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FANTASTICA Preview Round-Up: Arrow’s U.S. Spring Blu-ray Slate!

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Whether it’s intentionally tasteless exploitation, hypersexual art house horror or bizarre classic creepshows, Arrow’s recent multi-region Blu-ray slate is bringing some of the most mesmerizing and surreal cult classics to the stateside marketplace in high definition. By offering fright fans some of the most fascinating oddities in horror history and giving their discs the royal treatment with incredible transfers and special features, Arrow is giving the U.S. collector’s crowd a look at their comprehensive releases, many of which would give Criterion a run for their money. And luckily for our readers, FANTASTICA recently had the chance to look through ’em all!

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE

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While there have been many adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary tale of transformation and terror, few have even been as outrageous, sexually explicit and outright sadistic as Walerian Borowczyk’s THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, which doubles as one of the most beautiful and lucid art house horrors ever made. Placing an all-too-game Udo Kier as Jekyll and his alter ego as well as Marina Pierro as Ms. Osbourne, Borowczyk’s film unleashes a fairly contained yet fundamentally bizarre tale where murder, rape and torture are painted with a dreamlike glow and the soft lighting of a fairy tale. It’s a bloody nightmare of the most psychosexual desires, and Borowsczyk’s vision incites a sincere honesty within primal fears and erotic impulses in a way that is both stark and shocking.

Luckily, the film is getting its first proper home video release via Arrow, who have given THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE a gorgeous 2K transfer scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noël Véry. With the film’s soft lighting, the image quality is not as crisp as HD die-hards may anticipate, but the film has never look better, and the portrait-esque cinematography is simply stunning. Arrow also offers uncompressed English and French language tracks, allowing fright fans to partake in whichever foreign film presentation fits their sensibilities best.

However, Arrow doesn’t stop there, stacking this release of THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE with multiple interviews, short films, featurettes and more. While HIMOROGI and JOUET JOUYEUX, shorts by Marina and Alessio Pierro and Borowczyk himself respectively, might be most enticing for cinephiles, fans of the film will love the new audio commentary, a Frankenstein’s Monster moderated by Daniel Bird featuring archival interviews with Borowczyk, Kier, Pierro and producer Robert Kuperberg as well as new interviews with Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy and filmmaker Noël Simsolo. Meanwhile, the encyclopedic disc also includes a video essay from Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez, featurettes on Borowczyk and Bernard Parmegiani, and interviews with Marina Pierro, Allesio Pierro and Sarah Mallinson.

 

ISLAND OF DEATH

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If JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE is art house horror at its finest, then ISLAND OF DEATH is exploitation at its most perverse and outrageous, subjecting the audience to a gallery of inhumane horrors comparable to that our antagonistic leads inflict on their victims. Bestiality, homophobia, incest and prolonged torture sequences are only a taste of ISLAND OF DEATH’s jaw-dropping insanity, gleefully jumping from morbid horror to campy bloodbath at the drop of a hat. And while there are satirical elements to ISLAND OF DEATH’s proceedings that offer a sense of levity now and again, the film’s unrelenting mean streak make it one of the most gruesome and amoral titles ever released by Arrow, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

However, for fans of ISLAND OF DEATH, Arrow delivers the definitive copy of this one-time video nasty, starting with a new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, approved by director Nico Mastorakis. And the restoration certainly shows: the beautiful environments and fever dream-esque cinematography is shockingly clear and nearly free of negative damage. Paired with the uncompressed original mono audio, ISLAND OF DEATH finds redemption for its wicked content in a gorgeous, and likely definitive, high definition presentation.

The special features on ISLAND OF DEATH are not as comprehensive as JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, but instead provide an interesting third person perspective on the film, it’s legacy and Mastorakis himself. The Blu-ray exclusively features a four-part documentary on Mastorakis and his career as a whole as well as a trailer reel of his work; paired with archival interviews and a featurette on the director himself as he revisits the locations of the film, Mastorakis is front and center of Arrow’s special features. Yet there is more to love on the disc than the Mastorakis-centric features, including alternate opening titles, a featurette from film historian Stephen Thrower and five isolated original tracks from the soundtrack of ISLAND OF DEATH.

 

SPIDER BABY

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The most tame affair of this bad bunch while still somehow equally bizarre, Jack Hill’s SPIDER BABY rides the line of exploitation, parody and surrealism quite nicely. This black and white piece of sweaty, wicked weirdness offers a bit more in the way of restraint and, believe it or not, heart than the other films, and does so while still producing an enigmatic and entrancing narrative. By taking the aesthetics of horror comedy such as THE ADDAMS FAMILY and filtering it through Tod Browning-esque sensibilities, SPIDER BABY offers a phenomenal cast (including Lon Cheney Jr., Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, Sid Haig and Carol Ohmart), absurd set pieces and a family of frightening outcasts worth genuinely caring about.

Despite being the most accessible of the pack, SPIDER BABY goes with a standard high definition transfer as opposed to the 2K negative scan, yet yields impressive results nonetheless. The picture quality is almost spotless, offering crystal clear images with very little apparent digital noise reduction to give off a very naturalistic look to the film. And with the uncompressed PCM audio track, Arrow also offers SPIDER BABY the most authentic and effective soundtrack available.

On top of the terrific transfer, Arrow also put together a wide variety of features for the release. The most tempting of which must definitely be Hill’s work, whether it be the extended scene, the alternate opening title sequence, the audio commentary with Hill and Haig or “The Host”, Hill’s Haig-starring short film included on the disc. Meanwhile, the set also includes featurettes on the original shooting location, composer Ronald Stein, a 2012 SPIDER BABY panel at the Film-to-Film Festival and interviews with Hill, Haig and more.

Upon first glance, this trifecta of terror titles is among the strongest that Arrow has ever previously offered, including even their Region B releases. While you can find full reviews of these discs in FANGORIA #342 and #343, courtesy of trusted FANGORIA voices Michael Gingold, Chris Alexander and myself, be assured that Arrow is doing the lord’s work for fans of twisted and deranged specialty horror titles, and should they likely keep up this standard of work, will likely earn a spot on any fright fan’s Blu-ray radar.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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