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Director: Pete Walker
Cast: Anthony Sharp, James Aubrey, Michael Latimer, Ray Brooks, Sebastian Breaks, Shelia Keith
Length: 572 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: Various
Type: Color and B&W
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
See individual releases.
For the last few years, Kino Redemption has been slowly been restoring the cinematic legacy of Britsploitation legend Pete Walker to Blu-ray. Many of these titles were previously made available in individual releases as part of the label’s Pete Walker Collection; the first half of which was bundled together for Volume 1 (containing: House of Whipcord, Die Screaming Marianne, The Comeback, Schizo) in 2012. Volume 2 is now here with a couple of exclusives in tow to really tempt you. It offers the perfect opportunity to complete that collection if you haven’t already.
The Big Switch (1968)
Walker dabbled in the thriller and sexploitation market before making a name for himself in horror. The director soon tired of this market, due to the amount of censorship in the UK at the time cramping his style. As it is, he leaves a small legacy in this arena that, while extremely tame by today’s standards, will be of interest to fans of the director and those who enjoy retro filmmaking with a distinctly British flavor. The Big Switch demonstrates the director earning his stripes. In this, his debut feature, Walker attempts to create something of a cross-over between a cheeky Sexploitation film and a gritty British gangster flick. Unfortunately it becomes neither in the hands of low-budget inexperience, with the script something of a muddle and with a haphazard approach to pacing hampering coherence throughout. That doesn’t mean the film is not worthwhile however, far from it. The Big Switch has enough awkward sixties British charm, bags of ‘T&A’ and some excellent Brighton locations — including the now demolished West Pier and its deserted arcade complete with ghost train — that it’s difficult not to enjoy on some level. The twee cringe-worthy script is worth its weight in gold alone.The opening, serious sounding voice-over narration establishes the film as some sort of morality tale. The plot focuses on John Carter (Sebastian Breaks) who, after meeting a girl in a club and taking her home, finds out that she might have been murdered when he stepped out for a packet of fags (note: British slang for cigarettes). He soon hotfoots it out of her apartment and goes back to his life organizing nude photoshoots for ad campaigns, thinking he has escaped some bother and apparently not rattled at all by the experience. All appears to be well until he arrives home to find a bunch of gangsters with guns and a naked woman playing poker at his sitting room table; their introduction is to strip him to the waist and stub cigarettes out on him. If this wasn’t bad enough, he soon discovers that the boss of these kindly folks wants to blackmail him saying his prints are on the murder weapon and the gang will frame him for the death if he doesn’t comply. Cue weird forced sexualized photo shoots, groping of naked women, gangsters, a shootout, and a contrived plot that stretches the realms of common sense even by exploitation standards. Great fun, as long as you aren’t expecting anything comparable with other British gangster films of the period like Performance, The Italian Job, or Get Carter.
Man of Violence (1971)After dabbling in some pure British sexploitation—including the director’s most well-known title in this arena, Cool It Carol—Walker returned to gangsters and tawdry tales of the London Underworld. This time he stays away from locations on his home turf of Brighton. Instead, Walker turns to swanky inner-city Kensington, with its nice vintage, prestige motors ripping round the streets and smoke filled clubs, where men sit around huge ashtrays smoking and drinking whiskey. This all happens while scantily clad women hang out in the background until their “services” are called for. Our hero this time is Moon (Michael Latimer), a bit of a crook by his own admission, who finds himself piggy in the middle between two rival crime lords who both want to get their mitts on 13 million pounds worth of gold bullion. Moon teams up with Angel (Luan Peters) who spends most of her time in the buff (that is when the pair isn’t trying to double cross the double crossing crooks). In a plot that is ridiculously contrived, hard to follow, and not to mention a little bit too long for its own good, Walker stuffs it all in: gun running, strange political coups in foreign countries, casual racism (seventies style), even some gold smuggling hippies who drive the obligatory VW camper van with flowery art work all over it. Gangsters run around with those little stick guns, shooting at each other, but there is very little blood, bar one scene.
The action is hampered by plenty of strung out, meaningless bits of dialogue, and not very much else appears to be going on for large portions of the plot, apart from the odd naked “bird” appearing to smooth things along. As with The Big Switch, and to some extent the later Die Screaming Marianne (1971), the script could really have used some tightening up a bit, as things tend to get unnecessarily complicated. This said, the film carries an unmistakable aura of sixties Britishness and the entertainment value that can be derived from such puerile pleasures of times gone by. On that note, Man of Violence is an important feature in the context of the director’s work and the wider realm of British cinema in general, despite all its obvious flaws.
The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)
Although more flesh and less blood, Walker’s work finally started to hit his stride with his first true horror effort, The Flesh and Blood Show. The tide had already started to turn in his previous effort, Die Screaming Marianne, however, this little number goes for a full on body count in the form of a vicious little British proto-slasher film. The Flesh and Blood Show might not be as grisly as Walker’s later genre-based work, but it does demonstrate a steady progression into the realm of crafting gruesome 70’s horror, a realm in which Walker would become a cult favorite. Not wanting to drop his previous M.O just yet, there is a heavy emphasis on female nudity here rather than the violence—with the nastiness occurring largely off-screen. Walker’s staple cinematographer Peter Jessop builds a certain amount of atmosphere, especially in the way he exploits the creepy old theatre location with all its shadowy corners.
The plot follows theatre director Mike (Ray Brookes) and his young acting troupe who are camping out at a disused theatre on the British coast to rehearse for a show. One by one members of the cast go missing and surprise, surprise, turn up murdered in horrific ways. This all might seem a bit par for the course, but Walker, never being one to take the pedestrian route from A to B, pulls out all the stops to deliver a suitably bonkers ending. Although the film is not a particularly high point for the director, there is a lot more coherence and structure here than previous features, demonstrating a steady progression in his work. [We reviewed the disc as a standalone package when it was first released and you can read more about it here].
Frightmare (1974)Following The Flesh and Blood Show, Walker went on to make House of Whipcord (1974), before hitting back with Frightmare — a film regarded by fans as one of his best works; a dark hearted tale of cannibalistic grannies and a warped family with a satirical sting in its tail. Whipcord is the film with which the director finally found his golden formula, and also the pair with which he made some of his greatest genre pieces: scriptwriter David McGillivray and actress Sheila Keith. However, it is with Frightmare that he was able to refine his craft to precision. Both works saw Walker finally build a name for himself as a bold filmmaker, able to deliver a new, grittier, and nastier British horror to the masses. Walker became something of a maverick who gave big studios like Hammer—who were scrambling around trying to rework their formula to appeal to changing tastes—a run for their money.
Frightmare allowed actress Sheila Keith to take the lead role — the only lead she would play in the 5 roles she was cast in for the director — of Dorothy Yates: tarot reader, tea-maker, little old lady, and murderous cannibal. Freed from a mental asylum with her accomplice, husband Edmund (Rupert Davies), Yates is deemed cured and let out into the community to feast on the flesh of unsuspecting victims once again. The film was shocking for its time, especially with its graphic nature. Keith’s performance as a drill wielding, blood-thirsting maniac is both powerful and chilling, earning the film much acclaim amongst cult horror fans the world over. [We reviewed the disc as a standalone package when it was first released and you can read more about it here].
House of Mortal Sin (1976)By 1976, Pete Walker had yet another trick up his sleeve (just 2 years after Frightmare worked its magic on unsuspecting cinema audiences). This time, with the help of another brilliant McGillivray script, Walker’s satirical prodding and shock tactics were aimed at the Catholic Church. House of Mortal Sin aka The Confessional, follows the homicidal antics of a priest, Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp), who stalks young girls, obsesses over their sex lives, and kills anyone who gets in his way. This time he has turned his attention to poor Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon), after she inadvertently stumbles into his confessional and lets a bit too much slip about her immoral relationship. It is as out there as it sounds and with the top-notch talent of Sheila Keith in the role of Miss Brabazon, Meldrum’s abusive housekeeper, Walker pulls out all the stops to make something of a fine piece within the Britsploitation proto-slasher oeuvre. After all, it’s not every day you get to see death by poisoned communion wafer. [We reviewed the disc as a standalone package when it was first released and you can read more about it here].
Home Before Midnight (1979)Last but not least is Pete Walker’s penultimate film, Home Before Midnight (1979). This film saw a different direction for the filmmaker, into the field of drama — although, being Walker, nothing is ever that straight forward as the film demonstrates. Later, the director would move back into genre fare one last time for his most mainstream edition: the American-produced House of the Long Shadows (1983), which plays out as an ode to classic haunted house horror. But for the seventies, in Home Before Midnight, he had one last offbeat tale to tell that was totally his, and his alone—and boy what a tale it was.
Home Before Midnight‘s story is a simple one: boy (a pop star named Mike Beresford played by James Aubrey) meets girl. Boy, although he has money and loads of groupies ready to throw themselves at him and cater to his every sexual need, just wants to settle down with a nice girl. As luck would happen, he meets such a girl, Ginny Wilshire (Alison Eliott), and the two fall in love. But then it turns out Ginny really is a girl; just 14 years old, and when Mike realizes this he has to decide whether to continue the affair and break the law or break Ginny’s heart (and his own) instead.
Posing some interesting questions to his audience, Pete Walker once again sets about challenging viewers with an uncomfortable topic. The film explores questions revolving around the age of consent and plays out as a kind of inverted morality tale to young men, warning them to watch out for little Lolitas on the prowl. This work often gets overlooked by fans in favour of Walker’s more lurid horror and Sexploitation films, but, despite this and although far from perfect, Home Before Midnight is a fitting end to the decade for the director — who liked to ‘make mischief’ as he is fond of saying in interviews — who leaves the seventies in his own inimitable controversial style. [We reviewed the disc as a standalone package when it was first released and you can read more about it here].
Both the The Big Switch and the Man of Violence restorations were done by the BFI, and are of a kind. They are an absolutely superb feast for the eyes. One is immediately struck by the richness of color and the sharpness of the image, yet there are no signs of artificial edge sharpening. Natural grain is wonderfully even and unobtrusive, and the overall presentation of both films looks very organic, giving the viewer an uncanny impression of watching real celluloid projected on screen. The rest of the films were restored by different hands, with slightly more variable results, which yet never fall below a certain standard. For detailed reviews of each film, please follow the links above to the individual reviews.
All the films are presented with one standard LPCM 2.0 audio track, which does the job admirably, and sounds true to the original film source.
Each disc comes packed with its own associated extras, and you can refer to the individual reviews linked above for details on each one. Both The Big Switch and Man of Violence are also pitched as “extras” or bonuses on this box set—they are exclusive to this set only, and are not available as standalone releases. Those two films had a previous Blu-ray release in the UK via the BFI (and Kino has utilised the same prints here), but, in the US, the only way you are able to see them is by purchasing them as part of the Kino Redemption Pete Walker Collection. In addition to all of the previously released extras, there is an interview with Pete Walker by Elijah Drenner included for this release. Walker is always a joy to watch in an interview, and never one to scrimp on details either. Together with the other additional material available on the set — including some fantastic director commentaries — there is plenty to explore, which is bound to give viewers a greater understanding of the context of the director’s work.
A great way of picking up a stack of Pete Walker titles to add to your Blu-ray collection, Kino/Redemption have packed together a bunch of their previous releases — with the two exclusives — to produce a fine follow-up set to their volume one. An excellent deal for your money, especially if you haven’t yet picked up any of these fine restorations, this is a highly entertaining slab of British horror/exploitation history all in one tasty, action-packed bundle. A must for all fans of retro cult film.