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  • Chamber of Horrors (1940) Blu-ray Review

    Chamber of Horrors (1940)

    Director: Norman Lee

    Starring: Leslie Banks, Lilli Palmer, Gina Malo & Conny Van Dyke

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported by Poverty Row distributor Monogram Pictures shortly after a British band on horror fare was lifted, the adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s The Door with Seven Locks, retitled to the more attention-grabbing Chamber of Horrors for American shores is a convoluted labyrinth of intrigue that thrives on its solid atmosphere.  Following the passing of a wealthy lord who’s entombed with a treasure of jewels requiring seven keys to undo its locks, the unlikely heiress to his fortune, June Lansdowne (Lilli Palmer, The House That Screamed), finds herself and those closest to her entangled in a tortuous web of murder and deceit.  Hamming it up nicely as the suspected Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks, The Most Dangerous Game) whose affection for collecting historical torture devices is far from subtle, Chamber of Horrors plays more directly as a murder mystery than its more garish title suggests although, a prominent chamber where artifacts of death are on display serves as host to some of the film’s more memorable and revealing sequences.  Jaw-droppingly beautiful and injecting a fearless sense of adventure into her role, Lilli Palmer does admirably in her headlining performance contrary to early criticisms at the time of the film’s release.  Occasionally heavy-handed and bewildering in its explanations for the criminal parties seeking to make the riches their own, Chamber of Horrors may not be all that’s expected of it and instead better appreciated as a complex whodunit with effective shades of ghastly set pieces.

    KL Studio Classics presents Chamber of Horrors newly remastered with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Commonly sporting sporadic instances of scratches and vertical lines, overblown white levels, presumably from overexposed film elements or harsher onset lighting, casts many moments in a bright wash that takes away from the atmospheric setting and corresponding details.  Otherwise, black levels spotted in costumed attire are as deep as one might expect while, facial closeups of the thespians capture respectable intricacies.  Surely the elements are far from pristine but, the upgraded high-definition picture is the best a feature of this ilk will ever look.  Matched with a rather problematic DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that relays inconsistent dialogue levels that range from clear to muffled and echoey, static is also present requiring essential volume increases and a sharp ear to collect all the track has to offer.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Kenneth J. Hall that finds genre enthusiast Del Valle right at home dishing one intriguing anecdote after another with Hall complimenting the conversation nicely.  A horror aficionado like no other, Del Valle’s infectious love for the genre and his well-prepared words are always a treat to listen to for likeminded viewers.  Finally, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included alongside Reversible Cover Art.  An acceptable investigative thriller that only trips up due to its own narrative complexities, Chamber of Horrors comes cautiously recommend for those knowing more or less what’s in store while, the expert commentary track provided is worth the price alone.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Chamber of Horrors can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Destroyer (1988) / Edge of Sanity (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Destroyer (1988) / Edge of Sanity (1989)

    Director(s): Robert Kirk / Gérard Kikoïne

    Starring: Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Lyle Alzado & Anthony Perkins / Anthony Perkins, Glynis Barber, Sarah Maur Thorp & David Lodge

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Uniquely paired, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, presents a double helping of frights starring everyone’s favorite psycho.  After muscular madman Ivan Moser (football legend Lyle Alzado, Ernest Goes to Camp) is sentenced to the electric chair, Destroyer finds a film crew setting up shop in the same prison where Moser unexplainably disappeared eighteen months earlier.  Before long, the crew find themselves trapped inside the abandoned penitentiary with the thought to be dead murderer making his own casting cuts.  Familiar 80s faces Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl), Clayton Rohner (Just One of the Guys) and of course, Anthony Perkins (Psycho II) star.  Next up, presented in its uncut form, Edge of Sanity stars Anthony Perkins as the respected Dr. Henry Jekyll who after a lab experiment gone wrong undergoes a horrific transformation into the murderous Jack Hyde.  Unleashing a wave of mutilated prostitutes in his wake, Jekyll’s battle for his sanity is severely tested with no certainty if it will be reclaimed.   

    Bearing its original Shadow of Death title, Destroyer wastes little time establishing its hulkish antagonist, serial killer Ivan Moser (Alzado), before failing to electrically execute the inmate.  Suffering a jolting shock before a power outage causes a prison riot, Moser, suspected dead, disappears without a trace as the prison shuts its doors permanently shortly after.  Attempting to capitalize on its production value, an exploitation film crew, headed by its director (Perkins), descend on the abandoned location while, spiky haired screenwriter David Harris (Rohner) is hellbent on learning more behind the riot that occurred.  Haunted by disturbing nightmares set in the prison, David’s stuntwoman girlfriend Susan Malone (Foreman) attempts to keep it cool until the “half-alive” Moser begins his killing spree once again.  Outside of painting a pointless link to Moser’s father and helping hand on his path of destruction, Destroyer has fun within its simplistic borders of behind the bars mayhem.  While Perkins has little to do outside of being comically frustrated with his B-movie lead actress, Foreman and Rohner give appreciable performances with Alzado’s over the top energy taking the cake.  Mindlessly entertaining, bloody high points include, a corrupt warden being torched, a fellow officer being introduced to a jackhammer and Perkins’ director being eye-poppingly electrocuted.  Scant on exposition, Destroyer lives for cheeky absurdity and generally succeeds when piling on the body count.

    Beautifully photographed with lavish production design displayed, Edge of Sanity combines the tall tale of Jekyll & Hyde with the infamous murder spree of Jack the Ripper for a uniquely styled shocker.  Appearing in one of his final film roles, Anthony Perkins fits naturally into his character’s dual personality with a keen balance of derangement and normalcy.  Following a lab accident amongst chemicals, Dr. Henry Jekyll’s personality alters into the depraved Jack Hyde.  Stalking the London streets for women of the night, Hyde lures the promiscuous beauties into the shadows where his sexual urges are overpowered by homicidal rage.  Erotically charged, Hyde’s interest in local whore Susannah (Sarah Maur Thorp, River of Death), who bears a striking resemblance to a prostitute Jekyll encountered as a child, becomes his obsession as he indulges her with his addictive substance in order to carry out his murderous deeds.  A British production, Edge of Sanity maintains an air of class amongst its more brutal set pieces with its performances and surrealistic touches raising its quality over many of the decade’s attempts at atmospheric horror.  Criminally underrated and one of Perkins’ more undervalued roles, Edge of Sanity is an effective opus with one foot in timeless literature and the other seeped in the mystery of real world terror.    

    Both films arrive with 1080p transfers, screened in their respective 1.78:1 (Destroyer) and 1.85:1 (Edge of Sanity) aspect ratios.  Newly mastered from the only surviving elements, Destroyer appears noticeably soft at times with skin tones reading infrequently oversaturated.  Meanwhile, colors found in Foreman’s bright attire and Alzado’s burnt make-up effects are nicely balanced while, black levels are generally pleasing with only mild speckling on display.  Furthermore, Edge of Sanity excels as a sharper transfer all around with little to no anomalies, excellent detail and an overall filmic appearance.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, Destroyer hosts occasional cracks and pops with dialogue never compromised although, range can be moderately subdued.  In addition, Edge of Sanity offers solid audio levels with strong dialogue delivery and Composer Frédéric Talgorn’s (Buried Alive) score authoritatively delivered.  Lastly, the sole supplements included are a Destroyer Trailer (1:03) and an Edge of Insanity Trailer (1:08). 

    Eccentrically billed, Destroyer / Edge of Sanity make for an unusual combination of features, both headlined by the remarkably talented Anthony Perkins.  While Destroyer is a harmlessly fun romp that boasts an eccentric killer and even wilder death sequences, Edge of Sanity is unquestionably the better made feature with frightening surrealism and an underrated performance from Perkins.  Inviting more appreciation to these overlooked efforts, Scream Factory’s latest double feature may be a bit mad but, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available April 12th from Scream Factory, Destroyer / Edge of Sanity can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean 25th Anniversary Collection DVD Review

    Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Rowan Atkinson

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Celebrating 25 years since its original debut, Mr. Bean returns with all 14 episodes, fully remastered and bursting with bonus content, courtesy of Fabulous Films.  In this landmark British series, comedic genius Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English) stars as the dim-witted Mr. Bean who finds himself in the perils of everyday situations gone hilariously wrong.  Child-like and loaded with physical humor, Mr. Bean would become an instant hit in the United Kingdom before reaching worldwide success and award recognition for its awkwardly lovable protagonist.

    Mum on dialogue and basked in slapstick comedy akin to Chaplin or Keaton, Mr. Bean captures audiences with its innocent approach of a buffoonish character caught in one embarrassing situation after another.  Rowan Atkinson commands the role of the jacket and tie wearing mute with perfect comedic timing that breaks the chains of language barriers and delivers one of comedies most hysterical creations.  Whether Mr. Bean is struggling to take an exam, swimming in the local pool or simply eating a sandwich in the park, issues arise that only Atkinson’s awkward delivery can weed Mr. Bean out of.  Its simple set ups and reoccurring gags including, a knee-slapping feud with a blue Regal Supervan that normally meets a crushing fate courtesy of Mr. Bean, is one of the many pleasures that keeps viewers overwhelmed with laughter.  As a man with the personality of a child, Mr. Bean finds friendship in his appropriately named teddy bear, Teddy, and taps into the relatable and downright comical scenarios of falling asleep during Mass and trying to remain calm during a particularly scary film.  Coasting along in most episodes in his miniaturized vehicle, Mr. Bean rarely needs words to convey his frustrations and enthusiasm with goofball mannerisms and excellent straight men allowing Atkinson’s comedic force to burst off the screen with even greater impact.

    Airing for what seems like a shockingly short episode count, Mr. Bean ran for an impressive five years on the UK’s ITV network before, catapulting to worldwide success that would net the comedic gem countless, well deserved awards including, the Rose d’Or.  A short-lived animated series and two feature films would follow to much financial and critical success cementing Mr. Bean’s status as an icon of comedy.  While, Atkinson has flirted with the notion of retiring his beloved character in recent years, Mr. Bean remains the performer’s greatest success with his moronic innocence and delightful physical abilities that continue to keep audiences in stitches.  A quarter century old, Mr. Bean is a timeless gem of nonstop laughs that perfectly encapsulates the unwavering charm of slapstick shenanigans, wonderfully realized by Atkinson’s unstoppable talent.

    Fabulous Films presents all 14 episodes of Mr. Bean digitally remastered and sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  A suitable boost in quality from their original broadcast, Mr. Bean still shows signs of its inherent video source but, hardly disappoints with a clean picture, adequate colors and no signs of wear and tear to speak of.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, Mr. Bean, although scant on dialogue, still offers audible levels leaving nothing in the dust while, its prominent laugh track comes across strong with viewers’ own laughter most assuredly drowning it out.  Graciously celebrating its 25th anniversary, special features run aplenty with Missing Scenes including “Turkey Weight” (1:29), “Armchair Sale” (2:57), “Marching” (0:42) and “Playing with Matches” (0:37).  In addition, The Story of Mr. Bean  Documentary (39:57) finds Rowan Atkinson and other key talent discuss the genesis of the character and the success of the popular series.  Plus, Never Before Seen-On-TV Sketches for “Bus Stop” (5:45) and “Library” (9:30) are included along with, The Best Bits of Mr. Bean (71:47), a Mr. Bean: The Animated Series Trailer (0:49) and a 7-page episode guide with accompanying stills rounding out the supplemental offerings.

    Influenced by the silent film stars of yesteryear, Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean is a modern day response that is equally timeless and hilarious as those before him.  The clumsy actions and physical hijinks that ensue in their aftermath have established Mr. Bean as a bonafide gem of comedy that continues to tickle the funny bones of audiences everywhere since its debut in 1990.  Fabulous Films' digitally remastered collection of all things Bean greatly improves from the original broadcasts, preserving the iconic show for another 25 years of ripe discovery and endless revisiting.  Released in conjunction with pop culture enthusiasts, Shout! Factory, and packed with terrific bonus content, the strength and sheer memorability of Atkinson’s vastly uncoordinated character earns Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean the highest of recommendations!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 24th from Shout! Factory, Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.