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The Pete Walker Collection(1971-1978)
An influential figure in 1970s British indie cinema, producer/director Pete Walker tested the limits of film censorship in the UK with a string of gruesome and erotic thrillers, four of which are collected here.
For more about The Pete Walker Collection and the The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray release, see the The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 21, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jack Jones, Susan George, David Doyle, Barry Evans, Bill Owen, Judy Huxtable
Director: Pete Walker (I)
This Blu-ray release includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray Review
A minor Brit-horror filmmaker gets his Blu-ray dues.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 21, 2012
The new distribution partnership between New York-based Kino-Lorber and the U.K.'s Redemption Films has yielded a prolific crop of Blu-ray releases, largely focusing on the underground—and often underappreciated—auteurs of British and Euro-cult cinema from the 1960s and '70s. This year, we've gotten several of Jean Rollin's surreal vampire films, two gothic period piece chillers from Vernon Sewell, softcore sleaze courtesy of Jess Franco, a few Mario Bava classics—including Black Sunday—and many, many more.
The latest director to get the Kino/Redemption Blu-ray treatment is English indie filmmaker Pete Walker, who got his start in commercials, made a few cheeky sexploitation flicks, and then—in the pre-"Video Nasty" days of the early 1970s—turned to churning out low-budget thrillers and proto-slashers, typically with an anti-authoritarian subtext decrying the hypocrisies of his home country's moral conservatives. While thoroughly workmanlike in style and execution, Walker's films have an entertaining, give-the-people-what-they-want quality, borrowing equally from Hitchcockian suspense and the lurid bloodshed of Italian giallo. In The Pete Walker Collection, Kino and Redemption have gathered together four of these newly remastered B movies—House of Whipcord, Schizo, Die Screaming, Marianne, and The Comeback—along with three audio commentaries and a series of 2012 interviews with the amiable Walker himself.
House of Whipcord (3.5/5)
The films in the four-disc set are not arranged in chronological order, presumably so that the best in the collection—1974's House of Whipcord —can take the leading spot. While loosely belonging to the typically kinky "women in prison" sub-genre, the movie is more devious and pointed than that simple categorization would suggest. Opening at a swinging mod party for a group of London advertisers, we're quickly introduced to the young French model Anne-Marie (Penny Irving), who was recently fined by the city for accidentally revealing her breasts during a photo shoot. Her colleagues have a laugh about it, but she's dreadfully embarrassed, and perhaps more susceptible to the charms of the mysterious stranger Mark E. Desade (Robert Tayman), whose name should tell you that he isn't quite who he seems. Mark woos her over dinner and drives her out into the country to meet his mother, but he speeds off as soon as Anne-Marie steps out of the car. She's ushered into what we soon gather is actually some kind of unsanctioned women's reformatory, run by the dreadful Mrs. Wakehurst (Barbara Markham)—Mark's psychotic mum—and her dementia-suffering husband, Justice Bailey (Patrick Barr), with help from Walker (Sheila Keith) and Bates (Dorothy Gordon), a pair of gray-faced, sexless old crones who wield whips and serve as guards.
Mrs. Wakehurst has founded this institution out of some deranged moral obligation to punish women she believes the state has let off lightly. Of course, the irony here is that while she's outraged by petty crimes like indecent exposure and shoplifting, she's totally fine with torturing and murdering her kidnapped "inmates." (It should also come as no surprise that her ethical absurdities are fueled by guilt over the secret slip-ups of her own past.) Walker is aiming his satirical gun at the hypocrisy of those who fetishize corporal punishment while presuming to dictate right and wrong, and he fires every bullet in the clip. Where most "women-in-prison" movies go for superficial titillation, House of Whipcord—scripted by frequent collaborator David McGillivray—is a dark, eerie, unsettling affair, somehow more brutal for the fact that it actually isn't very explicit compared to some of Walker's other films. The horror here is more mental, predicated on the innate terror of the trapped-against-your-will scenario and the fear of what isn't seen. Both Markham and Irving are good in their respective roles—the former a tyrannical bitch, the latter naive and overwhelmed—but it's Sheila Keith's Walker who lingers most in your memory after you watch the film, her eyes bulging, lips pursed, whip ready to strike.
I'm not sure it's entirely accurate to classify most of Walker's work as horror; many of his films, like 1976's Schizo, are closer to what we might call terror thrillers. With a blend of suspense, mental illness, and furious knife stabbing, Schizo is a low-budget exploitation homage to Psycho, and while it's not nearly as tense or tightly scripted as Hitchcock's classic, it does deliver a grimier, seedier vibe that's fairly effective on its own. The presumed schizo of the title is William Haskin (Jack Watson), a forty-something recent parolee who gets agitated when he spots a newspaper headline that reads, "Ice Queen to Wed." Packing a machete in his suitcase, he heads off to London to track down this "ice queen," the famous figure skater Samantha (Lynne Frederick), who's marrying the wealthy factory manager Alan Falconer (John Layton). Haskin sneaks into their wedding reception and places the bloodied-up machete next to the cake, where it's promptly discovered, causing Samantha to understandably freak out. Is the blade a portent of violence to come? How does Haskin know Samantha? And why does he seemingly have it out for her?
All are answered in due time, as Schizo's plot—once again written by David McGillivray—twists and teases and doubles back to unreliable memories from Samantha's childhood. There's a big twist you'll see coming from at least thirty minutes away, but although the story is highly predictable, it still delivers plenty of tension and visceral thrills, especially in its second half. One after another, people close to the increasingly distraught Samantha are savagely knocked off, and the film has its share of gory 1970s practical effects, complete with spilled Crayola-red blood. A slit throat at a stoplight. A skull bludgeoned with a hammer. A knitting needle jabbed through the back of one poor woman's head, jutting out the other side through the corner of her eye. The giallo slasher theatrics are certainly played up here, and there's even a scene with a medium that temporarily threatens to take the film into supernatural territory. In the end, though, pop-psychological suspense wins out, and even if the climactic reveal elicits a well, obviously instead of a gasp, Schizo is still one of the better British Psycho knockoffs—stylish, decently acted by all involved, and well shot. In case you were wondering, there is a shower scene, and the lovely Lynne Frederick shows significantly more of herself than Janet Leigh.
Die Screaming, Marianne (2/5)
If there's one title the collection could do without, it's 1971's Die Screaming, Marianne, a comparatively tedious and thrill-less thriller. Don't let the title fool you; there's no horror here, just an unnecessarily complicated story—written by Murray Smith—about greed and jealousy and familial resentment. Straw Dogs co-star Susan George is the titular Marianne, a go-go dancer inexplicably—at first—on the run from some criminals in Portugal. After a close escape, she's picked up by the suspiciously accommodating Sebastian (Christopher Sanford), who takes her to London, sets her up in his flat, and then suddenly springs a marriage proposal on her.
Marianne realizes something is amiss, so she intentionally misleads the registrar at the courthouse and ends up officially wedded to the best man, Eli Frome (Barry Evans), for whom she grows to have genuine feelings. Her intuition was right; Sebastian is a bad egg, in cahoots with her estranged father, The Judge (Leo Genn), a corrupt official who only wants to be reunited with his daughter for her money. See, on Marianne's 21st birthday, she's set to inherit a fortune from her dead mother, and The Judge will do anything to get the number for her Swiss bank account.
The film flits from London to The Judge's swank waterfront home in Portugal, where—with Sebastian's help—he eventually lures Marianne back. And then...nothing much of interest happens. The poorly written script digs one narrative dead-end after another, giving us red herrings instead of real leads, and refusing to do anything interesting with the characters beyond a suggestively incestuous relationship between The Judge and his step- daughter, Hildegarde (Judy Huxtable), who's also broodingly after Marianne's cash. (And who looks a bit like a cranky, spray-tanned version of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's "Sweet Dee.") Die Screaming eventually limps through a boring series of anti-climaxes, each less compelling than the last. It's a shame, because Susan George is quite good in her usual role as a sympathetic sexpot. If the film has one redeeming scene, it's the red-screened title sequence, where Marianne shakes her literal moneymaker in a skimpy black bikini.
The Comeback (3/5)
Saving the second-best for last, the final film in the set is 1978's The Comeback, a conventional but entertaining slasher/mystery that will legitimately keep you guessing until the end. (I didn't see the killer coming, anyway.) Famous '60s pop crooner Jack Jones—yes, the dude who sang the Love Boat theme song—stars as Nick Cooper, a recently divorced singer who's gone six years without making a record. At the insistence of his pushy manager, Webster Jones (Charlie's Angels' David Doyle), Jack leaves his posh loft in Los Angeles and moves out to an isolated estate in the English countryside to write and record his comeback album in peace. But peace, of course, is the opposite of what he'll get. Unbeknownst to Jack, while he was soaring over the ocean, his ex-wife (Holly Palance) dropped by his place to reconcile, only to have her hand lopped off and her throat slit by a scythe-wielding maniac disguised as a feeble old woman. It's a murder set piece worthy of Dario Argento, and admittedly, the film never tops it—the few subsequent kills are gory and even weird, but never quiet as frenzied and terrifying as the first.
Out in rural England, Jack's new digs aren't suiting him well, despite the courtesies of the odd-but-harmless housekeeper (Sheila Keith) and her gardener husband (Bill Owen). The mansion may not have a creaky gothic vibe by day, but after dark Jack begins to hear strange wailings and his ex- wife's disembodied voice echoing through the halls. In what may or may not be a dream, he awakes to screams one night and discovers a mouldering corpse in a closet. Is he going mad, driven to hallucinations by the pressure to become famous again? Or is there some very real physical danger closing in on him? Michael Sloan and Murray Smith's script could've been more effective here. The film would be better with a genuine is-he-or-isn't- he-bonkers ambiguity; instead, the writers overuse dramatic irony to make it perfectly clear that someone is out for revenge on Jack. The question, then, is who? Could it be his manager, a secret cross-dresser with a stranglehold on Jack's career? His new love interest, Linda (Pamela Stephenson), Webster's assistant, who disappears unexpectedly midway through the film? Jack's sleazy, leather jacket-wearing pal, Harry (Peter Turner)? Without spoiling anything, the number of suspects is slowly culled over time—some of them are literally cut down—and the film arrives at a shocking conclusion that's one part The Cask of Amontillado and one part the ax-swinging rage of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, with a bit of Walker's customary moral hypocrisy thrown in for good measure.
The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray, Video Quality
I would do separate video write-ups for each film in The Pete Walker Collection, but I'd end up repeating myself a lot. With small variations in picture quality, these four movies look quite similar on their dual-layer 50 GB Blu-ray discs, each given a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, newly remastered from original 35mm negatives. Die Screaming and House of Whipcord are approximately in 1.66:1, The Comeback is in 1.85:1, and Schizo is in 1.78:1. Like most other Kino/Redemption releases, these films are essentially presented as is—that is, there's been no significant digital cleanup of the source materials—so you will notice intermittent flurries of white and black specks, slight color and brightness fluctuations, small scratches, and rare frame jittering, although none of these age-related issues are ever particularly distracting. (The first three films in the set are about equal when it comes to the amount of debris, while The Comeback is comparatively clean.) Thankfully, a layer of film grain is always visible—though it does spike quite harshly in Schizo, especially early in the film—and there are no signs of adverse noise reduction, edge enhancement, or compression problems. Clarity is variable—more because of poor focusing than anything else—but seeing these movies in high definition for the first time is a pleasure, with tighter texture reproduction and more detail all-around. Color is nicely rendered too; minus the occasional flickering, tones are stable and dense, and although black levels occasionally crush shadow detail in Whipcord, this is probably unavoidable. Basically, watching the films on a large enough screen is a nice approximation of seeing some loveably worn-out prints projected in person. Could they be tidied up? Sure, but the "defects" are all part of the period, low-budget charm.
The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Each film in the set has been given an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 stereo track. Like the picture quality, there are definitely some age/source-related quirks to contend with—slight hisses, light crackles, some occasional muffling—although none that compromise the viewing experience. I suspect the films sound as good here as they probably can or ever will, and considering their age and low-budget nature, they're relatively clean and dynamically full. Dialogue is just about always easy to understand, the musical scores zag and stab and soar with sufficient force, and the goofy incidental pop tunes in The Comeback are period perfect. The one shortcoming here—and this crops up in many Kino/Redemption releases—is that there are no subtitle options for those who might need or want them. Not even English.
The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
As with their Jean Rollin releases, Kino and Redemption have put together some decent supplementary material for The Pete Walker Collection, including a series of four new interviews and three audio commentary tracks, which reveal Walker as insightful and well-spoken about his own work. The commentaries deliver the usual assortment of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, thematic discussion, and personal remembrances, and each is worthwhile for those wanting to learn more about the making of the films.
House of Whipcord
The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Kino and Redemption have done it again—giving another underground, unheralded cult director a retrospective shot at a wider audience. The four films in The Pete Walker Collection are hardly must-see genre classics, but—with the exception of the dreadfully boring Die Screaming, Marianne—they're each worth your time if you're a fan of low-budget Brit-horror and Euro-sleaze. Walker's films—House of Whipcord, especially—have more going on thematically than the usual T&A-addled grindhouse fare, and that's reason enough to give them a shot. The films looks better than ever on Blu-ray, and the four disc set includes three audio commentaries and a series of all-new interviews with the director. Recommended!
The Pete Walker Collection Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Kino Lorber's November 2012 Blu-ray Slate - August 17, 2012
Independent film distributor Kino Lorber has issued its Blu-ray slate for November 2012. Releases are arranged through Kino's branches Kino Classics and Redemption Films. The November titles include Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, a collection of four films by Pete ...
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