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Cult Epics presents
The Fernando Arrabal Collection (Viva la muerte / I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse / The Guernica Tree) (1970)

"Prison. Remember your papa."
- Fando (Mahdi Chaouch) from Viva la muerte

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: November 13, 2005

Stars: Anoek Ferjac, Nuria Espert, Emmanuelle Riva, George Shannon, Mariangela Melato, Bento Urago, Ron Faber
Other Stars: Mahdi Chaouch, Ivan Henriques, Jazia Klibi, Hachemi Marzouk, Francois Chatelet, Cosimo Cinieri, Franco Ressei, Mario Novelli
Director: Fernando Arrabal

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong violent images, nudity, strong sexuality)
Run Time: 04h:37m:00s
Release Date: November 15, 2005
UPC: 881190003695
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+A-C+ B-

DVD Review

What makes a film a cult film? Is it a daring, inconsistent, non-linear narrative structure, or is it a film that takes over-the-top chances with gore effects, and other gross-out imagery? Could it be a picture that features nothing but campy yet catchy music, and costumes that most people wouldn't be caught dead in, but can't get enough of? Well, a cult film can be all of those things, but most of these projects share one thing in common; they just plain aren't going to appeal to the average moviegoer.

Some perfect examples of genuinely good cult films can be found in the new Fernando Arrabal Collection from the aptly named distributor, Cult Epics. Arrabal is a pioneer of this daring style of cinema, with his penchant for such fare dating back to his co-founding of the Panic Movement. This off-the-wall group was founded in Mexico in 1962 by Arrabal, fellow filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) and writer Roland Topor. Taking quite a bit from this theatrical experience, Arrabal turned to filmmaking, and saw his first film, Viva la muerte, hit screens in 1971. This controversial film was followed by the equally compelling I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse in 1973, and then The Guernica Tree in 1975. Cult Epics has boxed up these films for this outstanding new release, which also marks the first time that The Guernica Tree has been available on DVD.

Viva la muerte sets the tone for what we should expect from the rest of the films in this set, as it is an exercise in poignant surrealism. The central character, a young boy named Fando (Mahdi Chaouch) is supposedly at least loosely based on Arrabal as a child, and chronicles his life amid the Spanish political unrest of his era. Fando's father was put to death for opposing the Spanish regime, but his mother has told him that he killed himself. Regardless of what she says, Fando is convinced that his dad is still alive, and vows to find him one day. When he finally finds out the truth behind his father's fate and the part that his mother played in it, Fando's world is turned upside down, and the difference between fantasy and reality is suddenly not as clear as it used to be to him.

Fernando Arrabal establishes himself as a director who isn't afraid to shock his audience, as Viva la muerte is filled with startling scenes featuring graphic sex, violence, and cruelty towards animals that makes some of the Mondo Cane films appear tame. The film is very effective, in the way that it plays with the audience's emotions, changing tones at the drop of a hat, playing perfectly to the strange things that we are constantly seeing on the screen. It has a long shelf life as well, as the multitude of visuals and complex plot devices almost beg for many more than a single viewing.

I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse is Arrabal's second film, and it is also an autobiographical and surreal experience, although it doesn't get as close to his actual life. It is a quite a bit more religious, though, dealing with death in a very deep, philosophical manner, telling the story of Adan (George Shannon), a man who is questioning his place in the world after his overbearing mother shockingly dies. He wanders aimlessly and eventually meets a recluse named Marvel (Hachemi Marzouk), who has strange metaphysical powers. The two eventually fall in love, but their relationship is rocked when they enter back into civilization and encounter the demons of mankind once again.

While this story is completely different, there are more of the same strange images and storytelling techniques as in Muerte. There's even more graphic violence and tons of disturbing images as well. What really sets Crazy Horse apart from Arrabal's other works is it's ending: it is very hard to watch, but when it's all over, you soon realize that it is perfect.

The Guernica Tree is basically the strangest recreation of the Spanish Civil War you're likely to see. It focuses on Count Cerralbo (Bento Urago), an insanely rich man who can't deal with the rising power of the common people of Villa Romero. Of Cerralbo's four sons, only Goya (Ron Faber) is a noble man with enough common sense and dignity to see just how wrong everything his father and this society stand for really is. Goya eventually meets a woman named Vandale (Mariangela Melato), whom he falls in love with. When Goya uncovers Vandale's dark secret, it becomes evident that these two could change the entire landscape of Spain on their own.

This is probably the least interesting of these films, but it still has that "Arrabal feeling" about it. It's not as surreal and challenging, and tells a much more linear story, yet serves as sort of a nice dessert after digesting the mind-altering main course that Viva la muerte and I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse served as.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All three films have anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfers that are excellent. The color scheme is well rendered, and images are very sharp and detailed. Solid blacks and contrast levels are another plus, while shadows are also handled nicely. A bit of grain is present during some of the darker sequences, but most of the dirt and other blemishes have been eliminated.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Each movie has a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, and they suit the material just fine. These old, low-budget films don't offer anything spectacular, audio-wise, but the dialogue is always crisp and clear, and, aside from the occasional hiss, there aren't any annoying flaws.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 56 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview Fernando Arrabal
  2. French Lobby Card Gallery - For Viva La Muerte and The Guernica Tree
  3. German Lobby Card Gallery - For I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse
Extras Review: There are extras on all three of the discs. Viva La Muerte has an interview with Arrabal that was recorded in Paris on June 6, 2002. In this 17-minute talk, the great director covers many topics, including the Panic Movement, the shocking imagery in the film, and how the story ties into his childhood. This disc also has a French lobby card gallery and a trailer for I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse.

The I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse disc contains another interview with Arrabal that seems to have been recorded during the same session in 2002. This one is 14 minutes of discussion about his feelings about society in general, working with the actors in this film, and the evil that is censorship. There's also has a German lobby card gallery, and the trailer for Viva La Muerte.

The Guernica Tree contains a newer interview (2004) with Arrabal, but this time he is standing on the streets of Hollywood, and talking to various unsuspecting passers-by, including people dressed as Spider-Man, The Cat In the Hat, and Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. We also get another French lobby card gallery and the trailer for The Guernica Tree.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

All three films in The Fernando Arrabal Collection are captivating studies of what cult classics are all about. Arrabal was a pioneer in surrealistic cinema and these works are prime examples of how to successfully balance such a unique vision with compelling storytelling. Cult Epics continues to make a name for themselves among independent DVD distributors, and the excellent audio and video transfers and decent extras just might make it the release that finds them firmly entrenched among the elite.


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