This Tuesday, Criterion releases two very different kinds of international ghost stories, each infused with its own haunting local flavor. A Buddhist buffet of otherworldly torments awaits the sinners in Japanese director Nobuo Nakagawa’s gruesome cult classic Jigoku (1960). While in Spanish director Víctor Erice’s quietly devastating Spirit of the Beehive (1973), rolling, sun-soaked Castilian fields conceal the specter of childhood innocence lost. In Jigoku, a college student finds his life turned upside down after a devilish stranger, who seems to know the intimate details of everyone’s secret sins, gets him involved in a fatal hit-and-run. From this single incident spins a crazy parade of vengeance, adultery, incest and mass murder — helped along by Nakagawa’s penchant for discordantly matched sounds and images — until the film’s dozen or so central characters all end up in hell, literally, where the director goes to town illustrating the gorier points of eternal damnation. A delirious and excoriating assault on human weakness and turpitude, Jigoku gives Hieronymus Bosch a run for his infernal money. In the contemplative and hypnotic Spirit of the Beehive, Erice (Quince Tree of the Sun) strikes a decidedly different tone. Set in Spain in 1943, this allegorical film illuminates the horrors of war through the impact of Universal’s Frankenstein on the imaginations of two little girls. When one of the girls discovers a wounded, runaway soldier in an abandoned farm, childhood fantasy collides with reality. Troubled spirits, torn by separation, violence and regret, haunt every dappled frame of this penetrating masterpiece, and Erice puts in the time and attention to pay respects to them all.
Other recommended new releases: Jan Svankmajer: The Ossuary and Other Tales (DVD).
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Also released this week: DVD: Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses; Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.5: Eps. 11-20; Blind Faith: London Hyde Park 1969; Bob Newhart: The Complete Fourth Season; Bonerz; The Boris Karloff Collection; Bottoms Up; Cartoon Network: Halloween Vol. 3: Sweet Sweet Fear; Elvira’s Movie Macabre; Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Seventh Season; Ghost Hunters: Part 2, Season 2; Gilmore Girls: The Complete Sixth Season; Gloomy Sunday; Go, Diego, Go!: Wolf Pup Rescue; Hart to Hart: The Complete Second Season; Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Movie Collection; Jiri Barta: Labyrinth of Darkness; King of Queens: The Complete Sixth Season; La Petite Jerusalem; The Miracle Match; My Name Is Earl: The Complete First Season; Roar: The Complete Series; Scooby-Doo: The Movie/Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed; Serving In Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story; Stick It; Tobe Hooper’s Dance Of The Dead; Too Hot Not To Handle; Winchell; WTC View.