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Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion
Cover

Every home video label that trades in the unusual or offbeat has, at one time or another, been nicknamed "the Criterion of Cult". None are more deserving of that title than Arrow Video, a British label that first officially crossed over to our side of the Atlantic early last year. In much the same way as the Criterion Collection, Arrow's release slate is expansive yet carefully curated. As prolific as they are, averaging a title or two a week, every release very much feels like an event. Where some cult-centric labels are often saddled with whatever dated, low-quality video masters they're handed by a licensor, Arrow funds and oversees the remastering of much of what they release. The results over the past few years have invariably been achingly gorgeous, with a consistency and skilled compression that, frankly, Criterion can't match. The comparisons continue from there -- premium packaging, lavish special editions, striking new artwork -- but one especially noteworthy element that Criterion and Arrow share is the inclusion of essays with their releases. Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion collects twenty standout essays from Arrow's catalog along with ten new pieces, each penned by a seasoned film critic, cult cinema historian, or filmmaker.

Cult Movies

Cult Directors

  • Contract Killer
    Jasper Sharp on Seijun Suzuki
  • Non-Sensory Information
    Caelum Vatnsdal on David Cronenberg
  • Frivolous Tinto
    David Flint on Tinto Brass
  • The Principal of Nuke 'Em High, President of Troma
    David Hayles on Lloyd Kaufman
  • Civilisation Versus the Primitives
    Mike Sutton on Wes Craven (previously unpublished)
  • No More Mysterioso: Horror's Great Sociologist
    John Kenneth Muir on George A. Romero (previously unpublished)

Cult Actors

  • Comedy and Karloff
    Vic Pratt on Boris Karloff
  • Weirder Than Forbidden Zone
    David Hayles on Hervé Villechaize
  • The Importance of Being Vincent
    David Del Valle on Vincent Price (previously unpublished)
  • Unchained Melody
    Tom Mes on Meiko Kaji (previously unpublished)
  • A One-Woman Army
    Cullen Gallagher on Pam Grier

Cult Genres (and Sub-Genres)

  • Blood and Black Gloves
    Michael Mackenzie on the Giallo (previously unpublished)
  • Playful Revisionism
    Pasquale Iannone on the Spaghetti Western (previously unpublished)
  • Snow Job: A Brief History of Canadian Exploitation Cinema
    Paul Corupe on Canuxploitation (previously unpublished)
  • Behind Bars No One Can Hear You Scream!
    Robin Bougie on Pornochanchada
  • You Better Watch Out
    Kim Newman on Christmas Horror
  • Enough Is Never Enough
    Joel Harley on Food Horror
  • Teenage Mutant Comet Zombies
    James Oliver on Empty City Sci-Fi

Cult Distribution

  • The Golden Age of Exploitation
    Robin Bougie on the Early Days of Cult Cinema (previously unpublished)
  • It Came from Super 8!
    Douglas Weir on Super 8
  • High Street Horror
    Michael Brooke on the Video Nasty (previously unpublished)
  • Deviant Wisconsin Romance
    Graham Rae on Horror Festivals, Fanzines and Nekromantik
  • Opening the Floodgates
    Kevin Gilvear on the Asian DVD Explosion (previously unpublished)

Though nearly every chapter bears some connection to an Arrow release, this hardcover collection never loses sight of the fact that it's titled Cult Cinema first and foremost. This is particularly significant to readers outside of the UK. Not a single one of the seven films featured in the "Cult Movies" section has been released by Arrow in the United States, for instance. Its deep dive into seminal genre works and the filmographies of those who brought them to life are by no means limited to Arrow releases either. This sincerely is a companion, not a catalog masquerading as a coffee table book.

Reflecting Arrow's eclectic release slate, Cult Cinema is impressively expansive in scope. Its interests aren't confined by borders, delving into everything from Brazilian softcore to Japanese Pinky Violence to Italian gialli to the dawn of American exploitation in the 1930s. There's even a chapter on Canuxploitation by the writer who coined the term! The familiar and the obscure are addressed with equal zeal, and even anticipated touchstones are approached from unconventional angles. Most readers would crack open Cult Cinema expecting a chapter on David Cronenberg, for instance, but they likely wouldn't have assumed that "Non-Sensory Information" would overwhelmingly direct its focus towards the filmmaker's experimental, rarely seen works in the 1960s. I appreciate the many different voices and perspectives shared here. There are the scholarly likes of "Blood and Black Gloves", an engaging, insightful, and wonderfully well-researched primer into the giallo film. Some tell complete stories in their own right, such as Tom Mes' journey through the filmography of Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood; Stray Cat Rock) and the actress' complete disinterest in stardom. I especially found myself taken by the essays with a more intensely personal approach, be it Vic Pratt's infectiously fun jaunt through Withnail and I or Kevin Gilvear weaving a story about visiting Ed Gein's grave with Nekromantik director Jörg Buttgereit. Even though great care is taken to place these films in a larger, and often sociocultural, context, not a single one of the lot threatens to read as dry or lifeless.

Cover

No matter which approach a particular writer happens to take, every one of these essays strikes a brilliant balance between being entertaining and genuinely informative. I repeatedly found myself wanting to seek out quite a few films I haven't yet seen and to revisit the ones I have. Only a couple of these pieces didn't quite work for me, such as Maitland McDonagh constantly weaving in and out of tangents throughout her Dressed to Kill analysis, resulting in paragraph-long sentences with semicolons inside parentheticals separated by more semicolons following a colon. I appreciate that Mike Sutton explores a theme recurring throughout Wes Craven's work -- that of supposedly civilized people devolving to overcome a more primal menace -- but his writing doesn't sing in nearly the same way as many of Cult Cinema's other contributors. A couple of segments seem misplaced, most notably "Comedy and Karloff". That's not at all a criticism of Vic Pratt's essay, but it's so overwhelmingly oriented around The Raven that it seems out of place in the "Cult Actors" section. All of that does little to diminish my enthusiasm for Cult Cinema as a whole, particularly the opening pieces by Alan Jones, Tim Lucas, and Stephen Thrower that leave me desperately wishing I could write on that level.

Cult Cinema is immediately striking, from its painted cover art by the legendary Graham Humphreys to the weight of its glossy pages. At first glance, I will confess that the size of the text seemed almost absurdly large, although it didn't feel unusual once I stopped looking and started reading. One curious design decision is that photos spanning the entire width of the page have a white stripe down the middle. This appears to be a deliberate design decision, presumably to maintain a certain columnal symmetry between text and photos. It's certainly not a printing error; narrower images, such as Blu-ray cover art, are not afflicted, nor are section or title pages. It's an unconventional choice that's certainly proven divisive on some of the cult cinema message boards I read, though I can't say it bothered me all that much. More troublesome is unnecessarily aggressive kerning, which is occasionally so tight that lines like "wasasubgenrebelovedofthatnotoriouscheapskate" don't appear to have any spaces between words at all. There were times where I found myself wondering what was a Britishism and what was a typo, although there are undeniably at least a few of the latter that I'm surprised made it past editing.

Admittedly, devoted Arrow fanatics have likely read much of this material before. As someone who'd imported only a handful of the label's releases prior to their arrival stateside last Spring, nearly all of these essays are new to me, and I'd imagine the same holds true for most cult cinema enthusiasts on this side of the Atlantic. Even though the majority of this material has been reprinted, there's still something to be said for collecting this writing in one place rather than having to fetch the booklets from a couple dozen different Blu-ray cases. Yes, its daunting price tag and limited new material are likely to disappoint some. All other things equal, I'd be more likely to put the $47 the book is currently going for on Amazon towards a couple of Arrow's Blu-ray releases instead. Still, I found myself entranced by Cult Cinema's spectacular writing and wonderfully wide scope, offering me new perspectives on films I treasure and introducing me to favorites yet unseen. Highly Recommended.

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