Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category

Currently showing posts tagged Canada

  • 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.

  • The Gate (1987) Blu-ray Review

    The Gate (1987)

    Director: Tibor Takacs 

    Starring: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp & Christa Denton

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After an innocent backyard excavation for crystal stones unearths something sinister, The Gate finds best friends Glen (Stephen Dorff, Somewhere) and Terry (Louis Tripp, Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird) forced to defend themselves against a siege of demons and determine a way to close the evil portal before it’s too late.

    Eliminating parents and other authority figures as rapidly as possible, The Gate pits unsupervised adolescents against the forces of darkness, using only their ingenuity and household items to defend themselves against the ghouls and goblins of the underworld.  Inadvertently opening a hellish backyard portal with the assistance of a satanic heavy metal album, best friends Glen and Terry are confronted with a series of nightmarish images of deceased parents back from the dead and the painful realities of a beloved pet’s passing to shake their youthful cores.  With no adults in sight and Glen’s older sister Al (Christa Denton, 8 Million Ways to Die) taking full advantage with a house party rampant with underage drinking and levitation attempts turned frighteningly real, the demonic forces grow stronger in their attempt to invade the teen’s quaint suburban existence.  Pursued by a pint-sized army of fiendish minions realized through a series of technical tricks ranging from costumed performers, stop-motion animation and forced perspective, Glen, Terry and Al must face their fears in order to definitively close the gate before time runs out.  Although slow-building with a genuine innocence captured in the chemistry between the young performers, The Gate stretches the boundaries of its PG-13 rating with macabre touches of a dead construction worker emerging from the walls, a punctured eyeball through a child’s hand and an overgrown demon flinging his young victims with no remorse to effectively chill preteen audiences.  With false senses of security at every turn and survival seemingly futile, the trio of teens rely on Barbie dolls, dad’s shotgun and model rockets to banish the demons in Director Tibor Takacs’ (I, Madman) effectively realized and certifiably scary devil-raising feature.

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate presents The Gate with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The latest addition in their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, the film is a remarkable upgrade from its near decade old DVD release that honors filmic integrity, mildly soft but still natural-looking skin tones and a sharp color scheme present in the suburban greenery as well as Glen’s red space camp jacket and Al’s lime green sweater.  In addition, black levels are solid with detail largely admired in the creature designs while, only the slightest hint of speckling is observed in this otherwise picturesque presentation of the 80s cult classic.  Equipped with a perfectly adequate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue with ease, heavy metal tunes, lightning storms and rocket blasts all offer solid emphases on the well-orchestrated track.

    Much like the demons bursting from the gate, the overflowing wealth of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Tibor Takacs, Writer Michael Nankin and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, a second Audio Commentary with Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon, Special Effects Artist Frank Carere & Matte Photographer Bill Taylor plus, an Isolated Score and Audio Interview with Composers Michael Hoenig & J. Peter Robinson.  In addition, Red Shirt Pictures delivers several newly recorded featurettes that explore many of the low-budget effort’s technical achievements including, The Gate: Unlocked (27:54) where Takacs and Cook discuss the film’s making in-depth, Minion Maker with Craig Reardon (22:36), From Hell It Came with Andras Hamori (13:13), The Workman Speaks! with Carl Kraines (12:22) and the most interesting Made in Canada (28:28) that sits down with six local cast and crew members from the Canadian shoot as they recall their own unique experiences making the film.  Meanwhile, ported over from the 2009 release, From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate (14:53), The Gatekeepers with Tibor Takacs & Michael Nankin (15:46) and The Making of The Gate (22:55) are also on-hand with the Teaser Trailer (1:08), Theatrical Trailer (1:50), TV Spot (0:32), Storyboard Gallery (9:27) and a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (10:20) rounding out the profound assortment of extras.

    A childhood staple that still stands up, The Gate is a fiendishly fun effort of teens going toe to toe with demonic beings with no one but themselves to rely on.  Incorporating the then timely black sheep of heavy metal into its vortex of fear, Tibor Takacs’ sharply constructed and gloriously effects-driven opus plays largely into the comforting confines of nostalgia where its discovery for many through video rental and repeat cable viewings made it a longstanding favorite.  Hoped for since its line’s formation, The Gate makes it high-definition debut with remarkable technical grades that far exceed its previous release and an overwhelming supply of bonus features earning it the highest praise as one of Vestron Video’s best offerings to date!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available February 28th from Lionsgate, The Gate can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Wait Until Dark (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Wait Until Dark (1967)

    Director: Terence Young

    Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Creena, Jack Weston & Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Struggling to adjust to her recent blindness, Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffanys) stars as Susy Hendrix in Wait Until Dark.  When three ruthless thugs invade her home in search of a doll stuffed with heroin, suspense and thrills dominate Susy’s night of survival.  Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Richard Creena (First Blood), Jack Weston (Cuba) and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Batman: The Animated Series) costar.

    Based on the stage play by Frederick Knott and unquestionably invoking a Hitchcockian tone in its approach, Wait Until Dark builds its incarcerated pulse by setting its narrative in a New York brownstone inhabited by a blind woman whose darkest nightmare is only just beginning.  After an attractive female smuggles heroin from Montreal to New York City in the stuffing of a doll, paranoia consumes her, entrusting fellow passenger Sam Hendrix (Zimbalist, Jr.) to care for the seemingly innocent toy from falling into the hands of the crazed Harry Roat, Jr. (Arkin).  Later, two convincing conmen, Mike Talman (Creena) and Carlino (Weston), arrive at what they think is the drug-smuggling female’s residence only to be greeted by Roat who blackmails the duo with her corpse.  Striking a deal beneficial to all parties dependent on the recovery of the doll, Hendrix’s wife Susy, recently left blind by a car accident, returns to her apartment and is quickly misled by false identities and elaborate tales by the trio, fingering her husband’s possible involvement with the deceased female while sniffing out the whereabouts of the desired doll.  Overcomplicating the festivities with Talman’s drawn-out charade as one of Sam’s war buddies and Carlino’s phony telephone calls as an officer to throw the already disadvantaged Susy off their scent halts the film’s pace substantially while, Hepburn’s vulnerable performance and Arkin’s seedy turn as the lead psychopath keeps the thriller focused.  Graced with a hauntingly eerie score by Henry Mancini (Victor/Victoria, Mommie Dearest) and a positively nail-biting finale pitting the cutthroat Roat against Susy who uses her condition to her advantage, Wait Until Dark may take unnecessary detours into the masquerade to the extreme for much of its runtime yet, the strong performances and taut direction by Terence Young (Dr. No) more than balance the proceedings.

    Warner Archive presents Wait Until Dark with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Filmic-looking throughout, clarity is pristine with black levels reading deeply, namely during the film’s fleeting moments of pitch black terror.  In addition, textures and skin tones leave little else to be desired with exacting touches and top-notch detail observed.  Furthermore, no digital-noise tinkering or other age-related anomalies are present on this exceptional presentation.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that packs a healthy range, clear capturing of dialogue and an effective handling of Mancini’s sinister score, the track is a strong counterpart to its visual showcase.  Special features include, Take a Look in the Dark (8:40), ported over from its previous DVD release, the shore featurette interviews star Alan Arkin and Producer Mel Ferrer on the film’s making.  In addition, the Theatrical Trailer (2:36) and the film’s Warning Teaser Trailer (1:08) round out the otherwise scant offerings.

    Undoubtedly influential albeit with its own share of shortcomings, Wait Until Dark excels through Hepburn and Arkin’s top-notch performances and the film’s exceptionally tense final act that one could only wish seeped into the remainder of the film.  Nonetheless, Warner Archive serves this favored thriller with remarkable technical grades worthy of high praise.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 24th from Warner Archive, Wait Until Dark can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Park Is Mine (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Park Is Mine (1985)

    Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

    Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Helen Shaver & Yaphet Kotto

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the suicide of his fellow solider, The Park Is Mine centers on a disgruntled Vietnam war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men) whose disappointment in his country’s respect for vets turns dangerous.  Staging an elaborate take over of New York’s Central Park, the ex-solider’s attempt to bring attention to the bigger issues are met with resistance by the city’s police force and equally skilled commandos.  Helen Shaver (The Believers) and Yaphet Kotto (Alien) costar.

    A surprising made-for-TV effort that exudes cinematic flair, The Park Is Mine, a byproduct of the era’s lucrative Canadian tax-shelter program and a home video mainstay guaranteed to be seen in local shops’ action sections, manages to pack a suspense-filled feature of firepower.  Based on the book by Stephen Peters while deviating from its source’s much darker tones and casting a far more humble light upon its protagonist, The Park Is Mine finds jobless and directionless war veteran Mitch (Jones) grieving over the loss of his former brother-in-arms and uncovering his friend’s unfulfilled attempt to make the masses reappraise their view of sacrificing soldiers.  Examining his fallen comrade’s detailed plans and already implemented tactics to successfully take over the city’s expansive Central Park, Mitch, equally dissatisfied with his own life’s hand, takes command of the operation.  Decorated in war paint, a Yankees hat and heavily loaded with artillery and explosives, Mitch’s terroristic takeover is met with unsuccessful thwarts by New York’s finest before the city’s under appreciated citizens see the system-shaker as a hometown hero.  While the film is complimented with supporting turns by Yaphet Kotto, a pillar of police procedurals and gangster pictures as a cautious officer, Helen Shaver as a daring news camerawoman who gets personally embroiled in Mitch’s one-man war and Gale Garnett (Mad Monster Party) as Mitch’s estranged wife who supplies unintentionally welcome comic relief as she hassles her husband with phone calls during his coup, Tommy Lee Jones’ performance single-handedly dominates the film with the precise blending of a calculated war expert and the shakiness of a distressed man winging his uncertain actions.  Climaxing with a fatal showdown against deadly mercenaries, The Park Is Mine may keep its bodycount low but maintains a tight pace and explosively well-handled action set pieces.  Further cementing its big-screen aura, Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Risky Business) electronically-charged score adds a cherry-topping flavor to this effectively dramatic showcase of urban warfare and anti-heroes defending their turf and wrongly overlooked commitments to their country.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Park Is Mine with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Excusing minor instances of speckling, natural grain is apparent and most pleasing while, skin tones are nicely preserved with Mitch’s fading warpaint and perspiration also well-detailed.  In addition, colors found in Central Park’s robust greenery and the police officer’s bullet-proof vests pop strongly with nighttime sequences demonstrating easy-to-see black levels throughout.  Although several quick drops in volume occur during a diner sequence between Shaver and her colleague, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 handles the duration of all other dialogue with crispness and clarity while, the film’s machine gun blasts and other explosions make respectable racket on the track.  Meanwhile, Tangerine Dream’s underrated synth-score is nothing short of a listening pleasure whenever its head is reared.  Special features include, a highly informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Nathaniel Thompson that covers the intriguing background of the film’s Canadian production backers, the tonal and character development changes made between the book and its adaptation plus, the onscreen acting talent and plenty of other worthy film recommendations that come up in discussion.  Furthermore, Trailers for The Park Is Mine (2:08), Blown Away (1:35), The Package (2:18), Report to the Commissioner (2:21) & Busting (2:45) round out the on-disc supplements with a Reversible Cover Art also on hand.

    Impressing with its big-screen bravado, superior acting talent and choice score compliments of electronic mavericks Tangerine Dream, The Park Is Mine appears more brutal than what is presented while orchestrating well-conceived suspense and a vastly underrated turn from Jones.  Airing on HBO and routinely stocked on video store shelves before their decline, The Park Is Mine remains a worthy thriller to take to the front lines.  A most welcome addition to their wildly diverse catalog, KL Studio Classics salutes this Vietnam vet feature with a top-notch HD debut and a valued commentary track, as informative as its film is entertaining.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Black Christmas (1974) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Black Christmas (1974)

    Director: Bob Clark

    Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder & John Saxon 

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Bob Clark (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, A Christmas Story), Black Christmas finds a houseful of sorority sisters stalked by a menacing stranger.  Harassed with obscene phone calls and violently picked off by the mysterious killer, fear and panic overwhelms the friends when their assailant proves to be closer than they thought.  Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror) and John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street) star.

    Hailing from the chilly Canadian north and predating John Carpenter’s 1978 trick-or-treating opus, Black Christmas, largely overlooked for its impact within the genre casts a masterfully suspenseful tone that continues to cut like a sharp icicle over four decades later.  Set within the bustling college town of Bedford, the ladies of the Pi Kappa Sigma house are prepping for their holiday getaways from school when terror strikes.  Disturbingly vulgar phone calls quickly turns into murder leaving the remaining sorority sisters scared for their own lives.  Brought to life by a diverse cast of local talent and thriving domestic stars, the house residents quickly gain the admiration of audiences for their naturalness and their unique character developments that find them struggling with alcoholism and relationship woes.  Unsettled by the murder of a young child and disappearance of their dwindling housemates, an investigation, led by Lt. Kenneth Fuller (Saxon), turns up more questions than answers related to the true culprit.  Incorporating POV footage from the killer long before its use became commonplace and encasing the film in a suffocating grip of dread eased only by well-injected touches of light humor, Black Christmas excels in its methodical plotting that although, slower-paced, serves the pre-slasher effort increasingly well.  Successfully tripping viewers up with several red herrings, tightly edited death scenes juxtaposed with Christmas caroling children and a strong “less is more” approach to its macabre narrative, Black Christmas remains one of the finest slices of holiday horror with twists not seen coming and a frightening finale that lives up to its cheeky tagline.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the original negative, Disc 1 features Black Christmas with a 1080p transfer, sporting the director’s preferred 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  In order to temper expectations, Scream Factory appreciatively alerted viewers of inherent damage to the negative that remains present although, not hopefully intrusive.  True to their word and free of any digital noise, skin tones are natural-looking while, contrast is nicely more boosted than previous releases with colors in costume textures and patterns appearing lively.  Instances of speckling remain on display throughout the film but remain noticeably more cleaned up than before while, black levels also even out nicely with passing moments of murkiness observed.  Amidst its age-related anomalies, presentation is filmic as can be earning Black Christmas its best HD outing to date.  For completists, Disc 2 includes the equally adequate 2006 Critical Mass HD Master, screened in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio for those who fancy it.  Equipped with a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that hones pleasing exchanges of dialogue, blowing winds and creaky floorboard ambiance in the sorority house, controversy has emerged regarding the track’s uses of substituted sound effects and drowned out lines while, its accompanying audio options (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo and Mono mixes, namely the latter) suffers from substantial cracks and pops.  Although an internal investigation appears to be underway for the tracks, the 5.1 mix remains the most effective listening option.

    Predominately packaged with recycled extras on top of a few new exclusives, Disc 1’s special features consist of three vintage Audio Commentary tracks.  The first including Director Bob Clark, the second featuring Actors John Saxon & Keir Dullea and lastly, one from “Billy”.  In addition, an Audio Interview with Director Bob Clark, lasting roughly 30 minutes, can also be listened to while observing the feature.

    Meanwhile, Disc 2’s bonus feature packed offerings include, the newly captured Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle (26:11) and Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin (26:35), both of which dig deep into the thespians respective careers and their time making Bob Clark’s Christmastime shocker.  Vintage additions cover, Black Christmas Legacy (40:22), a 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 (18:02), On Screen!: Black Christmas (48:41), 12 Days of Black Christmas (19:48), Black Christmas Revisited (36:25), Archival Interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark & John Saxon (1:41:30), a Midnight Screening Q&A with John Saxon, Bob Clark & Carl Zittrer (20:21) and Two Scenes with a new soundtrack (3:04).  Finally, English and French Theatrical Trailers (8:16), Original TV and Radio Spots (3:09), an Alternate Title Sequence (2:47) utilizing the film’s Silent Night, Evil Night moniker and a Photo Gallery (53 in total) conclude the on-disc treats while, Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster is also provided.

    A genre staple that made way for the masked madman antics of the 1980s, Black Christmas has endured due to its chilling tone and strangulating suspense that makes it one of the scariest gift wrapped features to revisit during the jolliest time of year.  Early reports and ongoing speculation into the release’s audio issues aside, Scream Factory’s new 2K transfer makes for an early Christmas miracle that should easily satisfy dedicated fans while, the release’s few new extras and Joel Robinson’s cover artwork nicely compliment the hefty sum of repurposed supplements.  While its technical merits have rightly been questioned with a hopefully pleasing resolution to follow, Black Christmas remains highly recommend for the trailblazing shocker it is. 

    RATING: 4/5

    Available December 13th from Scream Factory, Black Christmas can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Wolf Lake (1980) Blu-ray Review

    Wolf Lake (1980)

    Director: Burt Kennedy

    Starring: Rod Steiger, David Huffman, Robin Mattson, Jerry Hardin, Richard Herd & Paul Mantee

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Writer/Director Burt Kennedy (The Train Robbers), Wolf Lake centers on decorated WWII veteran Charlie (Rob Steiger, In the Heat of the Night), along with his war buddies, who travel to a Canadian lakeside for a weekend of hunting.  Shortly after meeting caretaker David (David Huffman, Blood Beach) and his girlfriend, tension rises once his recent past as a war deserter is revealed.  Short on tolerance, Charlie engages in a crazed hunt for the couple, invoking David’s own ruthless survival instincts.  Robin Mattson (Santa Barbra), Jerry Hardin (Cujo), Richard Herd (Planes, Trains & Automobiles) and Paul Mantee (Framed) costar.

    Surprisingly filmed in Mexico, Wolf Lake is a rarely seen yet, masterfully achieved effort that examines the contrasting viewpoints amongst soldiers, divided by generations and unique experiences.  Delivering a powerhouse performance, Rod Steiger conveys unwavering patriotism, vulnerability, anger and madness in his role as lead hunter and WWII vet Charlie whose crackpot remarks towards reserved caretaker David ignite a war of differences between the two former soldiers.  Learning of David’s wartime desertion while coping with the death of his own son killed in Vietnam, Charlie’s emotions run rampant with desires to make David pay for his cowardice ways.  When a belligerent evening of drinking brings harm to David’s girlfriend, a new war is claimed between the two parties.  Methodically tracking the couple with rifles, Charlie and his cohorts find an admirable opponent in David who is merely trying to stay alive.  Featuring a shrieking score from Composer Ken Thorne (Superman II) and nail biting suspense throughout, Wolf Lake is a vastly underrated chapter in the annals of Vietnam War centered pictures with Steiger’s phenomenal performance ranking among one of his best and unfortunately overlooked.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Wolf Lake with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While image stability is slightly uneven at times with scratches and scruffs making occasional notices, skin tones are accurate and well-defined while, the isolated scenic locations retain their natural splendor.  Furthermore, speckling is not uncommon in lower lit sequences with the overall condition of its elements satisfying otherwise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, cracks and pops make seldom statements while, dialogue is audibly relayed with outdoorsy ambiance including, howling winds and chirping birds sounding clear while, Thorne’s musical queues make passable strides in effectiveness.  

    Special features include, Jerry Hardin and Richard Herdon on Wolf Lake (10:17).  In this brief featurette, the elderly actors recall the bond formed between the cast at the film’s isolated location with mentions of Burt Kennedy’s own decorated war history and his respected talent.  In addition, Lance Hool on Wolf Lake (11:21) finds the producer recollecting on his unique upbringing in Mexico that earned him parts in Howard Hawks films and other features before transitioning to producing.  Hool discusses the casting of Steiger and his unbelievable audition, the film’s controversial themes that caused physical fights during test screenings and its slow distribution death resulting in Hool turning down future Vietnam related pictures such as First Blood and Platoon.  Furthermore, a Trailer Gallery consisting of Avenging Force (1:18), Malone (2:00), Assassination (1:57), Steele Justice (1:36) and Hero and the Terror (1:26) are included with Alternate Artwork concluding the supplemental package.

    Emotionally charged and unnervingly thrilling, Wolf Lake stands as one of Steiger’s most passionate performances that has remained largely unseen due to the film’s hot-button themes released in the wake of the controversial Vietnam war.  Although not taking place on the frontline of battle, Writer/Director Burt Kennedy’s character-driven opus, surrounding the expectations of a soldier and the damaging effects of war on those involved, is a powerful showcase of different opinions turned deadly.  Worthy of praise for rescuing such a rediscovered gem, Kino Lorber Studio Classics welcomes the film to HD with expected quality and insightful interviews regarding the film’s unique making and unfortunate release history.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • Slasher: Season One Blu-ray Review

    Slasher: Season One 

    Director: Craig David Wallace

    Starring: Katie McGrath, Brandon Jay McLaren, Steve Byers, Dean McDermott & Wendy Crewson

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    30 years after her parents were brutally slain, Slasher finds Sarah Bennett (Katie McGrath, Jurassic World) and her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) returning to her hometown of Waterbury when a series of copycat murders begin occurring.  With each victim’s death centered around one of the seven deadly sins, the identity of The Executioner comes into question as the original killer remains behind bars.  With the sleepy community’s body count rising, dark secrets of those closest to Sarah are brought to light making everyone a potential suspect.

    Descending from the northern region that bred such classics as My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night, Slasher rewards fans of body count pictures with a contemporary model that adheres to the beloved tropes of its influences while taking advantage of its episodic narrative to concoct a mysteriously geared plot and multi-layered characters.  Headlined by rising newcomer Katie McGrath whose Irish accent sneaks its way into many a episodes, Sarah Bennett’s return to her hometown of Waterbury is met with promise before slowly unraveling when a new series of murders takes place modeled after the seven deadly sins.  Racially and sexually diverse, Sarah’s friends and fellow townspeople including gay couple Justin (Mark Ghanimé, Helix) and Robin (Christopher Jacot, Rogue), her husband’s boss and publisher of the Waterbury Bulletin Alison Sutherland (Mayko Nguyen, Cracked) and the incarcerated Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow, Poltergeist) responsible for the murder of Sarah’s parents all become targets of the blade-wielding Executioner.  Shortly after surviving her own brush with the masked murderer, Sarah’s investigation into her past reveals unsavory secrets and deeply buried skeletons in the closet that paint a disturbing picture of the parents she never knew.  Determined to learn the truth regarding her parents and insight into who may be responsible for the new killings, Sarah relies on visits with Tom Winston to pave the way to answers.  Meanwhile, Sarah’s husband Dylan, serving as editor-in-chief of the local paper is conflicted when his own journalistic drive for a career making story unveils a series of lies pertaining to his relationship with his wife.  

    Notably influenced by John Carpenter’s Halloween and modern cult favorite It Follows, Slasher boasts a sometimes overabundant cast of characters, each with their own dark secrets that luckily all pay off with unexpected plot twists, intensely graphic demises or both.  Starring a cast of predominant Canucks, Dean McDermott (Power Play), impressively bouncing back from reality television hogwash, appears as Waterbury’s corrupt police chief and delivers the standout performance of the series showcasing the Toronto native’s diverse chops.  Creatively overseen by Creator/Writer Aaron Martin (The Best Years) and Director Craig David Wallace (Todd and the Book of Pure Evil), Slasher’s quality standards are evident in its plotting and suspense-driven jolts that never shy from cutting limbs off victims or showcasing a particularly unsettling drug overdose to make their violent points yet, gore never remains the primary focus for this tightly crafted whodunit.  Marking the Chiller Network’s first original program, Slasher may be horror’s closest answer to HBO’s True Detective with its small-town murder spree revived decades later where characters, many of whom corrupted by various factors, are hardly what they appear to be.  A fine melding of mystery, scandal and murder, Slasher may have minor setbacks namely its killer’s motivations but, its pros strongly outweigh its cons.

    Scream Factory presents Slasher with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  Presenting its eight episode debut season across two discs, black levels appear soundly inky with detail sharply evident in The Executioner’s leather hood while, skin tones look lush and natural.  Meanwhile, colors found in wardrobe choices and the show’s many blood splattering moments pop exceptionally well allowing for a respectably solid high-definition presentation for a modern series of its ilk.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, dialogue never suffers and is consummately projected with the series’ more climactic areas involving stalking sequences, frightened screams, gunshots and police sirens making effective statements.  In addition, optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes are also provided on each episode.  Although brief, the sole Behind the Scenes (14:59) featurette provides a decent general overview of the series’ making with the majority of the headlining cast on hand for interviews plus, Creator Aaron Martin and Series Director Craig David Wallace discuss the show’s influences ranging from John Carpenter and Brian De Palma to Dario Argento.

    Hitting a home run with their first slice of original content, Chiller Network’s Slasher takes obvious cues from its 70s and 80s influences while spearheading a modern mystery brought to life by a diverse pool of onscreen talent and ripe with some of television’s most grisly gore.  Basking in an era of top-quality, small screen frights, Slasher may be the new killer on the block but cuts to the point with its terrifying and scandalous turns leaving viewers glued.  In only their second television series acquisition to date, Scream Factory has made a razor-sharp call adding this acclaimed newcomer to their ever-growing catalog, one that horror hounds will surely find much to chomp into.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 12th from Scream Factory, Slasher: Season One can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Boy (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Boy (2016)

    Director: William Brent Bell

    Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, James Russell & Ben Robson

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a secluded English village, The Boy finds young American Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead) relocating to assume the position of nanny to a young boy.  Shortly after learning she will be caring for a life-sized doll modeled after the child in the wake of his death, Greta begins experiencing a series of unexplainable events leading her to believe the doll is alive.

    Escaping an abusive relationship, Greta Evans (Cohan) treks abroad to care for Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire’s (Jim Norton, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Diana Hardcastle, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) 8-year-old son on their sprawling English property.  Laughing off what she assumes is a practical joke, Greta quickly realizes her responsibilities are to care for a porcelain doll bearing the likeness of their late son Brahms.  Serving as a coping device for the grieving parents, Greta is ordered to adhere to a series of strict caring rules, treating the inanimate object as if it were alive while the Heelshire’s take a long overdue holiday.  Striking up a relationship with local grocer Malcolm (Rupert Evans, Hellboy), the American woman slowly learns more about the real Brahms and his peculiar personality before his untimely death in a house fire.  Alone and with little outside interaction, Greta’s deviation from the doll’s care triggers an eerie chain events that finds Greta’s personal belongings disappearing, records being played on their own and the doll noticeably moving from one place to another.  Frightened and questioning her own sanity, Greta’s fears are validated when Malcolm is witness to the boy’s unbelievable movement.  Uncertain whether evil forces are at play or not, Greta’s nightmare ex-boyfriend unexpectedly arrives hoping to forcefully resolve their differences only to experience Brahms’ true intentions firsthand.

    Shot on location in Victoria, British Columbia and originally titled The Inhabitant, The Boy is cinema’s latest attempt at haunted doll scares with a thinly veiled plot audiences will spot a million miles away.  Admittedly, while its setup is painfully generic with the greater majority of its thrills spoiled in its marketing campaign, The Boy takes a third act detour mildly unique to what’s expected.  Unfortunately, although its watcher in the walls angle matched with a fast-paced chase of its heroine jolts the film with much needed energy, attempts to raise the film above its mediocrity are too little, too late.  Inexpensively produced and released during the dead of winter, The Boy would perform strongly at the box-office for its intended teen audience yet, plays itself too safe, ultimately lacking any solid suspense and indulging in below average cheap scares.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Boy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Excellently handled, skin tones are exacting and true, details found in knickknacks around the Heelshire’s lavish household are crisp while, the grassy exteriors are lavish and bold.  Black levels are predominately inky and pleasing with only fleeting mentions of crush bearing little to no consequence to the film’s remarkable transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue, including moments of hushed tones, are perfectly captured while, moody ambiance around the house is exquisitely balanced against the wall smashing and high-pitched shrieks of its final act.  With the exception of a Digital HD Code, no bonus features have been included.

    Publicized as more of the same while its final product strives to be different, The Boy is an uneventful opus that builds itself on lackluster frights suited for teens who don’t know any better.  Hardly the worst of its kind, The Boy does little to stand out in a crowd marking it for a forgettable future.  Luckily, Universal Studios Home Entertainment pampers the feature with exceptional technical merits but, severely slacks in the special features department.  In a toy box filled of better supernatural efforts centered on dolls, The Boy shouldn’t be counted on to haunt viewers’ dreams.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available May 10th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Boy can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hellions (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Hellions (2015)

    Director: Bruce McDonald

    Starring: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson & Luke Bilyk

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set on Halloween, Hellions centers on teenage Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose, Degrassi: The Next Generation) who’s forced to defend herself and home against unsavory mischief makers.  Determined to take control of something dear to Dora, the hellacious trick-or-treaters will stop at nothing until they have what they desire.  Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), Rossif Sutherland (Timeline), Rachel Wilson (Total Drama) and Luke Bilyk (Degrassi: The Next Generation) co-star.

    Establishing an atmospheric Halloween-time spirit, Hellions melds the year’s most sinister season with intense teenage conflict for a uniquely suited horror outing.  After learning she is pregnant, high school senior Dora Vogel (Rose) scrambles to find the way to tell her boyfriend the unexpected news.  Left home alone while getting ready for a Halloween party, Dora is slowly harassed by several vicious trick-or-treaters with knowledge of her unborn child.  Fearing for her life while pregnancy pains increase at an accelerated rate, Dora finds herself in a nightmarish version of her home as the deadly troublemakers multiply and desire her child.  Aided by Dr. Henry (Sutherland) and neighborhood officer Mike Corman (Patrick), Dora must fight for her survival with household appliances and limited firepower to evade being sacrificed to the hellions’ cause.

    Combining supernatural spooks with a home invasion thriller, Hellions demands to be original and generally succeeds.  The emotional conflict of Dora’s unexpected pregnancy raises the film’s suspense levels while, freakish imagery of the final girl’s evil reflection dining on a bloody fetus is an uncomfortable yet, effective moment.  Although the monstrous hell raisers appear visually reminiscent to Michael Dougherty’s Sam character in his Halloween opus Trick ‘r Treat, the designs work nicely.  In addition, as Dora’s pregnancy increases at a rapid pace throughout the film, Director Bruce McDonald’s (Pontypool) shift into a monotone, nightmarish reality sends the Canadian effort into visual pool of dread.  Collecting a minor body count and concluding on a rather open-ended note, Hellions stands as a contemporary chiller that dares to be different, choosing to blend genres and forming its own entertaining personality.

    Scream Factory presents Hellions with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, skin tones are impressively detailed and natural looking while, the suburban setting and greenery of its local pumpkin patches boast impressive colors.  In addition, black levels are generally strong with the few minor imperfections appearing more artistically driven than true technical defects.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is well handled with only occasional instances of Dora and boyfriend Jace speaking in hushed tones requiring additional volumes boosts.  Otherwise, the hellions’ attack on Dora’s home, shotgun blasts and the fierce weather conditions during Dora’s long night all make strong impressions on the boisterous mix.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Unfortunately scant, special features include, the film’s Trailer (1:48) and a Reversible Cover Art displaying alternate poster imagery.  

    Providing a refreshing spin on the Halloween night of terror formula, Hellions layers its central character with greater stakes uncommon to most final girls while, its injection of supernatural forces gives the film leeway to enter nightmarish realms for one eerily intense standoff.  Marking one of their finest contemporary acquisitions from IFC Midnight, Scream Factory presents their latest spookshow with top-notch technical grades although, special features are wholly lacking.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • A Christmas Horror Story (2015) Blu-ray Review

    A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

    Director(s): Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban & Brett Sullivan

    Starring: George Buza, Rob Archer, Zoé De Grand Maison, Alex Ozerov & William Shatner

    Released by: RLJ Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    One year following a mysterious set of murders, A Christmas Horror Story centers on the interwoven tales of a trio of teenage investigators hoping to crack the case, the disturbed first responder whose young son becomes affected by the supernatural and a less than wholesome family hunted by the mythical Krampus.  In addition, Santa Claus is overwhelmed by more than Christmas Eve chaos when his elves turn into bloodthirsty monsters.  Continuing the revived trend of horror anthologies, A Christmas Horror Story takes full advantage of turning the cheeriest time of year into a bloody massacre.  Blending a murder mystery with tales of changeling creatures and St. Nick battling his loyal helpers turned man-eaters is a rollicking fun time.  While each set of characters share events in common, A Christmas Horror Story never truly brings them altogether for a more connective payoff, allowing each segment to stand better on their own hoofs.  In addition, its generally unknown cast, comprised of local Canadian talent, are effective with the more prominent William Shatner (Star Trek) relegated to little more than a cameo as an eggnog chugging radio disc jockey.  With each segment delivering the many unique subgenres of horror, all with pleasing doses of gore and crafty makeup effects, A Christmas Horror Story’s twist conclusion is a well added touch.  Although undoubtedly timed to coincide with this Christmas’ horror opus Krampus, A Christmas Horror Story is an admirable indie effort with several effective scares that can stand tall with other niche Xmas shockers.

    RLJ Entertainment presents A Christmas Horror Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A product of the digital age, clarity is sharp and pleasing with skin tones appearing natural and well-defined.  With the majority of its runtime spent in dim locations, black levels are inky and deep while, the brighter colors illuminating from decorations pop nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, sound quality impresses with dialogue consistently clear and the film’s more shocking moments of screams and other suspenseful jump moments hitting their marks.  Relatively scant on supplements, the sole inclusion A Christmas Horror Story: Behind the Scenes (14:45) is a standard EPK with brief interviews from key talent and onset footage of the shoot.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from RJL Entertainment, A Christmas Horror Story can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Prom Night (1980) Special Edition Blu-ray Review

    Prom Night (1980)

    Director: Paul Lynch

    Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens & Antoinette Bower

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Long considered one of the finest slashers to emerge from the 1980s, “Scream Queen” Jamie Lee Curtis lends her star power to this memorable Canadian offering.  Co-starring Leslie Nielsen (Airplane, The Naked Gun), Prom Night is a bloodthirsty tale of tragedy and revenge set on every teenagers‘ most special evening.  Remastered and restored in 2K, Synapse Films proudly presents the original disco madness classic on Blu-ray for the first time ever and packed with new bonus content.  

    Prom Night centers on four Hamilton High seniors hoarding a dark secret from their past.  After a childish game turned into tragedy, someone who witnessed the incident is seeking revenge.  On the evening of their high school prom, an axe-wielding madman has arrived to play a bloody game of his own on the unsuspecting teenagers.  Anne-Marie Martin (The Boogens), Michael Tough (Skullduggery), Pita Oliver (Double Negative), Mary Beth Rubens (Firebird 2015 AD), Joy Thompson (Trapped) and Sheldon Rybowski (Spring Fever) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Calm and calculated, Prom Night chooses to weave a tragedy and develop characters, as opposed to racking up the body count.  With the exception of the inaugural death sequence, this tax-sheltered production makes the viewer wait over an hour for evidence of a true slasher film.  Generally, this slow-burn approach would cost the film severely but, Prom Night is all the better for it.  After accidentally costing the life of one of their peers, four children promise to conceal their secret.  Six years later, Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Alex (Michael Tough) deal with the sadness of their deceased sister while, preparing for their prom.  Unfortunately, a hooded madman who witnessed the fatal incident is making harassing phone calls to the guilty teens.  Prom Night spins several red herrings with success while, maintaing the mystery of the masked assailant until the final act.  The remainder of the runtime allows the viewer to appreciate the colorful characters and their unique relationships with one another.  Best remembered for its cheesy disco sequences, Prom Night showcases the incredible dance skills of Jamie Lee Curtis who has somehow evaded a spot on the popular competition show, Dancing with the Stars.  As dates are found and jealous ex-girlfriends become bitter, prom night arrives with the axe-wielding murderer waiting in the shadows.  In its final act, Prom Night wears its slasher label proudly with suspense and a killer who never shies from chasing his victims.  Throat slashings and axe beheadings follow before a dance floor brawl ensues between Kim’s date and the killer.  The madman’s reveal is unexpected and emotional as the viewer genuinely sympathizes with this actions.  

    While, the film is relatively light on blood and slow moving, Prom Night works wonders as a thrilling whodunit during a time when disco was all the rage.  Halloween alumni, Jamie Lee Curtis, once again serves up a memorable performance as the final girl with rhythm, cementing her status as a bonafide horror icon.  Complimented by addicting disco tunes from Composer Paul Zaza (My Bloody Valentine, Curtains) and guided direction by Paul Lynch (Humongous), Prom Night rewards the viewer with an engaging story, charming performances and a bloody, neon-lit finale, slashers fans won’t soon forget.  

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    Remastered and restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Prom Night is presented with a 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Poorly treated in previous releases, Synapse Films‘ presentation is a revelation.  The overblown lighting and inherent softness in daytime sequences are retained but, finally controlled and nicely balanced.  Skin tones are accurately relayed and boast nice clarity.  Whether you’re admiring Anne-Marie Martin’s sparkling red gown, Casey Stevens‘ baby blue tux or the neon disco lights, colors pop incredibly well with much to appreciate.  While, minor specks and flakes appear, black levels are rich and boast the best visibility to date.  Previously known for its criminal mistreatment on home video, Synapse Films has brought their meticulous work ethic and dedication to one of slasher’s finest in its definitive form.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix, Prom Night is crisp with dialogue always audible.  With no hiss or distortion to speak of, Prom Night truly comes alive during its memorable prom sequences.  Composer Paul Zaza’s tunes pack a roaring punch and a suitable bass that fill your speakers with disco fever.  Glass shattering and van explosions also send sufficient shrieks to the soundscape, enriching the viewing experience along the way.  In addition, an original Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix is also included. 

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Director Paul Lynch & Screenwriter William Gray: Moderated by Pat Jankiewicz, Lynch and Gray jump right into the proceedings, playing a who’s who over the opening credits and detailing where everyones career went.  Lynch expresses his extreme interest in casting Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch fame in the lead role before Jamie Lee Curtis’ management caught wind of the project.  In addition, Nielsen, whom Lynch worked with several times, was hailed as a joy to work with.  Dry spells do occur but, Jankiewicz does a fine job keeping the two collaborators engaged, making this an otherwise informative listen.

    • The Horrors of Hamilton High: The Making of Prom Night (41:04): Red Shirt Pictures crafts this insightful history lesson on the making of the production.  Director Paul Lynch explains his ad concept for the movie sparking an interest with Halloween producer, Irwin Yablans.  Unfortunately for Yablans, Producer Peter Simpson quickly signed Lynch to a deal.  Cast members Mary Beth Rubens, Joy Thompson, Michael Tough and Jeff Wincott share their experiences from the film including, Nielsen’s off-screen hijinks using a fart machine.  Plus, Art Director Reuben Freed, Composer Paul Zaza and Prosthetics Creator Warren Keillor also share their memories and respective contributions to the film.  A splendid retrospective featurette that covers all the bases.  Prom Night enthusiasts couldn’t ask for more!

    • Original Theatrical Trailer (1:49)

    • Original TV Spots (3:17): Six in total.

    • Original Radio Spots (1:06): Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, two spots are included.

    • Motion Still Gallery (6:20): Also exclusive to the Blu-ray release.

    • Additional Footage Added for Television Broadcast (11:11): TV Version Editor Michael MacLaverty prefaces the included six scenes.

    • Never-Before-Seen Outtakes from the Original Prom Night Shoot (23:15): The final Blu-ray exclusive feature.

    • Reversible Cover Art  

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Beloved by fans and a personal favorite, Prom Night is a seminal high school slasher that chooses to mystify with suspense and character development, building to a climatic, bloody showdown on the dance floor.  Jamie Lee Curtis, who would board a terrifying train and face her Halloween foe once again before surrendering her scream queen status, shines as the sweet and sexy heroine with a talent for cutting a rug.  Accompanied by a far too brief appearance from funnyman Leslie Nielsen and a cast of talented Canadian hopefuls, Prom Night conveys a surprisingly twisty tale while, serving up a handful of teenage victims.  Shamefully handled for years, Synapse Films have outdone themselves restoring this slasher classic to its former glory.  Boasting bold colors and natural grain with a newly created surround remix, Prom Night has never looked and sounded better.  Overflowing with rich bonus content and a generously included reversible cover, Synapse Films has rewarded fans with one of the finest releases of the year!

    RATING: 5/5

    Also available on DVD, Prom Night can be purchased on September 9th from Synapse Films and Amazon

  • Curtains (1983) Special Edition Blu-ray Review

    Curtains (1983)

    Director: Jonathan Stryker

    Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson, Lynne Griffin & Lesleh Donaldson

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Considered a forgotten gem among slasher enthusiasts, few films of its ilk can match the tone and nightmarish imagery of this independent Canadian production.  Banished by its creators, Synapse Films proudly presents the long awaited Curtains on Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Meticulously restored from original vault materials and loaded with horrific new special features, Curtains has finally been unveiled with treatment worth dying for!

    Curtains centers on a group of actresses summoned to a casting call at the secluded mansion of famed director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon, Savage Streets).  In search of the perfect actress to portray a crazed character, these women will do anything to land the job.  In no time, a deadly killer in a banshee mask crashes the party, picking off the group one by one.  Samantha Eggar (The Brood), Linda Thorson (The Avengers), Annie Ditchburn (Slow Dancing in the Big City), Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas), Sandra Warren (Terror Train), Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me) and Deborah Burgess (The Last Chase) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Beginning in 1980, Curtains was cursed with endless re-writes, reshoots and recasting before reaching completion in 1983.  First time director Richard Ciupka felt the finished product was so far removed from his original vision, he withdrew his name from the film with the directorial credit cheekily awarded to John Vernon’s fictional character.  Nonetheless, the production’s rocky road birthed Curtains unique style that stands out from its other slasher brethren.  John Vernon, who carved a career portraying sleazy characters, is perfectly cast as the womanizing Jonathan Stryker.  Samantha Eggar compliments Vernon nicely as his former leading lady, Samantha Sherwood.  Determined to land the role, Sherwood checks herself into an asylum where Stryker cruelly leaves her.  The supporting cast of attractive actresses including slasher movie alumni Lynne Griffin and Lesleh Donaldson do well before the majority of the cast start disappearing Agatha Christie style.  With the exception of Stryker, Curtains is an entirely female driven film which allows the film to stray from formulaic tropes and surprise the viewer.  In addition, the banshee mask wearing killer is one of the most underrated and creepy stalkers to ever appear in a slasher.  An infamous sequence takes place on an ice skating rink where the killer stalks an unsuspecting victim in broad daylight while maintaining nail-biting suspense.

    Curtains does suffer from minor pacing issues, most notably during the actresses‘ stay at Stryker’s mansion.  Several scenes can pass while the viewer is anxiously waiting for action to take place with no avail.  Luckily, nightmarish imagery involving a creepy China doll and a tense stalking sequence on a staging area amongst mannequins and funhouse mirrors more than make up for this.  Considering its production woes, Curtains still manages to achieve its own unique tone and style with rewarding results.  Bizarre imagery that never makes sense coupled with a sleazy John Vernon, an unforgettable killer and a twist ending deems Curtains an eccentrically essential slasher.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Restored in 2K, Curtains is presented in a 1080p widescreen transfer sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Relying on fuzzy, distorted bootlegs for years, Synapse Films‘ presentation is a revelation.  Skin tones are as accurate as can be with fine detail impressively picked up on the countless wrinkles in the killer’s banshee mask and Vernon’s graying beard.  While, not an overly colorful film, there is much to admire in the costumes and sheer clarity of the sprawling, snowy Canadian landscape.  In addition, black levels, at one time a constant struggle to view, are remarkable with night and other dimly lit scenes now fully appreciated.  Synapse Films‘ attention to pain-staking detail is clear in this gorgeous looking transfer!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix, Curtains sounds terrific.  Specifically created for this release, dialogue, while hushed at certain times, comes across clearly with no distortion to speak of.  Composer Paul Zaza’s foreboding piano cues are chilling and greatly enhanced on this superior mix.  Stalking sequences are also nicely balanced and provide an extra boost when needed.  In addition, an original 2.0 Mono mix is also included.  Suffice to say, Curtains sounds nearly as good as it looks.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Stars Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, moderated by Edwin Samuelson

    - Alternate Audio Track with Vintage Interviews with Producer Peter R. Simpson and Star Samantha Eggar

    - The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of Curtains: Red Shirt Pictures provides a 35-minute retrospective with insight from Director Richard Ciupka, Editor Michael MacLaverty, Special Make-Up Effects Creator Greg Cannom, Composer Paul Zaza and more.  The individuals discuss Producer Peter R. Simpson’s erratic behavior and foul mouth, the production’s endless journey and Ciupka’s decision to ultimately remove his name from the film following Simpson’s handling.

    - Ciupka: A Film-Maker in Transition: Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, Synapse Films have provided Director Gordon Thorne’s vintage documentary on then hot shot Cinematographer Richard Ciupka making his directorial leap.  The 15-minute mini-doc is a wonderful time capsule focusing on Ciupka’s career highlights at that point.  Curtains enthusiasts will especially appreciate the fly on the wall footage on the film’s set and Vernon and Ciupka blocking a scene.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    A holy grail in the pantheon of slasher history, Curtains remained in the recesses of fans’ memories for years, all but losing hope for a legitimate release of this Canadian oddity.  Synapse Films have not only rescued the film but have presented it with a jaw-dropping video and audio treatment matched with a sprawling amount of bonus content.  Bizarre yet memorable, Curtains is a stand out slasher playing on nightmare imagery, a female driven cast and a banshee mask wearing murderer destined to creep you out.  Over 30 years after its original release, Curtains has finally been re-opened to its undying audience with a career highlight release from Synapse Films.

    RATING: 4.5/5

  • Death Do Us Part (2014) DVD Review

    Death Do Us Part (2014)
    Director: Nicholas Humprhies
    Starring: Julia Benson, Peter Benson, Emilie Ullerup, Christine Chatelain & Kyle Cassie
    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Wedding bells are ringing for Kennedy Jamieson and Ryan Harris as they decide to embark on a shared bachelor/bachelorette party with a group of friends.  Following the slasher movie formula, the group begins dwindling in size as the runtime increases.  Lensed in Canada and starring an up and coming group of locals, Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Death Do Us Part.  Directed by Nicholas Humprhies (Winner of Screamfest’s Best Short Film for The Little Mermaid), this bloody bachelor bash is destined to make you think twice about marriage because you might not live to see it...

    Death Do Us Part stars real-life couple Julia and Peter Benson as Kennedy Jamieson and Ryan Harris, a recently engaged couple who have been whisked away to a remote cabin for a joint bachelor party amongst friends.  Before long, the fun festivities take a terrifying turn as they start showing up dead courtesy of a mysterious killer.  Lies and accusations simultaneously plague the group as they fight to stay alive through the night.

    MOVIE:
    The alluring cover art for this new-age slasher flick does a fine job piquing interest.  But, as anyone who experienced the glory days of renting VHS at your local video store, know this is a tactic that trumped us more times than not.  A fun, bloody cover to lure you in is all that it takes and before you know it, you’re the victim of another dud.  Death Do Us Part taps into these very nostalgic times with the same less than satisfactory results.  Utilizing the slasher movie formula, the film earns credit for weaving the story around a bachelor/bachelorette party that doesn’t feel overdone compared to other  films of its ilk.  The points for originality end there as Death Do Us Part sends the viewer on a disappointing 89 minute ride.  Headlined by an attractive cast, there’s no denying that the performers are far too old to be portraying a cast of mid-twentysomethings.  Furthermore, the fact that they are indulging in excessive drinking and acting like they’re fresh out of a fraternity just feels pathetic.  The screenplay does little to help the situation, providing laughable dialogue and painful attempts at intended humor.  The film paints a cast hiding plenty of skeletons in their closet as the groom cheats on his bride-to-be with her sister and has his drug dealing cousin begging for money to pay off his supplier.  Death Do Us Part sets these characters up as highly unlikeable and pure bait for the mysterious killer who takes great pleasure in removing them from the screen.  

    Death Do Us Part does nothing new or original that we haven’t seen in past slashers.  As fingers are pointed and accusations are made, every man is for themselves as loyalty goes out the window.  Death scenes are uneventful and sometimes poorly executed as fake limbs are dreadfully obvious.  Death Do Us Part attempts a twist ending that can be seen a mile away, hammering the final nail in the coffin for this disappointing slasher.  While, the cast is attractive enough, there obviously too old to play the roles convincingly.  In addition, other slasher movie tropes of skin and sex are practically non-existent which is unfortunate.  The lack of effective scares, poorly executed death scenes and a lame twist ending make Death Do Us Part a flick you won’t want to commit to.
    RATING: 1/5

    VIDEO:
    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Death Do Us Part in an anamorphic widescreen transfer with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, the film does little to impress.  Colors are picked up and presented nicely while, black levels, especially in nighttime sequences in wooded areas, could have used a little more help.  Moments of the cast running from the killer are difficult to make out and appear as if they are running against a black backdrop.  The film looks as suitable as can be but nothing worth writing home about.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, Death Do Us Part sounds quite nice with all dialogue picked up clearly.  Sound effects are handled well with the minimal amount of music relayed crisp and effectively.  
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Death Do Us Part: Behind the Scenes: This 8-minute fluff piece has the cast and Director discussing the origins of the project and how they came together.  The location for the film (belonging to one of the cast members’ fathers) became the launch pad for devising the story.

    RATING: 1.5/5

    OVERALL:
    The inviting cover art and halfway decent premise does little to live up to expectations.  Unfortunately, Death Do Us Part fails on nearly every level with zero scares, a poor screenplay and no originality to speak of.  Stars Julia and Peter Benson, who also served as co-producers and co-executive producers, should have bowed out of performing in front of the camera and casted the film younger for slightly better results.  While, the effort was there, the results are a lame attempt at a modern slasher flick that could have been quite fun otherwise.
    RATING: 2/5

  • Reel Zombies (2008) Special Edition DVD Review

    Reel Zombies (2008)
    Director(s): Mike Masters & David J. Francis
    Starring: Mike Masters, David J. Francis, Stephen Papadimitriou, Sam Hall & Paul Fler
    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Since the golden days of Romero to the recent runaway success of The Walking Dead, zombies have held a grasp on audiences for decades.  With inflated budgets and A-list talent attaching themselves to projects of the living dead, originality is running stale in the genre.  Queue a Canadian team of indie filmmakers with a shoestring budget and playing themselves onscreen to inject some fresh blood.  Synapse Films proudly presents a satirical mockumentary about a ragtag group of friends attempting to stage their latest zombie flick amongst a very real zombie apocalypse.  Grab your weapons and most importantly, your filming equipment as we capture a peek of Reel Zombies...

    Reel Zombies stars Mike Masters and David J. Francis, appearing as themselves, as they eagerly attempt to complete the third film in their Zombie Night trilogy.  Set in the real world of a post zombie apocalypse, Masters and Francis gather up as many of their friends and real zombies to pull off this exciting venture.  With a dirt cheap budget and production woes every step of the way, a documentary crew follows their progress as the danger of actual flesh eating zombies slowly becomes their smallest worry.

    MOVIE:
    While, the zombie genre has grown tired with its overwhelming amount of awareness amongst the masses, a few promising efforts have impressed, most notably World War Z, Shaun of the Dead and Cockneys VS. Zombies.  With so many similar projects competing for audiences‘ attention, it becomes difficult to gauge the entertainment and originality factor for said projects.  The zombie genre has transformed little since George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead debuted, but any attempt to try something unique always attracts attention.  Reel Zombies, completed in 2008, attempts to spin a Christopher Guest-esque mockumentary against a zombie breakout with mostly successful results.  Directors Mike Masters and David J. Francis appear as themselves, along with the rest of their indie filmmaking cronies, when sheer boredom inspires them to shoot a new fictional zombie flick in their infested Canadian homestead.  The charm of Reel Zombies comes from the naturalistic quality of the cast that invites their actual offscreen friendships and humor to shine.  Contrary to popular belief, when asked to “act natural”, most people do the opposite and are not self aware enough to let their true personalities show.  The cast of Reel Zombies have no issue showcasing who they are, opening the floodgates for hilarious banter at every turn.  The documentary that is simultaneously being shot on the making of the film, which is constantly labeled as a mere EPK (Electronic Press Kit, for those unaware) by the cast, captures the good and bad but mostly, the bad.  The fly on the wall footage echos moments of The Office where dimwitted conversation is caught while trying to stage sequences.  Wrangling the real zombies becomes difficult as cast members turn up dead, forcing the makers of the film to take on a “pain is temporary, film is forever” stance and press on.  Reel Zombies not only works as an indie effort in zombie films but, as an effective showcase of the struggles of low-budget filmmaking.  The viewer walks away well informed on many stages of the process without ever feeling like they witnessed a tutorial.

    Reel Zombies works decently as the satirical mockumentary it is but, struggles to shake its less than stellar low-budget feel.  Surely intended, but by the final act, the aesthetic just begins to lose its mojo when the real zombies slowly take over.  As the viewer, we’re supposed to acknowledge these “real” zombies as threats that are endangering our heros but, unfortunately they appear no different than the mock-zombies found in the fictional film.  While, the final act finds the entire cast, with the exception of the documentary crew, meeting an unfortunate end, Reel Zombies still walks away as a decent independent effort that dared to be original.  With a slightly bigger budget and the right cast, Reel Zombies could easily be remade with even better results, but this small Canadian production did a fine job with everything they didn’t have.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Synapse Films presents Reel Zombies in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer.  Captured through the lens of the documentary crews‘ digital camera, the film matches its intended look with off the cuff interviews and shaky camera movements.  The video presentation isn’t flawless but still captures detail and colors quite nicely.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, Reel Zombies captures dialogue decently especially in on camera interviews but moments where several people are speaking at once, most notably during the script’s table read, the audio becomes overwhelmed and slightly muffled.  Overall, a decent mix that is relayed sufficiently.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Directors Mike Masters & David J. Francis and Producer Stephen Papadimitriou: The three friends discuss the genesis of the project as well as their past efforts.  Humor and laughter run rampant as well as informative anecdotes about the shoot.

    - Deleted Scenes and Outtakes: Over 40 minutes worth of material.

    - Original Trailer

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    Reel Zombies is a decent and unique stab at the zombie genre through the eyes of a satirical mockumentary.  The core cast and makers of the film succeed in letting their offscreen personalities shine, creating some truly funny moments.  While, the low-budget angle is clearly intended, it simultaneously hurts the production when attempting to make the real zombies appear menacing.  Synapse Films did a great service acquiring this earnest indie flick which doubles as an informative crash course in no-budget filmmaking.  The video and audio presentation are suitable with a supplemental package of decent extras worth exploring.  Reel Zombies may not be perfect but, it’s desire to try something wildly unique from other zombie efforts deserves a look.
    RATING: 3/5