Color, 2018, 91 mins. 22 secs.
Directed by Aaron Schimberg
Starring Jess Weixler, Adam Pearson, Stephen Plunkett

B&W, 2013, 88 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Aaron Schimberg
Starring Lee Azzarello, Doug Barron, Burton Crane
Anti-Worlds (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Taking Chained for Lifeits title and nothing Chained for Lifeelse from the notorious 1952 film about real-life Siamese twins The Hilton Sisters, Chained for Life is a startling, stylish film that bites off an awful lot but manages to chew most of it. The definition of beauty, the nature of cinema, and the treatment of deformity in the arts are just a few of the themes brewing in this unusual character study about a life-changing film shoot whose echoes are intentionally left lingering long after the enigmatic final scene.

Hired to work in Europe on a highly orthodox horror film, Mabel (Teeth's Weixler) is challenged when the director brings in numerous real-life sideshow performers from a circus with a variety of physical abnormalities. She strikes up a rapport with her leading man, Rosenthal (Under the Skin's Pearson), who finds it daunting to "remember all these lines." During the course of the production, they not only get to know each other better but experience drastic shifts in how they perceive themselves, mingled with some lacerating depictions of exploitative behavior as Mabel grapples with both the impending burning of her character's face and an upcoming love scene.

A lot sunnier and funnier than you might expect from the synopsis, Chained for Life definitely belongs to that fascinating category of films about filmmaking but does so in a very different way from the usual art house fare. Both Weixler and Pearson give fine, genuine performances that anchor the film, while second-time director Aaron Schimberg Chained for Lifegives it a colorful Euro aesthetic that frequently recalls 1970s cinema in the best way. It isn't a film for all tastes (with the ending in Chained for Lifeparticular being a deal breaker for some viewers), but definitely check it out if you're feeling adventurous.

Picked up in the U.S. by Kino Lorber and in the U.K. by Anti-Worlds, Chained for Life made its home video bow from both labels with a very impressive HD transfer that brings out the warm, saturated colors where necessary and looks as solid as you'd expect for a recent film. Interestingly, the film was mixed in mono and sounds fine with DTS-HD MA for the U.S. and LPCM for the U.K. (and optional English SDH subs either way). Extras on the U.S. disc include the U.S. trailer, one deleted scene, and an audio commentary by Schimberg, who has a pretty nasty cold but soldiers through pretty well with a frequently candid and informative track mixing production info with his intentions for the film including the deliberately "boring" opening segment that was still trimmed down quite a bit for the final cut. Also included are three interview featurettes: "A Different Kind of Intimacy" (17m33s) with Weixler, "Good Things Happen to Good People" (9m7s) with Pearson, and "We Are Family" (16m44s) with actress Sari Lennick, all of which are articulate and worthwhile as they convey their very different perspectives on the film. In particular they all have their own takes on the script, their personal opinions on personal appearance, and the connections to other films like Freaks. The U.K. edition contains all of those but adds quite a bit more including no less Chained for Lifethan Chained for Lifeeight extended and deleted scenes (11m52s), none essential but all interesting to see how they expand on some of the conversation scenes and feature a few interesting extra beats. A very avant garde collection of silent Super 8 footage (1m40s) from the shoot by John Klacsmann is really something to see and might make you dizzy after a minute, followed by the U.S. and U.K. trailers, a teaser, a gallery of 42 production photos, and "Late Spring/Regrets for Our Youth" (4m26s), an inscrutable shot-on-video short by Schimberg.

That's not all, though. Also on the U.K. release (in the initial limited edition) is a second Blu-ray featuring Schimberg's prior film, Go Down Death, which has been around on VOD but doesn't appear to have had a physical media release until now. Shot in black-and-white and essentially an anthology film, this is announced from the outset as an adaptation of "the complete works of folklorist Jonathan Mallory Sinus"... comprised of six pages. Of course there's no such person, so what you get is a fanciful collection of vignettes including acoustic music numbers, an offscreen war, medical procedures, pontifications about the meaning of life, and what may be the longest non-porn nude scene (of both genders) ever filmed. (And it ain't sexy.) The whole film looks amazing, especially considering it was shot on a shoestring in an Chained for Lifeabandoned Go Down Deathwarehouse in Brooklyn, though it's best watch without expectations of it all tying together or really making much sense in the end. Tying in with the main feature, there's also a disfigured character named Rosenthal... make of that what you will. Again the transfer here is stellar and features an LPCM English mono track with optional English SDH subtitles; extras include a collection of production footage shot by the director's wife, producer-editor Vanessa McDonnell, "It would be sad to see this end up in a dump" (6m). It's really odd seeing the actors performing in color, to put it mildly. Also included are nine deleted scenes (31m9s), some of which push this closer to horror territory, along with a theatrical trailer and a 41-image gallery of production photos. The package also comes with a 36-page booklet featuring essays by David Jenkins, Jeff Billington, Alejandro Bachmann, and Michelle Koch.

Reviewed on February 15, 2020.