Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Twilight Time
  • 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.

  • First Men in the Moon (1964) Blu-ray Review

    First Men in the Moon (1964)

    Directed by: Nathan Juran

    Starring: Edward Judd, Martha Hyer & Lionel Jeffries

    Released by: Twilight Time

     

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    One of many classic science fiction and fantasy films from creative special effects genius Ray Harryhausen, First Men in the Moon is a wonderful tale set amongst the stars!  Told through flashbacks, Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) tells the story of how he along with girlfriend Kate Callender (Martha Hyer) and inventor Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) were actually the first visitors to the moon as opposed to a crew of multi-national astronauts that have just landed. Juxtaposing to 1899, giving the film a Victorian Era atmosphere, Joseph Cavor has developed a paste like substance called cavorite, which he claims counters gravity.  Covering their spherical vessel in the substance, the three then travel to the moon.  While there they discover that they are not alone.  A race of ant-like looking creatures named the Selenites led by the Grand Lunar and Mooncalves, large catepillar-like monsters, reside on the surface as the former intends to keep the group trapped unless Bedford can devise an escape.

    First Men in the Moon was made during a wave of other science fiction hitting the box-office at the time.  No matter how large or small the budget was, these were the kinds of films that were dominating theaters and provided wonderful escapism from everyday reality. This movie is another prime example of what a limited budget and great imagination can bring to the screen. For example, The Mooncalf is another brilliant creation by stop motion effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen created many outstanding creatures in his over 30-year career including, but not limited to, his contributions to 20 Million Miles to Earth and Clash of the Titans. In addition, this film is filled with an enormous amount of atmosphere due to both the settings on the moon and the Victorian Era.  Nigel Kneale, no stranger to writing classic science fiction films and television shows, was the scriptwriter for the film, based on the 1901 novel, “First Men in the Moon” written by H.G. Wells.  Meanwhile, Director Nathan Juran, responsible for such fantasy fare as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, may have arguably turned in his most thoughtful work with First Men in the Moon.  Wonderfully directed, terrifically cast and demonstrating brilliant effects, you will be hard pressed to find a better outer space saga from the era.

     

    Twilight Time has presented First Men in the Moon in such a way that I would call it the holy grail of releases.  Using a dual layered disc, and encode of MPEG4 – AVC, the picture quality of First Men in the Moon is just phenomenal.  The 1080p anamorphic widescreen, letterboxed transfer is simply beautiful, easily surpassing the DVD in every aspect of image quality.  Daylight scenes are just gorgeous and rich in color while, the black levels are strong.  Sequences on the moon and the Harryhausen special effects are all brighter and richer in color giving us the best looking presentation the film has ever had. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also excellent, especially during special effects sequences. Twilight Time has also added a great deal of wonderful extras for this release including, an Audio Commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Special Effects Artist Randall William Cook, an Isolated Music and Effects Track, an Introduction by Randall William Cook, a featurette entitled Tomorrow the Moon, the Original Theatrical Trailer, a Teaser Spot and a 6-page booklet with linear notes by Julie Kirgo.

     

    Being a fan of this movie for well over 20 years, viewing this high quality Blu-ray disc has made watching First Men in the Moon feel brand new and even more exciting. There is nothing more appealing than watching a great film that has been given an outstanding release, thanks to Twilight Time.  Fantasy film fans that are familiar with this movie will be receiving a huge treat with this Blu-ray re-release. A truly superior film and even greater home video release, First Men in the Moon is one title not to miss – highly recommended!

     

    RATING: 5/5

     

    Available now from Twilight Time in a limited 5,000 unit edition, First Men in the Moon can be purchased via Screen Archives.

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) Blu-ray Review

    Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

    Director: Henry Levin

    Starring: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson & Thayer David

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    Journey to the Center of the Earth is another grand science fiction film entrée from the 1950s, a great blending of classic actors with a movie that has many fantastical elements and monsters.  The great James Mason (North by Northwest, Odd Man Out) leads an expedition to the center of the Earth along with Pat Boone (All Hands on Deck), Arlene Dahl (Slightly Scarlet) and Peter Ronson (his only film).  On their journey they encounter both wonderful and treacherous findings along the way.

    Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook (Mason), an Edinburgh science professor has stumbled upon centuries old evidence from another scientist, Arne Saknussemm, detailing a pathway located in Icelandic volcanoes leading to the center of the Earth.  Lindenbrook assembles his team, student Alec McKuen (Boone), farmhand Hans (Ronson), his duck Gertrude and Carla Goetaburg (Arlene Dahl).  Previously, Carla’s late husband Peter Goetaburg, was prepping his own expedition to the bowels of the Earth but was killed by Count Saknussemm (Thayer David) to claim the glory of his ancestor.  Continuing his tradition, the Count intends to follow the Lindenbrook expedition to the center and eventually kill them.  Once the team is assembled, they head inside the volcano to find many different exotic and dangerous areas.  Unknowingly, the group is followed by Count Saknussemm but, join alliances as they continue their treacherous journey.  Once at the bottom, the five of them nearly get eaten by a group of Dimetrodon but manage to escape to the water which then gets sucked into a whirlpool.  Landing in the lost city of Atlantis, the team discover the century-old remains of Arne Saknussemm pointing a way to get back to the top of the volcano.  With escape in sight, a giant chameleon stands in the way of the crew getting back from within the Earth. 

    Once inside the volcano, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a highly entertaining film as we follow the cast into parts unknown.  The first half of the film could be considered a drama with heavy dialogue with the inclusion of a musical number.  A very well-known singer, songwriter and entertainer, Pat Boone does such that in one scene during the film.  The last half of the film becomes pure science fiction when the cast heads down the paths inside the volcano.  While the film may be considered slow to some expecting full-blown action, the ample running time allows the film to build as the characters congregate to form their expedition.  Upon entering the volcano, we are treated to some wonderful visuals and gorgeous cinematography including lakes, a land of large mushrooms and some convincing, practically achieved prehistoric monsters.  James Mason is especially great as Lindenbrook, showing both a serious side as a Professor and his adventurous side as the explorer of a new world.  He also has some snappy dialogue with Arlene Dahl playing the widow of a man who planned his own expedition.  Reportedly, the two of did not get along very well during the making of this film and it shows in their scenes together. 

    Twilight Time has reissued Journey to the Center of the Earth using 4K technology and it’s a big winner.  The 4K restoration here is phenomenal, much improved over the first release. This is a very visually stunning encoded 1080p, 2:35:1 transfer.  The colors are even more vivid with a crisp, polished look to it and excellent contrast to boot.  In addition, the optional DTS- HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 mixes are top notch as well.  To add more icing on the cake, supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Actress Diane Baker and Film Historians Steven C. Smith & Nick Redman, an Isolated Score Track, the Original Theatrical Trailer and an 8-page Booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

    With a satisfying runtime, great cast and some really wonderful effects, Journey to the Center of the Earth stands out as not being just another low-budget B movie.  Rich in plot, with terrific acting, excellent cinematography, and of course, the great Dimetrodon scene for monster lovers, Journey to the Center of the Earth remains one of the better classic fantasy films of the 1950s. 

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Twilight Time in a limited 5,000 unit edition, Journey to the Center of the Earth can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

  • 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.  

  • Fright Night (1985) 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

    Fright Night (1985)

    Director: Tom Holland

    Starring: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse & Stephen Geoffreys

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Thinner), Fright Night focuses on suburban boy next door, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), whose convinced his mysterious new neighbors are vampires.  When his attempts for help fall on deaf ears, Charley seeks out Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a washed-up actor best known as an infamous vampire killer, to restore peace to his quiet neighborhood.  Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride), Amanda Bearse (Married with Children), Stephen Geoffreys (976-Evil) and Jonathan Stark (House II: The Second Story) co-star.

    Released at the height of the slasher movie boom, Fright Night pays tribute to the gothic tales of bloodsuckers, set in the modern suburban landscape of the 1980s.  William Ragsdale (Mannequin: On the Move) perfectly emulates the prototypical boy next door, Charley Brewster, struggling with trigonometry and increasingly horny.  Head over heels in love with his attractive girlfriend Amy (Bearse) and a horror movie aficionado, Charley becomes suspicious of his new neighbor, the suave Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon).  Only seen at night and caught ushering a coffin into his basement with his assistant and suggested male lover, Charley is certain vampires have moved into his neighborhood.  Sarandon with his handsome good looks and charming smile captures the sexual essence of screen vampires before him while, reinventing the mythic figure for a new decade.  The lovely Amanda Bearse shines as Charley’s better half who falls under Jerry’s hypnotizing will leading to an erotically charged dance sequence at a quintessentially 80s discotheque.  Unsurprisingly, the late Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) hams it up as horror host Peter Vincent who helps Charley in his mission after much convincing.  As an established cult icon, McDowall fits into the role like a glove with his performance ranking among one of his best.  Meanwhile, Stephen Geoffreys, playing Charley’s odd best friend “Evil” Ed, steals the show with his high-cracking voice and maniacal laughter.  Uncomfortable in his own skin and potentially shunning his own homosexuality, Ed is seduced by Jerry and comforted by the connection to another likeminded soul.  The effective emotions and suggested subtext separates Fright Night from being just any other ordinary vampire film.

    With well-paced suspense and memorable humor (once again, courtesy of Geoffreys), Fright Night has all the ingredients to make a modern day classic.  Matched with spectacular visual effects, most notably a wolf to human transformation on par with Rick Baker’s work on An American Werewolf in London, from Richard Edlund (Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China) and Randall Cook (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Fright Night leaves the viewer equally tickled and frightened the way all great horror films should.  A personal favorite, Tom Holland’s debut picture is righteously entertaining and one that stands proudly, along with The Lost Boys and Near Dark, as one of the finest vampire films to emerge from the 1980s.

    Twilight Time welcomes Fright Night back onto Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  With only a slight and personally pleasing contrast boost, the transfer is identical to its already impressive 2011 counterpart.  Colors are rich and plentiful with detail bursting in facial features and the actors’ costumes.  Retaining its natural filmic grain, Fright Night absolutely stuns on Blu-ray!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Fright Night’s sound levels remain consistent with its previous release, delighting with crisp dialogue and 80s pop music adding an intended boost while, Composer Brad Fiedel’s (The Terminator) score sets the atmosphere with utmost clarity.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  While, its previous release was virtually bare bones, Twilight Time’s 30th Anniversary Edition comes bursting with content!  Special features included are an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tom Holland, Actors Chris Sarandon & Jonathan Stark, moderated by Filmmaker Tim Sullivan plus, an additional commentary with Writer/Director Tom Holland, Actors William Ragsdale & Stephen Geoffreys and FX Artist Randall Cook, moderated by Journalist Jeremy Smith and Tim Sullivan.  In addition, the 1st Ever Fright Night Reunion Panel at Fear Fest 2 (2008) with Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (54:22).  Broken into three parts, Shock Til You Drop Presents Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek has Holland interviewed at his house about his various credits including Psycho II, The Beast Within, Child’s Play and of course, Fright Night (27:38).  Furthermore, a Vintage EPK with Behind the Scene Raw Footage (1:34:52), a Stills and Memorabilia Gallery from the Tom Holland Archives (73 in total), Original Theatrical Trailer “G” Rating (1:23), Original Theatrical Trailer “R” Rating (1:26), an Isolated Score Track and a 6-page booklet carrying over Julie Kirgo’s essay from the original 2011 release round out this impressive supplemental package.

    Long cherished by horror enthusiasts, Fright Night never overstays its welcome with an entertaining cast and its effortless ability to inject humor and instill terror simultaneously.  Joined by a slightly belated and underrated sequel in 1989 as well as a mediocre remake in 2011 and adjoining sequel in 2013, Tom Holland’s debut opus gave slasher obsessed audiences a modernized tale that made vampires hip once again while, tipping its hat to its gorgeously gothic predecessors.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Twilight Time welcomes Fright Night back onto Blu-ray with stunning technical merits and a whopping supplemental package that ranks as one of Twilight Time’s most comprehensive to date.  Simple and endlessly satisfying, few vampire films have achieved such praise with its tongue implanted so firmly in cheek but, the children of the night are all the better for it.  Welcome to Fright Night...  for real!

    RATING: 5/5

    Previously available in a limited edition of 5,000 units, Fright Night 30th Anniversary Edition is officially sold out.

  • The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

    Director: Woody Allen

    Starring: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello & Diane Wiest

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As The Great Depression takes hold of the country, an unhappily married New Jersey waitress (Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby) turns to the magic of the movies for escapism. When her favorite movie star (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom) emerges from the screen, a charming romance ensues.  Sweet and enchanting, The Purple Rose of Cairo co-stars Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing) and Diane Wiest (Edward Scissorhands).

    Delicately straddling the line between reality and fiction, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a tender love letter to cinema akin to Ed Wood and Matinee.  Critically applauded but, financially stunted at the box-office, Woody Allen’s tragi-comedy speaks to the average day dreamers quietly suffering in their daily lives but, rejuvenated by the alluring glow of the silver screen.  Mia Farrow headlines as Cecilia, an oppressed, overworked wife and waitress, constantly abused by her unfaithful, unemployed husband (intensely portrayed by Danny Aiello).  Cecilia’s escape is at her local movie house where Hollywood’s endless tales transport her to dreamlike states where her favorite actor, Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), melts her heart with his talents and good looks.  Farrow’s wide-eyed, childlike enthusiasm easily relates to those who care deeply for cinema and are as affectionately moved by its sweeping images.  When Shepherd’s latest film, The Purple Rose of Cairo debuts, Cecilia finds herself returning to encore shows only to witness Tom Baxter, Shepherd’s onscreen persona (also played by Daniels), leaping off the screen and entering Cecilia’s reality.  As Baxter lacks real world skills and Cecilia’s desperation to rid herself of her depressing lifestyle becomes clear, the two connect and fall hopelessly in love.  Through all its genuine magic and emotional chemistry perfectly delivered by Farrow and Daniels, Allen injects heaps of playful humor from disgruntled moviegoers less impressed with a movie star stepping through a screen and more concerned with being ripped off.  In addition, Baxter is understandably confused when a working girl (Diane Wiest) invites him to her brothel for an “experimental adventure” leading to an adorably hilarious exchange.  

    As word reaches the Hollywood big shots and Gil Shepherd himself, the pack head to New Jersey to contain the possibility of endless Tom Baxter’s escaping screens.  Genuinely sweet and determined to be more than a supporting actor, Shepherd is quickly taken by Cecilia’s kindness and admiration for his talents.  Before long, Cecilia finds herself in a confusing love triangle where two men, one real, the other fictional, are vying for her love.  As our hearts are invested as much as Cecilia’s, the difficult option of choosing between her fantasies or reality is a heart-rending, bittersweet sendoff that equally delights our imaginations and forces us to confront the imperfect complexities of life.  Delightful and enduring, The Purple Rose of Cairo could very well be Allen’s finest effort and one that wears its adoration for romance and movie magic proudly on its sleeve.

    Twilight Time presents The Purple Rose of Cairo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Gorgeously shot by Cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather), colors, or lack thereof, are relayed nicely while, the transfer bears only minor instances of flakes and speckles.  Closeups aren’t drastically sharp but do offer suitable detail that appease.  Overall, The Purple Rose of Cairo maintains a natural, filmic appearance that delivers considerably.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Purple Rose of Cairo projects clear dialogue with no issues to speak of.  Expectedly, the mix never charges with much authority but, does offer an appreciated boost with the loud horn section at the Copacabana.  Relatively light, special features included are an Isolated Score Track, Original Theatrical Trailer (1:37), MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06) and a 6-page booklet bearing stills from the film and another spot-on analysis and appreciation for the film from Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo.

    Remarkably acted and achingly moving, The Purple Rose of Cairo speaks to the dreamers whisked away to exotic lands of adventure and romance from the unspooling of film reels.  Farrow and Daniels could hardly be more perfect with their intoxicating chemistry and Allen’s witty handling of dialogue carving out the film’s optimal quality.  Twilight Time delivers Allen’s 1985 gem with a filmic video appearance and fitting sound mix while, special features unfortunately fall on the lighter side, Julie Kirgo’s latest essay is as always, enriching.  Breezy at only 82 minutes, The Purple Rose of Cairo is essential viewing for anyone swept away by the magic of movies and the enchanting spell they cast.  Fade out.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now in a limited edition of 3,000 units, The Purple Rose of Cairo can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

  • Breaking Away (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Breaking Away (1979)

    Director: Peter Yates

    Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern & Jackie Earle Haley

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Bullitt, Dennis Christopher (Chariots of Fire), Dennis Quaid (The Rookie), Daniel Stern (Home Alone) and Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children) star in Breaking Away as a tight-knit group of friends in the university town of Bloomington, Indiana, as they attempt to sort their lives out following high school graduation.  Self-diagnosed as outsiders, Dave (Christopher) takes his passion for cycling to new heights as a competitive race looms in their Middle American town.  

    Winner for Best Screenplay at the 1980 Academy Awards, Breaking Away remains a timeless tale of friendship and suburban serenity.  Sitting proudly with other coming-of-age classics as Kenny & Company and Stand by Me, Breaking Away has retained an enduring shelf life due to its heartwarming notions and unique casting decisions that seal its natural identity of townies uncertain about their future.  Dennis Christopher guides the picture with ease as recent graduate, Dave, obsessed with Italian cycling.  Christopher channels much humor as he attempts to emulate his foreign heroes by learning their language, listening to classical opera music and even shaving his legs much to the dismay of his aggravated father (played wonderfully by Paul Dooley).  The supporting cast shines brightly with Dennis Quaid as Mike, a former high school football player all too aware that his best days are behind him.  In addition, Daniel Stern, in his film debut, and The Bad News Bears‘ Jackie Earle Haley round out Christopher’s best friends, all committed to each other and increasingly fearful of what lies ahead.  Surprisingly, it is Peter Yates‘ direction and Steve Tesich’s charming screenplay, two non-Americans, that capture the film’s gorgeous small town American spirit.  In addition,  Director of Photography Matthew F. Leonetti (Poltergeist) basks the film in dreamy, sun-soaked lighting that romanticizes the setting to great effect.

    As tensions mount with the universities jock population and Dave’s Italian heroes betray him in a race, a chance opportunity to compete in the Little 500 allows Dave’s “cutters” a shot at redemption and self-worth.  Exciting and riveting, the film’s final race sequence will leave viewers on their feet and walking away with a feeling of bliss.  Uplifting and accurate in its depiction of youth, Breaking Away is a coming-of-age gem that is unfortunately lacking in today’s zeitgeist.

    Twilight Time presents Breaking Away with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Free of any dirt or debris, Breaking Away bears a clean picture with natural grain intact and rich detail best appreciated in Dave’s cycling uniform colors and the youthful acne scars on Jackie Earle Haley’s face.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Breaking Away does not exactly offer a grand scope of sounds to rumble its mix but, does offer audible dialogue with no anomalies to speak of.  Special features included are a highly informative Audio Commentary with Actor Dennis Christopher and Film Historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo.  Christopher tells stories from the making of the film with clear memories and vivid detail while, Redman and Kirgo, quickly proving themselves to be the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of film scholars, moderate the track with ample knowledge leaving the viewer with a mountain of new information to absorb.  In addition, two TV spots, Road to Adulthood (0:32) and Academy Booster (0:32) are included along with Dennis Christopher’s Fellini Story (12:53), an audio recording of Christopher’s chance encounter with the famed director that earned him a role in 1972’s Roma.  Finally, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:57), an Isolated Score Track and a 6-page booklet with production photos and yet another compelling essay from Kirgo round out the supplements.  

    Heartfelt and humorous, Breaking Away is a cinematic treasure capturing the lives of youth in an idyllic American town.  The young cast impresses with humble performances that have elevated them all to greater successes in their respective careers.  Twilight Time delivers this charming Oscar-winning story with rewarding audio and video features and an audio commentary well worth its price.  While, quality coming-of-age dramas may be far and few between today, Breaking Away remains one of the finest of its kind.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Twilight Time in a limited edition of 3,000 units, Breaking Away can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.