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  • The Astro-Zombies (1968) Blu-ray Review

    The Astro-Zombies (1968)

    Director: Ted V. Mikels

    Starring: Wendell Corey, John Carradine, Tom Pace, Joan Patrick, Tura Satana & Rafael Campos

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From cult icon Ted V. Mikels (The Doll Squad), The Astro-Zombies centers on mad scientist Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine, House of Frankenstein) whose crazed experimentations on the deceased to bring life to his robotic creations gains the attention of others.  Pursued by international spies, criminals and the CIA, the man made monsters escape leaving a trail of blood in their wake.  

    Unsurprisingly produced in less than a week with a considerable sum of its budget accounted for star John Carradine’s fee, The Astro-Zombies is out of this world awful, daring curious viewers to survive through its wildly overlong runtime and dense plot.  Failing to blend several genres in one, Ted V. Mikels’ sci-fi stinker, long considered one of the worst films ever made, channels paint drying as the elderly Carradine yawningly tinkers with laboratory equipment and spats scientific jargon while, later a topless, body painted dancer flaunts to the camera far longer than required.  Secretly developing solar-powered astro-men who laughably bear similarities to uncoordinated men in Halloween masks, Dr. MeMarco’s efforts are desired by Mexican baddies led by the foxy Santana (Tura Satana, Faster, Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill!) while, CIA agents lead an investigation to stop DeMarco at all costs.  Featuring painfully dull characters and overreaching in its attempts to throw everything and the kitchen sink into its final product, The Astro-Zombies remains puzzlingly tedious even when delivering on its colorfully gaudy poster art during the film’s lackluster climax.  Directly influencing horror punk pioneers The Misfits’ memorable song of the same name, The Astro-Zombies merely holds appeal for bad movie aficionados with a glutton for cinematic punishment.

    Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Astro-Zombies with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Unavoidably retaining traces of scratches, scuffs and lines, screen judder is routinely present while, colors appear rather drab and inconsistent.  Meanwhile, skin tones waver from natural to pinkish with black levels leaving more to be desired.  A product of its making and unkempt source materials, Mikels’ D-grade picture may not look ideal but surely won’t look any better.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue struggles to be heard, often overwhelmed by low recording levels or muffled exchanges.  Underwhelming to say the least, the track thankfully lacks disruptive moments of hiss or pops but, generally disappoints.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy & Bill Corbett of RiffTrax, an Audio Commentary with Director Ted V. Mikels and a third Audio Commentary with Horror Cinema Historian Chris Alexander.  In addition, Trailers for The Astro-Zombies (2:16), Beware! The Blob (1:45), The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (2:13) and Deranged (1:40) are included along with a Reversible Cover Art.

    Far removed from the more direct alien exploits anticipated by its alluring 1-sheet, The Astro-Zombies is a disastrous blunder of nonsensical overindulgence and scatterbrained filmmaking.  Mind-numbingly lame and seemingly never-ending, Kino Lorber Studio Classics appreciatively gives the cult junker a new HD remastering that although, still plagued with anomalies, shows improvement.  Adorned with several vastly unique commentary tracks and a reversible cover art, The Astro-Zombies will unfortunately leave viewers’ faces in a pile of flesh.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available October 11th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, The Astro-Zombies can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) Blu-ray Review

    The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

    Director: Terrence Fisher

    Starring: Willard Parker, Virginia Field, Dennis Price, Thorley Walters, Vanda Godsell, David Spenser & Anna Palk

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following a worldwide extraterrestrial assault, The Earth Dies Screaming follows several survivors whose defenses and ingenuity depends on the future of the human race.  Willard Parker (Kiss Me Kate) headlines this British science fiction opus, scripted by Harry Spalding (Curse of the Fly, The Watcher in the Woods) under the pseudonym Henry Cross.

    Surrounded by a siege of collapsed bodies and witness to vehicular disasters, The Earth Dies Screaming finds civilization ravaged by robotic saucer men, leaving only a handful of survivors to counteract the invasion.  Breezy and immensely entertaining, Director Terrence Fisher (Horror of Dracula, The Mummy), commonly known for his gothic masterpieces for Hammer Films, brings ample tension and desolate dread to one of his only proper sci-fi centered features.  As the metallic monsters repurpose fallen humans as eerie, white-eyed hunters, The Earth Dies Screaming, led by an American surrounded by local Englishmen, unquestionably bears its influence on George A. Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead while, remaining a terrifically undervalued end of days feature in its own right.  Shot at Shepparton Studios in London, suspicion amongst the surviving humans and an expectant mother contribute added doses of suspense to this space age thriller that concludes on an explosive note.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Earth Dies Screaming with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing no detrimental marks of age-related scuffs, the film’s monochrome photography is beautifully relayed with sharp detail and black levels leaving deeply inky impressions.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is well handled and absent of hiss or pops while, the remainder of the rather tame track makes admirable strides through its score and collisions into the alien robots.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith, an Animated Photo Montage (3:37) and Trailers for The Earth Dies Screaming (2:14), Invisible Invaders (2:00), Chosen Survivors (3:06), Panic in the Year Zero (2:24) and The Satan Bug (2:12) rounding out the supplements.

    Trading Dracula’s fangs for terror from above, The Earth Dies Screaming maintains Terrence Fisher’s exacting touch with thrills and atmospheric suspense.  Wildly underrated while influencing later day genre efforts, the menacingly titled British feature stands out against its rampant American made counterparts of the era.  Meanwhile, Kino Lorber Studio Classics welcomes the sci-fi favorite to high-definition with impressive technical grades that genre fans will be happy to have invade their collections.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

    Director: W.D. Richter

    Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Lewis Smith & Ronald Lacey

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A cocktail of genre mashups, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension stars Peter Weller (RoboCop) as the titular, jack of all trades hero who dabbles in neurosurgery while, fronting a popular rock band and saves the world for kicks.  After his breakthrough matter traveling device, the Oscillation Overthruster, is sought after by a threatening squad of aliens, Banzai and his pals seek to protect humanity from the wrath of their thick-accented leader Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow, Raising Cain).  

    Bodaciously bizarre and quirky as can be, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a cinematic odyssey of science fiction insanity coupled with rock n’ roll style and madcap extravagance.  After the exceedingly cool and brilliant Buckaroo Banzai breaks the sound barrier and travels through solid matter to return with an alien organism in tow, the enviously unhinged and incarcerated Dr. Emilio Lizardo, whose failed experiment into the 8th dimension from years past, caused his mind to be consumed by the wicked Lord John Whorfin prompts the physicist to spring himself from the looney bin to snatch Banzai’s working invention.  As leader of the martian-esque Red Lectroids who operate under human disguises, Whorfin seeks to overthrow their nemeses, the Black Lectroids, reclaim their home Planet 10 and annihilate Earth.  Respected for his brains and beloved for his rockin’ six-string skills, global hero Buckaroo Banzai, joined by his loyal comrades The Hong Kong Cavaliers and a peaceful Black Lectroid with Jamaican flavor, stand in Whorfin’s path of inter-dimensional dominance.  After falling for his former flame’s twin sister, Whorfin’s abduction of the blonde barfly makes Banzai’s protection of the great state of New Jersey and the rest of the planet extremely personal and chaotically action-packed.

    An otherworldly product of its time, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension abolishes standard categorization, thriving on its unusual tone, skyrocketingly over the top performances and colorfully cooky inclusions of space aliens, scientific jargon and Star Peter Weller successfully pulling off blindingly red framed eyeglasses and bowties in his mission to save mankind.  Further complimented by appearances from Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption) as Banzai’s piano playing lieutenant and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) hamming it up in a cowboy outfit, the film’s villainous trio including, the brilliant John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and Vincent Schiavelli (Batman Returns) are a trifecta of planet invading fun.  While the film appropriately arrives with no adherence to any one genre, Banzai’s head over heels interest in his late wife’s literal doppelgänger (Ellen Barkin, Sea of Love) and determination to rescue her feels forced and largely underdeveloped.  Promising a sequel that would never come to pass, a scatterbrained marketing campaign and a difficult to peg plot left the eccentric effort lost at the box-office.  With repeat viewings sometimes necessary to fully embrace its full absurdity, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension would rightfully explode into the cult charmer that it is.  Tuned with a dizzyingly catchy synth score from Composer Michael Boddicker (Get Crazy), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is understatedly unlike most pictures.  Akin to a wild and crazy improvisational guitar solo, this little bit of everything feature easily ranks as one of the 80s most bonkers times put to celluloid.

    Shout Select presents The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Looking notably clean and absent of age-related damage, skin tones are exceptionally natural and well-detailed while, bold and softer colors alike burst in every frame.  In addition, black levels boast welcome inkiness with beautiful natural film grain apparent throughout.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is crisp and easily heard while, Banzai’s brief rock club gig and Composer Michael Boddicker’s equally satisfying score shake things up nicely.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Kicking off the Blu-ray disc, supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Director W.D. Richter & Writer Earl Mac Rauch plus, a second Audio Commentary with Michael & Denise Okuda.  Unquestionably, the true gem of the release is the newly produced Into the 8th Dimension (2:08:16).  This exhaustive eight part featurette covers the origins, visual effects, casting, design work and many other aspects of the film and its lukewarm release before its acceptance as a cult classic.  With insight from Director W.D. Richter, Producer Neil Canton, Stars Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown, Composer Michael Boddicker and countless others, this first-rate achievement from Producer Brian Ward is the holy grail for Buckaroo devotees.  

    Presented in standard definition on its DVD counterpart, additional special features consist of the vintage making-of featurette Buckaroo Banzai Declassified (22:41), an Alternate Opening (7:12), 14 Deleted Scenes (14:11), the New Jet Car Trailer (2:25) and the Theatrical Trailer (1:17).  Lastly, in addition to Paul Shipper’s top-notch new design work, the Reversible Cover Art hosts the film’s original 1-sheet imagery.

    Fun, flashy and enjoyably insane, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension has always been an acquired taste for many, leaving others perplexed by its inter dimensional zaniness.  A one of a kind original, W.D. Richter’s sole directorial effort concocts a sloppy joe of genre touches with an eclectic cast having the time of their lives facing off against reptilian spacemen with oddball tech, ingenuity and the power of rock n’ roll as their tools of defense.  For the inaugural release of Shout! Factory’s film fan driven Shout Select line, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension Collector’s Edition blasts to soaring heights with its virtually flawless presentation and jaw-droppingly impressive special features that have raised the bar in terms of fan service and definitive documentation.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available August 16th from Shout Select, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #10 - Scream Factory Edition: The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Collector's Edition & Bite (2015) Blu-ray Reviews

    The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973)

    Director: Nathan Juran

    Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Elaine Devry, Scott Sealey & Robert J. Wilke

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a father-son camping excursion results in dear old dad getting bit by a bloodthirsty beast, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf focuses on curly-haired son Richie (Scott Sealey, Emergency!) and his unsuccessful attempts to prove to the local townsfolk that his father will morph into a turtleneck wearing hairy savage at the next full moon.  In his final directorial effort, Nathan Juran (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) reteams with leading man Kerwin Mathews for this rather bland, modern day retelling of the famous folktale.  Highlighting the sign of the times with Richie’s parents being divorced and turning to child psychology for answers to their son’s manic stories, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf exudes a TV movie atmosphere that struggles to scare while, unintentionally bringing smirks to viewers’ faces courtesy of the film’s enjoyably dated werewolf design.  As Richie’s pleas go unanswered, secondary characters including, a camper humping couple, a monster believing psychologist (George Gaynes, Police Academy) and most hilariously, a bible hugging cult of hippies led by a Jerry Garcia looking messiah cross paths with the beast, few leaving with their lives.  Concluding uneventfully with a setup to a sequel that was not meant to be, this harmless PG rated opus mildly charms with its yesteryear plotting during such an artistically groundbreaking decade while, remaining largely forgettable for its bygone approach.  Paired with the snake-slithering shocker Sssssss throughout its drive-in heyday, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf earnestly howls for suspense but, unfortunately comes up scareless.

    Never before available, Scream Factory presents The Boy Who Cried Werewolf with a new 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Amid instances of minimal speckling, occasional cigarette burns and sporadic nighttime scenes possessing overly grainy appearances, the film’s color scheme is strong and vibrant with detail looking pleasingly sharp.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently relayed while, werewolf howls and the film’s few music cues make decent, if not limited, impacts on the otherwise basic track.  Unsurprisingly limited, special features include, a Photo Gallery (3:32) and the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (2:24).  However lackluster the tame, fang-toothed feature is, horror/cult saviors Scream Factory must be graciously thanked for rescuing and presenting, for the first time on home video, a cobweb invested picture such as The Boy Who Cried Werewolf for horror enthusiasts to experience in noteworthy quality.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

    Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum & Veronica Cartwright

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Kickstarting a movement of science fiction makeovers for golden age classics that would permeate the following decade, Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes place in San Francisco where Department of Health associates Matthew (Donald Sutherland, Don’t Look Now) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams, The Dead Zone) discover a dark phenomenon of mysterious pods cloning the population and discarding the human originals.  Plagued by fear and paranoia, the silent overtaking of the planet increases aggressively as the desperate duo and their equally frantic friends rush to save the human race.  Impressively hailed by audiences and critics alike for its gloomy tone and nail biting suspense, Director Philip Kaufman’s (The Right Stuff) modernization earns the rare honor of taking a revered concept and pollinating it with unique touches that both adheres and expands upon its foundation.  Featuring an eclectic pool of talent from Sutherland and Adams to genre legend Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek), Veronica Cartwright (The Birds) and an early appearance from a youthfully scrawny Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) as a failed poet, all are perfectly in synch while, original Body Snatchers star Kevin McCarthy returns for a glorified cameo as a frightened civilian forewarning the danger coming.  Seeped in a cloud of dread that the cast admirably conveys through their frightened performances, Invasion of the Body Snatchers impresses doubly with its gooey special effects work that spotlights unsettling reproductions of the cast being birthed via pods.  In addition, a crossbred dog possessing its human owners face stands as yet another unforgettable snippet of disturbing imagery that enhances the film’s fear inducing aura.  While Jack Finney’s novel has inspired two more adaptations in the wake of Kaufman’s slow-building box-office favorite, 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a championed chiller that will leaves audiences in a state of hypnotic fear all the way to its shocking conclusion.

    Scream Factory presents Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appreciatively scanned in 2K from the interpositive, the pod people redo looks refreshingly crisper than previous releases with a filmic quality throughout and colors respectfully leveled to more natural appearances.  Furthermore, detail is most impressive during pod birthing scenes allowing viewers to marvel at the intricate cob-like effects work on the bodies.  While the atmospherically dark cinematography still possesses moderate levels of noise speckling, Scream Factory’s handsome new transfer is a breath of preferable fresh air that should easily appease viewers.  Equipped with a perfectly satisfactory DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that relays dialogue and startling sound effects effortlessly, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Entered into the label’s esteemed Collector’s Edition series, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman plus, a second vintage Audio Commentary with Director Philip Kaufman.  Other newly recorded supplements courtesy of the relentlessly talented Cavetown Pictures include, Star-Crossed in the Invasion with Brooke Adams (9:06) where the leading lady recounts her working relationship with Kaufman who allowed her to write her own scene in the film as well as her reservations appearing nude on screen.  Next up, Leading the Invasion with Art Hindle (25:04) who portrayed Adams’ quickly overtaken beau recalls his lifelong obsession with science fiction in this chatty featurette while, Re-Creating the Invasion with W.D. Richter (15:43) finds the writer discussing the San Francisco setting of the film and his original intentions and ultimate alterations that occurred throughout the film’s making.  In addition, Scoring the Invasion with Denny Zeitlin (15:34) explores the composer’s sole film credit and his unique approaches to the material.

    Ported over from MGM’s previous Blu-ray release, Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod (16:14) features insight from Kaufman, Sutherland, Richter, Cartwright and others on the film’s enduring impact.  Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (4:38) allows SFX Artist Howard Preston to detail the creation of the film’s impressive opening sequence while, The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (12:47) and The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (5:24) explores the film’s evocative sounds and camerawork respectively.  Lastly, the Theatrical Trailer (2:13), TV Spots (1:02), Radio Spots (4:46), a Photo Gallery (74 in total) and a bonus episode of Science Fiction Theatre’s “Time Is Just A Place” (25:53) based on Finney’s short story and directed by Jack Arnold (The Creature from the Black Lagoon) is also included.  Beautifully packaged bearing Justin Osbourn’s newly rendered artwork, a Reversible Cover Art featuring the film’s original 1-sheet poster concludes the stacked supplemental offerings.  At the risk of pumping a dry well by upgrading a previously available favorite, Scream Factory has made the decision a no-brainer with a new top-notch 2K transfer, a pod sized offering of new and vintage extra features and an exceptional new cover design that trumps the original poster art.  If the seed hasn't been planted more firmly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers Collector’s Edition easily earns a spot in your growing collection of cult gems.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available August 2nd from Scream Factory, Invasion of the Body Snatchers can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Bite (2015)

    Director: Chad Archibald

    Starring: Elma Begovic, Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen, Jordan Gray & Lawrence Denkers

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After returning from a Dominican Republic getaway, Bite centers on uncertain bachelorette Casey (Elma Begovic, Save Yourself) as she succumbs to an infected bug bite that grossly alters her both physically and mentally.  Introducing viewers to a trio of girlfriends through the lens of their shaky camera as alcohol consumption, self-doubt and infidelity paint the portrait of their tropical vacation, Bite spares viewers further found footage style filming as the narrative thankfully reverts to traditional means.  Nursing an itchy insect bite received abroad, Casey’s case of marital cold feet and guilty conscience weighs heavily on the soon-to-be bride as she contemplates her true desires.  Disdained by her fiancé’s mother who disapproves of premarital sex, Casey’s uncertainty of her future increases as her health rapidly declines in the days to come.  Developing hypersensitive hearing and an endless urge to purge, Casey’s metamorphosis into a yellow-eyed, larva spewing insectoid with a killer instinct breeds creepy carnage for those who cross her path.  Embraced by audiences at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Bite suffers from subpar acting, indubitably caused by its shaky screenplay that lacks meat on its bones.  While Casey’s troubling martial woes and dramatics brought upon by her jealous best friend are established if not, secondary to the film’s anticipated moments of gooey nastiness, Bite’s true saving grace is found in star Elma Begovic’s bold performance that strips away her attractive looks for the benefit of becoming a snarling, bug-eyed creature.  Much like Casey’s husband is forced to wait on consummating, viewers are tasked with settling for a mediocre tale until the anti-hero spews acidic vile upon her mother-in-law from hell and engages in a fatal girl on girl smooch while, a head crunchingly awesome blow befalls the creature formally known as Casey.  An impressive showcase of modern day special effects magic with minimal CG enhancements, Bite may not infest in all the right ways but, excels when living up to its creature feature markings.  

    Scream Factory presents Bite with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  While early POV footage ranks as some of the more crisper moments of the film, the remainder casts a colder, intentionally shadowier appearance that boasts respectable black levels yet, lacking continuous streams of detail.  Free of any unsightly anomalies, Bite looks as pleasing as can be.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is relayed with sterling clarity while, the slimy sound effects of Casey’s ever-changing body equally impresses.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Producer Chad Archibald and Co-Producers Cody Calahan & Christopher Giroux.  Furthermore, five behind-the-scenes featurettes consisting of Makeup (5:42), On Set (6:02), Fantasia (5:53), Chad’s Wedding (5:16) and Dominican (5:30) are also joined by the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:23) plus, a Reversible Cover Art.  Enjoyably revolting when it wants to be, Bite may make viewers wait for its more larva discharging moments but, thankfully makes the ride worth it in this commendable creepy crawly feature.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available August 2nd from Scream Factory, Bite can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Blu-ray Review

    10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

    Director: Dan Trachtenberg

    Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & John Gallagher Jr.

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A distant cousin to Producer J.J. Abrams’ 2008 found footage thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane focuses on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World) who after experiencing a near fatal car accident awakens inside the underground bunker of survivalist Howard (John Goodman, Argo).  Assured that she was saved from an apocalyptic attack, Howard’s questionable motives and short-temper leaves Michelle determined to learn the truth.

    From its frantic opening where Michelle is seen packing her belongings for a fast getaway, 10 Cloverfield Lane wastes little time establishing its theme of escape from forces deemed uncontrollable.  Shortly after suffering a severe car accident, the dark-haired beauty finds herself chained in a concrete room before being introduced to her savior Howard.  Overcome with shock, the doomsday planner informs his new bunker guest of the cataclysmic fallout that has occurred above ground, coldly reporting that no survivors remain.  Unwilling to believe her odd host, Michelle savagely fights back only to confirm her own fears that the world she once knew is no longer what it was.  Joined by kindhearted local boy Emmett (John Gallagher Jr., The Newsroom), the three unlikely roommates must forge a union in their new underground home in order to survive a new tomorrow.  Continuously suspicious, Michelle suspects Howard’s motives to be deceitful as his unstable personality and chilling paranoia increases the longer time passes, prompting the resourceful survivor to go above Howard’s head and escape her reportedly safe surrounding.

    After conquering a galaxy far, far away, Producer J.J. Abrams’ top-secret project would unsuspectingly sneak attack the public a mere two months before its theatrical premiere.  Bearing a similar title to its loosely connected predecessor, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an entirely different beast that ditches its Kaiju-inspired roots for a far more contained, character-driven tale that relies on razor-sharp suspense and thrills.  Tightly budgeted and featuring a cast of only three, Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers a riveting performance of an understandably terrified civilian who overcomes her fears in more ways than one.  In addition, as Hollywood’s unofficial good luck charm, John Goodman taps into the rarely seen dark recesses of his craft, arguably establishing one of the best and most surprising performances of his career.  Best experienced as it was initially promoted with as little information as possible, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a heart-pounding watch with exceptional tension that will leave viewers fighting for air by its conclusion.  Vastly unique from its previous feature, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not only a far superior being but also one of 2016’s best surprises.

    Paramount Pictures presents 10 Cloverfield Lane with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Cast in rather subdued colors, clarity is impressive while, the soft-lighting of the underground bunker is exceptionally balanced allowing for strong detail in skin tones and background props to be crisply represented.  In addition, black levels, most notably during the film’s final act, are perfectly inky, ensuring a spectacular viewing experience from start to finish.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is perfectly clear with foreboding music cues, rumbling bass notes and even the film’s few oldies hits making impactful marks.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Dan Trachtenberg & Producer J.J. Abrams plus, seven Featurettes (34:42) ranging from Cloverfield Too, Bunker Mentality, Duck and Cover, Spin-Off, Kelvin Optical, Fine Tuned and End of Story that do a solid job covering the many different aspects of the film’s making.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code conclude the supplemental package.

    Materializing from what seemed like nowhere with its brilliantly mysterious marketing campaign, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a refreshingly original stranglehold viewing experience that keeps its grip tightly fastened.  Tensely absorbing, newcomer Dan Trachtenberg’s feature film debut unquestionably stands as one of the year’s most satisfying features with an exceptional high-definition release and an informative special features package to go along with it.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, 10 Cloverfield Lane can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Ice Pirates (1984) Blu-ray Review

    The Ice Pirates (1984)

    Director: Stewart Raffill

    Starring: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston & Jack Matuszak

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in an intergalactic future where water is of utmost value and controlled by the evil Templars, The Ice Pirates centers on a motley crew of swashbuckling adventure seekers who dare to rebel.  Accompanied by an attractive princess, the unlikely heroes charter a mission to locate her missing father on a rumored planet engulfed with the prized resource.  Robert Urich (S.W.A.T.), Mary Crosby (Dallas), Michael D. Roberts (Rain Man), Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family) and Jack Matuszak (The Goonies) comprise the ensemble cast.

    Influenced by George Lucas’ Star Wars saga and the post-apocalyptic insanity of Mad Max, The Ice Pirates protrudes its tongue into cheek for an inherently comic space adventure.  Ravaged by the villainous Templars, the future of the galaxy appears grim with water in short supply.  Led by the daring Jason (Urich) and his loyal team of pirates, the understandable thieves attempt to steal ice from the regime before crossing paths with the royal Princess Karina (Crosby).  While others evade capture, Jason and best friend Roscoe (Roberts) are sentenced to slavery where the unpleasant procedure of castration is performed before joining other high-pitched, leotard wearing prisoners.  Fortunately, the princess has other plans when she hires Jason and his soon to be reunited crew on a dangerous mission to recover her father.  From valiant sword fights to destructive droid battles and a trippy time-warp conclusion, the fate of the universe rests on the futuristic pirates discovering a mythical water planet that may or may not exist.

    Modestly successful at the box-office, The Ice Pirates adheres to the tropes of other such space epics of the era while, taking itself none too seriously much to the enjoyment of viewers.  Marking an early appearance from Ron Perlman (Hellboy) as one of Jason’s fellow cronies and one of the respected John Carradine’s (House of Frankenstein) final efforts, The Ice Pirates delivers top-notch special effects magic and enthralling production design that unashamedly caters to its over the top decade.  Packed with hilarious racial jokes and sexual innuendoes that unquestionably flew over the heads of its intended PG-rated audience, The Ice Pirates is a bonafide cult favorite that keeps its action rolling while laughing all the way to the end credits.

    Warner Archive presents The Ice Pirates with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a noticeably filmic appearance, detail is sharp with textures in costumes choices and skin tones pleasing throughout.  Colors found in the neon buttons of various space shuttles and other robotic characters pop nicely while, black levels waver from moments of satisfaction to instances of speckles and mild noise.  A healthy upgrade from previous releases, The Ice Pirates makes an impressive high-definition debut.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is clean and audible with action sequences involving laser blasts, explosions and other chaos registering with a slightly restrained presence.  Meanwhile, special features include, the film’s Trailer (2:20).

    Although imperfect, The Ice Pirates is a genuinely fun and engaging exploration of 80s science fiction that aligns impressive visuals with harmless mockery of its very genre.  Warp speeding to Blu-ray for the first time ever, Warner Archive presents the cult hit with an overly pleasing presentation sure to quench the thirst of the nostalgic and first time curios.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, The Ice Pirates can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Assault on New Releases #8: Army of Darkness Collector's Edition (1993), Pixels (2015) & Get Mean (1975) Blu-ray Reviews

     

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #8

    Army of Darkness (1993)

    Director: Sam Raimi

    Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie & Richard Grove

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the conclusion of The Evil Dead trilogy, Bruce Campbell (Maniac Cop) headlines Army of Darkness as the chainsaw-wielding Ash, whisked away to the Dark Ages by demons.  Forced to recover the Necronomicon in order to return home, Ash must first lead a castle of knights against an undead army and save his medieval lover (Embeth Davidtz, Matilda) from a devilish version of himself.  Much like its predecessor, Army of Darkness reinterprets its simplistic backstory to offer a uniquely fitted tale without compromising the charms and quirks of its headlining hero.  Transported to the year 1300, Ash finds himself out of his element amongst chivalry until the all too familiar demons of his recent past make their presence known once again.  Using his offbeat charm, Ash woos the beautiful Sheila before awakening an army of skeletons following his own buffoonish missteps in reclaiming the Book of the Dead.  Preserving the horror and comedy of its previous entries, Army of Darkness increases the silliness with slapstick gags at every turn and action-packed sword battles.  Inspired by Jason and the Argonauts, the film’s exciting finale finds our heroes doing battle against a siege of skeletons, impressively brought to life by stop-motion artistry.  In addition, the horrific Deadites, excellently designed by KNB’s Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) and Howard Berger (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), mark a series high for the franchise.  Absurdly entertaining and lovingly over the top, Army of Darkness is arguably the grooviest of The Evil Dead three with a grander scale of charming effects work and Campbell’s dependable charisma packing a shotguns worth of fun.

    Marking its definitive release, Scream Factory proudly presents Army of Darkness’ multiple cuts across a sprawling three discs.  Bearing 1080p transfers, the film’s Theatrical Version (1.85:1, Disc 1), Director’s Cut (1.78:1, Disc 2) and International Cut (1.78:1, Disc 3) arrive with varying pros and cons.  Although a brief omission of footage located in the Theatrical Version has been recognized by the distributor with corrective measures taking place, all three transfers range from respectable to excellent with healthy filmic appearances.  Admittedly, the Director’s Cut, although decently presented, boasts moments of inherent dirt and debris with occasionally splotchy black levels while, the International Cut, sourced from a new 4K scan from the inter-positive, packs the cleanest punch.  Although slight imperfections are noted in each varying transfer, Scream Factory’s efforts have unquestionably surpassed previous releases for the better.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes and optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is efficient and robust while, the film’s goofy sound effects and sword clattering battle sequences ring appreciatively loud.  

    Practically possessed with extensive special features, the well deserved Collector’s Edition release offers on Disc 1, Red Shirt Pictures’ latest and possibly greatest retrospective Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness (1:36:35), the Original Ending (4:37), an Alternate Opening with Commentary by Director Sam Raimi & Actor Bruce Campbell (2:58), Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Sam Raimi & Actor Bruce Campbell (11:06), Theatrical Trailer (2:05), TV Spots (1:56) and a U.S. Video Promo (0:32).  In addition, Disc 2 boasts an Audio Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Actor Bruce Campbell and Co-Writer Ivan Raimi, On-Set Video Footage Compilation (4:40), Creating the Deadities (21:29) where KNB’s Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger showcase how the film’s memorable monsters were concocted, Behind the Scenes Footage from KNB Effects (53:54), Vintage Making of Featurette (4:51) and Extended Interview Clips (5:02).  Furthermore, Disc 3 contains the film’s TV Cut (presented in 1080i, Fullscreen 1:33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix), the International Theatrical Trailer (2:08), Still Galleries with Rare Behind-the-Scenes Photos (28:16), Still Gallery of Props and Rare Photos (4:05), Storyboards (7:37) and The Men Behind the Army featurette (18:58).  Lastly, a Reversible Cover Art including the film’s 1-sheet poster is also included on Scream Factory’s prominently packed release of this cult treasure.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Pixels (2015)

    Director: Chris Columbus

    Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage & Josh Gad

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the 2010 short film by Director Patrick Jean, Pixels finds a decades old video feed misinterpreted by alien lifeforms as a declaration of war.  Utilizing popular characters from 1980s video games to attack Earth, President Will Cooper (Kevin James, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) calls on best friend and former video game champion Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler, Hotel Transylvania) and his fellow cronies to use their unique skills to save the planet.  Marking yet another box-office success in Sandler’s long history of triumphs, Pixels blends arcade nostalgia with cutting-edge visuals for a spirited execution in humor and planet destructing action.  Joined by a supporting trio including Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), Peter Dinklage (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Josh Gad (Frozen), Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) finds a playful middle ground allowing him to harken back to his earliest experiences at Amblin Entertainment while, effortlessly catering to Sandler’s comedic sensibilities.  With notable appearances from video game titans such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Qbert and more, Pixels keeps laughs fully stocked and our heroes’ colorfully pixelated brawls with extraterrestrials thoroughly entertaining.  Proving to be one of Sandler’s more unique family entertainment offerings in recent years, Pixels is unashamedly fun and fit for unpretentious viewers.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Pixels with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally crisp and vibrant, colors leap off the screen with the film’s video game antagonists greatly impressing with their bigger than life appearances.  In addition, skin tones appear natural and excellently detailed while, black levels during climactic battle sequences are consistently inky and excused of any digital disturbances.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is generally strong and authoritative while, the film’s many action sequences serve the track its highest merits.  From car crashes and laser blasts to the iconic sound effects of its 8-bit characters, depth and impressive volume levels never disappoint.  Meanwhile, special features include, the cast and crew discussing the appearances and creations of Pac-Man (4:32), Donkey Kong (4:07), Centipede (3:36), Galaga (3:33), Dojo Quest (4:20) and Qbert (2:32).  In addition, God of the Machine (1:36) finds Pac-Man Creator Toru Iwatani discussing his cameo as an arcade repairman while, a “Game On” Music Video by Waka Flocka featuring Good Charlotte (3:59), The Space Invader (1:40) and a Photo Gallery (42 in total) are also included.  Finally, Previews for Goosebumps (2:32), Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2:30), Aloha (2:41), Ricki and the Flash (2:40) and Hotel Transylvania 2 (1:52) are joined by a Digital HD Code and a Pixels Play Along Game App Code.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Pixels can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Get Mean (1975)

    Director: Ferdinando Baldi

    Starring: Tony Anthony, Lloyd Battista, Raf Baldassarre, Diana Lorys & David Dreyer

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the final adventure of the popular Stranger saga, Get Mean finds the mysterious drifter (Tony Anthony, Blindman) approached by a pack of gypsies to escort their princess (Diana Lorys, The Awful Dr. Orlof) back to their native Spain.  Promised a handsome reward upon her safe return, the Stranger finds himself entangled in a war between brutal barbarians and the Moors leading to an explosive showdown of violence.  Unquestionably kooky in comparison to standard spaghetti western fare, Get Mean finds our wild west hero defying time and space on a distant journey to a war-torn Spain littered with hotheaded barbarians.  In hopes of securing a large fortune for the return of Princess Elizabeth Maria De Burgos, the Stranger is confronted with the gloriously over the top barbarian leader Diego (Raf Baldassarre, Thor the Conqueror), his hilariously feminine advisor Alfonso (David Dreyer, Fuzz) and the consistently backstabbing hunchback Sombra (Lloyd Battista, Last Plane Out).  Shot on location in Spain, Get Mean serves as a bizarre time traveling western where historical inaccuracies reign supreme and astounding production value meets shotgun blasting, sword wielding action.  In addition to armies of fur decorated musclemen, the Stranger finds himself briefly overcome by wolflike characteristics at the hands of supernatural forces.  While its tone is intendedly eccentric, Get Mean is rarely uninteresting with a dependable finale that finds our hero taking on the cavalry with the assistance of a fearsome shotgun and a pair of poisonous scorpions.  

    Making its domestic Blu-ray debut, Blue Underground presents Get Mean with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Featuring a brand new high-definition upgrade, colors appear strong with skin tones registering naturally.  Possessing a noticeably filmic appearance throughout its runtime with scratches virtually nonexistent, Get Mean makes its sprawling desert sequences and Spanish castles pop accordingly with rewarding detail found in costume choices.  In addition, black levels are generally strong with only mild hints of crush during several occasions.  While previous spaghetti western releases have been met with questionable results, Get Mean stands as one of Blue Underground’s crowning achievements.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently delivered while music and the abundance of explosions and gunshots make a greater impact.  Joined by a generous supply of extras, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer/Star Tony Anthony, Co-Writer/Star Lloyd Battista & Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider, The Story of the Stranger (23:12) finds Anthony recalling the history of his enduring character, Looking for Richard (11:33) sits down with Battista as he reminisces on the filmmaking experience and his longtime friendship with Anthony.  Also included, Beating a Dead Horse (9:50) where Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider shares his experiences, Tony & I (8:19) with Director Ferdinando Baldi discussing his onset relationship with Anthony, Deleted Scenes (8:28), a Theatrical Trailer (3:23), French Trailer (3:21), Radio Spots (2:00) and a Poster & Still Gallery (56 in total).  Finally, a 16-page Booklet with an engaging essay by Spaghetti Western expert Howard Hughes and a DVD edition of the release conclude the supplemental package.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground in a limited edition release, Get Mean can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #6: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Spaced Invaders (1990) & Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Blu-ray Reviews

         

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #6

    Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

    Director: Leigh Whannell

    Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell & Lin Shaye

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Leigh Whannell (Saw, Dead Silence), Insidious: Chapter 3 travels back in time to the early origins of spiritualist Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye, Ouija) as grieving teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott, A.N.T. Farm) seeks her assistance to contact her late mother.  Living a fragile existence, Elise has sworn off her psychic practices until Quinn finds herself the victim of a supernatural entity.  With assistance from amateur ghost chasers Tucker (Angus Sampson, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specks (Whannell), Elise must venture once more into The Further to save Quinn’s life.  Following its financially successful predecessor that tended to over-explain and tarnish the mystique of its supernatural antagonists, Insidious: Chapter 3 moves backward for a prequel based tale that packs several effective jump scares while lacking the originality of its franchise starter.  Shining a welcome spotlight on spiritual expert Elise and to an unfortunately lesser extent, the fan-favorite duo of Tucker and Specks, the paranormal happenings of the film are far too generic to stand out.  Donning multiple creative roles in front and behind the camera, Whannell’s first directorial outing is hardly a wasted affair with an admirable performance from Shaye and unique make-up designs of the film’s ghostly apparitions.  While its competently constructed and occasionally succeeds at building tension, Insidious: Chapter 3 never rises above mediocrity.  

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Insidious: Chapter 3 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a crystal clear picture, skin tones are always natural-looking while, detail in costumes and set decoration are splendid.  From excellently saturated colors to the dark explorations of The Further, black levels are astoundingly inky and free of any digital noise.  With no anomalies on display, Insidious: Chapter 3 appears hauntingly perfect.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is exceptionally crisp while music cues and startling jump scares offer a shrieking depth that greatly impresses the entire runtime.  Special features include, Origin Story: Making Chapter 3 (19:04), Stunts: The Car Crash (9:35), Macabre Creations (8:58), Cherry Glazerr: Tiptoe Through the Tulips (5:16), Being Haunted: A Psychic Medium Speaks (11:34) and Deleted Scenes (5:16).  Additionally, Previews for The Final Girls (2:48), Air (2:12), Risen (1:31), Extinction (1:59), Lake Placid VS. Anaconda (1:37) and Broken Horses (2:35) are included along with a Digital HD Code.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Insidious: Chapter 3 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Spaced Invaders (1990)

    Director: Patrick Read Johnson

    Starring: Douglas Barr, Royal Dano, Gregg Berger & Ariana Richards

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Co-produced by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label and Smart Egg Pictures (Critters), Spaced Invaders finds a quiet midwestern community uprooted on Halloween night by a crew of misguided martians mistaking Orson Welles’ infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast as a call for hostile takeover of the human infested planet.  Hip yet wet behind the ears, the mini martians find themselves on a series of unexpected misadventures as they attempt to return to their home planet safely.  Marking the inaugural feature of Director Patrick Read Johnson (Baby’s Day Out, Angus), Spaced Invaders takes the zaniness of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and sci-fi shenanigans of Howard the Duck to deliver an over the top space comedy for preteens.  While attempting to invade Earth, the five dimwitted martians quickly realize their nonthreatening, Halloween costume appearances doesn’t bode well for them as new kid in town Kathy (Ariana Richards, Jurassic Park), dressed in full Alien garb, befriends the green visitors.  As Kathy’s sheriff father (Douglas Barr, Deadly Blessing) and the elderly Mr. Wrenchmuller (Royal Dano, The Dark Half) eventually suspect invaders from Mars are in town, the young girl seeks to help her new friends return home much to the dismay of their ship’s Enforcer Drone committed to seeing Earth in ruins and the martians pay for their failures.  Silly although rarely humorous, Spaced Invaders makes attempts to appear hip to its then audience but, stumbles at every turn.  While its animatronic effects are generally pleasing and reminds viewers of a more charming time for movie magic, Spaced Invaders tends to overstay its welcome by its final act, dragging its feet to see the martians make their expected getaway back to Mars. 

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Spaced Invaders with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably dated, flakes, speckles and occasional vertical lines are on display while skin tones are decently relayed with mediocre detail.  Bolder colors such as bright reds pop reasonably well although others appear rather drab.  Meanwhile, black levels possess their share of speckling and fail to bolster more pleasing, inkier results.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, sound is largely dull and unimpressive while dialogue is at least audible and free of any severely intruding factors.  Expectedly, no special features are included.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Spaced Invaders can be purchased via MillCreekDirect.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

    Director: Francis Ford Coppola

    Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins & Keanu Reeves

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blending the narrative of Bram Stoker’s iconic tale and the factual history of Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s Dracula centers on the tragic Transylvanian prince (Gary Oldman, Sid and Nancy) as he travels to 19th-century London in search of love.  After an encounter with the radiant Mina (Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands) who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife, Count Dracula’s overwhelming passion brings darkness and horror to those who care for Mina.  Drenched in gothic atmosphere with an acute sense of detail, Director Francis Ford Coppola’s (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) exceptional adaptation successfully paints its antagonist less as a bloodsucking monster but more a tragic Shakespearean figure audiences empathize with.  Brilliantly performed by Gary Oldman, Count Dracula’s unique costume designs and deliciously offbeat makeup brings to life a one of a kind interpretation of the grim character.  In addition, the supporting thespians including, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins as an eccentric Van Helsing and Tom Waits as the deranged Renfield deliver excellent performances while Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker serves as the sole casting miscalculation.  Although considered cliché today, Reeves poor English accent and flat performance consistently removes audiences from the otherwise mesmerizing film.  Insistent on utilizing practical effects from luscious matte paintings to various in-camera techniques, Director Francis Ford Coppola achieves an array of visual splendor that captivates audiences.  Deservedly earning itself three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Effects Editing, Coppola’s erotically charged and frighteningly surreal adaptation has aged considerably well, living on as one of the more ambitious retellings of the Count’s fateful saga.

    Following its previously subpar release, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Newly mastered in 4K, the results are night are day with impressive textures, excellently inky black levels and naturally fitting skin tones.  While a minor framing adjustment is present on the release, it’s hardly deal breaking to excuse the overwhelmingly positive attributes to the transfer.  Further complimented by sharper detail and beautifully relayed colors to better highlight the various costume designs and ever-changing lighting effects, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has never looked better.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, audio is pitch perfect with flawless dialogue levels and Composer Wojciech Kilar’s (The Ninth Gate) empowering score enthralling listeners.  In addition, hushed tones, thunderous sound effects and eerie ambiance all excel with proper balance and effectiveness.  The bountiful special features include, an Introduction by Director Francis Ford Coppola (3:55), a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, Visual Effects Director Roman Coppola & Makeup Supervisor Greg Cannom as well as a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola.  Additionally, newly included featurettes Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (29:11) and Practical Magicians: A Collaboration Between Father and Son (20:07) are joined by previously available supplements The Blood is the Life: The Making of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (27:48), The Costumes are the Sets: The Design of Eiko Ishioka (14:02), In Camera: Naïve Visual Effects (18:46), Method and Madness: Visualizing Dracula (12:06), Deleted & Extended Scenes (28:14) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:36).  Lastly, a Digital HD Code closes out the release’s gratifying supplemental package.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dark Summer (2015) / Alien Outpost (2015) Blu-ray Reviews

    Dark Summer (2015) / Alien Outpost (2015)

    Director(s): Paul Solet / Jabbar Raisani

    Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps & Peter Stormare / Joe Reegan, Reiley McClendon, Scott Miller, Matthew Holmes, Rick Ravanello & Doug Tait

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In conjunction with IFC Midnight, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, delivers two contemporary offerings of ghosts and extraterrestrials.  First up, from the director of Grace, Dark Summer centers on 17-year-old Daniel Williamson (Keir Gilchrist, It Follows) under house for invading the cyber privacy of a female classmate.  Consumed by loneliness and yearning to reconnect with her, Mona (Grace Phipps, Fright Night) shocks Daniel with a chilling message, rattling the teen’s senses.  A prisoner to his own house, Daniel becomes convinced an evil presence is stalking him to make him pay for his actions.  Stella Maeve (Chicago P.D.), Maestro Harrell (The Wire) and Peter Stormare (8MM) co-star. Next up, Alien Outpost takes place in the years following the near invasion of Earth by a race of aliens known as the Heavies.  With a series of bases established around the globe to ward off future attacks, a documentary crew captures the daily life of soldiers stationed in Outpost 37, the deadliest on Earth.  But when a catastrophic ambush occurs and a soldier goes missing, the understaffed squad attempt to rescue him only to discover a bigger threat at large. 

    Kicking off with intimidating probation officer Stokes (Stormare) installing a house arrest band, 17-year-old Daniel Williamson (Gilchrist) is forbidden from accessing social media or the internet following his cyber invasion of introverted classmate Mona (Phipps).  With his mother away on business, Daniel struggles with his urge to reach out to his victim only to regrettably accept an unexpected video call from her.  Shocked by what he has witnessed, Daniel is consumed with guilt, medicating his pain with alcohol and meds to no avail.  Comforted by his friends Abby (Maeve) and Kevin (Harrell), Daniel begins experiencing nightmarish images of Mona convincing him that supernatural forces are at play.  The more time spent in his own personal prison, Daniel begins to lose focus of reality, leaning on his friends to help him combat the ghostly presence that is after him.  Similar and even referenced by the film’s characters to Disturbia, Dark Summer takes the claustrophobic tone of the latter and melds it with a uniquely conceived contemporary ghost story.  Slow-building and capturing genuine moments of dread, Director Paul Solet’s followup to Grace introduces sound performances from its young stars and a brief but, effective appearance from veteran actor Peter Stormare.  While the film would have benefited by toying with the psychology of Daniel’s mental state more before revealing a true apparition at the helm, Dark Summer ultimately muddles itself with one too many supernatural explanations by its final act.  With infatuation spells, possession and more thrown at the viewer in the film’s fleeting moments, Dark Summer loses the mysterious aura established early on, chalking the film up to only mediocre levels.

    Following Earth’s invasion of the extraterrestrials known as the Heavies in 2021, Alien Outpost transitions to 2033 where a documentary crew are recording the lives of soldiers stationed at Outpost 37.  Originally created to safeguard the planet from remaining Heavies, the years following the First Earth War have led to many outposts being discontinued and less than adequately staffed.  Positioned in the humid Middle East, Outpost 37 remains the most dangerous base with enemy attacks and upheavals from locals on a daily basis.  Juxtaposing from the documentary footage and retrospective interviews with the surviving soldiers, Alien Outpost takes noticeable cues of alien activity set against the backdrop of realistic war zones from 2009’s District 9.  After one of their own is kidnapped following combat, the remaining soldiers attempt to retrieve him only to discover the second coming of the Heavies is on the horizon.  Battling brainwashed locals and losing more soldiers as their unsanctioned rescue mission continues, the troops of Outpost 37 are Earth’s only hope at survival.  From the visual effects realm of Game of Thrones, Director Jabbar Raisani’s feature-length debut demonstrates impressive effects sequences on a limited budget that arguably rivals most Hollywood blockbusters.  Unfortunately, the film’s premise feels far too generic and reminiscent of Director Neil Blomkamp’s recent sci-fi efforts while, the bloated and underdeveloped cast does little to evoke an emotional response from the viewer.  In addition, the uniquely designed Heavies give the film mild hope at redemption only to disappoint with their seldom seen appearances.  Attempting to blend the shaky-camera perspective of Cloverfield with high-stakes military action, Alien Outpost fails to make its landing count.    

    Presented with a 1080p transfer and sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Dark Summer is a product of the digital age projecting an image free of any dirt or debris.  Skin tones are mostly pleasing with suitable detail captured in closeups.  While muddier appearances are evident in swooping camera movements, black levels are encouraging with inky levels in the film’s more dimly lit sequences.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Dark Summer’s quiet soundscape is well preserved with dialogue levels crisp and authoritative while, the ambiance of crickets and ghostly sound effects are delicately placed for the proper effect.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 has also been provided.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Paul Solet, a Director Paul Solet Featurette (2:15), A Conversation with Peter Stormare (15:52), The Kids - Cast Interviews (2:04), Atmosphere and Style Featurette (1:57), The Art of Dark Summer (13:38), The Music of Dark Summer (8:37) and a Theatrical Trailer (1:58).

    Alien Outpost arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Also shot digitally, this contemporary sci-fi effort exudes sharp detail and healthy contrast with strong black levels, evident in the film’s many interview sequences, projecting a welcomingly inky appearance.  While the constant handheld cinematography may overstay its welcome to some, the occasional digital hiccups during heavier movement are intentional and not a flaw in the transfer.  For such a rapidly moving film, Alien Outpost’s presentation is still a crowdpleaser.  Joined by an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, the film delivers exceptional dialogue levels with no distortion heard.  In addition, the film’s combat sequences of explosives, machine guns and other heavy artillery give the mix a run for its money that will leave listeners impressed with its efforts.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Bonus contents include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Jabbar Raisani and Director of Photography/Co-Writer Blake Clifton, Interviews with Cast and Crew (16:23), Deleted Scenes (3:22), two Theatrical Trailers (3:40) and a Reversible Cover Art.

    In the wake of their well-received release of IFC Midnight’s The Babadook, Scream Factory continues their partnership with two recent servings of haunts and alien invaders.  While Dark Summer has slightly more to offer with an intriguing buildup that only loses composure in its final act, Alien Outpost is an utter disappointment that fails to deliver characters worth caring for and a premise too closely compared to other contemporary science fiction features.  Considering their age and digitally shot roots, both films arrive with A/V treatments that range from solid to downright outstanding with a decent spread of special features to explore.  Overall, Dark Summer and Alien Outpost are both competently conceived films but, many of their ideas and executions fail to hit their mark.

    Dark Summer RATING: 3/5

    Alien Outpost RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Dark Summer and Alien Outpost can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, 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. 

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

    Pumpkinhead (1988)

    Director: Stan Winston

    Starring: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, Kimberly Ross, John D’Aquino & Joel Hoffman

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of FX maestro, Stan Winston (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), this grim fairy tale speaks to the demon in us all.  Atmospheric and haunting, Scream Factory, the horror offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents Pumpkinhead in a well-deserved collector’s edition, on Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Bursting with special features and newly rendered artwork from Justin Osbourne, allow Pumpkinhead to consume your soul!

    Pumpkinhead centers on local grocery store owner and single father, Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen).  After a group of dirt bike riding teens accidentally kill his only son, Harley seeks a backwoods witch to revive his child.  Instead, a demonic creature known as Pumpkinhead is summoned to extract bloody revenge on those responsible.  As the desolate area runs red, Harley must confront a dark connection that links him to the brutal beast.  Jeff East (Huckleberry Finn), Kimberly Ross (Death Street USA), John D’Aquino (Slipping Into Darkness), Joel Hoffman (Slumber Party Massacre II), Brian Bremer (Society) and George ‘Buck‘ Flower (Back to the Future) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Lit with warm reds, cool blues and drenched in fog, Pumpkinhead casts an identifiable, Southern Gothic atmosphere.  Genre icon, Lance Henriksen (Alien, The Horror Show), stars as a loving father, confronted with grief after the tragic death of his son.  After searching in the deep backwoods for a mysterious witch, Harley’s heart is consumed by revenge prompting the woman to summon the demon creature known as Pumpkinhead, to carry out justice.  Henriksen sells the role of a distressed parent effortlessly, with his yearning for vengeance, justified in the eyes of the audience.  As the guilty teens evade the scene in panic, safety is far from reach as the monster hunts them under the shroud of darkness.  With a larger than life stature, elongated claws and white, lifeless eyes, Pumpkinhead is easily one of the finest monster creations to emerge from the 1980s.  Emphasized by strobe lighting, Pumpkinhead dishes out brute force with ease and substitutes a shotgun as a pitchfork.  Summoned from a rotting pumpkin patch and the know-how of an ancient witch, Pumpkinhead delivers a stylish, modern day fairy tale for horror audiences.  As the remaining teens fight for survival, Harley is conflicted with his choices.  In time, the grieving father becomes aware that his hateful ways fuel the bloodthirsty beast.  Far from forgiving, Harley must make a pivotal choice to right his wrongs before he is forever consumed by the creatures dark nature.  

    Moralistic and frightening, Pumpkinhead beautifully crafts a loving relationship between father and son before tragedy strikes.  Fueled by revenge, Henriksen’s strong performance allows the audience to sympathize and relate to his pain.  Similarly conflicted as Harley, the viewer once again shows compassion for the guilty teens as Pumpkinhead rages his deadly authority.  A roller coaster ride of thrills, emotions and terror ensues, marking Pumpkinhead one of the great monster movies to emerge from such a heavy horror decade.  Based on a poem by Ed Justin, first time director Stan Winston delivers a distinctly moody, gothic offering that has deservedly lived on past its creative makers lifetime.

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    Pumpkinhead arrives with a 1080p widescreen transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing with natural grain intact and minimal flakes, Pumpkinhead shines on high definition.  While, not a wildly colorful film, Pumpkinhead’s warm reds during sunny sequences shine off the screen, drying viewers mouths out.  Black levels are handled well with no crushing to speak of while, detail in facial features are not quite as sharp under the dim lighting.  Otherwise, skin tones read naturally under clearer conditions with much to admire.  Elevated to new standards, Pumpkinhead has never looked better!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Pumpkinhead registers nicely with clear dialogue and zero distortion.  The Southern locale allows chirping crickets and other swamp critters to serve as nice ambience.  More climatic moments centering on Pumpkinhead’s wrath are delivered with swift intensity while, breaking glass and gunshots offer particular shrieks to the mix.  A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter Gary Gerani and Creature/FX Creators Tom Woodruff Jr. & Alec Gillis: Moderated by Scott Spiegel, the creative trio discuss the potential titles that were originally considered from the film including Vengeance the Demon.  The group also commend the moody lighting and the film’s depth that many other horror films at the time lacked.  Overall, the collaborators keep the track entertaining and inject plenty of informative anecdotes along the way.

    • Pumpkinhead Unearthed (1:03:59): Ported over from the previous MGM DVD release, this impressive documentary provided by Red Shirt Pictures spans six chapters and covers every stage of the film’s development.  Co-Screenwriter Gary Gerani, Producer Billy Blake along with cast members Lance Henriksen, Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen, Brian Bremer and many others provide insightful interviews.

    • Pumpkinhead Behind-the-Scenes (7:11): Vintage footage of Tom Woodruff Jr. perfecting the movements and mannerisms of the demonic creature are captured along with, Creature FX Designers, Shane Mahan and Alec Gillis, sculpting Pumpkinhead.

    • Night of the Demon with Richard Weinman (16:29): Co-Producer Weinman recounts the principal players and history behind Pumpkinhead’s origins.  Weinman expresses his firmness in seeing a moral underpinning for the fate of the teenagers which was utilized in the final film.

    • The Redemption of Joel with John D’Aquino (14:02): D’Aquino expresses his early love for television inspiring his desire to become an actor.  In addition, the thespian shares his audition experience on the film and initial dislike for Co-Star Jeff East that ultimately, helped both actors land their roles and form a friendship.

    • The Boy with the Glasses with Matthew Hurley (14:30): Hurley fondly recalls Winston’s gentle and calm nature as well as the bond formed with his on-screen father, Henriksen.

    • Pumpkinhead: Demonic Toys (4:50): Sculptor Jean St. Jean shares his admiration for the design of Pumpkinhead when tasked to craft his own 18” collectible scale.

    • Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston (49:11): Cast and crew recall their fondest memories and unrelenting respect for the late visionary in this lengthy, heart-tugging featurette.

    • Still Gallery (13:39): 98 in total.

    • Theatrical Trailer (1:32)

    • More from Scream Factory (6:18): Included trailers for Motel Hell, Squirm and Without Warning.

    • Reversible Cover Art

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Frightening and atmospheric, Stan Winston’s directorial debut has left a lasting impression on the horror genre with its deep, moralistic tale soaked in gothic fairy tale lore.  Lance Henriksen’s sympathetic portrayal of a grieving father steers the picture and ranks as one of his most memorable performances.  Beautifully photographed by Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (The Lone Ranger), Pumpkinhead invokes a stunning, fog-drenched environment unlike many other genre films.  In addition to a fine story, Pumpkinhead birthed one of the most notable creature designs of the decade.  Sporting definitive A/V treatment, Scream Factory has treated fans with arguably, the most comprehensive spread of bonus content found in any of their collector’s editions.  Complimented with one of the best newly rendered covers, courtesy of Justin Osbourne, Pumpkinhead continues to live on in this essential release for all horror fans.

    RATING: 5/5  

    Available September 9th from Scream Factory, Pumpkinhead can be purchased via Shout! Factory or Amazon.com

  • Unidentified (2013) DVD Review

    Unidentified (2013)
    Director: Jason Richard Miller
    Starring: Parry Shen, Colton Dunn, Eddie Mui & Eric Artell
    Released by: Dark Sky Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A fun-filled road trip to the temptation capital of Las Vegas takes an unexpected turn for four friends when bad luck and a loan shark become the least of their worries.  Jason Richard Miller (co-producer of Hatchet II and Frozen) makes his directorial debut with this micro-budget effort hailed as a cross between The Hangover and Cloverfield.  Focusing their attention on contemporary fare, Dark Sky Films presents Unidentified, blending the worlds of comedy and extraterrestrials for a unique viewing experience.  Arriving on DVD and Digital Download, let’s take a trip to Sin City to see what truly resides in the vast Nevada desert...

    Unidentified centers on four friends set on a yearly road trip to Las Vegas for a weekend of gambling and wild fun.  Unfortunately, trouble with a loan shark and an unpaid debt causes the group to make a swift exit from Sin City.  After becoming stranded in the desert, one of the friends goes missing, only to be found infected and off-kilter.  With their digital camera capturing the unfolding events, their friends‘ condition worsens as the group suspect something alien at large. 

    MOVIE:
    With no opening credits, Unidentified kicks itself off with our lead character, Jodie (Eric Artell), conducting a nerdy YouTube video under the moniker of Jodieman.  Detailing his love for comics and creating his own characters, Jodie, who bares a striking resemblance to a That ‘70s Show-era Topher Grace, uninvitedly joins his brother-in-law and two friends on their annual Vegas road trip.  Capturing the entire weekend with his digital camera, Unidentified makes the limited budget of the film clear.  Joined by a supporting cast of Parry Shen (Hatchet), Colton Dunn (Burning Love) and Eddie Mui (Gone in 60 Seconds), the group struggle with comical improv that bears any semblance to how four friends would converse.  The acting is just beyond painful and caused one too many eye rolls upon viewing.  The central character of Jodie tries far too hard to be the pop culture knowing geek with his silly excitement at seeing a DeLorean and snapping at a character for not quoting Star Trek properly.  Making a pit stop at a diner, Jodie encounters a local drunk who indulges the group about an abandoned compound where alien species have roamed.  After annoying deliberation, Jodie convinces the group to trek there only to be scared off by a thunderous force behind a door.  Filming himself while escaping, Jodie unknowingly captures a background shot of a mysterious red-tinted sky that swoops a bystander away.  This lame attempt at extraterrestrial activity is the only footage we see until the final moments of the film.  Mui’s gambling problem is what sets the story in motion as issues with a loan shark get out of hand after losing a high-stakes poker game for Down’s Syndrome players.  This attempt at lowbrow humor comes 45 minutes after humorless nonsense that makes this sequence just look pathetic.  After dodging their payment, the group’s car mysteriously breaks down in the Nevada desert.  In the middle of the night, Jodie exits the car to relieve himself only to come in contact with an otherworldly object that severely infects him.  The following morning, Jodie’s friends frantically search for him, only to find him appearing sickly and not quite himself.  An encounter with another drunken local warns the group of unknown dangers that exist in the desert as they navigate back to civilization.  Unidentified culminates in an odd and unclear finale where other civilians, presumably under the control of an alien being, wander the desert as the foursome desperately search for help.  The characters make the obnoxious point to continue asking one another “are you really filming this?” to cement their lack at decent improv.  A quick tease at an alien is thrown across screen as government agents of some kind shoot 3/4’s of the group in a panic.  An absurd conclusion to a rather unpleasant flick.

    Unidentified was a horrendous execution in the road comedy genre interwoven with sci-fi elements.  The small cast share zero chemistry with one another and their attempts at improvisational skills scream amateur hour.  A microscopic budget plagued this film by utilizing the handheld digital camera angle that becomes tiresome almost immediately.  Unidentified lacked any sense of suspense or thrills and disappoints by barely showing the alien responsible for Jodie’s condition.  Understandably, the budget would have prevented anything remarkable but, the sheer lack of substantial footage causes the viewer to forget the film ever had a science fiction twist.  Suffice to say, Unidentified is not only a tremendous bore, but one of the laziest independent efforts seen in sometime.  If the house always win, Unidentified certainly left me bankrupt.
    RATING: 0.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Dark Sky Films presents Unidentified in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer.  Shot entirely on a handheld digital camera, the film is certainly true to its source with shakiness and pixels popping up from time to time.  Colors appear decently with flesh tones relayed as well as any digital camera can these days.  With the guerrilla filmmaking style, black levels leave a little more to be desired due to a lack of proper lighting.  Considering the budget, Unidentified is presented as decently as can be.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, audio levels are represented clearly.  With not much in the way of music or background effects, this mix does its duty with relaying the groan inducing dialogue best it can.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Jason Richard Miller: Miller discusses how this found footage project was presented to him well before the current wave of said projects.  In addition, Miller touches upon the casting and how he felt each actor was perfect for their roles as well as his overall laziness with writing.  I would have never noticed.

    - Jodieman YouTube Videos: A selection of phony YouTube videos for Jodie’s character that span roughly 13 minutes.

    - Unidentified Space Cam: A 20 minute behind the scenes look of the cast and crew following a weather ballon of some kind that was used in the making of the final sequence.  An overlong and dull featurette.

    - Trailer

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:
    Unidentified was one of the more painful viewing experiences to be seen in sometime.  The tiny budget and lack of talent from the cast made the film a snooze-inducing borefest.  The discombobulating handheld technique inherently feels cheap and tired.  Unidentified attempted the unique spin of a road movie with aliens but ultimately, failed by presenting a brief and pathetic alien reveal.  Dark Sky Films‘ presentation is nothing more than decent that remains true to its guerrilla style aesthetic.  Unsurprisingly, the selection of supplements included do little to entertain or enlighten.  Sadly, Unidentified failed in every department and is a showcase of just plain lazy filmmaking.
    RATING: 1.5/5