What to watch at home in May

A gothic ghost story, a Tokyo love story and a Bob Hoskins classic are among the highlights headed for new editions this month.


Anton Bitel


Anton Bitel provides a look at six titles heading to streaming and physical media releases this month that you should add to the top of your viewing list.

Mansion of the Doomed, dir. Michael Pataki, 1976

After being at the wheel in a car accident that blinds his daughter Nancy (Trish Stewart), Hollywood eye surgeon Dr Leonard Chaney (Richard Basehart) is driven by grief and guilt to abandon his principles in pursuit of living eye donors to drug and abduct for experimental transplants — who are then caged, eyeless, in his suburban home’s cellar.

This was the the first horror film to emerge from Charles Band’s Full Moon Features, and the directorial feature of Michael Pataki, better known as a prolific actor, whose only other directed feature would be the 1977 musical sex comedy Cinderella. Yet this suburban gothic comes with its own fairytale feel, not least because it plays like a reimagining of Georges Franju’s surgical fantasia Eyes Without A Face (1960), updated and inverted. For here the arrogant, obsessive doctor/father, his loyal, loving assistant (Gloria Grahame) and the repeatedly victimised daughter are all present and correct, even if it’s the faces that are without eyes.

Though never actually prosecuted, Pataki’s film was confiscated in the Eighties as a ‘video nasty’, no doubt thanks to increasingly graphic scenes of ocular damage to anticipate those in Bigas Luna’s Anguish (1987) and Maxi Contenti’s The Last Matinee (2020).

Mansion of the Doomed is available on Limited Edition Blu-ray from 6 May via 101 Films

Crimson Peak, dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2015

“Ghosts are real, this much I know,” says Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) in her opening voiceover. Yet later she will say of the supernatural element in her manuscript: “The ghosts are just metaphors.” It is the film’s central ambiguity: Edith sees dead people, but perhaps it is just the vivid imagination of a sensitive woman who lost her beloved mother at a young age, and is now an author of gothic fiction.

The publisher to whom she pitches her work suggests it needs ‘romance’, which del Toro will obligingly provide by having this young American marry the charming English baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Edith moves in with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to their Cumberland mansion, a dilapidated, winterbound edifice sinking into its own blood-red clay foundations, and gradually exposing the madness, perversion and, yes, ghosts hidden within.

As Edith, at the turn of the century, learns to use the past to forge her own writerly future, Del Toro too distils his own pure gothic from a toxic brew of literary and cinematic influences. This is headily sumptuous, seductive filmmaking, beautiful and grotesque, with the best-realised ghosts since del Toro’s own The Devil’s Backbone (2001).

Crimson Peak is available on 4K UHD Blu-ray from 20 May via Arrow

Luminous Woman (Hikaru onna), dir. Shinji Sômai

“It’s windy and surrounded with garbage,” says Sensaku (Keijo Mutô), traversing a junkyard. “This is Tokyo, right?”

Barefoot and bushy-bearded, dressed in a skin vest, and bearing a massive duffel bag to match his hulking frame, Sensaku is an antediluvian mountain man (expressly likened — twice — to King Kong) come from Takinoue on the island of Hokkaido in search of his fiancée Kuriko (Narumi Yasuda) who, while studying accountancy in the capital, has drifted into vice and addiction. Sensaku too will quickly be drawn into the capital’s netherworld, wrestling in death matches at the decadent club Giaconda run by Shiriuchi (Kei Suma), and spending time with Shiuriuchi’s girlfriend Yoshino (Michiru Akiyoshi).

A one-time singer, Yoshino regains her lost talent in Sensaku’s presence, and something like a romance builds between them. Meanwhile, Shinji Sômai directs his film like one of the operas that Yoshino sings, painting events as baroque, stylised melodrama, and transforming Tokyo into a hell of high and low entertainment. Filling his work with non-professional actors and strange plot turns, Sômai’s slow-burning love story seems to be a plea for a shift from urban modernity’s corrupting effect back to Japan’s older rural values, closer to nature’s rhythms.

Luminous Woman is available on Blu-ray from 20 May via Third Window

The Long Good Friday, dir. John Mackenzie, 1980

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not a politician, I’m a businessman, with a sense of history,” says Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) to the guests assembled on his luxury boat. This day is meant to represent the culmination of a decade’s peacemaking and legitimisation, as the East End gang lord seeks a partnership with visiting American ‘businessman’ Charlie (Eddie Constantine).

Harold is a proud Londoner and patriot with a global vision for England’s future in its transatlantic ‘special relationship’ and in the European Economic Community, but even as he plans to make billions renewing the Docklands, he is wrong-footed by an enemy bombing his associates and his properties, and must get to the bottom of who is behind these attacks before the American mafia walks away from the deal. Yet in taking on the IRA, he may, like the nation he embodies, be punching above his weight.

John Mackenzie’s gangster film offers a panorama of Britain’s shifting place in the world during the Seventies. A Thatcherite avant la lettre, ambitious, upwardly mobile Harold longs for the same classy respectability as his girlfriend Victoria (Helen Mirren), but struggles to shake off the ruthless thuggishness on which he has built his fragile criminal empire.

The Long Good Friday is available on Limited Edition 4K UHD from 27 May via Arrow

A Queen’s Ransom (aka International Assassin, aka E tan qun ying hui), Ting Shan-hsi, 1976

Ting Shan-hsi’s feature opens with news footage from May 1975, as several intersecting realities converged on Hong Kong: a massive influx of refugees from the fall of Vietnam, and a state visit from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.

A series of coincidences will also drive the film’s fictive plots, interwoven into each other as well as into these historical events. Already stretched, the local police catch wind of a plot to assassinate the Queen. A gang of international criminals, led by George (George Lazenby), plans multiple ways of taking out Elizabeth, while some of their number work on a different, secret plot.

Meanwhile, sex worker Jenny (Tien Lie) cooperates with a police detective (Ko Chin-hsiung) after discovering a client is involved in the assassination plot, without realising that she is related by blood to another assassin (Jimmy Wang Yu) – and exiled Burmese princess Maria (Angela Mao) keeps being in the right place at the right time to help thwart criminals with her martial arts skills.

Like Hong Kong’s answer to Fred Zinneman’s The Day of the Jackal (1973), only much more complicated, this makes up for flat characterisation and misfiring comedy with an elaborate narrative and unexpected twists.

A Queen’s Ransom is available on Blu-ray from 27 May via Eureka!

A Band of Assassins (Shinobi no mono), dir. Satsuo Yamamoto, 1962

This is the first of what would become eight features from Daiei Motion Picture Company about the life of semi-legendary sixteenth-century outlaw ninja Ishikawa Goemon (Raizo Ichikawa), with the first three adapted from Tomoyoshi Murayama’s Shinobi no Mono novels (1960-62) — and though made in 1962, it lays out the tropes, techniques and weapons that would characterise all subsequent ninja films.

As ruthless, ailurophilic warlord Oda Nobunaga (Tomisaburô Wakayama) impiously razes temples and massacres monks in his bid for power, the Momochi and rival Fukibayashi Fortresses — both ninja strongholds — vie to assassinate him first. Goemon is Momochi’s most promising young warrior, though he is naïve and lacks the requisite guile of a ninja, making him all too easy for his General, the wily, double-dealing Sandayû (Yûnosuke Itô), to manipulate.

Goemon is the classic reluctant hero, wanting to get out of the ninja game altogether and to settle down with his beloved Maki (Shiho Fujimura), but finding, even as he breaks every rule in the ninja’s strict code, that he is still under Sandayû’s malign control. Yet while Goemon is certainly more kickass than his peers, it is Sandayû’s almost surreally convoluted scheming and subterfuge that keep propelling the plot.

A Band of Assassins is available on Blu-ray as part of the three-film Shinobi boxset from 27 May via Radiance

Published 28 May 2024

Tags: Home Ents

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