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Currently showing posts tagged Cult Cinema

  • 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.

  • Pigs (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Pigs (1973)

    Director: Marc Lawrence

    Starring: Marc Lawrence, Toni Lawrence & Jesse Vint

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented in its original director’s cut for the first time on home video, Pigs centers on beautiful drifter Lynn Webster (Toni Lawrence, Beyond Reason) who descends on a sleepy California town while harboring a dark secret.  Gaining employment at a local cafe, her boss and former circus performer Zambrini (Marc Lawrence, The Man with the Golden Gun) cares for a pen of 12 hungry pigs with a penchant for human flesh.  Turning to the local population for his personal pig chow, Sheriff Dan Cole (Jesse Vint, Forbidden World) grows suspicious of the recent activity as he nears closer to the frightening truth.

    Billed under one of its many titles as The 13th Pig, Actor/Director Marc Lawrence’s indie budgeted opus paints itself as exploitation fodder that would weigh in its favor playing the drive-in circuit although, its artistic aspirations, however ambiguous, exceed its chase for the almighty dollar.  Starring his own daughter Toni as a woman with a skeleton in her closet, the out of town and relatively quiet Lynn starts anew as a waitress at the local looney Zambrini’s (elder Lawrence) cafe.  As elderly nosy bodies inform the local sheriff that Zambrini’s pen of pigs run freely in the evening and shockingly devour people, a previously ridiculous notion grows more believable in time.  A sight for sore eyes in a male dominated town, Lynn finds herself picked up by a fellow horndog whose passes ignite a razor-sharp reflex of Lynn’s located only in nightmares.  When a mutual understanding between the two outsiders form, the true state of Lynn’s mental health and Zambrini’s dedication to fatten up his piggies grows while risking further suspicion from Sheriff Dan whose own attraction to Lynn becomes harder to conceal.  Although containing horrific moments of murder, Pigs would be hard pressed to be strictly labeled horror with a stronger emphasis placed on the psychological construction of its peculiar leads and their unhinged yet, sympathetic allegiance to one another.  Containing freakish imagery of squealing pigs fighting over limbs and Zambrini in ghoulish clown make-up with the dark cloud of Lynn’s broken childhood revealed near its conclusion, Pigs establishes a peculiar atmosphere where a mental breakdown, loneliness and homicidal tendencies all converge during a most unusual odyssey, leaving viewers equally perplexed and captivated.

    Scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm interpositive, Vinegar Syndrome presents Pigs with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With select footage sourced from lesser quality theatrical prints, presentation is understandably uneven at times with less handsome footage showcasing murkier black levels and red hues in its photography.  Although ideal elements have long since been destroyed for said moments, the assembled final product looks overwhelmingly strong with properly lit sequences giving way to detailed facial features and bold colors seen in the blood spewed during Lynn’s razor assault popping most effectively.  While occasional scuffs and scratches are also on hand, Vinegar Syndrome’s painstaking dedication, with assistance from several other parties, to provide viewers with the film’s definitive version sinks any of its imperfections.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, dialogue is cleanly captured with high-pitched pig squeals making sharp strides on the track while, Composer Charles Bernstein’s (A Nightmare on Elm Street) hauntingly harmonious score makes a most effective mark.  Well stocked, bonus features include, Toni Lawrence: Back on the Menu (14:15) where the film’s lead actress sits down to discuss her father’s career and her own development as an actor.  In addition, Somewhere Down the Road with Charles Bernstein (13:35) interviews the famed composer on one of his earliest compositions and his unique payment for his services, an Audio Interview with Cinematographer Glenn Roland (1:20:42) and a Promotional Artwork Gallery (4:29) can also be found.  Finally, an Alternate Exorcism Opening (3:17), an Alternate Daddy’s Girl Opening (5:49), an Alternate Daddy’s Girl Ending (5:15), the Pigs Theatrical Trailer (1:41), the Love Exorcist Trailer (2:13) plus, a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring work by Chris Garofalo rounds out the supplemental package.

    A truly unusual slice of indie cinema expression, Pigs remains a bizzaro examination of two lost souls whose unbalanced personalities connect over their shared killer instincts.  With the markings and promotional pull of a horrific exploitation opus, character actor Marc Lawrence’s final directorial effort is outside the perimeters of normalcy which makes it such an intriguing watch.  In their latest acquisition from the Troma vaults, Vinegar Syndrome have gone above and beyond to deliver Lawrence’s feature the way it was intended with fabulous results.  Further underscored by an insightful spread of bonus features, Pigs makes a strong case for rolling around in the mud of such weirdness.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

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

    American Horror Project Vol. I (1973-1976)

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • Sheba, Baby (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Sheba, Baby (1975)

    Director: William Girdler

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

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Supersoul Brother (1978) DVD Review

    Supersoul Brother (1978)

    Director: Rene Martinez

    Starring: Wildman Steve, Joycelyn Norris, Benny Latimore, Lee Cross & Peter Conrad

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In this sci-fi urban oddity, Supersoul Brother focuses on a duo of criminals investing in a dwarf-sized scientist to concoct a serum that grants superhuman abilities.  Easily convincing homeless wino Steve (Wildman Steve) to take the serum in order to assist in a jewel heist, Steve grows savvy to the deadly aftereffects of his injection and attempts to outsmart the thieves while creating an antidote to save his life.  

    Presented under its controversial title, The Six Thousand Dollar Nigger, Director Rene Martinez’s (The Guy from Harlem) low-budget bizarro effort melds the worlds of science fiction and comedy to deliver a most unusual caper film.  Rambunctious Wildman Steve (Ain’t That Just Like a Honkey!) stars as a desperate drunk who hits the jackpot when Ben (Benny Latimore) and Jim (Lee Cross) sway him to be their guinea pig in a $6,000 investment.  Developing a revolutionary formula that grants immeasurable strength, cigar chomping midget Dr. Dippy (Peter Conrad, The Funhouse) has been tasked by his criminal investors to inject the serum into Steve in order to pull off a lucrative jewel heist.  Also credited as dialogue supervisor, Wildman Steve lives up to his name and is a hilarious force of uncontrollable energy that lets his libido and profane dialect do the talking.  Overwhelmed with his new luxurious accommodations and taking a noticeable liking to Dr. Dippy’s assistant Peggy (Joycelyn Norris), Steve agrees to take part in the heist only to discover his accomplices’ ulterior plans.  Concerned for both his and Peggy’s well-being, this is one super brother that won’t go down easily.

    Filmed in Miami, Supersoul Brother’s plot is as basic as it gets but, handsomely delivers in its many eccentricities and hilarious dialogue.  Silly and soulful, Wildman Steve keeps the humor in steady supply with his clear desires for barbecued grub and persistent charm that successfully pops Peggy’s cherry.  Straying near the farther skirts of traditional blaxploitation, Supersoul Brother adheres to its promotional campaign of a sexy stud transformed into a black Superman that will keep viewers weirdly invested thanks to Wildman’s zany personality.

    Scanned and restored in 2K, Vinegar Syndrome, in conjunction with The American Genre Film Archive, presents Supersoul Brother in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio utilizing AGFA’s 35mm theatrical print.  Showing its mileage, Supersoul Brother is littered with excessive scratches, tears and cigarette burns.  Grindhouse quality damage aside, the film manages to demonstrate instances of solid detail in closeups with colors varying from strong to washed out, most noticeably in exterior sequences.  A far cry from the majority of Vinegar Syndrome’s impressive transfers, Supersoul Brother’s weathered appearance does lend a charm to its viewing experience for such an obscure effort.  Accompanied with a Dolby Digital 1.0 mix, static is heavily present making a vast increase in volume a necessity.  Brief audio dropouts and occasional muffled moments are also prevalent making dialogue at times difficult but, never impossible.  In addition, no special features are included on this release.

    Marking its first authorized DVD release, Supersoul Brother is a peculiar exploitation offering that will provoke as much laughter as it will raise eyebrows with Wildman Steve’s off the wall humor and unstoppable mouth making the film as racy and enjoyable as it is.  A match made in exploitation heaven, Vinegar Syndrome and The American Genre Film Archive’s collaboration to deliver this oddball effort is one that likeminded viewers will revel in.  While the technical end of the release is a notch below what some may expect, its beat to hell presentation adds an air of nostalgia back to a time where ratty film prints thrived and 42nd Street was dangerous.  Super weird and super outrageous, Super Soulbrother deserves a spot in cult lovers collections.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available April 14th from Vinegar Syndrome, Supersoul Brother can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.