Editor’s Notes: Faust, The Mask, and Applesauce are out on their respective formats November 24th.
Faust (Kino Lorber), directed by F.W. Murnau, based on the play of the same name by Goethe and the play “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe, ranks with Metropolis as one of the greatest achievements of German silent cinema. Gosta Ekman stars as the title alchemist who, struggling with his faith in the midst of a devastating plague, is offered the power to cure and the gift of youth in exchange for his soul. Mephisto (Emil Jannings, The Last Laugh) is seen earlier wagering with an angel (Werner Fettered) that he can destroy the soul of anyone, even the beneficent Prof. Faust. Jannings provides an intense performance which ranges from charming to comical to horrifying.
The deliberate artificiality of the expressionistic set design suggests a netherworld in which the Devil uses his wiles to lure mortals with transitory gratification, knowing that ultimately their souls will be his. The lighting design contributes to an ominous, forbidding atmosphere that elicits chills.
Murnau put his cast through rigorous filming in order to achieve some incredible visuals. In one memorable scene, he had Jannings stand for hours while three powerful fans blew clouds of soot to make his cloak billow twelve feet above his head. Camille Horn, playing the lovely Gretchen, had to endure hours tied to a stake with flames raging around her from 20 burners.
This 1926 work holds up today largely because of its sheer epic nature. With numerous references to Dutch, German and Italian painting, the film reflects painstaking detail and a lavish budget. Faust was Murnau’s last film in Germany before he came to the United States to make Sunrise.
The Blu-ray release contains a digitally restored print in HD from 35-mm archival elements. There are two soundtrack options: a piano score adapted from the 1926 orchestral arrangement by Paul Hensel, and an orchestral score by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Also included is “The Language of Shadows: Faust,” a 53-minute documentary on the making and restoration of Murnau’s film; test footage of Ernst Lubitsch’s abandoned production Marguerite and Faust; and a bonus DVD featuring the alternate 1930 cut of Faust with an original score by Timothy Brock, performed by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra.
The Mask (Kino Lorber) holds the distinction of being not only Canada’s first horror film, but the country’s first 3D film as well. Filmed in Toronto in 1961 on a small budget, the movie was released seven years after the first 3D craze in Hollywood had run its course. Psychiatrist Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens) inherits a bejeweled tribal mask from a suicidal patient and becomes fixated on it. Each time he touches it, a disembodied voice commands him to “put the mask on now,” which he does. This is also the signal for the viewer to put on 3D glasses to see the frightening visions Barnes is subjected to. Barnes continues to explore this terrifying new psychic world even as the mask reveals a latent violence in the doctor’s own nature that threatens those closest to him.
The 3D sequences are creepy, surrealistic nightmares brought to life. Human skulls grow eyeballs, snakes pop out of sockets, women are sacrificed and burned alive, and masked ghouls reach out threateningly. Director Julian Roffman uses the 3D sequences effectively to build suspense and illustrate the deterioration of Barnes’ mind. These segments have a distinctive look designed by montage expert Svalko Vorkapich to be unsettling, otherworldly, and sinister. The movie is in 3D only when Barnes puts on the mask.
The new stereoscopic edition is restored from original 35-millimeter elements and requires a 3D TV, player, and special glasses. The result is excellent and far outshines earlier analglyphic VHS 3D releases that relied on the old red and blue cardboard glasses. Bonus content includes audio commentary, a 20-minute profile of director Julian Roffman; 4 trailers and TV spots; short films by Slavko Vorkapich; and the 3D animated short One Night in Hell.
Applesauce (MPI Home Video), directed by Onur Tukel, concerns a married man who is severely tested after a string of twisted, mysterious and frightening events. Every Tuesday night, radio talk show host Stevie Bricks (Dylan Baker) invites his listeners to call in and share “the worst thing they’ve ever done.” Tonight, high school teacher Ron Welz (Onur Tukel) tells his story. Soon after, someone starts sending him severed body parts. Ron becomes paranoid and then terrified. His life begins to unravel. His marriage begins to fall apart. He has no idea who’s tormenting him. Is it his insolent high school student? His best friend? His own wife? In a city like New York, there are eight million suspects and each one could have a bone to pick with someone like Ron.
Tukel’s portrayal of a teacher quick to offer opinions and concoct viewpoints on the fly is amusing. He fancies himself an intellectual scholar, but lacks the required gravitas. Yet despite some sharp writing and a series of clever one-liners, Applesauce meanders off onto numerous tangents and the characters appear contrived as they banter and bicker among themselves, flippantly discussing serious topics. Tukel constructs his scenes with a comic punchline in mind rather than building them naturally. The movie is reminiscent of a Woody Allen comedy with its New York City location, eccentric characters, and humorous look at male-female relationships, but never really sparkles.
Special features on the unrated Blu-ray release include commentary with director Onur Tukel, deleted scenes, blooper reel, and theatrical trailer.