DVD Round-up, 11 April 2011: Rubber, Black Joy, Say Hello to Yesterday and The Fiend

In Quentin Dupieux’s horror/comedy/thriller, Rubber (Optimum Home Entertainment), a tyre called Robert kills people using its “mind”, leaving a trail, quite literally, of blood in its wake.

Why? No reason. Or at least that’s what the sheriff at the start of the film would have us believe as he speaks straight to camera and explains that many great films have elements that make no sense. They just are.

After picking itself up from the dusty ground, the tyre rolls off to encounter various characters, killing almost all of them, as a group of onlookers watch from the distance using binoculars. This audience is us, the viewer, only a heightened version, each aware that they’re only there to see what happens next in the film.

To say much more would not so much spoil the film but rather take away much of the surprise of the simple story. As Robert is a tyre there’s no thought process behind “his” actions, the viewer waiting for him to meet his next obstacle.

The film may look fantastic in the Blu-ray edition, the orange dust suitably thirst inducing, and the humour off-kilter enough to appeal to those who like their horror with a dash of satire, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about Rubber, apart from the premise, that will make you come back again.

Nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes in 1977, Anthony Simmons’ Black Joy (Odeon Entertainment) finally gets the DVD treatment it deserves as a Widescreen edition hits the market.

Opening with the arrival of a Guyanan immigrant, Ben (Trevor Thomas), on UK shores, clutching his cardboard suitcase and braving the streets of Brixton and its opportunistic residents, we’re soon thrust into a world of dubious morals where nobody is who they seem.

Taken under the wing of local conman, Dave (Norman Beaton), who claims to be helping the newbie as he pays him with his own stolen cash, Ben attempts to make an honest living while the all those around him try to look after number one.

Fuelled by a reggae soundtrack, Black Joy is a huge amount of fun throughout. Every aspect of 1970s Britain looks like it needs a scrub down and a fresh lick of paint, while Beaton steals every scene as a character who could almost be a prototype for Arthur Daley.

Thomas holds his own against Beaton’s charm offensive, making Ben sympathetic rather than simple. With support from Floella Benjamin and a host of familiar TV faces, Black Joy is one of the releases of the month.

Romantic comedies are difficult things to pull off, their success dependent on factors such as whether the leads have a rapport and whether the story is so heightened that it becomes an escapist fantasy or realistic enough to make the audience ache with recognition.

Say Hello to Yesterday (Odeon Entertainment), from 1971, falls somewhere between the cracks of all of the above, Alvin Rakoff and Peter King’s script managing to make the leads, Leonard Whiting and Jean Simmons, neither fun enough to be fantasy figures nor gritty enough to feel genuine.

As the unnamed pair meet one day and start to fall for each other, we soon become aware that he is too clever for his own good and she’s not particularly interesting.  It’s not until near the end of the 91 minute running time that things start to come together, but by this time it’s too late.

Though the film makes 1970s London look good, the script isn’t quite as impressive.

Finally, The Fiend (Odeon Entertainment), from 1972, completes this week’s trio of 1970s films, and brings the quality level back up as a young Tony Beckley wreaks havoc on unsuspecting females who are unlucky enough to get in his way.

Beckley plays Kenny, a repressed man who still lives at home with his mother (Ann Todd) and whose religious fervour has been instilled in him by a local Minister (Patrick Magee).

Tony’s inner fight with his personal demons comes to a head when he gets too close to attractive young women, his desire conflicting with the voices telling him to murder them for their supposed sexual perversions.

Writer Brian Comport, who also scripted Man of Violence and The Asphyx, both of which have appeared on DVD in recent years, has crafted a seedy-yet-compelling drama which may have moments that pander to the dirty mac brigade but which also gives Beckley an opportunity to shine.

Indeed, Beckley is the main reason to watch The Fiend, his performance an occasionally nuanced one, at least when he’s not called on to kill some new female in nasty way.

Magee offers fine support alongside Todd, the sort of woman who would have got on well with Norman Bates’ mum at a coffee morning. Highly recommended.

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