04th Sep2017

From VHS to VOD #3

by Phil Wheat


I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I can often spend hours upon hours trawling through iTunes looking for new movies to buy… Usually I’ll randomly come across a title I haven’t seen in years and use the “Cast & Crew” links to make my way down the rabbit hole to the more obscure side of Apple’s digital movie service.

Now whilst many will decry that iTunes is a terrible VOD service due to Apple’s desire to lock its audience to their platforms, if you have an Apple TV or iPad be aware – there are some truly obscure films hidden away in the depths of the vast collection of movies. Some of which have been made available in the UK for the first time since VHS and a LOT that have been added to the service in their original uncut form!

So, with that said here’s highlight some of the best (well, I say best but as always taste is subjective!) obscure and/or uncut films that have made the jump from VHS to VOD here in the UK – complete with links to download and watch.

If you haven’t read the first two entries in this series you can check out the other From VHS to VOD columns here.


Stars: Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey, Leigh Taylor-Young | Written and Directed by Michael Crichton

Only released to DVD in the US and France, Looker hasn’t seen the light of day here in the UK since the early days of VHS. Written and directed by Michael Crichton – who’s more famous these days for penning Jurassic Park – the film stars Albert Finney as a plastic surgeon who uncovers a massive conspiracy, led by James Coburn’s business exec, to clone and replace supermodels: and his patient (played by Susan Dey) is next on the list to be cloned and killed.

Plastic surgeon Larry Roberts performs a series of minor alterations on a group of models who are seeking perfection. The operations are a resounding success. But when someone starts killing his beautiful patients, Dr. Roberts becomes suspicious and starts investigating. What he uncovers are the mysterious – and perhaps murderous – activities of a high-tech computer company called Digital Matrix.

1981’s Looker marked something of a downturn in Michael Crichton’s early career… In the late 70s, after the success of The Andromeda Strain – adapted from his novel of the same name – Crichton was offered not only writing gigs but also a seat in the directors chair, debuting with TV movie Pursuit before hitting it big with mega-hit Westworld (1974); eventually following that with Coma (1978) and The First Great Train Robbery (1978). But that directorial success was short-lived. After Looker, Crichton would only write and direct one more film, the 1984 sci-fi action/adventure Runaway, finally returning to the directors chair for 1989’s Physical Evidence, which was the first film he helmed to not be based on his own screenplay.

Maybe it’s because of the poor reception afforded Looker that the film never made the leap from VHS here in the UK, but for those fans of the film – like myself – you can console yourself with a digital copy of the film. Looker is available to buy/rent now on iTunes and Amazon.

St. Ives

Stars: Charles Bronson, Jacqueline Bisset, John Houseman, Maximilian Schell, Dana Elcar | Written by Barry Beckerman | Directed by J. Lee Thompson

In the 80s J. Lee Thompson and Charles Bronson teamed for a number of films that became some of the chiseled actors biggest hits outside of the Death Wish franchise, including 10 to Midnight and Messenger of Death. However their collaboration actually began in the mid-70s with the film St. Ives.

Produced in the wake of Chinatown‘s success, during a period in Hollywood that saw a myriad of movies trying to cash in on the success of the noir-esque detective film, St. Ives sees Bronson play a crime writer, Raymond St. Ives, who is hired to negotiate the return of a burglar’s latest heist plans – only as he gets closer to solving the case, St. Ives keeps getting framed for murder!

Ex-crime reporter Raymond St. Ives has elegant taste, a yen for gambling and an unfinished novel in his typewriter. When he crosses paths with sinister Oliver Procane, he gets something else: a price on his head. St. Ives is a hard-boiled update of classic mystery thrillers, particularly The Maltese Falcon. Charles Bronson is smoothly right as the clever title character, at odds with petty crooks and high-rollers, among them Maximilian Schell as a whining lackey and Jacqueline Bisset as a modern femme fatale. But the show is stolen by John Houseman as the devilish Procane, a worthy successor to Sydney Greenstreet. Elisha Cook, Daniel J. Travanti, Jeff Goldblum and Robert Englund are also featured in this sleek, funny caper.

Like Looker, St. Ives has been released in both the US and France on DVD, however here in the UK the film never made the transition from VHS to any other format – eventually “debuting” on digital download via iTunes and Amazon.


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