Arrow Video is celebrating its 10th anniversary of putting out Blu-rays in Great Britain. This might comes as a bit of a shock for disc buyers in the USA who’ve only been getting their domestic release since the Spring of 2015. Arrow Video has been a welcomed addition to these shores for cinephiles who still have a lust for physical media with bonus features. The company has done deep dives on several genres including Spaghetti Westerns, Giallo mysteries, Japanese cinema and American Psychotronic classics. Each month feels a bit like a retro film festival when their releases arrive in the mailbox. As part of their 10th anniversary celebration, they’ve been asking filmmakers to reflect on Arrow Video and their 10 favorite releases so far. This has included Richard Ayoade (Mighty Boosh and Travel Man) and Heather Buckley. I should contribute a list since they are one of my favorite companies and my new season of Danger! Health Films has debuted in England on Amazon UK. This is their template of questions that I’ve answered in a sly attempt to blend in with Richard’s responses.
A: Do you remember the first Arrow Video release you took notice of?
I ordered an import copy of Spirits of the Dead for the sake of seeing Fellini’s Toby Dammit in Blu-ray. Terrence Stamp perfectly plays a drunk in a dream state. He just lets the weirdness of being cast in a Spaghetti Western being funded by the Catholic church wash over him. In barely 40 minutes we get the complete Fellini in Rome experience. John Pierson told me how they used to book Spirits of the Damned and merely show Toby Dammit as part of a double feature. As sleek as Jane Fonda looks in “Metzengerstein” with a wardrobe that fits well with her Barbarella outfits, the segment is lacking. Same with Louis Malle’s “William Wilson.” As cool as Brigitte Bardot and Alain Delon can be, I’m hitting the chapter forward button. I can’t imagine how a person in the theater seeing Spirits of the Dead felt enduring “William Wilson” and knowing there’s one more segment to go. They must have felt the law of diminishing returns had struck hard. And then we get a potent shot of unadulterated Fellini. And I wanted a Blu-ray with great picture quality since I’d owned a DVD of it from 1998. Arrow Video HD restoration blew gave a new sheen to the film. It made me take more notice of Jane Fonda’s wardrobe too. While it wasn’t overloaded with extras, the soundtrack with Vince Price narration was a treat. After enjoying the release, Arrow became one of my short list of video companies that I’d trust would deliver quality transfers.
A: Would you ever buy a film just because Arrow’s released it? Would you say that there’s a certain brand or personality behind us?
Curation has always been the name of the game. It’s the joy of someone being able to say, “if you like that, you need to see this.” Here in Raleigh we have the Cinema Overdrive film series that shows cult films of various degrees of popularity. The curator Adam Hulin will announce an upcoming title that will have the room willing to admit they haven’t a clue. You take a chance and show up to see this obscure film because you’ve built up a relationship with the series. I know Adam isn’t going to just dump a title on us because it was part of a package like Count Floyd on SCTV. And nearly every time I’ve walked out of the mystery film thinking, why didn’t I see this sooner in my life? I get a sense that Arrow is less of a home video distributor than a Film Festival you can take home. Every month you get to another installment of Giallo, Yakuza, gritty New York horror, Spaghetti Westerns or other genre. All the good stuff that your college film appreciation textbook wouldn’t show you. As far as the personality of Arrow, it’s just good old fashion film fanatic. There always seems to be a bonus feature that hints why Arrow felt the need to release the film on Blu-ray.
A: What do you think makes Arrow Video particularly stand out as a distribution label?
The video appreciations are one of the things that makes Arrow stand apart. It’s great when someone has a chance to champion either the film, filmmaker or actor. Why does the artist or the art need to be absorbed into your life? These pieces make clear cases. Often I find myself wanting to track down other movies referenced in the appreciations. I also hope that a film’s inclusion in the appreciation is a teaser as to what Arrow will be releasing in the near future.
A: What do you think makes high quality home entertainment important in this day and age?
What’s the point of investing in an large high definition television if the transfers look like EP speed VHS tapes duped off a pal’s Cinemax marathon. I want to get lost in the image. I want to see the odd details of book spines on a shelf and the posters on the wall of the murder scene. I grew up on U.S. military bases in West Germany during the prime Giallo era. Getting a great resolution can sometimes spark a memory when I see a food logo or furniture style that was popular in my youth. I’m not going to see those details on a VHS tapes.
The bonus features also immediately get my attention on a title. When I met John Landis around 2000, he said that since laserdisc was going away, the studios were going to be cutting back on DVD bonus features. There were plenty of signs that if the studio didn’t already have the bonus feature already on the shelf like the EPK or trailer, they weren’t going to go to deep on the movie. Of course this proved a bit wrong when the studios discovered they could resell the same DVD transfer to fans as a “Special Edition” with a few extra bit of fresh interview or commentary track. Except for a few warhorse titles, they were keeping the extra offerings slim. When studios started licensing out vault titles, it was nice to see the small indie companies doing their best to track down surviving cast and crew to add new elements to fans excited to rebuy a title. I’m a sucker for new transfers and engrossing bonus features to get a deeper sense of a film.
A: Out of the last 10 years since the birth of Arrow Video, would be your top 10 desert island picks?
10. Two Thousand Maniacs!
9. Deep Red
8. Black Mama, White Mama
6. The Grand Duel
5. Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
4. Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection
3. The Suspicious Death of a Minor
2. Driller Killer
A: What makes these 10 stand out in your view?
10. Two Thousand Maniacs! reminds me a bit of what it was like when my family first moved to the South in the mid-70s from the North. Even after a century, there was a strange resentment about the Civil War that made you not want to completely trust our new neighbors. Herschell Gordon Lewis embraced that anxiety of when we traveled down to Florida to visit Orlando and seeing those strange tourist traps that overly embraced the Confederacy as their identity.
9. Deep Red really looks so much nicer than a previous DVD eventually went brown in my collection. Dario Argento came back to claim his crown as the man who made Giallo a hot genre. A jazz musician (David Hemming) witnesses a murder and gets tangled into the investigation. He befriends a journalist (Daria Nicolodi) and maybe the killer. The upgrade transfer gives a sense of the nastiness of the locations. Also nice to be able to chose between the international cut and the butchered US release that we had in the vault at my old archivist gig. The longer cut has more screwball comedy moments between Hemming and Nicolodi. The tour of Profundo Rosso bookstore/museum by Luigi Cozzi is a trip.
8. Black Mama, White Mama is all about Pam Grier being chained up with Margaret Markov in a hot jungle prison. This really brings together Pam’s earlier Filipino prison flicks she made for AIP. There’s a lot of sweating on screen which gets brought out in the transfer. The cast includes the essential appearances of Vic Diaz and Sid Haig. The bonus features include catching up with Haig and Markov. Both recount tales that sound as scary as any scenes in the film. They even found an interview with director Eddie Romero. If you only see one women in a jungle prison movie, let it be Black Mama, White Mama.
7. Pulp is Michael Caine and director Mike Hodges follow-up to Get Carter. This is a completely different gangster tale. Caine is an author of crime books who dictates instead of types since it gets the job done faster. He finds himself being offered to ghost write the autobiography of Mickey Rooney. He’s played gangsters in movies for so long that he has real gangster connections. Things are messed up and Caine is going to have to do more than sit by the pool and record Mickey’s memories. This is such a great messed up Noir. While Jarvis Cocker claims the movie had nothing to do with naming his band Pulp, Cocker really looks like Caine in the film. Among the bonus features is an interview with Hodges.
6. The Grand Duel is a Spaghetti Western that’s all about Lee Van Cleef. This came towards the end of the era and Van Cleef is at the top of his game. He’s an ex-lawman who wants to help out an outlaw that’s being surrounded by bounty hunters. Director Giancarlo Santi was assistant director on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and brings that intensity to his film while keeping the running time around 90 minutes. This is one of those unsung Spaghetti Westerns that truly needs to be enjoyed. Van Cleef didn’t need Clint Eastwood to control the screen.
5. Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box included the first three films in the series. This might seem on the level of The Godfather boxset in that you only want to watch the first two and ignore the third. But they shot Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth in the Triad of North Carolina so it’s a fun to see parts of places I’d visit while at the North Carolina School of the Arts with Pinhead in the middle of them. The first film Hellraiser is a masterpiece in creepy sibling cinema. Clive Barker brought to life one of his short stories with a minimal of sets and a maximum of nightmares when the Cenobites arrive. You’ll never randomly play with a puzzle box after this triple feature.
4. Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection is all four films featuring Nami (Lady Snowblood‘s Meiko Kaji) gets set up and busted. But she’s not going to be a model prisoner. She wants to bust out and bust up the creeps that made her the patsy. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, Beast Stable and #701’s Grudge Song should be seen in a marathon screening. The films mix the surreal with the gritty. No one backs down or refuses to be broken. Kaji is iconic in this role. After watching the four films, you see her in a sisterhood with Pam Grier.
3. The Suspicious Death of a Minor allowed me to fully embrace Sergio Martino as a director working on the same level of Dario Argento during the early ’70s Giallo era. Arrow Video also put out his The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and Torso showing that Martino wasn’t just a one hit wonder. While he didn’t have the camera performing gymnastic feats, he had casts and stories that draw you into stomach churning situations without being completely repulsed. An undercover detective encounters a teenage girl right before she turns up dead. His investigation shows she had been used as a prostitute. He ends up going deep into a world of mobsters to find out who lured her into this life and then snuffed her. The bonus features includes an interview with Martino. Thanks to Arrow Video, I’ve discovered a lot of Italian directors that got completely overlooked in International Cinema class that acted like Roma was only for Fellini and the Neo-realists.
2. Driller Killer marks Abel Ferrera claiming the crown of the violent cinema king of New York City. He could have made a simple art film about a struggling painter trying to finish his masterpiece in the harsh and rough New York City of the late ’70s. He can’t focus because the landlord has rented a nearby unit to a loud rock band. Eventually the pressure gets to much and he relieves steam by using a drill to put holes in people’s heads. Abel plays the artist with the lethal power tools. The film was part of the banned video nasties in Great Britain. The film looks extra nasty and gritty with a fresh transfer. Ferrera would go on to make the masterpieces of Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant and King of New York. But it all started with film that delivered on its title.
1. Schlock simply a selfish reason. My interview with cinematographer Robert Collins is part of the bonus features. Brett Clark and myself made this when Bob was teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts back in 2000. (Brett also works on Danger! Health Films.) John Landis had suggested us doing the piece on Collins when another video company was putting the film out of DVD. Collins was such a cool guy to hang out at film school. When we first met, we started talking about his career and he mentioned he shot the Monkees on tour episode. He got to ride around in the Monkeemobile with the band. At that moment I was in awe of him. He also did the pilot of Miami Vice. Brett knocked himself out editing the piece and we sent it off to the company and heard nothing. We were so depressed when it wasn’t in the bonus features. But we didn’t give up on the piece. And nearly 20 years later, it found a home on the Blu-ray which is much cooler than a mere DVD.
Tags: Arrow Video, Giallo and Gelato, Spaghetti Western