SALAMANDER Frank van Mechelen, director/Arrow Films Such is the English taste for European crime drama in the wake of the all-conquering Scandinavian wave that there was a ready audience for this Belgian thriller when it was shown in 2014. The solidly-made series utilises the familiar ingredients of a bloody-minded copper at odds with his superiors and corruption spreading to the highest echelons of society. In a private Brussels bank, 66 safe-deposit boxes are raided. The owner of the bank wants to keep the thefts under wraps but police inspector Paul Gerardi catches wind of the affair. With his incorruptible, old-school morals and devil-may-care attitude, Gerardi throws himself into the investigation, and when some of the key players are murdered, commit suicide or vanish, soon realises just how big the case is. Gerardi discovers that the victims are members of a secret organisation called Salamander, made up of the country’s industrial, financial, judicial and political elite, and the safe-deposit boxes contained their most intimate secrets – secrets that could bring down the nation. As he becomes the target of both the criminals and the authorities, Gerardi must quickly find out what their agenda is. And who is behind the thefts… Strong stuff. But there are caveats, however; it’s not quite clear how we are supposed to regard this supposedly intelligent protagonist who again and again uncaringly puts his family in danger by his ignore-all-warnings attitude — and (after the Nordic thrillers) there is a paucity of strongly written female characters (although the duplicitous wife of a bent politician makes an impact). But despite its conventional structure, the show undoubtedly possesses qualities which command the attention throughout.
WAKE IN FRIGHT Ted Kotcheff, director/EUREKA BLU-RAY Rescued from destruction, Ted Kotcheff’s lost film is a considerable find. A middle-class schoolteacher, stuck in a government-enforced teaching post in an arid backwater, stops off in the mining town of Bundanyabba on his way home for the Christmas holidays. Discovering a local gambling craze that may grant him the financial independence to move back to Sydney for good, the opportunity proves irresistible. But the bad decisions are just beginning and a reliance on local standards of hospitality in "the Yabba" may take him on a path darker than ever expected. One of director Ted Kotcheff’s most impressive achievements, Wake in Fright simmers with a phantasmagoric nightmare quality and is immeasurably enriched by impeccable performances from Donald Pleasance as an intellectual doctor living in squalor (one of the best of his later films), Gary Bond, Sylvia Kay, and Chips Rafferty in his final role. An uncompromising picture of brutal, sexist Australian masculinity. But the director’s defence (in the extras) that he was not attempting to paint a totally negative picture seems distinctly disingenuous.
THE KILLERS Don Siegel, director/Arrow Films Blu-Ray Arrow Films’ Arrow Academy label has released Don Siegel’s remake of The Killers, on Blu-ray, looking like it was filmed yesterday. One of the first post-noir movies, The Killers is probably best known as the film which was originally intended to be the first TV movie, but pulled by broadcasters due to what was seen as overtly graphic violence, The Killers, most importantly, is the film which established Lee Marvin’s existential cool as cinematically iconic, though his character is pretty loathsome. This disc features an archive interview with director Don Siegel, new and exclusive interviews with Dwayne Epstein, author of ‘Lee Marvin: Point Blank’ and extracts from Siegel’s autobiography.
BLOODY HOMECOMING Brian C Weed, director/ RLJ Entertainment A late entry in the Halloween/Friday the 13th clone stakes, teen slasher Bloody Homecoming utilises all the familiar knife-wielding accoutrements of the genre. But the unfortunately-named director Brian C Weed is no John Carpenter.