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Currently showing posts tagged Blaxploitation

  • Up All Night with Severin Films: Blackenstein (1973), Cathy's Curse (1977) & The Other Hell (1981) Blu-ray Reviews

      

    Blackenstein (1973)

    Director: William A. Levy

    Starring: John Hart, Ivory Stone, Andrea King, Liz Renay, Roosevelt Jackson, Joe De Sue, Nick Bolin, Cardella Di Milo, James Cousar & Marva Farmer

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Piggybacking on the success of American International Pictures’ black bloodsucker of the previous year, Blackenstein loosely modernizes Mary Shelley’s classic work for a new generation of exploitation-loving jive ass turkeys.  Attempting to rehabilitate her armless and legless Vietnam veteran boyfriend back to health, Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) turns to her mentor Dr. Stein (John Hart, The Lone Ranger) to work medical miracles.  After rejecting a fellow lab assistant’s advances, the disgruntled helper sabotages Winifred’s lovers progress, transforming him into hulking monster.  Stalking the streets of Los Angeles in the shiniest of boots and ripping limbs off of unsuspecting whities before meeting his fate at the fangs of ferocious dobermans, Blackenstein is a tightly paced hoot that plays itself surprisingly straight for such a cooky concept whose behind-the-scenes making is even stranger and sadly more tragic than its own fiction.  

    Befit with a solid-looking 1080p transfer, presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Severin Films honors the blaxploitation-horror oddity with strong colors and only fleeting instances of cigarette burns while, its DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix relays dialogue crisply with no cracks or pops intruding.  Offering both its preferred Theatrical (1:17:46) and Video Release (1:27:05) versions, additional supplements include, Monster Kid (19:02) where June Kirk, sister of Writer/Producer Frank R. Saletri, reminisces about her multitalented brother, his lavish mansion previously owned by Bela Lugosi and later Johnny Depp, his genuine sense of pride producing Blackenstein and the emotional circumstances surrounding Salteri’s still unsolved murder in 1982.  Furthermore, an Archive News Broadcast on the Murder of Frank R. Saletri (6:17), Ken Osborne and Robert Dix Remember Frank Saletri (6:36), culled from the filming of Severin Films’ Al Adamson documentary, Bill Created Blackenstein (9:13) featuring an audio interview with Creature Designer Bill Munns (Swamp Thing, The Return of the Living Dead) and lastly, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:24) are also featured.  Electrifying with bolts of undead absurdity, Blackenstein rises from the examination table, courtesy of resurrectors Severin Films, with a striking HD upgrade, revealing extras and dual versions for completists of the underexploitated world of blaxploitation frighteners.

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Cathy’s Curse (1977)

    Director: Eddy Matalon

    Starring: Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen, Roy Witham, Mary Morter & Dorothy Davis

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Using other satanically-charged killer kiddie flicks such as The Exorcist and The Omen as moneymaking references, the peculiar French/Canadian production of Cathy’s Curse unspools with a fatal car accident that leaves a stressed out father and his young daughter burning alive like logs on a flame.  Returning to his childhood home decades later, older brother George Gimble (Alan Scarfe, Double Impact) looks to start anew with his emotionally troubled wife and sweet daughter Cathy.  Shortly after stumbling upon her late aunt’s creepy doll, Cathy turns sour and is possessed, giving evil a prime spot at the dinner table.  Riddled with discombobulating jump cuts and eerie keyboard tunes, Cathy’s Curse lets the blonde little devil work her supernatural magic by forcing the housemaid out a window, hypnotizing the drunken caretaker with spiders, snakes and rats slithering across his still body while, a blood-filled bathtub and leeches are utilized to further her mother’s descent into madness.  A noble yet, imperfect terror effort from the tax-sheltered north, Cathy’s Curse may not spew pea soup across viewers but does make ample use of a minor amusingly spit firing profanities and rearing her own ghastly burnt face in a final showdown against mommy dearest.

    Newly transferred in 2K from recently discovered elements, Cathy’s Curse makes the wildly unexpected leap to high-definition with sound results that buries its previously underwhelming outings on home video.  Presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 1.85:1 aspect ratio, flashy colors seen in gaudier wallpaper selections pop appreciatively while, white levels, witnessed in snowfall and sunshine creeping through windows, appear naturally softer.  Meanwhile, print damage remains vastly minimal.  Joined by a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue with general ease and only mild hiss detected, the film’s aforementioned keyboard selections are the track’s most memorable cues.  Featuring both the film’s go-to Director’s Cut (1:30:44) and an Alternate U.S. Release Cut (1:21:49), other bonus feature offerings include, an Audio Commentary with BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins & Filmmaker Simon Barret (U.S. Release Cut only), Tricks and Treats: Director Eddy Matalon on Cathy’s Curse (20:16), where the filmmaker, speaking mostly in French with subtitles provided, discusses the production, crew and incredible affordability shooting in Canada.  In addition, Cathy and Mum (12:42) catches up with the elusive Randi Allen who played the possessed titular character and her mother Joyce Allen who acted as the film’s Costume Designer.  Lastly, an Introduction to the Cinematic Void Screening at American Cinematheque by BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins (4:28) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:36) wrap up the disc’s extras.  A true deep cut of Canadian chillers of the possessed persuasion, Cathy’s Curse has the power once more thanks to a crowd pleasing restoration fans will assume was achieved through a deal with the devil himself (at least we hope so!).

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Cathy's Curse can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Other Hell (1981)

    Director: Bruno Mattei

    Starring: Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo, Francesca Carmeno & Susan Forget

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A sacrilege slice of nunsploitation, Italian cult cinema heavyweight Bruno Mattei (Hell of the Living Dead, Rats: Night of Terror), under the pseudonym Stefan Oblowsky, paints church walls red in The Other Hell.  Following several questionable suicides at a nunnery, the depraved Mother Vincenza (Franca Stoppi, Beyond the Darkness) attempts to derail Father Valerio's (Carlo De Mejo, City of the Living Dead) investigation so that her devilish methods may continue.  Narratively messy and lacking such sleaze factors as ample nudity and lesbianism, The Other Hell does little to rattle the cages of excess while, supernatural happenings stake their claim in the form of bloody stigmata and Hell’s head honcho rearing his red blazing eyes, revealing themselves to only be laughable light-up bulbs.  Certain that the evil happenings are the work of a flesh and blood deviant, Father Valerio asks for more than he bargained when a flashback sequence reveals the Mother Superior’s baby was violently boiled and, as the daughter of Satan, the living and badly burned child’s otherworldly abilities are the cause for the convents twisted events.  Certainly seedy with nuns performing grisly abortions and flexing their stabbing reflexes routinely, The Other Hell hardly lives up to its reputation as one of the subgenres best with Mattei and Stoppo’s attachment being the only cause for a passing glance.

    A mild improvement from its previous standard definition release, Severin Films readies The Other Hell with a 1080p transfer, culled from 35mm blow-up elements presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Still showing signs of noticeable wear in the form of scratches, cigarette burns and an intruding vertical line during one dinner sequence in particular, black levels show improvement but remain imperfect while insert shots of the Mother Superior stabbing Father Valerio appear to be sourced from a lesser reference.  Meanwhile, the LPCM 2.0 mix is audible with the English dub track relayed decently but, not without its own faults of cracks, pop and a thin veil of hiss detected throughout.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso, moderated by Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddea, Sister Franca (13:13) catches up with Actress Franca Stoppi where she reveals working on The Other Hell and The True Story of the Nun of Monza simultaneously, often working on the same sets.  In addition, Stoppi recalls the warm and fun relationship working with Carlo De Mejo and as a niece of two nuns growing up, loved the aspect of dressing up as one for films.  Furthermore, To Hell and Back (11:22) features archive interviews with Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo with The Other Hell Trailer (3:34) and Reversible Cover Art concluding the release’s extras.  One may not require a bath in holy water after viewing The Other Hell but, that doesn’t make it the worst of its kind either, just simply less blasphemous than one might expect.  Completists of Mattei’s demented filmography won’t blink twice adding this unholy feature to their shelves with Severin’s noble efforts saving it from certain annihilation well worth falling to your knees for.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, The Other Hell can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Trouble Man (1972) Blu-ray Review

    Trouble Man (1972)

    Director: Ivan Dixon

    Starring: Robert Hooks, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, William Smithers, Paula Kelly & Julius Harris

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When full-time hustler and licensed private eye Mr. T (Robert Hooks, N.Y.P.D.) is hired by two thugs to investigate their compromised gambling operation, Trouble Man finds the smooth talking enforcer engaged in a web of gang wars and murder in order to clear his slandered name.  Paul Winfield (The Terminator), Ralph Waite (The Waltons), William Smithers (Scorpio), Paula Kelly (Soylent Green) and Julius Harris (Super Fly) costar.

    A step above the average blaxploitation feature, Trouble Man highlights the bustling lifestyle of South Central’s own Mr. T whose expert pool skills, fashionable style and ladies man swagger compliment his no-nonsense street smarts and sharp business savvy as the ghetto’s personal problem solver.  Approached by local thugs Chalky (Winfield) and Pete (Waite) to uncover the masked thieves responsible for disrupting their gambling circuit, Mr. T finds himself entangled in a gang war when rival crime lord Big (Harris) is gunned down, laying the blame on the very capable hands of the inner city private detective.  Pursued by vengeful gangsters and local law enforcement, Mr. T unbuttons his expensive jacket and leads a one man army to bring his foolish framers down.  Charismatically charged, Robert Hooks headlines as the smooth soul brother whose martial arts expertise and whip-cracking demeanor ignites the film’s contagiously cool aura while, Motown legend Marvin Gaye’s choice musical accompaniments can’t be overstated.  Tightly edited by Michael Kahn before his career spanning collaborations with Director Steven Spielberg, Trouble Man is wickedly fun with memorable performances and action-packed gang warfare justifying itself as one bad motha worth investigating.

    With the exception of speckling observed during dimly lit sequences, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is overwhelmingly clean with no overt levels of damage while, the film’s inherent softness, as a product of its time, remains intact without compromising detail.  Meanwhile, flesh tones are eye-pleasing with more flamboyantly colorful attire and vibrant 70s decor popping nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that occasionally requires volume increases, dialogue is largely audible with few softer spoken exchanges registering not as strongly.  Thankfully, Marvin Gaye’s main title theme and other melodic queues are projected sharply with gunfire effects throughout the film’s final act making appropriate statements.  Relatively scant, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathanial Thompson & Howard S. Berger with a Trailer Gallery featuring Trouble Man (2:30), Truck Turner (5:13), Across 110th Street (2:58), Cotton Comes to Harlem (2:11) and Report to the Commissioner (2:21) concluding the extras.

    Absurdly included amongst the fifty worst films of all time in Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss’ 1978 paperback, Trouble Man is far better and more entertaining than its reputation suggests.  Battling to clear his name while always ensuring time for beautiful girls, Robert Hooks leads the way with an entertaining turn loaded with attitude and leaving his enemies calling for mercy.  Boasting a soulful score from Marvin Gaye and a film appreciators audio commentary, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ HD treatment of this underrated blaxploitation picture is as cool as the original Mr. T.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Candy Tangerine Man (1974) / Lady Cocoa (1975) Blu-ray Review

    The Candy Tangerine Man (1974) / Lady Cocoa (1975)

    Director: Matt Cimber

    Starring: John Daniels, Eli Haines, Tom Hankason, Marva Farmer, Richard Kennedy & George “Buck Flower” / Lola Falana, Gene Washington, Alex Dreier, Millie Perkins, “Mean” Joe Greene & James A. Watson, Jr.

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Featuring a double serving of blaxploitation favorites from Director Matt Cimber (The Black 6), The Candy Tangerine Man centers on cool as ice pimp known as The Baron (John Daniels, Black Shampoo).  Hustling the mean streets of Los Angeles from the driver seat of his colorful Rolls Royce, Baron evades the authorities while, combatting local competition seeking to push the player out of the game.  Next up, Lady Cocoa finds recently released prisoner Cocoa (Lola Falana, The Klansman) agreeing to testify against her criminal boyfriend only to discover the danger that awaits her on the outside.

    Hailed by exploitation connoisseur Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight) and frequent collaborator Samuel L. Jackson, The Candy Tangerine Man brings hard-edged urban style and violence to the dangerous world of pimps and pushers.  Doubling as smooth as silk procurer and loving husband/father Ron Lewis in a separate area code, the Black Baron oozes swag on the seedy blocks of Sunset Boulevard, monitoring his clientele of feisty broads from his vibrant head-turning ride.  After selflessly winning a new trick during a game of pool to deter her from the life she’s chosen, Baron finds himself targeted by mafia kingpin Vincent Di Nunzio (Zenobia Wittacre, Black Lolita) and fellow, long-nailed pimp Dusty.  Consistently hassled by a bumbling duo of coppers, Baron’s operation is uprooted when Di Nunzio’s flunkies savagely slice the breast of one of his women.  Never one to retreat, Baron pushes back by introducing said flunkies’ hand to a garbage disposal and pumping other henchmen up with lead from his car’s installed machine guns.  Acknowledging the heat on the street, Baron looks to leave his empire behind with a lucrative savings bond hustle only to be double-crossed by his once trustworthy bookkeeper forcing the fedora-wearing pimp to take back what’s rightfully his.  Awesomely crediting the actual “hookers” and “blades” of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, The Candy Tangerine Man spares no jive and supplies bounds of entertainment thanks to the untouchably badass performance of Daniels and his mic-dropping one liners.  Further enhanced by generous doses of nudity, nostalgia-fueled footage of exotic clubs from yesteryear and a funky soundtrack provided by Smoke (later known as Blacksmoke), The Candy Tangerine Man may prove that pimpin’ ain’t easy but, its handsome handling of action and supafly attitude make it a sugar rush of blaxploitation bliss.

    Shot on location in the gambling state of Nevada, Lady Cocoa promises a feature of revenge-fueled thrills that unfortunately never comes to pass.  Released from prison in exchange to testify against her devious mobster beau, Cocoa is carted off to a slot machine filled hotel by Lieutenant Ramsey (Alex Dreier, Chandler) and patrolman Doug Fuller (Gene Washington, Black Gunn) before the crucial arraignment.  Bossy and demanding of relaxing service during her limited stay, Cocoa, in an excruciatingly squeaky pitch, sprouts off random facts while, also insistent of a shopping spree and the opportunity to mingle and dance the night away with a fellow couple.  Constantly butting heads before developing a flirtatious relationship, Cocoa and Doug get intimate as her criminal ex-lover Eddie (James A. Watson, Jr., The Organization) and his associates spy on with an intent to rub Cocoa out before she can utter a single word under oath.  Before its final act that results in a maid getting mistakenly shot, a car chase through a hotel lobby and a corrupt character being exposed, Lady Cocoa is largely uneventful, dragging itself to a boat showdown between baddies and goodies after a prolonged period listening to Cocoa complain in the confines of a hotel room.  Bland and monotonous, Lady Cocoa lands itself back in the slammer for such crimes.  

    Scanned and restored in 2K from 35mm archival prints, Vinegar Syndrome presents both The Candy Tangerine Man and Lady Cocoa with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  With the destruction and disposal of their respective negatives, each film bears noticeable grindhouse battle wounds including, varying degrees of scuffs and scratches, vertical lines and moderate to excessive instances of red speckling.  Although their conditions may be far from ideal with Lady Cocoa looking best, both features maintain filmic presentations and respectably rich colors with Baron’s bright fedoras and matching ties popping most nicely.  Appreciatively working from the best available materials, Vinegar Syndrome have treated fans to the best home video presentations of these Cimber co-features, warts and all.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mixes, each film contains their fair share of cracks, pops and an instance or two of dropped audio yet, both features are sufficiently audible given the less than stellar state of their utilized elements.  Featuring a Video Introduction by Director Matt Cimber (4:12) for The Candy Tangerine Man, additional special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Matt Cimber & Director’s Assistant/Actor John Goff on Lady Cocoa, a DVD edition of the release and a Reversible Cover Art spotlighting Cimber’s 1975 co-feature.

    From stylish pimps to whiny narcs, Vinegar Syndrome’s blaxploitation double bill from Director Matt Cimber provides viewers with uniquely suited urban tales shot during the glory decade of the 1970s.  While The Candy Tangerine Man is wildly fun and ranks highly amongst other well-praised genre efforts, Lady Cocoa lacks the punch of its co-feature and disappoints in its sense of marketed thrills.  Although ideal elements for both features no longer exist, Vinegar Syndrome have done their very best to ensure both films stay preserved and primed for consumption.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, The Candy Tangerine Man / Lady Cocoa can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dolemite (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Dolemite (1975)

    Director: D’Urville Martin

    Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, D’Urville Martin, Lady Reed & Jerry Jones

    Release by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Capitalizing on his comedic antics, Rudy Ray Moore (Disco Godfather) lit the blaxploitation genre on fire with his feature film debut Dolemite.  After being released from prison following a frame job, badass pimp Dolemite seeks to reclaim his hotspot club and take revenge on his nemesis Willie Green (D’Urville Martin, Sheba, Baby).  Dressed from top to bottom in the flyest outfits South Central has ever seen and aided by his squad of sexy Kung Fu trained bombshells, Dolemite is determined to take his streets back.  In what lacked in professional training, Moore easily makes up for with his hilarious charisma that comes to life through his larger than life urban superman.  In order to restore his reputation and avenge the murder of his nephew, Dolemite hits the ground running pressing local junkies and a trustworthy Reverend for information while sparing time to spit beat poetry and make sweet love to his flock of lingerie wearing beauties.  Complimented by a soundtrack of funky grooves written by Moore and performed by The Soul Rebellion Orchestra, Dolemite is never in short supply of car chases, shootouts and a climactic table turning brawl concluding with a deliciously over the top, organ ripping death cementing Dolemite’s explosive strength.  With a corrupt honkey mayor puppet mastering the city’s crimewave, Dolemite, with unexpected assistance for a smooth brother from the FBI (Jerry Jones, The Long Goodbye), brings stone cold justice to his tormentors in one of blaxploitation’s first and funniest quasi-parodies.

    Beautifully restored in 2K from the rare 35mm negative, Vinegar Syndrome presents Dolemite with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the few exceptions of mild scuffs and scratches, the film is a remarkable upgrade with an undeniable filmic appearance bursting with bold colors, handsome skin tones and solid detail in city streets and interior club dwellings.  An alternate “Boom Mic” version, presented in full screen, is also included showcasing the intrusion of filming equipment and other intendedly offscreen activity.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, dialogue is well preserved with the film’s music cues and firepower effects making stronger mentions on the satisfyingly handled track.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Rudy Ray Moore Biographer Mark Jason Murray, I, Dolemite (24:01), Elijah Drenner’s (That Guy Dick Miller) newly crafted making-of doc on the feature and Lady Reed Uncut (23:14), a vintage sit-down with co-star Lady Reed on her experiences working on the film.  Furthermore, Dolemite Locations: Then and Now (1:47), a Dolemite Theatrical Trailer (2:55), The Human Tornado Theatrical Trailer (2:45), a DVD edition of the release and a Reversible Cover Art preserving the original 1-sheet artwork wraps up the supplemental offerings.  Flashy and unapologetically fun, Vinegar Syndrome’s impressive restoration of this blaxploitation favorite, joined by a loaded barrel of bonus features, proves that Dolemite is nothing short of dynomite!

    RATING: 4/5

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

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

    Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

    Director: Eddie Romero

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

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

                         

  • Sheba, Baby (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Sheba, Baby (1975)

    Director: William Girdler

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

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Foxy Brown (1974) Blu-ray Review

    Foxy Brown (1974)

    Director: Jack Hill

    Starring: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Terry Carter, Kathryn Loder & Sid Haig

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blaxploitation bombshell Pam Grier (Coffy) reteams with Director Jack Hill in Foxy Brown.  High on revenge following the murder of her government agent boyfriend, Foxy goes deep undercover into the seedy world of sex trafficking to make those responsible pay with their lives.  Antonio Fargas (Car Wash), Peter Brown (Teenage Tease), Terry Carter (The Phil Silvers Show), Kathryn Loder (Night of the Witches) and Sid Haig (House of 1,000 Corpses) co-star.

    Following the success of Coffy, American International Pictures hoped to recapture the excitement with a sequel before ditching the idea for an original concept.  With Director Jack Hill and star Pam Grier back in the fold, Foxy Brown may not feel wholly original from their previous collaboration but, most certainly excels in every way.  After her delinquent brother offers up her government agent boyfriend as debt clearance, Foxy Brown is determined to take her revenge.  While her occupation is never revealed, Foxy is a whole lot of woman that is capable of handling herself and anyone who steps in her way.  Adorned with flashy outfits and an even more empowering attitude, Pam Grier once again bears her assets to tantalize her way into a sex trafficking ring linked with high-level drug kingpins.  Grier appears more confident in her role as an independent soul that not only thoroughly entertains but, liberated female audiences during the turbulent decade.  With its theme of revenge carried over from Hill’s previous effort, Foxy Brown is noticeably more extreme with Foxy submitted to forced heroin injections and suggested rape only to respond accordingly by lighting her attackers on fire.  In addition, teaming up with a gang of neighborhood avengers, Foxy castrates a criminal in order to deliver his manparts to his prostitute ring leading girlfriend.  Effective and even more savage much to the delight of exploitation enthusiasts, Foxy Brown has little time for jive, delivering viewers one of blaxploitation’s finest and arguably, Grier’s most entertaining performance.

    Olive Films presents Foxy Brown with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Accompanied with fleeting instances of flakes and speckles, the flashy colors found in wardrobe pop nicely with skin tones and detail in facial features benefitting from its hi-def upgrade.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is pleasing while sequences taking place in a crowded bar suffer slightly from too many components overwhelming the track.  Unfortunately, once again surrendering to overseas releases overflowing with supplements, Olive Films provides no special features on this release.

    The creative combination of Director Jack Hill and leading lady Pam Grier has been cemented in the history of cinema as grindhouse gold.  Slicker, sexier and more violent, Foxy Brown stands as one of blaxploitation’s towering achievements and a standout role for Grier that made her an eternal pillar for 42nd Street.  Making its U.S. debut on Blu-ray, Olive Films delivers a transfer well worth celebrating while, the lack of bonus content disappoints.  The strength and essentialness of the film itself warrants Foxy Brown into every blaxploitation fans‘ collection.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 9th from Olive Films, Foxy Brown can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Coffy (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Coffy (1973)

    Director: Jack Hill

    Starring: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott & Sid Haig

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From grindhouse directing icon Jack Hill (Spider Baby, The Big Bird Cage), Coffy stars Pam Grier as Nurse “Coffy” Coffin.  Determined to extract revenge on the drug pushers that hooked her young sister, Coffy uses her undeniable body language and arsenal of heavy firepower to take back the night from society’s scum.  Booker Bradshaw (The Strawberry Statement), Robert DoQui (Robocop), William Elliott (Night of the Lepus), Allan Arbus (Greaser’s Palace) and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects) co-star.

    Following appearances in several women in prison pictures, Pam Grier would graduate to become one of the fiercest and most beloved icons of blaxploitation cinema.  Shot in a remarkable 18 days and centering on a liberated nurse disgusted with the seedy criminals poisoning society, Nurse “Coffy” Coffin (Grier) takes matters into her own hands to avenge the corruption of her young sister to junkies and their organization.  Demanding your attention from its earliest moments, Grier is a magnetic force of beauty that never shies from using her sexuality to con pimps and dealers before putting a bullet in them.  Simple in its execution with revenge her top priority, the stakes are elevated when thugs land Coffy’s longtime copper friend Carter (Elliott) in the hospital.  Displeased with ridding the city of only street level hustlers, Coffy decides to infiltrate drug kingpins with ties to corrupt city officials.  Engulfed in a world of prostitutes and narcotics, Coffy delivers a glorious highlight reel of exploitation from seedy characters and scantly clad women to a barrage of shootouts and an empowered protagonist that talks the talk and walks the walk.  Ever resourceful with razors stashed in her afro and bursting with nonstop attitude, Coffy is a landmark blaxploitation effort that catapulted Grier’s career to new heights and remains one of her most entertaining and enduring works.

    Olive Films presents Coffy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Exhibiting instances of flakes and speckles, Director Jack Hill’s low-budget effort retains a nice layer of grain while relaying natural skin tones and warm colors.  Black levels are respectable with flakes only slightly more apparent but far from discouraging.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is free of any troubling distortion but occasionally sounds restrained.  Unfortunately, unlike overseas counterparts bursting with bonus content, Olive Films‘ release arrives with no special features.

    Applauded for its tough female lead and exceptional exploitative highlights, Coffy set star Pam Grier on a road to stardom that is still revered today.  Serving as one of the finest examples from blaxploitation’s heyday, Coffy’s vigilante tale of revenge dished out by the baddest chick on the block packs the punches to deserve its rightful praise amongst grindhouse aficionados.  Making its long-awaited domestic HD debut, Olive Films delivers the film with appreciable looks and sounds but, drops the ball with zero special features for such a landmark picture of the 70s.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available June 9th from Olive Films, Coffy can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

    Blacula (1972) / Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

    Director(s): William Crain / Bob Kellijan

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Devil's Express (1976) DVD Review



    Devil’s Express (1976)
    Director: Barry Rosen
    Starring: Warhawk Tanzania, Larry Fleischman, Sam De Fazio & Wilfredo Roldan
    Released by: Code Red DVD

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After many years of searching for suitable materials and hope of a release seeming all but lost, Code Red DVD has finally and unexpectedly released one of their most desirable titles yet!  The 75th spine numbered release from the independent distributor comes nearly five years after being announced in what many fans believed was never going to happen.  While the wait has been excruciating, Code Red DVD not only located the original camera negatives for the film but also restored it in HiDef.  After years of waiting, it’s finally time to experience the 50,000 year old death that stalks the subways!  You’ve bought the ticket, now let’s take the ride upon Devil’s Express.  All aboard…

    Devil’s Express tells the story of New York Martial Artist Luke (played by Warhawk Tanzania who quite possibly has the greatest name in history) as he heads to Hong Kong with his student Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan) in order to earn his next level in the Martial Arts world.  It isn’t long until they stumble upon an ancient burial site where an amulet holding demon creatures is found.  Not knowing this, Rodan steals the amulet and takes it back to his gang infested turf of New York City where all hell breaks loose… literally!  Dead bodies start popping up in the subways while the police believe they are a result of gang wars.  It’s up to Luke to confront the demonic beast underground in order to avenge his student before all hope is lost.

    MOVIE:
    With a film like Devil’s Express that has so much expectation, it’s hard to ensure that a film will deliver all that has been promised on the poster and by word of mouth.  Luckily, Devil’s Express is best described as a “grindhouse pizza”, the film has many slices of different subgenres that were populating the theaters found in Times Square at the time like action, martial-arts, horror and blaxploitation.  Every 20 minutes, the film morphs into something else while still pressing on with a story that entertains on a number of levels for its entire 84 minutes.  Sure, there’s hilarity to be found in the less than stellar fighting sequences and Luke’s jive-speech but that all comes with the charming territory.  It’s so often that films get labeled as “grindhouse” simply because they were released in this decade and even played in theaters of its ilk but Devil’s Express is film that not only deserves it, but wears that label proudly.  The film breathes the New York City of the 70s by showcasing alleyway gang fights and wonderful street shots of defunct grindhouse theaters and peepshows that make you long for those days again.  Tanzania’s performance is the light that guides this film through it’s odd journey and manages to make us laugh as well as kick some demon ass.  During the theatrical release of The Warriors, the distributor of Devil’s Express re-titled it as Gang Wars in order to sell it as a gritty gang movie.  While the title is a cool one, Devil’s Express is more fitting and a far more honest description of what the viewer will be getting.  The film took many moons to make its way into our DVD players, but I can safely say that the wait was worth it and deserves a spot on every cult lovers shelf.  Purchase without hesitation, jive-ass turkeys!
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Code Red DVD presents Devil’s Express in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen HiDef transfer from the original camera negatives.  In short, the film looks beautiful.  Colors pop nicely with healthy levels of grain intact that even the minor instances of dirt and debris won’t ruin.  For as long as the negatives took to find, many would have imagined the worst for their condition but worry not because Devil’s Express truly looks terrific.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    The film is presented in an English Mono track and much like its video counterpart, it sounds great.  The roar of subway trains and fight sequences come across just as well as you could imagine while dialogue comes through without a hitch.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    The disc automatically opens up with a trailer for The King of Kung Fu before heading to the main menu.

    - Devil’s Express Trailer

    - Gang Wars Trailer: An alternate Devil’s Express trailer that utilized the Gang Wars title.

    - Code Red Trailers: A sneak peek at some exciting future flicks like Death Promise, The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee (which utilizes Spanish title cards), Running Scared, This Is a Hijack! and Shakma.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Devil’s Express is a superb execution in grindhouse greatness where several different subgenres make up a piece of this entertaining pie.  The film is roller-coaster fun and is presented in quite possibly the best presentation it has ever seen.  Code Red DVD’s HiDef transfer blows the socks out of any fuzzy looking bootleg you may have owned previously and while the release is light on extras (although, they were originally planned for but aborted after waiting so many years for cast and crew participation that never came through) the strength of the film alone earns high marks.  Devil’s Express is deliciously awesome and is essential for any and all grindhouse fans!
    RATING: 4.5/5