Nick (David Hemmings) is a high-profile political figure who is always travelling from here to there, followed wherever he goes by a swarm of paparazzi. It may well be that he's having an affair with his pretty young aide Alice (Alyson Best) too.

Meanwhile, back at home, his long-suffering but loyal wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan) tends to their plush dwellings and cares for their son Alex (Mark Spain), who has leukaemia. In an early meeting with the family doctor, Sandra is broken when she's told there's nothing more than can be done for her son.

Understandably she wants to make whatever time Alex has remaining special. So when she holds a grand garden party in honour of his birthday and he subsequently asks if she can arrange for the clown that tickled him so to revisit them, she pulls out the stops to make this happen.

And so, the enigmatic Gregory (Robert Powell) enters their lives, and fairly quickly their home. It's quickly established that he's a faith healer and Alex not only enjoys his company, but starts to improve health-wise too. His hair grows back (he's bald at the film's beginning), and his strength improves from spending time with Gregory. The neglected Sandra takes a shine to their new housemate too.

Could this enigmatic figure, who promises to help Nick with his career too, really be a supernatural entity in human guise? Certainly, things begin getting odder around the politician's household, prompting Nick to do a little investigating of his own ...

Directed by Simon Wincer from a screenplay by Everett De Roche, HARLEQUIN is an interesting, ambitious entry into the Ozploitation cycle which had gathered considerable steam at the time (late 70s/early 80s - films such as MAD MAX, PATRICK and THIRST leading the way). The plot moves along at a natural pace, without much seeming to happen during the first half despite the story advancing in agreeable fashion. Wincer doesn't feel the need to fall back on regular set-pieces to keep his audience watching.

With the likes of Powell and Hemmings on board, he doesn't need to. Star power and a decent script keep things ticking over nicely during expositional scenes, as does Gary Hansen's beautiful widescreen cinematography. Brian May's score is a mix of the playful and the disquieting, reminding us from the off that this clown is not to be underestimated.

When Gregory's nature becomes more apparent, the film's ante - and pace - are upped. It's here that the importance of the measured set-up makes more sense, and the impact of what happens in the film's final third is all the greater for it.

Best described as a dark fantasy with rich characters and a keen eye on domestic drama, HARLEQUIN remains an enticing prospect to this day.

HARLEQUIN comes to UK blu-ray via 88 Films.

The film is presented uncut - 95 minutes and 39 seconds in length - and in its original 2.35:1 ratio, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The full 1080p HD transfer is restored from an original negative and housed on this region-free disc as an MPEG4-AVC file. The picture quality is an overall excellent prospect, with strong colours, natural grain and fine filmic texture to speak of. Blacks are stable, flesh tones are accurate, detail is fine. Some scenes are a little softer or faded-looking than others, but these are few and far between. Very occasionally, there's the odd moment of debris (and cigarette burns) in evidence.

English audio is given the LPCM 2.0 Stereo treatment and is an evenly balanced, clean proposition throughout. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable throughout.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection menu, but the film is graced with 8 remote-accessible chapters.

A healthy selection of bonus features begin with an audio commentary track from Wincer and Ginnane. This sounds at first like a cut-and-paste job but works quite well regardless. I've never heard two people give each other so much space on a commentary track - it's quite entrancing to behold. But there is occasional interaction, which reveals they are actually recording the track together. Shot over the course of 36 days, we learn that the film benefitted from a financial contribution from the Australian government and that the casting of Hemmings and Powell improved the film's chances of getting made greatly. Wincer's least favourite part of the film is the montage scene midway through; Mel Gibson auditioned for a small role in the film but Wincer turned him down; how the numerous bird effects were practically achieved. A large portion of this is basically describing what's on the screen, but there's enough trivia squeezed in to make this a worthwhile endeavour.

"Destruction Down Under" is a highly engaging 15-minute featurette in which Kim Newman offers his own thoughts on the Ozploitation genre. He accepts it took some time for the movement to be recognised, and points out key titles along the way - PATRICK, MAD MAX, THE SURVIVOR etc. This is a keenly edited affair, peppered with clips from the main feature along the way.

An archive 6-minute interview with Powell and Hemmings was shot at the time of the film's release and finds the actors relaxing with beverages while a female reporter interviews them for Australian TV. This is an enjoyable, informative and informal piece which I found extremely rewarding.

50 minutes worth of cast and crew interviews follow, all of which were conducted by director Mark Hartley for his 2008 Ozploitation documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. Wincer reveals the marketing strategy behind making genre flicks, and speaks with fond memories about how he got ahead in the business. Producer Antony I Ginnane (who "modelled himself on Roger Corman" according to Wincer), De Roche and actor Gus Mercurio also chip in, with a particular emphasis on HARLEQUIN's genesis. Ginnane insists that the film was his most bankable one, describing it as "a fantastic and massive success". De Roche never liked the film's title; Powell was not his first choice. The editing manner is a little odd here, subjects sometimes being cut-off mid-waffle in a bid to keep the footage relevant, but this is still a most welcome addition to the disc.

The film's original trailer is 98 seconds of blissful, widescreen nonsense.

The first pressing of this release also comes with a colour collectors' booklet containing liner notes which contextualises HARLEQUIN within the annals of the Australian horror genre and in particular studies writer De Roche's illustrious career more closely.

As per usual, 88 Films also garnish their release with reversible double-sided cover artwork and a very attractive slipcase outer packaging.


Review by Stuart Willis

Released by 88 Films