Me and You and Everyone We Know... Plus Their Short Films, Too

Alright, after the heart-rending nihilism of Time Of the Wolf, it's time for a complete change of pace. So I'm looking at the feature film debut of Miranda July, 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know. I suppose, at it's core, it's a rom-com. A man and a woman, both struggling to find their niche in the world, eventually discover each other. But it's also got a sort of Altman-ish structure, where the film follows a diverse collection of characters whose stories wind up interconnecting at unexpected intervals. More importantly, though, it's a much more inventive, sensitive, smart film on top of all that.

Update 3/23/15 - 4/30/20: Woot!  We finally have a blu-ray now - and it's in the Criterion Collection?  Nice!
I can see this movie striking people as being too precious at a cursory, superficial glance. Like a Northern Exposure-y series of set pieces saying: isn't it cute how eccentric everybody is. But as quirky as it is, it's not oddness for oddness's sake. And this film's may not be totally innocent of that, but most of the absurdities here are built from a relatable truth, like the agent who insists Miranda mail her tape to the the address they're at, rather than just accepting the tape in person. "But I'm so close," she says to crossed arms. So she devises an impromptu moment, where she's riding down in the same elevator as the agent, and compels him to pick it up. But he still insists on handing it back to her, for her to take it home with her and mail it back to them. It's relatable, it's often clever. It's just good writing.
There are also moments of underage characters exploring their sexuality which will have many viewers facing an art film where they wanted breezy entertainment. There are bits that never quite make it off the ground, and undercooked lines of dialogue like "email wouldn't even exist if it weren't for AIDS." But there are pieces, like the goldfish segment, which is so strong, it could be a perfect, wonderful short film all on its own. There's a segment where the leads are forced to share a moment when they're gluing something together that has to be held the pieces together for 1 to 2 minutes. It's just the little kind of thing that, as a writer, makes me think, I wish I came up with that! And it's got a pretty compelling soundtrack to boot.

Well, so, this is another case where I've got the Region 1 and Region 2 versions to compare, and for the same reasons as Time: they've got unique sets of extras. But in terms of PQ, as of this week, I think we can assume both of them are a little dated, thanks to the brand new blu-ray edition from Criterion.  But you know what they say about assuming, so let's have a proper comparison.
1) 2005 MGM US DVD; 2) 2006 Optimum UK DVD; 3) 2020 US Criterion BD.
The DVD transfers are both excellent and practically identical. Same framing, same colors, no interlacing or ghosting. The cases say 1.85:1, but it's just a little more open, very slightly letterboxed to 1.82:1 on both discs. There's really nothing to complain about or even distinguish between the two discs. There's no blu-ray available of this title, but this movie looks pretty great - top notch for standard definition.
1) 2006 Optimum UK DVD; 2) 2020 US Criterion BD.
There's a blu-ray now!  And, well... it's not a fancy new transfer.  This seems to be the same master MGM used for the DVD fifteen years ago, but considering this film was apparently shot on HDCam, as opposed to film, it's not like there's a negative to go back and re-scan.  Instead of film grain, there's patchwork macro-blocking that may or may not be native to the raw footage... it's the same thing you see on a lot of old blus, so maybe the film would've benefited from going back to the original tapes and re-compressing them with modern software, or maybe not.  We'll never know.  Anyway, this is the first HD release of the film, and dated master or not, it's still heaps clearer and sharper than the old DVDs.  So while it possibly could or couldn't look even better with extensive restoration work, it certainly looks better than anything that's come before; a very welcome upgrade. Plus, one difference: they opened the mattes a bit to 1.78:1, revealing slightly more along the top and bottom of the frame.

The Optimum disc lets you choose between Stereo 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1, while the MGM and Criterion discs just have the 5.1 track.  Considering this is a 2005 film, though, I think it's safe to assume that the 5.1 mix is the original track, so I'm A-OK with that.  Plus, the blu naturally bumps it up to lossless DTS-HD.  Both the MGM and Criterion (but not the Optimum) have optional English subtitles.
 
But here's where things get really interesting... the extras.  On the MGM DVD, there's six deleted scenes, and they're good. They're a bit long, so I can see how they'd mess up the pacing, and consequently why they'd be cut. But they're worth preserving and seeing as deleted scenes. Well, except one, which is just a shorter edit of another deleted scene that's already on disc. That seems excessive; but the rest are all fun and on par with the material that made it into the film. If you're a fan of the film, you'd want to see these, too. There's not much else on it, though. There's a bunch (eight!) of bonus trailers, but not even the trailer for the film itself.

Optimum's DVD, on the other hand, has a good deal more stuff, but disappointingly, is missing the deleted scenes. It's got a nice, in-depth 28 minute interview with July, where she tells the entire story of the film from its inception to changes made in script rewrites and on the set. Then there's 20 minutes of cast and crew interviews, including July again, which are good but a little more promotional and superficial (as in EPK stuff). Finally there's seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, again like Time Of the Wolf; but this time they're speaking English and we can hear what they're saying, which makes the footage more engaging. Finally, there's also a couple (four) bonus trailers and, this time, the actual Me and You and Everyone We Know trailer. Overall, this is fuller, richer special edition; but it's puzzling, and a bit frustrating, that they didn't include the deleted scenes.
But Criterion's is an even richer and fuller special edition.  First of all, it has the deleted scenes.  Well, the five.  That sixth alternate cut of the same scene has been dropped, which is just as well.  And it has the trailer.  And it has a whole bunch of new, exclusive stuff.  First of all, there's a substantial, nearly hour-long retrospective conversation with July and Lena Dunham.  And there's a fun short film July made about a film festival she attended.  Then there's a collection of scenes that July wrote and produced for a sort of pre-vis version of the film, made at the Sundance Director's Lab.  Like an early short version of the film, except it's just loose scenes rather than a complete film.  And those scenes also have optional commentary by July.  Criterion also offers a pretty chunky 44-page full color booklet with notes by Sara Magenheimer and Lauren Groff.  ...And that's just the stuff directly pertaining to Me and You.
1) 2005 VDB US DVD; 2) 2020 Criterion US BD.
There's also a bunch of Miranda July side projects.  There's a short documentary about a short-lived charity-themed art project she organized in the UK.  And there's an interview with her about her Joanie 4 Jackie project, where she curated short films by other female filmmakers.  And four of said shorts (The Slow Escape being a wonderful stand-out).  If that's starting to feel a little too removed for your tastes, they've also included two of July's own short films, as previously seen in her Videoworks DVD collection (for more info about these flicks, see that page).

These were presumably shot on video tape and SD digital, so Criterion's blu isn't much of an upgrade.  For 1998's The Amateurist, you can see they cropped the video noise bar at the bottom and brought down the gamma a smidgen, but it's a very minor distinction.  But 1999's Nest of Tens got cropped considerably, from 1.32:1 to 1.47:1, shaving off a decent bit of vertical picture information.  They've also gone and de-interlaced this one, which is a nice little fix (The Amateurist wasn't interlaced in the first place).
The one bummer is that Criterion didn't port over the Optimum extras.  Admittedly, with the hour+ of July talking about this film they did include, the Optimum interview got rendered a little redundant.  But that disc is the only way to hear from the other cast members, who neither MGM or Criterion sought out, not to mention the bonus behind-the-scenes footage.  But don't get the wrong impression; I'm quite happy overall.  We're finally getting this film in HD, which we've been waiting and waiting for, with a bunch of new treats and the deleted scenes.  The specs in the original announcement left them out, so that was a nice surprise.  But if you're a huge fan, I'd still suggest importing a copy of the UK DVD as an addendum for their special features, too.  I mean, as of this writing, AmazonUK is selling them for thirty cents, so it's not too extravagant an additional expense.
))<>((

Okay, Gang, Let's Go Back... Beyond the Doors

It's time to go beyond all the doors!  The Beyond the Door movies are three unrelated Italian horror films that just so happen to be sequels to each other.  Ones a pretty well made Exorcist knock-off, one's an atmospheric ghost story, and one's about a coven of Yugoslavian witches on a train.  They're all a good time, though; and they do share some coincidental themes.  Thankfully, they also have pretty decent DVD releases.

Update 9/4/15 - 8/23/19: And one of them even has a blu-ray release.  Amazingly, the sequels still don't, but in 2017 Code Red upgraded their DVD to BD.  It's been requested a couple of times, so I just had to include it before I closed out Update Week.  Otherwise, could we really say we went beyond all the doors?  😜

Update 10/27/19: Boy, I never thought Mario Bava's Shock would be the last film in the trilogy to get a high def release, but here we are!  Vinegar Syndrome has just released a fancy Limited Edition blu-ray of Beyond the Door 3, a.k.a. Amok Train!

Update 4/20/20: Surprisingly, Arrow's already giving us another edition of the original Beyond the Door, and they're clearly aiming to make it the definitive, ultimate edition.  And it makes Bava's film even more conspicuous in its HD absence.  But rather than dwelling on what we're missing, let's open our presents!
The original Beyond the Door, released in 1974, is the directorial debut of Ovidio G. Assonitis, who also directed a couple other films we've looked at here on DVD Exotica: Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women and The Visitor. Like I said, it's a pretty blatant Exorcist rip-off - it's got the head spin gag and everything - but it also goes in some pretty original directions. Where Exorcist was about a mother whose little girl becomes demonically possessed, here the mother is possessed by Satan himself, who actually opens the film by directly addressing the audience. While the bulk of the film focuses on the possession and following in the Exorcist's footsteps, the plot goes off in some different directions towards the end, which I won't spoil, but definitely doesn't march in line with Friedkin's film. I also don't remember him having any scenes with an aggressive nose flutist.
Beyond the Door's pretty well made. It's got high production values, is stylishly shot, and stars two very credible British actors: Juliet Mills and Richard Johnson. It's got some effective sequences, only about half of which are derivative, and it easily out-classes most of the Exorcist clones that popped up around its time. It might strike viewers as boring, as it can get a bit dry in the middle considering so much is entirely "seen it before" stuff; but it's held aloft by the novelty value of some two badly dubbed children who curse like sailors.
Beyond the Door debuted on DVD in Japan, from JVD, which was a pretty nice import. It was widescreen and featured an international cut about ten minutes longer than what had been released on VHS in the US. Unfortunately, it wasn't anamorphic, and the only extra was a trailer. But Code Red took care of that, releasing a loaded special edition in 2008. I used to own the JVD disc, and I think it had the same core transfer, but Code Red made it anamorphic, and like I said, had a bunch of extras. But that's not all. Code Red made a 2-Disc Collector's Edition exclusive for Best Buy with some bonus goodies.  And that was all until 2017, when Code Red reissued the film on blu with a "Brand New 2016 HD Master," bringing us into the HD era.  And now, in 2020, Arrow's come for the crown with their new, 2-disc limited edition BD set.
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2017 Code Red BD; 3) 2020 Arrow BD.
So Code Red's BD starts off correcting the slightly off 1.83:1 of the DVD to a proper 1.85:1, though the newer framing is actually a bit tighter around all four sides.  Film grain on the blu is still a bit light, but generally present and film-like, and it clears away the unfortunate compression artifacts and combing that was present on the DVD.  You can read much more of the lettering on the book behind the kids now in this clearer HD presentation.  The colors have also been re-timed, and overall it's a nice improvement, but at some points, like that first set of shots with Gabriel Lavia crossing the street, I prefer the color timing of the DVD.  But there's no way anyone in their right mind is going to look at that close-up and say, "no thanks, I prefer the standard def version."

Still, Arrow's blu is another healthy stride forward.  Still slightly matted to 1.85:1, this time the framing reveals more around the edges than ever before.  And the grain from this fresh 2k scan from the original negative is no longer light but explicitly captured and rendered.  Fine detail like the kids' hair is similarly restored.  And the colors have been re-timed a third time, this time capturing the best of Code Red's previous worlds.  Whether it's worth double-dipping for is up to you, but this is a distinct and obvious upgrade in PQ.  It's also not the only upgrade Arrow has in store for us here.

All editions use the original English mono audio, but the blu-rays do bump their tracks up to uncompressed DTS-HD (Code Red) and LPCM (Arrow).  Arrow, however, is the first to add optional English subtitles to their release.
1) 2008 Code Red bonus DVD; 2) 2020 Arrow bonus BD.
Before we get into the extras proper, one of the goodies the Best Buy 2-disc set features is the shorter, US theatrical cut, taken from a funky looking, fullscreen (1.32:1) source. There's nothing really exclusive to the US cut, it's basically only missing stuff (including the Satanic nose flute attack!), so this version doesn't have much to offer besides disappointment and very mild curiosity value.  I think it was only included to show off how much better Code Red's main transfer looked.
1) 2020 Arrow uncut BD; 2) 2020 Arrow US edit BD.
Still, for whatever reason (perhaps to justify spreading their release across two discs, though I appreciate the dedication to being completist regardless), Arrow has also thrown the US edit into their set.  And this time, they've used their new 2k remaster, so it looks just as good as the full, uncut version.  Except for in a few minor instances, like this shot above, where they had to use a theatrical print to fill in the gaps (because the uncut version plays the credits over the following scene, which the US edit cuts, so that version plays the credits over this opening).  You can see it looking slightly grungier, greener and a bit more tightly cropped compared to the rest of the film, but it's still 1.85:1 and miles beyond the old Code Red bonus transfer.  And yes, it also has lossless audio and optional subtitles.

Now as far the regular extras, there are two audio commentaries, one with Juliet Mills and a really good one by Ovidio himself. Both have multiple moderators to help things along. There's also a terrific 35 Years Later featurette, which includes interviews with just about everybody and is very engaging. There's also a fun, on camera interview with Richard Johnson, plus the trailer, a TV spot, stills gallery and some bonus trailers. And the first 2500 copies pressed featured a cool looking slip cover, pictured above. The Best Buy edition never came in the slip, but did feature an on-camera interview with Juliet Mills (who was seen on disc 1 in the 35 Years Later featurette), where the focus is on the rest of her career rather than Beyond the Door.
And their blu?  That's got everything from the single-disc DVD, but not the Best Buy exclusive stuff.  The fullscreen, edited version of the film is no loss, but it's a shame they didn't squeeze on Juliet Mills' interview, if only so we don't feel like we're moving backwards when we upgrade.  But if I had to lose one of the old DVD's extras, that would be it.  And for our one step backwards, we get to take two forward, because we also get something new and better: an on-camera interview with co-star Gabriel Lavia, in Italian with dense English subtitles.  He's funny and has some unique anecdotes we haven't heard in the previous extras.  Code Red's blu-ray also includes reversible artwork and a cheesy, illustrated slipcover.
With Arrow's fancy, new release, I was happy to see they included everything from Code Red.  Even the brief intro, the Lavia interview they added to the blu-ray and the extra Mills interview from the Best Buy bonus disc.  So this edition really has everything... including a bunch of new stuff.  First of all, they include a feature-length documentary on Italian Exorcist rip-offs.  The fan boy in me's first thought was that I hope they talk about The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, and yes, they do, though not as in-depth as most of the others.  It's essentially a composite of interviews with some veterans of these films, including of course Assonitis, Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli, Alberto De Martino (1974's The Antichrist), Elena Fusco (1975's Return Of the Exorcist), Giulio Petroni (1978's Obscene Desire), Giuliano Sorgini (Return's composer), Silvia Petroni (script supervisor for Return and Giulio's daughter) and Stella Carnacina (Eerie Midnight).  Also on board are a few Italian filmmakers who didn't make Exorcist rip-offs, but are there to rhapsodize more about the collapse of Italian genre cinema in general, specifically Marcello Avallone, Pupi Avati, Sergio Martino and Luigi Cozzi.  There are a handful of critics to bridge the gaps, but it still feels rather patchwork, elaborating on - or glossing over - films based just on who they could get interviews from.  I also realized after watching this that there actually weren't so many Italian Exorcist rip-offs as one might've guessed, making it a bit of a shallow field to ho.  It's dry, and the whole things gets stuck in a sand trap for a while of just chronicling the professional history of Giulio Petroni.  But for anyone who's a fan of these films, it's still an engaging watch that talks to some interesting filmmakers about some funky films that don't get talked often enough about.

Anyway, you'll probably be more interested in the new features that actually directly pertain to the film at hand (though, to be fair, Beyond the Door was one of the prominent examples discussed in Italy Possessed).  To that end, Arrow has conducted their own interview with Lavia, which has easier to read subtitles than Code Reds, but is audio-only.  So bit of a trade-off there.  And they conduct new, on-camera interviews with Assonitis, cinematographer/ co-writer Piazzoli, composer Franco Micalizzi and camera operator Maurizio Maggi.  So these, combined with the older Code Red extras, give us a pretty thorough examination of Beyond the Door.  They also throw in three more trailers (in addition to the ones Code Red had) and alternate credits sequences with the film's varying titles, plus a radio spot and an extensive stills gallery.  Swag-wise, there's a 60-page full color booklet, a double-sided fold-out poster, six lobby cards, reversible artwork, an Arrow card (mine's for White Fire) and a solid slipbox just like Arrow's other recent limited editions.
Ovidio had nothing to do with 1977's Beyond the Door 2, released on DVD in the US under the title Shock, and has said in interviews that he doesn't approve of the title borrowing. This Beyond the Door is actually the final film by Mario Bava, and it's based on an original script by Dardano Sacchetti and Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, who also got his start directing by shooting a few scenes in this movie. It's the story of a small family who move into a new house, which turns out to be sort of haunted. Everything seems great at first, of course, but we soon learn the father isn't the real father, he's just "mom's new boyfriend," because the real father killed himself years before, in this very house. And somehow that's causing their young son to behave pretty horribly towards his mother, who's having enough problems dealing with flying furniture and visions of the dead.
Unsurprisingly for Bava fans, Beyond 2 is a very well crafted film. It's well shot and full of the the kind of ingenious camera tricks he's known for. It also has a bold score by Goblin and stars Dario Argento's former wife and collaborator, Daria Nicolodi and Ivan Rassimov, who was unforgettable as the devil in The Eerie Midnight Horror Show. And by sheer coincidence, the possessed child in this film is the young actor who played Juliet Mills' son in the first Beyond the Door. He never acted in anything else before or since, just these two movies, and he's definitely not playing the same character. But once again he's badly dubbed and behaving diabolically. In fact, that's this film's greatest weakness or appeal, depending on your attitude. The child is basically this film's Freddy Krueger, but he's so badly dubbed, running around cursing and things, that he's downright comical. Only a really die-hard Bava fan will be able to see past it and take this film seriously as the atmospheric horror it's meant to be. But on the other hand, he's a real hoot (like he was in the first film) if you take it all as camp. But this is a film that wants you to take it very seriously.

There had been a couple underwhelming international DVDs of this title out there for years (i.e. barebones, non-anamorphic), but the first worthwhile release came from Anchor Bay in 2000. This featured a high-end 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and an interview with Lamberto Bava, as well as a couple trailers and this cool insert[right] with the Beyond the Door 2 poster art. Blue Underground re-issued it in 2007 when the rights went to them; but it's the same disc. It also featured English, Italian and French audio tracks, which was great except for one problem: no subtitles! So, unless you're fluent in the other languages, you're still stuck with the English audio. And that's a real shame, because I checked out the other tracks, and the kid is dubbed much better in the other versions. In the US version, he's dubbed by an adult attempting to sound like a little boy, and it comes off as really cheesy; but with the other tracks, you could finally take this film seriously. That's how this film needs to be seen!
I'm actually really surprised, this being the final Bava film and all, that we've yet to see a blu-ray release of this anywhere in the world. The DVD print isn't bad, as far as DVD prints go, but it could still benefit nicely from an HD transfer. That, plus the Italian and English audio options (I could take or leave the French dub; but the kid sounds much better than the American voice actor there, too) with subtitles would be terrific. Interview Daria, get a Tim Lucas commentary... how isn't this a thing already? It's a no-brainer! But, in the meantime, this DVD isn't so bad so long as you're on board for the kids' dubbing. And frankly, if they released a version without the US audio, no sale! As hokey as it is, I'd really miss it; it's become a critical part of the film's history. But we need the Italian version, too.
Anyway, after that, it took another twelve years to get another unconnected sequel. Except the series returned to Ovidio Assonitis. This time he's just the producer, but based on interviews, he seemed to be the driving force behind this project. But his original title for the film was Train, and he says it was the distributors' idea to use the Beyond the Door title, an idea he was against. Because, once again, it has nothing to do with the other movies. Bo Svenson stars in this one, a story of a bunch of American college kids who travel to Yugoslavia and run afoul of a coven of witches who want to sacrifice them all.  The bulk of the film takes place on a runaway train, hence the film's original title.  This movie's from a whole different generation than the first two and feels very different. It's very 80s, less serious but gorier, and much less interested in psychology than kills.  It's got a good look to it, though, and at least someone gets possessed in this, so there's a thematic connection to the other Doors.
It's kind of a dumb movie.  It has dialogue like:

"What is it you love about me?"
"I don't know. Your hair?"

...But it provides ample quantities of everything you'd look for from a film like this.  There's plenty of special effects, exotic locations, action, production values (they got extensive use of that train), and a whole bunch of crazy, entertaining stuff happening at all times.  The cinematography's back to workman-like after the Bava entry, but it's glossy with plenty of interesting stuff in front of the camera, so it still looks pretty impressive.

Now, there had been a cheap Dragon DVD first, but Shriek Show came along and knocked it out of the box in 2008.  A somewhat special edition with a nice, anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer... although, to be honest, the framing looks pretty tight. I wonder if the filmmakers didn't also have 1.85 in mind? That's how Dragon framed it. Anyway, their DVD wasn't even anamorphic, so Shriek Show was easily the one to own regardless.  "Was," that is, because now Vinegar Syndrome's gone and restored this film in HD with a fresh 4k scan of the original negative for a brand new, Limited Edition blu-ray arriving just in time for Halloween.
1) 2008 SS DVD; 2) 2019 VS DVD; 3) 2019 VS BD.
Vinegar Syndrome's limited edition is actually a DVD/ BD combo pack, which is why we've got three sets of shots instead of two.  All three discs are presented in 2.35, but Vinegar Syndrome's discs do pull out to reveal a tiny bit more around the edges.  The colors have been corrected, looking both more genuine and vibrant, and detail is clarified so nicely.  I mean, we're jumping right from a DVD to a brand new 4k scan of a negative in HD, so it's a big leap forward even with Shriek Show's DVD looking as good as it did (one of their rare non-interlaced ones  haha).  I suppose I should point out a weird little detail where the edge of the frame sometimes comes in on the left, effectively giving us a slight black pillarbox on the left-hand side, re-adjusting the AR to about 2.33:1.  That's on the Shriek Show disc, too, though, and is clearly tied to certain shots (in one scene you can watch it appear and disappear as the camera shot/ reverse shots between two characters), so it's how the film was shot.  One could argue that maybe the proper framing would be to crop that edge tight enough, then, that you never see it?  But it's really no big deal; you won't see it unless you have your eye glued to the left edge of the frame the whole time watching for it.  ...Although, now that I've told you guys, maybe you will - sorry!

Both editions feature the stereo mix, which is in lossless DTS-HD on the blu-ray.  The Dragon DVD also offered a German dub, if anyone cares.  And both releases have optional English subtitles for the parts of the film spoken in... Croation?  I think?  But Vinegar Syndrome has taken the extra step of adding an additional option that subtitles the entire film, English and all.  So, to be clear, you can choose between either sub track or none.
Now, one thing Shriek Show's DVD had going for it that still holds weight is its special features.  It wasn't quite a fully loaded special edition, but it had some good stuff.  There's a lengthy and fascinating interview with Assonitis, and another interview with the cinematographer, Adolfo Bartoli. There's also the theatrical trailer, a couple bonus trailers, and an easter egg of an alternate title sequence with the title Amok Train, which is also what's on the case (the on-screen title for both Shriek Show and Vinegar Syndrome is Beyond the Door III).

Disappointingly, VS doesn't carry any of that over, but they have created all new special features.  They have their own interview with Bartoli, plus on-camera interviews with the director (40 minutes long!) and Bo Svenson, who's quite a character.  There's some spicy behind-the-scenes drama for this film (for example, Assonitis apparently fired the director, but then changed his mind), so the new extras are great, but it's a shame to lose that Assonitis interview as a counter-point.  And it's a small thing, but I'm surprised VS neglected the trailer.  They do give you some cool, reversible cover art, though, letting you choose between Amok Train and Beyond the Door 3.  Plus the limited edition (2000 units) comes in a very stylish slipcover that uses the same crazy art as the old laserdisc.  So get the VS for sure, but hang onto your old SS discs, too.
I'm actually surprised none only one two of these films have hit HD yet, since these are some fairly major horror titles, especially in the annals of Italian genre history. But Code Red and Arrow have both taken care of the original, and Vinegar Syndrome's given some sweet justice to the third, so it's only the Bavas' crazy movie about a haunted child in need of a slid blu.  Surely, it's only a matter of time?

M.I.A.: Ken Russell's Mind Bender, The Craziest Film You've Never Seen

1996's Mind Bender is easily one of Ken Russell's most wacked out, batshit films, which, if you're familiar with Russell's complete body of work, is really saying something.  I mean, this movie offers The First Ever Interactive Psychic Experience.  The poster invites viewers to "bring your broken clocks and watches to the theater."  I haven't got any broken clocks or watches to test it, but I'm sure it works.  Or, if it doesn't, that's just because I'm stuck with an ancient, low quality web-rip burned to DVDR because, on home video, I'm afraid it's still quite M.I.A..
And the psychic experience isn't even the looniest part.  This is a very freely adapted biopic about mystifier and paranormalist Uri Geller.  Just to give you a taste of how freely, there's a scene where Geller is driving a stolen army jeep blind, because he's wearing a sensory-deprivation helmet.  His manager and girlfriend help him steer from home by playing with a toy jeep on a map and sending him directions via ESP.  If that's not enough, he's using telekinesis to take out the CIA agents who are chasing him with machine guns.  Everything's going smoothly until his agent is distracted by the family dog, causing Geller to crash and be flown through his front windshield.  Fortunately, he just happened to have been right outside his own home, so he comes crashing through his own picture windows and lands on his couch, next to his childhood friend, who coolly hands him a cigar.  Just like I'm sure it must've happened in real life.
Through all the insanity, Russell does still manage to depict Geller true rise from a small time stage magician in Cyprus to the celebrity illusionist he still is today.  If you've seen Lisztomania, you know just how far Russell has taken his biographical films from his humbly dry BBC documentaries, and to be fair, a lot of what seems to crazy to be true is at least based in actual events.  For example, the CIA really did run tests on Geller in the 70s in attempts to verify and possibly weaponize any mental powers he might actually have.  Read this article in the Washington Post about it.   Sure it says more about our government's gullibility and willingness to burn taxpayers' money than anything about Geller, but it means all the craziness isn't purely spun from Russell's imagination.  And I suspect the over-the-top portrayal Russell gives this material, including his depiction of Geller's abilities as 100% real and very practically effective (at one point he uses his mind to rip somebody out of his limousine and flips him around in the air like a scene from an X-Men movie), is really Russell taking the piss out of what the we've been asked to believe and what many people seemed more than willing to accept.
Or perhaps he's just as happy to buy in as anybody, and this is the natural result of such an outrageous story combined with Russell's unleashed sensibilities.  Geller himself appears in the film at the end, so it's not like the filmmakers were in any kind of adversarial relationship with their subject.  It's also a little tricky to get a read on the film's intentions, because much of the acting is pretty stiff and unnatural.  The guy playing Geller (Ishai Golan) is a relative unknown, and he and his young co-stars often seem to be struggling to get out their lines.  On the other hand, the older end of the cast is considerably more assured, including the one and only Terrance Stamp and Hetty Baynes, who you may remember from Russell's Tales Of Erotica and Lady Chatterley, as well as the 1981 version of Sense and Sensibility.  All together, I'm not saying this is a good film by any traditional standards.  Anyone not wholly prepared for Russell's highly theatrical, cartoonishly camp irreverence, coupled with stiff performances and a ludicrous "true story" are going to be extremely put off.  And even if you're coming in prepared and fully on board, there are still a host of problems that don't tend to plague most of Russell's other works.  But the surrealism and fast paced, good natured spirit of it all leaves a lot for experienced Russell fans to appreciate, if not normies.
Mind Bender has been issued, more than once in fact, on DVD in Germany.  But unfortunately, they only feature the German dub of the film.  All we English-reliant viewers have by way of access to the original, English-language version are US (Republic Pictures) and UK (Buena Vista) VHS releases.  Today, that translates to these bland, fullframe video rips we've been looking at.  But this film did play theatrically in some parts of the world, and it was shot on 35mm, so theoretically there's room for this to look fantastically improved with a proper HD restoration. 
my tired old web-rip.
There's obviously not much reason for delving into the PQ of these screenshots, since they're not from any kind of official release.  But I think it is worth pointing out that this is a 1.33:1 (the German DVDs seem to be 4:3 as well), and look very open matte.  Some shots have miles of empty headroom.  So this film was clearly composed for widescreen.  If anyone were to someday give this film the proper release it deserves [hint, hint], this film would surely look much better in its proper OAR, which would allow viewers to better appreciate this film's qualities and be less distracted by its awkward staginess.  We've missed our chance for a Russell commentary, but an interview with Geller would be just as fascinating; and he might be willing, since he still seems supportive of the film.  He promotes it for streaming on his official site (I checked... it's the same trash transfer) and in his own words, "it's a crazy film but pay attention to the ending!"