Blu-ray: ‘Basket Case,’ ‘Ichi the Killer,’ ‘Macon County’ justice, and ‘The Hidden’ with Kyle Maclachlan

Basket Case (Arrow, Blu-ray)
Ichi the Killer (Well Go, Blu-ray)
Macon County Line (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
The Hidden (Warner Archive, Blu-ray)

Arrow Films

Basket Case (1982), the debut feature of filmmaker Frank Henenlotter, is a gruesome little cult indie-horror drama of brotherly love and righteous vengeance shot on location in the seedier sections of New York City.

Henenlotter was reared on the cheap horror films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and other independent exploitation directors of the 1960s and 1970s and this is in many ways his tribute to the grindhouse horror films he loves, a low-budget monster movie with a creative twists and an embrace of the grotesque. The monster effects, a mix of puppets, models, and stop-motion animation, may look amateur today but there’s a loving B-movie attitude and a genuine sense of character and tragedy to the misshapen, fleshy, snaggle-toothed Belial, who sees Duane’s growing guilt and desire to connect to other people (notably a girl he’s fallen for) as a betrayal of their bond. A cult classic with an inspired twist on Cain and Abel.Kevin VanHentenryck shuffles through the low budget exercise in grotesquery and gore as Duane, the “normal” brother sent by his deformed, formerly-conjoined twin Belial to take revenge on the doctors who separated the two and left the blobby, grotesquely misshapen brother to die. Most of the effects are shrewdly just off screen, with spurts of blood and gnarly hand dragging the character out of view to feed our imaginations, and a few bloody corpses left in the aftermath (an exception is a pre-Freddy multiple impalement with scalpels).

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DVDs for 10/06/09 – High School Shamus, Direct-to-DVD Horror and the original Chinatown

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown gets a new special edition release this week. It’s hard to say if the timing is good or bad, given all the acrimony stirred up by Polanski’s arrest and probable extradition to the U.S. to face sentencing for a crime he confessed to before fleeing the country (over his fear of the rampant judicial misconduct in the case) over 30 years ago. Whatever one feels about Polanski the man (and in this case it is at the very least a disgust and revulsion for a man who raped a 13-year-old girl), it shouldn’t dim the accomplishment of the artist. Simply put, Chinatown is one of the masterpieces of American cinema of the seventies and a classic of American cinema, and Chinatown: Centennial Collection (Paramount) is a duly respectful DVD with intelligent supplements that dig into the creation of the movie and the Los Angeles history that inspired the story. Jack Nicholson strolls through the role of cynical private eye J.J. Gittes with the sneering confidence of a smart cookie in a situation far more complex than he realizes and Faye Dunaway brings an echo of tragedy to potential femme fatale Evelyn Mulwray, a socialite whose private life Gittes splashes across the newspapers. Robert Towne’s labyrinthine yet tight and resonant script, inspired by classic films noir and real Los Angeles history, won the film its only Academy Award (it was nominated for eleven, including Best Picture). Roman Polanski transformed the script into a modern film noir of sleek style, milky color, and sad cynicism, putting the corruption, greed, and moral monstrosity of Los Angeles in the thirties under the crisp light of the California sun. John Huston is brilliant as the maverick robber baron Noah Cross and Polanski gives himself an unforgettable cameo: he’s the weaselly thug who slices Nicholson’s nose.

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown
Jack Nicholson in Chinatown

“So the first thing I was struck by was how much I liked how sinister the logo treatment is in black and white,” says filmmaker and unabashed fan David Fincher to screenwriter Robert Towne, jumping right into the newly-recorded commentary without even a preamble. It’s a conversation between professionals rather than a lecture and Fincher plays the impassioned fan making astute observations and asking provocative questions of Towne. It sometimes goes silent for what seems like minutes, but all in all it is thoughtful, considered and introspective and Towne seems to get more modest with age. The two-disc set also includes the original three-part, 80-minute documentary “Water and Power,” which explores the real-life history and politics of the irrigation of California at the center of the film, and the new 26-minute featurette “Chinatown: An Appreciation,” with contemporary filmmaker and film artists discussing the film. Carried over from the previous DVD edition is a collection of three retrospective featurettes with interviews with director Roman Polanski, star Jack Nicholson, screenwriter Robert Towne, and producer Robert Evans. It’s a fine edition, but my question is: when will Paramount give it the Blu-ray treatment?

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