Friday, March 18, 2016

Review: 'Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion'

Adored for its loving restorations of cult movies and copious supplemental material, Arrow Video is that rare home-video distributer that has earned a cult of its own. That cult is surely the audience for Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion, though the most hardcore Arrow acolytes might find a lot of this book’s essays a little too familiar. That’s because twenty of its thirty pieces were culled from the booklets of Arrow releases such as House of Usher, Deep Red, Coffy, and The ’Burbs. For some readers, that might be a somewhat dodgy premise, especially since Cult Cinema is not inexpensive. For those who don’t snap up every release, Cult Cinema is actually a pretty cool book because it doesn’t always follow the expected DVD-booklet essay formula. That kind of writing is often informative yet dry, cramming the basic history, synopsis, analysis, and legacy into ten pages or so. Some of the essays in Cult Cinema follow that format, but others go for a more personal voice, such as Vic Pratt’s essay on Withnail & I in which he relays his quest to find an overcoat just like the one Richard E. Grant wears in the inebriated comedy classic. David Hayles paints a vivid first-person portrait of Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, while Robin Bougie’s piece about pornochanchada (I’m still not really sure what that is) is written in the adolescent horn-dog voice of a review in an adult video trade mag.

The essays are divided among five topics—films, directors, actors, genres, and distributers—but this format is pretty loose considering that Pratt’s piece on Boris Karloff is more concerned with the slight horror-comedy The Raven in general than the actor’s extremely extensive career and Graham Rae’s one on Nekromantik is filed under “distribution” even though there’s nothing about distribution in it.

Also, because this book is exclusively linked with the select film’s Arrow distributes, a lot of essential cult films and filmmakers— David Lynch, John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Richard O’Brien to name a few— barely get a mention or get shut out of the discussion completely, so don’t throw away those Danny Peary books yet, kids. However, Cult Cinema earns serious points for scoring an introductory essay from the twenty-first century’s most audacious new cult filmmaker, Ben Wheatley. Maybe Cult Cinema Vol. II will include an essay on the psyche-scarring Kill List.

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