As the world continues to move towards consuming media through an increasing number of streaming platforms, there is a niche market for physical media. In the same way that vinyl records sales have increased dramatically over the last several years, there are certain types of people who prefer physical media over digital streams. I am one of them. As a collector, I like to have a physical object that I can put on my shelf and look at. This is so much more satisfying than making a list of digital files on a computer screen. While there certainly is a mountain of movies and television shows available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services, they do not have everything. Classic film lovers will tell you how with few exceptions (including the wonderful Criterion Channel) films older than the 1980s are difficult to find on legitimate streaming services. And for all that is available, rights issues constantly move digital media from one platform to another regularly. Just try and keep up with where the James Bond movies are available to stream, I dare ya!
Recently HBO Max pulled Gone with the Wind from their service (temporarily they say, so they can provide some extra-textural documents placing the film within a historical context). There are multiple sites dedicated to informing the viewers which movies are leaving which platform each month. Etc., and so on. The fact is there are always going to be certain films that aren’t going to always be available to stream. Even films that you purchase digitally can be removed without notice. But you know what is always available for your viewing pleasure? Physical media.
I am not alone in my love for physical media. A small but growing number of us have become collectors of DVDs and Blu-rays and there are any number of niche distributors producing really great editions of all kinds of films on physical media. Over the last several years, Arrow Video has become one of the very best boutique Blu-ray distributors. They take odd-ball, low-budget, little-known films and give them Criterion-level Blu-rays complete with new transfers, spiffy looking artwork and loads of extras including audio commentaries, documentaries, interviews, and more. The movies aren’t always great, but the releases are always superb.
Case in point: over the last few months, Arrow Video has released these three films which widely differ in style, production value, budget, and overall quality, yet they were all given top-notch releases like they were the greatest films ever made.
We’ll start with the worst of the bunch. White Fire is a French-American-Turkish-Italian thriller and you’d think at least one of those countries would know something about making a movie, but this one fails in nearly every conceivable way. It is best described as a no-budget take on the John Woo action extravaganza Face/Off without Woo’s brilliance with the camera, or any of Nicola Cage/John Travolta’s charisma, with a weird obsession with incest.
In an undisclosed, vaguely futuristic, quasi-dystopian location, a family is on the run from generic bad guys. The father stays behind, sacrificing himself to buy his wife, daughter, and son more time. The mom gets shot on the beach and just about the time the two kids are gonna get it, they are rescued by a fat guy.
Fast forward twenty years in the future, the siblings, Ingrid (Belinda Maye) and Bo Robert Gintry), have now landed in Istanbul. She works for the evil diamond-mining company. It is the type of place that makes all their employees go through a laser scanner before they leave. If the scan picks up any diamonds, then it is a night of torture for you. It is also the type of company where a pretty girl can go flirt with the boss, “accidentally” leave her bag in his office, then go through the scanner and have the boss-man give you your bag afterward – still full of diamonds.
That doesn’t get Ingrid very far as moments after she’s left the company with her diamonds she’s robbed by some more generic bad guys. Not that this plot point does much for the story as it is forgotten as soon as the White Fire, a giant diamond forged in the Earth’s core – is found when a big tractor thing moves some dirt around, opening the entrance to a long lost cave. The evil boss man keeps it a secret so he can steal the diamond himself. Only trouble is the thing is super radioactive, or something. Unlike actual radiation which radiates outward, the diamond doesn’t hurt anyone standing close to it, but does burn their skin off if they dare touch it.
The siblings find out about the diamond and try to steal it. But first we get Ingrid going for a long, swim in the nude in a very public pool that sits right next to a marina full of boats where anybody could ogle her. This includes her brother who watches her from above, then steals her towel right from out of her arms, then makes lewd comments about how he wishes they weren’t related.
He soon gets his wish as she gets herself killed and Bo manages to find another pretty girl who looks a whole lot like her, and in fact is played by Belinda Maye. He talks the new girl into pretending to be his sister so she can steal the White Fire. But first he talks her into getting plastic surgery at a hippy-dippy all-girl spa so that she looks exactly like her sister. But then he seduces her because what’s a low budget, sci-fi flick without a little incest? Then, finally, he trains her to steal the diamond.
If this wasn’t enough weirdness, good old Fred Williamson shows up as a pimp looking to get his hooker back (that’s Olga, the Ingrid look-alike). To top it all off, the soundtrack is provided by Limelight, a terrible ’80s hair rock band (I’m guessing, I don’t know anything about them other than the songs they perform in this film). And by “soundtrack,” I mean they wrote two songs for the film which are played over and over again.
The Wind (1986) is an actually pretty good horror film from Nico Mastorakis, the guy who brought us Island of Death, Hired to Kill, and The Zero Boys. This one stars Meg Foster as Sian Anderson, a writer of pulp mysteries who decides to spend a few weeks on the Greek island of Monemvasia to write her next novel. Being the off-season, the place is almost completely deserted. She’s welcomed by David MacCallum, a cheery old man who calls her “my dear” and totters on about how the historical society won’t let him put in any electric lights (I mention this because it seems an odd thing to say since there are lots of electric lights in the house, a fact the script calls attention to on several occasions).
Things get dicey when she sees Phil (Wings Hauser), the creepy caretaker burying the old man’s body in a shallow grave right outside her window. He goes a little crazy and what follows is a pretty exciting little cat-and-mouse thriller. The script is a mess and the characters make lots of really dumb decisions. She keeps wandering around the rather large, multi-floored house instead of safely locking herself into a secure room. Though the old man mentioned a closet full of guns, she doesn’t bother finding them until well into the third act (and though the script gives her a line about how she’s only got four bullets, she only shoots three of them).
But Mastorakis direction is effective, the cinematography rather beautiful, and the titular wind is effectively moody. Foster plays her part with just the right amount of strength and vulnerability, and Hauser manages enough crazy to keep things on edge. For a low budget 1980s thriller, it is well worth watching.
One of the things I love about Arrow Video is that while they tend to focus on what the Brits used to call “video nasties,” they periodically throw in something modern and interesting. Why Don’t You Just Die! is a Russian thriller/black comedy from 2018. It is an interesting mix of Pulp Fiction-era Tarantino, early Guy Ritchie, and Run Lola Run era of whatever that guy’s name is that made Run Lola Run (I kid, I kid, everyone knows that was – checks notes – Tom Tykwer). It is stylish, clever, terrifically violent, and really light on an actual story.
Twenty-something Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) knocks on a door with a hammer behind his back. A much older and bulkier Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) answers. We can tell Matvey intends on slamming the hammer into Andrei’s skull but he hesitates. Andrei asks what he’s doing and Matvey says he is the boyfriend of Olya, Andrei’s daughter (Evgeniya Kregzhde). Didn’t she tell she wanted us to meet?
Matvey is welcomed in. The hammer gets tucked into the back of his pants. Tasha (Elena Shevchenko), Olya’s mother, appears and offers tea. Matvey sits down, which pushed the hammer to the floor. Andrei is a corrupt cop and he knows boyfriends of his daughter don’t usually show up hiding hammers in their pants. A fight ensues. A shotgun is fired. Hidden money in the couch explodes. Tables are smashed, walls are knocked in. It ends with Andrei handcuffed to a bathtub pipe with holes drilled into his legs.
Andrei figures he’s some criminal he locked up come back for revenge. We see in a flashback that Olya told him that her father raped her as a chid and asks him to kill her. Andrei calls over another cop friend. We see in flashbacks just how corrupt they really are. Twists unfold. So does violence. It has style to spare, but very little else.
It reminds me of all those films that came out right after Pulp Fiction became a huge surprise hit. Suddenly everyone was aping Tarantino. Director Kirill Sokolov, in his debut film, at least knows what he’s doing. He uses every stylistic trick he can think of to make a visually arresting (if sometimes a bit too busy) film that’s well worth checking out.
Arrow Video has done their usual bang-up job with these releases. They all come with their usual bonus features including behind-the-scenes footage, full-color booklets with essays on the films, and new interviews with cast and crew. The Wind comes with a brand new HD transfer from a 4K scan of the original negatives, and a complete score from composer Hans Zimmer. White Fire comes with audio commentary, and Why Don’t You Just Die! has a featurette on single-room films.
With production houses like Arrow Video releasing top-notch sets of oddball, low budget, little heard of films, it is truly a great time to be a movie collector.
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