Brute (The) AKA The Brute Syndrome (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (6th January 2022).
The Film

In The Brute, Sarah Douglas (Superman II) gives a courageous performance as Diane, a glamorous fashion model trying to escape the brutal blows of her sadistic husband, fearsomely portrayed by Julian Glover (For Your Eyes Only). After a particularly savage attack, Diane leaves to stay with photographer friend Mark (Bruce Robinson, writer and director of Withnail & I) and his girlfriend Carrie (Suzanne Stone). Finding solidarity with other victims at a nearby women’s refuge, she aims to forge a new life alone, but her violent ex-partner is determined to track her down.

Written and directed by Gerry O’Hara (The Pleasure Girls, The Bitch), The Brute is an uncompromising exploitation film which dares to tackle the taboo subject of domestic violence. Unseen since the early days of VHS, The Brute now returns in a worldwide Blu-ray premiere.

Video

Hard edged, gritty, no holds barred portrait of domestic violence and abuse. Not an easy film to like but it's a superb showcase for the acting talent on show, especially Sarah Douglas who gives easily one of her best performances in The Brute and is rarely off screen. I'd also add that Julian Glover is equally superb as the titular human monster, one seriously messed up motherfucker but the show is mainly Douglas'. The supporting cast are all excellent.

The film is - typically for it's era - exploitative with Douglas required to do a fair amount of nudity. Most likely a contractual stipulation from the financial backers for commercial reasons ... this was the '70s after all. I stand to be corrected but I don't think Douglas has ever done nudity since. A difficult role for her and one that she embraced and is very proud of; the abuse her character undergoes (and others) is also graphically displayed with convincing makeup for bruises and wounds. However, the most disturbing bit for me was the scene where Douglas' character puts a wounded rabbit out of it's misery by beheading it with a spade, a scene that hasn't been faked but has no doubt been passed by the BBFC as a clean kill.

Writer-director O'Hara's film struck me as extremely well made but essentially misguided. It's laudable that he researched the subject but his end result is too commercial and exploitative. Commercial in that it sets it's tale of familial abuse in the upper middle class environs with received pronunciation and the focus on exposed female flesh and abuse frequently in conjunction within the same scenes marks it as a work from a bygone era. An exercise that would not be handled in such a way in the #MeToo era.

As befitting the subject matter this slice of (champagne?) life drama has a naturalistic, dark, grainy look that was probably a nightmare for Fidelity in Motion's encoding team. Darker scenes have a fair amount of intended crush. Contrast is lowkey and supportive but detail is present through the filtered haze; although fine detail does suffer, it is true to the 35mm source. This was no doubt a tricky film to transfer and encode and one funded by Powerhouse Films themselves. Scanned in 4K from the OCN and restored in 2K.

My comments apply to both versions of the film which are presented here seamlessly branched and afforded a high bitrate. Both versions of the film have material that is unique so fans will want to check them both out at some point. This is overall a stunning restoration of a difficult source and very filmic. Grain lovers will be like a pig amongst the truffles ('A').

1080/24p / AVC MPEG-4 / BD50 / 1.85:1 / 88:59, 89:44

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

Sound is largely unremarkable but gets the job done with dialogue clear and front and centre. Music is non intrusive and ambiance clear but the track is typical of its era and budget in that it lacks range. However, this is a good as the source allows and gets the job done well. Excellent hard of hearing subtitles are provided ('A-')

Extras

Audio commentary on "The Brute Syndrome" with Sarah Douglas and Kim Newman (91:21*) (2021)

Douglas and Newman have done at least one other commentary together before - the UK special edition of Conan the Destroyer (1984) - and are obviously good friends. Any track with Newman is always worth a listen and he gets much out of Douglas and adds much trivia to the mix himself. Between them they cover the controversies, the difficulties Douglas encountered, her feelings regarding nudity etc. Lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

"Sticks and Stones: Gerry O'Hara on The Brute" 2021 interview (13:22)

New 2021 interview with director O'Hara who's directing career started in 1963 with That Kind of Girl, although he'd entered the industry in his early twenties. We hear about some earlier career experiences but O'Hara mainly focuses on how The Brute came to be, how it was inspired by people he knew and by the work of Erin Pizzey. Presented in 1080p24 1.78:1 with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

UK Theatrical Prologue (0:48)
UK Theatrical Teaser Trailer (0:53)
UK theatrical X-Certificate Trailer (2:41)


All presented in 1080p24. The prologue was originally tacked onto The Brute for it's UK theatrical engagements and looks on a par with the the main restoration (1080p24 1.85:1 with LPCM 2.0 mono sound). The vintage promos are also in 1080p24 1.85:1 LPCM 1.0 sound.

The Brute Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (39 images)

Excellent HD gallery.

"The Sea Can Kill" 1976 short film (26:43)
"This Week in Britain: Erin Pizzey" 1978 excerpt (4:48)


A Naval instructional film about lifeboat safety made by O'Hara for the MOD is presented in 1080p24 1.37:1 with LPCM 1.0 sound. It's in good condition with little or no damage and plenty of well handled grain. Colours are generally good if naturalistic. Black levels are strong but there's a fair mount of crush although the look seems intentional. Contrast is supportive. Between the two we get a fine image with nice range. The news piece on Pizzey is soft and most likely an upscale from standard definition. It's lacking in detail and rather pallid with plenty of minor dirt and damage on the film. Sound on both is limited in range but gets the job done. Sound on this vintage news piece is lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

36-page liner notes booklet by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson, a look at the public response to the film’s controversial screenings, an interview with fight arranger Roberta Gibbs, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Anthony Nield on The Sea Can Kill, and film credits

An excellent hard copy companion to the film setting it in context.

Packaging

Standard clear BD Keepcase.

Overall

Powerhouse Films have resurrected the notorious, long unavailable domestic abuse drama The Brute (1976) for restoration and a mighty fine job they've done for a tricky source that embraces the grainy, hazy side of '70s filmmaking. Image and sound are as good as can be shy of a 4K UHD BD release with a 5.1 upmix made from the sound stems. Extras are solid and choice with a particularly good commentary and interview with the director amongst other goodies. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

The Film: B- Video: A Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: A

 


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