Saturday, 4 November 2017

2019: After the Fall of New York

Set in the far distant future year of 2019 we find that nuclear war has ravaged the world, and along with it humankind's prospective longevity - mutated female survivors of the holocaust are infertile.  Two political factions compete to find ways to restore mankind's ability to continue its questionable existence, one (that responsible for the bomb in the first place) sending in military personnel to New York's wasteland in search of survivors to genetically experiment with.  The other have more ambitious plans: to locate and retrieve the sole remaining fertile female, also reported to be alive in New York somewhere, before departing Earth altogether for the nearest inhabitable planet in order to restart the population using her eggs as its beginnings.  For this they acquire the skills of a rogue survivor, making a deal with him to get him off the planet too, if he can bring out the female alive.  With new companions he enters the hostile wasteland of New York in search of mankind's final hope.
Initially looking like it's going to be trash cinema of the highest order, 1983's 2019: After the Fall of New York, whilst unavoidably containing elements of cheese, is pretty good in my opinion, and featuring miniature work that's better than I expected.  It should go without saying that Carpenter's Escape from New York is obviously a huge influence on this, although influences appear to have their origins elsewhere in addition: Death Race 2000 helps to give our hero, Parsifal, his backstory, while Ridley Scott with both Blade Runner and Alien presumably kick-started the idea of human helpers turning out to be androids.  The spirit of Mad Max is also omnipresent.  On its own merits director Sergio Martino gifts the viewer a number of gory and gusto-filled setpieces, of particular note being the chaotic tunnel-bound escape from the city through increasingly threatening traps.  Prolific Italian star George Eastman also manages to make an appearance as an untrustworthy half ape/half man (leading a group of mutated individuals who now resemble cast members of Planet of the Apes).  The easily offended PC squad will want to give this a miss, for example the story's leading 'small person' is known as Shorty...  To digress, when the characters were discussing Parsifal's mission to locate the final hope in the shape of a fertile woman, I momentarily mused over the possibility that she could turn out to be obese and thoroughly undesirable, much to the chagrin of those chosen to impregnate her for the sake of the human race.  On the contrary, she of course proves to be a true Sleeping Beauty in the form of Valentine Monnier, albeit ultimately underused.  The final scenes could easily have led to a new science fiction adventure in a sequel that was never to be.

Unseen in Britain for a long time, 88 Films have blessed us with a Blu-ray that presents the film very nicely indeed in HD and widescreen, substantially outclassing the old Media Blasters DVD.  Soundtrack is English stereo (the old DVD also featured a faux 5.1 mix that is not missed here).  In terms of the package, you get - as is common for 88's Italian Collection - a reversible cover with alternative artwork (and title, which omits the '2019' prefix), an insert containing an interview with the director, and on the disc itself filmed interviews totalling forty minutes.  Code Red have put out an edition in the US with alternative extras.  Overall it's nice to see such a good looking edition of the film appear from 88 uncut (as opposed to its videotape incarnation, which was truncated in accordance with the trends of the times) and easily available to British and European audiences.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Ironmaster

Umberto Lenzi, director of classic Euro mayhem such as Nightmare City, Hell's Gate, Eaten Alive, Spasmo, etc., and sadly no longer with us (passing away on October 19th this year at 86), took a swing at the swords and sandals subgenre with Ironmaster in 1983.  Expelled from his tribe, caveman and Italian exploitation regular George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori) wanders into the vicinity of an erupting volcano where he accidentally discovers that solidified volcanic deposit makes a formidable weapon.  Using this to his nefarious advantage, he moves on to asserting control over tribe after tribe with his newfound instigator of fear.  Meanwhile a former tribesman makes efforts to settle a grudge between the two of them.
Clearly a bit lunatic, missing a few bolts and all that, Ironmaster's male cast look mostly ludicrous (and probably help to sell the film to gay audiences, where male flesh, often muscular, is on display in abundance throughout) - a musclebound near-nude male in a loincloth does not look nearly as convincing as an athletic female wearing the same!  Warping a view of history-in-the-making somewhat, there can be elements of entertainment found within, but on the whole the film is lodged firm within its time and place, sitting alongside the likes of the Luigi Cozzi Hercules outings from the same period, albeit with less supernatural goings-on.  I was impressed with the score by Maurizio De Angelis, who produces an effective concoction of The Beyond and folk amongst some other atmospheric stabs that elevate the experience, providing an emotional core that might not otherwise have been present.  He'd created a number of memorable scores elsewhere with the likes of Alien 2 and Mountain of the Cannibal God.

A cheap and cheerful release from 88 Films (part of their Italian Collection), I guess you can't expect a huge amount of work to go into an item expected to sell probably by the hundred.  The image is widescreen, reasonable looking and backed up by English only audio (eschewing the trend of the range, there's no Italian language option).  Contained are both a Blu-ray and DVD, although comparison between the two reveal only modest improvements with the former (still the preferred choice in any case).  The package itself has an essay/insert and reversible cover - both sides feature attractive and quite different artwork.  Once cut on its initial UK video release by 24 seconds by the BBFC, the censorship now on the new disc extends to only 8 seconds (a boar's death).  Not really necessary in this day and age but to be honest I can live without watching a few moments of real-life animal suffering.  A contemporaneous US release by Code Red is uncut and better specified in terms of extras (interviews), however, it will also cost non-US based customers substantially more, so you have to weigh up how important those points are when choosing.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Ejecta

Ejecta (made/released in 2014) is about a mythical blogger obsessed with extra-terrestrial activity and his fanboy companion, who together encounter a threatening lifeform from the stars, the story being intercut with the blogger's subsequent capture by a hostile authoritarian organisation who are willing to torture him to acquire the details of his mysterious experience.

Occasionally an underdog comes along that you've never heard of, turning out to be an undiscovered classic that blows you out of your recliner, leaving you with an inert smile pasted across your face for days.  Unfortunately, it was not this occasion.  Ejecta is science fiction produced on the very cheap, although I would never hold that specific characteristic against a film.  The greater sin that it is thoroughly uninteresting and the viewer may find it difficult to engage with anything that happens on screen.  Odd-looking Julian Richings puts in a reasonable performance as the disturbed blogger, countered by the cringe-worthy take on a nutty woman in charge by Lisa Houle, who appears to be attempting to emulate John Travolta's headcase character performances (which always annoyed me anyway).  There is a lot of dark scenery and plenty of not-particularly-appealing wobbly camerawork no doubt designed to trick the viewer into thinking the production is bigger than a couple of rooms and some woodland, but there will be few who are fooled.  I looked at director Chad Archibald's filmography on IMDb, and aside from The Heretics from 2017, which sounds potentially interesting, there is nothing else much good by him to seek out by the looks of it.
Released by Signature in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray, I viewed the latter to find an average image that probably recreates its digital origins accurately enough, demonstrating multiple aspect ratios intended to reflect different types of footage.  The stereo soundtrack is serviceable and there are, perhaps mercifully, no extras.  If you must buy the film you may as well pick it up on Blu-ray because it's generally as low-priced as the DVD and in fact I bought it for less than most people will have paid for the DVD (it turns up in Poundland occasionally, which is more than its worth).  Better things have emerged from Canada, and this is eighty soul destroying minutes that I have lost forever!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Return of the Living Dead 3

Curt, the son of an army colonel, sneaks with his girlfriend into his father's base to witness tests being conducted on resurrecting the dead for militaristic purposes.  Later on they are both involved in a motorcycle accident, fatal for Julie.  Recalling what he saw at the base, Curt takes the body over to the lab and uses the same techniques to bring life back to the fresh corpse.  The only trouble is, Julie now has a propensity for eating live meat, and perpetually suffers.  Much to the lad's disgust, she finds that the only way of curbing her pain is to actually inflict pain on herself.  The two run into trouble with local thugs and battle ensues between the group as they make their way down into the sewers.

Eschewing the comedy of the first two films, essentially borrowing one or two core elements only, Return of the Living Dead 3 actually proved to be a pretty good film made at the tail end of the prosthetic make-up and gore golden age.  Mindy Clark as Julie puts in quite a fascinating performance of endless suffering mixed with a strange orgasmic response to self-harm (quite a brave theme to tackle, and approached in an unorthodox manner).  In her early twenties at the time, she has mostly moved on to TV work since.  Director Brian Yuzna himself made a number of nice genre entries around the period, including this one, Necronomicon, and Society alongside a moderate sequel to Re-Animator - all worth checking out on Blu-ray.  Of course, in Return there are issues that one has to put to the side (most notably the ease with which Curt is able to sneak into and around the army base, although comment is made early on that security is somewhat lacking), but there are plenty of good set-pieces and surprisingly effective drama along the way.  It also contains a great turn by Sarah Douglas as Colonel Sinclair, who is competing for command of the base and experimental project.
Lionsgate have decided to bless the UK with its Vestron Video range that has recently been pleasing fans in the US.  The Blu-ray package comes in a neat glossy slipcase and features the film (uncut as far as I can tell) in a widescreen ratio with DTS HD MA Stereo sound.  It also includes a commentary and some interviews.  The image quality is okay, but I somehow feel that Lionsgate are palming fans off with an ancient master here, with marginally-better-than-DVD results.  I feel conflicted about it - on one hand it's the best the film has ever looked (aside from any projected screenings back in the 90s no doubt), but on the other we've seen significantly better results from the likes of Arrow when this kind of cult material is re-scanned and mastered properly.  In some respects I guess we can't complain too much because it's better than the film not being released at all.  The audio is clear whilst showing its age and budgetary restrictions, however, I would recommend switching to Pro-Logic if you are watching with a home cinema receiver - the stereo track splits quite nicely, with pleasing rear speaker activity.  In summary, a film that has aged well finally appears in a reasonable HD edition for UK fans to pick up.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Mighty Peking Man

Dating back to 1977, The Mighty Peking Man (AKA Xing Xing Wang) is a King Kong rip-off of the most shameless variety, however, don't condemn it just yet...  Hearing of a giant gorilla that supposedly lives on an Indian island, a group of wealthy Hong Kong businessmen set about capturing it in order to expand their ever-growing fortunes.  For this they acquire the services of a disillusioned, bummed-out anthropologist (Danny Lee), and set off for an adventure to locate the beast.  On the island they first find a scantily clad beauty who was left behind as a baby when her touring parents died.  Somehow she's managed to learn Mandarin in the process, as well as forging a relationship with the mighty gorilla.  She and Danny also develop the hots for one another, and before long the group have captured the ape and chained him to their boat (how they manage this part is conveniently skipped), taking him back to Hong Kong to be put on display like a gargantuan zoo animal.  Naturally, the ape breaks free and causes Godzilla-style havoc in the city.
Closely adhering to the plot of King Kong, the Shaw Brothers make a few changes to the story and process of bringing an oversized animal to the big screen, notably creating the ape by placing a man in a suit on miniature sets for much of the time (instead of time-consuming stop motion effects).  The girl of interest to the ape is not brought to the island either, as she was in the 1933 classic; here she's found almost as if she's a female version of Tarzan, and played by Russian blonde Evelyn Kraft she is almost too perfect for words.  She also possesses the amusing characteristic of not wishing to get clothed up (she does try on a few things on route to Hong Kong but promptly throws them out of the window in favour of her rag bikini!).  The monster gets angry enough to escape when he witnesses someone attempting to rape her (again, that never happened to Fay Wray!) and goes on the rampage that leads up to a climax that apes (apologies...) its inspiration.  The army, appearing with the sole intention of putting an end to all the mayhem regardless of morals, is led by a nasty westerner natch.  Aside from the prolonged frolicking love story element (which bizarrely features Kraft swinging around a leopard on her shoulders at one point), this is an action packed spin on the story, probably better than the 1977 US remake because it's a hell of a lot more fun.

88 Films have put out a dual edition Blu-ray/DVD of The Mighty Peking Man into a reasonably respectable package that preserves its original theatrical ratio in a clean, if a little grainless print.  Comparison between the two discs reveals, surprisingly, almost no difference in terms of raw detail, although contrast is noticeably different.  This may be an older master that's been supplied to 88, as I can't imagine something shot on 35mm in the seventies boasts maxed out detail on standard definition.  However, Blu-ray is not just about picture quality; it still wins out because the DVD is sped up for PAL, and the subtitles on Blu-ray are always more attractive to the eye than the blocky Spectrum-esque characters that plague DVD.  Audio is presented in two options, English or Mandarin (good English subtitles are available), and extras include a commentary by Bey Logan, and booklet that focusses on Danny Lee's cult career (written by Calum Waddell), with a little bit of a look at the film at hand here - apparently the booklet is limited to the initial print run.  The cover is also reversible and packed in a clear case (I actually really like the style of case they've adopted for the Asian Collection, which eschews the standard plastic header in favour of a full size cover).  Probably the best home video release of the movie itself, 88 Films continue to put out cult material of interest in the UK and extend their Asian range with a great addition.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Amuck!

Produced in 1972, Amuck! (AKA Alla Ricerca del Piacere/In Search of Pleasure), this giallo of sorts (really a mystery thriller with strong accent on sexploitation) has sweet but not so innocent Greta acquiring a job as a secretary on an island-bound mansion, where several people are wrapped up in an odd soap opera.  Her ulterior motive is actually to locate her (bisexual) friend Sally, who also worked at the place as a secretary but disappeared under unexplained circumstances.  Greta soon realises that all is not what it seems among the eclectic family.

There's no doubt that most will be enamoured with the near-constant presence of Barbara Bouchet (as Greta), and if that's what you're here for you do get your money's worth!  She looks amazing throughout and is not afraid to show you her physical attributes.  As a double whammy, we're also treated to the contrasting beauty of Rosalba Neri as a sadistic playgirl, while staring-faced Farley Granger, who you may remember from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and Rope, takes on the male lead.  The two lead women were of course known for some decent Euro-horrors/gialli between them throughout the seventies (e.g. Don't Torture A Duckling and Slaughter Hotel respectively), so their dual presence is quite a boon to entertainment value for cult movie fans.  The isolated location is a great idea for both picturesque qualities and the suspense factor, meaning there is plenty to feast one's eyes on during this film.  Where it does fall down a little is in the somewhat languid pace - it could have done with a couple more action or violent sequences here and there to break up the leisurely stroll.  For that reason some viewers may find themselves clock-watching.  On the flipside there is plenty of sex and naked skin, a dreamlike hallucinogenic tendency in places, and the mysterious nature of the characters provides some intrigue.  If you can get over the slow pace it has its rewards.  Admittedly I'm not familiar with Italian director Silvio Amadio's other work, but watching this one does arouse interest in checking his other films out.
Admittedly the releases of 88 Films can vary in quality to some extent, however, I'm very pleased with this Blu-ray.  Restored by boutique label Camera Obscura (for their own non-UK release) the 2.35:1 HD image with generous bitrate is really nice, and looks marvellous on a large screen.  The colours are vibrant, grain is at about the expected level, detail is very good, and damage is kept to a minimum.  The 88 disc features either English or Italian dubs, with optional English subtitles.  Audio via uncompressed LPCM sounds fine (this presumably keeps disc production costs a bit lower than utilising badges such as Dolby or DTS, but the results are as perfect as one can expect for films of this vintage in particular).  It should be noted that the varied music score (composed by Teo Usuelli) on Amuck! is an enjoyable one.

The disc comes with three extras: an excellent 23 minute interview with Barbara Bouchet, who talks candidly about her career generally, and is not afraid to say when she simply doesn't remember making a film.  She seems to have a great personality and looks good considering she's in her seventies.  There's also a 10 minute interview with Rosalba Neri, who conversely claims to remember an awful lot of the time.  The we get a half hour Manchester film festival talk with Bouchet on stage, going over some of the same ground as in the separate interview but captivating nonetheless.  So about an hour of disc-based extras then, which is nice value in my opinion for a film that is not widely known.  On top of that there's a leaflet in the pack with an essay on Bouchet (including some coverage of Amuck!) and the cover is reversible, with an appealing choice of art either way.  A fabulous Blu-ray from 88.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Absurd

One of the notorious 'video nasties' from the early eighties, Absurd (AKA Grim Reaper 2, Horrible, Monster Hunter, etc.) is sometimes considered a sequel of a kind to the equally lurid Anthropophagus, although the two have little in common other than George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori) playing the central role as an inhuman killer, the cause of a number of grisly bloodbaths along the way.  Here the character is on the run from a priest and deemed to be as near to immortal as possible in the sense that his damaged cells regenerate rapidly.  After being hospitalised during the chase his body repairs and he escapes.  A car accident brings him back to the house where (in the opening sequence) he previously attempted to seek sanctuary.  There he reaps bloody havoc on the inhabitants of the house as the Police waste time giving the priest a third degree treatment.

Pretty straightforward plot with hints of a Halloween influence, Aristide Massaccesi/Joe D'Amato's gutmuncher is a little clumsy in places, but aims for the viewer's throat when it comes to the murder setpieces, and lingers over the details in much the same way that Lucio Fulci tended to during his peak.  Annie Belle puts in a particularly convincing turn during the sadistic oven scene, which is pretty hard to watch and compulsive at the same time.  Absurd veers away from the mystical atmosphere of Anthropophagus but replaces it with doses of unique Italian madness to keep the entertainment factor above sea level (for example, there's another bizarre and very amusing kid, whose pitiful tantrum at not having his say on the TV channel really has to be witnessed!).
88 Films funded this Blu-ray restoration through Indiegogo, and the result is very pleasing: the widescreen HD image features a healthy bitrate providing plenty of detail (and grain, though not excessively so) without distracting damage.  This is certainly the best it has ever looked and sounded, and refreshing to see that the film can finally pass through the UK censors without any slicing of the wrong kind going on (it has not really been available in the UK for years).  The BBFC really have nastier things to worry about these days!  There are two versions of the film contained on the disc: the 94 minute English language version, and a shorter Italian language version with optional subtitles.  I watched the former in full, and sampled the latter - they looked about the same in terms of picture quality.

Also on the disc is an entertaining commentary led by the very amiable-sounding Justin Kerswell with his Hysteria Continues friends.  I enjoyed listening to this as there is a balanced mix of information and general observation of a mostly humorous nature.  There are additionally a couple of recently filmed interviews with George Eastman and Michele Soavi (who has a small role in Absurd as a motorbiker who meets an unpleasant fate).

Exclusive to the Indiegogo supporters (although they may have a handful left to sell direct through the 88 store) is a nice quality glossy slipcase.  The main cover of the amaray itself is reversible while there's also a booklet in my edition although I'm uncertain whether that's in the standard release or not as it is touted as 'limited' on the back cover.  The booklet presents an essay on the subject of video nasties; I'm not sure what more can be said about this stuff but if you are relatively new to collecting then it may be considered a concise overview of the phenomenon.  The writing looks at the furore that exploded during the early eighties, as well as its revival in the nineties following the Bulger killing, before going on to encapsulate a very short analysis of each of the thirty nine successfully prosecuted tapes.

A reasonably entertaining film packed into an excellent edition, this is overall an essential release for the horror collector by 88 (part of their Italian range).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Raventale: On A Crystal Swing

Raventale are a band (primarily consisting of Astaroth Merc) from the Ukraine that I serendipitously stumbled across a few months ago, getting into their quite brilliant Dark Substance of Dharma album very quickly.  The particular disc under review here is a reissue of their very first album On A Crystal Swing (to give it the English translation - the actual original language title is На хрустальных качелях), whose recording dates back to 2006.  The reissue, which I've listened to quite a few times now, also contains three demo tracks from 2005.  Stylistically On A Crystal Swing is not hugely different to their more recent aforementioned album, but there is more of an emphasis on a doom-like atmosphere.
Opening with a majestic intro, which begins with the sound of ravens naturally, we are soon drifting into the fairly strong Огнём кромсая небеса, a keyboard driven, black metal odyssey of sorts.  Then the album's longest piece Серой тоской пораскинулся лес, which I have mixed feelings about.  On one hand there are some incredibly powerful segments that pull at the soul with a might not often heard in music, however... the main sequence is repeated so much that it actually drains the power out of it.  At 13 minutes 39 seconds, most of which is repetitive, it becomes way too long.  Hence on current listens I tend to switch forward at about the seven-minute mark.  It's a shame because, as I say, there is some stupendously tormenting material built into this track.

The next track, Небес смолистая чернь, is probably my favourite, again with doom-laden vocals, a beautiful keyboard-constructed string effect overlays majestic guitar riffs against a mid to slow paced rhythm section.  After that is a two-minute break from power chords in the shape of Дождя колыбель, which is a piano instrumental piece again backed by a string effect.  That leads nicely into the solid nine-minute closer, На хрустальных качелях.  As mentioned above, the reissue (pictured) contains three additional tracks at the end, which were not present on the now out-of-print former edition.  These are basically variants (shorter too) of the tracks I've talked about above, and interesting enough in their own right to warrant a place on the collector's shelves.

Whilst not a supreme listen overall, the album strikes me as a very strong debut, symbolising what was to come.  I've since bought all of the Raventale albums, mostly released by underground label Solitude Productions (although this particular one is by Bloodred Distribution).  My intention is to cover all of them over time; in the meantime I'm hoping more music fans discover the skilled beauty of Raventale's refined brand of black metal.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Werewolf Shadow

Sometimes known (more so in the US) as Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman (in reference to its climactic Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man-style showdown) and La Noche de Walpurgis (Night of Walpurgis) in its native Spain, this Waldemar Daninsky outing was the first pairing of horror icons Paul Naschy and León Klimovsky (the latter actually an Argentinian, whose career evolved between the countries).  In classic fashion two doctors foolishly remove the silver bullets embedded in the chest of inert Daninsky, this act reviving him as the werewolf and thus bringing an abrupt end to the lives of the two men present in the morgue.  Later on a couple of nubile students are on a research mission to find the burial site of Countess Wandessa, someone who was killed centuries before and rumoured to be a vampire.  They meet Daninsky, who has set himself up in a lonely castle.  Hitching up at his place for a few days they eventually locate Wandessa, proceeding to pull out the silver dagger that's keeping her in a corpse-like state (despite the fact that they know of the legend).  Wandessa is alive once again and menacing the occupants of the castle, which ultimately leads to a battle between the blood-sucking countess and the werewolf.
A lovely little film from 1971 demonstrating some great atmospheric sequences, particularly once the undead Wandessa appears on the scene - Klimovsky was brilliant at this sort of creepiness despite being quite an old man by the time he made this.  It can be argued that it is overall low on velocity, although underlying this is essentially Naschy's desire to remake Universal's classic monster movies albeit with boobs and blood (who can argue with that concoction?).  As always, Naschy gets the beautiful babe (and there are several to choose from in this picture, including luscious Barbara Capell, who looks even better once she joins the legions of the undead!).  Reportedly Naschy wrote this film but nearly lost out on the main role to a younger, better looking actor.  Thankfully this decision was overturned by the German backers to the film, thus the legacy of the character was granted longevity that really lasts until this day with a number of harder core Spanish horror fans.

Anchor Bay US restored this film to its original Spanish glory in the early part of the Millennium, and this DVD from the legendary but ill-fated BCI Eclipse essentially replicated the earlier disc.  The long out-of-print DVD from BCI presents the film in either Spanish or English (with some Spanish) language plus English subtitles.  The disc also contains the shorter US cut (which some viewers prefer) in a much more battered-looking version.  Incidentally, many actors actually spoke in English while the film was being shot, as it was intended to export this from the beginning.

The main feature on the disc looks okay, with some jagged edges and awful day-for-night photography that surely should have been re-graded?  Otherwise viewed on a decent TV albeit from a distance the standard definition image is certainly passable with some nice colours and contrast.  A new Blu-ray restoration would naturally, as always, be very welcome.  The disc also came in a slipcase-enclosed amaray that contained a booklet with a pretty decent essay about the film and its history on home video.  BCI were a godsend and would truly have more than hailed in the HD collectors era with the many great films they gave life to on DVD.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Hourglass Sanatorium

Or Sanatorium pod Klepsydra as it would have been known in Polish, directed by Wojciech Has.  This will be a hard film to digest for most viewers I would imagine, but I decided to give it a go nonetheless.  The plot is almost impossible to describe, but to attempt a synopsis: a traveller arrives at a dilapidated building where his father has died, or is about to die...  There he is told by a doctor that time operates differently and whilst his father may be dead from where Joseph has travelled, that's not necessarily the case here.  Joseph then proceeds to traverse deeper into a dreamlike world from one strange locale to another, from one odd encounter to the next.

A near overwhelming exercise in surrealist cinema, Hourglass Sanatorium is a film that lives outside of the time (1973) in which it was made.  I have to admit that most of the symbolic imagery goes over my head, and perhaps this composition of subversive ideas is something that academics will revel in.  Despite its long running time (just over two hours) I think it's worth the rest of us sticking with, because the final scenes suggest what's going on with the lost soul of Joseph.  I understand the film is also allegorical of the Jewish plight during the thirties and forties although again I am not knowledgeable enough on such historical matters to appreciate the film in this respect.
What I can say is that the imagery contained within is extremely powerful - the cinematography combined with production design is a monumental achievement all round, with rich and evocative visuals playing on the senses in almost every frame.  The sound design is also notable in its ability to construct atmosphere.  I do hope to revisit the film again with the aim of deciphering its esoteric narrative details.

British company Mr Bongo have recently put the film out on disc, and I picked up the Blu-ray for this viewing.  It is extras-free unfortunately - I say that because often films that don't really need much explanation arrive with plenty of interviews, etc., whereas something that could really do with some insightful exposition comes along with nothing at all.  Then again, it could be said that this might encourage people to interpret the material themselves, though I suspect most contemporary viewers are a little too lazy for that.  The 1.85:1 full HD image on the Blu-ray is exemplary, with enticing detail/chromatics supported by what is likely to be the best possible audio given the era of production (it's here in DTS HD MA 5.1 but the sound really is centred largely at the front).  Audio is Polish language only, with excellent English language subtitles.  As an import option, there is also quite a nice Polish digibook edition which is English-friendly (apart from the bundled Polish booklet) and can be picked up for a reasonable price at time of writing.

One to give a chance if you're feeling brave and experimental - if so, the Blu-ray is the way to go.