Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category
  • Power Rangers (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Power Rangers (2017)

    Director: Dean Israelite

    Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cycler, Becky G., Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston & Elizabeth Banks

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Revitalizing the television phenomenon for the big-screen, Power Rangers centers on five ordinary teens, chosen by destiny, to form a superhuman team of defenders to save the world from the evil Rita Repulsa’s wrath.  Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) directs from a screenplay by John Gatins (Real Steel, Flight).

    Marking the famous franchise’s return to cinemas in two decades, Power Rangers uses the original and arguably, most popular iteration of the series as a springboard to reintroduce modern audiences and longtime fans back to an Angel Grove in desperate need of heroes.  Establishing an apocalyptic world where the Power Rangers, led by Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), are losing the battle against their former friend and betrayer Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games), the fading leader seeks to preserve the safety of the desired Zeo Crystal by hiding the coveted power coins in hopes of a new team one day emerging to protect Earth.  Juxtaposing to modern day Angel Grove, high school football star turned delinquent Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery, A Few Less Men) pulls an unruly prank, landing him in detention for the rest of the school year.  Shortly after befriending bullied and autistic classmate Billy Cranston (RJ Cycler, Me and Early and the Dying Girl), Jason is convinced to join Billy at a mine site where an explosion and chance encounters with several other troubled teens including, Kimberly (Naomi Scott, The 33), a former popularity queen now ditched by her friends, Zach (Ludi Lin, Monster Hunt), a wild teen tasked with caring for his ailing mother and Trini (Becky G., Empire), a loner struggling with her own sexuality, converge in an experience that will change their lives.  Discovering the hidden power coins and the nerve center of Zordon, now constrained to its matrix system, and his faithful robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader, Inside Out), the teens are appointed as new members of the Power Rangers and must prepare for the inevitable threat of their awakened nemesis, Rita Repulsa.  Learning to trust one another and believe in themselves prove difficult as the fate of Angel Grove and the world hang in the balance against the forces of evil.  

    Darker than its bubble gum pop series but never overly brooding, Power Rangers greatly impresses with its diverse up and coming cast that convey relatable teenage troubles with organic conviction.  Noticeably influenced by the works of John Hughes with so few modern day attempts at capturing youthful voices succeeding, Power Rangers is the rare feat that does so and genuinely makes audiences care through deep character development that, for better or worse, comes at the cost of more high-octane action.  While their self-doubts restrict them from morphing into their costumed counterparts for an extended period, the film’s final act finds the the heroes finally adorned in their eye-catching armored suits to do battle against the bolder-looking Putties and Rita’s visually disappointing henchman, Goldar.  Although a shameless product placement opportunity rears its head into the plot, Elizabeth Banks delivers an enjoyably over-the-top and occasionally frightening performance as lead baddie Rita while, the city-destructing climax of the Rangers facing off in the mighty Megazord is nothing audiences haven’t seen before.  Minor grievances aside for the film’s action set pieces which unfortunately seem to have caused the ballooning $100 million budget, Power Rangers is a surprisingly fresh and energetic effort that although, based on the nostalgically campy series of the same name, takes itself and its audience seriously while having a morphinominally fun time doing it.

    Lionsgate presents Power Rangers with a striking 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptional-looking from start to finish, skin tones are naturally pleasing and detailed while, black levels seen during nighttime sequences at the mine appear deep and inky.  Digital manifestations such as, Alpha 5 and the literal looking Goldar all dazzle with the bolder colors of the rangers suits and Rita’s shimmering green garb leaping off the screen.  Without a false note to report, Power Rangers morphs into action with the utmost clarity.  Equipped with an equally perfect Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal clear with action scenes from the rangers’ training montages to the film’s final zord battle filled with explosive action greatly impress with grand authority.  Furthermore, song selections including, a contemporary rendering of the infamous theme song, all make noticeable statements on the track that push speakers to work overtime.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Dean Israelite & Writer John Gatins, The Power of Present (2:20:12), a comprehensively morphin’ nine-part featurette that looks back at the franchise’s early years to this film’s culmination.  Insight from original series creator Haim Saban as well as the cast and crew are on-hand while, the development of the film’s costumes, the cast’s intensive training and music are all explored in this perfect companion piece to the feature.  Also included, Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes (33:39), Outtakes (3:41) and the Theatrical Trailer with Audio Commentary by Director Dean Israelite (2:21).  Lastly, an Also from Lionsgate (4:40) section offers trailers and promos for Power Rangers: Legacy Wars, The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection, Allegiant and Now You See Me 2.  Additionally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Although struggling to be the massive moneymaker hoped for by the studio, Power Rangers may be the year’s biggest blockbuster surprise that balances the delicate line of respecting its franchise roots while injecting a youthful, harder-edged voice that lifelong fans will appreciate.  Planned for a whopping six-film story arc and teasing the arrival of a certain character of the green persuasion, Power Rangers is hopefully only the beginning in a great new series that deserves more installments.  Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s phenomenal high-definition release is a technical marvel with a staggering supply of bonus content ranger fans will eat up.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Power Rangers can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Scar (1948) Blu-ray Review

    The Scar (1948)

    Director: Steve Sekely

    Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen, Mabel Paige & Herbert Rudely

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a casino hit gone wrong, The Scar finds on-the-run gambler John Muller (Paul Henreid, Casablanca) evading mobsters that want him dead.  Bearing a striking resemblance to psychiatrist Dr. Batrok, Muller decides to take control of the good doctor’s life in the perfect scheme to stay alive.  While Bartok’s secretary (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows) grows suspicious of her employer, Muller slowly begins to inherit Bartok’s own personal troubles.  Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids) directs.

    Soaked in juicy thrills and the threat of danger constantly looming, The Scar, initially released as Hollow Triumph, may be the spawn of respected Poverty Row distributor Eagle-Lion Films but, rises above its inherent B-picture DNA to deliver a tense noir unafraid of remaining in the gloomy shadows.  Based on Murray Forbes’ novel, recently released prisoner John Muller seeks to get rich quick and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process.  A brilliant mind who ditched out on medical school, Muller gathers his old cronies together for a hit on feared mob boss Rocky Stansyck’s casino only for the plot to crumble, leaving some dead and Muller wanted the same way by the mobsters.  Relocating, Muller is mistaken for a local psychologist who, with the exception of a glaring scar upon his cheek, could pass as the doctor’s twin.  Running low on options and using his education to his advantage, Muller, simultaneously wooing Bartok’s beautiful secretary Evelyn Hahn as himself, sets out to impersonate the psychoanalyst.  Fudging up which cheek to scar after disposing of the actual Bartok, Muller’s act surprisingly fools patients and friends alike only to have Evelyn, Bartok’s former mistress, not fully convinced.  Paranoid after several close calls with Stansyck’s henchmen and emotionally conflicted with Evelyn, Muller’s new life may not be quite as innocent as he once assumed.  A crafty potboiler that invites viewers into the mind of a calculated crook, The Scar may not be a game changer but, greatly impresses with its gorgeous monochrome photography and a surprisingly bleak conclusion that outshines any of its more contrived, albeit still entertaining, moments.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics welcomes The Scar to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  While bouts of scratches and reel change pronunciations are spotted, overall clarity is strong while, black levels, seen in the film’s many suits and coat jackets, are deeply inky.  In addition, facial details are best observed in medium shots with tighter angles, although still pleasing, appear noticeably softer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed audibly with gunshots and suspenseful music cues registering as defiantly as expected for a film of its age.  A mild layer of static is also present but thankfully never overly intrusive.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Imogen Sara and Trailers for 99 River Street (2:13), Cry of the City (2:33), Shield for Murder (1:45), Boomerang (2:30) and He Ran All the Way (2:13).

    A well-oiled noir that engages and never bores, The Scar arrives with clichés to spare but, the combined performances of Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett mixed with the film’s striking appearance and daringly somber finale make it a solid getaway car for noir enthusiasts.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ new remastering of the picture is a welcome upgrade that preserves the thriller for years to come.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Scar can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Unholy (1988) Blu-ray Review

    The Unholy (1988)

    Director: Camilo Vila

    Starring: Ben Cross, Ned Beatty, William Russ, Jill Carroll, Hal Holbrook & Trevor Howard

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in New Orleans where a dark underbelly of satanic worship resides, The Unholy centers on Father Michael (Ben Cross, Chariots of Fire), the newly appointed priest of St. Agnes Church.  Following the brutal and unsolved murders of the parishes previous pastors, an ungodly evil threatens the house of worship with Michael’s pure soul being its last hope of survival.  Ned Beatty (Toy Story 3), William Russ (Boy Meets World), Jill Carroll (Psycho II), Hal Holbrook (The Fog) and Trevor Howard (The Third Man) costar.

    Channeling the satanic allure of The Exorcist and The Omen having been originally scripted in their wake and revived more than a decade later, The Unholy injects more special-effects wizardry into its proceedings where demonic beasts and grisly deaths reign while struggling to remain narratively appealing.  Miraculously surviving a fall off a building, Father Michael is appointed to reopen the dormant St. Agnes Church in New Orleans following the tragic murder of his predecessor.  Considered to be “the chosen one” by his mentors, Father Michael is quickly haunted by nightmarish visions of a seductive temptress while investigating the unsolved murders plaguing his church.  Stumbling upon a black magic-worshipping nightclub in his research, Father Michael’s encounter with teenage runaway Millie (Carroll), who confided in the deceased Father Dennis, begins to reveal a frightening truth.  Skeptical of Millie’s insistence that demonic forces are at play, strange occurrences including, a dog slain at the church’s alter and threats made by Millie’s club-owning over protector Luke (Russ) persist.  Juxtaposing between more nightmare-fueled visions of the scantly clad vixen and a victim, intestines gruesomely hanging, displayed as an inverted cross, The Unholy pays off with gory sights and a faith vs. demonic monster showdown during its climax yet, fails to dig deeper into Father Michael’s psyche as the chosen one.  Furthermore, while potential reasons and accused culprits behind the sinister happenings are unnecessarily named, none prove conclusive and simply serve as a way to buffer the runtime and muddy the waters of an effort best blamed simply on the devil.  Mildly taxing for these reasons yet, redeeming in its showcase of visual effects, creature designs and the red stuff, The Unholy offers more in its style than its substance.

    Debuting as the tenth inclusion of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Lionsgate presents The Unholy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Photographed during nighttime sequences or under dimly-lit circumstances, black levels are commendable while occasionally looking grainier than desired.  Furthermore, skin tones are natural with Millie’s 80s-centric makeup popping nicely.  Although the film’s few daytime sequences of sunshine understandably soften up the picture, this softness, although not wildly overwhelming, carries over throughout much of the film, appearing not as sharp as one would hope but also not an uncommon sight for lower-budgeted films from this era.  Meanwhile, moments of neck-torn gore and detail observed in the demonic creatures earn some of the transfer’s highest marks of clarity.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue never disappoints while, the film’s synth-heavy score by Roger Bellon (Waxwork) sounds excellent.  

    Exceptionally packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Camilo Vila, Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon, an Audio Interview with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca, featuring Isolated Selections from his Unused Score.  Also included, Sins of the Father with Ben Cross (19:09) where the film’s star covers his adolescent fascination with the arts, attending drama school, early days rooming with the film’s director and praise for his costars.  Demons in the Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy (22:26) catches up with Make-Up Effects Designer Jerry Macaluso who scored the job on the feature as a teenager in high school with additional insight into the film’s reworked ending from Art Director/Additional Special Effects Unit Steve Hardie and Effects Artist/Special Effects Unit Neil Gorton.  Prayer Offerings with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (18:35) and the Original Ending featuring Optional Audio Commentary with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (15:02) are also on-hand while, the Theatrical Trailer (1:17), TV Spots (2:15), Radio Spots (2:25), an Original Storyboard Gallery (18:40) and a Still Gallery (11:51) round out this five-star offering of supplements conducted by the tireless Red Shirt Pictures.

    An imperfect tale of satanic seduction that rightly has its dedicated fans, The Unholy certainly has its moments of fright-filled anarchy but has difficulty crafting characters that command our attention.  Worshippers of the black magic horror opus will be overjoyed by its inclusion in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series that blesses it with a respectable HD upgrade and an ungodly awesome stash of newly recorded bonus extras.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 27th from Lionsgate, The Unholy can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Car Wash (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Car Wash (1976)

    Director: Michael Schultz

    Starring: Franklyn Ajaye, George Carlin, Professor Irwin Corey, Ivan Dixon, Antonio Fargas, Jack Kehoe, Clarence Muse, Lorraine Gary, The Pointer Sisters & Richard Pryor

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in sunny Los Angeles, Car Wash hosts a day in the life of a ragtag group of car washers and and the hilarious hijinks that ensue on the job, all to a fast-moving, body-shaking soundtrack of hits.  Scripted by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, Falling Down) and starring a diverse roster of character actors, musicians and comedy’s finest, Michael Schultz (Cooley High, The Last Dragon) directs this hot wax of hilarity.

    Uncontrollably fun and capturing the laughs of the blue-collar grind, Car Wash, originally intended as a Broadway musical, uses its nonlinear construction to great effect, making viewers apart of the onscreen ball-busting camaraderie and radio wave boogieing.  Best known for their “hand job” touch, the stocked staff of a busy car wash including, Justin (Leon Pinkney, Deadly Hero), an African-American constantly hassled by his girlfriend to ditch his position and return to college, T.C. (Franklin Ajaye, Convoy), an afro-rockin’ employee determined to win a local radio contest and woo the local diner’s waitress, Abduallah (Bill Duke, Predator), a Black Muslim revolutionary formerly known as Duane, Lindy (Antonio Fargas, Starsky & Hutch), a flamboyantly gay employee who dishes attitude better than anyone else and the musical, dancing duo of Floyd (Darrow Igus, Fridays) and Lloyd (Otis Day, D.C. Cab), among others all bust a move while making Cali cars sparkle and shine.  From erroneously tackling a customer thought to be a criminal bomber, fellow employee Hippo (Jamie Spinks, The Big Score) knocking the boots with a local prostitute who is hilariously pursued by an all too trusting cabbie (George Carlin, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) for skipping out on a fare and graced by the money-hungry presence of a pimp-like preacher known as Daddy Rich (Richard Pryor, The Toy), Car Wash is never in short supply of comic situations and absurdness.  Rightfully earning a Grammy for Best Album written for a film, Car Wash is never overly crude or falters due to its unconventional plot that is more inclined to let audiences hang with the gang than anything else.  Instead, the cult hit keeps the fun times rolling and holds the jive allowing for an effort doused in outrageous laughs.

    Shout Select presents Car Wash with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With only the faintest of speckling popping up every now and again, colors pop remarkably well with the employee’s orange jumpsuits, bright yellow taxi cabs and the establishment’s big-lettered signage all making top-notch bursts on screen.  Furthermore, skin tones are exceptional with detail evident in close-ups and white levels, most noticeably seen in Daddy Rich’s gaudy suit, looking solidly.  A most filmic representation of the musically-driven comedy, Car Wash truly shimmers in high-definition.  Matched with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is overwhelmingly audible with only occasional moments where outdoor ambiance can drown out character exchanges.  That said, the film’s constant undercurrent of music is balanced appreciatively with talky moments while, specific music-driven cues including the opening and closing titles will leave viewers singing along for days and impressed by the song’s depths.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Schultz, Workin’ at the Car Wash with Otis Day (12:13) where the actor recalls a 2 week rehearsal period on the Universal soundstages that greatly developed the cast’s chemistry before filming commenced.  Understandably, Day mentions growing incredibly sick of hearing the title song on a daily basis while also praising Schultz’s direction and hailing him as someone who truly cared about the project.  Car Wash from Start to Finish with Gary Stomberg (34:22) finds the film’s producer sharing his early starts in public relations repping the likes of Ray Charles before forming his own company that would ultimately represent Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf and The Doors.  Stromberg also remembers coming up with the idea of Car Wash during a particularly loaded evening citing Robert Altman’s Nashville as an inspiration.  Understanding the music world while Universal were left scratching their heads about the film’s potential, Stromberg’s theory to spread head the project with an album produced by Norman Whitfield that would ultimately pay for the film’s making proved true and one the studio immediately responded to.  Lastly, Radio Spots (2:59), the film’s Trailer (2:21) and Reversible Cover Art conclude the release’s extras.

    Although not an original commercial success before graduating to cult accolades, Car Wash is a hilarious hangout session with the working man where pranks, kooky customers and a rhythm-splitting soundtrack take shotgun.  A groovy time capsule with funny performances from its many principal players, this lighthearted blaxploitation romp is prime picking for all 9-5ers.  Meanwhile, Shout Select’s high-definition upgrade is a filmic stunner with a smaller but, nonetheless engaging offering of extras and dynamite new cover art provided by Paul Shipper that shines the flick up nice.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Car Wash can be purchased ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Skull (1965) Blu-ray Review

    The Skull (1965)

    Director: Freddie Francis

    Starring: Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Jill Bennett, Michael Gough, George Coulouris & Christopher Lee

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a story by Robert Bloch (Psycho), The Skull centers on occult antiquities collector Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing, Horror of Dracula) whose encounter with the skull of the Maquis de Sade proves frightening.  Forewarned of its effects by friend and former owner of the dreaded remains, Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein), Maitland’s livelihood quickly becomes threatened by the skull’s evil forces.

    A supernatural mystery produced by noted Hammer competitor Amicus Productions, The Skull is a stylishly eerie effort from British genre titan Freddie Francis (The Evil of Frankenstein, Tales from the Crypt) that utilizes atmosphere and improvisational knowhow to its advantage.  Following a historically earlier pre-title sequence where a grave robber’s excavation of the Maquis de Sade’s cranium leaves him dead from an unknown presence, The Skull’s modern day London setting introduces occult collector Dr. Christopher Maitland whose pricy offering of the very same specimen by a shady dealer proves far too expensive albeit, very intriguing to the curious researcher.  Learning the item was stolen from a fellow colleague who was glad to be free of it, warnings of its evil capabilities fall on Maitland’s deaf ears, prompting him to retrieve it after the thieving dealer is unexplainably killed.  Casting a spell of madness and nightmarish hallucinations upon on its new owner, Maitland’s terrifying firsthand experience with the skull reveals its true potential to the previously skeptical scholar.  Headlining the feature with expected grace, Peter Cushing sells his descent into terror with a conviction memorably showcased during a particularly nail biting nightmare sequence of forced Russian roulette.  Appearing in a guest starring role, Christopher Lee’s small but welcome inclusion as a rare non-villain gives an added class to the film’s ghoulish festivities while, Francis’ resourceful direction, demonstrated in the film’s frantic and virtually dialogue-free final act, is overwhelmingly suspenseful regardless of the “floating” skull’s noticeably seen wires.  An early chapter in Amicus’ horror history, The Skull remains an effectively strong picture of its creepy caliber with its direction earning the most praise of all.

    KL Studio Classics presents The Skull with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing noticeable signs of scuffs and speckles throughout its runtime, colors also appear occasionally drab while, skin tones and delicate facial features revealing aging lines and acne scars are well-detailed.  Meanwhile, black levels are mediocre yet, costume textures and the many artifacts spotted in Maitland’s library are agreeable.  Although a fresh scan would have been appreciated, the results remain quite adequate.  Equipped with a rather flat but serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handled sufficiently while an early encounter between Maitland and Marco, the sleazy dealer, registers slightly lower.  Scoring cues are decent but lacking oomph with a mild layer of hiss detected.  Special features include, an expertly researched Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, Jonathan Rigby on The Skull (24:14) and Kim Newman on The Skull (27:18), both of which offer encyclopedic insight into Amicus Productions, its founders, Freddie Francis and Robert Bloch’s original short story making each featurette invaluable compliments to the film.  Furthermore, The Skull: “Trailers from Hell” with Joe Dante (2:36) and additional Trailers for Tales of Terror (2:21), The Oblong Box (1:56), Madhouse (1:48), House of the Long Shadows (2:27) and The Crimson Cult (2:03) are also provided alongside Reversible Cover Art.

    A well recommended Amicus offering, The Skull brings some of gothic cinema’s finest faces together for chilling thrills and consummate direction from Freddie Francis making it a technical sight to appreciate given the film’s originally less than solid screenplay.  Possession, death and the black arts reign wildly in this nightmare come to life with a most fascinating selection of supplements making KL Studio Classics’ upgrade of the film an easy choice for fan’s unholy collections.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Skull can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • They're Playing with Fire (1984) Blu-ray Review

    They’re Playing with Fire (1984)

    Director: Howard Avedis

    Starring: Sybil Danning, Eric Brown, Andrew Prine & Paul Clemens

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Combining skin and thrills, They’re Playing with Fire stars Sybil Danning (Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf) as a sultry college professor who seduces a horny student (Eric Brown, Private Lessons), entangling him in a dangerous plot to obtain her in-laws wealthy inheritance.  Andrew Prine (Amityville II: The Possession) and Paul Clemens (The Beast Within) costar.

    Shrouded as a wild sex-romp in tune with most young men’s desires, They’re Playing with Fire, albeit being very tantalizing, pulls the carpet under its audience in one of the oddest genre switch ups of the decade.  Incessantly drooling over his foxy professor, Mrs. Diane Stevens, and performing odd jobs aboard her luxurious yacht, college student Jay Richard’s lusting pays off when seduced by the blonde bombshell.  Unknowingly plotting a scheme with her husband Michael (Prine) to inherit his family riches from her in-laws, a virtually harmless crack at prowling to scare off the elderly Stevens’ backfires on Jay when a masked assailant ruthlessly knocks off Michael’s mother and grandmother instead.  Trapping him in a seductive love triangle with life or death stakes, Jay’s hormonal jackpot grows grayer by the day.  Regarded as exploitation royalty, Sybil Danning makes mouths water with her fiercely flirtatious performance and sizzling nude sequences that, much to the delight of teenage boys during the video boom, are plentiful.  In a deliriously unexpected spin for viewers assuming the plot from its provocative poster art, They’re Playing with Fire morphs into an erotically-charged thriller with slasher elements that pollinate the film with bloody bursts of violence catching first time watchers off guard.  Helmed by Howard Avedis (Scorchy, Mortuary), They’re Playing with Fire, rightly earning Danning one of her finest performances in a career of countlessly sexy and sleazy roles, is a wild effort right down to its even kookier reveal of the true murderer that is as unusually different as it is libido driving.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics upgrades They’re Playing with Fire with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Revealing satisfying layers of detail in facial features, skin tones are sound with Danning certainly showing off her fair share during the film’s many moments of passion.  Meanwhile, costumes, background pieces and bolder colored vehicles pop quite decently with the film’s source material arriving in tiptop shape and generally free of any unsavory scratches.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles character exchanges, both in intimate, hushed tones and louder barroom environments, nicely while, music cues are well orchestrated and ear-pleasing.  Special features include, Sun & Seduction with Sybil Danning (18:25) where the still mightily attractive lead reveals she landed the role based on her appearance in Playboy Magazine and her initial concerns that the script was overly convoluted.  Furthermore, Danning recalls many a fan encounters where the film played heavily into their puberty and instances of teens stealing the videotape from their fathers!  The genre titan, although finding him cute, reveals costar Eric Brown made the shoot difficult due to his unwillingness to be nude in the film.  Lastly, Trailers for They’re Playing with Fire (1:25), The Bitch (2:38) and The Stud (2:52) conclude the disc’s supplements.

    Beloved by Mr. Skin himself and most young men who experienced the film’s sumptuous offerings during its heyday, They’re Playing with Fire offers plenty of bare-breasted Sybil Danning and a chameleon-like plot that supplies an alarmingly fun touch of slasher elements for fans of the decade’s body count pictures.  A career high for the buxom B-movie queen, carnal delights never tasted this sweet or deadly before her voluptuous college professor wraps her legs around such impressionable hound dogs.  KL Studio Classics’ high-def handling of the sexy sizzler is a solid boost in quality with Danning’s newly recorded chatty sit-down a fine inclusion.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, They’re Playing with Fire can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Madhouse (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Madhouse (1981)

    Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

    Starring: Trish Everly, Michael Macrae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart, Allison Biggers, Edith Ivey, Richard Baker & Jerry Fujikawa

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Infamously inducted as one of Britain’s prized “video nasties”, Madhouse centers on Julia Sullivan (Trish Everly in her only film role) who continues to try and block out the anguish her cruel twin sister Mary caused her growing up.  Suffering from a disfiguring illness and still harboring disdain for her other half, Mary escapes from the hospital, hellbent on delivering Julia a bloody birthday she’ll never forget.

    A peculiar blending of Italian hyper violence and America’s burgeoning slasher craze with a dash of gothic ambiance, Madhouse thrives on its uneasy tone that attempts to drown out its more questionable plot devices.  Educator to young deaf students, Julia still maintains a fear of her hospitalized twin sister Mary who suffers from a deforming disease and responsible for wrecking havoc on Julia throughout childhood.  Maintaining a close relationship with her loving uncle, Father James (Dennis Robertson, Dark Night of the Scarecrow), Julia seeks to make peace with her dying sister only to be met with frightening hostility.  Exploding into full-blown terror when Mary escapes from her hospital confines, Julia’s approaching 25th birthday seems less likely to be met as supernatural suspicions, a bloodthirsty Rottweiler and a body count start to take shape.  Shot in the suitably atmospheric region of Savannah, Georgia, Madhouse punctuates its proceedings with voyeuristic photography and a certifiably strange soundscape conducted by Riz Ortolani (Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park) to further its descent into darkness.  

    Charismatic and beautiful, Trish Everly holds the picture together with genuine fear and concern for her life reading clearly in her face and actions while, the supporting cast hams it up with generally over-the-top performances.  A noble debut for Everly that would ultimately prove to be her last onscreen, the young actress seemed destined for a career as a future scream queen that was unfortunately not meant to be.  Pulling no punches with its violence and never discriminating against adults or young deaf children as its prey, Madhouse’s Rottweiler attacks on the like surely and appreciatively earned its place in “video nasties” history with ravaged jugulars and torn hands on full display.  While the film’s final showdown between Julia and her doctor boyfriend against the murderous culprits leave far more questions than answers concerning their motivations, Director Ovidio G. Assonitis (Beyond the Door) perhaps smartly bookends the horror-oddity with a quote to properly chase audiences head-scratching motions.

    Scanned in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Arrow Video proudly presents Madhouse with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  A wonderfully filmic-looking offering, grain is healthy and overwhelmingly satisfying to the eye while, skin tones remain natural and clean.  Furthermore, the film’s gorier moments paint the screen red with eye popping boldness with black levels also appearing appreciatively deep.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that registers dialogue crisply, the track also makes excellent use of Composer Riz Ortolani’s evocatively creepy score and usage of lullabies with no hiccups to speak of.  An optional LPCM 2.0 mix has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  

    Bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues, Running the Madhouse with Edith Ivey (12:40) finds the actress recalling her early days in radio and the transition all actors made moving onto television.  Furthermore, Ivey also shares words about her appearance on The Howdy Doody Show, commentating for the Miss USA show for years before landing her role in Madhouse where the director wanted over-the-top performances from his cast.  Framing Fear (19:32) catches up with Director of Photography Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli in this subtitled interview that traces everything from his first paid job on Arturo’s Island to his many works with Assonitis.  Next up, Ovidio Nasty (7:44) chats with the film’s producer/director where he reveals the film’s direct influences to be The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Shining.  Assonitis also discusses the film’s alternate titles but prefers There Was a Little Girl and praises Savannah, Georgia as being the ideal gothic shooting location.  Finally, Alternative Opening Titles (3:01), the Original Trailer (3:04), a 23-page booklet featuring liner notes by John Martin (available only in the release’s first printing), Reversible Cover Art and a DVD edition conclude the supplemental package.  

    An overlooked effort that samples different styles and subgenres, Madhouse is certifiably odd to the bone with a violent bite from Rottweilers and deformed nutcases alike.  Although not one to provide all the answers by its conclusion, Director Ovidio G. Assonitis’ deranged sibling-slasher hybrid makes for a unique late night excursion through horror’s less traveled roads.  In their expected fashion, Arrow Video brings the “video nasty” to high-definition with a striking 2K restoration and a modest spread of extras to further educate and enlighten the minds of horror enthusiasts.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Madhouse can be purchased via DiabolikDVD.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Don't Give Up the Ship (1959) Blu-ray Review

    Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959)

    Director: Norman Taurog

    Starring: Jerry Lewis, Dina Merril, Diana Spencer, Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert Middleton, Gale Gordon, Mabel Albertson & Chuck Wassil

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Unbelievably based on an actual incident, Don’t Give Up the Ship stars Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor) as a wet-behind-the-ears naval newlywed who is whisked away from his honeymoon by a committee investigating the disappearance of the battleship previously under his command.  Suffering a mental block, a blonde bombshell of a psychiatrist (Dina Merril, Operation Petticoat) is brought in to help rattle the officer’s memory.  

    Produced in accordance with the U.S. Navy who are praised for their cooperation and sense of humor at the film’s onset, Don’t Give Up the Ship interrupts the celebratory victory of World War II when a displeased congressman refuses to approve a $4 billion appropriation fund for the Navy due to the mysterious disappearance of destroyer vessel, the U.S.S. Kornblatt.  Tying the knot with his lovely new bride Prudence (Diana Spencer, TV’s Johnny Ringo), the dimwitted but harmless Lieutenant John Paul Steckler VIII is quickly fingered by an investigative committee and summoned to the Pentagon to explain the most unusual circumstance behind the whereabouts of the ship that was under his control.  Ordered to locate the vessel in mere days while being hilariously disrupted at every chance of intimacy with his wife, Steckler’s mental block and seemingly tall tales about the events surrounding the Kornblatt make matters laughably more difficult for the Navy veteran.  Aided by an attractive psychologist tasked with helping Steckler remember the stranger than fiction facts, comical hijinks including, sharing a train compartment with another woman much to the dismay of his wife, being captured by Japanese soldiers unaware of the war’s conclusion and a deep sea exploration finding the goofy cadet and a fellow Navy man confronted by sharks, mermaids and a massive octopus.  While the funnyman’s madcap energy and comedic timing are the heart of the film, Don’t Give Up the Ship is a fairly middle-of-the-road effort from Jerry Lewis’ career of laughs with a plot that runs its course by the time the end credits roll.  Although Steckler’s robbed opportunities at whoopee making become repetitive, Lewis’ brand of childish silliness and knee-slapping physicality still make for a fine time.

    Newly remastered in 4K, KL Studio Classics presents Don’t Give Up the Ship with a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A gorgeous sight to behold, the monochrome photography looks stunning with excellent detail observed in skin tones, the fairly basic Navy uniforms and the film’s underwater sequence that is relayed with the utmost quality.  Boasting deeply inky black levels and hardly a scratch to be seen, it doesn’t get much better than this for a film so many decades removed.  Charmed with an equally impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that appears basic enough yet, sells dialogue exchanges, city street ambiance, and hurricane winds with top-notch care.  Although unrelated to the main feature, the disc’s sole special feature is Trailers for After the Fox (2:49), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2:23), Haunted Honeymoon (2:19), Life Stinks (2:01), Delirious (2:22) and The Couch Trip (1:14).

    Helmed by Academy Award-winning Director Norman Taurog (Slippy, The Wizard of Oz, albeit uncredited for his contributions on the latter), Don’t Give Up the Ship succeeds in letting Lewis does what he does best while, carrying the otherwise mediocre plot on his shoulders with ease.  Unable to keep your eyes off of the animated thespian for fear of missing the slightest funny nuance, Lewis keeps the ship afloat steadily.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ exceptional 4K mastering of the feature is an absolute knockout and now the only way to view this well-received comedy.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Don’t Give Up the Ship can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

    Director: Art Linson

    Starring: Peter Boyle & Bill Murray

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Culled from the wild and crazy exploits of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam centers on the eccentric reporter (Bill Murray, Caddyshack) and his ex-attorney Carlo Lazlo, Esq. (Peter Boyle, Young Frankenstein), fueled on drugs and a madness for adventure, as they navigate the politically spiraling and violent days of the late sixties and seventies.

    The first film taken from Thompson’s toxic brand of chaotic intellect, Where the Buffalo Roam takes liberties with the facts concerning the journalist’s construction of a story based on the misadventures of friend and ex-attorney Carlo Lazlo, Esq.  Rewinding to the years 1968-1972 where Lazlo attempts to free an avalanche of San Francisco youths from overly severe drug charges, Thompson drinks and drugs his way through the proceedings while his latest deadline looms.  Rambling his way from one city to the next and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, Thompson’s coverage of Super Bowl VI is sidetracked by the equally eccentric Lazlo’s presence who convinces the writer to join him on a mission to supply freedom fighters with heavy artillery.  Bailing on the plane escaping madness once the fuzz show and capturing the attention of young adults across the college campus circuit, Thompson offers sage advice by supporting the notion of illegal substances in the writing process and confronting then Presidential candidate Richard Nixon during an awkward bathroom encounter.  While the chemistry between Murray and Boyle sells and their performances, most notably Murray who does a sound impression of Thompson that was, for better and sometimes worse according to his fellow cast members, carried over to his next season of Saturday Night Live, Where the Buffalo Roam is structurally messy and never as funny or witty as it thinks it is.  Scored by Neil Young in one of his only film efforts, a lackluster screenplay and dismal box-office returns, trifled by Thompson’s own disdain for the finished effort, leaves Where the Buffalo Roam as merely the forgotten predecessor to Terry Gilliam’s much trippier and appreciated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas adaptation.

    Shout Select welcomes Where the Buffalo Roam to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A softer sight, colors are favorable but never do much popping while, skin tones remain nicely detailed and natural-looking.  Very scant notices of scuffs aside, a filmic quality is inherent throughout the feature without any over-sharpening techniques applied.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is serviceable with the mumbling manner of Thompson’s speech requiring an occasional increase in volume while, the film’s excellent music choices (presented for the first time ever on home video!) ranging from cuts by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Temptations, Neil Young and more, offer stronger boosts in range and bass.  

    Billed under Shout Select’s Collector’s Edition banner, special features, although limited, include, Inventing the Buffalo: A Look Back with John Kaye (41:58) where the screenwriter recalls being originally tasked with scripting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although caring little for its source citing a lackluster narrative structure, while its rights situation was resolved.  Bluntly put, Kaye also admits to being a former drug-addict and cites his research trip with Thompson through such cities as Aspen, Los Angeles and New Orleans as a fun drug binge.  In addition, Kaye felt Art Linson, making his directorial debut on the picture, was in over his head and maintains that his working relationship with Murray was a friendly one with the exception of one evening where the star badgered Kaye to come out and party resulting in Kaye having him removed from his hotel.  Lengthy and refreshingly honest, the interview is a must-watch for fans and detractors alike.  Furthermore, the Theatrical Trailer (3:14) and Reversible Cover Art conclude the supplemental package.

    Rarely funny but earning mild points for Murray’s spot-on interpretation of Thompson and Boyle’s equally worthy performance, Where the Buffalo Roam remains Hollywood’s dusty paperback attempt at bringing Thompson’s madcap brilliance to the big-screen with mostly unfavorable results.  Although its Collector’s Edition status, given its limited supply of extras, may be debated, the quality of Kaye’s interview and the film’s original music fully intact is warrant enough.  Murray completists will be pleased with what he brings to role of one of journalism’s most eccentric voices while, Thompson purists won’t help feeling underwhelmed.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Where the Buffalo Roam can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Malibu High (1978) Blu-ray Review

    Malibu High (1978)

    Director: Irvin Berwick

    Starring: Jill Lansing, Katie Johnson, Alex Mann, Tammy Taylor, Stuart Taylor, Wallace Earl Laven, Garth Pillsbury, John Harmon & John Yates

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Jill Lansing, in her only film appearance, stars as underachieving high school student turned hooker in the sleazily fun Malibu High.  An avalanche of misfortune from flunking classes to getting dumped by her steady beau opens the attractively feisty Kim Bentley’s eyes to a whole new career of opportunity.  Before long, getting horizontal turns her grades around and fills her wallet but her scandalous way of life leads the barely legal teen down a deadly path.  Irvin Berwick (The Monster of Piedras Blancas, Hitch Hike to Hell) directs.

    A true crowning jewel from low-budget purveyors Crown International Pictures, Malibu High sells  a sultry cocktail of sex, crime and murder where putting out for a price comes at a fatal cost.  Tonally shifting from teeny sexploitation hilarity to coldblooded crime shocker, failing high schooler Kim Bentley, who self-medicates her troubles with booze and pot, finds her calling when taking up local drug dealer and smalltime pimp Tony (Alex Mann, I Drink Your Blood) on his offer to start hooking for him.  Wildly sexy, Kim takes to her new profession with ease, racking up a clientele of johns while learning the tricks of the trade to pocket extra cash every opportunity she gets.  Sleeping her way to better grades but, unhappy with her current wage, Kim trades up with crime kingpin Lance (Garth Pillsbury, Mistress of the Apes) who rewards her services in flashy cars and lavish accommodations.  In turn, Kim’s role as a high-end prostitute is morphed into a hit girl, commanded with blowing away Lance’s top competitors…  or else.  Fuming with typical teenage jealousy over her ex-boyfriend’s new girl before flaunting her untanned breasts during several sexual rendezvous and ultimately getting off on the pull of trigger, Jill Lansing commands this drive-in favorite with untamed energy and looks that kill, making her memorably but, all-too-brief film career a whirlwind of what could have been.  Constantly throwing curveballs at its audience culminating in a tragic conclusion that’s a far cry from its scandalously bubbly beginnings, Malibu High is exploitation excellence with the skin and violence to back it up!  

    Newly restored in 2K from the 35mm original camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome works wonders with this beaten to death favorite previously banished to a variety of multi-film budget packs.  Arriving with a gorgeous 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, colors are bursting with bright shades seen in such prominent vehicles as an electric blue Mustang and flashy 70s attire.  Additionally, skin tones are natural and sharply detailed while, age-related damage is practically nonexistent in this spectacular handling of one of Crown’s best pictures.  While not a wildly dynamic track, the DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix conveys speech with ease and only fleeting instances of an echoey presence with music inclusions also well supported.  

    Loading the release with a bevy of desirable content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer Lawrence Foldes & Actress Tammy Taylor, Making Malibu High: An Interview with Producer Lawrence Foldes (26:40) is an exceptional sit-down with the producer who made the film at the shocking age of 18 while, sharing stories on the film’s sometimes challenging star, Crown International’s distribution capabilities and his lifelong obsession with films, Playing Annette: An Interview with Actress Tammy Taylor (12:42) catches up with actress who played Kim’s bitter rival in the film and her early desire to act that culminated in early roles in Don’t Go Near the Park and Malibu High while still in college.  Furthermore, Playing the Boss: An Interview with Actor Garth Pillsbury (14:51) finds the actor turned photographer expressing his head-scratching surprise at the film’s continued appeal with fans and recalls his other roles including appearances in two memorable Star Trek episodes, a Q&A from the New Beverly Cinema Screening with Producer Lawrence Foldes, Actress Tammy Taylor & Actor Alex Mann (27:02), Struggle for Israel: A Short Film by Lawrence Foldes (19:57) from 1976, Grandpa & Marika: A Short Film by Lawrence Foldes (11:07) from 1975, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:17), a Promotional Still Gallery (2:52), DVD edition and a Reversible Cover with slightly modified artwork concluding the impressive slate of extras.

    Fun in the sun where a trigger happy teen hooker makes her living, Malibu High is a wildly different experience than one might expect from its sexploitation teasing poster but, a ride that exceeds itself in all the best ways.  Thriving on its genre-mashing DNA while supplying all the exploitation goods, Vinegar Syndrome’s definitive release does the impossible by urging fans to buy this drive-in staple one last time for its spectacular presentation and stacked supplements, making the release its final statement on home video.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Malibu High can be purchased via VinegarSyndome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bambi (1942) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Bambi (1942)

    Director(s): David Hand, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield & Normal Wright

    Starring: Bobby Stewart, Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, Peter Behn, Stan Alexander, Paula Winslowe, Will Wright & Ann Gillis

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Felix Salten’s novel, Bambi charts a young deer’s adventures in the wild from infancy to maturity as memorable moments and dangerous encounters shape him into the prince of the forest he was born to be.

    Intended to be Walt Disney’s followup to his critically acclaimed debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the tale’s bleaker tone and Disney’s perfectionism to capture realistic animated depictions of the characters required years of extensive development before fully coming to fruition.  A master of intuitive storytelling, Disney’s softening of the material for his family-friendly audience proved wise while, the slow and oftentimes demanding nature of bringing more lifelike expression to forest animals than ever before would payoff as one of the studio’s most visually dazzling sights.  Quieter on dialogue with the changing of seasons, complimented by musical orchestrations and the chimes of nature’s critters, unfolding the narrative, Bambi invites viewers to the miracle of a baby deer’s birth as we witness his first steps and words before befriending lifelong friends Thumper, the adorable scene-stealing bunny, and Flower, a bashful skunk.  Cared for by his protective mother and slowly learning how to survive the harsh winter seasons, the threat of gun-touting hunters alter the young deer’s life forever in a sequence long considered one of Disney’s most tragically effective.  Taken in by the fatherly great prince of the woods, Bambi comes of age, returning to the wilderness of his youth to reunite with old friends, falls for a fellow deer and faces his greatest challenge yet when his home is engulfed in flames.  

    The fifth of Disney’s cherished animated features only behind other such classics as Fantasia and Dumbo, Bambi excels through its gorgeous visuals and flawless animation that once again set a new bar of excellence for the studio.  A costly investment that failed to recoup its original budget, Bambi’s impact on audiences has never wavered and continues to delight viewers with its humorous moments of Bambi struggling to find his balance on ice and the tearjerking drama conveyed through its moments of personal loss.  A touchstone achievement with timeless themes of love and conservation at its core, Bambi stands as animation’s lasting love letter to nature and all its majestic inhabitants.

    Recycling their Diamond Edition transfer from 2011, Walt Disney Studios’ Home Entertainment’s 1080p transfer (1:33:1) of Bambi is just as marvelous as before with the gorgeous greenery of the woods, vibrants colors found in the various furs of the animals and fantastic background paintings looking flawless.  Meanwhile, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is once again on hand delivering dialogue clearly and giving eloquent force to Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb’s beautifully dreamy score.  

    In addition to presenting the Original Theatrical Edition (1:09:50) with optional DisneyView and a thoroughly interesting Inside Walt’s Story Meetings: Extended Edition (1:35:55), new supplements include, Studio Stories: Bambi (4:56) featuring archival recordings of Walt Disney culled from interviews circa 1956, Deleted Scenes (7:25) with introductions by Animator Floyd Norman, an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Africa Before Dark (5:50) short film, The Bambi Effect (3:00) and Bambi Fawn Facts (3:34).  Furthermore, vintage bonus features carried over feature Classic Deleted Scenes (3:07), a Deleted Song: “Twitterpated” (1:52), The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born (53:15), Tricks of Our Trade (Excerpt) (7:18), Inside the Disney Archives (8:39), The Old Mill: Animated Short (8:58), The Golden Age (6:24) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:12).  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Cars 3 (0:57) and Beauty and the Beast (1:38) round out the on-disc extras.  Additionally, Celebrating Tyrus Wong (8:56), available only digitally, examines the long life of the famed artist, who passed away only last year at the age of 106, and his lasting impressions on Bambi.  Fans are also treated to a Collectible Tyrus Wong Lithograph in the packaging’s interior while, a DVD edition and Digital HD are also provided.

    Retaining the same splendid audio and visual specifications as its previous outing on Blu-ray, Bambi’s Signature Collection Edition joins the line with several new worthy supplements including a new Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short while, a stash, albeit incomplete, selection of classic extras are also on-hand.  Lovers, young and old, of Disney’s golden age efforts will be delighted to add this quintessential feature into their collections if they haven’t already and cherish the breathtaking sights of Bambi and his furry friends for years to come.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Bambi can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Up All Night with Severin Films: Blackenstein (1973), Cathy's Curse (1977) & The Other Hell (1981) Blu-ray Reviews

      

    Blackenstein (1973)

    Director: William A. Levy

    Starring: John Hart, Ivory Stone, Andrea King, Liz Renay, Roosevelt Jackson, Joe De Sue, Nick Bolin, Cardella Di Milo, James Cousar & Marva Farmer

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Piggybacking on the success of American International Pictures’ black bloodsucker of the previous year, Blackenstein loosely modernizes Mary Shelley’s classic work for a new generation of exploitation-loving jive ass turkeys.  Attempting to rehabilitate her armless and legless Vietnam veteran boyfriend back to health, Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) turns to her mentor Dr. Stein (John Hart, The Lone Ranger) to work medical miracles.  After rejecting a fellow lab assistant’s advances, the disgruntled helper sabotages Winifred’s lovers progress, transforming him into hulking monster.  Stalking the streets of Los Angeles in the shiniest of boots and ripping limbs off of unsuspecting whities before meeting his fate at the fangs of ferocious dobermans, Blackenstein is a tightly paced hoot that plays itself surprisingly straight for such a cooky concept whose behind-the-scenes making is even stranger and sadly more tragic than its own fiction.  

    Befit with a solid-looking 1080p transfer, presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Severin Films honors the blaxploitation-horror oddity with strong colors and only fleeting instances of cigarette burns while, its DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix relays dialogue crisply with no cracks or pops intruding.  Offering both its preferred Theatrical (1:17:46) and Video Release (1:27:05) versions, additional supplements include, Monster Kid (19:02) where June Kirk, sister of Writer/Producer Frank R. Saletri, reminisces about her multitalented brother, his lavish mansion previously owned by Bela Lugosi and later Johnny Depp, his genuine sense of pride producing Blackenstein and the emotional circumstances surrounding Salteri’s still unsolved murder in 1982.  Furthermore, an Archive News Broadcast on the Murder of Frank R. Saletri (6:17), Ken Osborne and Robert Dix Remember Frank Saletri (6:36), culled from the filming of Severin Films’ Al Adamson documentary, Bill Created Blackenstein (9:13) featuring an audio interview with Creature Designer Bill Munns (Swamp Thing, The Return of the Living Dead) and lastly, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:24) are also featured.  Electrifying with bolts of undead absurdity, Blackenstein rises from the examination table, courtesy of resurrectors Severin Films, with a striking HD upgrade, revealing extras and dual versions for completists of the underexploitated world of blaxploitation frighteners.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Blackenstein can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Cathy’s Curse (1977)

    Director: Eddy Matalon

    Starring: Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen, Roy Witham, Mary Morter & Dorothy Davis

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Using other satanically-charged killer kiddie flicks such as The Exorcist and The Omen as moneymaking references, the peculiar French/Canadian production of Cathy’s Curse unspools with a fatal car accident that leaves a stressed out father and his young daughter burning alive like logs on a flame.  Returning to his childhood home decades later, older brother George Gimble (Alan Scarfe, Double Impact) looks to start anew with his emotionally troubled wife and sweet daughter Cathy.  Shortly after stumbling upon her late aunt’s creepy doll, Cathy turns sour and is possessed, giving evil a prime spot at the dinner table.  Riddled with discombobulating jump cuts and eerie keyboard tunes, Cathy’s Curse lets the blonde little devil work her supernatural magic by forcing the housemaid out a window, hypnotizing the drunken caretaker with spiders, snakes and rats slithering across his still body while, a blood-filled bathtub and leeches are utilized to further her mother’s descent into madness.  A noble yet, imperfect terror effort from the tax-sheltered north, Cathy’s Curse may not spew pea soup across viewers but does make ample use of a minor amusingly spit firing profanities and rearing her own ghastly burnt face in a final showdown against mommy dearest.

    Newly transferred in 2K from recently discovered elements, Cathy’s Curse makes the wildly unexpected leap to high-definition with sound results that buries its previously underwhelming outings on home video.  Presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 1.85:1 aspect ratio, flashy colors seen in gaudier wallpaper selections pop appreciatively while, white levels, witnessed in snowfall and sunshine creeping through windows, appear naturally softer.  Meanwhile, print damage remains vastly minimal.  Joined by a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue with general ease and only mild hiss detected, the film’s aforementioned keyboard selections are the track’s most memorable cues.  Featuring both the film’s go-to Director’s Cut (1:30:44) and an Alternate U.S. Release Cut (1:21:49), other bonus feature offerings include, an Audio Commentary with BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins & Filmmaker Simon Barret (U.S. Release Cut only), Tricks and Treats: Director Eddy Matalon on Cathy’s Curse (20:16), where the filmmaker, speaking mostly in French with subtitles provided, discusses the production, crew and incredible affordability shooting in Canada.  In addition, Cathy and Mum (12:42) catches up with the elusive Randi Allen who played the possessed titular character and her mother Joyce Allen who acted as the film’s Costume Designer.  Lastly, an Introduction to the Cinematic Void Screening at American Cinematheque by BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins (4:28) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:36) wrap up the disc’s extras.  A true deep cut of Canadian chillers of the possessed persuasion, Cathy’s Curse has the power once more thanks to a crowd pleasing restoration fans will assume was achieved through a deal with the devil himself (at least we hope so!).

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Cathy's Curse can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Other Hell (1981)

    Director: Bruno Mattei

    Starring: Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo, Francesca Carmeno & Susan Forget

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A sacrilege slice of nunsploitation, Italian cult cinema heavyweight Bruno Mattei (Hell of the Living Dead, Rats: Night of Terror), under the pseudonym Stefan Oblowsky, paints church walls red in The Other Hell.  Following several questionable suicides at a nunnery, the depraved Mother Vincenza (Franca Stoppi, Beyond the Darkness) attempts to derail Father Valerio's (Carlo De Mejo, City of the Living Dead) investigation so that her devilish methods may continue.  Narratively messy and lacking such sleaze factors as ample nudity and lesbianism, The Other Hell does little to rattle the cages of excess while, supernatural happenings stake their claim in the form of bloody stigmata and Hell’s head honcho rearing his red blazing eyes, revealing themselves to only be laughable light-up bulbs.  Certain that the evil happenings are the work of a flesh and blood deviant, Father Valerio asks for more than he bargained when a flashback sequence reveals the Mother Superior’s baby was violently boiled and, as the daughter of Satan, the living and badly burned child’s otherworldly abilities are the cause for the convents twisted events.  Certainly seedy with nuns performing grisly abortions and flexing their stabbing reflexes routinely, The Other Hell hardly lives up to its reputation as one of the subgenres best with Mattei and Stoppo’s attachment being the only cause for a passing glance.

    A mild improvement from its previous standard definition release, Severin Films readies The Other Hell with a 1080p transfer, culled from 35mm blow-up elements presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Still showing signs of noticeable wear in the form of scratches, cigarette burns and an intruding vertical line during one dinner sequence in particular, black levels show improvement but remain imperfect while insert shots of the Mother Superior stabbing Father Valerio appear to be sourced from a lesser reference.  Meanwhile, the LPCM 2.0 mix is audible with the English dub track relayed decently but, not without its own faults of cracks, pop and a thin veil of hiss detected throughout.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso, moderated by Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddea, Sister Franca (13:13) catches up with Actress Franca Stoppi where she reveals working on The Other Hell and The True Story of the Nun of Monza simultaneously, often working on the same sets.  In addition, Stoppi recalls the warm and fun relationship working with Carlo De Mejo and as a niece of two nuns growing up, loved the aspect of dressing up as one for films.  Furthermore, To Hell and Back (11:22) features archive interviews with Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo with The Other Hell Trailer (3:34) and Reversible Cover Art concluding the release’s extras.  One may not require a bath in holy water after viewing The Other Hell but, that doesn’t make it the worst of its kind either, just simply less blasphemous than one might expect.  Completists of Mattei’s demented filmography won’t blink twice adding this unholy feature to their shelves with Severin’s noble efforts saving it from certain annihilation well worth falling to your knees for.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, The Other Hell can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (2017)

    Director: Bill Condon

    Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining Disney’s animated masterpiece into live-action, Beauty and the Beast tells the time-honored tale of the bookish Belle (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whose eternal imprisonment in the castle of a cursed Beast (Dan Stevens, The Guest) morphs into an unexpected chance at love.  

    Perhaps more anticipated than Disney’s previous 21st century fairy tale adaptations and cautiously guarded by enthusiasts who value the 1991 version as a treasured benchmark of the Disney Renaissance era, Beauty and the Beast waltzes with whimsy and charm that harnesses the magic of its predecessor while, enchanting audiences through its live performances and visual-effects wizardry.  Straying closely to its counterparts narrative beats, Emma Watson stuns as the ideal Belle whose independent personality shines brightly and singing chops bring new dimension to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s classic songs.  Furthermore, Dan Stevens conjures an intimidating ferociousness and tenderness in his role as the Beast that growls through his digitized masking while, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) flexes his muscles as the living embodiment of the egotistical Gaston.  Meanwhile, Josh Gad (Frozen) consistently steals scenes as the suggestively gay LeFou with his clumsy humor and hopeless crush on Gaston offering the biggest laughs with an impressive supporting roster of thespians including, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) as the french candelabra Lumière, Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes) as the worrisome Cogsworth and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as the warm Mrs. Potts all bringing their inanimate characters to life in colorful fashion.  

    Enrapturing the film with fantastical glow and intricate detail, Production Designer Sarah Greenwood’s (Atonement) efforts are a work of art unto themselves while, the fan-favorite tunes continue to cast their enchanting spell on audiences with several new musical arrangements on hand including, “How Does A Moment Last Forever” by Celine Dion.  For all its dazzling majesty and subtle enhancements that bond Belle and the beast’s romance through shared grief, the trickiness of bringing a lifelike beast creature to reality falters when sharing the screen with the very real Watson.  Lacking the believability of the animal characters found in Disney’s groundbreaking reinvention of The Jungle Book, the Beast’s appearance works respectably on its own while demonstrating its obvious shortcomings in closeups that never fully suspends our disbelief and slightly takes attention away from intimate sequences.  Concurrently, the castle’s cursed inhabitants in their possession form are a visual marvel, making splashing sequences such as their dinner table rendition of “Be Our Guest” one of the film’s most memorable.  Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is overwhelmingly delightful with Bill Condon’s (Dreamgirls) grand direction perfectly suited for the musical material.  As warmly conducted as its animated brethren, Disney’s latest interpretation of Beauty and the Beast reaffirms the tale’s splendor and reputation as one of the greatest romances of all-time.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Beauty and the Beast with a sparkling 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Radiating with pristine quality, Belle’s quaint village glows under sunny skies while the grim and cobweb-infested layers of the Beast’s castle are presented with striking clarity.  Furthermore, skin tones appear warm and naturally inviting with Belle’s dazzling golden gown and the castle’s CG-rendered characters bursting with detail and colorful grace.  Yet another knockout transfer for the Mouse House, Beauty and the Beast will leave viewers visually waltzing in wonder!  Equipped with an equally exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the crispest of dialogue levels while taking full advantage of the film’s musical compositions, the track is nothing short of sonically fantastic.  

    As well stocked as the inhabitants in the Beast’s towering estate, special features include, Enchanted Table Read (13:31) giving viewers a unique look at one of the most theatrical read-throughs of any production captured on film, A Beauty of a Tale (27:08) finds the filmmakers and cast members discussing their attractions and utmost responsibility in telling this tale faithfully yet with its own unique charms while, The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (5:17) spotlights the creative contributions to the film by Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, Set Decorator Katie Spencer, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, Casting Director Lucy Bevan and Editor Virginia Katz.  Additionally, From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences (13:26), Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” with Introduction by Bill Condon (4:08), Deleted Scenes (6:23) also accompanied by an Introduction by Condon and Making a Moment with Celine Dion (3:24) where the emotional singer shares her personal ties to the project’s 1991 originator and the honor of being asked to contribute to its live-action counterpart.  Finally, the “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video by Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02), Making the Music Video: “Beauty and the Beast” (2:07), a Disney Song Selection (33:09) that allows viewers to jump to the film’s musical sequences and Sneak Peeks at Cars 3 (0:57) and Descendants 2 (0:32) conclude the on-disc supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Unanimously loved by both audiences and critics, Beauty and the Beast’s magical live-action makeover would skyrocket to billion dollar success ultimately becoming the most profitable movie musical of all time.  Retaining the enchanting splendor of its predecessor while using today’s technology and a stunning new cast under the guidance of musically minded director Bill Condon, Beauty and the Beast ensures its time-old tale of romance lives on for another generation.  As efficient as ever, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers another first-rate example of high-definition excellence with an appetizing selection of bonus features for seconds.  With the exception of its absent 3D edition that, similar to The Jungle Book’s home video strategy, is most surely to come at a later date, Beauty and the Beast comes highly recommended for fairy tale devotees and Disney lovers alike.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 6th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Founder (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Founder (2016)

    Director: John Lee Hancock

    Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak & Laura Dern

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the true story, The Founder charts the grassroots rise and eventual worldwide presence of the McDonald’s corporation.  Starring Michael Keaton (Spotlight) as struggling milkshake maker salesman Ray Kroc during America’s golden 50s, the discovery of a tiny yet, revolutionary fast-making burger eatery in Souther California sparks the wick of inspiration in the persistent businessman who sees nothing but endless possibilities.  Impressed by the operation and wooing its owners, Mac and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation and John Carroll Lynch, Channel Zero respectively), with fast talk of franchising, Kroc storms the midwest with undeniable success before desires of growing the McDonald’s brand become much more profound.  Robbed of an Academy Award nomination for his performance, Michael Keaton, although in excellent company with a stable of talent consisting of Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), singlehandedly commands the picture with restless energy and a mixture of ambition and underhanded practices that make his character bursting with depth and relatable flaws.  Looking beyond what the McDonald’s brothers envisioned while constantly being constrained by contractual terms, Kroc leverages his placement within the company by seedily taking credit for its creation before maneuvering a bonafide takeover.  A vastly intriguing character study that reveals its warts and all perhaps more so than Hancock’s charmingly saccharine Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder pulls no punches in detailing McDonald’s fascinating origin, littered with humor, mistrust and greed that could only be made and served in America.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents The Founder with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally composed with strong detail observed in Keaton’s facial features that reveal aging lines and rosy makeup choices in its female performers, the gorgeous vistas and greenery spotted along Route 66 are also prominently relayed.  In addition, the neon signage illuminating from the film’s many McDonald’s exteriors and their spotless kitchens pop most effectively with black levels observed during nighttime sequences and blacktop lots registering deeply.  Accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is crisply handled without a hiccup observed while, more frantic activity during kitchen sequences provide more notable atmospherics.  Special features include, a Behind the Scenes Gallery consisting of the following several featurettes, The Story Behind the Story (4:32), Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc (3:08), The McDonald’s Brothers (4:01), The Production Design (7:06) and Building McDonald’s: Time Lapse Video (1:21).  Furthermore, a Press Conference with Filmmakers and Cast (37:44) recorded in Los Angeles on January 12, 2017 closes out the on-disc extras while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.  An exemplary effort chronicling the advancements of one of the world’s most thriving fast food chains that deliberately challenged the values of its originators, The Founder is a sharply constructed feature with yet another fascinating performance from Keaton that unfortunately went vastly under seen.  Served with a side order of mediocre supplements, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s high-definition presentation honors the film’s period setting with picturesque quality, making this trip to the golden arches as narratively revealing as it is visually pleasing.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Anchor Bay Entertainment, The Founder can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Teen Witch (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Teen Witch (1989)

    Director: Dorian Walker

    Starring: Robyn Lively, Zelda Rubinstein, Dan Gauthier, Joshua Miller & Dick Sargent

    Released by: Kino Lorber

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A bonafide titan of cult cinema categorized by many under the “so bad, it’s good” section, Teen Witch exudes a laughable charm with countless quotable one-liners and even goofier musical interludes that must be seen to be believed.  Originally intended as the female equivalent to the Teen Wolf films, Teen Witch casts its own spell focusing on high school nobody Louise Miller (Robyn Lively, The Karate Kid Part III) whose crush on senior hunk Brad (Dan Gauthier, Son in Law) and hopes of popular acceptance are a stretch far from her reality.  Learning of her ties to Salem’s witches on her 16th birthday, Louise, mentored by palm reader Madame Serena (Zelda Rubinstein, Poltergeist), uses her spectacular powers to turn herself from brainy introvert to the most popular girl in school.  Helmed by Making the Grade’s Dorian Walker, this supernatural love story remains a riot from start to finish with Louise’s hilariously cruel and occasionally creepy younger brother Richie (Joshua Miller, Near Dark) stealing scenes as he dramatically ridicules his sister for being a dog before having the tables turned on him.  While its girl meets boy and falls in love structure is certifiably formulaic, Teen Witch’s major draws come from the not-so intentional humor derived from its gaudy 80s sensibilities and beyond wacky rap battle song numbers that will leave viewers crying with tears of laughter.  Sprinkled with quintessential sexy sax music and rise to popularity montages, Louise’s decision to ultimately ditch spells in order to gain real love is as cheesily enjoyable as one might expect.  Sharing company with similar misunderstood blunders as The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and Howard the Duck, Teen Witch, much like its counterparts, is a wildly fun concoction fit for cult loving cinema hounds.

    Kino Lorber presents Teen Witch with a radiant 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Minor specking aside, colors featured in the loud clothing and makeup choices of the era pop solidly while, skin tones remain strong with natural grain layers firmly intact.  Sharp and crisp-looking throughout, Teen Witch has never looked better on home video.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is clear-sounding with musical moments during the girl’s locker room sequence, the infamous rap duel and the closing prom night scene all offering increased weight much to the delight of listeners.  

    Packaged with a first-rate supply of newly crafted supplements, the disc’s many special features include, an Audio Commentary with Stars Robyn Lively, Joshua Miller, Dan Gauthier & Mandy Ingber, Finest Hour: Robyn Lively on Teen Witch (23:19) sits down with the lovable lead today as she recalls the audition process and heaves praise for each one of her cast members, Dan Gauthier Remembers Teen Witch (20:14) catches up with Brad today in an equally lengthy interview where viewers learn the production introduced him to his costar and future wife.  Furthermore, Lisa Fuller Remembers Teen Witch (3:50) echoes many of her husband’s warm sentiments making the film with hazier clarity, Maken It Big: Mandy Ingber Remembers Teen Witch (16:19) discusses her love for costar Lively, her lack of confidence in Walker’s vision and embarrassment having to film the much discussed rap scene while, The Music of Teen Witch (21:18) catches up with Music Producers Larry & Tom Weir as they discuss their approaches to the film’s pop and rap numbers, the latter of which they knew little to nothing about after the production insisted upon its inclusion in the film.  Finally, Top That: A Conversation with Robyn Lively & Mandy Ingber (15:38) is a sweet and candid reunion between the two friends as they exchange memories from the shoot.  The film’s Trailer (2:17) concludes the impressive slate of extras.  A financial disaster left to die, Teen Witch has not only survived years of ridicule but, reemerged as a justifiable treasure of cult cinema.  Spells, dreamy hunks, gorgeous girls and… rap all serve their role in making this cheesy good time one that dares to be topped.  Kino Lorber outdoes themselves with the care given to such a B-movie favorite with its definitive collection of extras leaving fans bewitched.  Top that!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber, Teen Witch can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Wanderers (1979) Blu-ray Review

    The Wanderers (1979)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

    Starring: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen & Toni Kalem

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Richard Price’s novel, The Wanderers centers on a Bronx gang of teens whose experiences growing up in the mid 60s provide a rich canvas for youthful decadence and eventual maturity against an ever-changing world.  Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff) directs this coming-of-age wonder.

    Depicting a time and place in New York City all but lost to time, The Wanderers fascinating depiction of universal themes plaguing directionless street dwellers during the final stretch of their teen years rings with pure sincerity nearly four decades later.  Set in the radically changing year of 1963, high school gang, The Wanderers, spend their days less worrying about their futures than defending their turf against rival hoods and chasing tail.  Sporting identical jackets bearing their squad name and greased up hairdos, the Italian teens find themselves embroiled in a racially tense standoff against the black Del Bombers while losing a fellow member to leather-bound baddies the Fordham Baldies.  Leaning on his girlfriend’s mafioso father for assistance, Wanderers leader Richie (Ken Wahl, Wiseguy) simultaneously falls for new girl on the block Nina (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Ark) in a controversial move that puts him on the outs with best friend Joey (John Friedrich, The Final Terror) and the rest of his gang.  Upholding their tough guy personas through violent brawls and chauvinism, The Wanderers manages to break through these shell casings as friendships are tested, hearts are broken and unexpected responsibilities are sprung upon them.  As the nation reacts and changes following the assassination of JFK, a high stakes football game against their African-American foes spirals into an all out war, finding the once divided units battling a shared enemy.  Beautifully aided by a soundtrack of doo wop hits and other golden oldies, The Wanderers is the perfect bridge between other youth centered pictures like American Graffiti and The Warriors.  While its setting may be a thing of the past, The Wanderers speaks a language firmly rooted in the tender years of youth that is as unforgettably beautiful and painful as our own memories.

    Newly restored in 2K, KL Studio Classics proudly presents The Wanderers with a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.85:1 (1:78:1 for its included Preview Cut edition) aspect ratio.  Sporting a wonderfully cleaned up appearance free of unsightly scratches or tears, skin tones are warmly inviting while, filmic quality is as organic as can be.  Furthermore, the dingy city alleyways and storefronts are excellently presented with colors and textures found in the wide variety of gang jackets and the Del Bombers’ loud football uniforms popping nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that does a fine job relaying dialogue recorded on busy New York streets, the film’s period soundtrack cuts make for the strongest enforcements on the otherwise healthy track.  

    Divided over two discs featuring both its Theatrical Cut (1:57:09) and rare Preview Cut (2:03:50), Disc 1’s special features kicks off with a Director’s Statement (1:56) followed by an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Philip Kaufman.  Also included, Back in the Bronx with Richard Price (35:18), The Wanderers Forever!: Live Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias & Richard Price (16:35) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52).  Meanwhile, Disc 2’s offerings feature an Introduction with Stars Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias (0:40), an Audio Commentary with Columbia University Film Professor & Author of Philip Kaufman Annette Insdorf, The Wanderers Q&A at The Cinefamily with Philip Kaufman, Alan Rosenberg & Peter Kaufman (31:59), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Philip Kaufman (19:46), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Richard Price (16:41), the Re-Release Trailer (1:40) and a TV Spot (0:33).

    A continually growing cult classic and a high-water achievement in coming-of-age cinema, The Wanderers recalls the struggles and fears common in most teens attempting to make sense of the big world surrounding them with a palpable relatability few films capture.  In one of their standout efforts of the year, KL Studio Classics reinstates this golden oldie back into the public eye with a gorgeous 2K restoration, hefty supplements and dual cuts of the film that make joining up with this particular gang a splendid life choice.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Wanderers can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Tangled: Before Ever After (2017) DVD Review

    Tangled: Before Ever After (2017)

    Director(s): Tom Caulfield & Stephen Sandoval

    Starring: Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Eden Espinosa, Clancy Brown, Julie Bowen & Jeffrey Tambor

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Taking place after the events of the original film but before the lead characters’ eventual marriage, Tangled: Before Ever After brings the charming heart and humor of Rapunzel and beau Eugene to the small screen in this original movie event, kickstarting its new episodic series.  Exchanging its slick computer-generated animation for a more traditional 2D style that echoes an illustrated storybook come to life, Rapunzel, although thrilled to be back home and surrounded by loved ones, struggles to adapt to her new royal lifestyle and the responsibilities it demands.  Temporarily turning down the love of her life’s proposal in order to explore sights beyond her castle walls, the barefoot beauty teams up with her resourceful aide Cassandra and encounters a mystical rock formation that returns her lengthy locks.  Attempting to fulfill her coronation ceremony, danger is not far behind as the vengeful Lady Kaine and her ruffians seek to infiltrate the castle leaving Rapunzel and Flynn, along with their animal friends, leading the defense.  Welcoming back the voice talents of Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore, Tangled: Before Ever After sets the stage for the Disney Channel’s seemingly surefire followup to the much loved feature.  Introducing new characters, familiar locations and retaining the enchanting tone audiences fell in love with several years ago, this anticipated return for Corona’s favorite couple, complimented by new original songs by legendary Disney composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), is a romantically fun adventure fans will looks favorably upon.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Tangled: Before Ever After in a widescreen format, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally mastered and warmly preserving its very vibrant color scheme, characters and busier castle backgrounds look solid making the watching experience a satisfactory one.  Joined by a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently handled while, the Menken penned song numbers give the track a subtle but, gracious boost in quality.  Bonus goodies include, four Short Cuts mini movies including, Checkmate (2:32), Prison Bake (2:22), Make Me Smile (2:32) and Hare Peace (2:27).  Furthermore, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Descendants 2 (0:34) and Born in China (1:16) are also included.  Lastly, an Exclusive Replica of Rapunzel’s Journal, as seen in the film, is also included in the packaging.  Fans awaiting for more fairy tales to be told from the world of Tangled, fear not, as this humorous new beginning for the beloved characters is on par with the magic of its 2010 originator.  With its formal series now airing and already renewed for a second season, Tangled: Before Ever After is the perfect start to catching up with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, making for a prime Easter basket treat for young viewers this holiday season.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tangled: Before Ever After can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Drive-In Massacre (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Drive-In Massacre (1976)

    Director: Stu Segall

    Starring: Jake Barnes, Adam Lawrence, Douglas Gudbye & Verkina Flowers

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Although bearing a glorified grindhouse moniker further personified by its gritty photography, Drive-In Massacre falls short of living up to its promise of exploitation excess.  Co-scripted by Back to the Future’s quintessential hobo George “Buck” Flower, a sweltering California drive-in is targeted by a sword-wielding madmen with a penchant for necking couples.  Kicking off with an impactful opening leaving the heads of unsuspecting lovers literally rolling, Drive-In Massacre quickly veers off course as a dull duo of detectives investigate the murders leading them down a rabbit hole of red herrings ranging from public ejaculators and bumbling maintenance men to no avail.  Unsurprisingly shot in less than a week, this smartly marketed indie effort makes little case in the realm of appealing characters and a slim body count that can’t only help but disappoint based on the film’s tagline deeming itself too terrifying for the average moviegoer.  While its classic drive-in and latter carnival filming locations make for nostalgic eye candy, Drive-In Massacre ultimately dawdles for much of its barely hour-long runtime before the coppers zero in on a warehouse where yet another machete-wielding red herring withholds a young woman.  Completely unrelated to their actual unknown suspect, the film’s “killer is still out there” sendoff not only feels cheap but, lacks any sort of punch actual drive-inners may have had shifting their ride into reverse by the end credits.  Notable for preceding the slasher craze and boasting an uncompromisingly eye-catching title, Drive-In Massacre can be appreciated for its humble efforts but, hardly leaves a true developmental mark on the genre.

    Newly restored from the original camera negative, Severin Films presents Drive-In Massacre with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Although sporadic instances of scuffs, scratches and reel change snafus are to be expected, this no-budget crash course in exploitation moviemaking surprises with an overwhelmingly filmic appearance that comes alive best during the film’s sunnier sequences.  Furthermore, colors seen in drive-in manager Mr. Johnson’s flashy attire pop strongly while, the neon-lit carnival rides also spruce up the picture nicely.  Meanwhile, black levels vary in quality from serviceable to overly grainy.  Unfortunately, the film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix suffers from more innate issues of muffling and restraint making dialogue delivery a challenging but, not impossible feat to absorb.  Scoring cues are at least more functional while, traces of static interference also rear their head from time to time.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Stu Segall followed by an Easter Egg accessed by clicking left of its icon revealing the Theatrical Trailer for Segall’s 1972 effort C.B. Hustlers (2:52).  Next up, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:49) and Drive-In Days: A Conversation with Co-Writer/Actor John F. Goff (16:18) who recalls his early love affair with film through his uncle’s movie theater and his eventual affliction with the acting bug is provided.  Additionally, Norm Sheridan Recalls Drive-In Massacre (11:45) shares his own treasured experiences making the film that transpired several years after returning home from the Vietnam War.  Lastly, the vintage Making the Massacre: Interview with Director Stu Segall (6:32) is also included alongside Reversible Cover Art.  Far from an essential exploitation opus, Drive-In Massacre makes for a curious watch for grindhouse completists with its head-lopping introduction just worthy enough of its time.  Unfazed by its unavoidable wear and tear, Severin Films delivers this no-so trashy cheapie in the best shape imaginable for its high-definition domestic debut, befit with a generous helping of on-disc goodies.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Drive-In Massacre can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Tales from the Hood (1995) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Tales from the Hood (1995)

    Director: Rusty Cundieff

    Starring: Corbin Bersen, Rosalind Cash, Rusty Cundieff, David Alan Grier, Anthony Griffith, Wings Hauser, Paula Jai Parker, Joe Torry & Clarence Williams III

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Executive Producer Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), Tales from the Hood unspools an anthology of urban frights set against the backdrop of inner city social issues as frightening as the monsters depicted in them.  Nightmares and reality are forever blurred when a trio of hoodlums retrieving a stash of missing drugs from an eerie mortician find themselves subjected to several tales from beyond the grave.

    Released in a dire genre year just ahead of Wes Craven’s postmodern slasher masterpiece rejuvenating audiences thirst, Tales from the Hood stands as one of the few crowning achievements from the lumpish decade that offers genuine frights with effectively delivered messages entwined in their narratives.  Seldom seen during the scatterbrained era but nonetheless serving as one of the best anthology efforts of its day, Tales from the Hood’s urban slant provides a chillingly fresh perspective on a proven formula with its commentary on issues such as, police brutality, domestic abuse and gang violence unfortunately still potent today.  Guiding his trigger-happy guests around his funeral home, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III, Mod Squad) weaves a web of ghoulish stories in accordance with their own ethnic environment.  When an African-American rookie cop watches on as a civil rights leader is attacked by corrupt officers, Rogue Cop Revelation finds his lack of action comes at a haunting price while, Boys Do Get Bruised finds a child’s fear of the monster in his closet foreshadowing the real-life domestic abuse he suffers and the power of his own imagination that puts an end to it in this Twilight Zone-esque episode.  Furthermore, KKK Comeuppance centers on former Klansman and running politician Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen, L.A. Law) learning his former plantation homestead is overrun by vengeful slave dolls brought to life by stop-motion wizardry.  Lastly, gang violence, hate and a failed attempt to rehabilitate a murderous convict in Hard Core Convert strikes genuine fear into the hearts of viewers with its grizzly imagery of real-life lynchings.  While most films of its kind leave audiences cherry-picking their favorite segments, Tales from the Hood continuously tops itself throughout its duration with its seamless blending of terror and gritty, urban realism making it one of the most smartly conceived efforts of the 90s.

    Reportedly thought to have no workable prints to remaster from, Scream Factory comes through to deliver Tales from the Hood with a strong 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Leaps and bounds better than its nearly decade-old discontinued DVD release, colors are striking while, skin tones are naturally pleasing with black levels, evident during the film’s overwhelming nighttime sequences, looking deeply inky with no intrusions of digital crush.  Scant speckling traces aside, the transfer is a remarkable sight that will leave fans yearning for a trip back to the hood more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue sharply and emphasizes its rap soundtrack authoritatively, an Alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 culled from the film’s LaserDisc release is also included for your listening pleasure.  Joining its place alongside other worthy Collector’s Edition releases, supplemental offerings include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Rusty Cundieff also recycled from its LaserDisc release, the newly-produced and exceptionally well made Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood (56:13) featuring interviews from Cundieff, Co-Writer/Producer Darin Scott and several cast members, a Vintage Featurette (6:04), the Theatrical Trailer (1:41), TV Spots (3:26), a Photo Gallery (9:46) and Reversible Cover Art bearing the original 1-sheet.

    Retrieved from Universal’s vaults after rampant requests from fans, Tales from the Hood is an underrated gem from a decade largely considered in peril with few redeeming genre efforts.  A horrific journey of eerie episodes with much more on its mind than simply scaring its audiences, this socially conscious and wickedly fun frightfest is urban horror at its finest.  Bestowed with new luridly crafted artwork by Joel Robinson (The Vincent Price Collections), Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release brings the hood back to life with a sightly high-definition makeover and a quality serving of mostly vintage supplements while, its brand-new, nearly hour-long retrospective doc is the disc’s towering extra.  Gather round the casket and don’t be left out on the streets without this recommended anthology of nightmares!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Scream Factory, Tales from the Hood can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

    Director: Gareth Edwards

    Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen & Forest Whitaker

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    During a time of ruthless Imperial rule, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finds an unlikely band of heroes headed by the daring Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) and rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, The Terminal) as they plot to steal the coveted plans to the Empire’s most destructive weapon, the Death Star.  Ben Mendelsohn (Una), Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange), Alan Tudyk (Frozen), Jiang Wen (The Sun Also Rises) and Forest Whitaker (Arrival) costar.

    Marking the first of many planned stand-alone films in the popular sci-fi saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivers an action-packed and emotionally riveting tale based on a crucial footnote, often referred to but never explored in the film universe on such a profound scale.  Following the murder of her mother and capturing of her scientist father (Mikkelsen) fifteen years ago, Jyn Erso, resorting to petty theft and anything else to survive in the war-ravaged world the Empire has fashioned, is rescued from incarceration by rebels with an imperative message from her thought to be dead father, Galen Erso.  Using his brilliance to design the Empire’s most invaluable weapon for total domination, Galen alerts Jyn of the Death Star’s near completion and its sole vulnerability.  Aided by rebel officer Cassian Andor and the series’ most hilariously blunt droid to date, K-2SO (Tudyk), to retrieve the elder Erso in an effort to assist the Alliance, Jyn must scour distant and dangerous worlds, confront old foes and ensure the plans to the Death Star are captured in a mission built entirely on hope and outnumbered by the odds.  

    A far riskier endeavor than its previous Episode-connected installment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story forges on with an adventure, visually and thematically, engrained in the spirit of Lucas’ franchise-starting wave of films.  Grittier and focusing on a new breed of unlikely and richly diverse heroes that come together to aid Jyn’s deathly mission, the prequel to A New Hope flourishes with stunning visual effects and a groundbreaking achievement that resurrects the deceased Peter Cushing’s likeness to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin.  As strong and appealing as these new rebels including, the determined Jyn and blind Force believer Chirrut Îmwe (Yen) are individually, their chemistry as a unit lacks and is a far cry from the charming connections seen between the stars of George Lucas’ original trilogy.  While character development issues, also present in his 2014 Godzilla reboot are repeated here, Director Gareth Edwards handles the wealth of the narrative with a steady hand and an obvious appreciation for the detailed universe.  Complimented by a distinct yet familiar score by Michael Giacchino (Tomorrowland, Doctor Strange) that seamlessly taps into John Williams’ beloved themes and featuring the most viciously exciting appearance by Darth Vader on film yet, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, although leading to an unavoidably predictable finale, is a thrilling journey into the galaxy’s past that stands strongly on its own merits.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Immaculately handled, the digital photography detailing the various planet landscapes and colder color textures seen early in the film make for a flawlessly crisp picture.  Furthermore, skin tones are naturally preserved with the deepest of black levels observed during high-flying space battles, death trooper armor and of course, Darth Vader’s iconic garb.  A picturesque high-definition experience on all fronts, the Force is triumphantly strong with this transfer.  Equipped with a fittingly perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that delivers dialogue with the swiftest of precision, Michael Giacchino’s swelling score boldly supports the spectacular visuals while, the whizzing sounds of TIE fighters, X-wings and explosive laser blasts all make reference-worthy statements on the track.

    Respectably stocked and presented on a separate disc, supplements found under The Stories banner include, A Rogue Idea (9:00) that finds ILM’s John Knoll discussing how he came up with the film’s concept that would ultimately launch the Star Wars stand-alone projects, Jyn: The Rebel (6:16) explores the lead character’s traits and backstory with insight from Actress Felicity Jones, Cassian: The Spy (4:14) hosts Actor Diego Luna as he discusses Cassian’s own complexities being a hero against immeasurable odds, K-2SO: The Droid (7:43) details the technical process bringing the droid to life through Alan Tudyk’s performance, Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20) digs deeper into the characters’ backstories and the Chinese superstars playing them, Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (8:35) finds Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed reflecting on their very unique roles as an extremist rebel leader and Imperial pilot gone rogue while, The Empire (8:18) gives a revealing look into the film’s antagonists, Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24) explores the production’s challenge with making a film that could visually fit into the realm of the original trilogy’s appearance, The Princess & The Governor (5:49) sheds light on the impressive movie magic that brought a younger Princess Leia and Governor Tarkin back to the big-screen and Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15) finds the filmmakers and cast reflecting on the experience with footage from the film’s world premiere included.  In addition, Rogue Connections (4:31) points out all the Easter eggs and references to other films in the Star Wars universe found in the film with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code concluding the bonus feature offerings.

    Following up on the momentum of The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story successfully charts a new course in a universe of stand-alone features that overwhelmingly soars on its first flight.  Minor character development hiccups aside, the prequel invites viewers back to a familiar world, this time told via strangers eyes, who win the affections of its audience through compelling performances and mesmerizing visual effects.  While its ultimate destination may be easily foreseen, the journey and near-impossible mission at hand is as exciting as one could hope for from a new chapter in the Star Wars universe.  Unsurprisingly, Disney’s high-definition presentation is a lavish-looking, reference worthy example of excellence with a serviceable amount of supplements bested only by its own Target exclusive release containing additional on-disc content and a 3D presentation.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 4th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Chamber of Horrors (1940) Blu-ray Review

    Chamber of Horrors (1940)

    Director: Norman Lee

    Starring: Leslie Banks, Lilli Palmer, Gina Malo & Conny Van Dyke

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported by Poverty Row distributor Monogram Pictures shortly after a British band on horror fare was lifted, the adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s The Door with Seven Locks, retitled to the more attention-grabbing Chamber of Horrors for American shores is a convoluted labyrinth of intrigue that thrives on its solid atmosphere.  Following the passing of a wealthy lord who’s entombed with a treasure of jewels requiring seven keys to undo its locks, the unlikely heiress to his fortune, June Lansdowne (Lilli Palmer, The House That Screamed), finds herself and those closest to her entangled in a tortuous web of murder and deceit.  Hamming it up nicely as the suspected Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks, The Most Dangerous Game) whose affection for collecting historical torture devices is far from subtle, Chamber of Horrors plays more directly as a murder mystery than its more garish title suggests although, a prominent chamber where artifacts of death are on display serves as host to some of the film’s more memorable and revealing sequences.  Jaw-droppingly beautiful and injecting a fearless sense of adventure into her role, Lilli Palmer does admirably in her headlining performance contrary to early criticisms at the time of the film’s release.  Occasionally heavy-handed and bewildering in its explanations for the criminal parties seeking to make the riches their own, Chamber of Horrors may not be all that’s expected of it and instead better appreciated as a complex whodunit with effective shades of ghastly set pieces.

    KL Studio Classics presents Chamber of Horrors newly remastered with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Commonly sporting sporadic instances of scratches and vertical lines, overblown white levels, presumably from overexposed film elements or harsher onset lighting, casts many moments in a bright wash that takes away from the atmospheric setting and corresponding details.  Otherwise, black levels spotted in costumed attire are as deep as one might expect while, facial closeups of the thespians capture respectable intricacies.  Surely the elements are far from pristine but, the upgraded high-definition picture is the best a feature of this ilk will ever look.  Matched with a rather problematic DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that relays inconsistent dialogue levels that range from clear to muffled and echoey, static is also present requiring essential volume increases and a sharp ear to collect all the track has to offer.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Kenneth J. Hall that finds genre enthusiast Del Valle right at home dishing one intriguing anecdote after another with Hall complimenting the conversation nicely.  A horror aficionado like no other, Del Valle’s infectious love for the genre and his well-prepared words are always a treat to listen to for likeminded viewers.  Finally, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included alongside Reversible Cover Art.  An acceptable investigative thriller that only trips up due to its own narrative complexities, Chamber of Horrors comes cautiously recommend for those knowing more or less what’s in store while, the expert commentary track provided is worth the price alone.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Chamber of Horrors can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Invisible Ghost (1941) Blu-ray Review

    Invisible Ghost (1941)

    Director: Joseph H. Lewis

    Starring: Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire & Clarence Muse

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The first of nine Monogram Pictures features produced by genre dabbler and schlockmeister Sam Katzman (Earth VS. The Flying Saucers, The Giant Claw), Invisible Ghost combines the realms of psychological horror and the murder mystery for an evocative gothic fused tale guided by one of the genre’s finest presences.  Continuing to mourn the loss of his unfaithful wife, the friendly Mr. Kessler (Bela Lugosi, Dracula) is plagued with homicidal urges after being hypnotized by the image of his wife who, unbeknownst to the good doctor, lives in secret in their cellar.  As several murders take place at Kessler’s estate with his daughter’s (Polly Ann Young in her final film role) beau wrongly sentenced to death for them, the convicted’s twin brother (John McGuire of Sands of Iowa Jima fame playing double duty as both Ralph and Paul Dickinson) arrives on the scene searching for answers.  Predominately set at the scene of the crimes, Invisible Ghost juggles its approaches in terror efficiently with its rather absurd premise of fatal secrets and a hallucinatory tone taken seriously by its players.  Turning an otherwise monotonous role into a worthy watch, Bela Lugosi dominates the film with his Jekyll & Hydish personality and striking stare making his juxtaposition as a loving father to an oblivious sinister strangler a grisly delight.  Easily digestible and enjoyably spooky, Invisible Ghost remains a well-constructed and moody descent into unknowing madness.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics presents Invisible Ghost with a 1080p transfer, retaining its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Expected of lower-budgeted cheapies from the era, the black-and-white photography bears several instances of film degradation in the later portion of the film while, the overwhelming majority of its hour long runtime greatly impresses with striking black levels observed during nighttime sequences and in the suits of the actors.  In addition, detail seen in closeups of Lugosi as he slowly descends upon his sleeping maid are excellent and earn the transfer its highest marks of quality.  Equipped with a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handled decently with “S” sounds registering particularly sharp while, a mild surface of hiss is detected throughout.  Supplemental material includes, an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Tom Weaver, Gary Rhodes & Dr. Robert J. Kiss that finds Weaver predominately guiding the well-researched track with Rhodes and Kiss relegated to guest appearances that still add quality value to their portions of the film.  Lastly, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included.  Graciously handled to the best of their abilities, KL Studio Classics brings Invisible Ghost back from the dead much to the appreciation of Lugosi completists.  A juggling act of horror approaches that give the film a peculiar style and iconic star with plenty to chew into, Invisible Ghost is a gothic gas worth being hypnotized by.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Invisible Ghost can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Witchtrap (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Witchtrap (1989)

    Director: Kevin Tenney

    Starring: Linnea Quigley, James Quinn, Kathleen Bailey, Judy Tatum, Hal Havins & Rob Zapple

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bearing its alternate The Presence title card, Witchtrap, aggressively marketed as not a sequel to 1987’s Witchboard, scares up the screen as Director Kevin Tenney’s most overlooked spooktacular showcase from the wild and waning late 80s.  Afflicted with a reputation for being haunted and further confirmed following an unexplainable death on its grounds, the Lauder House, failing to sell to potential buyers attempts to reinvent itself as a bed and breakfast.  Hired by the property’s inheritor (Tenney in a brief role), a team of paranormal experts, aided by a trio of security operatives, use their tools and know-how to cleanse the home of its sinister evil but find themselves meeting fatal demises the longer they stay.  Boasting charmingly clunky acting and genuinely funny dialogue, Witchtrap delivers a black mass of gory special effects mayhem including, automobile impalements, exploding noggins, a bullet (sans gunfire) through the skull and the always dependable axe to the head.  In addition, scream queen Linnea Quigley reteams with her Night of the Demons helmer for a minor but, wildly memorable role that finds her baring her full assets and landing the film’s highlight death scene with a shower head driven through her neck.  Another low-budget marvel in Tenney’s rolodex of features overrun with possessed partygoers and eerie Ouija boards, Witchtrap keeps the fun rolling well into its final act where smart-assed lone survivor Tony Vincente (James Quinn, Witchboard) goes head to head with the black magic-worshipping entity of Avery Lauder (J.P. Luebsen, also of Witchboard fame) in a ghost busting brawl for the ghoul’s heart.

    Newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm interpositive, Vinegar Syndrome presents Witchtrap fully uncut with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Cleansed to perfection while maintaining its filmic integrity, skin tones are highly detailed and warmly accurate while, colors found in the bedrooms of the Lauder House and its surrounding greenery burst with vibrancy.  In addition, the film’s gorier moments are further enhanced by the image’s crispness revealing all the technical team’s efforts.  Lastly, black levels are deeply inky and universally sound, chalking up another flawless restoration for the consistent indie label.  Joined by a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the film’s dubbed dialogue is handled effectively while its overall usage is occasionally jarring in motion.  Furthermore, the eerie atmospherics and musical underscores are appropriately balanced for a less forceful but nonetheless efficiently pleasing listening experience.

    Packed to the brim with content, special features include, a chatty Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Tenney, Producer Dan Duncan, Cinematographer Tom Jewett & Actor Hal Havins, several newly recorded interview featurettes including, Making Witchtrap with Kevin Tenney (23:36) who discusses his film school days before exiting once landing the opportunity to helm Witchboard and his other successive features and the hardships of making smaller budgeted films, Acting Witchtrap with Linnea Quigley (13:40) who recounts her chance encounter falling into acting and her creative relationship with Tenney, Shooting Witchtrap: An Interview with Tom Jewett (15:90) plus, Special Effects with Tassilo Baur (17:11).  Additionally, Audio Interviews with Special Makeup Artist Judy Yonemoto (8:18) and Music Composer Dennis Michael Tenney (13:13) are provided along with the Witchtrap Video Trailer (2:55), Book of Joe Short Film directed by Kevin Tenney (23:23) and an Alternate Ending for Book of Joe (3:44).  Lastly, a Production/Promotional Still Gallery (12 in total), DVD Edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original and favored VHS poster close out the robust spread of supplements.  A supernaturally splendid hodgepodge from the last breathes of the 1980s featuring a haunted house and buckets of blood, Witchtrap sits proudly next to Tenney’s other cult favorites from the era while earnestly deserving more praise than time has provided for its tightly budgeted and highly entertaining execution in satanic shrieks.  Treating viewers to the missing link in Tenney’s early trifecta of terror, Vinegar Syndrome outdoes themselves with the film’s definitive release.  Perfect in quality and presentation in all its uncut glory, the included bonus features are a staggering sight to behold and a pleasure to be possessed by.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Witchtrap can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • A Game of Death (1945) Blu-ray Review

    A Game of Death (1945)

    Director: Robert Wise

    Starring: John Loder, Audrey Long, Edgar Barrier & Russell Wade

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Readapting Richard Connell’s thrilling tale just over a decade after its pre-Code movie makeover from the directors of King Kong, A Game of Death is a briskly paced and suspenseful jungle-based adventure where the hunter becomes the hunted.  Starring John Loder (How Green Was My Valley) as noted author and respected hunter Don Rainsford who after becoming shipwrecked, finds shelter in Erich Kreiger’s (Edgar Barrier, Macbeth) exotic island homestead.  An isolated locale hosting fellow shipwrecked siblings Ellen (Audrey Long, Born to Kill) and Bob (Russell Wade, The Body Snatcher) Trowbridge, their welcoming host proves sinister as his homicidal tendencies to hunt humans across his vast land are revealed.  Tensely orchestrated by the masterly Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting) while recycling selected footage from The Most Dangerous Game, A Game of Death never wanes in its excitement with commendable performances put forth by the respectably gruff Loder and deliciously wicked Barrier as the German human hunter who prefers a bow and arrows over rifles.  Climaxing with a fog-entrenched pursuit through the island’s jungle greenery with hungry bloodhounds on Don and Ellen’s coattails, A Game of Death is a thoroughly entertaining catch, tonally reminiscent of the weekly film serials of the era with an unquestionably cinematic punch drawing viewers into its horrifying island of danger.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics proudly presents A Game of Death with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing age-related traces of speckles and scratches to varying degrees, the 1945 black-and-white remake overwhelmingly impresses with its conveyed detail in Kreiger’s prize room and the dirt and blood stains found on Rainsford’s attire.  Meanwhile, black levels bear strong deepness while, recycled footage from the ship’s destruction to instances of the hounds pursuing Don and Ellen show obviously grainier levels.  Equipped with a basic-sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is decently relayed with increases in volume recommended to fully capture their entirety.  Furthermore, mild instances of hiss are present but never deal-breaking on the track while, obscene cracks or pops are thankfully excused.  Special features include, a richly researched Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith and Trailers for The Quatermass Xperiment (2:13), The Earth Dies Screaming (2:14), 99 River Street (2:13) and No Highway in the Sky (2:09).  An excellent second stab at Connell’s revered short story, A Game of Death keeps its suspense high and runtime swift ensuring a pulse-beating good time for all.  Bestowing a solid HD remastering on the RKO thriller with a recommended audio commentary, KL Studio Classics have claimed another keeper in their hunt for film’s treasures.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, A Game of Death can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury (2017)

    Director: Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As a surge of trailer compilations celebrating exploitation’s finest offerings continue to make their way to home video, Severin Films, in assosciation with The Cube, assaults viewers once more with a second helping of bone-cracking madness in Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury!  Collecting another 35 trailers consisting of over two hours of sizzling martial arts badassery, this celebration of kung fu cinema’s peak decades during the 70s and 80s spotlights such legends as, Angela Mao, Don Wong, Chang Yi and Bruce Li in some of their most prized efforts.  Unspooling in all their high-definition glory, prominent inclusions encompass, Thunderbolt, Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat, The Invisible Terrorist, Bruce and the Iron Finger, The Owl, White Haired Devil Lady, The Super Kung-Fu Fighter, Revenge of the Shaolin Kid, The Old Master, Itchy Fingers, The Dragon and the Tiger Kids, The Avenging Boxer among many more.  A natural extension of its impressive predecessor, Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury ensures a doubling of brutality and energetic fight choreography to make serious martial arts movie aficionados bowing in approval at its continued depth and preservation of these nostalgically tattered promotional pieces.  

    Severin Films presents Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio on the overwhelming majority of bumpers included.  While each trailer contains expected and varying levels of age-related anomalies including, faded colors, scratches, vertical lines and film tears, their enhanced resolution is evident with the overall quality of the 35 trailers surprisingly besting the original volume’s 31 without question.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that suffers from similar battle wounds with cracks and pops common on each trailer, traces of hiss and a general narrowness in their pitch are also unfortunately present but nonetheless expected given the condition of their elements.  Included as the disc’s sole special feature, an Audio Commentary with Kung Fu Movie Experts Ric Meyers, Frank Djeng, Greg Schiller & Rich Stelow is wonderfully chatty and informative, capturing the vibe of a casual party-like conversation with some of the genre’s biggest fans whose passion is as deep as their vast knowledge for the subjects on hand.  Fans breaking wooden boards in anticipation for another tidal wave of hand-to-hand combat trailers will be most pleased with Severin Films’ Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury.  Bearing their grindhouse wear with pride, two additional hours of content with yet another insightful commentary track is the perfect opponent for your Blu-ray player to do battle with. 

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • World Without End (1956) Blu-ray Review

    World Without End (1956)

    Director: Edward Bernds

    Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Nelson Leigh, Rod Taylor, Shawn Smith & Lisa Montell

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A cost conscience effort that earnestly takes audiences to infinity and beyond, World Without End, using rocket ship stock footage from 1951’s Flight to Mars as a launchpad, finds four daring astronauts en route back home following a successful mission to Mars when a space warp spirals them centuries ahead into a brooding future.  Crash-landing in the nuclear ravaged Earth of 2508 A.D., our daring explorers are confronted by mutated cyclops-men and overgrown spiders in search of civilization.  Creating a pacifist way of life underground away from the savages, the astronauts are welcomed by a peaceful community of colorful bald cap-wearing men and miniskirted vixens who dare not retake the land above, jeopardizing the existence of mankind’s future generations.  Determined to ensure humanity’s survival, the time traveling outsiders fight back against this Earth’s beastly mutations.  Beautifully shot in CinemaScope (the genre’s very first) and boasting a respectable cast of brave souls including an early appearance from Rod Taylor (The Time Machine, The Birds), World Without End takes what should be a routine saucer men from Mars cheapie and instead delivers a lost in space, time traveling cheapie with commendable style that echoes later genre classics (much to the chagrin of its director who felt ripped off) including, Planet of the Apes.  While not a top-tier sci-fi feature, the film’s vibrant colors, effective but seldomly seen brutes and gorgeous sights of Nancy Gates (Comanche Station) and Lisa Montell (She Gods of Shark Reef) make World Without End an entertaining prime directive from the director of Queen of Outer Space and Return of the Fly.

    Warner Archive welcomes World Without End to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Presented with spotless detail, colors are bold and exacting, giving radiance to matte paintings, earthly greenery and flashy costume choices while, black levels are as deep as one could hope for.  Retaining a prominent layer of natural film grain throughout and rosy skin tones, this lesser revered space effort has never looked and surely will ever look better!  Matched with a pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that offers crisp dialogue levels with no indications of crack or pops, special features are unfortunately void on this release.  A wonderful bone thrown to space-age baby boomers, World Without End is a fun, adventure-filled journey to a ravaged world with only travelers from the past to save it.  Although absent of any supplemental content, Warner Archive has singlehandedly ensured this B-movie favorite a grandiose Blu-ray debut that makes its Cinemascope photography pop like never before.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 28th from Warner Archive, World Without End can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Firestarter (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Firestarter (1984)

    Director: Mark L. Lester

    Starring: David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney & Louise Fletcher

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Sandwiched between several other Stephen King adaptations from Producer Dino De Laurentiis (Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet), Firestarter may have failed to ignite explosive box-office returns, yet stands as an above average retelling of the best-selling novel with a top-tier cast and spellbinding score lighting the way.  Shortly after partaking in a paid medical study, Andy McGee (David Keith, White of the Eye) and his future wife Vicky (Heather Locklear, T.J. Hooker) develop the unique abilities to read and overtake others’ minds.  Raising their young daughter Charlie (Drew Barrymore, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) who has developed her own abilities to ignite fires and foresee future events, a secret government agency, known as The Shop, intent on capturing the child for their own weaponizing needs, murders Vicky, forcing the widowed Andy and Charlie to permanently outrun their seekers.  Relentless in their search, the head of The Shop, Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now), hires the methodically unhinged Agent John Rainbird (George C. Scott, Patton) to retrieve the little girl with her destruction being his sole consolation.  Fighting tooth and nail to remain with her father at all odds, Charlie is eventually pushed to her boiling point and must rely on her repressed powers to fight back.  

    Featuring brief appearances from Art Carney (The Honeymooners) and Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as trustworthy old-timers, Firestarter is an affectionately faithful adaptation that rises above the genre-laden capabilities of its leads with their onscreen chemistry as father and daughter reflected best.  The film’s all-star cast from the fresh faced Barrymore to the Oscar winning Scott, in a deliciously underrated role, all bring their A-game while, Director Mark L. Lester’s (Class of 1984, Commando) graduation to studio pictures is a solid progression from his much loved drive-in fare.  Concluding with an inferno of effects-work akin to the finale of King’s debut novel, Firestarter is hardly the pinnacle of the Master of Horror’s cinematic responses, yet deserves more credit for its survivalist tale of struggle and Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Legend) synth-inducing score that ranks amongst their best.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the interpositive, Scream Factory presents Firestarter with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Eviscerating Universal Studios’ previous and heavily DNRed transfer from 2014, the King adaptation maintains a gorgeously filmic appearance with vibrant greenery on display during exterior sequences while, the skin tones of all actors are natural and exceptionally detailed, making way for the crispest of clarity in observing Barrymore’s rolling tears and Keith’s delicate nosebleed streams.  Although insignificant speckles are occasionally spotted, Firestarter’s latest hi-def outing is nothing short of definitive.  Equipped with a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue efficiently, the surprisingly light on sound effects track offers little to bite into while, the fiery blasts and thuds of the unfortunate souls in Charlie’s path offer their best punch.  Without question, Tangerine Dream’s hypnotic score is the best dish on the menu.

    A solid entry into the boutique label’s Collector’s Edition banner, newly conceived special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mark L. Lester, Playing with Fire: The Making of Firestarter (52:40) that hosts Lester recalling John Carpenter’s original role in the production before earning himself directorial duties, praise for De Laurentiis’ sound advice and other intriguing anecdotes such as Drew Barrymore beating Poltergeist’s Heather O’Rourke for the lead role.  Actors Drew Snyder, Freddie Jones, Dick Warlock and Tangerine Dream’s Johannes Schmoelling also offer their own unique insights to working on the show in this first-rate featurette.  In addition, Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories with Johannes Schmoelling (17:07) catches up with the keyboardist as he recounts the band’s peak decade in the 80s and their work on such films as Michael Mann’s Thief.  Meanwhile, the awesome and self-explanatory Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream Plays “Charlie’s Theme” (3:43) is the surprise nugget of the release while, Theatrical Trailers (3:43), Radio Spots (4:34), a Still Gallery (69 in total) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster design round out the bonus feature selections.  A worthy King adaptation that unfairly gets lost in the shuffle too often,  Firestarter returns to Blu-ray with a definitive 2K scan upgrade and another juicy offering of featurettes, aptly produced by the tireless Cavetown Pictures, that serve Scream Factory’s Collector Edition moniker proud.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Firestarter can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • We Are the Flesh (2016) Blu-ray Review

    We Are the Flesh (2016)

    Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter

    Starring: Noé Hernández, María Evoli & Diego Gamaliel

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in an impoverished underworld of solitude, We Are the Flesh finds wandering brother and sister Fauna (María Evoli, Extraño pero verdadero) and Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) taking refuge in the peculiar dwelling of off kilter hermit Mariano (Noé Hernández, La Hermandad) where carnal desires and nightmares reign free.  A disorientating and visually grim experience that thrives on shocking and sexually perverse imagery, We Are the Flesh offers little insight into its intentions other than to rattle the senses of audiences who reside in a world of rules and morales, to which it unfailingly succeeds.  Unfortunately, Emiliano Rocha Minter’s experimental directorial debut, befit with a psychedelic presence and a certifiably Manson-like performance from the magnetic Noé Hernández, feels too dense in its delivery to appear as anything more than a flashy exploitation of scandalous imagery for shock’s sake.  

    Tasked with building a cavernous interior made of cardboard in exchange for shelter, Fauna and Lucio quickly find themselves at the mercy and under the spell of Mariano’s depraved fantasies, igniting an incestuous love affair between the two virgin siblings.  Performing vivid acts of fellatio on her brother and seductively dripping menstrual blood into his mouth, Mariano meets his untimely fate after climaxing to the sight of the teenagers fornicating in a dizzying display of abstractness meant to represent the dark underbelly of Mexico.  Returning to existence following a slimy rebirth from the cave’s womb-like crevices, Mariano’s resurrection calls for a cannibalistic feast where the throat-slitting of a captured soldier and an orgy of consumption and penetration takes place.  Concluding with an unexpected revelation of what we believe is a post-apocalyptic world, We Are the Flesh, unquestionably showcasing the artistic individuality of its maker, is a scarring and equally confounding experience unlikely to lure many to its cave of madness for long.

    Arrow Video presents We Are the Flesh with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  An intentionally bleak-looking picture, the cool grays and overall washed out appearance of the setting maintain strong detail while, the dirty complexions of the actors and their bare bodies spattered with sweat and blood are competently presented.  Furthermore, black levels are overwhelmingly healthy with only scant appearances of crushing on display.  Meanwhile, the few bursts of red and blue lighting cues along with infrared photography during an intimate sequence between the siblings offer the transfer’s boldest shades that nicely contrast the film’s otherwise somber color scheme.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the minimal Spanish dialogue (accompanied by optional English subtitles) is effectively handled while, the few areas of dreary ambiance serve the track and the effectiveness on the visuals admirably.  An optional LPCM 2.0 has also been included for your listening pleasure.  

    Bonus features include, Minter’s two earlier short films for Dentro (12:39) and Videohome (10:55), the expertly enlightening Virginie Salévy on We Are the Flesh (36:21) video essay, Interviews with Emiliano Rocha Minter (18:20), Noé Hernández (20:20), María Evoli (13:09) and Diego Gamaliel (13:30) plus, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:29).  Additionally, a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (30 in total), a 22-page booklet accompanied with an insightful essay by Anton Bitel that better explores the film’s themes and intentions with Reversible Cover Art concluding the disc’s supplementary inclusions.  As bizarrely perverse as they come, We Are the Flesh will attract the curiously daring with only few destined to take more away from its proceedings than its seedy visuals have to offer.  Graced with a respectable home video treatment north of its border, Arrow Video maintains its expected high quality of care with scholarly supplements that although unlikely to alter the opinions of many, appreciatively reveals more of the film’s kooky inner workings.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, We Are the Flesh can be purchased via ArrowVideo.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Live by Night (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Live by Night (2016)

    Director: Ben Affleck

    Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly a decade after making his directorial debut based on Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck brings his trifecta of talent to the gangster-ridden world of Live by Night, cementing his acute instincts in realizing Lehane’s literary works for the big-screen.  Refusing to follow orders ever again after serving in World War I, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, The Accountant) returns home to Boston and a new life of crime.  While his actions speak otherwise, Joe’s line of business is merely a means to an end unlike the ruthless gangsters who run the corrupt city.  After a risky affair pits him in the crosshairs of a mob war, Joe seeks to right his wrongs and extract revenge by relocating to the humid terrain of Tampa to spread rum and gambling during Prohibition.  Before long, Joe realizes that every one of his dangerous choices comes at an unexpected price.  Returning Affleck to a haven of complicated characters and uniquely wired hoodlums where the auteur thrives, Live by Night is yet another striking achievement in the director’s modest body of work.  While Affleck, along with his male costars do what’s expected of them, the performances by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) as Joe’s Irish femme fatale girlfriend, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) appearing later as Joe’s eventual Cuban wife and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as a wannabe starlet turned junkie who jeopardizes Joe’s empire while enlightening his morale compass, are diversely electric in their roles.  

    Finding his operation combatting against disapproving members of the Ku Klux Klan while focusing on abolishing laws against gambling to open a casino, Joe’s opposition to invest in narcotics by order of his Italian mob boss pits him in a battle unlikely to survive.  From the gloomy streets of Boston to the sweat pouring speakeasies of Florida, Live by Night is an epic examination of a gangster smarter than his gun who runs the gamut of illegal extremes in hopes of making it out alive to protect those most important to him.  Following a myriad of date changes before being dumped to a dead of winter release, Live by Night’s abysmally poor box-performance hardly reflects the film’s exceptional style, cast and swift direction, making it, for better or worse, one of last year’s unfairly overlooked gems.

    Warner Bros. Home Entertainment presents Live by Night with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  While not a wildly colorful film by any stretch, the transfer thrives through its deeply inky black levels that capitalize during nighttime sequences, dimly lit bars and alleyways.  Furthermore, detail is immaculate with textures in the period costumes looking particularly strong.  Meanwhile, skin tones maintain a true appearance with finer details found in wrinkles, Fanning’s track marks and the humidity of the Florida setting apparent on foreheads.  Equipped with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the softer hushes of Affleck’s narrated bits are crisply relayed while more robust exchanges of dialogue are pristine.  Most impressively, the onslaught of gun fire, bar ambiance and the film’s intensely orchestrated car chase sequence all earn the highest of grades.  An optional Dolby Atmos mix is also provided for those technically enabled.  

    Supplementary material includes, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Ben Affleck while, Blu-ray exclusive content offers, Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night (8:54) that finds Affleck and Author Dennis Lehane examining the three sections of Joe Coughlin’s life represented by the three female leads with insight from actresses Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.  Additionally, Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night (8:30) finds Affleck and his costars, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girane and Robert Glenister reflecting on their roles, Live by Night’s Prolific Author (6:53) hosts Lehane as he shares his inspirations for the novel and their themes with additional insight from Affleck and Producer Jennifer Davisson while, In-Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35) details the sequence’s development with Affleck, Stunt Coordinator RA Rondell, Director of Photography Robert Richardson, Editor William Goldenberg and Composer Harry Greyson-Williams detailing their essential contributions.  Lastly and available also on the film’s separate DVD release, Deleted Scenes (15:56) with optional filmmaker commentary are provided with a Digital HD Code concluding the special feature offerings.  Contrary to critical dismissal and low box-office turnout, Live by Night continues Affleck’s remarkable streak behind the camera where an intense examination of a conflicted gangster and the empire he’s built unfolds.  Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s high-definition treatment is an A/V marvel with a surprisingly well-stocked supply of extras on hand likeminded viewers will appreciate.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 21st from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Live by Night can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Colors (1988) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Colors (1988)

    Director: Dennis Hopper

    Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Don Cheadle & Damon Wayans

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Eye-opening at the time of its original release and unfortunately still potent in today’s divided society, Colors presents the dangerous world of gang warfare in a realistically gritty light.  Within a year’s reach of retirement, veteran L.A.P.D. officer Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall, The Godfather) is partnered with hot-headed rookie Danny McGavin (Sean Penn, Milk) in an anti-gang unit.  With clashing personalities, the two must learn to trust one another in order to survive the mayhem of Los Angeles’ South Central district.  Returning Academy Award nominee Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) back behind the camera, Colors stages the murder of a Bloods gang member that heightens the turf war between the neighboring Crips and Barrio residing hoodlums, culminating in bullets, bloodshed and the police’s role in the center of their fatal path.  Riskily shot in the thicket of real gang territory that adds a genuine honesty to the proceedings and resulted in the actual shooting of extras during filming, Colors doesn’t flinch at the harsh realities of its crime-infested ghettos while, balancing the line of controversial good cop/bad cop approaches in protecting lawmen’s own and the community.  

    Although the casting of Penn and Duvall is inspired, their characters never fully develop as deeply as anticipated while, gang vengeance toward trigger-happy Crip member Rocket (Don Cheadle, House of Lies) takes control of the final act, leaving Hodges and McGavin’s purpose all but lost in the shuffle and shortchanging a still harrowing but, nonetheless weakened conclusion.  Featuring a chart-topping soundtrack of rap hits from such artists as, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane and Salt-N-Pepa, Colors also costars future players Damon Wayans (Lethal Weapon) as a drug-addicted gangbanger, Tony Todd (Candyman) and Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell) in a blink-and-you’ll-miss him role as a young thug.  An intense examination of gang life that has debatably improved over time, Colors is perhaps best recognized for its capturing of the lifestyle’s arguably darkest era and the L.A.P.D.’s equally deadly attempts to right its ship.

    Preserving its unrated cut for the first time on high-definition, Shout Select presents Colors with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Welcoming natural skin tones and lush radiance during the many sunny daytime sequences, black levels found in officer’s uniforms are deeply inky while, the drama’s filmic integrity remains firmly intact with no major anomalies to speak of.  Equipped with a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is never challenged by cracks or pops while, the heavy beats of the film’s hip-hop soundtrack and jackhammering assault of bullets pulverizes onscreen action terrifically.  Carried over from Second Sight’s U.K. edition, special features include, Cry of Alarm: An Interview with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (28:46) that shares the dangerous risks Schiffer undertook to understand the gang culture and accurately capture members’ speech patterns and slang for the script.  In addition, Cops & Robbers (16:53) hosts Technical Advisor/L.A.P.D. Gang Division Dennis Fanning on his unique career perspectives that were brought to ensure a legitimacy to the story.  Lastly, the film’s Trailer (1:53) is also included while, a hidden Easter Egg (accessed by clicking right of the Trailer in the disc’s bonus features section) offers an additional interview snippet with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (2:16).  While the lack of supplements may fall short of other Collector’s Edition entries in the Shout Select catalog, what is included is luckily informative.  Appreciatively ensuring the film’s uncut presentation, Colors’ mileage may vary by viewer but, remains a recommendable watch for its believable expression of L.A. gangs and their very real mean streets of the era.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Colors can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.