Since their launch in 2009, Arrow Video have released over two hundred cult titles, often previously unavailable in the UK or long since deleted, in most cases as vastly superior packages to titillate and satisfy even the most demanding aficionado, restored and remastered from the best sources available and with a wealth of newly created bonus materials, interviews with creators and key personnel specially commissioned for Arrow and often supplemented with archive material, obviating the need to hang on to any earlier editions.
Sometimes unfairly overlooked in discussions of these releases are the accompanying essays which furnish the booklets and the custom artwork which graces the covers, but Arrow have now seen fit to collect twenty of these along with ten new pieces for their first coffee table companion book, the suitably named Cult Cinema, edited by Anthony Nield and with an introduction by High-Rise director Ben Wheatley.
Having previously provided his insight on individual releases, Wheatley and Arrow are a natural fit, and his introduction recalls his first encounters with genre and underground cinema, some of which would later be called “video nasties” before they were labelled and marketed as such, an ignorance of arbitrary borders which has informed his own work which refuses to be categorised and penned in.
Even though the majority of these essays have had their origins in specific releases, this is not to say they are limited to a discussion of the production and themes of those titles. In the opening section, Cult Movies, film critic Tim Lucas examines not only the casting, production design and use of colour in Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher but also considers the history of Edgar Allan Poe’s story on film, the other films of Corman’s Poe sequence and how that defining work of Corman’s vast resume was informed by his own earlier films and reflected in his later output.
Equally celebrated two decades after Corman within the right circles but available only pages later, film critic Alan Jones is in thrall to the distorted perceptions of Dario Argento’s theatrical “über-giallo” Deep Red, a key work in his bloody oeuvre as it marked the director’s first collaborations both with Daria Nicolodi in front of the camera and progressive rock band Goblin on soundtrack.
Film historian Stephen Thrower charts the opportunistic happenstance which led to Lucio Fulci being offered the film which would be released in Italy as Zombi 2, cashing in on the success of George Romero’s first Zombi, better known to international audiences as Dawn of the Dead, much as Fulci’s own film is better recognised as Zombie Flesh Eaters, and also recalls the arrival of the film on British shores where the walking dead were promptly cut down to size by the BBFC.
But Arrow’s releases cover more than just overt horror: Maitland McDonagh performs a forensic analysis of Brian De Palma’s groundbreaking erotic thriller Dressed to Kill while BFI curator Vic Pratt takes a personal approach as he goes on accidental holiday in the company of Withnail and I, recalling how back in the day he had dressed the part as best he could on a student budget before Joe Dante enthusiast (aren’t we all to some degree?) pays a visit to The ‘Burbs.
The section on Cult Directors encompasses Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), David Cronenberg (Videodrome), Tinto Brass (Cheeky), Lloyd Kaufman (Class of Nuke ‘Em High), Wes Craven (The People Under the Stairs) and George Romero (Day of the Dead) while Cult Actors celebrates the contributions of Boris Karloff (The Raven), Hervé Villechaize (Forbidden Zone), Vincent Price (The Pit and the Pendulum), Meiko Kaji (Stray Cat Rock), and Pam Grier (Coffy), household names rubbing shoulders with less familiar faces, as it should be.
The final two sections are broader still and the essays appropriately comprehensive, Cult Genres (Giallo, Spaghetti Western, Canuxploitation, Pornochanchada, Christmas Horror, Food Horror and Empty City Sci-Fi) and Cult Distribution covering video nasties, horror festivals and much more, each of the contributors demonstrating not only the depth of their knowledge but more importantly their connection with and vast enthusiasm for their chosen subjects.
Beautifully presented and illustrated throughout, the danger is not as the tabloid press would once have held, in the depravity explored and the boundaries which are pushed past, but that so thoroughly researched a volume can serve as only a taster which will feed a deeper addiction, one which Arrow and their ilk will be only too happy to feed.