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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Crime > British > Revenge > Exploitation > Slasher > Killer > Horror > Cult > Assassination Bureau (1969/Paramount/Arrow)/Becky (2020/Ronin Flix)/Divide & Conquer (2021/Troma)/Invitation Only (2009/Unearthed Films)/Long Dark Trail (2022/Cleopatra/all MVD Blu-ray)

Assassination Bureau (1969/Paramount/Arrow)/Becky (2020/Ronin Flix)/Divide & Conquer (2021/Troma)/Invitation Only (2009/Unearthed Films)/Long Dark Trail (2022/Cleopatra/all MVD Blu-ray)

Picture: B/B+/B/B/B- Sound: C+/B+/B/B/B- Extras: B-/B+/B/C+/C+ Films: C+/B/C/C/C

Here's our latest genre films, usually from the horror genre and some with their own special brand of dark comedy...

Basil Dearden's The Assassination Bureau (1969, finished in 1968) is based on an unfinished book by Jack London and was made into this very, very British film. Diana Rigg had just finished her immortal run as Mrs. Emma Peel on one of the greatest TV shows ever made or that ever will be made, The Avengers. Dearden made this in between his massive epic Khartoum and the insanely underrated Roger Moore thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself. Oliver Reed was still a major leading man and with the intelligent gentleman journeyman Dearden at the helm, the film attracted some of the greatest talent in the British film industry.

With the past fo the leads and prowess of the director, one could have hoped this would be a clever, witty, complex and dark thriller working on a higher level. It can be many of those, but overriding it all are two unexpected factors: far more comedy than expected and a style more in tune with children's fantasy films of the time and aged visual effects to go with it. So if you are expecting something like a Bond film, Avengers episode, Hitchcock film, Agatha Christie mystery or The Ipcress File from an earlier era, that is not going to happen much here.

Instead, it opens up more like a Laurel & Hardy film, looking a bit like First Men In The Moon or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or The Great Race and similar last turn-of-the-century films or even the comic 1967 version of Casino Royale. Rigg plays an investigator trying to uncover the secret organization of the title, one that has been around for decades or so, but no one can be sure of specifics because they have been good at hiding things as they bump off rich or powerful people who 'deserve it' or the like.

Telly Savalas is her editor (they're next film would be On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the 1969 Bond film) thinking they could unravel one of the biggest stories of their time if she could get lucky enough. Reed apparently runs the group. She will do all kinds of things and try all kinds of angles to get results, something that once again shows Rigg's unbelievable range. But this is still too comical, no matter how literate, clever or how much talent is here. I always want this film to get better with age, but it plays as a time capsule instead, albeit a beautiful one.

It is just that the comedy seems out of place, making me wonder why they could not have done this on a more serious level and still keep what they were doing going. Besides the amazing costumes, great sets and interesting energy here, the supporting cast is very, very strong and includes Curt Jurgens, Philippe Noriet, Clive Revill, Warren Mitchell, Kenneth Griffith, Vernon Dobtcheff, George Coulouris, (plus all uncredited) a surprise turn by Peter Bowles, Roger Delgado, Jeremy Lloyd, Philip Madoc, Frank Thornton and is narrated by Patrick Allen. Most films could not afford this cast today and that's not even a complete list!

The film was not a huge hit, but has always been a curio and resurfaces on occasion as it does here. With Rigg's recent passing, everything Diana is of interest again and this new special edition is a very welcome addition. Whether the film eventually becomes a cult item, who knows, but it is still something different and all serious film fans should check it out once, when they are in a more comic mood than usual.

Last note and an ironic one. At one point, Coca-Cola wanted to do a tie-in with the film to promote their new diet soda pop drink, one that was a hit at the time and one they just discontinued for good, even after trying to turn it into an energy drink. The promo was for TAB and by coincidence, its spelling happen to be the initials of this film. Well, that even had some odd wit too.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film, yet cannot avoid some bad optical effects and poor matte work. However, after you get through the opening credits, the fidelity kicks in nicely, showing off the intended superior color and the film was issued in 35mm dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints meant to make this look as lavish as possible. British Technicolor did their usually superior work here too.

Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth, A.S.C., (Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Zardoz, A Night To Remember, 300 Spartans, Cabaret, Cromwell) was just coming off the Kubrick epic when he lensed this and when it looks good, it looks good.

Originally a theatrical monophonic release, the soundtrack is only here in lossless PCM 1.0 Mono, but it can be rough a little more often than I would have liked it or it should be, even for a monophonic film of its time. Maybe 2.0 Mono would have helped, but there are rough patches at times and Ron Grainer's music score is a plus, though I wished it were in stereo or used to upgrade the whole film to some kind of stereo. Grainier (The Omega Man, To Sir With Love, TV's The Prisoner, The Theme from Doctor Who (Tom Baker era, et al)) enhances the film as much as possible. Just be careful of volume switching and high playback levels in this case.

Extras include a brand new audio commentary with authors Sean Hogan and Kim Newman, who deliver a very informative one here, Right Film, Wrong Time, a 30-minute appreciation by critic, broadcaster and cultural historian Matthew Sweet, a reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork choices, an Original Theatrical Trailer, Image Gallery and FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated booklet with an essay by Katherine McLaughlin and six mini-reproductions of original lobby cards for the film's original release.

Becky (2020) is a fun modern exploitation revenge thriller similar to the 'kid vs villainous adults' sub-genre. Becky (Lulu Wilson) is a hurt disconnected teen who is grieving over the loss of her mother. She is none too happy when her Dad (Joel McHale) announces that he is getting remarried to a new woman with a young kid. While she goes off to pout in the woods, a band of murderous escaped convicts (lead by Paul Blart himself Kevin James, in a different kind of role for him) attack her family lusting after a key in which Becky is in possession. Becky resorts to extreme violence and unleashes on these baddies with the help of her dog.

The film is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and a lossless, English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo (24bits/48kHz) mixes. The presentation is fine for Blu-ray with nothing too out of place although there would be more detail on an upscaled 2160p disc. The film is shot very well and cut in an interesting and fresh way. I was pretty impressed with the filmmaking style by directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion (Cooties, Bushwick).

Special Features:

Film Introductions from directors Jonathan Millet & Cary Murnion

Two Heads are Better than One: Directing Becky with Jonathan Millet & Cary Murnion

No Laughing Matter with Joel McHale

The Fight of Her Life with Lulu Wilson

Fan Art and Behind-the-Scenes Photo Galleries

and a Feature-Length Audio Commentary with star Lulu Wilson and screenwriters Ruckus and Lane Skye.

Becky is really fun and has a sequel about to be released at the time of this writing. One can hope that future installments have half of the kinetic energy of this offering. Recommended.

From the sultry Mercedes the Muse comes another one of her shot on video independent feminist exploitation film, Divide and Conquer (2021) which is now out on Blu-ray disc from Troma. Produced by Lloyd Kaufman, the brain trust behind The Toxic Avenger and Troma franchises, three women warriors in the fiction world of Tromaville face off against misogynists in a gory, raw, crude, offensive, and out of control way that only a Troma film could offer.

The film stars Irie Divine, Knotty Peah, Mercedes, Lloyd Kaufman, and Vada Callisto.

The film is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec and is purposely shot on video and isn't supposed to be a stellar looking demo disc by any means. The colors are vidid and wide with a 2.35:1 widescreen image and a lossless 5.1 surround sound mix.

Special Features:

Lloyd Kaufman Introduction

Cast & Crew Commentary


The Three Muses Featurette

LA Premiere Q&A Session

Premiere at The Balboa Theatre


and American Cinematheque Honors Troma.

Divide and Conquer is silly and typical forgettable faire from Troma that was clearly created mainly to shock its audience rather than to educate them on anything noteworthy.

From Unearthed Films comes Invitation Only (2009,) with what at first seems like an amazing party, the guests are soon stalked by a relentless slasher killer. The gore-soaked revenge film is pretty entertaining and is from Kevin Ko, one of the creators of Netflix's Incarnation.

The film stars Ray Chang, Maria Ozawa, Julianne Chu, Jerry Chih-Wei Huang, and Lene Lai.

The film is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and audio mixes in Mandarin and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) and PCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz, 24-bit) mixes.

Special Features:

Behind the Scenes

Photo Gallery


and a Reversible Cover.

Invitation Only is an interesting foreign gore soaked offering, but pretty predictable in terms of story and execution.

Lastly, The Long Dark Trail (2022) centers on two disturbed teenagers who escape their abusive father and run into the woods to find their mother, who has joined a vicious cult. Directed by independent filmmakers Kevin Ignatius and Nick Psinakis the film is interestingly shot and has a creepy and unnerving soundtrack. A few creepy moments aside, the film isn't too dissimilar from other cult centered films on the genre. For an independent level, however, the film is an honest effort.

The film stars Trina Campbell, Brady O'Donnell, Carter O'Donnell, and Michael Thyer with Nick Psinakis.

The Long Dark Trail is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with an MPEG-4 AVC codec, a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and a lossy, English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The film is interestingly executed from a visual standpoint, but the creepy soundtrack can be overpowering at times.

Special Features:

Bloopers / BTS

Interview with the Director


and Trailers.

The Long Dark Trail was shot well for its low budget, but feels a bit too unhinged and experimental and is overpowered by its hypnotic electronic soundtrack and undying need to be like the A24 film Midsummar.

- Nicholas Sheffo (Bureau) and James Lockhart



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