James Simpson’s Top 10 Releases of 2014

James Simpson’s Top 10 Releases of 2014.

This list is based on what I, as a reviewer for UKHS and my own site Infernal Cinema, have reviewed throughout the year. It is a mixture of new titles, re-releases or recent movies getting their first UK home video release. All these films have impressed for numerous reasons, some of them given after each movie title. There is also what I consider to be the worst film I have had the misfortune to review in 2014, too.

So read on and hopefully this list won’t have anyone reading thinking “WHAT? He liked THAT?”

faust1. Faust (Dual Format, Masters of Cinema)
One of early cinema’s best movies, lovingly remastered for this Masters of Cinema release. This is a movie that was decades ahead of its time and still offers much to cinema now. This is F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece (although Nosferatu is pretty close). It’s also the only title this reviewer has ever given a 10 out of 10 rating.

2. Devils Tower (DVD/Blu-ray, Monster Pictures)
British director Owen Tooth has put together a lovingly crafted homage to the horror genre. Fine performances from a varied cast, highly entertaining.

3. Para Elisa (DVD, Matchbox Films)
Over the last few years Spain’s horror output has been fantastic and this is one of those movies. The scares on screen are simple yet do the trick, creating a sense of dread and of the uncanny. Fears a US remake could happen are reason enough to watch the original before it is bastardized.

4. Video Nasties 2: Draconian Days (DVD, Nucleus)
A follow up to the brilliant 3 disc Video Nasty release, this set covers the aftermath of the Video Recordings Act 1984 that showed the frivolous ‘moral panic’ over the Nasties was still in full swing. The release is full of clips from some quite brilliant and mad 80’s horror and slasher flicks.

reanimator5. Re-Animator (DVD/Blu-ray, Second Sight)
Stuart Gordon at his neon coloured best, this Blu-ray release heightened the glorious gore and effects on show.

6. The Last Horror Film (Blu-ray, 88 Films)
A gem of an 80’s slasher, this is a movie that features a stunning performance by Joe Spinell and a beautiful Caroline Munro. This reviewer thinks Spinell may be better in this than his more well known role in Maniac (1980). Just a thought.

7. Crystal Lake Memories (DVD, Stax)
At long last hitting UK shores, this loooong look at the Friday the 13th franchise is a must see for fans of the films and of the slasher genre in general.

8. Werewolf Rising (DVD, Image Entertainment)
A sleeper hit on DVD, BC Furtney’s young-woman-in-peril yarn is a good metaphor for someone dealing with withdrawal symptoms of giving up alcohol. Melissa Carnell, the star, has a bright future and Bill Oberst Jr is an actor that needs to be seen.

9. Shivers (Blu-ray, Arrow Video)
David Cronenberg’s first movie got it’s first Blu-ray release thanks to Arrow Video. The meaning behind Cronenberg’s work, as always, enhances any of his films and this is no exception. The extras on the release go into great detail about the films creation and impact.

10. Predestination (cinema release)
Starring Ethan Hawke and bright new talent Sarah Snook, this was to be released in December 2014 although it has been postponed to 20th February 2015. So technically not a film of 2014 but it technically is as well due to this reviewer seeing it for it’s originally intended date. Anyway, a highly complex plot with some fine acting makes it one to see when it hits UK cinemas.

Worst

moebiusMoebius (DVD, Terracotta)
A film from South Korea, Moebius is a strange tale of love, sex, incest and violence. ‘Highlights’ include a woman cutting off and eating her sons penis and a man having an orgasm via scissors being thrust into his shoulder. No dialogue is spoken, as if anything said could have helped with the unfolding carnage on-screen anyway.

James Simpson (@JSimpsonWriter)

Faust (1926) BluRay Review

faustcoverFAUST 1926 (Dual Format review, 2014)

Director – F W Murnau

Starring – Gosta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn

Run Time – 1hr 47mins

Release Date – Monday 18th August

Label – Masters of Cinema/Eureka!

A demon named Mephisto (Jannings) wages a bet with an archangel that he can turn any religious man over to the darkside. The bet is accepted and if Mephisto can corrupt any man then Earth will be ruled by the devil. Faust (Ekman), a intelligent and religious man, is the target as Mephisto wreaks havoc upon Faust’s village. His faith is greatly tested as his prayers to God for mercy go unanswered. He burns his bible and Mephisto strikes, making Faust a generous offer: he will be a powerful man for one day. Faust’s day of power isn’t enough as he makes another pact with Mephisto but this time the devil will keep Fausts soul forever when the time runs out. It seems the archangel will lose the bet…

Based on Goethe’s version of the German legend Faust, this film version treats its source material with respect. The story is an important part of Germany’s cultural history and one of its most known works of literature. The tale of the devil attempting to lure man to the darkside has been used countless times since, in many forms of media, although none have been received as warmly as Murnau’s vision for the tale when it comes to cinema.

faustEkmanThe plot concerns itself with a whole range of emotions depicted by numerous characters, not just Faust. The story is not just about good versus evil or God versus the Devil but it is also about greed, desire and desperation. A strong cast convey through their body language and facial expressions what could have otherwise been lacking due to the film being silent. Jannings as the evil Mephisto is outstanding and is an intimidating presence on screen. He is iconic in this role.

The imagery and filming techniques used in the film are outstanding for their time and would influence countless other film makers. Murnau’s last German film, before leaving for America, illustrates the directors ability to utilize special effects in a time when they were little used or little understood. Scenes featuring the devil towering over a town, skulls appearing in water and people flying away on a magic carpet are remarkably impressive for the lack of resources available at the time. While some are now deemed simple effects back in the mid 1920’s these were unseen wonders. Most of it is accomplished by superimposing one shot over another, which creates some iconic shots for Faust. The devil’s face gurning over the town at the start of the feature is frightening.

Murnau’s direction was years ahead of some of his peers, the use of multiple cameras and takes was deemed unnecessary back then – as far fetched as it may seem now. It is a shame that a lot of his work is now lost and others only exist as small clips of what has survived. The approach to cinema has clearly changed since Murnau’s era, people think it is a sin against cinema to allow such great works to disappear or be destroyed like his work has. Yet the fact steps weren’t taken to treat film better in the early 20th century shows that it wasn’t deemed important enough to preserve. This re-release from Masters of Cinema is a perfect example of how times and opinions change. MoC have treated Faust with a great deal of respect and tried their hardest to restore the film. There is now a market for old classics of cinema being restored to their former glory and issued on blu-ray for film buffs to collect. Despite this new collective mindset some films remain lost, seemingly forever, and Murnau is a victim of this.

faustHornEXTRAS:
The audio options are generous, there is three different musical scores to choose from and a informative and analytical commentary from Bill Krohn and David Ehrenstein.

The release comes with the ‘export version’ that was sold to English speaking territories, although the picture quality isn’t as good.

There is a 52 minute long German documentary on the making and history of Faust, named The Language of Shadows. It covers a lot about the film from the difficulty casting the role of Gretchen to the numerous takes required for Murnau to get the shot he wanted. This caused numerous issues with negatives and versions sold aboard as the footage Murnau didn’t use for the German release of Faust were spliced together for other markets – as a result they are full of errors. The documentary offers a fascinating look into Faust and Murnau’s methods.

In a 40 minute long extra Tony Rayns talks about the history of Faust and that of it’s key players. Rayns knows a great deal of information on the movie and his talk is ideal for those wanting to learn more about F.W. Murnau and his last German film.

Finally there is a comparison of the film’s original German version and the international version. For over 50 years Faust existed in its foreign export negative until the original German negatives were found. The amount of effort into restoring and reconstructing Faust is impressive and the differences are very noticeable. The 27 minute long extra features footage from both, side by side, so the viewer can see for themselves just how different in places they were.

faustJanningsSupplementing the release is a 40 page booklet with essays on Faust as well as archival imagery from the title.

Faust is a marvel of cinema regardless of era, it has aged that well. Murnau’s vision is grand and epic, he achieves them both perfectly. A classic movie.

10 out of 10.

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