• Harlequin (88 Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: October 8th, 2018.
    Director: Simon Wincer
    Cast: David Hemmings, Robert Powell, Carmen Duncan, Broderick Crawford
    Year: 1980
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    Harlequin – Movie Review:

    Also known as Dark Forces, Simon Wincer's Harlequin is an interesting entry in the Australian genre movie catalogue of the early eighties. The film follows a modern-day politician named Senator Nick Rast (David Hemmings) who is one day visited by a stranger named Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) seemingly at random. This visitor has some rather unusual mystical abilities and is able to heal the Senator's sickly son. With that done, he soon casts a spell of sorts over Rast and his entire family.

    Soon, one of Rast's advisors decides he'd like to use the senator for his own reasons. He then starts to feel that eliminating Wolfe would be the best way to make that happen, and soon learns that there's more going on behind the scenes than either he or Rast realize.

    A bizarre mix of rambling theology and mysticism mixed up with modern day political nastiness, Harlequin is an interesting and multi-layered film that will probably alienate as many as it will captivate. It's a genuinely odd film. Not quite a horror movie, not quite a fantasy, it is never the less a truly unique take on the use and abuse of power, both political and otherwise. It isn't as frightening or as intense as it tries very hard to be but it is at least a thought-provoking movie that features impressive performances from both Hemmings and Powell. The picture succeeds in at least making the viewer think for his or herself about what is fantasy and what is reality in the context of the story being told.

    David Hemmings, of The Survivor And Deep Red, does a fine job in the lead role. He plays the conflict that his character is clearly experiencing with believability and he just looks right for the part. Robert Powell, who also acted in The Survivor, is also very good here, playing his mysterious ‘stranger’ role really effectively. Carmen Duncan is fine, cast here as Hemmings’ wife, while an aged Broderick Crawford, of Big House U.S.A. and scores of other TV and film projects, does a nice job as a doctor in the picture.

    The film is well shot and features some nice camera work from cinematographer Gary Hansen. Though the story is very dialogue heavy and the pacing isn't exactly lightning quick, the script from Everette De Roche (of Razorback and Long Weekend fame) holds our attention with no trouble. How much you get out of it will likely depend on your attention span as this is a picture that isn't overly obvious the first time around. Some viewers might feel that a few too many pieces of the puzzle are left missing for the picture's own good, but stick with it and think it through – it’s worthwhile.

    Some of the visual effects haven't aged so well and the film looks like it was made in the era in which it was made (meaning late seventies fashions and styles abound). However, the themes and ideas that the picture plays with still apply today. The quirky score from Brian May, the man behind the music used in Patrick and Road Games, helps add atmosphere and mood when it's utilized properly and the tense moments are good enough that they allow us to overlook some of the hokier aspects of the storyline that don't work quite as well. Ultimately, Harlequin may have some flaws and by an obvious product of its time, but the movie remains a sincerely interesting picture. It is those interesting quirks and ideas coupled with some slick direction and some good performances that make it worth a watch.

    Harlequin – Blu-ray Review:

    88 Films brings Harlequin to Blu-ray properly framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. The image is soft at times, but the film looked like this on DVD too so it’s a pretty safe assumption that this is how it was shot (it does ‘work’ in the context of the story being told). As such, detail doesn’t approach the best that the format can provide but this is quite a satisfying transfer of some iffy source material and quite a nice upgrade in that department. There’s very little print damage to not, the picture is generally very clean, and there’s more depth and texture than standard definition offerings have provided. Colors look very good and black levels are pretty solid as well. Skin tone appear realistic throughout and there’s a welcome filmic look to the whole thing, meaning we get the expected amount of film grain but no obvious digital tinkering like noise reduction or edge enhancement.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is fine, save for a few spots where dialogue can get a little buried in the activity happening onscreen. Otherwise, no issues to note. Levels are generally well-balanced and aside from those aforementioned minor moments, the dialogue is easy to understand. The score sounds solid here too. Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

    Extras start off with an audio commentary track from director Simon Wincer who is joined by producer Anthony Ginnane. The pair discusses the film, its origins and where some of the ideas came from, and of course the great David Hemmings. It's a decent enough track that contains some interesting stories about what it was like to work on the picture and about the state of the Australian film industry at the time that this film was made.

    The featurettes start with Destruction From Down Under: An Ozploitation Retrospective, a sixteen-minute interview with Kim Newman. Here Newman talks about the history of the Australian exploitation boom years, what makes the entries from that country different than those from other countries, the explosion in productivity that happened after Mad Max, some of the faces that are recognizable from these films, the fantasy and magical elements that work their way into a more Ozploitation films than you’d expect (including this one), and then of course his thought on the feature attraction itself.

    Up next is a six-minute archival interview with Robert Powell and David Hemmings conducted for Australian television by a woman who can’t get over who dreamy they are. Here they answer some basic questions about the film, thoughts on the script, the modern politics of the story, the quality of the suspense in the film and more. It’s a little on the fluffy side but it’s neat to see the two men interviewed here.

    There are also fifty-minutes of cast and crew interviews included here with director Simon Wincer, producer Antony I. Ginnane, screenwriter Everett de Roche and actor Gus Mercurio all of which were shot for Not Quite Hollywood. Wincer’s insight here is quite valuable as he discusses for twenty-minutes or so his days in the industry, working for different producers and having to deal with small budgets. He also talks about working with Hemmings and some of his other collaborators, what it was like on set and more. Ginnane then talks the marketability of different productions and how he was focusing, as a producer, on markets outside of his homeland after having success with films like Thirst, Patrick and the Fantasm movies and having to streamline the script a bit for that reason. He also talks about Hemmings’ drinking problem and how that was to deal with during their work together. De Roche talks about what went into writing the film, adapting the Rasputin story and the tricks in bringing that into what was then the modern day and the religious allegories inherent in the film. He talks about his process a bit and how he often starts with a title, and some interesting early casting ideas that never took off. Mercurio talks about how odd the film was in many ways, what it was like on set, collaborating with Hemmings and Robert Powell (who at one point had his pants on backwards) as well as his thoughts on Wincer as a director.

    Rounding out the extras on the Blu-ray disc is the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection options. As to the packaging, if you buy the first pressing of the disc you’ll get an exclusive slipcover. The disc also comes with reversible cover sleeve art and an insert book containing an essay from Calum Waddell entitled Death And Destruction Down Under that puts this cinematic oddity into some cultural context alongside quite a few other Ozploitation efforts of the same era and that provide some background info on the cast and crew.

    Harlequin – The Final Word:

    Harlequin is a genuinely interesting and well-made oddity that makes for compelling viewing - definitely worth checking out. 88 Films’ Blu-ray is a good one, presenting the film in a very nice transfer, with fine audio and with an impressive array of supplements. This is one that’ll grow on you over time, it’s quirky in all the right ways.

    Click on the images below for full sized Harlequin Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Enjoyed your review Ian, Thanks. Never cared to see this one but I'll pick it up for the Kim Newman interview.