Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Scream Factory
  • 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.

  • The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

    Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

    Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson & Kyra Sedgwick

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the fresh of breath air directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen finds teenage social outcast Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2) struggling to adjust to her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) and popular older brother Darian’s (Blake Jenner, Everybody Wants Some!!!) new relationship.  Forever out of touch with her own generation and now more alone than ever, Nadine finds solace in her blunt but truthful teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective) as she comes to grips with growing up.  Set in today’s modern times while, appealing to all whoever felt out of place roaming the locker-filled hallways where bad lunch and geometry roamed, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply funny and emotional topsy-turvy that channels the pain and pleasures of our teen years with the utmost sincerity.  Featuring a standout performance from Hailee Steinfeld as the disheveled youth and a hilarious turn from Woody Harrelson as a teacher unafraid to tell a student they’re a loser, The Edge of Seventeen earns flying grades in the yearbook of other coming-of-age charmers that manages to bridge the rare gap between contemporary relatability and timeless angst that is both comforting and entertaining.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Edge of Seventeen with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Without a false note on display, skin tones are immaculate and well-detailed while, colors found in Nadine’s assortment of sneakers, store signage and neon-lit amusement park attractions shine brightly.  Meanwhile, black levels observed during Nadine’s regrettable rainy drive with the dreamy bad boy Nick and late night swim with the equally shy and awkward Erwin all appear with the utmost crispness.  Equipped with a polished DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the dialogue-driven track with solid clarity, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” makes an impressively worthy statement on the otherwise straightforward mix.  Regrettably scant, special features include, a Gag Reel (5:21), Deleted Scenes (4:03), a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code.  While John Hughes’ high school high note equated growing up and your heart dying being one and the same, The Edge of Seventeen reminds us all that no matter how far removed or engaged we are in the turbulence of our youth, the laughs and tears don’t kill us but, strengthen us to look back at our growing pains with a smirk and maybe slightly less awkwardness.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 14th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Edge of Seventeen can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Stryker (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Stryker (1983)

    Director: Cirio H. Santiago

    Starring: Steve Sandor, Andria Savio, William Ostrander, Michael Lane, Julie Gray & Monique St. Pierre

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the aftermath of nuclear holocaust, Stryker finds a world devastated and water its most valued treasure.  As several bands of survivors battle each other over short supplies, a secret water source has been exposed leading a lone woman with knowledge of its whereabouts to depend on renowned warrior Stryker (Steve Sandor, Fire and Ice) to protect its safety against the evil Kardis (Michael Lane, The Harder They Fall) and his army.

    Piggybacking on the craze of post-apocalyptic mayhem set forth by Mad Max, Stryker burns rubber taking unapologetic cues from George Miller’s game-changing effort where muscular brutes, wasteland women and high-octane vehicles run amok in pursuit of dominance in a new ravaged world.  As the survivors of worldwide nuclear destruction struggle to locate viable water sources, Delha (Andria Savio, Death Screams), harboring knowledge of a shrouded spring and pursed by the death squads of Kardis for its location, is saved by the fearless Stryker and his companion.  Before long, the lone female finds herself captured and tortured by the vile Kardis until a successful daring rescue mission by Stryker puts her in pursuit of Trun, Stryker’s brother, for manpower to combat Kardis’s overwhelming forces.  Determined to seek vengeance against the wicked leader for the death of his own lover, Stryker joins the cause to protect the coveted spring and liberate those in peril.  Loaded with battered vehicle chases, scantly-clad women armed with crossbows and high-pitched Filipino midget warriors, Stryker delivers a respectable drive-in effort with action-packed bloodshed done cheaply although, its saccharine celebration of a conclusion at the height of battle shortchanges its outcome.  Marking the first of many post-nuke helmed efforts for Filipino native and dependable Corman colleague Cirio H. Santiago (Firecracker, Wheels of Fire), Stryker remains a mid-level Road Warrior ripoff that generally satisfies where it counts while, Santiago’s later experiments in the genre would greatly improve with each passing attempt.

    KL Studio Classics presents Stryker with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  No stranger to speckling and occasional scratches, this expectedly soft-looking effort looks as good as can be expected given its tight budget and dry, desolate locations.  Skin tones look decently with instances of blood popping well and costume choices relaying mediocre detail.  Furthermore, black levels, evidenced in Kardis’s torture dungeon and the cave harboring the desired water spring, look rather drab and harder to make out.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that translates the obviously dubbed dialogue with ease, soundtrack cues and action-oriented moments of explosions and firepower offer slightly more oomph to the proceedings.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Jim Wynorski, moderated by Bill Olsen & Damon Packard.  B-movie legend and fellow Corman protégé, Wynorski, although having nothing creatively to do with the film outside of knowing Santiago rather well and taking over directorial duties on its remake after the Filipino filmmaker fell ill, provides chatty conversation and an obvious love for the genre making the track an unexpected treat.  In addition, a Trailer Gallery featuring Stryker (2:03), Wheels of Fire (2:04), Equalizer 2000 (1:39), The Sisterhood (1:26) and Dune Warriors (1:12) is also included.

    From what seems like a bottomless pit of post-apocalyptic knockoffs, Stryker neither burns out nor exceeds what’s expected of it.  Living up to its colorfully exploitative poster art, blood, babes and savagery reign in this New World Pictures produced feature that stands as a mere stepping stone for Santiago’s more refined wasteland followups.  Never a pretty looking picture since its inception, KL Studio Classics ensures the film a most welcome upgrade for the HD generation.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Stryker can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967)

    Director(s): John Moxey / Jeremy Summers

    Starring: Christopher Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Marddern & Maurice Kaufmann / Bob Cummings, Margaret Lee, Rupert Davies, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm & Maria Perschy

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presenting a double serving of Edgar Wallace crime tales, Blue Underground proudly presents Circus of Fear where a calculated car heist leads to a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a traveling circus.  Featuring an ensemble cast including, Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) and Klaus Kinski (Venom), greed, revenge and red herrings reign supreme in this British whodunit.  Next up, Five Golden Dragons finds wealthy American Bob Mitchell (Bob Cummings, Dial M for Murder) embroiled in the crosshairs of a deadly crime syndicate during his Hong Kong getaway.  Struggling to survive, Mitchell attempts to discover the identities of his mysterious misfortune makers.  

    Released in America as Psycho-Circus in a heavily edited form to appease the later half of its double feature bookings, Circus of Fear’s impressive onscreen talent matched with the directorial knowhow of John Moxey (The City of the Dead) does little to salvage this tiresomely dull caper.  After successfully shaking down an armored vehicle of riches, a gang member stashes the loot in Barberini’s Circus before falling victim to a mystery throwers blade.  With a full-scale investigation initiated, the eccentric personalities of the traveling roadshow are introduced and suspected including, but not limited to, masked lion tamer Gregor (Lee).  Although top billed, Lee, whose performance appears rather stiffly, remains shrouded for much of the film, reportedly hiding a severely scarred appearance that is anything but.  The deeper the authorities, led by Detective Elliot (Leo Genn, Moby Dick) dig, the more circus performers turn up dead.  While captivating character actor Klaus Kinski appearing as a chain-smoking crook is yawningly reduced to hiding in the shadows, blonde bombshell Margaret Lee’s (Venus in Furs) glamorous looks help offset the disappointment.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an overly complicated plot of family pasts involving slain fathers and escaped convicts, Circus of Fear is never wholly thrilling or terribly exciting.  Like a carnival barker baiting viewers with its intriguing title and respectable cast, Circus of Fear is an unfortunate big-top bust.

    Appearing in his final film effort before returning to television indefinitely, funnyman Bob Cummings brings his all-American lightheartedness to the B-grade comedy caper antics of Five Golden Dragons.  Shot on location in Hong Kong and the infamous Shaw Brothers Studios, Cummings’ chewing gum salesman Bob Mitchell receives a peculiar note from a murdered man with links to an illegal, top secret operation.  Much like a fish out of water, Mitchell finds himself in over his head as the crime syndicate looks to eliminate the clueless tourist before their organization is jeopardized.  Circus of Fear Producer Harry Alan Towers and Screenwriter Peter Welbeck re-team on this mildly entertaining mystery, recycling several thespians from their previous collaboration including, the very sexy Margaret Lee appearing as corrupt singer Magda while, Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee are relegated to forgettable cameo appearances.  Bumbling his way through secret passages and making nervous conversation at gunpoint, Cummings, although far older than imagined for the part, is likable enough as he attempts to keep his poolside crush Ingrid (Maria Rohm, Count Dracula) safe while, hoping to unmask the identities of the criminal Five Golden Dragons with assistance from Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies, Witchfinder General) who makes quoting and citing Shakespeare a necessity.  Capturing the beautiful surroundings of Hong Kong’s seaport and featuring a charming musical performance from guest singer Yukari Itô, Five Golden Dragons is only sparingly humorous with its greatest unintentional laugh arriving at the expense of the titular villains who interface under the hilarious disguises of oversized dragon heads.

    Blue Underground proudly presents both films newly remastered from their original negatives with 1080p transfers.  While Circus of Fear sports a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Five Golden Dragons debuts with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting healthy skin tones, pleasingly bold colors in wardrobe choices and strong detail in backgrounds, black levels are richly defined in tuxedos and Lee’s dark mask while, no glaring evidence of age-related artifacts are present on either transfer.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films offer easy to follow tracks with audible levels of clarity although, Five Golden Dragons appears to have a tinnier effect during dialogue delivery.  With no noticeable cracks or pops detected, each mix is more than satisfactory.  Meanwhile, supplements on Circus of Fear feature a recycled Audio Commentary with Director John Moxey, moderated by David Gregory, an International Color Trailer (2:29), International B&W Trailer (2:30), a U.S. Color Trailer (2:02), U.S. B&W Trailer (2:04) and a Poster & Still Gallery (87 in total) whereas, Five Golden Dragons includes its Theatrical Trailer (2:49) and a Poster & Still Gallery (92 in total).

    Inviting viewers to the crime-filled menagerie of Edgar Wallace’s mysteries, Circus of Fear is a grave disappointment with an alluring poster design and surefire cast that unfortunately fails to thrill yet, succeeds in being overly complicated.  Joined by its more comedic co-feature, Five Golden Dragons also stumbles to be memorable although Cummings’ personality matched with Margaret Lee’s jaw dropping beauty and the gorgeous sights of Hong Kong all make for worthy notices.  Meanwhile, Blue Underground treats viewers with praiseworthy restorations of both features that are noticeable advancements over their more than decade old standard definition releases.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, Circus of Fear / Five Golden Dragons can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Massacre Mafia Style (1974) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Mafia Style (1974)

    Director: Duke Mitchell

    Starring: Duke Mitchell, Vic Caesar, Lorenzo Dodo, Louis Zito & Cara Salerno

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A jack of all trades, Italian-American actor and nightclub singer Duke Mitchell would write, direct, produce and star in his response to The Godfather.  In Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell portrays Mimi Miceli, the son of a mafia kingpin determined to carve a name out for himself by embarking on a bloody crime spree through Hollywood.  Low-budget and intensely violent, Massacre Mafia Style promises “more, guts, action and dynamite” than Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed gangster opus.

    As a noted nightclub singer who would transition to film with such appearances in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Duke Mitchell would graduate to producing his own feature ingrained in his Italian heritage.  Following the massive success of 1972’s The Godfather, Mitchell found a low-budget mafia picture a natural fit to spread his creative wings, wearing several hats on the production including, directing and starring.  Opening with an office building massacre at the hands of Mimi Miceli (Mitchell) and his associate to the upbeat tunes of Mitchell’s own recordings, Massacre Mafia Style makes firm on its promise of more violence than its Academy Award-winning predecessor.  Deported back to Sicily following his rampant crime activity in America, mafia kingpin Don Mimi (Lorenzo Dodo) is confronted with his son Mimi’s desire to reenter the mafia underworld.  Intent on relocating the action of New York City to Hollywood, Mimi travels to sunny California to rekindle his friendship with bartender Jolly (Vic Caesar, Alice Goodbody).  Joining forces with the former drink pusher, Mimi rattles the chains of west coast mob bosses by taking one ransom and wooing the girlfriend (Cara Salerno) of another to prove he means business.  As his notoriety rises, Mimi focuses his attention on bringing down Superspook (Jimmy Williams, Cockfighter), a noted pimp claiming ownership of prime real estate in the city.  Unwilling to easily surrender his turf and women, Mimi is at odds with his violent rise to power and may have bargained for more than he can handle.

    Unquestionably produced on a lower scale than Coppola’s masterpiece, Massacre Mafia Style pushes its exploitative nature of rampant shootouts and over-the-top bloodshed, juxtaposed with jovial music to delightful measure.  Independently funded and shot over the course of weekends in Los Angeles, Duke Mitchell embodies a captivating presence as a ruthless crime boss with a genuine knack for earnest mafioso speech most notably, during a sequence where Mitchell explains how men like himself have disgraced their Sicilian heritage.  Underneath its undeniable cult appeal and entertaining performances, Massacre Mafia Style injects a genuine context for fathers and sons that elevates the picture from other exploitation cash-in attempts.  A goldmine discovery for cult enthusiasts, Massacre Mafia Style stands as a testament of Duke Mitchell’s uncorrupted vision that takes gangster pictures to bloody, fun heights.

    Grindhouse Releasing presents Massacre Mafia Style with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Painstakingly restored, Duke Mitchell’s directorial debut bursts onto high-definition with excellent clarity putting to shame hazy VHS releases from yesteryear.  Appearing near immaculate with only scant traces of scratches, Massacre Mafia Style dazzles with warm skin tones and crisp detail in facial features.  Colors pop magnificently with bright red bloodshed bursting off the screen and black levels in top shape with no crushing on display.  A labor of love, Grindhouse Releasing’s transfer is the definitive statement on this cult favorite.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the digital restoration of the original soundtrack keeps dialogue audible and clear with climatic gunshots and Mitchell’s songs packing a solid punch while, hiss is kept at bay and never intrusive.  Overflowing with impressive bonus content, special features include, Like Father, Like Son: Duke and Jeffrey Mitchell (43:33), an in-depth featurette detailing the relationship between the film’s star and real life son as well as Mitchell’s career highlights.  Also included, Matt Climber and Jim LoBianco Interviews (10:11), Duke Mitchell Home Movies (52:00), a Theatrical Trailer (2:18), five Radio Spots, five Still Galleries consisting of over 200 images, a Duke Mitchell Filmography, Cara Salerno Filmography and Grindhouse Releasing Prevues.  In addition and most excitingly, a bonus feature film, 1952’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (74:19) is included along with its Theatrical Trailer (2:10) and Still Gallery (34 in total).  Plus, a bonus TV special, An Impressionistic Tribute to Jimmy Durante (37:05), accompanied with Durante 16mm Dailies (6:31), a 10-page booklet with an essay from David Szulkin and a DVD edition of the release round out the grandiose supplemental package.   

    Also known as Like Father, Like Son and The Executioner, Massacre Mafia Style’s appeal has grown increasingly through theatrical revival screenings and steady word of mouth.  After nearly 20 years of tireless labor and dedication, Grindhouse Releasing’s Bob Murawksi and the late Sage Stallone’s efforts have paid off in spades with one of the finest treatments and restorations granted to a nearly forgotten gem of cinema.  Exploding with bloodshed and action, Duke Mitchell’s vision of mafia lifestyles and criminal activity unloads a firestorm of exploitation greatness that will easily appease the most casual of cult enthusiasts.  If you’re not in with Massacre Mafia Style, you’re in the way!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Grindhouse Releasing, Massacre Mafia Style can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Invaders from Mars (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Invaders from Mars (1986)

    Director: Tobe Hooper

    Starring: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Louise Fletcher & James Karen

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Funhouse) Invaders from Mars centers on space obsessed David Gardener (Hunter Carson, Paris, Texas) who witnesses the landing of alien beings in his backyard.  As the invaders begin taking control of his parents and schoolmates, David must find a way to convince those unaffected of the truth before the entire human race is doomed.  Karen Black (House of 1,000 Corpses), Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show), Laraine Newman (Problem Child 2), Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and James Karen (The Return of the Living Dead) co-star.

    Sandwiched between his two other Cannon Films collaborations, Lifeforce and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2, Director Tobe Hooper’s contemporary remake of the 1953 sci-fi favorite takes full advantage of modern movie magic while, sticking closely to its predecessors blueprints.  Once again told from a child’s point of a view, David Gardener (Carson) is startled to discover the arrival of martians over the hill from his house.  Overwhelmed with fear, David can hardly make sense of what he’s witnessed until his parents fall under the control of the invaders.  Recognizing a scar on the neck’s of those infected, David finds little help at school where his strict teacher Mrs. McKeltch (Fletcher) and fellow classmates have also fallen prey.  By chance, David finds solace in the school nurse, Linda Magnusson (played by Carson’s real-life mother, Karen Black), who finds David’s story horrifyingly true, leading the unlikely duo to seek help.  Relying on the U.S. Marines, headed by General Climet Wilson (James Karen), David and Linda find themselves in the threshold of an underground nightmare where the martians reside.  With time wearing thin and various creatures in their way, the military must use all their might to withstand a worldwide takeover.

    Relying too strongly on the original’s plot and set pieces, Invaders from Mars suffers from never reveling in its 1980s environment therefore, losing a strong sense of personal identity.  In addition, although littered with Academy Award-winning talent and cult icons,  the performances fail to leave a lasting impression on the viewer.  Produced in the heyday of special effects wizardry, Invaders from Mars excels with effective visual effects by John Dykstra (Star Wars) and exceptional creature designs by the late Stan Winston (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day).  A box-office disappointment better appreciated decades later, Invaders from Mars redresses a mediocre film while, not faring much better due to its lack of risks.  With standout special effects and inherent campiness, Invaders from Mars has its moments but, never manages to fully brainwash earthlings as one would hope.

    Scream Factory presents Invaders from Mars with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying generally warm, if not slightly soft, skin tones, Director Tobe Hooper’s sci-fi remake satisfies with bold colors in wardrobe choices and gooey detail captured in the various creature designs.  Instances of flakes and speckles occur during more dimly lit sequences including, but not limited to, David and Linda evading the martians in the school boiler room.  Generally strong looking, Invaders from Mars makes a satisfying leap to high-definition.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Invaders from Mars relays audible dialogue levels but, registers lower than anticipated prompting several increases in volume.  More climatic sequences of explosions and gunfire fare better but, never overly impress.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Accompanied with a generous supply of supplements, Scream Factory presents a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Tobe Hooper while, Red Shirt Pictures delivers The Martians Are Coming!: The Making of Invaders of Mars (36:33) with in-depth interviews from Director Tobe Hooper, Actor Hunter Carson, Special Effects Artists Alec Gillis & Gino Crognale and Composer Christopher Young with Gillis and Crognale’s onset memories heavily focused on.  In addition, a Theatrical Trailer (1:28), TV Spot (0:32), Original Production Illustration Gallery with Commentary from Artist William Stout (14:03), Original Storyboards (4:16), Still Gallery (24 in total) and reversible cover art round out the special features.

    Intended for children but failing to capture a box-office audience, Invaders from Mars would be heavily digested on subsequent television airings and home entertainment to carve out its cult appeal.  Laced with a conscience campiness and some marvelous effects work, Director Tobe Hooper’s homage to a childhood favorite feels far too familiar to be overly praised.  Meanwhile, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stats easily trump previous releases with its assortment of special features being the disc highlight.  While it may be Hooper’s weakest entry in his unofficial Cannon Films trilogy, Invaders from Mars will most assuredly charm viewers who grew up with this B-movie effort from another planet.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available April 7th from Scream Factory, Invaders from Mars can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983)

    Director: Giuliano Carnimeo

    Starring: Robert Iannucci, Alicia Moro, Fernando Bilbao & Luca Venantini

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a post-apocalyptic future where water is the most precious substance, Exterminators of the Year 3000 focuses on a rebellious drifter who wages war against a gang of road-dwelling psychos for control of their deserted environment and its water source.  Joined by a former flame and a young child, the leather-bound warrior undergoes countless car chases and numerous shootouts to make a difference for the few survivors of nuclear fallout. Robert Iannucci (Young Doctors in Love), Alicia Moro (Edge of the Axe), Fernando Bilbao (Roots of Evil), Luciano Pigozzi (Blood and Black Lace) and Luca Venantini (City of the Living Dead) star.

    In true Italian exploitation fashion, Exterminators of the Year 3000 hardly shies from its blatant attempts to mimic George Miller’s Mad Max films.  Substituting gasoline for water, a band of underground survivors strive to locate more of the element in order to keep their peaceful community alive.  After a recovery team is murdered by a gang of road warriors led by Crazy Bull (Bilbao), a child, Tommy (Venantini), is the only survivor left with knowledge of the water source.  Scared and alone, Tommy encounters Animal (Iannucci), a fellow scavenger, who temporarily puts his selfishness aside to journey with Tommy to the mysterious location.  Dodging Crazy Bull and his ruthless gang proves difficult as violent showdowns involving, exploding car chases and Tommy’s robotic arm being ripped from his body, sidelining Animal and his young partner’s mission.  Meanwhile, Animal encounters Trash (Moro), a former flame still angered by his disappearing act on her and determined to join their hunt for water.  With dangerous threats mounting and horribly mutated creatures protecting the valued source, humanity’s last hope for survival is in question.  

    From Director Giuliano Carnimeo (The Case of the Bloody Iris) under the pseudonym Jules Harrison, Exterminators of the Year 3000 is one of many post-apocalyptic cash in attempts that closely mirrors its inspirations with little individuality.  A co-production between Italy and Spain, shot predominately in the latter, Exterminators of the Year 3000 makes the most of its desolate locations and limited budget with an, at times, laughable dub track offering plenty of unintentional hilarity.  In addition, a product of its time, the futuristic film delivers a pleasing synthesizer score with decent action set pieces that should satisfy likeminded viewers.  While, it hardly towers George Miller’s road ravaging classics nor qualifying as a total blunder, Exterminators of the Year 3000 ultimately, falls into the grey area of mediocrity as a B-movie effort with mildly fun moments that never quite reaches the status of cult iconography.

    Scream Factory debuts Exterminators of the Year 3000 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying its drab desert landscape and lacking vibrant colors, the film appears relatively soft with minimal detail in closeups.  Luckily, dirt and debris is virtually nonexistent in this otherwise clean transfer that retains its natural film grain.  Previously released on DVD in full frame, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray treatment while, although mild, is still a decent upgrade in quality that honors the film’s OAR for the first time.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Exterminators of the Year 3000 sounds relatively tame with audible dialogue levels and a rather lackluster boost during more action-orientated sequences.  Ported over from Code Red DVD’s previous release, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Actor Robert Iannucci, moderated by Code Red’s Bill Olsen, Boogie Down with the Alien: Interview with Robert Iannucci (17:43), a Trailer (3:51) and TV Spots (0:43).  

    Following in the tradition of other nuclear aftermath pictures, Exterminators of the Year 3000 does little to differentiate itself from the pack.  Complimented only by its humorous dub track and moderately engaging action sequences, Exterminators of the Year 3000 is best appreciated for laughs than its “wildly unique” concept.  With expectations kept at bay, fans of B-grade, post-apocalyptic fare will find enough in this Italian/Spanish co-production to be entertained by its satisfyingly synth score and copycat characters.  Meanwhile, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray treatment is a suitable upgrade from its past DVD release that improves by retaining the film’s original aspect ratio and porting over all previously available special features.  Cheesy yet, stunted in mediocrity, Exterminators of the Year 3000 falls somewhere in the middle of other futuristic survival films from a decade booming with them.  

    RATING: 3/5

    Available March 3rd from Scream Factory, Exterminators of the Year 3000 can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Blacula (1972) / Scream Blacula Scream (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Blacula (1972) / Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

    Director(s): William Crain / Bob Kellijan

    Starring: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee & Thalmus Rasulala / William Marshall, Pam Grier & Don Mitchell

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Adhering to the cries from the children of the night, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, delivers two long-awaited blaxploitation classics!  Taking place in 1780 Transylvania, Blacula centers on African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall, Pee-wee’s Playhouse) as he seeks Count Dracula’s assistance in ending slave trade.  Instead, the evil count transforms the prince into a vampire and banishes him to a coffin.  Released nearly two centuries later, Blacula stalks the streets of Los Angeles for blood and a woman (Vonetta McGee, Melinda) he believes to be his reincarnated wife.  Thalmus Rasulala (Willie Dynamite), Denise Nicholas (Room 222) and Gordon Pinsent (Babar) co-star.  Next up, Scream Blacula Scream finds Willis Daniels (Richard Lawson, Poltergeist), the son of a late high priestess, fuming over his cult’s decision to nominate his foster sister Lisa (Pam Grier, Coffy) as their new leader.  Intending to curse Lisa with voodoo magic, Willis unknowingly resurrects the black bloodsucker, hungry for more bloodshed.  Don Mitchell (Ironside), Lynne Moody (That’s My Mama) and Michael Conrad (The Longest Yard) co-star.

    Released the same year as seminal blaxploitation classic, Super Fly, Blacula would not only follow suit in influencing the urban genre’s popularity but, would also become the first film named Best Horror Film of its year by the Saturn Awards.  Its period piece opening with the articulate Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) urging Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay, Brute Corps) to assist in the demise of slave trading kicks the film off on a unique note.  Doused in appropriately gothic atmosphere, Dracula wastes little time feeding on his guest, transforming him into a vampire.  Locked away in a coffin for centuries, two flamboyant interior decorators unleash Blacula into modern day Los Angeles where flashy clothing and jive talkin‘ is commonplace.  Thirsting for blood, Blacula is quickly transfixed with the beautiful Tina (McGee) who bears a striking similarity to his late wife.  As bizarre murders of victims drained of blood begin occurring, Tina’s sister, Michelle (Nicholas), and her pathologist boyfriend, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Rasulala), grow suspicious, while, Tina falls deeper in love with the true culprit.  Complimented by its comical dialogue and a memorable club performance by The Hues Corporation, Blacula is slightly by the numbers but, greatly entertains thanks to Marshall’s commanding performance.  With a bloody yet, surprisingly poetic finale, Blacula is an enjoyable slice of blaxploitation horror with a dignified depiction of its antagonist and an equally funky and brooding score, compliments of Composer Gene Page (Brewster McCloud).  Continuously growing in popularity, Blacula would become one of the top moneymakers of 1972 and pave the way for a minor wave of other blaxploitation-horror efforts.

    From the director of Count Yorga, Vampire and its respective sequel, Scream Blacula Scream blends the worlds of voodoo and vampirism to great effect.  Vowing to take revenge against his foster sister Lisa (Grier) after being ejected from their peaceful cult, Willis (Lawson) uses voodoo practices in hopes to curse her.  Unfortunately, Willis revives the black prince of shadows to continue his reign of terror with the assistance of an undead army.  Where its predecessor may have slightly lacked in style, Scream Blacula Scream excels mixing African folklore and a more prominent blaxploitation attitude.  Co-starring genre goddess Pam Grier (Black Mama White Mama, Foxy Brown), this followup contains a tighter storyline, higher body count and more memorable performances, sure to quench the thirst of viewers.  As Blacula finds a kindred spirit in Lisa and sees her voodoo abilities as invaluable, her ex-detective boyfriend Justin Carter (Mitchell), finds the suspicious murders of fellow cult members far from a coincidence.  After heavily researching the occult, Justin is convinced a vampire is responsible and summons his former LAPD lieutenant to help track the nightcrawler.  Forever conflicted with his need to consume blood, Blacula urges to Lisa to use her voodoo spells to end his vampiric curse.  With a final showdown between Justin, joined by the LAPD, and Blacula’s minions, Scream Blacula Scream is endlessly entertaining and in the rare instance, surpasses its originator.  

    Scream Factory debuts Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream with 1080p transfers, both sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  While, the original film shows only minor instances of flakes and speckles with decent visibility during dimly lit sequences, both films greatly shine with bold colors, rich detail in facial features and their flashy 70s wardrobe.  Undeniably, both films look wonderful in high-definition with Scream Blacula Scream squeaking by as the frontrunner with a virtually spotless appearance.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films have no audio dropouts to report but, Blacula bears a noticeably tinny sound, creating an occasionally tedious echo effect, most noticeably during scenes at Count Dracula’s castle.  That said, dialogue is still audible with the sequel once again reigning supreme with a tinny-less mix and effective pitch during more horrific sequences.  In addition, special features include, an educational Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian David F. Walker on Blacula, joined by a Photo Gallery (68 in total) and Theatrical Trailer (1:54).  Finally, Scream Blacula Scream arrives with Interview with the Vampire’s Assistant: Richard Lawson from Scream Blacula Scream (13:35).  Lawson recalls his luck of winning the part of Willis, his fond memories of William Marshall and Pam Grier as well as his thoughts on the steady popularity of the Blacula films.  A Photo Gallery (69 in total) and Theatrical Trailer (2:03) for the sequel round out the disc’s supplemental offerings.

    Influential in the growing success of blaxploitation, Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream are a winning duo of entertaining vampire tales with an added dose of blackitude.  Intellectual and hypnotizing, William Marshall delights in his most memorable role as the African prince turned bloodsucker that stands proudly next to previous interpretations of the iconic Dracula character.  While, the original Blacula sets a terrific pace, its 1973 sequel is the more satisfying entry with a tighter storyline, voodoo worship and blaxploitation queen Pam Grier making an appearance.  Scream Factory debuts both films with gorgeous high-definition transfers, suitable sound mixes and a small but, worthwhile share of special features.  Deadlier than Dracula, the black prince of shadows makes a bloody fun splash in his only two outings, well worth adding into your tomb of terror.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 3rd from Scream Factory, Blacula / Scream Blacula Scream can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • New Year's Evil (1980) Blu-ray Review

    New Year’s Evil (1980)

    Director: Emmett Alston

    Starring: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, Louisa Moritz & Teri Copley

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Taking place on the hardest partying evening of the year, New Year’s Evil focuses on Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly, Happy Days), the host of a televised punk/new wave show, who’s receiving eerie phone calls from a mysterious killer.  As the night lingers, murders are committed as each time zone in America brings in the new year, with the killer inching closer to Diane.  Kip Niven (Magnum Force), Grant Cramer (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), Louisa Moritz (The Last American Virgin), Taaffe O’Connell (Galaxy of Terror) and Teri Copley (Transylvania Twist) co-star.

    Marking one of the earliest efforts for Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus‘ The Cannon Group, New Year’s Evil continues the holiday-themed slasher trend kickstarted by John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Set amongst the punk music scene of Hollywood, New Year’s Evil attempts to turn the formula of a masked killer on its head by showcasing its culprit early on.  As sexy music emcee, Diane “Blaze” Sullivan, hosts her own televised new year’s event, a mysterious caller promising to off victims as each time zone strikes midnight, leaves Diane chilled.  Using a voice modulator and adorning several different costumes, the killer’s unknown, albeit relatively obvious, connection to Diane is the driving force of the film.  Conflicted with fear and all but oblivious to her withdrawn son (Cramer) who suffers from severe headaches, Diane agrees to go on with the show in hopes of luring the maniac out in the open.  A bonafide time capsule of 1980, New Year’s Evil makes great use of its rock show setting with youthful punks and live music from Shadow, who perform the constantly recycled title track.  While, light on its body count, New Year’s Evil offers enjoyable performances from its main cast and a series of notable locations our killer stalks including, a drive-in movie theater hosting an all-night horrothon and a mental sanitarium.  

    Far from perfect and almost always predictable, New Year’s Evil still offers a charming energy that plays to its nostalgic time period and holiday cash-in title.  An unabashed favorite that attempts to differ from its fellow slashers, New Year’s Evil entertains, both intentionally and unintentionally, with its punk sensibilities and campy, neon-lit, atmosphere.  Featuring notable cult stars and a bitchin‘ retro soundtrack, New Year’s Evil serves well as a prime candidate for fun, late-night slasher consumption.

    Previously released on DVD-R as part of MGM’s Limited Edition MOD program, Scream Factory presents New Year’s Evil with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor, barely noticeable aging artifacts, the transfer impresses with a clean appearance, natural skin tones and remarkable detail in close-ups.  In addition, colors pop nicely from Diane’s glittering dress to the neon lights shining on the live rock bands.  Black levels are handled well with appreciable visibility that improves over its previous release.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, New Year’s Evil offers crisp dialogue levels with no distorting interference.  While, not overly impressive, music packs a noticeable punch with more climatic sequences offering an additional edge within its limited constraints.  Special features include an Audio Commentary with Director Emmett Alston, moderated by Bill Olsen of Code Red DVD.  Although, plagued with its fair share of dry spells, Alston offers notable anecdotes from the making of the film including, its tight budget and speedy 18 day shooting schedule.  In addition, Aine Leicht (Ginger Snaps, Without Warning) once again provides slasher enthusiasts with another detailed retrospective featurette with Call Me Eeevil...  The Making of New Year’s Evil (37:16).  This lengthy look back includes new interviews with Actors Kip Naven, Grant Cramer, Taaffee O’Connell and Director of Photography Thomas Ackerman discussing their unique involvements with the film.  Finally, a Theatrical Trailer (1:46) and reversible cover art round out the supplemental offerings.

    Joining the ranks of other calendar dated slashers including, Halloween and Friday the 13th, New Year’s Evil may fall below the iconic status of its originators but, still casts an identifiable charm for fans with a penchant for its heavy 80s tone.  Littered with punk rockers, gaudy new wave makeup and cheesy tunes, New Year’s Evil offers plenty of slasher staples to keep fans satisfied while, also injecting its own subtle twists for good measure.  Sandwiched between the release of fellow Cannon Film Group slashers, 1980’s Schizoid and 1981‘s Hospital Massacre, New Year’s Evil is an entertaining romp that although, doesn’t pack an overwhelming body count, makes up for in its unrelenting retro atmosphere and willingness to be unique on its limited budget.  Scream Factory’s high-definition treatment is a treasure, offering the film in its best presentation to date with an overly generous supply of bonus content for likeminded fans.  A personal favorite and a proud member of the unofficial holiday slashers collection, New Year’s Evil delights with its campiness and will most assuredly, award viewers with an affection for its bygone decade.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, New Year’s Evil can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Phantom of the Opera (1989) Blu-ray Review

    The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

    Director: Dwight H. Little

    Starring: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Alex Hyde-White, Bill Nighy & Terence Harvey

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, The Phantom of the Opera stars Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) in the timeless role as the tortured Phantom.  After struggling opera singer Christine (Jill Schoelen) finds herself transported back to 1800s London, she reaches mass success under the mentoring of a musically tortured admirer.  Consumed with completing his masterpiece, the Phantom commits unspeakable murders in honor of his obsessive love for Christine.  Alex Hyde-White (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), Terence Harvey (From Hell) and Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live) co-star.

    At the height of Robert Englund’s success portraying pop culture icon Freddy Krueger, his memorable turn as the murderous musical genius in The Phantom of the Opera would unfortunately be largely overshadowed.  Stylish and darker than previous interpretations, The Phantom of the Opera has since morphed into a cult favorite amongst viewers with a penchant for its ode to Hammer horror style intertwined with its slasher movie level of violence.  Co-starring husky-voiced beauty Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather, Popcorn), the Menahem Golan production utilized recycled sets in Budapest from Golan’s previous effort, Mack the Knife, to base its modern retelling of the Gaston Leroux tale.  Rich with lush atmosphere and littered with local English talent, The Phantom of the Opera possesses an air of class lacking in the more popular slasher offerings of its time.  Advertised by capitalizing on Englund’s success in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Director Dwight H. Little’s modernization retains its accustomed period setting with an infused contemporary framework, lending a noticeably more dreamlike quality reminiscent of its source material.  Filling the shoes once worn by Lon Chaney Sr. and Claude Rains, Robert Englund conveys an earnest performance entirely his own.  Injecting an occult backstory with the distressed musician making a deal with the devil, the Phantom’s iconic half-mask is substituted with a grisly, more 1980s-conscience replacement.  In a fashion akin to Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the Phantom skins his victims to retrieve fresh samples to cover his decayed face from the judgmental world.  Make-up effects maestro Kevin Yagher (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Child’s Play) delivers a Phantom well suited for its decade and spares no gore in the form of slit necks and decapitations.  

    Surrounded by an enjoyable supporting cast including an up and coming Bill Nighy and marking Molly Shannon’s film debut, The Phantom of the Opera pushes its level of violence unlike any other previous adaptation to wonderful measure.  With the Phantom whisking his beloved Christine to his decrepit underground lair, a satisfying final struggle set amongst hundreds of burning candles ensues before reestablishing in modern day New York.  Leaving itself open for a proposed sequel which sadly never came to fruition, The Phantom of the Opera has only improved with age, successfully telling a stylistically gothic tale reminiscent of decades past with an unashamed level of violence ripe for Gen-X appreciators.  

    Scream Factory presents The Phantom of the Opera with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Containing modest levels of flakes and specks, colors appear ripe with skin tones ranging from slightly soft to appropriately natural.  Detail is handled well in the period costumes while, closeups of the Phantom stitching his victims‘ skin on his face are relayed with utmost clarity.  Unsurprisingly, moments of bloodshed pop nicely offering a welcome contrast to several sequences.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is audible with zero distortion, unfortunately, Composer Misha Segal’s glorious score and other such operatic scenes feel slightly restricted and fall short of grander expectations.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix has been included for your listening pleasure.  While, not considered one of Scream Factory’s collector’s edition releases, The Phantom of the Opera arrives with a splendid array of bonus content including an Audio Commentary with Director Dwight H. Little and Star Robert Englund.  Next, Behind the Mask: The Making of The Phantom of the Opera is a thorough retrospective featuring new interviews with Director Dwight H. Little, Actors Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Alex Hyde-White, Screenwriter Duke Sadefur, Special Make-Up Designer Kevin Yagher, Special Make-Up Effects Artists John Carl Buechler, Everett Burrell, John Vulich and Composer Misah Segal (37:43).  Interviewees  discuss the Budapest shoot, the recycled sets and the proposed New York based sequel that never happened.  Finally, a Theatrical Trailer (1:53), TV Spot (0:31), Radio Spots (two included), Still Gallery (65 in total) and a More from Scream Factory reel featuring trailers for Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Phantom of the Paradise and From a Whisper to a Scream round out the supplements.

    Not nearly as applauded as Englund’s rendezvous on Elm Street, The Phantom of the Opera has amassed a loyal following over its 25 years and rightfully so.  Doused in timeless production value and blending the romantically gothic with the savagely horrific, The Phantom of the Opera stands as one of the most pleasing and ambitious adaptations of the iconic tale.  A personal favorite of late 80s horror offerings, Scream Factory’s high-definition treatment sings a rewarding note with respectable technical specifications and an exceptional assortment of special features.  Grossly underrated and gorgeously shot, The Phantom of the Opera makes its long-awaited curtain call on Blu-ray, worthy of inclusion in every horror fan’s collection.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 17th from Scream Factory, The Phantom of the Opera can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Vampire's Kiss (1989) / High Spirits (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Vampire’s Kiss (1989) / High Spirits (1988)

    Director(s): Robert Bierman / Neil Jordan

    Starring: Nicolas Cage, Maria Conchita Alonso & Jennifer Beals / Daryl Hannah, Peter O’Toole & Steve Guttenberg

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their exercise in funny frights, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, presents yet another high-definition double feature of things that go giggles in the night!  First up, Academy-Award winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) stars in Vampire’s Kiss as womanizing literary agent Peter Loew.  With loneliness invading his life, Peter’s sanity begins to teeter after an encounter with a seductive fanged mistress leaves him thinking he’s turning into a vampire.  As time passes, everyday is a full moon with Peter’s eccentric behavior reaching new heights.  Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2), Elizabeth Ashley (Coma), Kasi Lemmons (Candyman) and Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) co-star.  Next up, Peter O’Toole stars as castle-turned-hotel owner Peter Plunkett in High Spirits.  Struck with financial hardships, Plunkett and his faithful employees morph their Irish home into a haunted tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, the hotel guests are unprepared when real ghosts begin appearing, turning their stay into a hilarious holiday.  Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy), Daryl Hannah (Splash), Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation), Jennifer Tilly (Bride of Chucky), Peter Gallagher (American Beauty) and Liam Neeson (Taken) co-star.       

    Considered a box-office blunder at the time of its release, Vampire’s Kiss has since amassed a cult following most notably for its lead star’s incredibly quirky performance.  Constantly criticized for its lack of plot, Director Robert Bierman’s debut effort is in fact the study of a man’s loneliness and longing for true love that ultimately drives him mad.  Whether audiences choose to recognize this narrative explanation, what can’t be denied is Cage’s oddball performance in all its kooky glory.  Utilizing a distinctly peculiar accent, Cage’s Peter Loew goes through women as quickly as new socks while, maintaining a prestigious job as a literary agent in New York City.  Admittedly lonely and seeking therapy, Loew’s life is altered after a chance encounter with a beautiful woman leaves him with fang bites and a suspicion he’s becoming a vampire.  Professionally acting for nearly 35 years, Cage has amassed a solid body of work although today, noted for his more eccentric and less favorable roles.  Unlike anything before or since, Cage delivers an explosively over the top performance filled with crazy-eyed glares, shouting tangents and absurd body movements allowing him to devour the scenery in every shot.  As his vampiric convictions grow, Loew begins ridiculing a lowly secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso) at his office and purchasing $3.50 plastic fangs to better embrace his transformation.  As Loew’s sanity wavers, the viewer questions the actuality of the film’s events leading to a darkly poetic finale that seals Lowe’s fate as an alleged bloodsucker.  Shot during a less than stellar period in New York City’s history, Director of Photography Stefan Czapsky (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) captures the essence of the metropolis making it feel like a living, breathing character in the film.  Ahead of the curve with its black comedic tone and Cage’s consciously outlandish performance, Vampire’s Kiss will likely still leave audiences divided but, admirers of the thespians more uncontrollable antics will find this late 80s offering priceless.

    From the director of Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, High Spirits is a delightful romp starring some of comedies most recognizable faces of the 1980s and headlined by one of cinema’s most beloved performers.  Incorporating Ireland’s vast folklore, High Spirits takes glorious advantage of its foreign locations, earning itself undeniably rich atmosphere.  As Peter O’Toole’s Peter Plunkett decides to redress his castle into a haunted attraction in order to save it, American tourists arrive but, are none too pleased with Plunkett’s phony shenanigans.  Eventually, actual phantoms appear, unimpressed with their exploitation and determined to give the tourists their money’s worth.  Constantly overruled by his loudmouthed wife (D’Angelo) and enamored with the castle, Jack Crawford (Guttenberg) begins seeing the ghostly, yet beautiful, apparition of Mary Plunkett Brogan (Hannah).  After being murdered at the hands of her husband (Neeson) 200 years prior, Mary’s confining curse is lifted by Jack’s selflessness and mutual attraction, carving out a romantic subplot to the film’s enjoyable narrative.  In addition, up and comers including, Peter Gallagher as a conflicted priest in training, Jennifer Tilly as his flirtatious achilles heel and Martin Ferrero (Jurassic Park) as a ghost debunker all make appearances.  Critically panned and earning Daryl Hannah a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress, High Spirits is a hilarious getaway picture where poltergeists are the life of the party.  Reminiscent of Beetlejuice, also released in 1988, High Spirits would fail to ignite the box-office but, was predominately  discovered on late night cable television during HBO and Cinemax’s infancy.  Littered with rewarding visual effects and simple sight gags, High Spirits is an uproarious ghost comedy that’s fun for the whole family.              

    Scream Factory presents both Vampire’s Kiss and High Spirits with 1080p transfers, each sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Littered with flakes and occasional lines over its New York City skyline opening title sequence, Vampire’s Kiss quickly improves demonstrating a healthy grain level with warm complexions, rich detail and bold colors seen in bright yellow taxicabs and blood splatters.  Meanwhile, High Spirits presents strong saturation and fine detail in the dimly lit castle setting.  Containing a strong filmic quality, High Spirits suffers only from understandably mild softness during visual effect sequences and barely noticeable speckling. Vibrant and clean, High Spirits certainly aims to please.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, Vampire’s Kiss relays dialogue with distinct clarity and offering suitable depth during a loud disco sequence whereas, High Spirits’ rousing score from Composer George Fenton (Gandhi) rocks the mix complimented by its always clear dialogue levelsIn addition, although relatively light on special features, Vampire’s Kiss includes an Audio Commentary with Director Robert Bierman and Star Nicolas Cage ported over from its previous MGM DVD release.  Containing some dry spells, the track is still a worthwhile listen with the two collaborators strolling down memory lane recalling the nonunion shoot causing issues during production and Cage’s intense and at times, difficult, method acting process.  In addition, a Theatrical Trailer (2:09) is also included while, High Spirits unfortunately, arrives with zilch.

    Once again trading in their scares for laughs, Scream Factory’s suitable pairing of Vampire’s Kiss and High Spirits makes a hauntingly hilarious splash on its viewer.  Nicolas Cage’s extremely eccentric turn as a vampire must be seen to be believed while, the impressive ensemble cast and charming visual effects of High Spirits will leave audiences of all ages with a grin on their face.  Scream Factory’s treatment of these 80s offerings is an admirable one with filmic quality transfers and more than pleasing sound mixes.  While, special features are limited, the thrill of owning these two paranormal retro offerings for the price of one is frighteningly inviting.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available February 10th from Scream Factory, Vampire’s Kiss / High Spirits can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Love at First Bite (1979) / Love at First Bite (1985) Blu-ray Review

    Love at First Bite (1979) / Once Bitten (1985)

    Director(s): Stan Dragoti / Howard Storm 

    Starring: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James & Richard Benjamin / Jim Carrey, Lauren Hutton & Cleavon Little  

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents a pair of neck biting vampire comedies sure to tickle your funny bones!  First up, Love at First Bite stars George Hamilton (Zorro: The Gay Blade) as Count Dracula who, after being banished from his castle must relocate to New York City.  Out of touch with the times and society, the Count is determined to woo an attractive fashion model if the big city doesn’t swallow him first.  Susan Saint James (Kate & Allie), Richard Benjamin (Westworld) and Arte Johnson (Evil Toons) co-star.  Next up, Once Bitten finds Jim Carrey, in one of his earliest roles, as shy, awkward Mark Kendall.  When a sexy vampire countess (Lauren Hutton, American Gigolo) targets Mark’s virginal blood to retain her youthful beauty, a frantic race against time ensues to seduce Mark for good before he sheds his virginity.  Karen Kopins (Troop Beverly Hills) and Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) co-star.

    Considered one of the top grossing films of its year, Love at First Bite focuses on the Count when his own locals grow tired of his antics, banishing him from his own castle.  Joined by his faithful companion Renfield (Johnson), Count Dracula heads to the Big Apple to start anew while, prowling for flashy fashion model, Cindy Sondheim (Saint James), who he’s admired from afar.  George Hamilton makes a convincing, if not strikingly tan, Dracula with a Lugosi-like accent firmly in place.  The hard-drinking, psychologist dependent Cindy falls victim to the charms of the Count while, her shrink and beau, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg (hilariously played by Richard Benjamin), takes none too kindly to the caped foreigner.  As a descendent of Van Helsing, Rosenberg (name changed strictly for “professional reasons”) vows to destroy Count Dracula once and for all.  While, Love at First Bite accounts for several humorous moments including, Rosenberg attempting to harm the Count with a Star of David instead of a cross and a barrage of comical cameos from The Jeffersons‘ Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford plus, Barry Gordon (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Michael Pataki (Rocky IV), the film suffers from a slight identity crisis.  Favoring its more romantic angle at times over knee-slapping laughs, Love at First Bite doesn’t reach its full potential but, does manage to capture the Big Apple during the last gasps of disco.  Joined by a groovy dance sequence between Hamilton and Saint James to Alicia Bridges‘ “I Love the Nightlife” (previously removed on past home video releases), Love at First Bite is a charming time capsule with noticeable wire-hanging bats and a memorable gothic score from Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street).

    An unabashed childhood favorite, Once Bitten pushes its teen comedy angle instead of attracting screams.  Hollywood newcomer Jim Carrey headlines as the slightly awkward 18-year-old Mark Kendall, determined to lose his virginity to girlfriend Robin (Kopins) to no avail.  A far cry from the comedic force the world would know a few short years later, Carrey’s nervousness plays to the advantage of his character.  Lauren Hutton stuns as the seductive Countess hellbent on literally milking Mark for his virginal blood.  After a one-night stand with the blonde bombshell, Mark begins growing paler and resistant to bright lights as his fixation on her strengthens.  Robin, along with Mark’s bumbling Burger Circus employee best friends, Jamie and Russ (Thomas Ballatore and Skip Lackey, respectively), become concerned with his appearance, the trio begin investigating.  Hilariously, Jamie and Russ decide to locate fang bites on Mark’s body in the locker room showers prompting gay gossip headlines among the other students.  With the Countess aided by her flamboyant butler (Little), a public attempt to lure Mark’s attention takes place at the high school Halloween bop.  Marking one of the cheesiest dance-offs of the 1980s, Kopins and Hutton battle for Carrey’s attention to the sounds of Maria Vidal’s “Hands Off” with hilarious choreography to boot.  As time looms, the Countess must continue feeding off of Mark’s blood before, his virginity is taken and her youthful looks gone, leading to a final chase and escape sequence at the Countess‘ upscale mansion.  Much like its 1970s co-feature, Once Bitten captures mid-80s Hollywood hot spots in all their neon glory with genuine punks and valley girls walking the streets.  Complimented with a synth-heavy, guitar riffing score from John Du Prez (UHF), Once Bitten unapologetically follows tropes of past teen comedies but, remains a nostalgic trip of cheese to please.  

    Scream Factory presents Love at First Bite and Once Bitten with 1080p transfers, both sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Marking their Blu-ray debuts, Love at First Bite arrives with slightly murky black levels seen mostly in Dracula’s fog-entrenched castle.  Colors are generally satisfying with warm skin tones and inky blacks relayed in Hamilton’s caped attire.  Instances of flakes and speckles are apparent but, far from intrude, leaving the film with pleasing clarity.  Meanwhile, Once Bitten kicks off with a softer appearance seen in the Countess‘ bright white mansion before transitioning to a lively picture of, at times, bursting color.  Skin tones are accurate with bold colors, most noticeably the Burger Circus‘ exterior and Mark’s ice cream truck, leaping off the screen while, scuffs and scratches are virtually nonexistent on this satisfying HD upgrade.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films have no trouble relaying dialogue while, musical moments such as, Love at First Bite’s “I Love the Nightlife” dance number and Once Bitten’s Halloween bop sequence, offer a nice additional boost in quality.  Relatively light on special features, this double feature of vampiric laughs comes with a Love at First Bite Theatrical Trailer (3:03) and Radio Spots (2:03) whereas, Once Bitten receives a Theatrical Trailer (0:57).

    Experimenting with new ground, Scream Factory takes a break from their bonafide horror classics to treat viewers with a double feature of fangtastic comedies.  While, Love at First Bite has its charms with memorable comedic cameos, nostalgia reigns supreme awarding Once Bitten the frontrunner of this collection.  Bare on special features, both films make their Blu-ray debuts with pleasing technical honors that should easily appease fans.  The blending of frightful funnies is a welcome change of pace for Scream Factory aficionados and one that will hopefully persist in the future.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available February 10th, Love at First Bite / Once Bitten can be purchased via Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Animal (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Animal (2014)

    Director: Brett Simmons

    Starring: Joey Lauren Adams, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Sumpter, Paul Iacono & Elizabeth Gillies

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Executive Producer Drew Barrymore (Whip It), Animal focuses on a group of friends as they head to the wilderness for a weekend getaway.  Upon their arrival, a bloodthirsty creature sets its sight on its latest prey.  Scared and stranded, the friends retreat to an isolated cabin where secrets are revealed and survival appears grim.  Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy), Keke Palmer (True Jackson, VP), Jeremy Sumpter (Peter Pan), Paul Iacono (The Hard Times of RJ Berger) and Elizabeth Gillies (Victorious) star in this contemporary creature feature from Chiller Films.  

    Reminiscent of backwoods horror films from decades past, Animal welcomes the viewer back to familiar territory with a group of attractive twentysomethings in search of an idyllic getaway only to fight for their survival.  The Chiller Films production wastes little time transitioning to night allowing the group to get lost as an unsuspecting monster stalks their every movements.  Equipped with immense strength and razor sharp teeth, Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s (Scream 4, Piranha 3DD) creature design work is a satisfying sight that charms the viewer with its practical capabilities.  In addition, Animal surprises with buckets of blood that drowns the viewer in corn syrup, much to the delight of gore enthusiasts.  While, Animal satisfies painting the town red, its cast fail to make a lasting impression.  Spending the majority of the runtime evading death, the cast fail to partake in any scandalous activities one would expect from films of this ilk.  In addition, characters are underdeveloped, even as the token gay character makes a late, unexpected reveal that although, intriguing, would have injected more conflict amongst the friends if utilized earlier.  Cast highlight Joey Lauren Adams‘ appearance is almost entirely forgettable despite being one of the most recognized names of the film.  Overall, Animal hardly revolutionizes the backwoods formula audiences have come to expect but, still manages to offer a decent modern take with an efficient pace and topnotch gore achieved the old fashioned way.

    Scream Factory presents Animal with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Picture is clean and clear with natural skin tones intact and well handled black levels for a film that takes place predominately at night.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Animal handles hushed dialogue and the striking volume of the creature’s growls nicely.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix is also provided for your listening pleasure.  Meanwhile, special features include an Audio Commentary with Director Brett Simmons, Interviews with the Cast (1:43), Behind the Scenes (3:04), Theatrical Trailer (1:45), Teaser Trailer (0:32) and reversible cover art.

    Earnest and gory, Animal doesn’t offer anything horror enthusiasts haven’t been privy to before but, entertains with its effective creature designs and generous supply of bloody carnage.  Applauded for its TLC of cult classics, Scream Factory treats this contemporary offering with sound audio and video specifications as well as a decent spread of bonus content for viewers to bite into.  Available also on DVD, Animal should satisfy those yearning for a modern backwoods rendezvous achieved by practical means.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available on February 17th, Animal can be purchased via Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dolls (1987) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Dolls (1987)

    Director: Stuart Gordon

    Starring: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams & Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the bowels of Empire Pictures‘ vast library, Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) puppeteers a dark fantasy of pint-sized playmates with a sinister side.  Executive Produced by Charles Band (Ghoulies, Crawlspace), Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents Dolls Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray for the first time ever!  Adorned with plentiful bonus content and newly designed cover art by Nathan Thomas Milliner, Dolls is bone-chilling fun.  

    After a violent storm derails their travels, a precocious little girl and her mean-spirited parents seek shelter at a gothic mansion.  Home to an elderly couple of doll makers, a childlike salesman and two punk-rockers also find their way to the gloomy residence to avoid the harsh weather.  Littered with countless hand-carved toys, something foreboding awaits in the shadows of this ominous home for those causing mischief.  Stephen Lee (Robocop 2), Guy Rolfe (Mr. Sardonicus), Hilary Mason (Don’t Look Now), Ian Patrick Williams (TerrorVision), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Robot Jox) and Carrie Lorraine (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) star.

    MOVIE:

    Lacking the excessive gore of Gordon’s Lovecraftian efforts, Dolls works beautifully as a dark rooted fairy tale with an important comment on childhood.  Serving up tried and true horror tropes including a haunted house, brutal thunderstorms and eerie characters, Dolls feels removed from the bloody decadence of other 1980s offerings.  The talented cast hit all their marks with Guy Rolfe as the kind and equally menacing doll maker injecting an added touch of class to the film.  In addition, the late Stephen Lee shines as the youthful salesman Ralph who is conflicted with embracing his childhood.  Lee conjures up wonderful pathos when reminiscing about his boyhood toys and his late father’s jovial spirit.  Carrie Lorraine does well as the imaginative little girl Judy, who forms a bond with Ralph and the magical yet, deadly dolls.  Shot entirely on Italian sound stages, Dolls offers up wildly effective production design with a decrepit manor hosting the film’s entire tale.  No stranger to recycling their efforts, Empire Pictures would redress the set for use in Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond.  

    Clocking in under 80 minutes, Dolls‘ breezy runtime allows its simple narrative to be told without sacrifice.  Characters are nicely developed and tedious stop-motion animation brings to life the deadly playmates with wonderful results.  Bloody when necessary, Dolls never loses sight of its horror genre label but, is best remembered for its classically gothic tone, soaked in fairy tale lore.  Produced by Brian Yuzna (Society) with a screenplay by Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Dolls predates the short statured slayings of Child’s Play and Puppetmaster while, capturing a spirit of horror from a bygone era.  Suspenseful and humorous, Dolls is an Empire Pictures highlight and stands as one of Gordon’s finest directorial achievements.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Dolls arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor flakes and speckles popping up occasionally and a slight softness during stop-motion sequences, Dolls is a delight in high-definition.  Boasting natural and nicely detailed skin tones, colors pop wonderfully in wardrobe and the various outfits of the highly decorated dolls.  Shrouded in darkness and candle light, black levels are a marvel with no crushing on display and rich visibility observed.  Simply put, Dolls makes a stunning splash with its Blu-ray debut!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Dolls has minor difficulties early on maintaining high dialogue levels.  Luckily, the mix quickly improves allowing speech to flourish with clarity and no other intrusions.  Fuzzbee Morse’s (Ghoulies II) music injects a synth-heavy, jack in the box composition that arrives robustly and further cements the film’s dark fairy tale tone.  Effectively balanced with only brief anomalies, Dolls is a satisfying listening experience.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon & Writer Ed Naha: Ported over from the previous DVD release.

    • Audio Commentary with Stars Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine and Ian Patrick Williams: Also ported over from the previous DVD release.

    • Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls (38:22): Red Shirt Pictures presents this detailed retrospective covering Empire Pictures‘ early theatrical releases, their success in the home video market and the lengthy animation techniques utilized in accomplishing Dolls‘ creepier moments.  Executive Producer Charles Band, Director Stuart Gordon, Producer Brian Yuzna, Writer Ed Naha as well as, Stars Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams and Special Make-Up Effects Artists Gabe Bartalos and John Vulich all offer their insights on this thorough look back on Dolls, dedicated to the memory of the late Stephen Lee.

    • Theatrical Trailer (2:32)

    • Storyboard-to-Film Comparison (8:21): Three scenes, Teddy’s Revenge, Rosemary Takes a Dive and Punch’s Little Secret are presented.

    • Still Gallery: 50 in total.

    • More from Scream Factory: Trailers include Pumpkinhead, Phantom of the Paradise and Sleepaway Camp.

    • Reversible cover art: Bearing the memorable VHS artwork of a doll holding its eyeballs.

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Kickstarting Executive Producer Charles Band’s obsession with pint-sized killers, Dolls is an effectively dark fairy tale surrounded by gothic horror movie set pieces.  Classier than most summer camp slasher offerings at the time, Dolls is an entertaining romp of haunted house thrills and things that go bump in the night.  Headlined by a memorable cast and painstaking animation techniques, Writer Ed Naha and Director Stuart Gordon’s tale of terrorizing toys remains an Empire Pictures standout.  Looking better than ever, Scream Factory has pulled the right strings in delivering a worthy collector’s edition of one of Gordon’s most loved films.  Sporting a splendid transfer and a newly produced retrospective from Red Shirt Pictures, Dolls Collector’s Edition is yet another must-have shriekfest for Scream Factory enthusiasts.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 11thDolls Collector's Edition can be purchased via Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.