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Two days late, but finally it is here and in hand: Magic, Myth & Mutilation: The Micro-Budget Cinema Of Michael J. Murphy. This comprehensive Blu-Ray boxed set from Indicator is one of the most highly anticipated releases of recent memory. In one set Indicator gives us all of Murphy’s surviving films and more special features than The Criterion Collection could muster in five years worth of releasing. Having never seen any of Murphy’s films before I am more than excited for a deep dive into the auteur’s oeuvre.

The first film I chose to watch began with a title card explaining why it was issued in SD and a general sense as to how Indicator restored the film. I am no stranger to formats like VHS, DV-Tape, Beta Tape, Laserdiscs, etc. and I have to say that for a scan from a second generation source or more Indicator has done a phenomenal job with this particular film. I’d wager that each subsequent SD feature I watch in this set looks just as good.

Michael J. Murphy’s low budget fantasy epic Avalon (1989) begins some time after the fateful Battle of Camlann. Murphy draws on various Arthurian sources to create his own original post-script to the life of Britain’s most famous king. King Arthur’s half-sister the sorceress Morgana (Debbi Stevens) desperately tries to keep the age of magic alive through her oppressive Druid worshippers. It isn’t until a solitary knight named Owen (Stephen Harris), a maiden (Abigail Blackmore), and the thief Keiran (Rob Bartlett) enlist the help of Merlin (Patrick Oliver) that Morgana faces real opposition.

Murphy directs Avalon with his budget constraints in mind, often hiding the limitations of the production off-camera or between cuts. But Murphy’s practicality never hinders his flare for visual stylization. Unline many similar micro-budget auteurs, Murphy has a keen cinematic eye and an obvious preference for dynamic camera angles and dramatic perspectives. Watching Avalon one is immediately struck by the influence of John Boorman’s fantasy features Zardoz (1974) and Excalibur (1981), but there’s also plenty of mid-career Orson Welles in Murphy’s choice of framing.

Produced in the post-Beastmaster (1982) era of fantasy filmmaking, Avalon does little to challenge that status quo narratively. However that doesn’t impede Murphy’s ability to re-configure various elements of Arthurian lore for his own adventure film. There are numerous instances where the witches of Avalon (Morgana’s magical island realm) assume the appearance of other women in order to seduce the heroes. This recalls King Uther’s rape of the Lady Igraine as well as Morgana’s own seduction of King Arthur to beget Mordred. Similarly the character of Edwin (Craig Hiller) is an obvious reiteration of Lancelot’s transformation during the Grail Quest.

Although Avalon is well directed and edited to maximize spectacle it does help to have some rudimentary knowledge of the King Arthur myth. Murphy clearly had an affection for these legends, as evidenced by the frequency with which he adapted them for the screen, that lends Avalon a degree of intertextuality that makes it unique in the canon of self-funded, micro-budget features. All in all Avalon was a great introduction into the cinematic world of Michael J. Murphy.