Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

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Currently showing posts tagged B-Movie

  • Teen Witch (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Teen Witch (1989)

    Director: Dorian Walker

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

    Released by: Kino Lorber

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Witchtrap (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Witchtrap (1989)

    Director: Kevin Tenney

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

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • World Without End (1956) Blu-ray Review

    World Without End (1956)

    Director: Edward Bernds

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

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Wild Beasts (1984) Blu-ray Review

    Wild Beasts (1984)

    Director: Franco E. Prosperi

    Starring: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Louisa Lloyd & Ugo Bologna

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Rome, Wild Beasts finds a city zoo of animals running amuck when their water supply is contaminated with PCP.  Escaping from the confines of their cages and waging bloody destruction throughout the city, the drug-crazed creatures revert to their savage instincts to feast upon the unsuspecting population.  Boasting notable faces from the many avenues of Italian cult cinema, the Godfather of Mondo Franco E. Prosperi (Mondo Cane) directs.

    In shock documentary maker Franco E. Prosperi’s final film outing, Wild Beasts delivers a bark as loud as its ferocious bite, ranking highly amongst the siege of naturicide pictures from the wild and crazy heyday of Italian made insanity.  After an unexplainable contamination of the local zoo’s water supply with hallucinogenic angel dust, the normally well-behaved animals go rogue, escaping from their barred dwellings to hunt fresh meat found in the unexplored region of the city.  Tasked with determining the cause of the animal’s bloodthirsty behavior, zoologist Rupert Berner (John Aldrich) and Inspector Nat Braun (Ugo Bologna, Nightmare City) combine their efforts to save the citizens now considered prey.  In addition, Berner’s girlfriend, Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox), independently stranded in the chaos struggles to reach her young daughter who is also embroiled in her own animalistic nightmare along with her fellow dance classmates.  With its shocking sequences of beastly brutality brought to life by trained circus tamers under animal attack, Wild Beasts supplies ample doses of blood splattering carnage and wild life lunacy that must be seen to be believed.  Featuring a backseat rendezvous of intimacy disrupted by gnawing sewer rats, face-flattening elephants, a hungry cheetah in pursuit of a Volkswagen Beetle, explosive car wrecks, lions, tigers and much more, Wild Beasts is rabid with over the top energy and chaotic shaky camera kills that adds a level of documentary-like realism to its already impressively captured moments of vicious animal feasting.  Topped with dependably silly dubbed dialogue and a shocking twist that contaminates more than the zoo’s residents, Wild Beasts stands as one of the best and most brutal “animals attack” features that supplies everything and more one would hope to find in an Italian production of its maniacal caliber.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Severin Films welcomes Wild Beasts with a newly remastered 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Outside of minimal speckling, filmic quality is consistent throughout while, skin tones are appropriately natural-looking and gore effects nicely detailed.  In addition, the film’s few prominent colors found in Laura’s bright red attire pops strongly with textures found in animal fur also well preserved.  Predominately set under the cloak of nighttime, black levels are impressively handled with visibility never questioned.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers the English dubbed dialogue with crispness, animal roars, car crashes and the film’s mix of sax and synth stylings by Composer Daniele Patucchi (Sacrifice!, Warrior of the Lost World) all leave exacting and effective marks.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian mix is also included.  

    Special features include, Altered Beasts: Interview with Director Franco E. Prosperi (15:33) reveals the film’s original intention to shoot entirely in Rhodesia before war broke out and a frightening encounter with terrorists prompted the production to relocate to South Africa.  Shortly after recommencing filming, Prosperi recalls his association with Mondo Cane pushed the production out once again before finally settling back in Italy for the remainder of the shoot.  Several funny tales concerning the difficulty of wrangling the film’s many animals are also shared in this intriguing interview with its maker.  Wild Tony: Interview with Actor Tony Di Leo (12:54) finds the film’s lead, credited as John Aldrich, sharing his early beginnings in a musical band before becoming a circus tamer turned into an opportunity at acting.  Di Leo fondly recalls Prosperi’s humorous spirit, his personal distaste for his performance in the film and the fear he held shooting scenes with the animals regardless of his taming experience.  Furthermore, Cut After Cut: Interview with Editor & Mondo Filmmaker Mario Morra (34:54) covers Morra’s lengthy career highlights in detail while, The Circus is in Town: Interview with Animal Wrangler Roberto Tiberti’s son Carlo Tiberti (10:25) discusses the family’s long history and many experiences in the circus business.  Lastly, House of Wild Beasts: A Visit to the Home of Franco E. Prosperi (12:42) and the film’s International Trailer (2:24) conclude the release’s bonus features.

    A top-tier inclusion of the ravenous animals gone mad subgenre, Wild Beasts insanely puts drug-tripping lions, tigers and hyenas at the forefront of this solidly produced slice of spaghetti cinema.  Effectively realized with in-camera animal attacks and grisly gore for likeminded cult enthusiasts to feast upon, Wild Beasts is a stampede of entertaining screams.  Brought to high-definition with a praiseworthy remastering by Severin Films, Freak-O-Rama’s helping of newly produced bonus features is the icing on top of this blood dripping cake.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 7th from Severin Films, Wild Beasts can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Lair of the White Worm (1988) Blu-ray Review

    The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

    Director: Ken Russell

    Starring: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis & Stratford Johns

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From noted auteur Ken Russell (The Devils), The Lair of the White Worm finds Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant, Love Actually) returning to his English castle where the legendary folklore of his ancestor slaying a monstrous white worm with a taste for virgin flesh is literally dug up.  Discovering the skeletal remains of a large reptilian beast and other questionable finds, archaeology student Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who) seeks to convince the Lord of the tale’s legitimacy when James’s girlfriend vanishes, leading the daring duo to uncover the worm’s lair and rid its evil.  

    Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s final novel, The Lair of the White Worm blends the gothically sinister with Russell’s innate taste for the erotic and darkly humorous ensuring a most unusually psychotronic trip of sexy serpents, religious blasphemy and acquired campiness.  Following the excavation of an abnormally huge snake-like skull, archaeology student Angus Flint believes his find roots directly to the local legend of John D’Ampton who bravely slain the dreaded White Worm in years past.  Solely occupying the family estate, James D’Ampton begins to find merit in his ancestor’s fantastical history when his girlfriend Eve Trent (Catherine Oxenberg, Dynasty) disappears shortly after searching for her own missing parents with sister Mary (Sammi Davis, The Rainbow).  Suspicious of nearby neighbor, the gorgeous Oscar Wilde quoting Lady Sylvia (Amanda Donohoe, Liar Liar) and incognito priestess to a pagan snake god, who uses her alluring lingerie and thigh-high leather boots to seductively slither victims into her grasp, Angus and James combine their efforts to locate the worm’s cavernous lair and save the Trent sisters.  A deranged assemblage part arthouse, part B-movie monsterpalooza, juxtaposed with bursts of extreme music video energy, The Lair of the White Worm is an uneasily definable genre mash that equally defies and baffles most viewer expectations.  Doused with tedious touches of complicated exposition in accordance with Stoker’s own work, The Lair of the White Worm works best as a visual opiate that shocks viewers senses with religious imagery depicting a crucified Christ and virgin nuns being raped at his feet.  In addition, Donohoe commandeers the picture with her magnetic charm and ssssinister handling of weak-minded men in hot tubs who are left squealing shy of one body part.  A cult curioso certain to divide audiences, The Lair of the White Worm will surely entrance those swayed by its peculiar blend of oddness while, the film, for better or worse, places style above substance.

    (images are not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate presents The Lair of the White Worm with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  True to the gray overcast of the film’s setting, colors are sparse while skin tones remain natural-looking and nicely detailed.  In addition, black levels are respectable with only mild softness detected.  Furthermore, scratches or other age-related follies are washed away ensuring the film the most proper of HD debuts.  Equipped with a satisfactory DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles the heavy accents of its performers adequately, the sexy saxophone injections by Composer Stanislas Syrewicz (The Fantasist) provides the liveliest mentions on the otherwise unvaried mix.  Continuing the tradition of its fellow Vestron Video Collector’s Series titles, substantial supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Director Ken Russell and a second Audio Commentary with Lisi Russell, in conversation with Film Historian Matthew Melia.  Meanwhile, Red Shirt Pictures offers enthralling new featurettes with Worm Food: The Effects of The Lair of the White Worm (27:08) where Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Designer Geoff Portas, Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Modeler Neil Gorton and Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Technician Paul Jones share their unique experiences working with the eccentric Russell and their artistic approaches to the project.  Furthermore, Cutting for Ken with Editor Peter Davies (9:32) discusses his rather easy hiring on the job while, Trailers from Hell featuring the late Dan Ireland (2:45), Mary, Mary with Sammi Davis (15:42), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:11) and a Still Gallery (2:59) round out the bonus feature offerings.

    (images are not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    One of Vestron Pictures’ own original productions, The Lair of the White Worm remains an immensely split feature with a deliriously off-kilter tone befitting of Russell’s weird style.  Head-scratchingly bizarre and monstrously campy, the unique adaptation of Stoker’s panned final work is certainly not for all but, one worth digging up for its undefinable place in genre circles.  Making its Blu-ray debut as the sixth installment of the fan-favorite Collector’s Series, Lionsgate gives Russell’s phantasmagoric oddity a most respectable remastering and a generous touch of supplements viewers have quickly come to expect.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, The Lair of the White Worm can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Stryker (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Stryker (1983)

    Director: Cirio H. Santiago

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

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (1989) Blu-ray Review

    C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (1989)

    Director: David Irving

    Starring: Brian Robbins, Bill Calvert, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Gerrit Graham & Robert Vaughn

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When a corpse used for a high school science experiment goes missing, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud finds three best friends fearing for their grades as they snatch a decomposing cadaver infected with a cannibalistic virus.  Shortly after being resurrected, the undead army experiment gone wrong goes on a killing spree, adding townspeople to his ravenous flock and leaving the young trio to save the community from themselves!  Brian Robbins (Head of the Class), Bill Calvert (Terror Squad), Tricia Leigh Fisher (Pretty Smart), Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise) and Robert Vaughn (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) star.

    Loosely borrowing from its more horror centric predecessor, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud makes a swift tonal change, relying on laughs and enhanced camp to bring life to the formally underground dwellers once more.  Scripted by Ed Naha (Troll, Dolls) (under the pseudonym M. Kane Jeeves), the misleading mutant populated artwork stretches the truth as the monsters are simpler, fang-toothed zombie types whose bite spreads their plague to other unsuspecting suburbanites.  Panicking after losing the intended corpse for their science experiment, Steve (Robbins) and Kevin (Calvert) don’t hesitate in stealing a thought to be dead replacement from the local Center for Disease Control to salvage their grade.  Roping fellow friend Katie (Fisher) into the mix, an accidental electrocution reanimates the corpse known as Bud (Graham) who’s wildly hungry for human flesh.  Infecting the small town one victim at a time with army officials attempting to quietly and unsuccessfully contain the situation, the three teenagers must put an end to the madness as Bud leads his hungry, hungry pack to the local Halloween dance.  Lacking the gritty grime of its New York based original, the quirky followup’s fresh-faced stars fully embrace the last gasps of the Gen X decade to the amusement of viewers while, Gerrit Graham’s gruntingly hilarious performance as the deathly infected Bud make his physicality and peculiar face movements a hoot to be seen.  Climaxing at a swimming pool where the bikini-donning Katie lures the C.H.U.D. infected citizens to their frozen farewell, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud by no means upstages its originator but, possesses a contagiously fun energy largely overlooked by cult cinema watching humanoids.

    Lionsgate presents C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Virtually free of scratches or other such anomalies, natural film grain is apparent while overall image quality reads mildly soft.  Skin tones are healthy with the film’s color scheme found in costumes, Bud’s simple make-up design and the teen’s favored burger joint popping nicely.  Discovered and predominately viewed during its VHS era, Bud devotees will be overly pleased with its new life on high-definition.  Supplied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is satisfyingly captured with ease while, Emmy Award winning Composer Nicholas Pike’s (Graveyard Shift, Critters 2) score of synth and rock queues see noticeable rises on the track.  

    Graced with rewarding supplements as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, extras include, an Audio Commentary with Director David Irving, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, Bud Speaks! with Gerrit Graham (16:18) where the actor reflects on how he never imagined his career to be so permeated by horror/cult credits, his improvisational background, the freedom of having no dialogue in the film and his embracement of the role’s physicality.  Furthermore, Katie’s Kalamity with Tricia Leigh Fisher (12:45) catches up with the actress today as she recalls many laughs shared onset with her costars Robbins and Calvert, praise for Graham’s campy performance and a humorous story during the shoot when a day trip to a local amusement park resulted in countless messages being left on her answering machine ordering her to the set.  Finally, This C.H.U.D.’s For You! with Allan Apone (14:44) hosts the special effects artist as he discusses the experimental freedom working on horror films in the 80s while, a Video Trailer (1:47) and Still Gallery (6:20) round out the bonus features.

    A comedic changeup that substitutes the humanoid monsters from New York for razor-toothed zombies with three science failing high schoolers tasked to clean up the mess, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud is built for absurdity and generally wets the appetite of bad movie appreciators.  Making its high-definition debut alongside the timely release of its 1984 original, the Vestron Video Collector’s Series continues to spread the genre love high and low with its treatment of this bottom-dwelling sequel sure to make most stiffs wiggle with glee.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available November 22nd from Lionsgate, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

    The Astro-Zombies (1968)

    Director: Ted V. Mikels

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

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 2/5

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

  • Blood Diner (1987) Blu-ray Review

    Blood Diner (1987)

    Director: Jackie Kong

    Starring: Rick Burks, Carl Crew, LaNette La France, Roger Dauer, Max Morris & Drew Godderis

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Serving up a goofy helping of gore, Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series welcomes Blood Diner to the menu!  When brainwashed brothers Michael (Rich Burks, The Under Achievers) and George (Carl Crew, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer) Tutman are ordered by their deceased uncle to resurrect the goddess Sheetar, the duo use their successful restaurant to lure scandalous women for their body parts and to sacrifice a pure virgin to complete their black magic ritual.

    Originally intended to be a sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, the Jackie Kong (Night Patrol) helmed cannibalistic comedy throws everything but an ounce of seriousness into its buffet of blood and over the top absurdity.  20 years after witnessing the death of their serial killing uncle, brothers Michael and George Tutman loyally dig up his remains and have the eyes and brain of Uncle Anwar guide them on their mission to resurrect the powerful Egyptian goddess Sheetar.  Serving the local community with their restaurant’s popular healthy food options containing secret ingredients sure to make the masses barf, Michael and George are ordered to collect multiple body parts from promiscuous female prospects and most importantly, locate a virgin to be presented to the mighty Sheetar during the aptly named blood buffet ceremony.  As butchered bodies begin turning up all over the city, Detectives Mark Shepard (Roger Dauer, My Lovely Monster) and Sheba Jackson (LaNette La France in her only film credit) seek to bring the criminal minds to justice.  

    Boasting unbelievably silly performances, ridiculous dialogue and cartoonish levels of blood splattering violence, Blood Diner had routinely earned the reputation as a “bad movie” and remarkably found itself banned in several countries for its extreme content.  While its low-budget limitations and amateurish nature is evident, Blood Diner remains buckets of gooey fun that commits to its comedic sensibilities and never lets up.  Tonally bizarre with a bevy of personalities ranging from punkers and rockabilly boppers to greasers and Hitler lookalikes, the VHS cult favorite keeps viewers head-scratchingly rocking along to its uniquely selected soundtrack of 50s doo-wop tunes incorporating an added dimension of oddness.  Mixing independent wrestling, nude aerobics and a rock club finale that turns patrons into green, poorly face-painted flesh eaters to the already insane festivities, the highly unusual blend of wackiness and trashiness make Blood Diner an entertaining, freaky feature like few others.

    Newly remastered from the film’s original vault materials, Lionsgate presents Blood Diner fully uncut with a 1080p transfer, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably cleaned up with no troublesome signs of dirt or scratches, the cheaply made feature casts a softer appearance that maintains skin tones nicely while, enriching the bright red, bloody offerings rampant throughout the film.  Furthermore, no digital scrubbing is apparent ensuring a naturally filmic presentation that honors appreciative black levels during the film’s final club sequence and strong details observed in makeup choices and Sheetar’s razor-toothed design work.  Much like the debut installment of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Blood Diner appears light years ahead of its grainy tape sourced predecessors.  Although moderately restrained in its projection, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix supports audible levels of dialogue and caters to its doo-wop and rockabilly centered track selections nicely.  While the mix may not be wildly dynamic, sound quality is more than efficient.

    Loaded with a smorgasbord of bonus features including, an Audio Commentary with Director Jackie Kong and the top-notch retrospective Killer Cuisine: The Making of Blood Diner (1:04:31).  Produced by Red Shirt Pictures, this impressive five-part featurette hosts interviews with the rarely public Jackie Kong, Screenwriter Michael Sonye, Producer Jimmy Maslon, Creative Consultant Bill Osco and countless cast members covering the film’s origin, its lengthy writing process, the tragic passing of Star Rick Burks and the film’s ongoing appreciation by cult lovers.  In a career of crafting deeply researched retrospectives on B-movie favorites, Killer Cuisine ranks as one of Red Shirt Pictures’ best efforts.  Also included, an Archival Interview with Project Consultant Eric Caidin (8:01) recorded in 2009, Theatrical Trailers (4:49), TV Spots (1:34) and a Still Gallery (5:34).

    In only their sophomore outing, Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series keeps its high-caliber quality in tune for the unbelievable domestic high-def debut of Blood Diner.  As ridiculously loony and uproariously funny as remembered, Director Jackie Kong’s goofy gore show looks splendid and arrives with another wildly impressive serving of delectable extras to chomp into.  Available for a limited time, Blood Diner is one of the best, fully-loaded genre treats to land in dedicated fan’s collections this Halloween season or any other for that matter!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 27th from Lionsgate, Blood Diner can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Chopping Mall (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Chopping Mall (1986)

    Director: Jim Wynorski

    Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Kattie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Nick Segal, John Terlesky & Suzee Slater

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Kicking off their anticipated Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Lionsgate proudly presents Chopping Mall.  Set in the Park Plaza Mall, Director Jim Wynorski’s (Deathstalker II, Not of This Earth) cult classic finds revolutionary security robots short circuiting and transforming into malfunctioning murderers with sights set on a group of trapped teenagers.  Fresh-faced talent and memorable cult stars including, Paul Bartel (Hollywood Boulevard), Mary Woronov (Rock ’n’ Roll High School), Dick Miller (Gremlins) and Gerrit Graham (Child’s Play 2) appear.

    Also known as Killbots, Chopping Mall turns a sex-filled evening of fun for eight teenagers into a hellish run-in with deadly droids where survival is tougher than a fair deal at the mall.  Shortly after being introduced as the Park Plaza Mall’s newest line of late night security, several bolts of lightning rattles the computer systems of the high-tech robotic protectors turning them into ruthless killers with polite manners.  Simultaneously, four horny couples plan to throw their own after hours party within a furniture storefront where booze and plenty of beds are on hand.  Exterminating several mall employees, the trio of metallic stalkers turn their attention to the scantily clad teens, leaving blood and destruction in their wake.  With escape impossible, the resourceful survivors must combat their enemies with makeshift traps and found weapons in order to see the next business day.  Centering its futuristic madness at the epicenter of every teen’s former recreational haven, Valley Girl meets Westworld in this Roger Corman produced cheapie that celebrates the bubbly blondes and yuppie horndogs of yesteryear whose trespassing earns them laser blast attacks and exploding heads.  Headlined by a youthful cast of thespians including, Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet), Tony O’Dell (Head of the Class), Russell Todd (Friday the 13th Part 2), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) and others, Chopping Mall remains snappily brisk and endlessly fun keeping blood, breasts and bots in steady supply.  

    Self-promoting his own works with visible posters for Sorceress and The Lost Empire on display, Director/Co-Writer Jim Wynorski also honors mentor and producer Roger Corman with several nods including, a Little Shop of Pets storefront and Attack of the Crab Monsters promptly televised for the film’s necking couples.  Predominately shot on location at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in California’s San Fernando Valley, Chopping Mall keeps its action well-paced as the technological terrors utilize tasers and death grips against the dwindling youngsters with Maroney confidently defending herself with a crack shot and crafty ingenuity within a paint shop.  Released the same year as other offbeat, eventual cult favorites including, Night of the Creeps and TerrorVision, Chopping Mall endures as one of the era’s most gleefully silly and finely-tuned sci-fi sideshows that warmly ranks as one, if not, Wynorski’s finest directorial effort in a spectacularly diverse career spanning well over 100 features.

    Newly restored from the original negative materials, Lionsgate’s limited edition release of Chopping Mall arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of marginal debris and inherent vertical lines during its opening title sequence, the quality of the B-movie favorite is a revelation.  Boasting exceptionally healthy skin tones and crisp detail within background posters and the metallic intricacies of its killers, colors found in the vibrant wardrobe choices of the era pop wonderfully while, the purplish hues of robotic laser blasts satisfy equally.  Miles ahead of ratty-looking bootlegs and fullscreen video sourced editions, Chopping Mall preserves its filmic integrity to look better than ever before!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible with bustling mall ambiance nicely balanced.  In addition, Chuck Cirino’s (The Return of Swamp Thing) synth/bass heavy score greatly impresses and effectively underscores the onscreen chaos while, the killbots’ fast-turning gears, gasoline explosions and shattering glass make appropriately sharp stakes on the track.  

    Bursting with supplements, an Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Jim Wynorski, Actress Kelli Maroney & Co-Writer/2nd Unit Director Steve Mitchell is joined by a second Audio Commentary with Historians/Authors Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo Digital & Ryan Turek of Shock Till You Drop.  Furthermore, a third Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Jim Wynorski & Co-Writer/2nd Unit Director Steve Mitchell, recorded in 2004, is also included.  With an Isolated Score Track by Chuck Cirino, Newly-crafted featurettes include, Back to the Mall: Interviews with the Victims and Makers (26:29) that explores the entire genesis of the film and its impact with interviews from Wynorski, Mitchell, Maroney, Todd, Crampton and countless others who look back on the experience with fond memories and deep appreciation to the fans who have kept it alive.  Chopping Chopping Mall: A Conversation with Editor Leslie Rosenthal (8:19), Talkin’ About… The Killbots with Robot Creator Robert Short (12:11), Scoring Chopping Mall: A Conversation with Composer Chuck Cirino (11:04) and The Robot Speaks!: Ten Questions with the Killbot (2:12) are also included that bring great insight to the many different behind-the-scenes contributions to the film.  Also included, The Lost Scene (3:01) finds Wynorski and Mitchell prefacing an additional scene with Bartel and Wornov that was never shot before sharing its script pages while, An Army of One: A Visit with Chopping Mall’s Biggest Fan: Carl Sampieri (6:01) who fortunately owns the only surviving bot from the film is also on hand.  Finally, a vintage Chopping Mall: Creating the Killbots (15:41) featurette is carried over with the film’s Trailer (0:50).

    Rooftop pleas by diehard fans have finally been answered with Lionsgate’s newfound commitment to honoring B-movie treasures.  Arguably their most requested title, Chopping Mall makes its far too long awaited Blu-ray debut with jaw-dropping clarity and sonically splendid sound.  Proudly living up to its Collector’s Series banner, hours of newly made bonus features will find killbot enthusiasts enjoyably spending overtime in the mall.  With fans more than eager to offer arms and legs to see Wynroski’s beloved cult classic enter the HD realm for years, Lionsgate’s Vestron Video line has made a laser-blasting debut essential to all genre lovers.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available September 27th from Lionsgate, Chopping Mall can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Beware! The Blob (1972) Blu-ray Review

    Beware! The Blob (1972)

    Director: Larry Hagman

    Starring: Robert Walker, Gwynne Gilford, Richard Stahl, Richard Webb, Godfrey Cambridge, Carol Lynley, Larry Hagman & Shelley Berman

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the gooey mayhem, Beware! The Blob finds a community under attack when a geologist’s token from the North Pole thaws and unleashes an all-consuming feast on its terrified citizens.  Starring a plethora of familiar faces and cult figures including, Robert Walker (Easy Rider), Gwynne Gilford (Fade to Black), Sid Haig (Spider Baby), Shelley Berman (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) among others, Jack H. Harris (The Blob, Dark Star) executive produces this followup.

    Oozing to theaters well over a decade after its classic predecessor, Beware! The Blob misfires in capturing the simple charms of its originator and instead opts to embrace the modern hippie culture of its era with droopy, tensionless results.  Returning home from his Arctic job assignment with a frozen keepsake in tow, Chester (Godfrey Cambridge, Watermelon Man) and his wife’s forgetfulness allows the mysterious capsule to thaw unleashing unexpected slimy mayhem.  Consumed while watchingThe Blob on television, Chester’s takeaway from the North Pole descends upon the local population, crossing paths with neighborhood gal Lisa (Gilford) and her boyfriend Bobby (Walker) who live to warn others only to have their cries fall on deaf ears.  Introducing spacey hippies, local law enforcement types and a troop of boy scouts to the festivities, directionless performances and meandering conversations between characters permeate the runtime until the Blob far too sporadically claims victims.  Unsurprisingly improvised with its screenplay greatly ignored, Beware! The Blob collects a diverse pool of talent including, but not limited to, an ape-suit wearing Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise), Burgess Meredith (Rocky) as a rambling wino, Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley) toking as a pot-smoking hippie and Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough) as a dorky Scoutmaster, the lackluster sequel overwhelmingly stumbles with a bowling alley attack, akin to the original’s Colonial Theatre stampede but far less exciting, and an intendedly tense ice rink climax that arrives too little, too late.  Helmed by Larry Hagman in his only feature film credit, Beware! The Blob was re-released at the height of Dallas’ popularity, bearing the clever tagline, “The Film that J.R. Shot!” yet, failed to capture anything more than mild curiosity.  Lacking the fun of the original film and dawdling for much of its runtime with its titular monster a near afterthought, Beware! The Blob is a bubbling mess.

    Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Beware! The Blob with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Arriving with cases of speckling over its opening titles, the sci-fi sequel appears with a softer focus that can be attributed to its limited budget and on the fly making.  Skin tones are reasonably relayed while, colors in funky fashion choices and the Blob’s pinkish hues impress the most.  A welcome upgrade that still bears its battle wounds, the star-filled feature looks respectably decent.  Equipped with a rather disappointing DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, cracks and pops are not uncommon while, dialogue exchange is modest at best with muffled moments and poor sound mixing heavily apparent.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith, an Alternate Title Sequence (2:42) bearing its Son of Blob moniker and Trailers for Beware! The Blob (1:45), The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (2:14), Deranged (1:34) and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (2:14).

    A far cry from its iconic 1958 brethren, Beware! The Blob is a clumsy, unguided sequel that misses the mark on what should have been a simple, entertaining formula.  With no shortage of famous faces onscreen, the impaired direction and sheer lack of suspense or Blob-related appearances in the film shatters its chances, leaving it dazed in a cloud of its own bewilderment.  Presented with a new HD master, technical grades waver from sufficient to underwhelming with scant special features rounding out this bland schlockfest to beware.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available September 20th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Beware! The Blob 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 Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

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

    Director: W.D. Richter

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

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • Assault on New Releases #9: Count Dracula (1970), Zombie High (1987), Axe (1975) / Kidnapped Coed (1976), Women's Prison Massacre (1983), Corruption (1983) & The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1963) Blu-ray Reviews

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #9

    Count Dracula (1970)

    Director: Jess Franco

    Starring: Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Herbert Lom, Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda, Fred Williams & Paul Muller

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Intent on crafting the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s iconic novel, Director Jess Franco (99 Women) would lure Christopher Lee (The Wicker Man) from his fanged appearances for Hammer Films to headline as the Count.  Soaked appreciatively in gothic atmosphere, Franco’s interpretation unfolds faithfully enough before taking several liberties of its own.  Following Jonathan Harker’s (Fred Williams, She Killed in Ecstasy) escape from Castle Dracula, the film dawdles with recuperation and Van Helsing’s (Herbert Lom, Spartacus) convincing of the black arts to several characters permeating the runtime.  Although its narrative proves to be uneventful in several areas, Christopher Lee’s performance is captivating with his bloodshot eyes and graying mustache adding a visual flair to the timeless character.  In addition, Klaus Kinski (Jack the Ripper), perfectly cast as the disturbed Renfield, is grossly underused in a role otherwise tailor made for the thespians eccentric energy.  While lacking a more erotic flair accustomed to other Franco efforts, Count Dracula achieves moments of glory with Lee’s engrossing performance and the film’s grandiose locations yet, never overcomes its monotonous attempts at plot development.  

    Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Severin Films presents Count Dracula with a 1080p transfer capturing natural skin tones and boldly represented colors, best appreciated in the film’s period costume choices.  With the exception of one reinstated sequence of scratchier quality, the transfer is virtually free of any wear and tear while, black levels are satisfactory with only occasional murkiness on display.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible with the film’s chilling score effectively relayed throughout.  Accompanied with a five-star spread of supplements, Severin Films includes the expressionistic feature Cuadecuc, Vampir (1:06:18), an Audio Commentary with Horror Historian David Del Valle and Actress Maria Rohm, Beloved Count (26:24) featuring an interview with Director Jess Franco, A Conversation with Jack Taylor (10:00) and Handsome Harker (26:14) with Actor Fred Williams interviewed.  In addition, French Director Christophe Gans hosts an appreciation of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula in Stake Holders (7:32) while, Christopher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1:24:08) plus, the German, French, Italian & Spanish Alternate Title Sequences (1:36) are also included alongside the film’s German Trailer (3:08).  

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Zombie High (1987)

    Director: Rob Link

    Starring: Virginia Madsen, Richard Cox, James Wilder, Sherilyn Fenn, Paul Feig & Kay E. Kuter

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Shot entirely at the University of Southern California, Zombie High stars Virginia Madsen (Candyman) as the bright Andrea Miller.  After accepting a scholarship to the prestigious Ettinger boarding school, Andrea takes notice of the unusual drone-like behavior of her fellow students.  Before long, a deep rooted secret amongst the school faculty is revealed leading Andrea and her boyfriend Barry (James Wilder, Delta Phi) to fend for their lives.  Scripted by no less than three writers, Zombie High was the brainchild of USC film stockroom handler Aziz Ghazal who, under a unique circumstance with producers, offered the school’s facilities and equipment in exchange for students to intern on a professional film set.  With the exception of its cast and several behind-the-scenes crew members, Zombie High is an impressive accomplishment yet, not one of renowned quality.  Devoid of any scares whatsoever, Director Rob Mink’s sole feature consists of a cast of talented up and comers including, the future Academy Award nominated Madsen, Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) and future Bridesmaids director Paul Feig delivering a poor man’s Duckie.  While the vibrant young thespians give earnest performances, the dull storyline and two-dimensionality of their characters suffocate the film.  Although professionally produced under its student film-like circumstances, Zombie High is painfully uneventful and seemingly forgets to include its titular creatures until its final fleeting moments.  

    Scream Factory presents Zombie High with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Inherently soft at times, remnants of digital noise can be spotted in the film’s first half during dormitory scenes and dimly lit moments that thankfully subsides later on.  While flesh tones appear decently and bolder colors found in Madsen’s bright sweaters pop best, the transfer is satisfactory given its unconventional history.  Equipped with a disappointing DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue registers overwhelmingly low with volume increases essential during viewing.  In addition, the film’s generic rock soundtrack, while providing decent boosts in quality, does so at the expense of drowning out more dialogue.  Limited with its offerings, special features include the film’s Trailer (1:05), uncredited liner notes found on the reverse wrap and a DVD edition of the release.

    RATING: 2/5

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

    Axe (1975) / Kidnapped Coed (1976)

    Director: Frederick R. Friedel

    Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Ray Greene & Frederick R. Friedel / Jack Canon, Leslie Rivers, Gladys Lavitam & Larry Lambeth

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Restored from their original negatives, Severin Films proudly presents the early efforts of Director Frederick R. Friedel on Blu-ray for the first time ever!  Marking his directorial debut, Axe centers on three murderous criminals who seek refuge at an isolated farmhouse occupied by a withdrawn teenager and her paralyzed grandfather.  Shot inexpensively and running barely an hour, Axe is an unsettling tale that presents its characters with little to no exposition yet, never compromising their chilling believability.  Following the murder of a gay man and dehumanizing target practice with a market clerk, the chain-smoking Steele (Jack Canon, Maximum Overdrive), Lomax (Ray Greene) and younger, more hesitant Billy (Frederick R. Friedel) invade a desolate farmhouse to evade capture.  The beautiful Leslie Lee plays the emotionally stunted Lisa as she calmly premeditates her brutal revenge against her unwanted guests.  Contemplating suicide before savagely fighting back, Lisa’s actions are equally warranted and alarming.  Unfairly included on the U.K.’s banned list of video nasties, Axe oozes rural dread with exceptional style and effective editing that increases its artistic quality more than its grindhouse reputation suggests.

    Next up, Kidnapped Coed, billed as The Kidnap Lover, finds money hungry crook Eddie (Canon once again) kidnapping red-headed richie Sandra (Leslie Rivers, Reform School Girls) only to have his hostage form an unusual attraction for her abductor.  Canon excels as the heavy determined to kill if his ransom isn’t delivered with the timid Rivers playing nicely off of him.  Encountering several unsavory characters that arguably rival Eddie’s own demeanor, the cigarette-puffing crook slowly opens up to his victim, igniting an unlikely romance between characters from different tracks of life.  Nicely developed and crafting a well-executed tonal change, Kidnapped Coed is a fitting followup to Friedel’s previous effort in terror that although briefly timed, plays exceedingly well.  

    Severin Films presents Axe and Kidnapped Coed with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Although speckles and instances of cigarette burns are apparent, both films admirably shine with noticeably filmic representations while, appreciative detail, natural skin tones and boldly presented blood pop nicely in both features.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is audibly satisfactory with mild instances of hiss and static occasionally detected.  Although Kidnapped Coed serves as the stronger audio candidate, both films get the job done.  In addition, each film contains an optional German audio track.  Rightly saluting both films with numerous bonus features, Severin Films provides Audio Commentaries on both with Writer/Director Frederick R. Friedel, Production Manager Phil Smoot & Makeup Artist Worth Keeter.  In addition, Friedel’s intriguing hybrid cut of both films entitled Bloody Brothers (1:29:11) is also included with an introduction by Friedel and an Audio Commentary with Nightmare USA Author Stephen Thrower.  Furthermore, At Last…  Total Terror!: The Amazing True Story of the Making of Axe & Kidnapped Coed (1:01:40) is a newly produced retrospective work featuring interviews with key talent and visits to the original shooting locations.  Also included, Moose Magic: The George Newman Shaw & John Willhelm Story (38:35) traces the history of the films’ talented musicians while, Stephen Thrower waxes intellectual on Axe & Kidnapped Coed (9:15) with a selection of Trailers, TV Spots & Radio Spots (8:31) rounding out the disc’s supplemental content.  Finally, located on a separate compact disc, both films’ original soundtracks are included with 7 bonus tracks from Shaw & Willhelm.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Axe / Kidnapped Coed can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)

    Director: Bruno Mattei

    Starring: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Ursula Flores, Maria Romano, Raul Cabrera & Antonella Giacomini

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Repurposing much of the same cast and filmed back to back with 1982’s Violence in a Women’s Prison, Director Bruno Mattei’s (Hell of the Living Dead, Rats: Night of Terror) Women’s Prison Massacre continues the sleazy tradition of scantly clad females doing hard time.  When reporter Emanuelle (Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle) is framed for drug smuggling and sentenced to prison, she is confronted with unspeakable violence from fellow inmates and guards.  While attempting to maintain her sanity, a deadly pack of arriving male prisoners invade the prison as Emanuelle and her trusting cellmates seek to regain control.  Gabriele Tinti (Rider on the Rain), Ursula Flores (Violence in a Women’s Prison), Maria Romano (Thor the Conqueror), Raul Cabrera (Allonsanfan) and Antonella Giacomini (The Seven Magnificent Gladiators) co-star.  A genre staple of grindhouse cinemas and drive-in theaters during the 70s and 80s, Women’s Prison Massacre takes the familiar tropes of attractive females, inhumane violence, corruption and nudity to steer its own exercise in exploitation.  Hypnotically beautiful, Laura Gemser headlines as the wrongly imprisoned Emanuelle who vows to expose the corrupt politician responsible for her incarceration.  In addition to defending her life against pale-skinned inmate Albina (Flores) and mistreatment from guards, Women’s Prison Massacre injects healthy doses of lesbianism for good measure.  Although the arrival of the male prisoners increases the action and exploitation including sequences of rape and a twisted game of Russian roulette, their inclusion feels slightly out of character for a traditional WIP film and steals attention away from Gemser and her supporting players.  Unquestionably cut from the same cloth as other films of its ilk, Women’s Prison Massacre is not nearly as impressive as other efforts although, its hilarious dubbing and jaw-droppingly funny dialogue provide plenty of entertainment.

    Scream Factory presents Women’s Prison Massacre with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Possessing a fairly soft appearance, the film is free of any scratches or other extremely undesirable blemishes while, skin tones are modestly pleasing.  In addition, black levels found in the dirty and dimly lit prison appear generally hazy at times yet, never overwhelm ones viewing.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the poorly dubbed dialogue is efficient although never overly impressive.  Scoring queues, gunshots and screams show signs of increased authority while remaining generally restrained.  Furthermore, no unfavorable levels of hiss or static were detected.  Surprisingly, no special features have been included on this release.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Women’s Prison Massacre can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Corruption (1983)

    Director: Roger Watkins

    Starring: Jamie Gillis, Kelly Nichols, Tiffany Clark, Tanya Lawson, Tish Ambrose & Vanessa Del Rio

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The desire for power becomes more than one man bargained for in Director Roger Watkins’ Corruption.  Unsure if he can repay a debt owed, Williams (Jamie Gillis, Dracula Sucks) finds his life controlled by his lenders only to have his associate betray him in exchange for his own sense of power.  Following the kidnapping of his sister-in-law, Williams is caught in a deranged sexual underworld with his unsavory half-brother as his guide and unlikely only hope for a way out.  An all-star ensemble of porn royalty including, Kelly Nichols (Dixie Ray Hollywood Star), Tiffany Clark (Hot Dreams), Tanya Lawson (Kinky Business), Tish Ambrose (Streetstar) and Vanessa Del Rio (Lips) co-star.  Although narratively vague in its storytelling, Corruption is undoubtedly a visual splendor, courtesy of valued Cinematographer Larry Revene (Deranged, Doom Asylum) whose lighting and camerawork intoxicates the frames with genuine atmosphere.  Juxtaposed with heavy doses of tantalizing sex sequences ranging from lesbianism and bondage to deep throated decadence and surreal necrophilia, Corruption may not gel with those left questioning its darkly surreal tone yet, deserves utmost appreciation for its rich photography and steamier moments brought to life by some of the eras most favored performers.

    Restored in 2K from the 35mm original camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome’s efforts are nothing short of exceptional.  With skin tones looking lively, detail in textures and closeups greatly impressing plus, striking colors found in sexy lingerie making admirable pops, Corruption spoils viewers with its near impeccability.  While black levels seen in a dimly lit bar scene and a sexual encounter in a black room showcase instances of flakes and noticeable digital noise, Vinegar Syndrome has treated the film with an expected level of care leaving it in better shape than ever.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, crackling is occasionally heard but, never interferes in the delivery of dialogue while, the eclectic score of sexy saxophone themes, wailing electric guitars and synthesized beats sound terrific.  Special features include, Through the Lens: Larry Revene & Corruption (12:25) where the talented DP reminisces on the productions charming cast and Watkins’ acute eye and talented abilities as a writer and director.  In addition, the Theatrical Trailer (3:18), Pressbook Gallery (0:53) and DVD edition of the release are also included.  Furthermore, Vinegar Syndrome has included the profound easter egg of Roger Watkins’ nasty 1977 shocker The Last House on Dead End Street (77:58) on disc.  Although a Blu-ray edition of the film is currently being prepped, this sample course is in fact uncut yet, far from what the finished release will look like.  Finally, a Reverse Cover Art utilizing Corruption’s original 1-sheet poster concludes the supplemental offerings.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Corruption can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com.

    The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)

    Director: Joseph Green

    Starring: Herb Evers, Virginia Leith & Leslie Daniel

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Distributed by independent mavericks American International Pictures, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die centers on Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers, Escape from the Planet of the Apes) who after losing his future bride in an accident, swears to resurrect her through medical experimentations.  Salvaging her head while feverishly scouring for a suitable body replacement, the conscience Jan (Virginia Leith, Violent Saturday) begins losing her mind while planning her revenge on the man who unethically kept her alive.  Cheaply produced for less than $70,000, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die laid dormant following its completion in 1959 before being acquired by AIP several years later.  Pushing its mad scientist agenda of absurdist surgeries and eerie experiments, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die relies equally on buxom beauties and curvy strippers to attract attention.  Following Dr. Bill Cortner’s desperate mission to locate a proper body to attach to the head of his lover, Cortner attends smoky bars and bikini modeling shows for prime candidates.  Busty broads and floor pummeling catfights add to the film’s sexual sleaziness that largely separates it from other Z-grade sci-fi pictures of the time.  Longing to be put out of her misery, Jan befriends an imprisoned creature in Bill’s laboratory to assist in her revenge scheme.  Tearing the arm off of the good doctor’s assistant, the concealed monster (played by noted Israeli circus performer Eddie Carmel a.k.a. “The Jewish Giant”) surprisingly lives up to expectations when his facially deformed, pinheaded self is revealed in the film’s final moments.  Undeniably bizarre and equally entertaining, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die follows the familiar path of a scientist with a god complex while, its inclusion of seductive pinups sells the film even more.

    Scream Factory presents The Brain That Wouldn’t Die with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Newly restored from its negative, this uncut presentation contains mild instances of speckles and cigarette burns while, its black and white photography largely impresses with admirable detail in closeups and wardrobe.  In addition, black levels appearing in Dr. Cortner’s vehicle and the bloody aftermath of Kurt’s arm being removed look refreshingly inky.  With filmic grain present throughout its entirety, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die lives on looking better than ever!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, several cracks and pops arise without sacrificing any dialogue along the way.  Otherwise presented cleanly, speaking bits and the film’s score come through nicely.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Steve Haberman and Author Tony Sasso with Haberman offering plenty of informative anecdotes along the way while, Sasso relies on pointing out the obvious onscreen.  In addition, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode of the film (presented in standard definition) is included alongside, Alternate Model Footage (1:26).  Culled from the international cut and lacking sound, this brief sequence showcases the beautiful Adele Lamont posing nude for photographers.  Finally, a Photo Gallery (3:46) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:54) conclude the disc’s bonus content.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Shock 'Em Dead (1991) Blu-ray Review

    Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)

    Director: Mark Freed

    Starring: Traci Lords, Aldo Ray, Troy Donahue & Stephen Quadros

    Released by: Slasher // Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hard rock and homicide come together in Shock ‘Em Dead when rising band manager Lindsay Roberts (Traci Lords, Not of This Earth) discovers guitar virtuoso Angel Martin (Stephen Quadros, Demon Wind) to lead her fiancé’s act to new heights.  Unknown to his fellow band members, Angel has made a pact with evil forces granting him unprecedented musical talent in exchange to feed on living souls.  As infatuation increases, Lindsay’s lust for Angel morphs into fear after discovering his dark secrets.

    Appearing in one of her first mainstream roles following her controversial career in adult entertainment, Traci Lords, although top-billed, plays second string to the film’s heavy metal antagonist.  Making a pact with a voodoo temptress, former nerd Martin morphs into hard-rocking, guitar playing god Angel (Quadros).  After landing a spot in manager Lindsay Roberts’ up and coming band, Angel is met with limitless talent, women and fame only to discover his dark deal requires him to kill in order to sustain his new life.  Coupled with several scantily clad females and heavy guitar licks provided by Nitro’s Michael Angelo Batio, Shock ‘Em Dead joins the niche subgenre of other heavy metal-horror efforts including, Trick or Treat (1986) and Rock ’N’ Roll Nightmare (1987).  Accompanied by a pack of sexy groupies who share a similar arrangement with evil forces, Angel stabs his way through several unsavory characters who treated his former self wrongly while harboring a growing attraction to his manager and bass player’s fiancée.  Before long, Angel’s secret is revealed forcing Lindsay and her beau Greg (Tim Moffett in his film debut) to destroy him by goofily force feeding their twisted band leader and his devilish jezebels to their doom.  Moderately fun with an enjoyable head-explosion during its fleeting moments, Shock ‘Em Dead tends to become routine before its conclusion while, serving as a loving testament to hair metal’s final days that kept heads banging for the better part of the previous decade.  Although not the finest hour for metal/horror hybrids, Shock ‘Em Dead still manages to host a decent party of soul killing mayhem and the very sexy Traci Lords giving an earnest performance.

    Arriving in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Slasher // Video respectfully alerts viewers that Shock ‘Em Dead is not sourced from an HD master but, rather remastered from a 1” tape source and upconverted to Blu-ray specifications.  Appearing noticeably of lesser quality than desired, Shock ‘Em Dead contains inherent softness in its picture common to its outdated source material.  Unquestionably bearing a video age look, colors are relayed decently while, black levels understandably suffer from a hazier appearance during dimly lit sequences.  In addition, minor flakes and speckles are spotted while, tracking lines are thankfully nowhere to be seen.  Considering the best available elements were provided for its release, Shock ‘Em Dead may not look astounding but, certainly fares better than one could hope for under the conditions.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, dialogue ranges in quality from audible to problematic with exterior factors such as sound effects and guitar riffs overpowering the performers with mild hiss detected intermittently.  Supplied with a surprising number of supplements, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mark Freed, an Interview with Director Mark Freed (4:53), Cast Reunion 2015 (22:59) and a “Director’s Cut” (1:42) serving as a sizzle reel of the film’s more scandalous moments.  In addition, Deleted & Extended Scenes (5:15), Actor Auditions (6:23), a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (8:27), a Cast Revisits Audition Tapes featurette (6:18), Cast Views & Comments on Deleted Scenes (5:39), the Shock ‘Em Dead Trailer (0:51) and a Poster & Art Gallery (13:36) round out the disc’s bonus content.

    Shortly after her collaborations with King of the B’s Roger Corman and Pink Flamingos director John Waters, Traci Lords would combat rockin’ evil in Shock ‘Em Dead.  Cheaply produced and serving as one of the last heavy metal-horror films of its time, Mark Freed’s headbanging directorial debut contains its moments before running itself in circles.  Although not sourced from ideal elements, Slasher // Video admirably makes fans aware of the film’s visual limitations in order to keep expectations contained.  Presented to the best of its abilities, Shock ‘Em Dead’s generous price tag and favorable amount of supplements make it easily recommendable.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Slasher // Video, Shock ‘Em Dead can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 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.

  • Robot Jox (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Robot Jox (1990)

    Director: Stuart Gordon

    Starring: Gary Graham, Anne-Marie Johnson, Paul Koslo, Danny Kamekona & Michael Alldredge

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Dolls), Robot Jox takes place in a futuristic world where wars are outlawed and international differences are settled via human-controlled robot battles.  When a catastrophic disaster strikes an integral match, the undefeated warrior Achilles (Gary Graham, Alien Nation) must decide to either retire or face off against his reckless nemesis Alexander (Paul Koslo, The Omega Man) once more.  Anne-Marie Johnson (In the Heat of the Night), Danny Kamekona (The Karate Kid, Part II) and Michael Alldredge (The Entity) co-star.

    Continuing their successful working relationship, Director Stuart Gordon and Charles Band’s Empire Pictures would seek to recapture the Kaiju entertainment of yesteryear with their post-apocalyptic tale of giant robots.  Years after a nuclear holocaust decimates the planet, war has been ostracized with international disputes settled via bot vs. bot battles.  With fan favorite pilot Achilles (Graham) embarking on his final fight against Alexander (Koslo), tensions are running high to maintain control of Alaska.  Supported by the guidance of Dr. Matsumoto (Kamekona) and mentor Tex Conway (Alldredge), Achilles heroically attempts to protect civilians from a missile only for his robot to topple and crush hundreds.  Overwhelmed with guilt and the judges ordering a rematch, Achilles finds no reason to continue his career as a robot jox.  When the genetically created Athena (Johnson) is selected as Achilles’ replacement, a web of conspiracy and betrayal is exposed prompting Achilles to redeem himself and defeat Alexander once and for all.  Deemed the most expensive film produced by Empire Pictures, Robot Jox ultimately suffers from an unstable tone that can never decide what it wants to be.  Unsurprisingly, Director Stuart Gordon and Writer Joe Haldeman consistently clashed over the film’s direction resulting in a mishmash of kid-friendly shenanigans and overly serious moments.  While the stop-motion techniques used to create the robot battles are engaging, they are far and few between to keep interest afloat.  Wrapping production in 1987, Robot Jox would gather dust as Empire Pictures confronted bankruptcy woes before being released to unfavorable notices and disappointing box-office returns in 1990.  Developing a minor cult following in the years since its release, Robot Jox is a bland effort that greatly pales in comparison to Gordon’s Lovecraftian excursions.

    Making its Blu-ray debut, Scream Factory presents Robot Jox with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a filmic appearance, minor flakes and speckles are not uncommon while skin tones are warm and lifelike.  Understandably, the robot battle sequences project a slightly softer focus with bright colors found in the robot jox’s red uniforms popping beautifully.  Nicely detailed and natural looking, Robot Jox has never looked better on home video.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, dialogue is audible if not slightly underwhelming at times while the clashing of metal and laser blasts give more depth to their battle sequences.  Serviceable but far from stupendous, Robot Jox sounds as good as can be expected.  Meanwhile, special features include, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon plus, a new Audio Commentary with Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Mechanical Effects Artist Mark Rapport and Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel.  In addition, A Look Back at Robot Jox with Paul Koslo (10:14) finds the film’s antagonist reminiscing about the experience and his co-stars while, Archival Interviews with Director Stuart Gordon (7:27), Pyrotechnic Supervisor Joe Viskocil (7:57), Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry (7:14), Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel (7:48), Animation & Visual Effects’ Chris Endicott & Mark McGee (9:29) are also included.  Lastly, Behind the Scenes Footage (14:16), a Theatrical Trailer (1:25), TV Spot (0:31), Still Galleries for On Location (7:00) and Illustrations (3:40) plus, a Reversible Cover Art round out the generous supplements.

    Well intended but, falling short of expectations, Robot Jox suffers from a scatterbrained tone and minimal robot battles that regrettably only bookend the film.  While Director Stuart Gordon’s futuristic opus of robowars has its admirers, Robot Jox remains one of his weakest efforts.  Luckily, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presents the film with an excellent transfer, adequate sound and a sizable assortment of new and vintage special features for this non-Collector’s Edition release.  Although meant to battle to the death, Robot Jox ends in a draw with its film disappointing but, its presentation satisfying.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Reviews

    1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983)

    Director: Enzo G. Castellari

    Starring: Vic Morrow, Christopher Connelly, Fred Williamson, Mark Gregory & Stefania Girolami / Giancarlo Prete, Fred Williamson, George Eastman, Anna Kakis & Giovanni Frezza / Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici, Timothy Brent & Antonio Sabato

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blue Underground braces viewers for three doses of post apocalyptic devastation and motorcycle street gangs, Italian style!  First up, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the no man’s land of the Bronx circa 1990 where attempts at law and order have been eliminated.  When a wealthy woman from Manhattan escapes into the wasteland, her corrupt father hires a trained mercenary to recover her.  Unfortunately for the cities corporate brass, gang leader Trash unites rival street dwellers to wage war in order to protect their turf.  Vic Morrow (Twilight Zone: The Movie), Christopher Connelly (Manhattan Baby), Fred Williamson (Hammer), Mark Gregory (Thunder) and Stefania Girolami (The Last Shark) star.  Next up, set in the year 2019, The New Barbarians takes place in the aftermath of nuclear devastation where the brutal Templars and their leader One rule with an iron fist.  When the lone warrior Scorpion rescues the gorgeous Alma from their grasp, Scorpion joins forces with the tactical Nadir and a struggling group of survivors to battle their evil oppressors.  Giancarlo Prete (Street Law), Fred Williamson (The Legend of Nigger Charley), George Eastman (Stagefright), Anna Kakis (2019: After the Fall of New York) and Giovanni Frezza (The House by the Cemetery) star.  Finally, continuing the exploits of Bronx Warrior Trash (Mark Gregory), Escape from the Bronx takes place in the year 2000 where a wealthy corporation seeks to bulldoze the entire borough to create an upscale community.  Sending death squads to clear out the remaining inhabitants, Trash and fellow gang members refuse to go out without a fight.  Henry Silva (Trapped), Valeria D’Obici (Midnight Killer), Timothy Brent (Ladyhawke) and Antonio Sabato (Grand Prix) co-star.      

    Reminiscent of 1979’s The Warriors, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the gang-infested wasteland of the Bronx where police presence and public safety is nothing but a memory.  When the wealthy and attractive Ann (Girolami) travels to the dangerous area to escape her Manhattan existence, she quickly falls for sympathetic gang leader Trash (Gregory).  Heiress to the family’s powerful company, her corrupt father hires ruthless mercenary Hammer (Morrow) to retrieve her only to be met with resistance from the Bronx’s motorcycle riding deviants.  Shot on location in the increasingly dangerous borough, 1990: The Bronx Warriors comes loaded with top-notch production value from a grittier New York that no longer exists.  Action is a plenty when Ann is captured by the rival Zombies gang, prompting Trash and his loyal Riders to risk life and limb trekking across their danger zone.  Seeking assistance from the King of the Bronx himself, The Ogre (Williamson), Trash and his companions battle countless goofy gang members from tunnel dwelling freakazoids to glitter-faced baton twirlers with hand to hand combat and deadly spears.  As Hammer simultaneously infiltrates the Bronx with blowtorch equipped troops, alliances are compromised amongst Trash and his friends leading to an explosive conclusion with the ruthless Hammer receiving a gloriously pointy demise.  An excellent product of gang war wastelands protecting their turf from the man, 1990: The Bronx Warriors is action-fueled spaghetti cinema at its finest.

    Also known as Warriors of the Wasteland, The New Barbarians rides high on the post-apocalyptic success of 1981’s The Road Warrior.  Following a similar plot line, this Italian production once again realized by Director Enzo G. Castellari (Light Blast) takes place in the not too distant future of 2019 where nuclear devastation has eliminated virtually all life.  Predominately populated by the book hating, totalitarian warriors The Templars and their leader One (Eastman), innocent civilians starve and fear for their lives.  Unapologetic in his disdain for the ruthless gang, lone warrior Scorpion (Prete) rescues the beautiful Alma (Kanakis) from them, determined to find permanent salvation for her.  Shot on location in Rome, The New Barbarians injects an added production value of futuristic vehicles and laughable space age costumes matched with a funky, synth-heavy score courtesy of Claudio Simonetti (Demons) of Goblin fame.  Although teaming up with ace marksman Nadir (Williamson) to protect a group of innocent survivors and Alma, Scorpion suffers the wrath of The Templars by being captured and unexpectedly raped by the skunk-haired One before retaliating full force.  While explosive car stunts impress with plenty of decapitated heads and impaled torsos, The New Barbarians falls somewhere in the middle of mediocrity during a time where Mad Max ripoffs were reaching their maximum.  With plenty of fun to still be had and Williamson stealing scenes with his amusing performance, The New Barbarians entertains but, oftentimes sticks too close to formula to stand on its own merits.

    Following the events of 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx takes place a decade into the future where the neglected borough has continued to rot into further decay.  Former leader of The Riders, Trash (Gregory) is now a respected loner who is once again pulled back into the fire following the murder of his parents by a mega-corporation.  Hellbent on exercising the existing Bronx in order to make way for an idyllic community, the General Construction Corporation send in countless death squads, headed by the savage Floyd Wangler (Silva), to exterminate any remaining occupants.  Joining forces with hometown reporter Moon Gray (Dobson), underground dweller Strike (Brent) and his young son Junior (Alessandro Prete, Ironmaster), the trio rally the support of fellow gangs to fight off the man once again.  Bursting with action and featuring nearly 200 casualties, Escape from the Bronx is a no holds barred followup that manages to bring the Bronx to an even more rubbled state.  With the exception of Henry Silva’s excellent appearance and Timothy Brent’s Strike bludgeoning a villain with the butt of a shotgun, the sequel lacks more memorable supporting characters to compliment Trash’s war against corporate tycoons.  Shot on location in the Bronx and Rome, Escape from the Bronx, under its alternate Escape 2000 title, was lovingly roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its seventh season awarding it even more cult acclaim.  While falling slightly shorter than its originator, Escape from the Bronx will ultimately leave action buffs raging with testosterone at the sheer volume of over the top fatalities and nonstop explosions.

    Newly transferred in high-definition, Blue Underground presents all three films with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios.  With all films appearing free of any prominent scratches or scruffs, skin tones look pleasing and non waxy with respectable detail on display.  While not entirely free of digital noise, instances of pixelation can be spotted most prominently in the backgrounds of dilapidated buildings seen in 1990: The Bronx Warriors.  Fortunately, these issues are far from deal breaking and are still a vast improvement over their standard definition predecessors.  Colors spotted in flashier costume choices and gore pop nicely offering solid contrast to the bland and desolate environments of the films.  In addition, black levels during the films’ underground sequences can often appear murky and lacking inkier levels.  Admittedly, the transfers do have their shortcomings but, the effort to deliver upgraded products is equally evident with their lush colors and noticeably cleaner appearances leaving expectant fans generally pleased with the results.  Accompanied with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is always robust and clear without a trace of hiss or distortion.  Each film’s respective score along with sequences of intense gunfire, laser blasts and fiery explosions emerge from the speakers with noticeable authority that is well balanced throughout.  Bestowed with Collector’s Edition banners, each film arrives with a plethora of exciting bonus content with 1990: The Bronx Warriors including, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 1 (14:09), Sourcing the Weaponry (11:55) where Castellari guides us through the Italian Weapons Rental House of Paolo Ricci and Adventures in the Bronx (7:20) with Stuntmen Massimo Vanni interviewed about his experiences on the film.  In addition, Theatrical Trailers including, the International Trailer (2:42), Italian Trailer (2:41), Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25) are also provided with a Poster & Still Gallery (100 in total) and a DVD edition of the release rounding out the supplemental package.  Next up, The New Barbarians arrives with an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 2 (13:55), Tales of the Hammer (20:22) with Star Fred Williamson offering a fascinating career retrospective that stands as the disc’s standout feature.  Also included are Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:25), Italian Trailer #1 (3:26), Italian Trailer #2 (1:58), 1990: The Bronx Warriors Trailer (2:42) and Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15).  Finally, a Poster & Still Gallery (97 in total) and a DVD edition of the release conclude the bonus offerings.  Lastly, Escape from the Bronx includes, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 3 (13:16), The Hunt for Trash (12:42) with Bronx Warriors Superfan Lance Lanley sharing his passion and enthusiasm for the films along with Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:15), Italian Trailer (3:15), 1990: The Bronx Warriors (2:42) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25).  A Poster & Still Gallery (77 in total) and a DVD edition of the release are also included.  

    Submerging viewers with a trinity of post-apocalyptic warfare and urban gang battles, Blue Underground ensures an action-packed serving of spaghetti cinema for cult enthusiasts.  While 1990: The Bronx Warriors is the fan favorite of the three, The New Barbarians still offers a fun dose of futuristic goofiness with Escape from the Bronx assaulting viewers with endless action.  Newly transferred in high-definition, each film makes earnest strides, with a few warts along the way, in delivering noticeable upgrades from their past releases.  With impressive remastered mixes and brand new, quality bonus features, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx make their Blu-ray debuts with a thundering crash, ready to wage war on your cult library!

    1990: The Bronx Warriors RATING: 4/5

    The New Barbarians RATING: 3.5/5

    Escape from the Bronx RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Tentacles (1977) / Reptilicus (1962) Blu-ray Review

    Tentacles (1977) / Reptilicus (1962)

    Director(s): Ovidio G. Assonitis / Sidney Pink

    Starring: John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins & Henry Fonda / Asbjørn Andersen, Carl Ottosen, Ann Smyrner & Mimi Heinrich

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, submerges viewers into a terrifying creature double feature of sea monsters and prehistoric catastrophe.  Starring an ensemble cast including John Huston (The African Queen), Shelley Winters (The Night of the Hunter), Bo Hopkins (Midnight Express) and Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men), Tentacles takes place on a small beach town where a giant killer octopus has wrapped its deadly grip.  Next up, Reptilicus focuses on a team of copper miners who uncover the tail of a prehistoric creature.  When scientists are brought in to research the specimen, the creature regenerates back to life to wreck havoc on Denmark.   

    Riding the coattails of Director Steven Spielberg’s seaside shocker, this Italian production, shot on the sunny California shores makes great strides in delivering a suspenseful B-movie counterpart.  Set on the tourist resort of Ocean Beach, Tentacles finds the sleepy community in danger when an enormous octopus begins claiming victims and sucking their skin dry.  With his suspicions raised, veteran reporter Ned Turner (Huston) suspects the construction of the Trojan company’s underwater tunnel to blame, much to the dismay of owner Mr. Whitehead (Fonda).  Combining efforts, Turner and Marine Biologist Will Gleason (Hopkins) discover irregular levels of radio signals as the cause for the octopus‘ deadly behavior.  Under the direction of Ovidio G. Assonitis (using the pseudonym Oliver Hellman), Tentacles surprises with its ability to weave a tense tale while, restraining its monster’s screen time to great effect.  Headlined by an all-star cast, this blatant foreign ripoff is a well-acted affair providing likable characters the audiences grow to care for.  With a tense yacht race pitting children in peril and a final standoff between Gleason and his trained killer whales against the mammoth octopus, Tentacles  makes a splash as one of the best Jaws imitators of its time.

    Infamously known as Denmark’s first and only monster film, Reptilicus was concocted as a Danish-American production that U.S. distributor American International Pictures found unreleasable at the time of its completion.  Resulting in a lawsuit with U.S. Director Sidney Pink (Journey to the Seventh Planet) that was later dropped, Reptilicus stands as a forgettable slice of drive-in junk food.  After the remains of a lizard-like tail are sent to Copenhagen for scientific research, the tail begins to rapidly regenerate forming a full-sized reptilian dinosaur.  As chaos ensues across the country, scientists and the military band together to destroy the colossal creature.  Following the simple yet, entertaining formula of giant monster flicks, Reptilicus suffers from a painfully wooden cast and a hilariously awful looking monster.  Cheaply produced and displaying dreadful optical effects including, a farmer being swallowed by the enormous monster, Reptilicus has few redeeming qualities outside of its campy production values and genius plan to lay the beast to rest with a powerful sedative.        

    Scream Factory presents Tentacles with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of scant scratches, the film shines in high-definition with prominent colors resulting in lush scenery and warm, natural skin tones.  Detail is also admirable with underwater sequences greatly impressing with their clarity.  Meanwhile, Reptilicus arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Struck from a new HD master, the schlocky monster flick has never looked better.  With the exception of increased scratches during optical effects sequences, Reptilicus awards viewers with bolder colors and appreciated detail lacking in previous home video releases.  Both films come equipped with LPCM 2.0 mixes that project dialogue clearly while music and moments of military gunfire and oceanside screams offer added boosts in quality.  In the special features department, Tentacles arrives with its Theatrical Trailer (1:01), a Photo Gallery (2:01) and Radio Spot (0:58) while, Reptilicus is also joined with its own Theatrical Trailer (1:58), Photo Gallery (2:41) and Radio Spot (1:00).

    Inviting viewers to spine-tingling avenues where multi-legged and prehistoric monsters reside, Scream Factory provides likeminded fans with a complimentary coupling of creature features.  While Tentacles reigns supreme as one of the better Jaws cash-grabs, Reptilicus suffers from an unexciting cast and abysmal effects that simultaneously lend the film its only charm.  Arriving with minimal features, both films have made highly beneficial leaps to HD looking better than ever.  Craving to capture Saturday night B-movie thrills, Scream Factory’s latest double feature is just the solution.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available June 16th from Scream Factory, Tentacles / Reptilicus can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) Deluxe Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

    Director: Bill Rebane

    Starring: Steve Brodie, Barbara Hale, Robert Easton, Leslie Parrish & Alan Hale Jr.

    Released by: VCI Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Becoming one of the top money grossers of 1975, The Giant Spider Invasion takes place in the rural community of Merrill, Wisconsin where an abrupt black hole appears, ushering in a swarm of giant deadly spiders.  As scientists struggle for a solution, the local population falls victim to the outer space monsters.  Steve Brodie (Out of the Past), Barbara Hale (Perry Mason), Robert Easton (Needful Things), Leslie Parrish (The Devil’s 8) and Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island) co-star.

    An ode to the sci-fi efforts of the 50s, The Giant Spider Invasion does little to improve on the low-budget production values set forth by its inspirations while, simultaneously retaining their cheesy charm.  Headlined by a surprisingly memorable cast despite the film’s campy nature, Director Bill Rebane’s (Blood Harvest) Wisconsin shot effort tends to press the viewers’ patience with the increased dramatics of a redneck family resulting in a Z-grade interpretation of The Last Picture Show.  Not soon enough, a meteorite-like explosion takes place on their farmland opening a black hole for eight-legged monsters to wreck havoc on Earth.  As the film’s scientific minds, Dr. Jenny Langer (Hale) and Dr. J.R. Vance (Brodie), are called into the area to better understand questionable data, a drawn out exposition of scientific mumbo jumbo ensues.  Although more desirable spider-centric sequences are withheld until its climax, The Giant Spider Invasion passes time with an enjoyable appearance from Alan Hale Jr. as the town sheriff.  Mainly restrained to his office fielding phone calls, Hale Jr. appears to be having a fun time that is undeniably infectious.  At long last, the hairy-legged critters make their full blown appearance that lives up to their ridiculousness.  Crafted by covering a Volkswagen beetle with fur and mechanical legs, the queen spider is a hilarious concoction that quickly washes away the film’s previous attempts at yawn-inducing NASA explanations and forgettable character development.  Affectionately roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Giant Spider Invasion is by all accounts, not the poster child for higher art but, instead a glorious staple of B-movie mayhem that remarkably laughed its way to the bank.

    Celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary, VCI Entertainment presents The Giant Spider Invasion with a 1080p transfer and preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Relatively soft at times with instances of vertical lines on display, the transfer still manages to relay strong colors and moderately warm skin tones.  Shot cheaply, black levels fall on the muddier side but still worlds above previous releases that made visibility near impossible.  Considering its low-budget and less than stellar home video releases, VCI Entertainment has done an admirable job on this drive-in throwback.  Equipped with a LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is clean and free from distortion making the film’s listening experience a pleasant one.  Containing a tremendous cobweb of supplements, special features include, Daniel Griffith’s informative and well edited Size Does Matter!  Making The Giant Spider Invasion (15:20).  In this Ballyhoo Motion Pictures featurette, Director/Producer Bill Rebane sits down to trace his early beginnings in the industry before climbing into the director’s chair.  Also included, a re-edited Super-8 HD Version (30:17), a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (14:32) and the Original Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots (8:14).  Found on the release’s DVD, Archival Interviews with Director Bill Rebane, Members of the Cast & Crew and TV News Reports (2:13:09!), Archival Interviews with Actor Robert Easton (17:00), Kevin Murphy & Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Introduce Bill Rebane (7:06), a worn but nostalgic Super-8 Version of the film (28:25) and an Archival Newsreel - Bill Rebane on the Set of Rana (7:36).  Finally, a bonus CD containing 14 tracks from the forth-coming stage play of The Giant Spider Invasion - The Musical, a Mini The Great Spider Invasion Collectible Comic and Liner Notes by Tom Stockman of WeAreMovieGeeks.com round out the nearly endless bonus features.

    Hailed as a film “so bad, it’s good”, The Giant Spider Invasion is a well-intentioned crash course in campiness.  Achieved on a shoestring budget and starring a web of notable character actors, Director Bill Rebane’s giant-monster opus is a hilarious love letter to the 50s that will leave viewers doused in cheese.  VCI Entertainment celebrates this schlockterpiece’s 40th anniversary with its finest home video release to date and a glut of bonus features that will leave fans caught in its web for an extended time period.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from VCI Entertainment, The Giant Spider Invasion can be purchased exclusively through VCIEntertainment.com.

  • Invaders from Mars (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Invaders from Mars (1986)

    Director: Tobe Hooper

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Hand of Death (1962) DVD Review

    Hand of Death (1962)

    Director: Gene Nelson

    Starring: John Agar, Paula Raymond & Steven Dunne 

    Released by: 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    B movie legend John Agar (Tarantula, The Brain from Planet Arous) stars in the hour long obscure shocker, Hand of Death.  He plays Alex Marsh, a scientist who gets exposed to some chemicals and becomes a crusty rock monster resembling The Thing from Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four.  Everyone that touches him turns to stone and dies forcing Marsh to stay away from the woman he loves, Carol Wilson (Paula Raymond, Blood of Dracula’s Castle).

    Scientists are no strangers to science fiction and horror movies, whether they were on the side of good or evil.  In Hand of Death, John Agar plays scientist Alex Marsh who creates a gas to paralyze the mind, leaving it open to suggestions of peace, thus preventing nuclear war.  Marsh gets exposed to this gas, passes out and has visions of lab equipment floating in the air.  After he awakens, his skin has become darker and contact with others deadly, preventing him from his sweetheart, Carol.  Eventually, he mutates into this hideous (or ludicrous, depending on your point of view) monster who spends the last thirty minutes running away from his friends and the police.  The ending, while, anti-climactic, was a bit darker than the usual fare at the time.

    Hand of Death can be considered a campy train wreck of a movie, a one hour wonder, or a fantastic B movie depending on your taste in films from this era.  It has all of the elements that were used prominently at the time, a scientist, a love interest, an alarming musical score and a man who mutates into a monster.  John Agar can be seen and heard for just over thirty minutes as the last half hour he is the monster without any dialogue.  Butch Patrick, known to most as Eddie Munster from The Munsters TV series,  has his second movie role here as Davey, a little boy who approaches the monster only to be saved by his mother beckoning him to come in for dinner.  In addition, Joe Besser of The Three Stooges has a brief role as a service station attendant. 

    After years of airing on the Fox Movie Channel, Hand of Death finally gets a long awaited official release on home video.  Fox has released it in a very serviceable 16x9 widescreen standard definition presentation.  As with all Fox Cinema Archive releases, this is a DVD-R release but, is vastly superior to those black market bootlegs that exist. Some speckles and debris exist but, overall the black and white photography looks solid for a release that was prepped using the best materials available.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is perfect allowing viewers to enjoy Sonny Burke’s unforgettable score quite easily.  Finally, no special features have been included on this release. 

    For those of us who have wanted and often requested Hand of Death on home video, the moment has finally arrived, albeit under the radar of many collectors.  With a fine cast, a man made monster, a rousing musical score incorporating organs, bongo drums and a horn plus, the film in its original aspect ratio, Hand of Death looks excellent in standard definition and comes highly recommend. 

    RATING 4.5/5

    Available now from 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives, Hand of Death can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Wolfcop (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Wolfcop (2014)

    Director: Lowell Dean

    Starring: Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Sarah Lind, Corinne Conley & Jonathan Cherry

    Released by: Image Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Wolfcop centers on alcoholic policeman Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) as he continues his steady routine of drinking excessively and working minimally.  When a series of violent events take place, Lou is left with a pentagram carved into his chest and the ability to become a werewolf.  To solve the mystery of his transformation and the rampant conspiracies of his town, Lou joins forces with his partner to better protect and serve under a full moon.  Amy Matysio (Stranded), Sarah Lind (True Justice), Corinne Conley (Quads!) and Jonathan Cherry (Final Destination 2) co-star.

    Following in the tradition of other contemporary grindhouse efforts, Wolfcop combines the occult and police procedural with its tongue firmly planted in cheek.  Shot on a relatively tight budget, Wolfcop shines with impressive practical effects and grounded performances that help anchor the film from flying completely off the rails.  Content being a drunk, Officer Lou Garou (Fafard) shows little passion for his work until a mysterious encounter with cult members turn Lou into a ravaging werewolf at the sight of a full moon.  Determined to uncover the truth behind his new abilities, Lou teams up with dimwitted local Willie Higgins (Cherry) and his hardworking partner Tina (Matysio), only to discover a sea of corruption and sinister occult activities running their small town.  Delivered with a breezy runtime, Wolfcop takes full advantage of its B-movie concept with gory transformation sequences, rampant shootouts and a surprisingly tasteful prison sex scene between its hairy star and a sexy bartender.  The mysterious cult members desire Lou’s wolf blood to prolong their own lifespan, prompting Lou to take control and once again show pride for the shield he bears.  Satanism, ruthless gangs and a last stand at sundown  attempt to overthrow the fanged officer and his partner, leading to an unsurprisingly violent finale.  

    While, its over the top nature is well suited for its material, Wolfcop’s conscience attempts to capture a bygone era of filmmaking feel slightly tired and late to the party.  Making the most of its budget, Wolfcop stuns with its creature design and many gore effects provided by Emerson Ziffle (Curse of Chucky), showcasing true talent under difficult circumstances.  Occasionally humorous while, reveling in its eccentricities, Wolfcop is a fun homage to the energy of 80s cult hits but, feels a bit too self aware for its own good.

    Image Entertainment presents Wolfcop with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Bursting with solid color and nicely handled skin tones, Wolfcop satisfies immensely on high-definition.  Meanwhile, black levels are handled with care and no crushing to speak of with only mild softness during the film’s final sequence which is more attributed to the sun’s position.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is always crisp with action sequences and music by Shooting Star relayed with proper authority.  Packed with bonus content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Lowell Dean and Special Effects Artist Emerson Ziffle, the lengthy Wolfcop Unleashed Behind the Scenes Featurette (45:51), the multi-part The Birth of Wolfcop (14:48), Film Outtakes (3:10), Wolfcop Music Video (2:50), Theatrical Trailer (1:39), Original Concept Trailer (2:20), Skydive Promo (0:37), Trailer Park Boys Shout Out (1:26) and a Special Thanks credit sequence (1:01) round out the extensive supplements.

    Earnestly brought to fruition, Wolfcop impresses with its technical achievements realized under its modest budget.  Blending genres and yearning to be a modern day cult classic, Wolfcop is not as memorable as one would hope given the volume of other produced and even less memorable wannabe grindhouse efforts.  While, far from the instant cult hit it claims to be, cult fans certainly haven’t seen the last of the razor-toothed boozer with a sequel promised at its end credits.  Meanwhile, Image Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is a knock-out with solid video and audio specs as well as a beefy array of bonus content for fans to bite into.  While, its mileage may vary with viewers, Wolfcop has some howlingly entertaining moments but, never rises to a wholly memorable level.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available as a Best Buy exclusive until May 12th from Image Entertainment, Wolfcop can be purchased via BestBuy.com and other fine retailers.

         

  • Dark Haul (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Dark Haul (2014)

    Director: Daniel Wise

    Starring: Tom Sizemore, Rick Ravanello & Evalena Marie

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Dark Haul centers on a society of guardians who fall astray as they attempt to transport a demon creature and its half-human sister in an 18-wheeler to a secure location.  When a hidden agenda compromises their mission, the beast is unleashed with the society battling for the fate of the world and their lives.  Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), Rick Ravanello (The Cave) and Evalena Marie (Remains) star.

    Produced in conjunction with the SyFy network, Dark Haul takes a far more serious approach to its material than past productions including, the “so bad, they’re good” Sharknado films.  Unfortunately, Dark Haul nosedives almost instantly with a 1700s-era prologue detailing a cryptic prophecy that births a demon creature and its half-human sister.  Flash-forwarding to present day, a secret society known as The Keepers continue their mission of attempting to capture the evil spawns to whisk them away to a barren Pennsylvania location.  Although, related to the grotesque creature and detained by The Keepers, Zib (Marie) is ordered to control her brother to ensure both their safety as they are forced into their new dwelling.  Finally captured and hauled off in an 18-wheeler, the winged beast is eventually freed, much to the dismay of Keeper member, Knicks (Sizemore).  As countless lives are taken, The Keepers and Zib must do everything they can to contain the monster before all hope is lost.

    Constantly referred to as The Jersey Devil yet, with no mention in its advertisements, Dark Haul takes what could have been a fun tale surrounding a New Jersey myth but, instead delivers an overly complicated mess.  Lacking in any semblance of suspense, this creature feature boasts dull performances and abysmal computer-generated effects that offer concrete evidence of its subpar budget.  In addition, the sibling creatures’ endless abilities to blind others, create mirages and speak telepathically to one another reeks of lazy writing and a means to easily excuse the characters out of any threat.  Action sequences involving a gas station in flames and countless Jersey Devil attacks offer little to no excitement with its conclusion leaving the viewer bewildered.  While, its premise showed mild promise, Dark Haul ultimately suffers from a far too busy and uninteresting narrative matched with atrocious effects work, derailing this horror offering as one SyFy’s more forgettable productions.

    Scream Factory presents Dark Haul with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, this SyFy offering relays relatively natural skin tones while, lacking sharper detail in most closeups.  The cold, desolate settings never contribute much color, leaving the film with a very drab appearance.  In addition, black levels disappoint with moderate levels of noise, disrupting the viewing experience.  Fairing better than its video transfer, Dark Haul comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix boasting audible dialogue levels and well handled boosts in action sequences involving inferno and gunshots.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also provided for your listening pleasure.  Finally, a Trailer (1:45) marks the sole special feature on this release.

    Falling on the lower tier of SyFy productions, Dark Haul is an atrocious disaster that will leave viewers scratching their heads in disappointment.  Devoid of any thrills or excitement, Dark Haul loses its audience with an overcomplicated plot and a monster compromised by painfully dreadful modern effects.  Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation is adequate but, lacks the sharpness one might expect from a newly produced feature.  A complete blunder from start to finish, Dark Haul is a ride best missed.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available March 10th from Scream Factory, Dark Haul can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Squirm Collector's Edition (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Squirm (1976)

    Director: Jeff Lieberman

    Starring: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow, Jean Sullivan & Peter MacLean

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Jeff Lieberman (Just Before Dawn, Remote Control), this Southern spine-tingler is guaranteed to get under your skin.  Joining the ranks of their esteemed collector’s editions, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents Squirm on Blu-ray for the first time in the U.S.  Oozing with newly produced special features and retro-style artwork courtesy of Paul Shipper, Squirm will send you running for higher ground.

    Set in the deep south of Georgia, Squirm focuses on the aftermath of a powerful storm that has electrically charged the wet soil, causing bloodthirsty worms to rise.  When the fishing village of Fly Creek becomes overrun with terror, a group of locals must fend for themselves to survive the carnivorous creatures.  Don Scardino (director of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone), Patricia Pearcy (Cockfigher), R.A. Down, Jean Sullivan (Escape in the Desert) and Peter MacLean (Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo) star.

    MOVIE:

    On par with other “nature gone wild” efforts such as Day of the Animals and Dogs, Squirm rises above most exploitation fare due to its patient storytelling.  Maintaining a steady pace and allowing characters to properly develop, Squirm chooses to charm its audience instead of overwhelming with constant carnage.  Establishing a genuinely Southern tone and casting local talent, the humid, insect infested backwoods serves as an ideal setting for this creature feature.  Following a series of brutal storms causing fallen power lines, Geri (Pearcy) welcomes her city dwelling boyfriend, Mick (Scardino), to her neck of the woods.  Before long, the two lovebirds happen upon human remains with no luck of convincing the town sheriff of their existence.  In true Scooby-Doo fashion, the two make it their duty to get to the bottom of the dead bodies and the increased volume of worms in the area.  Unfortunately, as night falls so does the worms’ hunger for human flesh causing mass panic in the town of Fly Creek.  While, Squirm takes its time before true terror ensues, its final act of blackness and claustrophobia is well worth the wait.  In addition, the convincingly gory make-up effects, achieved by a young Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Ed Wood), add another layer of genre appreciation to revel in Squirm.

    Well acted and undeniably soaking in B-movie charm, Squirm’s only minor setback falls in its ending which feels rather abrupt, leaving the viewer with questions rather than answers.  Nonetheless, Squirm is a wildly entertaining effort filled with cheesy Southern accents, impressive make-up effects and a creepy tone, courtesy of its slimy critters, that propels Squirm to the front line of 1970s creature features.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Squirm arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of murky stock footage during its opening, Squirm impresses with a clean appearance, leaving flakes and speckles to a minimum.  In addition, skin tones are warm and accurate with fine detail picked up in close-ups.  Natural grain is firmly intact, retaining an uncompromised filmic appearance.  Black levels, most appreciated during the film’s final act, are satisfying with respectable visibility.  Bracing for only mildly decent quality due to the film’s low-budget, Squirm has never looked better and greatly improves on past releases.

    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Squirm is never wildly dynamic but, succeeds where it counts.  Dialogue is always clear and concise while, Composer Robert Prince’s (Night Gallery, Gargoyles) warp sounding score adds effective ambiance.  Scenes of creepy crawling carnage also add an extra, albeit contained, boost in authority.  Instances of hiss and pops are featured but fail to do any disruptive harm.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman: Ported over from the previous DVD release.

    • Digging In: The Making of Squirm (33:11): Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman and Star Don Scardino share informative anecdotes about the production including its origins, casting (Pearcy beat out a young Kim Basinger for her role) and shooting on location.  Lengthy and detailed, Lieberman and Scardino look back on the film with vivid recollections of the experience.

    • Eureka! With Jeff Lieberman (7:04): Lieberman serves as your guide as he journeys back to his childhood home to retrace the early ideas of Squirm.

    • Theatrical Trailer (1:56)

    • TV Spot (0:55)

    • Radio Spot (1:01)

    • Still Gallery: 25 in total.

    • More from Scream Factory: Trailers include Pumpkinhead, Motel Hell and The Beast Within.

    • Reversible Cover Art: Utilizing the memorable Drew Struzan 1-sheet.

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Arriving on Blu-ray for the time in the U.S., Squirm is an essential addition to the Scream Factory library, filling the void of prominent creature features.  Endlessly fun and oozing with worm-infested debauchery, Squirm basks in its B-movie agenda much to the delight of likeminded viewers.  Once again, Scream Factory chalks up another stellar collector’s edition entry with exceptional technical merits and fan pleasing extras courtesy by the uber-talented Aine Leicht.  Sealed with gloriously slimy new artwork from Paul Shipper, Squirm Collector’s Edition makes it an easy skin-crawling selection to curl up with.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available October 28th, Squirm Collector's Edition can be purchased via Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Toxic Avenger (1984) Blu-ray Review

    The Toxic Avenger (1984)

    Director(s): Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz

    Starring: Andree Maranda, Mitch Cohen, Jennifer Babtist, Gary Schneider & Mark Torgl

    Released by: Troma Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The first superhuman-hero from New Jersey has returned in celebration of his 30th anniversary!  Presented in a new high definition transfer, Troma Entertainment’s seminal effort, The Toxic Avenger, has been mopped with care and jam-packed with bonus content.  Prepare to dive into the toxic sludge of B-movie haven with the one that started it all, lovingly recreated in troma-rrific quality!

    The Toxic Avenger takes place in Tromaville, New Jersey were 98 pound mop boy, Melvin Junko (Mark Torgl) is constantly harassed and teased.  After a prank goes wrong, Melvin falls into a vat of toxic waste transforming him into a powerful monster known as The Toxic Avenger.  Committed to the community, Toxie is determined to rid Tromaville of crime and corrupt politicians.

    MOVIE:

    Thriving for 40 plus years on independent trash cinema, Troma Entertainment’s finest effort still remains their 1984 schlock-fest.  Hilariously violent, politically incorrect and a tongue cemented to their cheek, The Toxic Avenger pokes fun at everyone regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation without a malicious bone in its body.  Running high on B-movie production values, The Toxic Avenger is made with earnest intentions and a fun-loving, goofball sensibility.  Melvin Junko’s metamorphosis into the Tromaville hero harkens back to 50s science fiction entertainment that charms more so with its retro 80s landscape.  Toxie crushes and pulverizes evildoers with over the top methods including arm rippings and eyeball-pokings.  Oddly enough, hysterically vile sequences including Melvin’s muscle-bound tormentors running down citizens with their vehicle was inspired by real events at the time.  Self-aware and parodying the aerobics craze of the 1980s, The Toxic Avenger also uses its low-budget plot to make a not so subtle statement on environmental concerns.  

    Never taking itself seriously, The Toxic Avenger still entertains with its insanely outrageous violence, attractive spread of big-haired buxom beauties and campy concept giving Garden State residents a superhero all their own.  Capturing noteworthy New York City skyline footage, The Toxic Avenger is a beloved B-movie effort with enduring popularity that catapulted a franchise and a short-lived cartoon series.  30 years after its original release, The Toxic Avenger remains Troma Entertainment’s most popular film for all the right, gloriously trashy reasons.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    The Toxic Avenger is presented in a new high definition transfer from original film materials, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing noticeably fresh compared to previous releases, The Toxic Avenger still retains a fair amount of dirt and debris in its transfer without ever being intrusive.  On the contrary, a film of this status possesses a certain charm with such anomalies remaining intact.  That said, skin tones are relayed naturally with colors impressively popping, most noticeably in bright costume choices and the green toxic sludge that transforms Melvin.  Black levels are acceptable with minor haziness during more dimly lit moments including Toxie’s alleyway fight with several thugs.  A frame by frame restoration was certainly not undergone, but Troma Entertainment’s transfer is unquestionably the best The Toxic Avenger has looked with a strong color balance and healthy grain levels.

    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, The Toxic Avenger is audible if not, slightly restrained.  Dialogue comes in relatively clear with instances of hiss and pops creeping in the mix occasionally.  Loud sound effects such as breaking glass or vehicle explosions are handled well while, music is projected loudly during sequences in the Tromaville Health Club.  Only somewhat underwhelming, The Toxic Avenger still sounds acceptable.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • New Introduction by Co-Director Lloyd Kaufman (4:22): “Live via satellite from Hawaii”, Kaufman welcomes viewers to this new restored edition of New Jersey’s finest with words from Co-Director Michael Herz in a hospital.

    • Audio Commentary with Co-Director Lloyd Kaufman: President of Troma Entertainment, Kaufman, discusses the origin of the film coming from trade papers reporting the horror genre was dead.  Kaufman and Herz intended to prove the headline wrong with this effort while, incorporating wide humor.  In addition, Kaufman mentions the hit and run car game being taken straight from actual news reports and his introduction to Screenwriter Joe Ritter through friend and Director John G. Avildsen (Rocky, The Karate Kid).

    • Audio Commentary with Stars Gary Schneider, Robert Prichard and Dan Snow: Moderated by Troma Team member, Joe Narode, this newly recorded commentary falls a bit quiet as the casts memories are a bit foggy.  Plenty of laughs are still shared amongst the trio while revisiting the 30 year-old film.

    • Jennifer Babtist Interview (18:40): Still beautiful, Babtist, who appeared as Wanda, is chatty recounting the audition process and her first impressions of Kaufman and Herz.  Babtist also recalls several crew members offering their numbers to her following her masturbation scene.

    • Robert Prichard Interview (2:38)

    • Mitch Cohen Interview (8:42)

    • Michael Herz Interview (15:24): A vintage and informative interview with a humorous finale.

    • Mark Torgl Special Video (6:19): The original Melvin shares stories from the making of the film and props he saved.

    • Behind the Scenes and In Production Slideshow (4:19)

    • 40 Years of Troma Video Montage (2:03)

    • Trailers: Including The Toxic Avenger, The Toxic Avenger Part II, The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie, Citizen Toxie and Return to Nuke’Em High Volume 1.

    • DVD Copy

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    30 years later, The Toxic Avenger still proves to be Troma Entertainment’s undying calling card.  Hilarious, offensive, violent and trashy, New Jersey’s first superhuman-hero plays to all the right B-movie chords.  The style and culture of this impactful indie effort has kept Troma’s popularity high amongst exploitation hounds and will continue to so.  This new high-definition transfer is easily the best Toxie has ever looked with bold colors and charming anomalies left in tact.  In addition, special features are a plenty in this head crushing crash course in indie schlock cinema.  A rightfully bestowed cult classic, The Toxic Avenger deserves a spot next to your other Tro-matic hi-def efforts.

    RATING: 4/5

    The Toxic Avenger is available right now and can be purchased via https://www.tromashop.com or Amazon.com

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #13: The Bob Newhart Show, Dan Curtis' Dracula, Gang War in Milan & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #13 includes:

    - Dan Curtis' Dracula (1973) (0:36)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    MPI: http://www.mpihomevideo.com/

    - House in the Alley (2012) (6:28)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series (12:04)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Gang War in Milan (1973) (20:26)
    Street Date: May 20, 2014
    Raro Video: http://www.rarovideousa.com/

    - Chances Are (1989) (27:10)
    Street Date: April 22, 2014
    Image Entertainment: http://www.watchimage.com/

    - Death Spa (1989) (31:40)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    MPI: http://www.mpihomevideo.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (37:55)

  • The Last Shark (1981) DVD Review



    The Last Shark (1981)
    Director: Enzo G. Castellari
    Starring: James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micaela Pignatelli & Joshua Sinclair
    Released by: RetroVision Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In 1975, Steven Spielberg accomplished the unthinkable.  He embarked on directing an ambitious film that was, for all intents and purposes, a B-movie.  Oddly enough, as most B-movies come and go and some by luck become cult classics many years after their release, Mr. Spielberg screwed up.  His “shark movie” was magnificently written, incredibly casted and masterfully directed especially for the young age of 29.  Jaws went onto massive box-office success and nearly 40 years after its release, the film has been hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made.  The success of such a simplistic B-movie-esque idea sparked a chain reaction where everyone wanted to get in on the treasure that certainly resided under the sea.  The Jaws formula has been ripped off and milked countlessly (even by the studio who birthed the original classic) but most cult enthusiasts root the first culprit back to 1981.  The Last Shark (also known as Great White) was an Italian production that made no secret as to which film “inspired” them.  Unsurprisingly, Universal Pictures were well aware of the blatant copycat and successfully sued to have the film pulled from its short North American release.  The film developed its share of followers, but was still never seen again until the mid 2000s when international territories began rolling out DVD releases.  Now, RetroVision Entertainment have unveiled a limited 500 copy run of the film in its first official US release.  Grab your swimsuit and sun tan lotion as we dive headfirst into Ja…, I mean The Last Shark

    Director Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors) weaves a story about a Great White shark who comes to wreck havoc on the beautiful waters of South Bay.  As the annual regatta celebration approaches, Mayor William Wells (Joshua Sinclair from Lady Frankenstein) doesn’t seem to find any harm in keeping the beach open.  Bad move as more bloody mayhem ensues thanks to our favorite finned monster.  Wells is forced to hire Peter Benton (James Franciscus of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and The Cat o’ Nine Tails) and shark hunter Ron Hammer (Vic Morrow of Humanoids from the Deep) to take the beast down.

    MOVIE:
    If the description above for The Last Shark doesn’t sound familiar, then you’ll be thrown for quite a loop when you sit down to view it.  It can’t be denied, The Last Shark is a bad flick and not in a particularly good way either.  The biggest problem is that it follows the major plot points of Jaws so closely that it never gets to have any of its own fun.  A film like Piranha is so enjoyable because not only was it a parody of the Jaws concept which allowed for tongue-in-cheek humor but it never shied away from the fact that it was about man-eating piranhas.  Piranha wanted to capitalize on Jaws but did it on its own terms which has rightfully earned its spot as a true cult classic.  Unfortunately, The Last Shark tried as hard as possible to remain as close to Spielberg’s film which is a remedy for boredom.  While there are some cult actors to be found in the film, they all just seem to be wasted on such a subpar film.  Even the late Vic Morrow, with a sea cap and an odd Scottish accent in tow, attempting his own take on Robert Shaw’s character seems grossly underused and just plain bored.  The mother and daughter roles in the film (played by Micaela Pignatelli and Stefania Girolami Goodwin) are just horrendous.  Pignatelli overacts constantly and Girolami just comes off annoying anytime she’s on screen.  Both actress‘ seem like they were clearly dubbed but it doesn’t change the fact that their acting abilities were off-putting.  As cheaply made as this film was, a majority of the shark is stock footage that hardly attempts to match the shark we actually see in scenes with the actors.  That said, when the shark is seen, he attacks his victims like a rocket which causes the boat or windsurfer to fly as high as a kite and a dummy of the actor crashing down to sea.  Those moments were some of the most enjoyable and laughable of the entire film but sadly it just wasn’t enough to wet my appetite.  I can certainly appreciate the appeal The Last Shark has for fans of the shark subgenre, but it just didn’t cut it for this reviewer.  Time to throw this one back to the fishes!
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    The Last Shark is presented widescreen (1:85:1) which appears to be tape sourced but actually looks quite nice.  No distracting scratches were noticed during viewing and colors appeared bright considering the source material.  Not too shabby.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    English 2.0 Audio (Stereo & Mono) which is just fine.  Dialogue comes out clear and loud.  Nothing incredible but it gets the job done without a hitch.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    RetroVision Entertainment has a small but nice selection of special features for such a limited release.

    - 30 Years Later Documentary: a self-produced featurette from RetroVision with film critic Ed Tucker and RetroVision’s co-founder Brannon Carty.  This 12-minute interview has Tucker discussing his memories of the original release as well as showcasing the 3 original 1-sheet posters from the film.  In addition, Carty expresses his love for the cult favorite and displays his own rare memorabilia from the film’s release.

    - 3 Theatrical Trailers

    - Photo Slideshow

    - Original US Score

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    While The Last Shark has its cult appeal to some, there’s no denying that this is just a poor attempt at badly ripping off a true classic.  As a lover of films of this ilk, I was disappointed to find the film as lame as I did.  If one wants to cash in on a craze, you still have to inject your own spirit to make it worth most people’s time.  Instead, they’ll just be wishing they were watching Jaws 3-D, unbelievably cheesy but still enjoyable.  That said, the cult completist in me can’t say I’m bummed that I own The Last Shark, but it won’t be a film I will return to anytime soon.  It’s still a treat to see a young label like RetroVision Entertainment put this lost flick out and I look forward to their future output.  While there’s not much to this release, the few special features were a generous touch but sadly the strength or lack thereof for the film is what sinks this.  Curious minds might want to purchase the DVD due to its limited 500 copy run, but be warned this ain’t Jaws…  Hell, it’s not even Jaws: The Revenge.
    RATING: 2.5/5

  • The Fly (San Diego Comic-Con 2013 Exclusive) (1958) Blu-ray Review


    The Fly (1958)

    Director: Kurt Neuman
    Stars: David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price & Herbert Marshall
    Released by: 20th Century Fox

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In a year that is quickly shaping up to be “The Year of Price”, Blu-ray enthusiasts will be able to add Scorpion Releasing’s The Monster Club, Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Collection and Warner Bros’. highly anticipated House of Wax 3D to their collection but 20th Century Fox is getting the jump on everyone first with one of Price’s best efforts.  Released exclusively at this year’s San Diego-Comic Con and FoxConnect.com with a wide release scheduled for September 10th, this particular edition of The Fly comes adorned with a slipcover that utilizes a very simplistic “Mondo” style poster design and a unique black Blu-ray case.  Snazzy packaging and nifty cover art aside, how does this 55 year-old flick stand today and has its Blu-ray debut been handled with care?  Grab your lab coat, bust out some sugar and let’s take a peek…

    When scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) attempts to successfully transfer matter through space, the good professor quickly becomes too ambitious for his own good and decides to transmit himself when things go terribly wrong.  Horrific man-fly hybrids are created and Andre isn’t looking quite like the man he once was.  With time running out and desperation high, his wife (Patricia Owens) and his brother (the great Vincent Price) are the only ones he can turn to before it’s too late.

    MOVIE:
    Coming strictly from the school of Cronenberg when it comes to these pesky little insects, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I had never seen the original classic before embarking on this review.  I know, it’s a crime that I should be punished for but then again we all harbor those films that you never want to admit you haven’t seen to others.  That said, in a way, I’m glad I waited so long to see a gem of this caliber because that’s exactly what this film is: a true gem.  The performances from the principal talent are all charming especially Price who clearly steals the show even if he isn’t the guy turning into a fly.  Patricia Owens is nothing short of stunning and this film marked her greatest success and most fondly remembered role and of course the lead David Hedison handles the role of brilliant scientist/family man turned man-fly beautifully.  The aspect that I loved most about this film is that it is a slow-burn, it doesn’t try to blow its load within the first act instead opting to firmly establish its characters and the scientific backdrop that the story is placed in.  For a film that some may pass off as a cheesy bit of 1950s sci-fi, it never talks down to the audience instead it allows us to learn and understand the science that Andre is developing.  It’s a film like this that chooses to take its time in order to send the audience on a journey they won’t soon be forgetting and that’s exactly what The Fly did for me.  I was as giddy as a school boy by the famous final scene where a certain spider is zoning in on some chow.  The Fly takes the viewer back to a time of innocence and genuine fun that seems to be almost extinct in this Facebook era we live in.  This classic film is tonally different from the Cronenberg redo from ’86 but both manage to deliver terrific entertainment that have earned them their due spots in history.  Now, not too be ungrateful but here’s hoping 20th Century Fox are preparing the sequels on the Blu-ray format because this newfound “Fly” lover can hardly wait!
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    The Fly is presented in 1080p 2.35:1 encoded in MPEG-4 AVC (38 MBPS).  The film looks nothing short of breathtaking, no scratches or dirt to be found on this transfer but a nice layer of natural grain is present which really makes this older flick shine.  I honestly couldn’t believe how great this looked on the format, this truly is an older catalog title handled with nothing but respect.  Next time you think about commenting on how great older films like The Wizard of Oz or Casablanca look on Blu-ray, you might just want to add The Fly to that list.  Bravo, 20th Century Fox!
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    The film is encoded in a 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio format which sounds as clear as a whistle and really impresses especially when the terrific score goes from classy to foreboding at the drop of hat.  The soundtrack also is presented in Dolby Digital Mono in Spanish and French.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    The Fly comes with a nice assortment of special features which are presented in SD:

    - Commentary with Actor David Hedison and Film Historian David Del Valle

    - Biography: Vincent Price

    - Fly Trap: Catching a Classic

    - Fox Movietone News

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    The Fly is a classic film that evaded me for many years but thanks to 20th Century Fox’s terrific Blu-ray release, it was worth the wait.  The film looks incredibly rich for one of its age and the sound packs a nice boost as well.  If the exclusive packaging isn’t your cup of tea, don’t forget that the wide release of the film is slated for September 10th, whatever you do, just don’t miss out on adding a classic Price flick like this to your HD library.
    RATING: 4.5/5