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Currently showing posts tagged Arrow Video

  • Madhouse (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Madhouse (1981)

    Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

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

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

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

    We Are the Flesh (2016)

    Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter

    Starring: Noé Hernández, María Evoli & Diego Gamaliel

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 2.5/5

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

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Creepshow 2 (1987) Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

    Creepshow 2 (1987)

    Director: Michael Gornick

    Starring: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour & Tom Savini

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Once again inspired by the moralistic terror tales of EC Comics, Creepshow 2 lures viewers into three stories of the macabre focused on a vengeful Indian statue, an oil slick hungry for teens and a relentless hitchhiker who won’t take no for an answer.  Starring an ensemble roster including, Lois Chiles (Broadcast News), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Dorothy Lamour (The Greatest Show on Earth) and Tom Savini (From Dusk Till Dawn) as The Creeper, Michael Gornick (TV’s Tales from the Darkside) directs the horror anthology sequel.

    Scripted by original Creepshow helmer George A. Romero, the frightening followup, a victim of reduced budgets and scary segments, struggles to achieve the morbidly gleeful heights of its predecessor while making the best of its efforts with occasional moments of eerie excellence.  Drawing horror hounds into the comic carnage via wrap-around segments starring Special Makeup Effects maestro Tom Savini as the ghoulish Creeper, Creepshow 2’s opening tale, Old Chief Wood’nhead, starring George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour in her final performance as elderly general store operators who fall victim to senseless murder is generally dull as board until the shop’s Native American warrior statue comes alive to retrieve an eye for an eye.  As the thieving trio, headed by a notably long-haired and bare chested hoodlum (Holt McCallany, Alien 3), plan to skip town, Old Chief Wood’nhead’s deliciously un-PC scalping of the assailant nearly forgives the installment’s stale buildup.  Meanwhile, an idyllic day at the lake turned deadly earns The Raft the highest honors for the sequel.  When four horny teens find themselves stranded on water, the stalking presence of a foreboding oil slick slimes its way through the cracks of their raft to dine on their young bodies.  As they drop like flies and a pervy attempt at nookie goes south, The Raft keeps suspense central with a splashingly sinister finale fitting for the lone swimmer who couldn’t keep his hormones under control.  Finally, The Hitch-Hiker finds a wealthy businesswoman and gigolo customer roadblocked by nightmarish images of the hitcher she accidentally killed.  Simple yet effective, gunshots and continued car ramming does little to shake the bloodied man who just wants a ride.  Concluding with an expected jump scare and an animated interstitial where a Venus Fly Trap feasts on a four-course meal of schoolyard bullies, Creepshow 2, a staple of late night programming and weekend rentals, may not equal its predecessor’s tighter stories, sense of humor or star power yet, the followup, specifically the strength of its second lakeside segment, captures a nostalgic charm that makes the ride a worthwhile one.

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Creepshow 2 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably revealing more information on either sides of frame more so than previous releases, colors are radiant as can be with details in Old Chief Wood’nhead’s sunbaked features nicely revealed while, the bright yellow speedo and other skimpy swimwear in The Raft pop brightly.  Furthermore, cleanup, outside of fleeting instances of speckles during darker sequences found in The Hitch-Hiker, is top-notch easily making this presentation the best the sequel has ever looked.  Equipped with varying audio options, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix boasts audible dialogue deliveries with the film’s synth-heavy opening title sequence sounding excellent.  Optional LPCM 1.0 Mono and 2.0 Stereo mixes have also been included for your listening pleasure.  

    Well packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Gornick, moderated by Perry Martin, Screenplay for a Sequel with George A. Romero (10:45) where the zombie cultivator discusses his love for the anthology format and heaps praise on Gornick for delivering a quality picture under unideal circumstances, Tales from the Creep with Tom Savini (7:53) finds the actor discussing the technical process of becoming his ghoulish onscreen character, Poncho’s Last Ride with Daniel Beer (14:44) finds The Raft costar reminiscing on the brutal shoot, his health scare with hypothermia during filming and Gornick’s endless support while, The Road to Dover with Tom Wright (13:51) has the trained actor detailing his early professional roots and his skills as a stuntman that helped land him the role as the deadly hitcher.  Other vintage supplements recycled from the Anchor Bay release include, Nightmares in Foam Rubber (32:03) featuring interviews from FX Artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero and My Friend Rick (2:43) where Berger recalls his early encounters and fascination with his mentor Rick Baker while, a Behind-the-Scenes featurette (5:50), Image Gallery (3:34), Trailers & TV Spots (3:24) and the Original Screenplay (BD-ROM) are also on hand.  Finally, a 19-page booklet featuring stills and a new essay entitled Deadtime Stories by Michael Blyth is included along with a Creepshow: Pinfall Limited Edition Comic Book that brings life to one of the sequel’s exorcised segments and a Reversible Cover Art featuring both new imagery by Michael Saputo and the film’s original 1-sheet poster rounding out the hefty bonus offerings.

    Nearing its own 30th anniversary, Creepshow 2 suffers from standard sequelitis and a shortened stack of segments that disrupts its full potential while, persevering to deliver shades of genuine fun.  Although The Raft remains the fan-favorite of the followup, its co-features vary in mileage yet retain a charm that makes revisiting them a pleasurable blast from the past.  In their latest excavation from the Lakeshore catalog, Arrow Video has pulled the curtain back on the much-requested anthology with a definitive video treatment, a handsome stack of supplements and a gorgeously designed package sure to hitch a ride with fans.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available December 13th from Arrow Video in a limited 3,000 unit release, Creepshow 2 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • C.H.U.D. (1984) Blu-ray Review

    C.H.U.D. (1984)

    Director: Douglas Creek

    Starring: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, Kim Griest, J.C. Quinn, Michael O’Hare & George Martin

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Beneath the seedy depths of New York City, C.H.U.D. awaits!  Following the disappearance of countless citizens including a police captain’s wife, monstrous beings residing in the city tunnels stalk their unsuspecting prey.  When the concerned captain (Christopher Curry, Red Dragon), a prominent photographer (John Heard, Home Alone) and a soup kitchen operator (Daniel Stern, Bushwhacked) band together to expose the truth, terror invades the streets.

    With its campy acronym fueling its decades long reputation, C.H.U.D. stands tall as a radioactive slice of creature featuretainment that captures the glory days of the Big Apple’s graffiti-stained era where poverty and danger reigned.  While the titular monsters may appear less than expected for such a B-movie treasure, their calculated appearances allow the film to craft a much stronger narrative than it deserves surrounding a trio of city souls from different walks of life.  After a spike in persons, predominately the homeless, go missing, police Captain Bosch, coping with own wife’s disappearance, finds a lead when soup kitchen operator A.J. Shepherd alerts him of a growing number of underground residing friends missing in action.  Earning praise for his photographs of the city’s street people and trust from his subjects, George Cooper finds himself entangled in their dilemma after setting sights on their gruesomely fanged attackers.  Political coverups, a stock supply of toxic waste permeating under the city streets and the multiplying hazard of cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers threatens the safety of all around resulting in the trio of believers to stop them.  Featuring early appearances from John Goodman (Argo) and Sam McMurray (Freaks and Geeks) as New York’s finest, C.H.U.D. oozes tight pacing, impressive creature effects and a splash of pertinent social commentary that joyously reeks of a city that has all but been lost to time.  

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents C.H.U.D. with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining its gritty edge with occasional sequences appearing softer than others, unsightly blemishes in the form of scuffs or scratches are absent while, skin tones and facial closeups reveal natural shades and sharp detail especially in the film’s killer creatures.  In addition, textures in costumes and the uncared for city backgrounds read nicely with black levels seen throughout the dark city sewers and tunnels presented with the utmost clarity.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is audibly exchanged with no hisses present while, the synth-heavy score sounds terrific.  Although not wholly impressive given its limited soundscape, the track is more than adequate.  

    Featuring the film’s Integral Cut (1:36:25) on Disc 1 and its Original Theatrical Cut (1:26:29) on Disc 2 (included as a limited edition exclusive), special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Douglas Creek, Writer Shepard Abbot and Actors John Heard, Daniel Stern & Christopher Curry plus, an Isolated Score and Audio Interviews with Composers Martin Cooper & David A. Hughes.  Furthermore, Red Shirt Pictures rolls up their sleeves with such newly produced extras as A Dirty Look with William Bilowit (19:11) where the production designer discusses his origins in documentaries before transitioning with such films as, Nightmare, Creepshow and of course, C.H.U.D.  Dweller Designs with John Caglione, Jr. (12:07) sits down with the film’s special make-up effects and creature designer while, Notes from Above Ground: The NYC Locations C.H.U.D. (9:10) finds Writer/Director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and Writer/Editor of Rue Morgue Michael Gingold touring the film’s shooting spots today.  Finally, a Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (5:32), an Extended Shower Scene (1:24), the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:36), a 22-page booklet featuring a new essay from Michael Gingold and Reversible Cover Art utilizing the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the supplemental offerings.

    Smart, slimy and downright entertaining, C.H.U.D. has remained in the upper pantheons of cult cinema’s good graces for over three decades with its mutant-like creatures and capturing of New York’s hellish days prime examples of its charm.  Resurrected from the sewers with a crisp 2K scan, multiple cuts and a well-supplied stock of bonus features, Arrow Video gives fans the ultimate reason to continue partying in the underground!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 22nd from Arrow Video, C.H.U.D. can be purchased via Amazon.com

    and other fine retailers.

  • Dead-End Drive-In (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Dead-End Drive-In (1986)

    Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

    Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Dave Gibson, Sandie Lillingston, Ollie Hall & Wilbur Wilde

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Aussie exploitation maverick Brian Trenchard-Smith (Stunt Rock, BMX Bandits), Dead-End Drive-In takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the economy has crumbled and crime runs rampant.  When the government orders local drive-ins to become concentration camps for society’s wild youth, lone rebel “Crabs” (Ned Manning, Looking for Alibrandi) plots his escape from the imprisoning wasteland.  

    An unquestionable by product of George Miller’s motor-charged Mad Max game changers, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead-End Drive-In takes unexpected sharp turns to deliver a unique, neon lit offering of nuclear punkery.  Home to a ravaged world of polluted red skies, gang warfare and food shortage, cars and their associated parts are the leading commodities in a devastatingly unemployed and substance addicted society.  After sneaking off with his older brother’s prized 56 Chevy, physically fit Jimmy, better known as “Crabs”, whisks his foxy, leather-wearing girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry, Cassandra) to the Star Drive-In for a night of exploitation movies and backseat intimacy.  After the local police force steal Crabs’ wheels leaving the couple stranded, the government implements a strict lockdown for all patrons of the drive-in.  Populated by face painted punks, new wavers and skinheads, the outdoor movie house keeps its rowdy guests pacified with B-grade pictures, junk food and endless drugs to occupy their extended stay.  While Carmen forms friendships with the local crowd, Crabs’ cabin fever and growing suspicion that all is not what it seems generates friction amongst other rebel rousers.  When countless refugees are transported to the already overpopulated space, racism and hate dominates the self-medicating punkers from realizing their true status as prisoners.  Going for broke, Crabs forms a getaway plan pitting himself against the gun-carrying police and the Star Drive-In’s corrupt owner (Peter Whitford, Running from the Guns).  

    Although a much different beast than expected, Dead-End Drive-In paves its own path that raises intriguing political commentary on the stranglehold of materialistic addictiveness and  racism.  Impressively art directed with graffiti tattered vehicles and brickwork shepherded by Muralist Vladimir Chevepanoff, Dead-End Drive-In stylistically soars with its trashcan burning, drive-in warzone and vibrantly vile supporting players making the film one of the visually richest of the endless wave of post-nuke imitators.  Disappointingly lighter on action until the film’s climactic escape where Crabs literally leaps away from his oppressive environment in a thrilling car stunt, Dead-End Drive-In still makes good with its new wave heavy soundtrack, oddball characters and effective sense of dystopian depravity that solidly leaves Trenchard-Smith’s anarchic Ozzie mark.

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Dead-End Drive-In with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shining brightly through the film’s vast neon-signage, colorful makeup designs on its many punk performers and Crabs’ bright red Chevy, skin tones are naturally pleasing while, black levels waver from solidly inky to areas of speckling that are apparent yet, never overly distracting.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is clearly projected with the film’s excellent new wave cuts booming loudly.  Mildly restrained, quality is generally efficient while, slightly more authority during action sequences would have been preferred.  Special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Brian Trenchard-Smith, The Stuntmen (48:46), Trenchard-Smith’s 1973 documentary on Aussie stuntmen Bob Woodham, Grant Page and others plus, Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! (24:10), an Aussie pubic service film shot by Trenchard-Smith circa 1978 detailing the dangers of in-patient smoking.  Furthermore, a Vladimir Cherepanoff Gallery (19 slides in total), the Theatrical Trailer (1:36) and a 27-page booklet featuring stills and musings on Dead-End Drive-In and Trenchard-Smith’s other accompanying on disc films from Cullen Gallagher and Neil Mitchell are included.  Finally, a Reversible Sleeve boasting newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon and the film’s original poster design conclude the supplemental offerings.

    Not quite the punk free for all it’s advertised to be, Dead-End Drive-In follows similar post-nuke guidelines such as a dependency on vehicles while, its greater focus rests on the imprisonment of disillusioned youth and their subsequent brainwashing of complacency.  Fantastically designed and boasting few but, still wildly impressive stunts, Trenchard-Smith’s Ozploitation odyssey of a destructive future may not always live up to all expectations but, succeeds in carving out its own identity.  Arrow Video continues their liberation of the New World Pictures catalog with another praiseworthy transfer and a pleasing spread of supplements that will be of particular interest to Trenchard-Smith completists.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Dead-End Drive-In can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Microwave Massacre (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Microwave Massacre (1983)

    Director: Wayne Berwick

    Starring: Jackie Vernon, Claire Ginsberg, Loren Schein, Al Troupe & Lou Ann Webber

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Fed up with his nagging wife and her subpar homemade meals, Microwave Massacre finds disgruntled construction worker Donald (Jackie Vernon, Frosty the Snowman) offing his significant other and nuking her remains in their oversized microwave.  Developing a sweet tooth for the taste of human flesh in the process, Donald’s rabid hunger can only be pacified through the collection of more bodies.

    Following a buxom pair of bare breasts getting caught in a peep hole much to the enjoyment of drooling construction workers, Microwave Massacre goes from weird to weirder.  Contrary to its horrific sounding title, this exploitative cannibal chuckler is played entirely for laughs, albeit pitch black ones with funnyman Jackie Vernon leading the festivities with hilarious deadpan delivery and fourth wall breaking asides.  Worn down by his blue-collar profession and his wife’s insistence on preparing exotic meals than simple dishes, Donald loses his cool during a drunken rage and bludgeons her death with a salt grinder.  Using their washer-dryer sized microwave to ditch her painfully phony limbs, Donald’s tastebuds go wild for human flesh forcing the new bachelor to scour the local prostitute population for more of the same.  As ridiculous as one might expect, Microwave Massacre finds Donald uncontrollably slicing and dicing his way through street hustling morsels and cannibalistic shish kebabs while, acknowledging his wrongdoings by seeking psychiatric help only to have his therapist nap through his confessions.  Impressing his libido driving co-workers with his meaty lunches and the need for more “ingredients” always at a premium, too much of a tasty thing proves fatal to pacemaker possessor Donald.  Barely creeping its way onto video during the VHS era with gore-geous cover art, Microwave Massacre’s cult appeal is inherit in its bonkers concept and highly unserious tone that makes it difficult not to enjoy much like buttery microwavable popcorn.

    Arrow Video presents Microwave Massacre with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Scanning the original 35mm camera negative in 2K, this low-budget schlocker dazzles in high-definition with robust colors in costumes and its bright red main titles, accurate flesh tones and excellent contrast.  While minor speckling is spotted and occasional traces of digital noise observed during nighttime sequences, Microwave Massacre looks exceptional to devour.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is always easily relayed with only slight cases of cracks and pops, mostly during reel changes, picked up but never of any serious concern.  Supplemental offerings include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Craig Muckler, moderated by Mike Tristano, My Microwave Massacre Memories (21:07) features newly captured interviews with Director Wayne Berwick, Writer/Producer Craig Muckler and Actor Loren Schein who recall the project’s early beginnings, Berwick’s father’s showbiz career serving as a launch pad and their working relationship with the late Jackie Vernon.  In addition, an Image Gallery (18 in total), Trailer (1:25), the Original Treatment and 8-page Synopsis (BD/DVD-Rom content) and a 27-page booklet featuring stills and an updated essay from Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents Author Stephen Thrower are also included.  Finally, a DVD counterpart and Reversible Cover Art featuring the film’s memorable VHS design conclude the bonus features.

    While it may not be cooked to perfection, Microwave Massacre’s loose canon approach to flesh-eating ridiculousness is just goofy enough to make itself worthy of consumption for bad taste sticklers.  Boasting amateurish acting, generous helpings of nudity and a tone so laughably self-aware of its absurdity, Microwave Massacre is one daffy detour off the highway of exploitation weirdness.  Exceeding expectations, Arrow Video has treated cultphiles with a crowd pleasing restoration and a tasty selection of bonus features that explore the offbeat pictures making and niche appeal.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available August 16th from Arrow Video, Microwave Massacre can be purchased via MVDShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

    Director: Jack Hill

    Starring: Jo Johnson, Rainbeaux Smith, Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon, Ron Hajek, Ric Carrot, Jason Sommers, Ian Sander, Mae Mercer, Jack Denton, John Quade, Bob Minor & George Wallace

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Undercover as sidelining ra ra wailer, The Swinging Cheerleaders centers on Mesa University undergrad Kate (Jo Johnson) as she secretly pens an expose on female exploitation.  Shortly after realizing she’s in good company, Kate discovers a much juicier lead when a gambling circuit concocted by the football coach and his cronies is being carried out.  Fellow cult starlets Rainbeaux Smith (Cinderella), Colleen Camp (Death Game) and Rosanne Katon (The Muthers) co-star.

    Following the action-packed adventures of imprisoned women and the box-office popularity of his back-to-back blaxploitation classics, Director Jack Hill’s (Spider Baby, Pit Stop) field goal into the kinky and burgeoning end zone of the cheerleader feature would be perfectly designed for drive-in consumption.  Although not overly sexy yet, presenting plenty of buxom beauties showcasing their personal pom-poms that would make Russ Meyer proud, The Swinging Cheerleaders finds freethinking journalist Kate landing a spot on Mesa University’s coveted cheerleading squad in order to study the exploitation of women in today’s society.  Using her flirtatious skills and hot bod to her advantage, the undercover student catches the libido of the star quarterback while learning the privileged skinny on her squad-members.  As Lisa (Katon) carries on with an affair with the handsome Professor Thorpe (Jason Sommers, Detroit 9000) and shy virginal Andrea (Smith) finally gives it up through a deflowering gang-bang, Kate gets frisky with head jock Buck as jealous cheer captain Mary Ann (Camp) forces a marriage proposal out of the lug.  Stumbling upon the scandalous discovery that Coach Turner (Jack Denton, Little Cigars), along with a former alumni, is rigging games to further their gambling profits, Kate seeks to expose the truth after winning back the trust of her new friends and rescuing the kidnapped Buck to win the big game.  Boasting a cast of strong, attractive female leads common in Hill productions, The Swinging Cheerleaders may lack the steamier provocativeness that ran rampant in the short-lived genre while, maintaining a narrative that is slightly more politically charged without sacrificing its bubbly personality.  Packed with plenty of pep and a slapsticky finale where the football players charge and tackle a pair of corrupt coppers to save their QB as the cheerleaders do what they do best, Hill’s third to last feature may end rather abruptly but has a sexy and smart time getting there.

    Restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents The Swinging Cheerleaders with a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of rougher looking stock footage of football games, skin tones are warmly presented while, the yellow and green colors found in the cheerleaders and ball players’ uniforms pop most appreciatively.  Understandably shot on a limited budget, the film retains a mild softness that although of hardly much concern should still be taken under advisement before viewing.  Furthermore, excessive cleanup and removal of scratches is evident throughout the film’s runtime, ensuring its presentation to be the best to date.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is crisply supervised making for a satisfying watch.  Special features include, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jack Hill while, Jack Hill: Swingin’ Alma Mater (8:08) sits down with the exploitation auteur as he details his earliest encounters with the film industry through his father and his experiences at UCLA’s film school.  Next up, a vintage Interview with Alfred Taylor (10:15) finds the cinematographer explaining his camera innovations that assisted him through productions such as The Swinging Cheerleaders plus, a many years passed Interview with Jack Hill and Johnny Legend (10:37) and the New Beverly Cinema Q&A (19:19) from 2007 with Hill and co-stars Rosanne Katon and Colleen Camp in attendance is also included.  Finally, TV Spots (1:36), a 23-page booklet featuring stills and Cullen Gallagher’s Pom Poms and Politics essay are joined by a DVD edition of the release and a Reversible Cover Art retaining the original 1-sheet poster.

    Although its title may suggest a sex-filled romp of epic proportions, The Swinging Cheerleaders plays more two-hand touch than full on tackle when it comes to risqué content.  Still managing to share some well-rounded skin with its viewers, Hill’s lively cast of cheerleaders are less bimbo-like while enforcing the film’s strong comedic slant.  Admirably brought to high-definition courtesy of Arrow Video in collaboration with Jack Hill, The Swinging Cheerleaders will undoubtedly make fans of Hill’s illustrious legacy of cult gems squeal with excitement for the home team.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, The Swinging Cheerleaders can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)

    Director: John De Bello

    Starring: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin & J. Stephen Peace

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A decade after the events of the original film, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! finds cooky Professor Gangreen (John Astin, The Addams Family) using the feared veggie-fruit to give life to an army of muscle-bound soldiers for a hostile takeover.  Chocked full of ridiculous humor and shamelessly funny product placement, roommates Chad (Anthony Starke, The George Carlin Show) and Matt (George Clooney, Tomorrowland), aided by veterans of the Great Tomato War, are the only ones that can save the day and rescue Chad’s juicy new girlfriend Tara (Karen Mistal, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death).

    Following its predecessors status as a glorified cult classic, continued interest from video sales would plant the seed for the deadly veggies to return during the deliciously gaudy 1980s.  Outlawed since the original disaster, wacky-haired Professor Gangreen uses his breakthroughs in gene splicing to morph tomatoes into an army of Rambo-style brutes to take over the world.  Working alongside his uncle and hero of the Great Tomato War at Finletter’s Pizzeria, Chad is smitten with Gangreen's beautiful assistant and former tomato Tara who turns to the delivery boy after escaping from her makers evil clutches.  Using music as a strength this time instead of a weakness for his creations, Gangreen, aided by the pearly-teethed, broadcasting obsessed Igor (Steve Lundquist, The Sleeping Car), aims to use his meatheads to retrieve a villainous ally from incarceration.  After Tara is captured, Chad and his ladies man best bud Matt must band together, break the fourth wall, hilariously promote Pepsi, Nestlé Crunch bars and booze to fund the remainder of the film in order to rescue Chad’s main squeeze and encourage viewers to purchase cuddly stuffed tomatoes wherever products are sold.

    Unapologetically aware of the B-movie product being produced, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! takes hilarious potshots at the industry’s increased reliance on product placement, delivering one of the funnier statements on the subject.  Laughing right alongside viewers, the cheeky followup has an absolute blast with the absurdity of its concept although gargantuan-sized tomatoes are lacking.  Hosting comical narration accusing the film of cheaply recycling footage from its originator, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! obliterates the fourth wall as the crew including, Writer/Director John De Bello, moan about running out of money and are shaken down by a SAG representative.  From Astin’s over the top mad scientist performance to Clooney’s intendedly deadpan deliveries and bodacious midsize mullet, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! knows precisely what it is, leaving viewers giggling while ripping the carpet out from underneath them with its unexpected wit and mockery of an industry embracing the greed is good mantra.  

    Restored in 2K from a 35mm Interpositive, Arrow Video presents Return of the Killer Tomatoes! with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Improving noticeably over its many standard-def releases, colors are far more luscious with only mild scuffs remaining while, black levels are respectably deep with occasional instances of speckling spotted.  Clarity on the countless Pepsi logos and Clooney’s fearless mullet are thankfully never compromised.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is delivered with ease making for a most accommodating listening experience.  Special features include, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John De Bello, Hanging with Chad with Anthony Starke (17:24) features the film’s star recollecting on the shoot and Clooney’s humorous personality while, a Stills Gallery (2:27), the Theatrical Trailer (2:15) and a TV Spot (0:31) are also included.  Finally, a 19-page booklet featuring stills and a worthwhile essay by Film Historian James Oliver on the film’s making and the surprising legs of its franchise are covered with a Reversible Cover Art bearing the original 1-sheet poster rounding out the bonus features.

    Bearing a title as ludicrous as Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, the decade late sequel to the original drive-in favorite is entertainingly silly and surprisingly smarter than expected.  Continuing the low-budget zaniness one might expect, the vegetable fearing comedy makes a mockery of the Hollywood system and itself while happily inviting viewers in on the joke.  Graduating to the realm of high-definition, Arrow Video delivers a certifiably fresh viewing experience of the B-picture with supplements that may be few yet, entertain and enrich all the same.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 28th from Arrow Video, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hired to Kill (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Hired to Kill (1990)

    Director(s): Nico Mastorakis & Peter Rader

    Starring: Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy & José Ferrer

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bursting with explosive action, Hired to Kill stars Brian Thompson (Cobra) as mercenary Frank Ryan whose latest assignment sends him into a crumbling country to locate a rebel leader.  Undercover as a flamboyant fashion designer, Thompson is aided by seven seductively dangerous female soldiers to overpower the totalitarian regime controlled by the corrupt Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed, Spasms).  George Kennedy (The Delta Force) and José Ferrer (Dune) co-star in this gun-toting spectacle co-directed by Nico Mastorakis (The Zero Boys).

    Reimagining The Magnificent Seven with women, Hired to Kill stars the poor man’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Brian Thompson as skillfully trained mercenary Frank Ryan whose weakness for money presented in leather briefcases leads him to the fictional country of Cypra where an imprisoned leader requires busting out to restore balance to his corruptly tainted homeland.  In order to operate safely, Ryan trades in his macho card for an undercover identity as a fashion designer.  Making clear of his disdain working with women, Ryan is sent into the field with seven  deadly bombshells, acting as his supermodels and his only team of soldiers.  Rubbing elbows on their mission with Cypra’s criminal mastermind Michael Bartos, Oliver Reed’s eccentric and occasionally tipsy performance as the film’s baddie, adorned by a no-nonsense handlebar mustache is pure entertainment that reaches its apex when testing Ryan’s suggested homosexuality by grabbing a handful of crotch inviting a smooch from the muscular American.  Interspersed with training montages of Ryan’s female squad, comprised of such notable names as Barbara Lee Alexander (Psycho Cop Returns), Michelle Moffett (Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans) and Jordana Capra (After Midnight), as they perfect their runway skills while sharpening their aim, Hired to Kill throws political double-crosses and fallen heroes into the mix to expectedly up the ante for its final act.  Slightly overlong with its machine gun fueled sequences growing redundant, Hired to Kill is an enjoyable toast to over the top action cinema that entertains more than its direct-to-video reputation would suggest.

    Newly restored in 4K, Arrow Video presents Hired to Kill with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Looking sharper than ever, detail greatly impresses in facial closeups while, skin tones are always natural and clear.  In addition, the grassy locale of the fictional country (shot on location in Greece) offers strong contrast as the film’s presentation appears free of any scuffs or scratches.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is excellently handled with zero issues in audibility.  Furthermore, sequences of heavy firepower, helicopters and explosions appropriately rattle the speakers to good measure.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix has also been included.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Editor Barry Zeitlin, Hired to… Direct: Behind the Camera with Nico Mastorakis (27:26) where the film’s co-director and producer sits down for a lengthy discussion detailing the film’s beginnings, casting, Reed’s turbulent onset behavior and the unfortunate tragedy that resulted in the death of Stuntman Clint Carpenter.  Also included, Undercover Mercenary (17:33) features a new interview with Star Brian Thompson where the action hero recalls his early memories catching the acting bug, juggling college and securing film work and memories from the Hired to Kill shoot including an instance where Reed dropped his pants and urinated during a take.  Finally, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50), a Stills Gallery (7:18), the Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-Rom content), a 23-page booklet featuring stills and a new essay by James Oliver plus, a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster conclude the extra feature offerings.

    Plastered with babes, bullets and a deliciously silly performance from Oliver Reed, Hired to Kill is precisely what one comes to expect from the ultra machismo days of action cinema.  Delivering an impressive scale of explosive anarchy for its stature, Brian Thompson brings the proper equipment to this gun show with unexpected, yet nonetheless humorous touches through his eccentric undercover identity.  Meanwhile, Arrow Video delivers a remarkable presentation for this cult loved DTV effort with an enjoyably candid spread of new bonus features that viewers will be thrilled with.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Hired to Kill can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dillinger (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Dillinger (1973)

    Director: John Milius

    Starring: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, John Ryan & Richard Dreyfuss

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Chronicling the final months of the infamous gangster, Dillinger stars Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) as Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger on his bank robbing exploits as determined FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show) closes in on his gang’s reign of crime.  Michelle Phillips (Valentino), Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein), Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man), John Ryan (It’s Alive) and Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) co-star in John Milius’ (Red Dawn) directorial debut.

    Displeased with the outcome of his previously scripted features, the intimidatingly creative John Milius would be lured by American International Pictures to tell the tale of one of America’s most infamous characters.  Smooth as he was crooked, John Dillinger was idolized by the country’s average joes for his style and prison escape abilities while, law enforcement, rightfully so, had little affection for the criminal outside of seeing him push up daisies.  Creative liberties withstanding, Dillinger traces the famed bank robber’s assault on the midwest, his encounter and love affair with Billie Frechette (Phillips), the culmination of his cohorts including, Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly, Dallas), Baby Face Nelson (Dreyfuss) among others and FBI Agent Melvin Purvis’ ruthless pursuit of Dillinger leading to his unapologetic demise.  Crafting a mythic tale that lives up to Dillinger’s legendary reputation, Warren Oates, reportedly never deeply researching his character, exudes charisma and ferocity as the commonly nonlethal criminal while, Academy Award winner Ben Johnson’s controlled demeanor and cigar chomping fearlessness wonderfully counterbalances the wildness of Dillinger’s gang of deviants.

    Although its female characters are grossly underdeveloped leading more to be desired from Dillinger and Billie’s relationship, Dillinger’s technical limitations affords the film a raw, documentary-like quality juxtaposed with black and white still photography and era accurate stock footage crafting a tonally rich presentation.  Far more brutal than the eternally hailed Bonnie and Clyde, Director John Milius' debut opus is an ambitious, down and dirty shoot’em up centered on the fascinating Dillinger gang and their violent assault on the country before succumbing to the returned fire of the capture hungry FBI.  Concerned with honoring the larger than life aspects of its titular character, Dillinger enforces the legend with its ruthlessly entertaining depiction.

    Restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Dillinger with a 1080p transfer, retaining its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Casting a softer focus to retain a naturally lit appearance, colors can appear subdued with bolder choices found in wall paint and particular ensembles making stronger impressions.  Skin tones are rich with the gang’s suits appearing nicely textured while, black levels, although not deeply inky, are sufficiently pleasing with only minor instances of specks and flakes on display.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is audible while, the screeching sounds of getaway vehicles and tommy gun fire leave effective statements.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Author Stephen Prince, a Music & Effects Track, Shooting Dillinger with Jules Brenner (12:01) where the film’s cinematographer sits down for a newly captured interview, Lawrence Gordon: Original Gangster (10:08) hosts the producer as he recollects on his many credits and the film in question and Bullets and Ballads with Barry De Vorzon (12:00) finds the composer of The Warriors and Rolling Thunder sharing his personal experiences on many of his achievements.  Finally, a Still Gallery (99 in total), the Theatrical Trailer (2:23), a 23-page booklet featuring new and vintage essays from Kim Newman and John Astin, a DVD counterpart and a Reversible Cover Art boasting the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the releases supplements.

    Violently entertaining and wonderfully capturing a bygone era, Dillinger continues the assault of gangster cinema laid forth by Bonnie and Clyde with skilled performances and a rawness that draws viewers into Dillinger’s getaway ride.  Arrow Video does remarkable service to John Milius' directorial debut with a rich, newly transferred HD presentation and a strong stable of supplements that highlights the contributions of those behind the lens.  No one did it quite like Dillinger as Arrow Video’s capture and appreciation of this underrated AIP effort further cements its status.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Black Mama, White Mama (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

    Director: Eddie Romero

    Starring: Margaret Markov, Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Lynn Borden, Zaldy Zshornack & Laurie Burton

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From American International Pictures’ exploitation factory, Black Mama, White Mama centers on badass prostitute Lee (Pam Grier, Coffy) and local liberator Karen (Margaret Markov, Pretty Maids All in a Row) whose personalities immediately clash after being admitted to a dingy women’s prison.  Chained together, a violent ambush ensues allowing the ladies to escape into the jungles where danger awaits at every turn.  While Lee intends to reclaim stolen cash before her true escape, Karen vows to rejoin her fellow revolutionaries making survival for the two all the more complicated.  Sid Haig (House of 1,000 Corpses), Lynn Borden (Hazel), Zaldy Zshornack (The Hot Box) and Laurie Burton (Perfect) co-star.

    With a story notably influenced by 1958’s The Defiant Ones and crafted by Corman hopefuls Joseph Viola (Angels Hard as They Come) and Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Black Mama, White Mama appears at first glance strikingly familiar to previous chicks in chains flicks.  From its seedy barred location to a wicked lesbian warden who pleasures herself to the sight of bathing inmates, Director Eddie Romero’s (The Twilight People) prison break effort switches gears abruptly when the uncomfortably paired whore with a bad attitude (Grier) and blonde freedom fighter (Markov) take off into the heated jungles, shot in the inexpensively had locations of the Philippines.  Far from friends and each with their own agendas, Lee and Karen must mask the chain that binds them together while evading the authorities, a redneck bounty hunter (Haig) and Lee’s drug-pushing pimp (exploitation treasure Vic Diaz, Equalizer 2000) who wants her head for stealing a hefty $40,000 sum.  Disguising themselves as nuns and fending off potential rapists, the contrasting chicks develop mutual respect for one another before Karen’s troops rescue them on the heels of mini war exploding before their eyes.  Littered with tantalizing nudity and topless flashes from its sexy leads, Black Mama, White Mama pushes the WIP formula in new directions outside of its clichéd location with an appetizing cast and a bevy of firepower and bloodshed sprayed across the Filipino jungles.  Memorably topped off with the scar-faced Haig forcing an army captain and his superior to compare man part sizes and an underwear wrestling match with his associates' two daughters, Black Mama, White Mama is a solid link in the chain of great women in prison sexplosions.  

    Arrow Video ushers in Black Mama, White Mama with a 1080p transfer, presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Debuting slightly soft under the sunny exterior jungle foliage, quality immediately perks up with naturally realized flesh tones and crisp detail allowing for the most delicate of facial sweat droplets to be observed.  In addition, colors ranging from the immense greenery and the prisoners’ bright yellow uniforms pop nicely.  Appreciatively filmic looking and lacking any severe anomalies, Arrow Video treats this prisoner gorgeously.  Accompanied with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is decently handled but occasionally suffers from lower pitches, most likely attributed to less than perfect on-set sound recording.  Commonly packed with assorted extra offerings, supplements here include, an Audio Commentary with Filmmaker & Filipino Film Historian Andrew Leavold, White Mama Unchained with Margaret Markov (14:01), a top-notch, newly produced sit-down with the film’s lead as she traces her early desires to be an actress and her many memorable roles, Sid Haig’s Filipino Adventures (15:51) captures the AIP hall of famer as he reminisces on his many Filipino lensed productions and his loving working relationship with Pam Grier.  In addition, Andrew Leavold’s vintage featurette, The Mad Director of Blood Island!: An Interview with Eddie Romero (14:38) is also included serving as a welcome time capsule of the late director reflecting on his work.  Finally, the film’s Trailer (1:54), a Still Gallery (25 in total), an 18-page booklet featuring a nicely written essay by Chris Poggiali, Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet design and a DVD edition of the release round the release’s bonus content.

    Colorful characters, hot bods and machine gun warfare permeate the jungle bound fun of Black Mama, White Mama.  Perfecting the elements of the popular WIP features that came before, American International Pictures’ Filipino lensed sizzler is over-the-top entertainment.  Boasting excellent A/V specs and predictably solid supplements, courtesy of the combined efforts from Edwin Samuelson, Andrew Leavold, Chris Poggiali and Sean Phillips’ beautifully designed new artwork, Arrow Video breaks the chains on yet another exploitation keeper.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Black Mama, White Mama can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

                         

  • American Horror Project Vol. I: Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973), The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976) & The Premonition (1976) Blu-ray Review

    American Horror Project Vol. I (1973-1976)

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scouring the bizarre and obscure avenues of America’s horrifically under appreciated efforts, Arrow Video proudly presents American Horror Project Vol. I!  Curating a triple dose of features and scholarly supplemental evaluations, this 3,000 unit limited edition collection welcomes Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood where a family searching for their son finds themselves in the stranglehold of a dilapidated amusement park overrun by a peculiar host and cannibalistic ghouls.  Next up, The Witch Who Came from the Sea centers on a troubled woman with a traumatic past whose violent fantasies find their way into her reality.  Finally, The Premonition threatens the livelihood of a five-year-old girl when she is abducted, leaving her mother riddled with frightening visions that may also lead to her daughter’s rescue.      

    From the dilapidated backroads of Pennsylvania emerges Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.  Marking the first and only feature from Director Christopher Speeth, this psychedelic blend of horror and high-art maintains the production quality of many independent efforts of the era while, constructing an identity of its own under the guise of carnie insanity.  Short on narrative structure yet, maximizing its visual splendor, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood finds the central Norris family joining the sideshow business in order to conceal their true agenda of locating their missing son.  However earnest their quest seems, all plans are abruptly abandoned when their own survival is threatened.  Headed by the ominous Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich, Fleshpot on 42nd Street), the vampiric Mr. Blood (Jerome Dempsey, Network), devilish dwarf Bobo (Hervé Villechaize, Fantasy Island) and a colony of cannibalistic underground dwellers, the Norris family and other unlucky attendees fall victim to a grizzly rollercoaster beheading, stabbings and of course, feasts upon their flesh.  Guiding viewers through a funhouse of trashcan constructed production design where its grey-faced people eaters rally in front of silent film loops, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is viscerally unnerving with the trappings of its peculiar soundtrack and music cues heightening one’s fear of the offbeat attraction scattered across rural America.

    Teetering on the fringes of exploitation and psychologically frightening, Director Matt Cimber’s (Gemini Affair, Lady Cocoa) The Witch Who Came from the Sea is an unsung effort that explores the darkness of child sex abuse and the lifelong repercussions of the violated.  Starring Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as barmaid Molly whose violent daydreams including, the tying of two macho football players before straight-razoring their genitals proves wildly similar to recently reported events.  Adhering to a strict diet of alcohol and pill-popping, Molly’s romanticized memories, retold to her adoring nephews, about her late father is juxtaposed with uncomfortable imagery of her younger self faced with the overbearing seaman.  Robbed of her innocence while insistent on her late father’s perfection, Molly’s peculiar interest in the glamour of television and all its pretty faces compels the delusional woman to act out her fatal aggression on them.  The realms between Molly’s surrealistic episodes and reality come to a head when detectives (played by Richard Kennedy of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS and George “Buck” Flower, best known for his roles as hobos in Back to the Future and John Carpenter’s They Live) begin connecting the dots back to Molly.  Hardly considered a horror film in the traditional sense with the exception of several razor slashing sequences, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is an uncomfortable yet, polarizing picture that strikes fear into the viewer with its touchy portrayal of incest and the physical and mental damage afflicted on its victims.  Complimented with early cinematography by Dean Cundey (Halloween, Jurassic Park) and a rather dreamlike aura, The Witch Who Came from the Sea stands as an exhaustive terror ride into the depravity of human beings.

    Long enchanted by the paranormal and the nature of interconnectivity, Director Robert Allen Schnitzer’s (No Place to Hide) metaphysical frightmare melds his respected interests with a tale detailing a mother’s worst nightmare.  Filmed in the tax-incentive region of Jackson, Mississippi, The Premonition introduces the mentally unstable Andrea (Ellen Barber, Blood Bride), assisted by the lovesick carnie Jude (Richard Lynch, Bad Dreams), as she attempts to steal back her young daughter from her adoptive parents.  In the film’s most hauntingly scarring scene, protective mother Sheri Bennett (Sharon Farrell, The Stunt Man) looks in on her sleeping child only to discover the eerie Andrea rocking the innocent girl to sleep before viciously attacking Sheri.  Although safe from capture, Sheri begins experiencing unexplainable visions that warn her of impending doom while, her scientific-minded husband Miles (Edward Bell, Helter Skelter) can’t wrap his brain around her condition.  After a freakish accident occurs, five-year-old Janie (Danielle Brisebois, Big Bad Mama II) is taken, increasing Sheri’s terrifying sightings of Andrea leading the Bennett’s to rely on spiritual forces beyond their understanding.  Although an investigation is put forth, The Premonition resists becoming a police procedural and wisely focuses on the film’s family dynamic, its gray-shaded characters and the emotional whiplash of a missing child to stay uniquely grounded.  While its horrific set pieces may not come in the form of a masked mute with a butcher knife, The Premonition presses on to deliver a film that is both respectfully challenging and psychologically engaging, leaving viewers with an added appreciation for its sophistication and artistic flair.  Enriched by an otherworldly score by classical composer Henry Mollicone, The Premonition is the standout opus of the collection that will stay with viewers long after the credits have concluded.

    Working from the best available materials for the collection’s obscure offerings, Arrow Video has restored each director-approved feature in 2K resolution with 1080p transfers, sporting their respective 1.85:1 (Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood and The Premonition) and 2.35:1 (The Witch Who Came from the Sea) aspect ratios.  Although excessive dirt removal was applied, each film still maintains their fair share of scuffs and scratches with varying degrees of vertical lines and cigarette burns on display.  Given the dire state of such rarely preserved films, their imperfections never deter from the viewing experience and, in the rare instance, actually add charm to their grindhouse roots.  Boasting respectable skin tones, fairly boosted color schemes, understandably speckled black levels and otherwise naturally filmic representations, The Witch Who Came from the Sea appears in the roughest shape with The Premonition unquestionably looking the best.  Joined by LPCM 1.0 mixes, each feature arrives with audible dialogue levels yet, imperfections are present.  Cracks and pops are common at reel changes and other various moments while, prolonged static is most noticeable throughout The Witch Who Came from the Sea.  Much like their visual counterparts, audio quality is not pristine but, easily does what is required for a pleasurable watching experience.  

    Unsurprisingly, supplements are plentiful with Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood arriving with an Introduction by Author and Co-Curator Stephen Thrower (3:41), an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith and The Secrets of Malatesta (14:06) featuring an insightful new interview with Director Christopher Speeth.  In addition, Crimson Speak (11:49) sits down with Screenwriter Werner Liepolt, Malatesta’s Underground (10:10) highlights Art Directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson’s invaluable contributions to the film while, Outtakes (2:59), a Still Gallery (38 in total), the Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content) and a Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster is also included.  Meanwhile, The Witch Who Came from the Sea features an Introduction by Author and Co-Curator Stephen Thrower (4:52), an Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Matt Cimber, Actress Millie Perkins and Director of Photography Dean Cundey plus, the brand-new retrospective documentary Tides & Nightmares (23:28) featuring interviews with the cast and crew.  Furthermore, the vintage supplement of A Maiden’s Voyage: Remembering the Witch Who Came from the Sea (36:14) is included alongside, Lost at Sea (3:55), a new reflection of the film by Director Matt Cimber and a Reversible Cover Art also showcasing the original 1-sheet design.  Finally, The Premonition hosts an Introduction by Author and Co-Curator Stephen Thrower (3:16), an Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Robert Allen Schnitzer, the Isolated Score and Pictures from a Premonition (21:19) featuring new interviews with key talent behind the camera.  In addition, a vintage Robert Allen Schnitzer Interview (5:51), a vintage Richard Lynch Interview (16:06), Schnitzer’s Short Films including, Terminal Point (40:45), Vernal Equinox (30:08) and A Rumbling in the Land (11:05) are included alongside, Peace Spots (3:38), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:23), TV Spots (3:27) and a Reversible Cover Art incorporating the original 1-sheet imagery.  Lastly, DVD editions of each film are also included with an impressive 60-page booklet housing some of Arrow’s finest liner notes to date with insights on the films from Stephen Thrower, Kim Newman, Kier-La Janisse and Brian Albright.

    Exceptionally curated, Arrow Video’s American Horror Project Vol. I dusts the cobwebs off some of the genre’s oddest and under appreciated efforts to emerge from the independent mavericks of the era.  While personal favorites are subjective to each viewer, there’s no denying this triple threat of terror and madness is an invaluable crash course on three diamonds in the rough of low-budget American exploitation.  Although securing film materials was no easy task with all showing their share of mileage, each film’s director-approved transfers look better than ever with Arrow’s phenomenal supplemental package offering viewers top-rated scholarly insight into these forgotten features.  With immediate hope for future installments to grace their collection, Arrow Video’s American Horror Project Vol. I is the horror enthusiasts ideal roadmap to the weird and alternative.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, American Horror Project Vol. I can be purchase via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Mutilator (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Mutilator (1985)

    Director: Buddy Cooper

    Starring: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock, Connie Rogers, Frances Raines, Morey Lampley, Jack Chatham & Ben Moore

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Years after accidentally misfiring at his mother, The Mutilator centers on Ed (Matt Mitler, Deadtime Stories) who’s asked by his father to lock up his condo for the winter season.  With nothing to do on their fall break, Ed and his friends retreat to the beachside getaway for a few days of rest and relaxation.  Unfortunately, a shadowy figure awaits their arrival, prepared to make their vacation a nightmare.  

    Bearing its original Fall Break title card, The Mutilator, while a late inclusion for the already waining slasher genre, remains a standout effort of blood splattering, special effects wizardry.  Shot on location in North Carolina, Buddy Cooper’s sole directorial feature follows the tried and true trope of young adults in search of excitement only to find themselves at the mercy of an unhinged murderer.  With little to do on their break, Ed’s (Mitler) instructions to lock up his father’s condo turns into a weekend retreat for his tight knit group of friends.  Journeying there to the sounds of one of the most upbeat songs in slasher history, the gang loads up on booze as Ed shares stories about his peculiar father amongst his personal collection of taxidermy animals.  Meandering through household duties, Monopoly and eventually skinny-dipping, a mysterious stalker makes his presence known, introducing the unsuspecting horndogs to his sharp weaponry.  Oddly enough, The Mutilator hosts a drug free cast of victims while, nudity and fornication are virtually nonexistent making each character’s fate slightly less predictable.  Like its tagline suggests, the ruthless killer terminates his victims with a fine assortment of tools including, an axe, fishhook, pitchfork and even a boating motor.  While the cast is likable enough with their shenanigans rather tame, The Mutilator’s true claim to fame is its execution of gory effects work, expertly achieved by a young Mark Shostrom (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Evil Dead II).  Building a menagerie of victims in the condo’s dingy garage for its antagonist, decapitations, plywood through a cheek and a gnarly severing in its final act seal the slasher’s grisly reputation.

    Graced with one of the most memorable poster designs of the genre, The Mutilator’s reputation although secondary to other prominent slashers including, Friday the 13th and The Burning, has persisted as overwhelming darkness made watchability less than ideal since its original release.  A bonafide cult classic for stalk-and-slash aficionados, Cooper’s cheaply produced body count picture may not have the most wildly exciting characters or location but, stands equally with its contemporaries for its “let’s make a picture” tenacity and exceptionally bloody effects that still hold up.

    Arrow Video presents The Mutilator with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Recovering an uncut 35mm print and scanning it in 2K, mild softness exists during early daytime sequences while, skin tones are nicely saturated with clothing choices popping nicely.  Instances of dirt and debris are present but hardly of any serious bother in this suitably filmic presentation.  In addition, although possessing slight murkiness and occasional intrusions of red tint creeping into the sides of its frame, black levels are a true revelation, allowing viewers to finally witness all the film’s bloody sequences with ease.  With a lack of suitable materials preventing a release for countless years and fans losing all hope of an official release, Arrow Video’s restoration may arguably be the greatest magic trick of 2016.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is audibly handled while, Michael Minard’s Fall Break opening song leaves a surprisingly authoritative stamp on the track.  In addition, suspenseful music cues are effective with hiss and pops non detectable.  Appropriately packed, special features include, an Introduction to the film with Writer/Director Buddy Cooper and Assistant Special Make-Up Effects Artist/Assistant Editor Edmund Ferrell (1:08), an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Buddy Cooper, Assistant Special Make-Up Effects Artist/Assistant Editor Edmund Ferrell, Co-Director John Douglass and Star Matt Mitler and a second Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Buddy Cooper and Star Ruth Martinez Tutterow.  In addition, Fall Breakers: The Making of The Mutilator (1:15:01) is an exceptional feature-length retrospective with new interviews from the cast and crew discussing the film’s production and long-lasting popularity amongst slasher fans.  Mutilator Memories with Mark Shostrom (15:57) sits down with the talented effects artist as he reminisces on the 30-year-old effort while, Tunes for the Dunes (8:13) catches up with Composer Michael Minard and his building of the film’s effective score and upbeat title track.  A Behind-the-Scenes Reel (16:31), Screen Tests (13:03) and Opening Scene Storyboards (4:27) are also included alongside Trailers and TV Spots for: Fall Break Trailer (1:42), Fall Break TV Spot (0:32), The Mutilator Trailer (1:57), The Mutilator TV Spot Version A (0:32), The Mutilator TV Spot Version B (0:32) and Radio Spots (0:57).  Furthermore, Alternate Opening Titles (4:32), Music featuring Fall Break (3:30) and its instrumental take (3:30), a Still Gallery (8:49), the Original Fall Break Screenplay (featured on BD/DVD-ROM) and a 26-page booklet featuring photos and essays by Ewan Cant and Tim Ferrante are also featured.  Finally, a Reversible Cover Art utilizing alternate artwork under the original Fall Break title and a DVD edition of the release round out the exhaustively excellent supplements.

    Serving as a bloody good slice of slashertainment during the genre’s downward spiral, The Mutilator lives up to its garishly gory artwork with polished special effects that enriches the film’s low-budget identity.  Like Houdini achieving the impossible, Arrow Video has painstakingly restored this holy grail of horror to a state that viewers can appreciatively witness after decades of overly dark presentations.  In addition to its nearly unfathomable high-definition upgrade, special features including, audio commentaries, a top-notch feature length look back, liner notes and tons more easily nominate The Mutilator as one of 2016’s most impressive releases.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, The Mutilator can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pray for Death (1985) Blu-ray Review

    Pray for Death (1985)

    Director: Gordon Hessler

    Starring: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi & Matthew Constantine

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Longing for a better life for his family, Pray for Death finds Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi, Enter the Ninja) relocating with his wife and two children to achieve the American dream.  When their new beginning is threatened by a gang of dangerous jewel thieves, Akira must rely on his deadly ninja skills to protect his loved ones.  James Booth (Zulu), Donna Kei Benz (The Challenge), Norman Burton (The Towering Inferno), Kane Kosugi (Ninja sentai Kakurenjâ), Shane Kosugi (Nine Deaths of the Ninja) and Matthew Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) co-star.

    Released at the height of ninja fever, Pray for Death hosts skilled martial artist Sho Kosugi as he powerfully kicks his way through the decay of urban America.  After closing the door on his ninja roots that previously divided Akira and his late brother, the Japanese businessman happily agrees to relocate to Los Angeles to appease his American-born wife Aiko.  Joined by their two sons, the Saito’s stake claim in a crumbling neighborhood where their new business was previously home to shady dealings.  After a corrupt copper gets greedy and snatches a flashy Van Adda necklace for himself, mobster Mr. Newman and his associates grow understandably concerned.  Convinced Akira and his family are responsible for stealing their merchandise, efforts, courtesy of Newman’s deadly enforcer Limehouse Willie (Booth who also provided the film’s screenplay), are made to fatally punish the new residents.  Savagely running down his wife and child while, abducting his other son, Akira is forced to resurrect his roots as a ninja assassin to make the gang pay.  

    Admittedly going through the generic motions of most revenge tales and containing plenty of unintentionally hilarious performances from its thugs, Pray for Death is easily forgiven for what it lacks in originality, makes up for in action-packed combat.  Relentlessly barbaric, Limehouse Willie never bats an eyelash when taking a crowbar to an elderly man before setting him ablaze while, paying a hospital visit to a recuperating Aiko only to shred her clothes off and brutally stab her to death.  Widowed and determined to protect his children, the gloves are off as Akira crafts a new katana blade and dons a metallically intimidating getup to bring the fight to Newman and his baddies.  Oddly enough, the towering Limehouse gives the ninja much too hard a time as he punctures his leg repeatedly amongst a warehouse of creepy mannequins.  For as many ninja stars thrown, bloody fatalities are a plenty in this martial arts beatdown with slashed throats, snapped necks and for good measure, an exploding pickup truck permeating the runtime.  In addition, as the Japanese ninja restores his dignity during the intense final battle with Limehouse, Akira unloads swift nun chucking skills on his skull before sending his wife’s murderer through a spinning wood saw.  Intriguingly directed by Gordon Hessler, better known for helming such Vincent Price starrers as The Oblong Box and Cry of the Banshee, Pray for Death comes well recommended for ninja nuts who never tire of the sword-clashing excitement that was best served in the 80s.  

    Arrow Video presents Pray for Death with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a clean picture with only fleeting instances of dust on display, natural grain is firmly intact with skin tones and color choices making fine leaps in high-definition.  With the exception of reinstated uncut footage which is noticeably softer and at times grainier, black levels are acceptable with no crushing artifacts seen.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, the stereo presentation projects distinctly clear dialogue levels while, Peggy Abernathy’s reoccurring synth jam “Back to the Shadow” sounds especially solid.  In addition to the Unrated (1:38:27) and R-rated (1:34:31) versions of the film, special features include, Sho and Tell Part One: Birth of a Ninja (19:05) featuring a newly shot sit-down with star Sho Kosugi, Sho Kosugi on Martial Art Forms (18:57) is a vintage interview with the leading man from 1985.  Furthermore, a Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery presenting Enter the Ninja (2:53), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41), Pray for Death (2:11) and Rage of Honor (1:35) are also included with a 23-page booklet featuring stills and an essay by James Oliver.  Finally, a Reversible Cover Art displaying alternate imagery round out the supplements.

    Destroying his American dream before it was ever realized, Pray for Death would appear paint by numbers but, this revenge-fueled opus slashes its way to greater ranks thanks to its stylized martial arts sequences and gritty violence.  Arrow Video may bow its head in honor for preserving the film’s uncut presentation and supplying another batch of engaging supplemental content for one of the decade’s fast-kicking ninja highlights.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Pray for Death can be purchased via MVDB2B.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Sheba, Baby (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Sheba, Baby (1975)

    Director: William Girdler

    Starring: Pam Grier, Austin Stoker, D’Urville Martin, Rudy Challenger & Dick Merrifield

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a local mob boss threatens her father’s life and loan business, Sheba, Baby finds Chicago based private detective Sheba Shayne (Pam Grier, Coffy) returning home to Louisville to even the odds.  Joined by her father’s loyal partner, Sheba proves to the roughest thugs that her killer instincts are on par with her good looks.  Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct 13), D’Urville Martin (Dolemite), Rudy Challenger (Detroit 9000) and Dick Merrifield (The Hellcats) co-star.

    Returning to the Blaxploitation genre that catapulted her career, buxom beauty Pam Grier continues her reign of making jive-ass criminals pay the piper with the help of her trusty .44.  A joint production between American International Pictures and Mid-American Pictures, Sheba, Baby finds Grier trading her vigilante antics for a career as a private eye.  After returning home to Kentucky after her father is threatened to sell his business to mobsters, the tough as nails Sheba wastes little time interrogating local scumbags for information.  Using her curvy figure and sexy looks to her advantage, Sheba finds her way to crime boss Pilot (Martin) and his dimwitted cronies.  Engaged in a series of risky run-ins with her prime suspects at a local amusement park, the determined vixen never stops applying pressure, leading her to head honcho Shark (Merrifield) on his high-profile yacht.  Shootouts, water chases via jet skis and Grier’s badass attitude permeate the film until the goon population cowers in defeat.

    Continuing in the tradition of Grier’s other strong-willed roles for AIP, Sheba, Baby lacks the down and dirty edge of Coffy and Foxy Brown although, Grier’s acting abilities and action handling are never in doubt.  Helmed by notable cult director William Girdler (Abby, Grizzly) and produced by David Sheldon (Lovely But Deadly, Just Before Dawn), Sheba, Baby’s increased budget is apparent and effectively put to use in the film’s oceanic climax while, Grier’s rising star power unfortunately kept the bombshell from shedding any skin.  Advertised as “hotter ’n’ Coffy, meaner ’n’ Foxy Brown!”, Sheba, Baby may not quite live up to those expectations but, still greatly entertains with its action-packed sequences and funky tunes establishing the proper groove.  

    Arrow Video presents Sheba, Baby with a 1080p transfer struck from a new 35mm Interpositive, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Scratches and scuffs are nowhere to be seen while, skin tones appear natural and pleasing.  Sunny, exterior moments occasionally appear soft with colors found in the flashy 70s attire making striking statements.  Meanwhile, black levels are excellent with no evidence of crush in this wonderfully, filmic looking transfer.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is well supported and free of any distortion with gunfire and the film’s few music selections making strong deliveries.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer/Co-Screenwriter David Sheldon and Audio Commentary with Historian Patty Breen.  In addition, Sheldon Baby: An Interview with David Sheldon (15:16), Pam Grier: The AIP Years (11:54) finds Film Historian Chris Poggiali dishing the skinny on Grier’s knockout roles during her tenure at the drive-in cinema production factory.  The film’s Trailer (1:54), a Still Gallery (18 in total) and a 15-page booklet featuring an essay by Patty Breen are also joined by a Reversible Cover Art utilizing the original 1-sheet poster and a DVD edition of the release.

    Quite possibly the definitive figure of Blaxploitation, Pam Grier exudes attitude and sexiness while letting the barrel of her gun do much of the talking.  Although perfecting her craft with each new role during her formative years, Sheba, Baby lacks the grittiness of Grier’s collaborations with Director Jack Hill while, still upholding many of the entertaining tropes of its popular genre.  Admittedly not her finest outing, Arrow Video expectedly treats this cult favorite like gold with another eye-pleasing transfer and always enthralling new bonus features.  Fans of grindhouse cinema and Blaxploitation beauty Pam Grier cannot be without Sheba, Baby.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Sheba, Baby can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1: Voice Without a Shadow (1958), Red Pier (1958) & The Rambling Guitarist (1959) Blu-ray Review

    Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 (1958-1959)

    Director(s): Seijun Suzuki / Toshio Masuda / Buichi Saitô

    Starring: Yôko Minamida, Hideaki Nitani, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshio Takahara, Shinsuke Ashida & Jô Shishido / Yûjirô Ishihara, Mie Kitahara, Yukiko Todoroki & Shirô Ôsaka / Akira Kobayashi, Ruriko Asaoka, Nobuo Kaneko, Sanae Nakahar & Jô Shishido

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Celebrating Japan’s oldest film studio, Arrow Video proudly presents Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1, boasting three wildly memorable genre pictures from the late 1950s.  From Director Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), Voice Without a Shadow stars Yôko Minamida (House) as switchboard operator Asako who misdials a number only to hear the voice of a murderer following his depraved act.  Years later, her husband’s boss Hamazaki (Jô Shishido, Youth of the Beast) is invited over sounding suspiciously close to that of the killer.  Before long, Hamazaki is found dead making her dear husband a prime suspect.  Joining forces with a persistent journalist, Asako vows to prove his innocence.  Next up, Yûjirô Ishihara (Crazed Fruit) stars in Red Pier as a stylish young hoodlum who after offing a selected victim is sought by the authorities.  While evading capture and other intended hits from his own organization, the delinquent youth unexpectedly falls for his victims sister.  Finally, Akira Kobayashi (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) headlines The Rambling Guitarist as a wandering musician who falls in the company of a powerful mobster and is conflicted when ordered to evict an offshore fishery. 

    Based on Seicho Matsumoto’s short story, Voice Without a Shadow begins with a suspenseful turn of events as an attentive switchboard operator makes the fatal mistake of dialing the wrong number.  Serving as the unfortunate listener to a murderer’s bragging, Asako's (Minamida) voice selecting ability proves unsuccessful in obtaining a suspect.  After several detached years, Asarco’s marriage to her husband (Toshio Takahara, Pigs and Battleships) is steadily improving after Kotani gains employment with noted blackmailer Hamazaki (Shishido) who Asako strongly believes is the murdering culprit from years past.  Unapologetically extorting money from others through strong-arming or gambling, Hamazaki’s bad habits catch up to him after being mysteriously murdered.  Marked as the likely offender of his bosses brutal killing, Kotani’s life is in jeopardy as he pleads his innocence.  Morphing into a journalistic investigation with a determined reporter guiding the narrative, Voice Without a Shadow is a rubik’s cube of danger and deceit as the truth behind Hamazaki’s murder is explored.  Occasionally complicated with a finale composed of over-explanations, Voice Without a Shadow remains an intriguing combination of mystery and thriller that takes bold narrative steps.

    A modernization of Julien Duvivier’s popular thriller, Red Pier thrives on other rebel youth pictures of the era with teen superstar Yûjirô Ishihara headlining as yakuza youth “Lefty” Jiro.  Cocky and sharply dressed, Jiro oversees the “accidental” killing of his assigned target before taking shelter in the city of Kobe.  Suspected of the crime, Detective Noro (Shirô Ôsaka, Tokyo Story) relentlessly trails the teen while forming an unusually sympathetic relationship with him.  Upon falling in love with Keiko (Mie Kitahara, I Am Waiting), the well-educated sister to Jiro’s fallen victim, the smooth criminal finds his world crumbling when close friends are killed and his own organization are intent on ridding him as well.  Booming with personality and killer instinct, Ishihara impresses in the role as an abandoned youth who has thrived on the streets of gang warfare.  Although littered with thrilling sequences of trigger happy thugs, Red Pier largely stands out due to Jiro and Keiko’s romantic subplot, elevating the film to one with true emotions invested.  Beautifully photographed by Shinsaku Himeda (Vengeance is Mine), Red Pier’s tale of rebellious youth shines with its stylistic noir touches juxtaposed with its love story of two contrasting spirits.  Concluding with a somewhat heavy-handed message warning youths of the dangers of crime, Red Pier is a well-crafted exploration of criminalized youth.

    In the first installment of what would become an enduring nine part saga, The Rambling Guitarist centers on Taki (Kobayashi), a wandering musician with a concealed past, entering the town of Hakodate.  After handling himself well in a bar brawl, albeit with unfocused fight choreography, the drifter catches the attention of mob boss Akitsu (Nobuo Kaneko, Ikiru) who offers him a position.  Reluctantly accepting, Taki grows uncomfortable after being ordered to evict Akitsu’s sister and brother-in-law to construct an amusement center for tourists.  Donned in a leather jacket and musically talented in several areas, Taki unsurprisingly gains the attraction of his employer’s beautiful daughter Okuni (Ruriko Asaoka, Machibuse) allowing them to open up to each other given their unique ties to a powerful mobster.  Undoubtedly inspired by American westerns, The Rambling Guitarist is a rapidly paced oeuvre with Kobayashi’s introverted character handling himself fearlessly when his deceitful employer no longer desires his services.  Appearing as Taki’s revolving enemy/ally, Jô Shishido (Gate of Flesh) delivers an entertainingly sinister performance that wavers from nearly shooting Taki dead to just as quickly saving his life to repay a favor.  While hand-to-hand combat is not nearly as coordinated as other productions of its ilk, The Rambling Guitarist is an exceptional feature that bears eastern and western influences for a solid stranger comes to town, beat’em up opus.

    Transferred from their original film elements, Arrow Video presents all three films with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios.  With its first two features containing various levels of flakes and occasional splice marks, the monochrome photography is filmically preserved with striking detail and exceptionally inky black levels retained.  Meanwhile, serving as the sole colored feature of the collection, The Rambling Guitarist was granted additional clean-up that greatly benefits the viewing experience.  Skin tones are lively and natural while the film’s opening mountain vista is an inspiring sight.  In addition, colors found in bar room stained glass windows and bright green pool tables pop admirably with black levels equally pleasing.  With only mild age related causes of debris present, all three films shine remarkably in high-definition.  Equipped with LPCM 1.0 Mono mixes, the Japanese dialogue in each film is perfectly audible while gunshots and other dynamic sound effects make their marks as aggressively as possible.  Furthermore, newly translated, optional English subtitles are also provided for all films.  Special features include, Diamond Guy: Yujiro Ishihara (15:24) and Diamond Guy: Hideaki Nitani (10:21) with Japanese Cinema Expert Jasper Sharp waxing intellectual on the famed Nikkatsu action stars of yesteryear.  Also included are Trailers for Voice Without a Shadow (3:08), Red Pier (3:22), The Rambling Guitarist (3:18) and Vol. 2 Preview Trailers (11:46) for Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Paws and Murder Unincorporated.  Furthermore, Galleries for each feature (amounting to 92 stills), a 39-page booklet with enthralling essays from Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling are accompanied with a Reversible Cover Art and two standard definition DVD discs.

    Continuing their preservation of Japanese cinema, Arrow Video’s Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 collection is an impressive trio of gangster infested, shoot’em ups all worthy of investigation.  Excellently transferred to high-definition for their American Blu-ray debuts, scholarly supplements further underscore Nikkatsu’s thriving output during this era.  An exciting trove of Japanese content with future installments planned, Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 serves as an excellent crash course into the famed studios’ golden years.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available January 26th from Arrow Video in a limited 3,000 unit release, Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

    presents

    THE 2015 HOLIDAY GIFT

    • The Original Christmas Classics Anniversary Collector’s Edition: While the tikes of today rightly associate the artistry of stop-motion animation with the works of Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie) and Laika Studios (Coraline, Paranorman), The Original Christmas Classics Anniversary Collector’s Edition presents viewers of all ages with timeless holiday entertainment from the influential Rankin/Bass Productions.  With such Christmas cartoon classics as UPA’s Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Cricket on the Hearth, Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns, this must-have collection also includes Rankin/Bass’ most beloved holiday-themed specials including, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.  Joined by additional special features such as sing-alongs and how-to tutorials on drawing your own Rudolph or Frosty, The Original Christmas Classics Anniversary Collector’s Edition comes highly recommended and will undoubtedly enjoy heavy rotation by viewers this holiday season.  Available now!

    • Home Alone 25th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition: Celebrating its unbelievable 25th anniversary, the original John Hughes produced classic returns to Blu-ray boasting a new superior-looking 4K restoration.  Collected in a paint can familiar to fans of the films, this excellently timed collector’s edition includes other treats such as, a collectible ornament, rubber spider, Battle Plan reproduction and a Wanted poster looking for the Wet Bandits.  While its equally beloved sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, is also included on Blu-ray, purists will be slightly disappointed that later installments, Home Alone 3, Home Alone: Taking Back the House and Home Alone: The Holiday Heist arrive only on DVD.  Although the lack of a complete high-definition collection is unfortunate, the original film’s highly improved transfer and conversation starting packaging makes Home Alone’s 25th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition well worth upgrading this Christmas.  Available now! 

    • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Similar to Home Alone’s previous outings on high-definition, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has been the victim of dated masters leaving viewers with more to be visually desired.  Thankfully, Warner Bros. have heard fans’ calls and appropriately rescanned this Chevy Chase favorite in 2K from a brand-new interpositive.  Boasting a more filmic appearance and stronger skin tones, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, carrying all previous supplements from its past releases, finally arrives in the presentation fans of the Griswolds rightfully deserve.  Available now!

    • Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy: Marking Marty and Doc’s infamous journey into the distant future of 2015, Universal Studios proudly celebrates the occasion with an exceptional high-definition repackaging of the historic time traveling trilogy.  With all three films looking and sounding stellar, the Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy comes overwhelmingly packed with vintage supplements as well as other goodies including, Doc Brown Saves the World! with Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doctor Emmett Brown in this newly-produced short film.  In addition, diehard fans will be overjoyed with Universal Studios’ alternate limited edition release of Back to the Future: The Complete Adventures.  Housed in a light-up faux flux capacitor, this must-have set contains the film trilogy, a 64-page collectible booklet and all 26 episodes of the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon on DVD for the first time ever.  Hailed as one of the greatest franchises of all time, Christmas morning won’t be complete without journeying into the past with these ageless adventures.  Available now!

     

    • Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation: Continuing the popular exploits of IMF Agent Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow) returns to the explosive franchise for his most dangerous mission yet.  When the IMF is shut down by the CIA, a dangerous network known as the Syndicate, comprised of former agents gone rogue, threatens the safety of the globe.  Wanted by their own government, Ethan and his loyal team, along with a mysterious double agent (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules), must combine their limited efforts to bring the Syndicate down and restore their names.  Helmed by Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher), Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation combines death-deifying stunts, intense action and a suspenseful narrative that stands proudly with Ghost Protocol’s universally hailed installment.  Arriving with reference worthy high-definition specs and countless special features including, an Audio Commentary with Director Christopher McQuarrie and Star Tom Cruise plus, several making-of featurettes, the fifth installment of Cruise’s exciting series is a mission all viewers should choose to accept this holiday season.  Available December 15th!

     

    • The Purple Rose of Cairo: Limited to just 3,000 units, Writer/Director Woody Allen’s (Annie Hall, Manhattan) love letter to cinema is an achingly moving achievement comprised of magic and romance.  Perfectly casted, Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby) and Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) star in this Great Depression-set tale about a movie obsessed dreamer enchanted by the arrival of her movie star crush who leaps off the screen to woo her.  A bonafide gem in Allen’s rich catalog of classics, The Purple Rose of Cairo casts an enchanting spell on viewers while, Film Historian Julie Kirgo’s enthralling liner notes increase ones appreciation for the content.  Available now!

    • The End of the Tour: Based on David Lipsky’s best-seller, this probing character study of Lipsky’s journalistic road-trip interviewing Author David Foster Wallace in the wake of his successful novel is one of the year’s smartest and genuine features.  Jason Segel (The Muppets) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) are excellently matched as two intelligent creatives, butting heads as they explore fame and the desire for normalcy on a journey of unexpected friendship and understanding.  Humorous and heartbreaking, this indie favorite arrives with an Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, a Conversation with Composer Danny Elfman and more.  Critically applauded, The End of the Tour is a moving piece of drama well worth taking the journey with.  Available now! 

    • Inside Out 3D Ultimate Collector’s Edition: From the creative minds of Pixar, Inside Out marks their most unique tale to date centering on the many emotions of an 11-year-old girl as she copes with her unexpected move to San Francisco.  Starring an eclectically hilarious voice cast including, Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Phyllis Smith (The Office), Bill Hader (Trainwreck), Lewis Black (The Daily Show) and Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Director Pete Docter’s (Monsters Inc., Up) deeply personal exploration of the mind is endlessly charming with audiences young and old finding themselves profoundly moved by its  conclusion.  Presented with immersive 3D and countless bonus features, Inside Out is the animated gem of the year perfect for acquisition this holiday season.  Available now!

     

    • Aladdin Diamond Edition: Highly anticipated and finally unleashed from the Disney vault, Aladdin makes its domestic high-definition debut with jaw-droppingly colorful clarity and countless special features including, the desirable and never-before-seen Genie outtakes performed by the late Robin Williams.  A magical tour de force, Aladdin remains one of Disney’s most beloved features and a wish come true for all street rats and riff raffs this Christmas.  Available now!   

    • Minions 3D: In Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me prequel, the yellow colored tribe find themselves deeply depressed following the accidental losses of their last several evil leaders.  Set in the progressive 1960s and determined to find their next kingpin, optimistic Minion Kevin, along with Stuart and Bob, road trip to Villain Con International to join forces with evil diva Scarlett Overkill.  After traveling to England to overthrow the Queen, the Minions must devise a way to correct their deeds in order to save their fellow friends and the world.  Accompanied by vocal work from Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Michael Keaton (Toy Story 3) and Geoffrey Rush (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Minions slapstick scenarios and soundtrack of rockin’ hits from The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Kinks and Jimi Hendrix make for a thoroughly entertaining ride.  Packed with eye-popping 3D and three brand-new mini movies, Minions is the animated release making audiences go bananas.  Available December 8th! 

    • Cinderella: Continuing their successful string of live-action features based on their esteemed animated classics, Disney brings the whimsy of Cinderella to a new generation.  Bursting with magic and elegance, Director Kenneth Branagh’s (Hamlet, Thor) modernization pays homage while, surpassing its 1950 counterpart with its grandiose production design and exceptional performances from Lily James (Downton Abbey) in the titular role and Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as her wicked stepmother.  One of the finest films of the year, Disney’s Cinderella is the glass slipper that should be under everyone’s Christmas tree this year.  Available now!

    • 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition: Although unhappy with the film’s visual outcome, Walt Disney’s dazzling London-based tale has long been cherished by adoring audiences since its debut in 1961.  Stylistically unique to the delicate precision of other Disney efforts, 101 Dalmatians offers an adventurous tale accompanied by memorable songs and one of Disney’s most beloved antagonists Cruella De Vil.  Shining brighter than ever on Blu-ray, reasons for scooping up 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition this season far exceeds the number of its lovable polka-dotted puppies.  Available now! 

    • Mr. Bean - The Whole Bean 25th Anniversary Collection: A quarter century since its debut, Rowan Atkinson’s hilariously dimwitted character returns with all 14 episodes of his memorable television show.  Presented by Fabulous Films, in association with Shout! Factory, Mr. Bean - The Whole Bean 25th Anniversary Collection provides viewers with suitable supplemental content while, the sheer silliness and physical hijinks of Atkinson’s predominately mum character in all his timeless sketches will most definitely tickle the funny bones of all viewers.  Available now! 

    • Star Wars Rebels - Complete Season One: With less than a month before Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes hold of audiences worldwide, Disney’s first attempts at reestablishing the brand ensures that the Force is in very capable hands.  Taking place before the events of the original film, Star Wars Rebels centers on a ragtag crew of do-gooders determined to take down the Galactic Empire.  With guest appearances from Star Wars alumni such as, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2 and Yoda, this computer-generated Disney XD series packs high-octane action and exciting new characters that have quickly become fan favorites.  With season two airing now, catching up with the crew of the Ghost in their first 15 adventures is the perfect training for young Padawans and Jedi Masters alike.  Available now! 

    • Manimal - The Complete Series: Airing for only a short-lived eight episodes, Fabulous Films and Shout! Factory welcome the animalistic adventures of Manimal: The Complete Series to DVD for the first time ever in the U.S.!  Centering on the wealthy and dashing Dr. Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale, Jaws 3-D), Manimal finds Chase using his abilities to morph into any animal of his choosing to aid the authorities in solving crimes.  Scheduled against the soap opera titan Dallas, Manimal found itself quickly extinct due to low ratings but, has maintained a cult appeal for its over the top premise and impressive transformation sequences.  Wickedly fun, Manimal: The Complete Series also arrives with an interview with Series Creator Co-Creator Glen A. Larson (Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I.), Concept & Production Notes, an episode booklet and more.  With Will Ferrel (Elf) and Adam McKay (Step Brothers) actively developing a film version, reliving its goofy originator this holiday season will serve as an ideal journey down memory lane.  Available now!

    • Automan - The Complete Series: From the creative minds behind Tron and Knight Rider, Automan unashamedly melds the two contrasting concepts for this long lost gem of Generation X.  Including all 13 episodes and countless bonus content including, an all-new 42 minute retrospective, Automan centers on computer nerd Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnez Jr., House of the Long Shadows) as he minds his desk work at the local police department.  Using his programming skills, Walter develops an artificial hologram that can exist in the real world.  Accompanied by the computer engineered Automan and a small droid, Walter hits the streets to battle crime.  Cancelled prematurely, Automan: The Complete Series is a sci-fi spectacle of 80s technology and street crime that has thankfully resurfaced in its entirety for the first time in America.  Available now!

    • Agent Carter - The Complete First Season: Reprising her role from Captain America: The First Avenger, Hayley Atwell stars as secret agent Peggy Carter as she attempts to cope with the loss of Steve Rogers and juggle her position in the male-dominated workforce of the 1940s.  After learning her friend Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) has been framed for supplying weapons to the enemy, Agent Carter must fight to clear his name and recover the stolen goods.  Delivering one of television’s stronger and well-written female characters, Marvel’s Agent Carter is an engaging, tightly paced mini-series that  fans of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe will find themselves instantly hooked on.  Available now!

    • Blood and Lace: Long desired and finally available for the first time on home video, Blood and Lace serves as a bizarre precursor to what would become the slasher boom of the late 70s and early 80s.  Following the grizzly murder of her prostituting mother, Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson, F Troop) is placed in an orphanage, fearful that she will become the next target of her mother’s hammer-wielding assailant.  With orphanage head Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame, It’s a Wonderful Life) and her seedy handyman concealing their share of disturbing secrets, Ellie’s safety becomes even more uncertain.  Filled with an uncomfortable atmosphere and a disturbing twist ending, Blood and Lace is joined by an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith, an alternate opening title, its theatrical trailer and reversible cover art.  In a year of seemingly endless titles from Scream Factory, Blood and Lace stands out as one of their most coveted.  Available now! 

    • The Car: Powered by high-octane evil, this cult classic from Director Elliot Silverstein (Nightmare Honeymoon) stars James Brolin (The Amityville Horror) as a newly appointed sheriff in a desert town disturbed by a devilish automobile hellbent on destroying anyone in its path.  Joined by new interviews with its director and Actors Melody Thomas Scott and Geraldine Keams, a theatrical trailer, a newly designed cover art by Scream Factory favorite Justin Osbourn and more, The Car races to Blu-ray just in time for viewers to hitch a ride this Christmas.  Available December 15th! 

    • Eaten Alive: Continuing to impress domestic audiences with their diverse output, Arrow Video delivers another first-rate effort with Tobe Hooper’s (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) Eaten Alive.  Set in the Louisiana wetlands at the seedy Starlight Hotel, owner Judd’s (Neville Brand, The Police Connection) homicidal tendencies run amuck as he feeds unsuspecting guests to his hungry alligator.  Bloody and bizarre, Hooper’s underrated gem arrives restored in 2K from the OCN while, bonus content runs deep with endless featurettes and an impressive 22-page booklet.  As if anymore bait were needed to lure viewers, Eaten Alive is one of the exploitation genres top releases of the year.  Available now!

    • Ghost Story: Based on the novel by Peter Straub, four elderly friends are haunted by a ghostly apparition in their wintry New England town.  Headlined by seasoned icons including, Fred Astaire (Swing Time), Melvyn Douglas (Ninotchka), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Little Caesar) and John Houseman (Rollerball), Ghost Story oozes atmosphere and supernatural tension.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Scream Factory delivers this perfectly timed release with a filmic presentation and a slew of special features from an Audio Commentary with Director John Irvin and new interviews with key cast and crew to vintage trailers and a spooky reversible cover art.  Chilling and stylistically paced, Ghost Story makes for a frightening addition into your horror library this winter season.  Available now!

    • Goodnight Mommy: Hailing from Austria, twin brothers Elias and Lukas are troubled when their mother returns home from surgery, heavily bandaged and acting differently.  Growing more unconvinced of the woman who claims to be their mother, the twins take drastic measures to uncover the terrifying truth.  Similar to an unnerving fever dream, Goodnight Mommy seeps under viewers’ skin with an unsettling tone and an even more frightening finale.  Accompanied with a conversational interview with Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Goodnight Mommy is a shocking slice of foreign cinema that easily stands as one of the year’s standout contemporary horror releases.  Available now!

    • White of the Eye: All is not as it seems in 1987’s White of the Eye when an attractive woman falls victims to a demented killer of housewives who uses Indian rituals in his murders.  Helmed by Donald Cammell (Performance, Demon Seed) and starring David Keith (Firestarter) and Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull), this suspenseful thriller will keep viewers’ blood thoroughly chilled.  Repurposing U.K. distributor Arrow Video’s superb transfer, Scream Factory compliments its release with an Audio Commentary with Director Donald Cammell and Biographer Sam Umland, deleted scenes, an interview with Actor Alan Rosenberg, reversible cover art and more.  Available now!

    • Society: Nightmarish and bold, Brian Yuzna’s (Bride of Re-Animator) directorial debut arrives in a definitive high-definition release from Arrow Video.  Suspecting his wealth family and privileged peers are hiding sinister secrets, paranoid teen Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, Days of Our Lives) uncovers a twisted subculture for the richies of Beverly Hills.  Sporting a virtually flawless presentation bursting with bold colors and exceptional clarity, Society comes dripping with newly crafted bonus content that leaves no stone left unturned.  Although its original flesh-covered packaging edition has since sold out, Arrow Video’s standard release of Society is unquestionably one of the best horror releases of 2015!  Available now!

    • Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman: Celebrating its 75th anniversary, J.B. Kaufman’s definitive overview of Walt Disney’s animated followup to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a marvel to behold.  Containing over 200 pieces of art and culled from various interviews and recorded conferences, Kaufman’s expertly researched achievement is the finest of its kind and stands as our book of the year!  Available now! 

    • Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History by Michael Klastorin with Randal Atamaniuk: Complimenting the 30th anniversary re-release of the famed trilogy, Klastorin and Atamniuk’s literary companion is a treasure trove for dedicated fans.  Packed with overwhelming insight into each film’s extensive shooting schedule and incredible imagery of production art, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History also treats readers to several removable posters and reproduction pieces.  Further documenting Back to the Future’s short-lived Saturday morning cartoon and their exciting attraction at Universal Studios’ theme parks, Klastorin and Atamaniuk’s passion project is essential reading for all Back to the Future devotees.  Available now!

    • John Hughes: A Life in Film by Kirk Honeycutt: Highlighting the eternally youthful enthusiasm of Writer/Director John Hughes, Honeycutt’s career spanning work contains interviews with Hughes collaborators including, Matthew Broderick (Ferris Buller’s Day Off), Ally Sheedy (The Breakfast Club), Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club), Steve Martin (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and more.  Providing insight into Hughes’ family life and heartwarming friendship with the late John Candy, Honeycutt’s humanizing and photograph-filled coverage of Hughes is one you won’t soon forget.  Available now!

    • The Art and Making of The Peanuts Movie by Jerry Schmitz: Making their cinematic return this year, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang comes alive in their first CG-animated 3D feature.  Adapting the simplistic yet, treasured designs and wit of Schulz’s beloved creations was no easy task as covered in Schmitz’s enthralling read.  With a foreword by Director Steve Martino, The Art and Making of The Peanuts Movie describes the painstaking detail in bringing Charlie Brown and friends into a 3D realm while, cracking a story that would faithfully honor their 50-plus year legacy.  Unquestionably one of the year’s best making-of books, The Art and Making of The Peanuts Movie is an invaluable resource for one of the year’s finest films.  Available now!

    • Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents - The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films by Douglas Brode: Chronologically ordered, Brode’s historical journey through science-fiction’s latest and greatest cinematic achievements are compiled in one passionate collection.  From 1927’s influential Metropolis to the many gems consisting of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion wizardry, Brode’s analysis also awards George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Pixar’s Wall-E and Marvel Studio’s most recent Guardians of the Galaxy as sci-fi’s most remarkable efforts.  Accompanied with rare photographs, ratings and background information on each production, Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents - The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films will make a suitable stocking-stuffer for all sci-fi fans.  Available now!

    • Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness by Mark Salisbury: Considered one of our favorite films of the year, Mark Salisbury’s stunning look into Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance is breathtaking.  With inspired production art and intriguing character bios, Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness also explores the practical and digital means in bringing the film’s ghostly creations to life.  With several takeaway items including, a miniature film poster, Salisbury’s guide to one of the year’s most eerily seductive films is an exceptional entryway into del Toro’s fantastical imagination.  Available now!

    • Before Ever After: The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney’s Animation Studio by Don Hahn and Tracey Miller-Zarneke: As Walt Disney looked beyond the success of his short films to the future of animated features, the educational efforts to perfect his artists’ abilities were increased.  Dormant for nearly 80 years, Hahn and Miller-Zarneke’s latest effort resurrects the countless lectures and transcribed classes Disney’s artists were educated in leading up to the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Animation enthusiasts will be fascinated by its indispensable lessons and extraordinary artwork making it one of Disney Editions’ most outstanding gems of the year.  Available now!

    • Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Cards Volume One with Commentary by Gary Gerani and Robert V. Conte: Serving as a bonafide nostalgia trip, Abrams Comicarts compiles all five collectible sets and stickers of Topps’ original Star Wars trading cards.  Presented in their entirety, first generation fans will be delighted to own the entire run in this wonderfully presented hardcover.  With welcome commentary from original cards editor Gary Gerani and four bonus trading cards included, Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Cards Volume One will return fans back to a childhood from a galaxy far, far away.  Available now!

    • Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History by Daniel Wallace: Akin to Harper Design’s Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, Insight Editions’ 30 year overview of the Ghostbusters franchise is a rewarding read that traces the pop culture phenomenon of the original two films, their animated television shows plus, the endless merchandise that exploded in their wake.  With interviews from key talent and filled with behind-the-scenes photos and other specialty items, bustin’ will make you feel good after reading Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual HistoryAvailable now!

     

     

  • Assault on New Releases #5: Nightmare Weekend (1985), Gravy (2015) & Eaten Alive (1976) Blu-ray Reviews

         

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #5

    Nightmare Weekend (1985)

    Director: Henri Sala

    Starring: Debbie Laster, Dale Midkiff, Debra Hunter, Lori Lewis, Andrea Thompson & Robert Burke

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Filmed on location in Florida by a crew of French filmmakers, Nightmare Weekend is a bizarre blending of horror and softcore sex plagued by a blatant communication breakdown during its making.  When a brilliant scientist with the ability to alter personalities allows a fellow specialist to test the experiment on a group of hard-partying females, chaos erupts when they are turned into bloodthirsty savages.  Comprised of a young and inexperienced cast, including Dale Midkiff (Pet Sematary) and Robert Burke (Robocop 3), Nightmare Weekend is a nonsensical head spinner that continues to live up to its moniker as one of the odder offerings of the 1980s.  Loaded with surprisingly impressive make-up effects by Dean Gates (Maximum Overdrive, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), an eye-raising hand puppet named George, a quintessentially 80s aerobics sequence, sex atop a pinball machine and hilariously dubbed dialogue, Nightmare Weekend baffles the senses while charming the appetites of oddball cinema enthusiasts.

    Vinegar Syndrome presents Nightmare Weekend with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Presented uncut for the first time ever, colors appear refreshingly vivid with skin tones relayed naturally and nicely detailed.  A filmic layer of grain is apparent with occasional instances of scratches and vertical lines sneaking their way into the otherwise impressive transfer.  Meanwhile, black levels are satisfactory while the warm Floridian setting looks lively.  Licensed from Troma Entertainment following less than desirable releases of the film, Vinegar Syndrome restores Nightmare Weekend to top-notch quality.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the dubbed dialogue is fairly clear with only a hint of hiss detected.  Music and other potent sound effects offer moderate enhancements that compliment the mix nicely.  Special features include, Thanks God It’s Monday: Surviving Nightmare Weekend with Dean Gates (22:54) has Make-Up Effects Artists Gates sitting down for a detailed and lengthy interview as he recalls the shooting of the film, the occasional difficulties working with a mostly non-English speaking crew and the constraints of creating on a low-budget.  In addition, Killer Weekend: An Interview with Marc Gottlieb (12:50), Alternate “R Rated” Edits (7:47), the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:26), Reversible Cover Art and a DVD edition round out the supplemental package.

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Gravy (2015)

    Director: James Roday

    Starring: Michael Weston, Jimmi Simpson, Sutton Foster, Gabourey Sidibe & Sarah Silverman

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Complimenting their steady diet of cult favorites, Scream Factory, the horror offshoot of Shout! Factory, craves a little Gravy.  Set on Halloween night, a motley crew of bar workers are caught off guard when a trio of costumed cannibals invade their Mexican cantina and add them to their personal menu.  Starring a diverse cast including Michael Weston (Cherry Falls), Jimmi Simpson (Zodiac), Academy Award nominee Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) and Sarah Silverman (Wreck-It Ralph), Gravy crafts a hilarious concoction of home invasion terrors meets cannibalism with its tongue never leaving its cheek.  As the witty yet deranged trio with a craving for flesh hold an entire bar staff captive, a fatal game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon ensues while the bar’s accomplished chef is forced to turn his friends into ravishing meals.  For all its suggestive gory scenarios expertly realized by legends Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) and Howard Berger (Drag Me to Hell), Gravy keeps its sense of humor prominently prioritized allowing viewers to be more tickled pink than repulsed.  Accompanied by choice soundtrack cuts from Cutting Crew, Katrina and the Wave and Los Lobos, Gravy nicely balances the frightening and funnier aspects of its narrative with amusing performances from the entire cast.  Marking the film debut of Director James Roday (Psych), Gravy is a horrific hoot that unexpectedly stands as one of Scream Factory’s most refreshing contemporary offerings.  

    Scream Factory presents Gravy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, colors are bright and nicely saturated in costumes and bloodspraying moments while skin tones read naturally.  The dimly lit, windowless bar setting is wonderfully presented with detail never losing consistency.  In addition, black levels are always inky and free of any anomalies allowing for a most pleasing picture.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is clearly presented with occasional moments being overwhelmed only by loud bursts of music.  Sound effects of shattering bottles, bar brawls and shrieks of terror come across effectively with memorable songs such as “(I Just) Died In Your Arms” gracing the mix with an authoritative presence.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Finally, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director James Roday and Actors Sutton Foster & Jimmi Simpson, a humorous What is Gravy? (5:56) featurette, an EPK (6:23), Trailer (2:16) and Reversible Cover Art.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available October 6th from Scream Factory, Gravy can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Eaten Alive (1976)

    Director: Tobe Hooper

    Starring: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Kyle Richards & Robert Englund

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the breakout success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Director Tobe Hooper would look to the humid south once again to stage his next effort in terror.  Shot completely on Hollywood soundstages, Eaten Alive takes place in the Louisiana wetlands at the dreary Starlight Hotel, ran solely by the peculiar Judd (Neville Brand, The Police Connection).  Originally seen as odd yet harmless, Judd’s over the top temper and sheer insanity is revealed when a former prostitute rents a room prompting the elder owner to make his guest food for his enormous alligator.  As more patrons including, a family with a young daughter and a desperate man in search of his runaway daughter rent rooms at the Starlight Hotel, Judd’s homicidal behavior increases making a scythe his weapon of choice.  While murdering the handicapped in his shocking directorial debut kept viewers on the edge of their seats, all bets are off in Hooper’s followup as an adorable puppy falls prey to the film’s reptilian monster and a heart-pounding game of cat and mouse between Judd and effective child actor Kyle Richards takes place under the hotel.  In addition, Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) makes a most seedy appearance as scene stealing scumbag Buck, nicely complimenting another bizarro performance from co-star William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise).  Admirably capturing an uneasy atmosphere courtesy of the film’s claustrophobic production design, Neville Brand’s deranged performance is the glorified stamp on the film making Eaten Alive one of Hooper’s best and often underrated gems.

    Restored in 2K from the film’s original camera negative, Arrow Video presents Eaten Alive with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing the approval of Director Tobe Hooper, colors are bold and defined with skin tones looking warm and natural.  While a softer appearance is occasionally spotted during Buck’s first encounter with runaway prostitute Clara, dirt, debris or other such blemishes are virtually nonexistent in this impressively cleaned up transfer.  In addition, detail is strikingly sharp with the Starlight Hotel’s dim lighting being of no issue as wallpaper stains and other intentional imperfections are spotted clearly.  Continuing to make great strides in the U.S. market, Arrow Video have treated viewers with the definitive presentation of this exploitation favorite.  Accompanied with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is strongly relayed while the screams of child actor Kyle Richards and the film’s unique score are excellently balanced.  Overflowing with content, special features include, an Introduction with Director Tobe Hooper (0:20), an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Producer Mardi Rustam, Actors Roberta Collins, William Finley & Kyle Richards and Make-Up Artist Craig Reardon.  In addition, newly recorded interviews featuring Blood on the Bayou: An Interview with Tobe Hooper (14:03), Gator Bait: An Interview with Janus Blythe (11:38) and Monsters and Metaphors: An Interview with Craig Reardon (11:25) are also included.  Furthermore, The Gator Creator with Tobe Hooper (19:38), My Name is Buck: A Look Back at Eaten Alive (15:05) and 5ive Minutes with Marilyn (5:18) have been ported over from Dark Sky Films’ previous home video release.  Additionally, The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball (23:05), Theatrical Trailers (13:35), TV and Radio Spots (2:52), Alternate Credits (1:05), a Behind the Scenes Slideshow (8:09), Stills and Promo Material Gallery (1:02) and Comment Cards Gallery (0:33) are provided while, a 22-page booklet featuring an essay from Brad Stevens, Reversible Cover Art utilizing the film’s original 1-sheet poster and a DVD Edition of the release conclude the film’s first-rate supplemental package.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Eaten Alive can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Society (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Society (1989)

    Director: Brian Yuzna

    Starring: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards & Ben Meyerson

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Producer Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, Dolls), Society focuses on privileged teenager Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, Days of Our Lives) who senses a distance from his parents and sister.  Suspecting that he was adopted and constantly kept in the dark of secret family affairs, Bill’s paranoia reveals a startling truth about the wealthy class that surrounds him.  Devin DeVasquez (House II: The Second Story), Evan Richards (Rock ‘n‘ Roll High School Forever) & Ben Meyerson (Dinner at Eight) co-star.

    Soaked in a surrealistic tone, Director Brian Yuzna’s paranoia run amok opus oozes with originality and nightmarish imagery.  Thematically focused on teenage alienation and the superiority of the privileged wealthy class, Society admits the viewer into the luxuries of the rich who are hiding more than meets the eye.  As Bill Whitney (Warlock) struggles with his outsider anxieties, his therapist, friends and family assure him that his paranoia is only getting the better of him.  Increasingly neglected from covert family functions, Bill is vindicated when his equally paranoid sister’s ex-boyfriend, David Blanchard (Tim Bartell, Meatballs Part II), provides him with an alarming tape recording.  Convinced that his family is involved in an incestuous relationship and guilty of possible murder, Bill’s worst fears become a reality.  As Blanchard is mysteriously killed, the frazzled Bill falls prey to the sexually inviting Clarisa (DeVasquez) who may be involved in the conspiracy.  With much of its runtime spent toying with the possibility of these paranoid-induced theories, Society blindsides the viewer in its final act with a slimy exhibit of sexual perversion and masterful effects work from Screaming Mad George (Predator, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master).  A slow-burn that allows its unsettling atmosphere to take hold, Society is a fitting companion piece to Director David Cronenberg’s many body terror classics while, standing firmly on its own feet as a cult oddity with social commentary that is even more potent today.  

    Restored in 2K, Arrow Video debuts Society with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Personally approved by Director Brian Yuzna, Society looks flawless.  Skin tones read warmly and naturally while colors, most appreciatively seen in the bathing suits of Devin DeVasquez and Heidi Kozak, virtually jump off the screen.  In addition, natural grain remains intact as dimly lit scenes carry inky, pleasing results and the red lighting of the film’s finale capturing its intended appearance.  Painstakingly cleaned of countless instances of dirt and debris, the results are obvious and impressive.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue never misses a hitch while music and other such background noise is handled appropriately.  Dripping with bonus content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Brian Yuzna, Governor of Society (16:52) where Yuzna discusses his entry into the picture business producing hits like Re-Animator before transitioning to the director’s chair on films like Society and Bride of Re-AnimatorMasters of the Hunt... (22:22) sits down with Actors Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell as they recall their experiences making the film.  In addition, The Champion of the Shunt (20:39) interviews FX Artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson on their incredible efforts crafted for the film.  Also included, a Brian Yuzna Q&A (38:34), Brian Yuzna - Society Premiere (1:56), the Theatrical Trailer (2:08), a Screaming Mad George Music Video (6:09) and a 21-page booklet containing the excellent Keeping It in the Family essay by Alan Jones and production stills.  Finally, a 56-page mini, two part comic book sequel entitled Society: Party Animal and a DVD edition of the release wrap up the plentiful supplements.

    Akin to a nightmarish Salvador Dalí painting come to life in upper class Beverly Hills, Brian Yuzna’s Society is a bold directorial debut that dared to stand out and chose to play on paranoid dread over buckets of gore.  Far from a squeaky clean production, Screaming Mad George’s jaw-dropping effects work of melding flesh is unlike anything seen before that equally impresses and detests for all the right reasons.  Making its long-awaited Blu-ray debut in a fantastically flesh-covered packaging, Arrow Video awards viewers with a near perfect technical presentation of this cult favorite and an exuberant amount of supplements to meld into.  Although still early in their transition to the U.S. market, Arrow Video’s desirable release of Society has all the bells and whistles to become one of the finest releases of the year.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Society can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Massacre Gun (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Gun (1967)

    Director: Yasuharu Hasebe

    Starring: Jô Shishido, Tatsuya Fuji, Jirô Okazaki, Hidekai Nitani & Takashi Kanda

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring genre icon Jô Shishido (Branded to Kill), Massacre Gun focuses on Kuroda (Shishido), a mob hitman who gives up his profession following orders to execute his lover.  Joined by his devoted brothers, hotheaded Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji, In the Realm of the Sense) and aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter), the trio embark on a deadly retaliation war against the mob that won’t end until one side is defeated.  

    Soaked in monochrome and reminiscent of the moody American film noirs of the 1930s and 40s, Massacre Gun is the embodiment of the “Nikkatsu Noir”, produced by the studio during a booming decade of popularity.  Noticeably more savage and unforgiving than its stateside predecessors, Director Yasuharu Hasebe’s (Retaliation) blood thicker than water tale grooms the viewer with a familiar narrative of turf wars and revenge before shocking the senses with brutal shootouts uncommon for its era.  Jô Shishido stars as the reserved Kuroda, a mobster at odds with his employer after being forced to execute his lover.  Unable to continue his duties, Kuroda respectfully quits his profession only to incense gang boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda) who won’t take no for an answer.  Simultaneously angered by Akazawa’s overpowering grip, youngest brother and boxing prodigy Saburô (Jirô Okazaki) confronts the crime boss only to have his hands shattered, ending his professional career.  In addition, fellow brother Eiji’s (Tatsuya Fuji) Club Rainbow hotspot and base of their operations is destroyed by Akazawa’s men leaving the brothers shattered and filled with rage.  Determined to take their revenge, the Kuroda brothers slowly begin reclaiming turf from Akazawa as a full on gang war is initiated.  Masterfully directed by Hasebe, Massacre Gun oozes with style as smoke infested bars and back room gambling parties become commonplace in a world where respect is demanded by those most dangerous.  

    With his bed firmly made and pursued by mobsters, Kuroda’s friend and active employee of Akazawa, Shirasaka (Hidekai Nitani), pleads with Kuroda to reconsider his actions to no avail.  With no choices remaining, the two former friends become deadliest of enemies as attempted hits are consistently made on one another’s sides.  With the exception of Kuroda’s lovers murder, Massacre Gun almost fails to live up to its name as the brothers resist the urge to use gun power until a casket housing a dead body and explosives arrives at Club Rainbow.  As the stakes are raised, so is the film’s violence with a firing squad of mobsters going up against a one man army in Kuroda and his rifle.  Over-the-top shootouts and an intense finale on a dormant highway road leave little time to breathe and endless rounds of ammunition and bloodshed on the screen.  Exchanging samurai swords for pistols and honor being substituted for bloodthirsty revenge, Massacre Gun is technically sound with exquisite camerawork from Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (Youth of the Beast) and Shishido’s focused yet, deadly manner making his performance a standout.  Stylistic and wildly violent, Massacre Gun stands as a shining example of the bygone “Nikkatsu Noir” subgenre.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Arrow Video presents Massacre Gun with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Nicely detailed and capturing noirish shadows with clarity, Massacre Gun has minor instances of speckling with black levels generally pleasing in the characters’ dark suits.  Some exterior daytime sequences exhibit overblown whites while, each cut in the film demonstrates an occasionally bothersome framing line at the top of the screen.  Anomalies aside, the transfer greatly succeeds where it counts making the viewing experience a pleasure.  Accompanied with an LPCM 1.0 mix and optional English subtitles, the film’s Japanese dialogue is delivered with excellent clarity, free of any distortion.  Exhibiting a fitting jazz score, Massacre Gun delivers with a blaring horn section and a strong sense of depth.  In addition, gunshots rattle the mix with impressive authority, heightening the onscreen violence.  Special features include, an Interview with Jô Shishido (17:38).  Newly produced for this release and accompanied with subtitles, 80 year-old Shishido discusses his impressive career highlights and involvement in the film.  Furthermore, an Interview with Tony Rayns (36:26) is included as Film Historian and Critic Rayns discusses Nikkatsu’s lengthy and diverse filmmaking history.  In addition, a Trailer (2:25), Promotional Gallery (14 still in total), 22-page booklet comprised of various stills and a newly prepared essay by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, reversible cover art and DVD edition of the release round out the supplemental offerings.

    Excellently capturing a noirish atmosphere and injecting increased levels of violence, Massacre Gun feels strikingly American in its style but, notably original in its delivery.  Sealed with terrific performances and detailed direction, Massacre Gun tells its tale of revenge with the utmost seriousness and the bullets to back it up.  Limited to 3,000 units, Arrow Video debuts Massacre Gun on Blu-ray for the first time with admirable technical merits and scholarly special features that educate the viewer on the film and Nikkatsu’s enduring legacy.  Fans of stylish film noirs yearning for an adrenaline shot will be impressively blown away by Massacre Gun.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow VideoMassacre Gun can be purchased via ArrowFilms.com.ukAmazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Day of Anger (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Day of Anger (1967)

    Director: Tonino Valerii

    Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma & Walter Rilla 

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    In the mid-1960s, many American actors starred in Westerns that were produced and directed by Italian filmmakers, dubbed “Spaghetti Westerns”.  Sergio Leone was a pioneer in the genre with such films as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  His assistant, Tonino Valerii, directed his own Spaghetti Western, entitled Day of Anger.  In the film, Lee Van Cleef is a merciless, master gunslinger who suddenly appears in the town of Clifton.  Although his purpose is clear, he ends up teaching an often bullied handyman, (Giulano Gemma), to use a pistol and kill those who attack him.  Walter Rilla, Christa Linder, Lukas Ammann and Andrea Bosic co-star. 

    Lee Van Cleef (It Conquered the World, Death Rides a Horse) is Frank Talby who has suddenly appeared in the town of Clifton to gain revenge on Wild Jack (Al Mulock) and his henchmen for a double cross on a train robbery.  Talby is in town to collect his reward for the crime, which is $50,000 in gold.  With help from his protégé, Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma, Tenebrae), who was essentially the local whipping boy, Talby and Scott take over the town but, tensions mount as Scott’s fast draw becomes a threat to his mentor.  After Talby kills Scott’s former friend, Sheriff Murph Alan Short (Walter Rilla, Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard, Rio 70), Scott goes after Talby and his gang. 

    Arrow Video has done an excellent job bringing this film back to life with an outstanding Blu-ray presentation.  The picture quality looks absolutely brilliant in a dual layered 1080p MPEG-4 AVC widescreen letterboxed 2:35:1 format.  Restored from the original negative, Arrow Video’s efforts leaves the film in its best presentation to date.  Looking simply magnificent, details are incredible, grain is still present and colors are vibrant.  The 2.0 PCM audio mix is also excellent, with hardly any cause to adjust the volume.  Well known for having a lot of extras on their releases, Arrow Video has done it again by providing us with a plethora of bonus materials.  First and foremost, we get two different cuts of Day of Anger; the original uncut version, clocking in at nearly two hours, with audio options in its native Italian tongue with English subtitles or the English dubbed version.  The English dubbed version often uses the word bastard a lot and some of the voices don’t sound appropriate for their characters.  In addition, the international English dub runs a good half hour less than the Italian cut.  From there, we are treated to a brand new 13-minute interview with Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (in Italian with English subtitles), a brand new 40-minute interview, presented in English, with Tonino Valerii's biographer, Roberto Curti - Money, Myths and Morality.  A previously unreleased 2008 10-minute Interview with Director Tonino Valerii (in Italian with English subtitles) is also included with a deleted scene, three Theatrical Trailers, an essay booklet with linear notes by Spaghetti Westerns expert Howard Hughes and reversible artwork featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist rounding out the impressive supplements.  Finally, this Blu-ray/DVD combo is also Region A/B accommodating domestic and overseas fans alike.  

    Day of Anger is another outstanding Spaghetti Western film, made during the time where the genre was booming.  Beautiful cinematography, lots of shootouts, excellent acting by Van Cleef playing the dark anti-hero and Gemma, in the role of a very determined, passionate being who no longer wants to live like a peasant makes this lively flick on par with other such fare as For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  With a wealth of extras, incredible picture quality plus, its support for Regions A/B and DVD collectors, this release comes highly recommended.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 31st from Arrow Video , Day of Anger can be purchased via DiabolikDVD.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Blind Woman's Curse (1970) Blu-ray Review

    Blind Woman’s Curse (1970)

    Directed by: Teruo Ishii 

    Starring: Meiko Kaji, Hok Tokuda, Toru Abe & Hideo Sunazaka 

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    Blind Woman’s Curse is a martial arts tale about betrayal, honor, and revenge, told in a truly unique and colorful way. It’s a brilliantly conceived mix of horror, comedy, martial arts action and drama. Hoki Tokuda (Nippon Paradise) stars as a blinded swords-woman seeking revenge on Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood), the leader of the Tachibana clan. Helping her seek revenge are members of another Yakuza clan, the Dobashi, and its leader Toru Abe (Return of Daimajin).  Hideo Sunazuka (Ebirah: Horror of the Deep/Godzilla VS. the Sea Monster) and Makoto Sato (The Lost World of Sinbad) co-star.

    A young girl, Aiko Gouda (Hoki Tokuda), who is inadvertently blinded and cursed by the Tachibana clan leader’s daughter, Akemi (Meiko Kaji), via a sword thrust to her eyes during a battle between two rival clans. The curse is created by a black cat that licked the blood of Aiko after she was struck in the eyes.  A few years after she had been blinded, Aiko becomes a master swords-woman and is ready to have her revenge on Akemi. She then seeks her nemesis out, ready to put a curse on her and her clan. Aiko is accompanied by both an insane looking hunchback servant that assists her in murdering some of Akemi’s clan, but also the same black cat that licks the blood of her victims, including a decapitated head. She also joins forces with a rival Yakuza clan, the Dobashi, to eliminate the Tachibana clan. Dobashi (Toru Abe) himself starts the revenge by hiring some thugs to kill members of the rival clan and getting local workers arrested by planting narcotics in the village that they reside in.  Other clan members get killed in a bizarre stage show attraction.  The last half hour is filled with bloody sword fights and the inevitable climatic battle between Aiko and Akemi.  Adding some horror elements into the film, we even get a few zombie swordsmen which are a few of the dead Tachibana clan brought back to life. 

    Blind Woman’s Curse has some pretty graphic gore and a great deal of eclectic visuals.  In addition, some of the characters in this film are a real trip including, a group of naked, screaming Japanese women lying around using opium, the already mentioned hunchback with a strange grin on his face who bounces around all over the place and a man who wears a top hat and lion cloth to add some comedy to the film.  Due to the psychedelic nature and taste in martial arts films, this movie may not be for everyone.  It’s not quite as bizarre as other Japanese oddities such as House but, this film does have its fair share of strange moments.  

    Arrow Video’s presentation of Blind Woman’s Curse is a beautiful, vibrant 1080p single layered MPEG-4 AVC letterboxed 2:44:1 transfer.  Colors are rich, with excellent dark black levels and scenes appearing much clearer and detailed than the previous DVD release.  There is some minor print damage here and there but overall it is a great presentation.  The Audio quality on this release is a very pleasing 2.0 PCM mix.  The film’s Japanese language comes accompanied with easy to read English subtitles as well.  As with all of their releases, Arrow Video has given us plenty of supplements including, an Audio Commentary with Jasper Sharp, a Theatrical Trailer, Stray Cat Rock Trailers, newly commissioned artwork, a collector’s booklet and an NTSC DVD with all of the same features.

    Fans of Blind Woman’s Curse can now rejoice as Arrow Video has given this film the best treatment and presentation possible.  What makes this title more appealing is its duel region A/B  release, giving non-region free fans a chance to own this rare oddity in whatever system or format they use.  For those on the fence, with its blend of humor, drama, splattering gore and just really strange “way-out-there” storytelling, Blind Woman’s Curse is worth checking out.

    RATING: 4/5

    Previously scheduled for March 24th from Arrow VideoBlind Woman’s Curse has been delayed to an undetermined date.

  • )

    Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #6: Phantom of the Paradise, Dead Kids, Transformers: Armada & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-up #6 includes:

    - Phantom of the Paradise (1974) (0:33)
    Street Date: February 24, 2014
    Arrow Video: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

    - In Fear (2013) (8:00)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Anchor Bay: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx

    - Dead Kids (1981) (11:46)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Severin Films: http://www.severin-films.com/

    - Thirst (1979) (16:27)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Severin Films: http://www.severin-films.com/

    - 42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection Vol. #1 (21:16)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Impulse Pictures: http://synapse-films.com/category/impulse-pictures/

    - Transformers: Armada The Complete Series (25:27)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (30:15)

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #4: The Jungle Book, Arrow Video, Darkman, The Shadow & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-up #4 includes:

    - The Jungle Book (1967) Diamond Edition (0:34)
    Street Date: February 11, 2014
    Disney: http://disney.com/

    - Rocky: The Heavyweight Collection (6:37)
    Street Date: February 11, 2014
    MGM: http://www.mgm.com/

    - Hellgate (1990) (13:27)
    Street Date: January 27, 2014
    Arrow Video: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

    - Darkman (1990) Collector's Edition (20:48)
    Street Date: February 18, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987) (28:09)
    Street Date: January 27, 2014
    Arrow Video: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

    - The Shadow (1994) Collector's Edition (35:33)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

  • Big Trouble in Little China (1986) Blu-ray Review (UK)


    Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
    Director: John Carpenter
    Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, Victor Wong & James Hong
    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Coming off the massive success of 1978’s Halloween, Director John Carpenter ushered in the 1980s with an output of films that are all retrospectively considered seminal cult classics.  From the ghostly atmosphere of The Fog to the apocalyptic future of Escape from New York and the FX-driven mastery of The Thing, Carpenter seemed hellbent on trying new things.  A jumbling of genres ranging from martial arts, fantasy and action, Big Trouble in Little China seemed to be Carpenter’s most off the wall film to date.  Re-teaming with Kurt Russell, Carpenter embarked on a film that would inevitably fail at the box-office before thriving on home video and be reborn as a bonafide cult favorite.  Arrow Video presents one of Carpenter’s most beloved films with an exciting abundance of special features as well as a variant limited edition SteelBook.  Sit tight and hold the fort while we find out how well ol‘ Jack Burton is doin‘...

    Big Trouble in Little China centers on Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), an American trucker, passing through San Francisco’s Chinatown.  When trouble strikes and his friend’s fiancée is kidnapped, Jack finds himself caught in a war involving Chinese black magic and sorcery.  Lo Pan (James Hong), an evil 2000 year-old magician, is the ringleader of the chaos along with his powerful henchmen, The Three Storms.  Jack and friends band together to battle these ancient villains before it’s too late.  Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City), Dennis Dun (Prince of Darkness), Kate Burton (The Ice Storm), Donald Li (One Crazy Summer) and Victor Wong (3 Ninjas) all co-star.

    MOVIE:
    With an embarrassingly low-key ad campaign, Big Trouble in Little China was doomed to fail at the box-office.  While studio executives were hoping Carpenter would deliver something more akin to Indiana Jones, they were unappreciatively handed Jack Burton.  In retrospect, the flashy set design, over the top shennanigans and nifty visual effects, make Big Trouble in Little China more on par with the Indiana Jones franchise than most others at the time.  While the film lived and died quickly during its theatrical run, home video paved the way for an inevitable resurrection.  Throughout the years, Big Trouble in Little China has evolved into a cult classic and one of Carpenter’s most treasured films, which is easy to understand.  The blending of genres filtered through Russell’s sense of humor as the buffoonish but lovable Jack Burton and the impressive visual effects, mark this a decade highlight of the 1980s.  The sheer popcorn entertainment of Big Trouble in Little China is what makes it work so well and continues to age effortlessly.  While Russell’s incompetence and snappy one-liners command the film, the supporting cast add all the juices to make the film flow.  Jack’s friend, Wang (Dennis Dun), the real “hero” of the film, is the yin to Jack’s yang.  The camaraderie between the two is plain fun to watch and Dun’s martial arts scenes are some of the most exciting.  The young and beautiful Kim Cattrall is a knock-out as lawyer Gracie Law.  Appearing in the original Police Academy, Cattrall’s comedic timing is unsurprisingly spot on and compliments Russell nicely.  In addition, Victor Wong (Tremors) serves as the wise old man who guides the characters throughout all the black magic happenings that have befallen them.

    Carpenter directs this flashy picture with style and makes excellent use of the soundstage built sets that served as Chinatown.  Battle scenes involving The Three Storms are a highlight with incredible martial arts showcased along with delightful 80s visual effects to create their vicious lightning powers.  If Rob Bottin’s masterful makeup effects in The Thing were to invoke fear, than those found in Big Trouble in Little China are meant entirely for laughs.  The intricate effects are hilarious and make for some of the greatest eye candy of the entire film.  Carpenter, in association with Alan Howarth (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Christine), compose yet another effective and unmistakably “Carpeterian” soundtrack that rates highly against their other collaborations.  Awesomely enough, Carpenter’s Coup de Villes, lay down the catchy main theme song for the film.  Big Trouble in Little China is a total hoot from start to finish with a roller coaster fun story, memorable characters, quotable lines, eye candy galore found in the terrific visual effects and a killer soundtrack.  What studio executives failed to “get” back in 1986 became genre lovers’ gain in the long run.  Big Trouble in Little China remains one of Carpenter’s most loved films where I imagine it will rightfully stay for eternity.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Big Trouble in Little China is presented in a 1080p High-Definition (2.35:1) transfer.  While, 20th Century Fox’s domestic Blu-ray release was top notch, Arrow Videos’ treatment hardly differs.  Grain is naturally apparent throughout with an overall clean presentation.  Detail is nicely crisp and skin tones look as natural as one could hope.  Colors pop wonderfully, most impressive is during visual effects scenes where the lightning bolts seem as though they are jumping through your screen.  Arrow’s video presentation appears just a shade clearer than the domestic release which makes the viewer appreciate Cattrall’s green contact lenses all the more.  By a hair, Arrow Videos‘ treatment walks away as the definitive video presentation of the film.
    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:
    Big Trouble in Little China comes tuned with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that impresses.  Sound is robust with dialogue never missing a hitch and battle scenes and soundtrack moments living up to expectation.  Loud, crisp and clear will get the job done every time.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:
    (NOTE: The collector’s booklet listed below was not provided for the purposes of this review, therefor the rating of this section cannot take it into consideration)

    - Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter & Actor Kurt Russell

    - Return to Little China: John Carpenter, laid back with cigarette in hand, sits down for a brand new interview discussing the project and the politics of making a studio picture.  Candid as always, Carpenter discusses the uproar Asian activist groups had with the film with one particular “piece of shit” getting under Carpenter’s skin.  “Fuck him”.  Carpenter’s words, not mine.  A priceless interview!

    - Being Jack Burton: Star Kurt Russell graciously covers his collaborations with Carpenter and their friendship throughout the years.  Russell discusses the hardships the film went through upon completion and offers plenty of quality insight in this brand new interview that runs 20 minutes.

    - Carpenter & I: Director of Photography Dean Cundey (Halloween, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) is interviewed.

    - Producing Big Trouble: Larry Franco (Escape from New York, The Rocketter) is interviewed.

    - Staging Big Trouble: Jeff Imada discusses the stunt work of the film.

    - Interview with Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund

    - Deleted Scenes

    - Extended Ending

    - Vintage Featurette

    - Music Video

    - Trailers

    - TV Spots

    - Gallery

    - Isolated Score

    - Collector’s booklet: Includes new writing on the film by John Kenneth Muir, author of The Films of John Carpenter and a re-print of an article on the effects of the film from American Cinematographer.

    - Reversible cover: Newly commissioned artwork provided by Jay Shaw included only in the standard release.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:
    Big Trouble in Little China is the little film that could.  While the studio expected big results with the film, they left it for dead after not “getting” it.  A tragic loss and box-office disappointment segued into a much deserved rediscovery via home video.  Nearly 30 years after its release, Big Trouble in Little China is not only one of Carpenter’s finest accomplishments but it is the definition of a cult classic.  Arrow Videos‘ release is the definitive treatment for such a beloved film with a perfect video presentation, a booming sound mix and an epic assortment of vintage and newly crafted special features.  Pay your dues and throw the check in the mail because Arrow Videos‘ Big Trouble in Little China deserves a spot on every genre lovers shelf.
    RATING: 5/5

  • Tenebrae (1982) Blu-ray Review (UK)


    Tenebrae (1982)
    Director: Dario Argento
    Starring: Anthony Franciosa, Veronica Lario, Daria Nicolodi & John Saxon
    Released by: Arrow Video (available exclusively via www.Zaavi.com)

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The master of the giallo, Dario Argento (Suspiria, Opera), has thrilled and terrified audiences for nearly 50 years.  From his early beginnings with 1970’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Argento has earned himself the label of a true artist with a clear and precise vision in all of his haunted works.  During, what would arguably be considered his peak years, Argento crafted a frightening tale with autobiographical roots that harked back to the genre he helped create.  Newly remastered, Arrow Films, proudly presents Tenebrae in a limited edition SteelBook release.  Let’s take a look and see how this once labeled “video nasty” and beloved Argento classic has aged...

    Tenebrae stars Anthony Franciosa (Julie Darling) as Peter Neal, an American horror writer, in Rome promoting his latest best-seller.  A serial killer is stalking his every move while others associated with his work start popping up dead.  The film co-stars Christian Borromeo (House on the Edge of the Park), Veronica Lario (Sotto... sotto), Carola Stagnaro (Opera), Daria Nicolodi (Inferno) and John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street).

    MOVIE:
    Dario Argento’s films have always mystified as much as they have terrified.  Sandwiched between two other classic works (Inferno and Phenomena), Argento helmed this semi-autobiographical terrorfest about a horror writer harassed by a razor-wielding madman.  Argento admits that while in Los Angeles, he was called constantly by a stranger who admired the Italian director’s work.  Eventually, the calls grew more aggressive and the caller blamed Argento’s films for ruining his life and wished to kill him.  While being understandably frightened, Argento returned back to his homeland with the seed for a new story.  Tenebrae finds the director of The Cat o’ Nine Tails returning to his roots to tell a more realistic tale of horror.  The film does a fine job with a core cast that fit into their roles like a black leather glove.  Franciosa headlines as the handsome and modest author of horror literature that is slowly being stalked while his fellow associates are dropping like flies.  Franciosa is a natural which allows him to slide into the character of Peter Neal without the audience remembering they are watching an actor on the job. In addition, other cast highlights include Argento regular Daria Nicolodi who co-stars as Neal’s assistant, Anne.  Nicolodi complements Franciosa’s performance as a loyal and trusted friend with a hint of an attraction for her employer.  Genre star, John Saxon (Enter the Dragon), also appears as Neal’s literary agent which benefits the film thanks to the actor’s undeniable charm.

    Tenebrae is a successful example of style and substance meeting perfectly together.  Argento, along with Director of Photography Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria), work wonders with their camerawork while weaving a tale of genuine mystery and terror.  Moments of murder are shocking in their brutality but also a visual delight akin to a painter executing a masterpiece with his brush.  Tenebrae is an arresting film with terrific performances and a plot that keeps the viewer guessing while constantly jumping in their seats.  Already a master of Italian horror by Tenebrae, Argento directs the film with pure artistry while collaborator Claudio Simonetti (Dawn of the Dead, Demons) serves up yet another hypnotic and haunting score that acts as a character itself.  Tenebrae is a masterful entry in Argento’s impressive body of work that succeeds in nearly every way a solid giallo should.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Arrow Video presents Tenebrae in a newly remastered 1080p High-Definition (1.85:1) transfer.  The opening shots of Tenebrae being read don’t appear particularly noteworthy but immediately following, a revelation occurs.  Simply put, the film becomes nothing short of breathtaking!   Detail is remarkable in facial features while black levels stun with no crushing seen anywhere.  While, not an overly vibrant film, colors pop beautifully in actors‘ clothing while death scenes dazzle the eyes with the boldness of the blood’s color.  Tenebrae looks incredible and exceeded my expectations by a mile!
    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:
    Tenebrae comes equipped with an uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0 Audio mix.  Dialogue comes off clearly with no issues in the pops or hiss department while sound effects like a crashing window or a razor slash are crisp as can be.  Simonetti’s addicting score is the real prizewinner of the mix as it commands your speakers with a boom!  The catchy synth sounds are as loud as can be and might even encourage you to tone your volume down...  Then again.  Tenebrae succeeds in serving up a robust mix that compliments the perfect video presentation.  In addition, optional original English and Italian Mono Audio tracks are provided along with optional English subtitles.
    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:
    (NOTE: The collector’s booklet listed below was not provided for the purposes of this review, therefor the rating of this section cannot take it into consideration)

    - Introduction by Star Daria Nicolodi

    - Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and Alan Jones

    - Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock

    - The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An Interview with Director Dario Argento: Argento waxes intellectual about the origins of the film and critics’ opinions of him and his work.

    - Screaming Queen!  Daria Nicolodi Remember Tenebrae

    - A Composition for Carnage: Composer Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae

    - Goblin: Tenebrae and Phenomena Live from the Glasgow Arches: One of the supplemental highlights as Goblin rocks out in this 16 minute segment from Friday, February 25, 2011.

    - Out of the Shadows: A Discussion with Maitland McDonagh: Another highlight of the disc is this scholarly interview with McDonagh, author of Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - Collector’s booklet: Featuring writing on the film by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento, an interview with Cinematographer Lucian Tovoli and an appreciation of the film by Director Peter Strickland.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:
    Tenebrae is yet another masterpiece from arguably Argento’s finest years.  The film grabs hold with its unique camerawork and engaging performances wrapped in a story that successfully achieves mystery and murder.  Arrow Videos‘ presentation of the film is breathtaking and bolsters a strong audio mix that is sure to please fans of the film and its popular soundtrack.  In addition, the supplemental features are vast and informative leaving you with a deeper appreciation and love for the film.  Tenebrae ranks highly as one of Argento’s best while Arrow Videos‘ treatment accomplishes being one of the best  releases of any Argento film to date!
    RATING: 5/5