once centred around graffiti – now concentrated on urban legends, and class and race became intertwined in Rose’s vision. He kept the thematic material of the story but made it very much his own.

While the film is grounded in horror, part ghost story, part unconventional slasher by way of arthouse cinema. It plays with the tonal and generic shifts between the story and its retelling, building ambiguity before Candyman’s first full reveal to Helen (it’s well worth the wait), and their relationship as the film progresses.

Some have commented upon the fact that the film’s “villain” is a man of colour. True, however, he is not a typical “monster” (just like Helen is not a victim, despite his imploring her to be). Candyman is a tragic and romantic anti-hero, an eloquent and beautiful phantom who is seeking retribution from those who have wronged him. It’s an elegant performance by Todd who elicits as much empathy as scares, it’s hard to imagine anybody else embodying the handsome hook-man (although, what if the next is a white iteration or Yahya Abdul Mateen II*). He is led by an equally wonderful Virginia Madsen.

Her Helen is intelligent, determined and flawed, perhaps even unhinged. The line between the real world and the nightmare is completely blurred by the film’s midpoint. Is she responsible for the kidnapping of Anne-Marie McCoy’s (Vanessa Williams) baby boy? Is Candyman a figment of her imagination or is he the man who assaulted her? Has Helen lost her mind? There’s an old Hollywood glamour to Madsen/Helen, and yet she’s completely ordinary and easy to identify with. The choice of lighting her across the eyes is genius on the part of DoP Anthony B. Richmond (Don’t Look Now). It enhances those huge green windows especially when she appears in a trance, passively hypnotised by Todd’s velvet voice (in actuality, it was her director who was doing the mesmerising).

Richmond’s cinematography and Jane Ann Stewart’s production design have aged well. The graffiti and murals adorning the walls of Cabrini Green are still as effective – made all the more so by the careful 2K restoration from a new 4K scan of the original negative (supervised and approved by Rose and Richmond). Grain is kept to a minimum and the picture is perfect. Reds and petrol blues particularly bright and eye-catching along with that all important artwork on the walls leading to Candyman’s lair.

Bob Keen’s make-up FX is just as accomplished in a film that really was multi-layered and ahead of its time, (and still as timely today) even the bees are analogue with Todd pheromoned-up, standing in for the Queen. Apiculture has been practiced for a millennia, and given that bees are the creatives of the nature world, it’s a perfect extension of the art present. Philip Glass’ haunting, melancholic and melodic score brings the religious themes to the fore and is the aural icing on the cake.

By placing the film within a racial context, it polarises the worlds as they are depicted; white, middle-class academia and the poverty of the inner city African-American experience. Helen even spells it out: “A black woman is murdered and the police do nothing, a white woman gets attacked and they’re all over it.” However, as the film progresses it is evident that Helen and Daniel are linked rather than opposed. The racial and social commentary, however dated, opens up dialogue, not only holding up a mirror to an America of the past but what the future holds for people still living as a consequence of segregated housing. It will be fascinating to see how Nia DaCosta approaches the material in her version of the film.

Candyman continues to be an ambivalent and ambiguous arthouse horror film which depicts oppression and transgression, and manages to sustain the scares, even after 26 years. Bernard Rose and Tony Todd have created a legacy which will continue long after they depart.


Disc 1: US R-Rated Version

Audio Commentary with Bernard Rose and Tony Todd – The disc boasts not one but two audio commentaries. The first is provided by writer-director Rose and star Todd (his introduction is a particularly nice touch). The pair are obviously close, having reunited for Frankenstein, and cover a whole host of topics. Todd reviews Infinity War, A Quiet Place, and Halloween. We hear Rose’s opinion on sequels, the new Halloween and his favourite horror films (he has excellent taste). The two men tend not to pay much attention to what’s onscreen, choosing instead to talk about the cinematic essence of the horror genre, offer occasional anecdotes re: filming, what constitutes as “American”, politics and social media, and the notion of fear. This is highly entertaining and well worth listening to.

Audio Commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman – The second places the film within critical context by writers/critics Jones and Newman. They discuss their friendship with Clive Barker and his stories which have been made into memorable films. They analyse the cast and their respective performances. Theirs is actual commentary accompanying the film as it unfolds and they offer several readings of the film and briefly consider the logic of nightmares (which allows for plot holes).

Be My Victim: Interview with Tony Todd ©2018 (9:38) – Todd discusses how he got the role, the romantic gothic horror elements of the film, and his approach to the role which included ballroom dancing. He likens Candyman to the Phantom of the Opera and speaks positively, not only, of the experience but of Rose who he describes as a “highly intelligent” filmmaker. He touches upon his costume, location shooting including the active gang members who agreed to be on film, and facing his fear of bees. It is evident that he has a great deal of affection for both Rose and the character. The racial aspects of the film are still open for discussion and Todd welcomes the conversation.

It Was Always You, Helen: Interview with Virginia Madsen ©2018 (13:00) – Madsen talks about her first action(s) following getting the role; going for tests as she was allergic to bee stings and eating a lot of pizza as Bernard wanted her a little rounder as Helen. It’s a lively and informal discussion, much like Todd, Madsen is clearly comfortable talking about the film, the experience and having a close working relationship with he cast/crew. She’s incredibly proud of the film, it remains one of the best experiences she has ever had, particularly enjoying waltzing with the “beautiful and gentle” Todd.

The Writing on the Wall: Interview with Jane Ann Stewart ©2018 (6:10) – Stewart worked as Production Designer on the film, and here discusses scouting for locations, basing her designs on truth and just how much fun she had working on Candyman, especially as a student of Art History.

Forbidden Flesh: The Make-up FX of Candyman ©2018 (7:49) – This featurette interviews (albeit separately) Bob Keen, Gary J. Tunnicliffe and Mark Coulier the three British make-up artists who were responsible for the FX of Candyman.  This is interesting especially as they describe “making” excrement for the walls of the public bathroom from a selection of biscuits, and the forging of the hook. “Proud” is definitely the verb of choice from everyone interviewed about this film.

A Story to Tell: Clive Barker’s The Forbidden ©2018 (18:28) – Critic/writer Douglas E. Winter critiques Barker’s seminal Books of Blood and original source story The Forbidden. Winter is an adorer of Barker whom he describes as the “finest horror writer of the [80s]”. He also discusses Rose as author and artist and briefly touches on the feminist aspects of the Candyman sequels: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Day of the Dead (1999).

Urban Legend: Unwrapping Candyman ©2018 (20:21) – This critical analysis of the film by UCLA Lecturer/writer Tananarive Due and author/screenwriter Steven Barnes is the highlight on the disc. They consider the film from a Black historical context and gaze. Their analysis is invaluable, intelligent and allows for the viewer to reconsider a film text they think they know. Subjectivity is a fascinating tool and representation matters, as well as diversity behind the camera. This is essential viewing, not least because, Madsen aside, Due is the only woman involved in this boxset as a whole.

Bernard Rose’s Short Films – Three films – newly restored in HD – which cement Rose’s filmmaking prowess. Fans will see techniques, themes, and motifs which continued through his entire oeuvre to date.

  • A Bomb With No Name On It [1975] (3:34) – Terrorism is approached with horror elements and a classical score (he had to start somewhere). The action takes place in a busy London restaurant with the bomb maker, a white middle-class male. Perhaps an allusion to the IRA bombings of the seventies.
  • The Wreckers [1976] (5:54) – A film depicting ‘youth’ and more specifically a teenage boy and the party he throws when parents his head out for a dinner party amongst their peers. The generational divide is seen through the juxtaposing of the two soirées. Sparkling water is the adult’s drug of choice as the teens spark up their joints. It’s brilliantly created, mixing contemporary music with classical before the evening descends into coloured-filtered horrific chaos.
  • Looking At Alice [1977] (27:24) – This is Rose’s black and white avant garde film (every director has one). He plays with voyeurism as his protagonist watches and stalks the object of his affection through her love and conquests. Rose, once again, utilises classical music, jump cuts and repetitive dialogue. All three films are a welcome extra on the the film that many consider Rose’s masterpiece.

Theatrical Trailer (1:59)

Image Gallery – A slideshow continuing 40 images including film posters from across the world, VHS covers, film stills, publicity stills and lobby cards. It’s interesting to note the different studios that have historically owned the rights to Candyman.

Disc 1: Original UK Theatrical Version

The Cinema of Clive Barker: The Divine Explicit ©2018 (28:00) – This in depth interview with author/director/visual artist Barker, who discusses his literary work and the subsequent film adaptations, including Rawhead Rex, Hellraiser (with his old school chum Doug Bradley), the connoted homosexuality of Nightbreed and, of course, Candyman. He talks about horror and what it does to us as a film audience, finding beauty in the darkest of things, celebrating difference, and his childhood. It’s a fascinating interview. Barker looks gaunt, ageing following operations to remove polyps from his throat. As Americanised as his accent is now, the Liverpudlian is still evident to the trained ear. On a personal note, it’s heartwarming to see and hear someone with a huge talent be a success in a field you love who also happened to go to your old school and sound a bit like you.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also:

  • Exclusive packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin (although, it appears that his hook in is the wrong hand).
  • 6 lobby card reproductions
  • Reversible fold-out poster featuring two artworks
  • Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth (unavailable for review).
  • Limited Edition bound booklet reproducing the original hand-painted storyboards by Bernard Rose

Yes, it’s a little odd that Philip Glass isn’t featured amongst the extras at all, a copy of the score would have rounded off the boxset nicely. The severe lack of women is also disappointing, specifically in a critical capacity or interviews with the other women in the cast.

That said, Arrow Films courtesy of their Video label have immortalised Candyman and his mythology in a stunning limited edition box set, packed with extra features that will make any film lovers cling to their rapture. Buy it, if you dare, just avoid mirrors.

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Man of a Thousand Faces (Dir. Joseph Pevney, 1957)

Man of a Thousand Faces begins with the following cue: “On August 27 1930, the entire Motion Picture industry suspended work to pay tribute to the memory of one of its great actors. This is his story.” Except, well, it’s not. It’s the ‘Hollywood’ version steeped in melodrama and all a little dull.

At the Universal studio lot, the flag flies at half-mast as Irving Thalberg (played by the late Robert Evans, sans perma-tan) makes his own tribute to “The phantom of the opera.” In actuality, work was not suspended but a two minute silence was conducted in the wake of Lon Chaney’s death – nor were his most successful films made at Universal… This film starts as it means to go on, dramatising and conflating the life of an extremely private man who, if history books are to be believed, would have shunned even this mediocre production.

The biopic begins with the obligatory flashback which will serve the overarching narrative and then loop back around; aligning childhood, trauma and tragedy which is seemingly how it wants to establish Chaney (James Cagney). It traces his career from the Vaudeville stage to the cinema screen and admirably attempts to squeeze 30 years into 122 minutes, perhaps had the film been cast differently it may just have worked.

As talented as Cagney arguably was, there’s no way he can pull off aged 22 at 56 convincingly. Not to mention the physical limitations; a tall sinewy figure with a distinctive growl never really translates to a chipper Irish-American barely reaching 5’7”. Star personas were prevalent during the studio system and it’s fair to say, Cagney was horribly miscast nor did he have the lithe grace Chaney exhibited or the creepy melancholy.

If there’s one word used to describe the tone of the film, it is tragedy, as it prefers to add weight to the man’s alleged suffering than his film career. Hammering home his deaf-mute parents, hitting child abandonment and the dissolution of his marriage along the way, to having to place son Creighton in an orphanage and then, well, death. It’s all rather dreary; at odds with the sweeping epic soundtrack and the man whose early career began in Vaudeville and making people laugh. Why his parents’ deafness defines him or them, for that matter, appears to be a sign of the times – as for when that is the film does little to quantify. Creighton (he who would become Lon Chaney Jr.) is the only real evidentiary passage of time as the part is split between four actors (Dennis Rush, Rickie Sorensen, Robert Lydon and Roger Smith) each older than the next. None of which is helped by the occasional fifties-looking costuming.

Before his ‘big break’ as a lead, Chaney worked tirelessly and took every job he could, often making himself over and disguising his natural attributes depending on what was required on the call sheet. His ground-breaking make-ups led the way for the likes of Jack Pierce. Bud Westmore, Dick Smith, and, of course, Rick Baker among many, many others. It was then that casting agents began to take notice and he was cast in The Miracle Man thanks to his ability to twist and coil his body into unnatural positions. This would lead to arguably his greatest roles: The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in which he gravitated, yet again, to the tortured and afflicted depicting the tormented empathy of Quasimodo. Cagney tries but it’s hard not to see Cagney playing ‘Cagney’ imitating Chaney, or ‘Chagney’ if you will.

Obviously, given the decades between meant different make-up processes and evolution of the prosthetic. The make-up recreations in Man of a Thousand Faces are pretty awful given that Westmore et al would have used more modern supplies and they are still nowhere as convincing as Chaney and his ‘crude’ materials. Eagle-eyed viewers will also notice that camera-angles vary in relation to the original films, they’re not quite as polished.

It’s not all terrible, there are some high points. The father-son relationship shines and the performances from the actors who played the young(er) Creighton are lovely. These moments highlight Chaney’s love of mime and character, donning wigs and a false nose to “show” his son a bedtime story. The use of sign language is refreshingly brilliant for a film as old as this, when communicating it’s all about the face which for Lon Chaney it was. His.

He worked in cinema from 1914-1930 with 100 of his 157 films either lost or destroyed. It’s a missed opportunity that the 2000 documentary, The Man of a Thousand Faces narrated by Sir Kenneth Branagh isn’t included in the extras here. However, if Chaney holds an interest for you, seek it out, it’s really informative and one gets to see the original performer rather than a shallow impersonation. While the film never quite reaches the heights expected, the transfer is stunning. It is clear and crisp with very little residing grain which serve the make-up replicas and those stark chiaroscuro shadows which ‘Chagney’ often lurks within.

Lon Chaney died from a throat haemorrhage brought on my complications from the cancer that he was diagnosed with years earlier. An almost karmic fate for a versatile entertainer who sought silence both on stage and screen – his last film (a remake of Browning’s The Unholy Three) was his only speaking role – and has been revered ever since.

Disc Extras

Commentary by Tim Lucas – this is highly informative and provides great education for those unfamiliar with Chaney and his work and those that are interested in their broadening their knowledge. Lucas provides lots of information and titbits, paying particular attention to historical context – something the film sorely lacks.

The Man Behind a Thousand Faces: Kim Newman on Lon Chaney (20:52) Filmed in a cluttered room full of DVDs and books, Kim in his signature red waistcoat and cravat discusses the silent stars of Hollywood’s heyday including Chaplin, Garbo, Valentino and of course Chaney. Newman’s brief foray into the topic is not overly focussed and feels more conversational in tone which is a great contrast to the slightly more scripted and academic commentary. He maintains that Chaney lingers long in the cultured memory “and without Chaney’s make up Karloff and Lugosi would have contrived to play gangsters, and never Universal monsters (though, I’m sure Jack Pierce would have argued with that). He also thinks Cyrano de Bergerac was the role Chaney was made for but never got the chance to play. The chat is intercut with clips from the films and sadly, ends rather abruptly.

Theatrical Trailer (1:33) – It’s always worth watching the film’s theatrical trailer if only to see the original footage prior to the restoration process, and the extent of the transfer and clean up.

Image Galleries – These include 82 slides of production stills which show the costumes and make-ups in greater detail (not always a pro) and give more opportunity to see Bud Westmore’s clunky recreations albeit all in black and white. In addition to the slides, there are 18 posters and lobby cards in both monochrome and colour from all over the world including France, Spain, Germany and Russia.

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: The Bells of St. Mary’s (Dir. Leo McCarey, 1945)

It was the film listed on the marquee of the local cinema as George Bailey (James Stewart) ran through a snow-covered Bedford Falls, and back into the bosom of his family. It was also the picture that Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) took Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) to see at Radio City Music Hall on their first date. Aside from being dearly beloved by filmmakers named Francis, The Bells of St Mary’s does what very few films have been able to do, and that is out-charm its cinematic predecessor (despite Bosley Crowther’s 1946 claims in The New York Times).

Father ‘Chuck’ O’Malley (Bing Crosby) was first seen in Leo McCarey’s 1944 hit Going My Way and is reintroduced here – wearing his straw boater on a jaunty angle – arriving at St. Mary’s in order to help Sister Superior Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman). She, who is fighting to keep the Parochial school open and out of local businessman Horace P. Bogardus’ hands. Bogardus (Henry Travers) has already purchased the adjacent building to St. Mary’s but is determined to secure the school grounds for his parking lot.

In the beginning, Father and Sister clash – albeit with a twinkle of the eye and a sly smile on the face, alongside quips like: “Did anyone ever tell you, you have a dishonest face? For a Priest, I mean.” Somewhat predictably, they – the American Priest and European Nun – realise they must come together to fight a common goal. Sound familiar? Okay, so it’s not fascism per se but the film was released in December of 1945 so it’s hardly a stretch to see its themes set against the war effort.

Director McCarey had a somewhat varied career, dabbling in slapstick (Duck Soup, 1933), melodrama (Make Way For Tomorrow, 1937), screwball comedy (The Awful Truth, 1937) and romance (An Affair to Remember, 1957). He would make four Priest-led films (Going My Way…St. Mary’sMy Son John in ’53 and The Devil Never Sleeps in ’62), which for a devout Catholic is hardly surprising, but in all and especially in this film he managed to humanise both Priests and Nuns, depicting them as flawed individuals and, crooner Crosby and the radiant Bergman take Dudley Nicholls’ script and run with it.

There are no villains of this piece – Travers best known for playing angel Clarence in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is probably the most antagonistic, however, manages to convey sincerity and humour all the while attempting to chuck the Sisters and their young wards out of their school. While this is the overarching plot, there are minor, almost irrelevant arcs which provide the gentle comedy and at times offer the most laughs, which go to the heart of the film and viewer alike. Like, flunking student Patsy Gallagher (Joan Carroll) who leans on Father Chuck to help her pass the school year.

Patsy is left at St. Mary’s while her mother Mary (Martha Sleeper) weighs up giving caddish pianist Joe (William Gargan) – who left her pregnant and alone – another chance. Or, bullied Eddie Breen (Richard Tyler) who has been “turning the other cheek” as per Sister Superior’s advice until she decides to teach him, in one memorable and hilarious scene, to box. Even when Chuck and Mary Benedict do have a difference of opinion, it is all decidedly good natured.

It is these threads, and elements within the mise-en-scène, which show the passing of time as the seasons change and the school year progresses, culminating in the most adorable Nativity performance, in the history of Nativities. McCarey was all about improvisation and naturalism in his actors’ performances, and it is no more apparent than in the recreation of “Jesus’s birthday”. It was reportedly shot in just one take with the children encouraged to ignore the camera and crew, and approach their material as they saw fit.

This is an aspect of McCarey’s work ethic which admirer Yasujirō Ozu emulated in Tokyo Story – the 1953 retelling of Make Way For Tomorrow. It is a characteristic which make this film so utterly charming. There are of course – given Crosby’s presence – musical numbers, courtesy of composer Robert Emmett Dolan, such as the delightful “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” and even Bergman stretches her vocal chords in her native Swedish for “Varvindar Friska” (Spring Breezes) and while musicals are not everybody’s cup of tea (I know, who doesn’t love a bit of Bing?) there are ample numbers to enhance the narrative yet few enough not to put people off completely.

Drill deeper and there are interesting depictions of the gendered approach to conflict which one may argue are outdated, however, some still ring true even today. Yes, it may offer an idealised, even sweet depiction of Catholic schooling but this assertion of patriarchal power is more than still relative especially in the institution of the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed, as discussed by Revd Steve Nolan’s analysis in the disc extras – the notion of paternalism. Made obvious in the way Dr. McKay (Rhys Williams) decides to withhold vital information of and from a (female) patient but discusses freely with ‘a man of the cloth’.

Although not necessarily a Christmas film, you can do a whole lot worse than including this film on your festive watchlist (if not before). It’s the perfect addition containing humour, charm and sincerity, and one which warms the cockles in much the same way as The Shop Around the Corner or Remember the Night. It may not be regarded as McCarey’s most cinematically satisfying film but its popularity is evident and understandable.

The performances are natural, subtle and nuanced especially Bergman who was rarely seen onscreen less than glamorous, and was loaned by David O. Selznick as part of a deal he struck with McCarey. Here she shines, quite literally, from the glow of her unmade-up face to the luminosity of her smile and the clever use of lighting which flawlessly renders her, hitting the eyes perfectly within her wimple. Made all the more noticeable here thanks Paramount’s restoration process which still contains some grain but which creates a beautiful monochromatic sheen to each frame, set within a 1:37:1 aspect ratio.

The Bells of St. Mary’s will charm your socks off – and it’s a well-known fact that this writer watches it every Christmas Eve without fail. It just ain’t Noël without that little boy, Bobby (Dolan Jr), knocking on a curtain introducing himself in one breath, “This is Mary and I’m Joseph, and we came to Bethlehem to find a place to stay.”

Special Features

It’s almost a given now that if it’s an Arrow Films release, the Academy label in this instance, there are always a few extras to enjoy after the credits have rolled… and only then.

Up to His Neck in Nuns (22 mins) – This visual essay by David Cairns is entertaining and informative as the writer dips into Leo McCarey’s filmmaking history, his early life, Catholicism and heavy drinking. It switches from film clips, stills, photos, archival interview quotes, and Cairns’ lovely Scottish lilt ensures it’s never boring.

Analysing O’Malley (19:48) – This appreciation by the Chaplain of Princess Alice Hospice, film academic, and author of Film, Lacan and the subject of Religions: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Religious Film Analysis, Revd Dr. Steve Nolan is a little dry in comparison to the previous essay. Nolan sits to the right of the frame and narrates; reading an essay from an autocue. It’s a fascinating analysis but one which would have worked just as well as a commentary (surprisingly lacking here).

You Change the World (32:07) – This short religious propaganda film was shot by Director McCarey in 1949 and features appearances by Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Irene Dunne, William Holden, Loretta Young, and Jack Benny – all regarded at the time as ‘super Catholics’. It’s arguably some of the best acting any of them have ever done, and they’re playing themselves! It’s preachy, condescending, cringeworthy hypocrisy at its finest (and I say this as a Catholic). The purpose of the film was to persuade “good, decent, normal people” to join The Christophers. I stopped counting how often “The Declaration of Independence” is mentioned when I reached ten.

Two Screen Guild Theater Radio Adaptations: One from August 26th, 1946 (29:52) and the other recorded October 6th, 1947 (28:59). Both star Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman reprising their roles as Fr. Chuck O’Malley and Sister Superior Mary Benedict. The radio programmes are played over a slide show of film stills.

Musical Score Featurette produced by RKO Radio (22:28) – This was made to promote the film’s original release in December 1945, and is played over the same film stills as the radio adaptations.

Theatrical Trailer (1:51) – A perfect way to compare the film against this trailer and see the amount of work that has gone into the restoration process.

Image Gallery – This is slideshow of 35 images. There are gorgeous chiaroscuro snaps, candids, as well as magazine covers, set images and colour posters.

First pressing only: Fully illustrated booklet containing new writing on the film by Ronald Bergen.

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jennifer Dionisio.