Getting Blu: LIQUID SKY, THE DEVIL INCARNATE and CITY OF THE DEAD

You know what? Sometimes, genre and exploitation movies can be downright depressing; they’re not all joyful celebrations of excess and weirdness. In fact, some flicks can be brutally crushing examinations of how many people want to take those who are different and unique and crush them like insects under the heel of a boot.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Please bear with me.

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release of the 1982 new wave cult classic, Liquid Sky, originally debuted as a Black Friday release in November of last year, celebrating the 200th Vinegar Syndrome release. The special, limited edition version came with a dayglo ink slipcase package designed by Derek Gabryszak, and was limited to 3,000 units. As of Friday, the 4K restoration of the long-unavailable film will be out in a standard version. It has all the bells and whistles with the exception of the slipcase, meaning you get the Slava Tsukerman commentary track, “Liquid Sky Revisited” making-of doc, alternate opening, and tons more.

The extras are amazing. The scan looks gorgeous. The soundtrack fairly blasts through even the most basic of speaker setups. However, as a film, while Liquid Sky looks like a hallucinatory dreamscape of post-punk New York, the storyline is a brutal attack on your mental stability:

“Margaret (Anne Carlisle) is a fashion model with dreams of stardom, whose alter ego and rival, Jimmy (also Carlisle), abuses and takes advantage of her to satisfy his rampant drug addiction. Unknown to them, tiny, invisible aliens have landed on the roof above the squalor in which they live and begin killing anyone Margaret has sex with to feed on their pleasure giving neurotransmitters. All the while, a German scientist attempts to capture and study them.”

That really doesn’t explain the story so well, because it’s not so much as people Margaret has sex with, so much as it is people who rape Margaret. It’s not explicit or shot titillatingly, thankfully, but Tsukerman crafted a story which demonstrates the absolute brutality of the fashion world and the the generally abusive treatment of women, in general.

It’s fucking rough, kids. You get this storyline wherein everyone — save Jimmy’s mother and the German scientist, who get a really nice romantic subplot which seems like it came from another genre entirely — is an absolute monster, performing terrible acts on other awful people. And yet, you can’t look away!

Sequences of melting images and oversaturated color appear during the strangest moments, and characters are shot so closely at times, it’s as if you could smell them. Liquid Sky and its cinematographer, Yuri Neyman, somehow manages to capture the sense I’ve always taken away from visits to New York, which is the constant sensation that you’re always in a very small space and that the presence of others can’t ever be escaped, be it because of sights, sounds, smells, or actual physical touch.

But it’s so fucking fascinating, you just keep watching and feeling awful for doing so, but wondering what in the holy hell is going to end up happening. Then, afterward, you’re like, “Well, I might as well watch all of these extras,” and then the next thing you know, you’re wondering just exactly how great heroin is, because nobody ever seems to be happy doing it — in film or otherwise.

Liquid Sky is available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

Furthering the whole “people are bastards” sentiment comes with the Mondo Macabro release of the Paul Naschy classic, The Devil Incarnate. Also known by its original title, El caminante, the film stars its director and writer as the Devil, incarnate. Obviously. Satan decided he wanted to see how man lived, and so he becomes human and walks the Earth as a man.

“…and no good deed shall go unpunished…’

The action takes place in 16th century Spain. The Devil comes to earth to live as a mere mortal. Together with a human companion, Tomas, he travels, like Don Quixote, through the countryside and has a series of wild encounters with both men and women. On the way he acquires great wealth and even fathers a child. But too late he learns a terrible lesson about we devious humans.

Widely recognised as one of horror star Paul Naschy’s very best films, THE DEVIL INCARNATE is bawdy, shocking, funny and thought provoking. In the spirit of THE DECAMERON or THE CANTERBURY TALES the film presents a parade of human types from the saintly to the downright mean and nasty. But who is worse… the Devil or Mankind?”

The film looks as amazing as a 4K scan of an obscure Spanish film that’s nearly 40 years old can look, but the slightly washed-out look of the picture only lends to the sense that this is a tale being told to the viewer, as opposed to something actually taking place. It’s a hazy memory, essentially. A hazy memory with lots of theft, murder, et al — which all starts out kind of fun, because Naschy’s Devil is a rogue who’s just out for a laugh, but it ends up pretty grim, with him selling his aide, Tomas, to a debaucherous old lech for 50 ducats: “Man is the real evil” sort of stuff, basically. The first half is a blast, but once they hit the brothel, everything gets pretty down.

That is a sentence I never thought I’d write.

It’s shot beautifully, though, and Naschy’s got a certain charisma wherein you can genuinely believe he’s the Devil incarnate. Again, though, The Devil Incarnate is a film wherein it all starts off as kind of a lark, with an odd premise to rope you in, and intriguing characters, but again, once you’ve been roped in by Naschy and company, they really begin to exploit your investment in the film and present you with some really horrendous shit.

Still, it’s resolutely fascinating, and given that far too few Naschy films are available stateside, it’s worth grabbing this to see what the man could do outside of your rather more standard monster films. If you enjoyed Scream Factory’s two collections, here’s your chance to dive more deeply into the creator’s work.

The Devil Incarnate is available on Blu-ray from Diabolik DVD.

It is therefor something of a relief to watch a black and white spooky movie from Britain, starring Christopher Lee. VCI’s limited-edition release of 1960’s The City of the Dead looks far better than I’ve ever seen the film, with crisp images which really bring this Bava-esque terror into high contrast.

“300 Years Old! Human Blood Keeps Them Alive FOREVER!

A college student Nan is researching the history of witchcraft. Taunted by her brother and fiance, who have voiced their concerns, Nan arms herself with resolve and drives to the small New England village of Whitewood. She is glad she was able to count on the support of her professor. A bit anxious but consumed with curiosity, she will soon embark herself on the journey of her life!”

Honestly, the best reason to snag this is if you’ve never seen it, because without getting a region-free player and ordering the Arrow Blu, you’re never going to see The City of the Dead look this good. Given the fact that’s it’s so very atmospheric, anything less renders things murky and hard to make out, which really made the film rather lower on my list of favorites than it might’ve been otherwise.

Getting to see this film as it was intended to be seen really makes all the difference. There’s a commentary with Christopher Lee as one of the disc’s few extras, and he really makes a point of directing the viewer to look at how amazingly well The City of the Dead was shot. Seeing just how deep the field of focus is, and how amazing the clarity is onscreen will really give anyone who’s wondered what the fuss was about something to consider.

And, seriously: that Christopher Lee commentary is worth picking this up. The film’s spooky, and really, he’s barely in it at all, but he has an amazing knowledge of what went on during filming and is a repository of knowledge regarding all aspects of a film he’d made decades before. It’s fascinating, and really quite a treat.

The movie is creepy as hell, but fun in that “English actors playing Amercans” way. The final scenes are some of the most creepy I’ve ever seen, and if you wondered where Tim Burton lifted most of his visual ideas for Sleepy Hollow, look no further. And, unlike the previous two films I’ve discussed, you can walk away from The City of the Dead feeling as if you’ve been entertained, as opposed to having been through an ordeal.

City of the Dead is available on Blu-ray from MVD.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek

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