My film fandom covers many things. I’m a fan of actors, of directors, of cinematographers, of genres, but my interest in Arrow has been the first time that I’ve specifically been a fan of a distributor. As a lover of all things horror and exploitation, I fell in love with them and began, in a low key way, collecting their releases in their early years. They’ve diversified, moving beyond but never abandoning the reissued video nasties and other Italian horror that formed many of their early outings, but always sticking to what seems to be the guiding principle of providing the best available prints and as many relevant extras as they can pack a disc out with.
With this in mind, and Arrow’s 10th anniversary sale on now, I thought I would recommend 10 titles I love from their immense and excellent back catalogue.
The video nasties were my way into horror cinema and my way into Arrow. This release was probably the moment I decided I would start keeping an eye on Arrow as a label. I’d seen The Beyond on several DVD releases, but this uncut and spotless edition brought out, better than ever before, the hypnotic dreamlike quality of Lucio Fulci’s visuals for the film and sucked my right into its surreal world along with Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck. An essential piece of Italian horror and British censorship history given the best release it had ever had.
Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz Boxset
When I was a teenager, there was a series on Channel 4 in the UK called Eurotika. Late on a Friday night they would show a short documentary on an exploitation filmmaker, a reel of exploitation trailers and a film by the director profiled in the documentary. This is how I discovered Jose Larraz and later his beautifully shot, and rather haunting, erotic horror movie Vampyres. Arrow’s recent, and essential, boxset bundles the best ever version of that film with two of Larraz’ others: his debut, Whirlpool and The Coming of Sin, an image from which fascinated me when I saw it all those years ago on Eurotika and has always stuck with me. All of them are making their UK Blu Ray debut here. To my mind, this is a perfect example of a filmmaker too often overlooked because of the genre he worked in finally getting the treatment his work merits.
The greatest American horror film of the 90s? Certainly you could make a solid argument for it. What sets Candyman apart from the other films about famous horror boogeymen is how deeply the screenplay engages with politics (something the Jordan Peele produced reboot, due next year, will carry over). This is as much a film about race and gentrification as it is about a monster with a hook, today it feels as relevant as it ever has, if not more so. Again, Arrow’s beautiful boxset edition massively exceeds any previous release, including two cuts of the film, three shorts by Bernard Rose and a stunning 40 page booklet full of storyboards.
The first Stephen King adaptation and still, to my mind, the best by a distance. Carrie is brilliant on multiple levels; it works as pure horror, as a reflection on the high school experience and as a showcase for the brilliantly sustained performances of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, as well as for Brian DePalma’s direction. Unfortunately the beautiful boxset that Arrow put out isn’t available any more, but the standalone disc is, and that boasts the same stunning transfer (miles ahead of the previous blu ray) and contextualising extras both archival and newly produced.
If it’s not quite Guillermo Del Toro’s best film, his ‘gothic romance’ ghost story is by a distance his most underestimated and another stunning boxset from Arrow provides the opportunity for an already overdue reassessment. I love everything about it, from the customarily stunning and incredibly detailed design, to Jessica Chastain’s glorious scenery chomping as Tom Hiddleston’s sinister sister. The beauty carries over into Arrow’s packaging of the film in a presentation box, I only wish it creaked as you open it, just to add to the creepy feel of the whole thing.
Female Prisoner Scorpion Boxset
I had seen the first of this series a few years prior, but it was through Arrow and their releases that I properly discovered Meiko Kaji. Kaji was a notable presence in Japanese exploitation cinema in the seventies and, for my money, one of the purest movie stars we’ve ever seen on screen. There are plenty of good actors, but few true movie stars - the people who walk on screen and own every frame they are in, inextricably drawing your eye. Kaji is one of those people. These films, with her as the vengeful Sasori, are driven increasingly by her physical presence - by the end of the fourth film, Grudge Song, she’s no longer a character but a pure force of nature. The visuals are powerful and often striking,but it’s Kaji who makes these films extraordinary.
Hounds of Love
Serial killer films are one of my favourite horror sub-genres for one simple reason: the fact people like this actually exist in the world make those movies scarier than, say, one about a boogeyman that kills you in your dreams. One of Arrow’s still relatively rare releases of a brand new film, Hounds of Love is one that can stand alongside true classics like The Black Panther and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. An Australian film based on a real case from the 80s, it’s a stunning directorial debut for Ben Young, whose opening sequence alone - essentially the film in miniature in 10 minutes - serves notice that he could be a major figure to watch. Likewise, the performances from Stephen Curry and a pitiable yet terrifying Emma Booth are revelatory.
The Lickerish Quartet
Of the three Radley Metzger films released by Arrow, this is by far the best. A surreal softcore drama that is as much about storytelling and filmmaking as it is about titillation (though it doesn't skimp on that). It's about a family who go to fairground and end up bringing home a beautiful motorcycle stunt rider who looks exactly like the woman in a porn film they were watching earlier. Dealing with perception and how we interpret cinema, it's the film that best shows off Metzger as not just a craftsman but an auteur, elevating what might, in other hands, just be smut. This isn't one of the most comprehensive Arrow disc, but it was an introduction to a film and a filmmaker who I have come to be a great fan of. This may be the film I have become most evangelical about, having first seen it via Arrow.
Joe Dante is one of the great genre filmmakers, for over 40 years now he has been remixing his influences into a truly distinctive filmography with a wit that is totally specific to him. This is clearly his most personal film, and for me his best. A charming coming of age movie about a kid who loves monster movies getting to meet his idol (a producer played by John Goodman as an amalgam of William Castle and Alfred Hitchcock) when he premieres his new film in Key West the weekend of the Cuban missile crisis, Matinee is Dante's most devoted love letter to cinema and what it means to those of us who find solace and escape in it. The film packs so much into under 100 minutes; a sweet romance, political commentary, hilarious B movie parodies and so much more. The Blu Ray is similarly brilliant, presenting the film with plenty of extras and, for the first time on UK home formats, in its proper ratio.
Delayed sequels and reboots are popular among studios at the moment, but they don't always seem like a good idea. This would seem to be the grand champion of terrible and pointless sequel ideas. How could you possibly, 23 years on and without Alfred Hitchcock, continue Psycho? Tom Holland's screenplay and Richard Franklin's direction square the circle brilliantly, paying tribute but always making sure to do more than slavishly homage, cutting their own path and bringing the film into the 80s, using the greater freedom they have to show violence and blood. Perhaps even more importantly, they find an interesting direction for Norman Bates' story, making him a somewhat sympathetic figure and drawing a performance every bit as brilliant as in the original from Anthony Perkins. I was so happy when Arrow announced this film, as I'd been championing it since the first time I'd seen it and was glad that it would not only get an HD release, but the deluxe treatment.
The Witch Who Came From The Sea
The first volume of the American Horror Project, containing this, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood and The Premonition, may be long deleted, but the single disc release of The Witch Who Came From The Sea remains an essential piece of any horror fan’s collection. The story comes off like a video nasty version of To Die For, as a television obsessed woman (played by Millie Perkins, who was Anne Frank in the 50s film), traumatised by her childhood, begins to lose her grip on reality and starts murdering men. Confrontational at times, hypnotic at others and driven by impressive, sometimes surreal, visuals from Dean Cundey (later DP to Spielberg and Carpenter) and an astounding performance from Perkins, this is a true original. The fact we still have this film, which could easily have disappeared, is reason enough to be thankful the video nasties list existed.
Also Recommended: Combat Shock [DVD only], Don't Torture a Duckling, The Last American Virgin, The Last House on the Left boxset, Night of the Comet, Spider Baby, Stray Cat Rock boxset, Suture, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Vigil