Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
“I warn you that what you’re starting to read is full of loose ends and unanswered questions.” So begins Jack Finney’s 1955 novel The Body Snatchers, and it’s this open-endedness that’s kept filmmakers coming back to the premise, giving it topical new wrinkles. This is the first film adaptation, which made the insidious tale of alien invaders surreptitiously taking over the bodies and brainwashing the minds of people in small-town California a metaphor for communism. Or was it actually a metaphor for the groupthink anti-communism of the McCarthy witch-hunts? Finney’s scenario is nothing if not flexible. However you read it though, Don Siegel’s film is one of the crown jewels of paranoid 1950s sci-fi – a panicky nightmare that’s left a long shadow over pop culture.
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
People are disappearing in this placid, eerie thriller from debut director Andreas Fontana. It’s set in Buenos Aires in 1980, during the military dictatorship. Fabrizio Rongione, a familiar face from the films of the Dardenne brothers and Eugène Green, plays a Swiss banker who arrives in the city in the company of his wife, to liaise with his super-rich clients. He’s also looking for his partner, René – a popular colleague who appears to have vanished without trace. Arriving in cinemas after it played at the London Film Festival earlier this month, Azor must be among the year’s most assured debuts – controlled, enigmatic and disturbing. It holds us in a chilly grip as it navigates a world of supreme wealth, political violence and gangster capitalism.
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Political paranoia also courses through this startling Australian classic from the late 80s. Here it is perceived through the eyes of the eponymous nine-year-old – a girl growing up in 1950s suburban Melbourne. It’s the era of the red scare, and the fear of communism and a government cull on the rabbit population are twinned terrors that affect her young mind. Then there’s night-time, when her dreams are stalked by the terrifying ‘hobyahs’ she’s read about in school. Ann Turner’s remarkable debut film is as poised between the worlds of nightmare and neighbourhood conformity as Blue Velvet (1986), and as good as something like The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) in showing how everyday scariness can impact upon an impressionable child. It makes its Blu-ray debut this week courtesy of Second Run.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Where’s it on? Selected cinemas nationwide
Fearing another attack from bandits stealing their crops, a farming village enlists the help of seven wandering samurai for protection in this legendary adventure classic. Akira Kurosawa’s 200-minute masterpiece is a saga of breathtaking vision and scope. It revolutionised action filmmaking and fed into the DNA of modern cinema via its influence on Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, George Lucas and almost anyone who’s attempted to depict hand-to-hand combat or the pell-mell of a muddy battle ever since. It’s a film so lionised these days that the only way to break through that carapace of venerability is by watching the thing – for the first time or the umpteenth – and to let Kurosawa throw you into the thick of this medieval world and his commanding storytelling.
Night Tide (1961)
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Friday, 10.45pm, also Amazon Prime and Mubi
Dennis Hopper plays a sailor who falls in love with a woman from a carnival attraction who may or may not be a real mermaid, in this off-Hollywood oddity from the dawn of the 1960s. The setting is Santa Monica, and the dreamy mood is part Roger Corman exploitation flick and part Jean Cocteau fantasy but with a somnambulistic quality that’s steeped in the occult underground cinema of Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger. Director Curtis Harrington was an apprentice of Anger’s and a later collaborator with Orson Welles (he appears in The Other Side of the Wind). His vivid debut feature would end up being distributed by Corman’s American International Pictures on a double bill with The Raven – a pairing that makes a lot of sense given Harrington’s title also comes from Poe.
Originally published: 29 October 2021