MAGIC, MYTH AND MUTILATION
“Britain’s great unheralded DIY auteur!” declares the blurb for this 10-disc box set. He’s “unheralded” alright – even cult movie connoisseurs may have never heard of Michael J Murphy.
The late director admitted to a “Ready Steady Cook approach”, using whatever was available. This included papier-mâché, cardboard boxes and drapes; actors from the Portsmouth am dram scene; and locations like a scrapyard, a dry ski run, or – judging by the neat grass of the post-apocalypse – parks.
His ’80s output holds the most appeal. “Invitation To Hell”, a short about possession on a farm, achieved some cut-through, but is cringe-inducingly corny. In “The Last Night”, Broadmoor escapees crash an am dram whodunit; think Michael Soavi’s Stagefright, with a much higher moustache count; it’s also faintly Inside No 9.
What you want from cinema’s outsiders is a different point of view, but some of Murphy’s oeuvre recalls New World Pictures fare. Take Death Run, in which waking cryo-sleepers find a postapocalypse populated by bikers in torn T-shirts, girls in suspenders and, er, swans?! Avalon rehashes
Arthurian tropes as a champion, a virgin and a thief travel to the Island of the Dead. The bonkers Atlantis visits an underground kingdom of gladiatorial combat and Soylent Green cannibalism.
Expect faces bisected by the edge of frame, glacial sword fights where wooden blades slide under armpits, mannequin decapitations, countless perms and mullets, and recurring actors. The gimlet-eyed Patrick Olliver stands out, showing enough to suggest that he could have been Britain’s Richard Lynch.
There are another 21 films here, but we’re throwing in the towel. It is possible we’ve skipped a masterpiece… Regardless, claims of “great auteur” status seem inflated. What’s admirable here is the director’s tenacity, not the output; the fact that he just kept going, doing what he loved. His filmmaking family remember him with tremendous affection. That’s Murphy’s true legacy, one which transcends any critical assessment.
Extras A three-part doc (67 minutes) has amusing anecdotes from Murphy and various collaborators. He also gives a tour of his house (11 minutes). Footage of friends delving into the attic after his death, digging out props (22 minutes), proves poignant.
There’s also a horror festival interview (65 minutes), a tribute made after his death (19 minutes), Making Ofs for six films, and commentaries on four of them. Plus: fragments from lost films, outtakes, behind-the-scenes stuff, scripts, bloopers, galleries and much more, including a 120-page book. NB: with some elements lost, eight films are presented in standard definition. Ian Berriman
On selling two films to the Czech Republic, Murphy’s agent expressed surprise: “They usually only buy good films!”