Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

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Currently showing posts tagged DVD

  • Home Video Highlights: DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017) & Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day (2017) Reviews

                          

    DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017): 30 years later, Disney XD revives one of the original Disney Afternoon’s cherished properties with DuckTales.  Based on Carl Banks’ iconic comic strips, DuckTales: Woo-oo! finds clumsy Donald Duck leaving his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie with his Uncle Scrooge while attending a job interview.  Unimpressed with their elderly family member, the triplets are introduced to the young Webby Vanderquack who reveals the many adventures conquered and relics secured by McDuck.  After accidentally unleashing and daringly recapturing evil spirits within the mansion, Scrooge’s sense of adventure is awakened and rounds up his young spectators to recover the Lost Jewel of Atlantis.  Confronted with his nemesis Flintheart Glomgold who is also after the jewel and aided by a clueless Donald, hilarity and excitement ensue in this phenomenal pilot installment to its equally strong first season.  Led by spot-on vocal work by David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones) as Scrooge McDuck, exceptional animation and a newly recorded cover of the memorable 80s theme song, DuckTales: Woo-oo!, accompanied by 6 “Welcome to Duckburg” bonus shorts and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards, DisneyNOW and Disneynature’s Dolphins, is a splashing good time for fans of all ages.

    Available now on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, DuckTales: Woo-oo! can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    RATING: 4.5/5      

    Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day (2017): In this epic hour-long episode, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day finds Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) looking over the kingdom while her parents take a royal getaway.  Overwhelmed with her role as acting queen and each decision for the kingdom backfiring, Rapunzel is faced with a dire winter storm that pits her parents in mortal danger while young Varian’s pleas to aid his father who is being encased by the recent uprising of mysterious spiky rock formations fall on deaf ears, making Rapunzel’s test run at leading the kingdom her hardest challenge to date.  Perhaps the most dramatic installment of the series to date with its enchanting, brushstroke-like animation continuing to be a feast for the eyes plus, four “Inside the Journal” Shorts as well as the same recycled Sneak Peeks as its fellow animated DisneyXD release, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day is a magical highpoint for the longhaired fairy tale saga.

    Available now on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    RATING: 4/5

       

  • Tangled: Before Ever After (2017) DVD Review

    Tangled: Before Ever After (2017)

    Director(s): Tom Caulfield & Stephen Sandoval

    Starring: Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Eden Espinosa, Clancy Brown, Julie Bowen & Jeffrey Tambor

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Taking place after the events of the original film but before the lead characters’ eventual marriage, Tangled: Before Ever After brings the charming heart and humor of Rapunzel and beau Eugene to the small screen in this original movie event, kickstarting its new episodic series.  Exchanging its slick computer-generated animation for a more traditional 2D style that echoes an illustrated storybook come to life, Rapunzel, although thrilled to be back home and surrounded by loved ones, struggles to adapt to her new royal lifestyle and the responsibilities it demands.  Temporarily turning down the love of her life’s proposal in order to explore sights beyond her castle walls, the barefoot beauty teams up with her resourceful aide Cassandra and encounters a mystical rock formation that returns her lengthy locks.  Attempting to fulfill her coronation ceremony, danger is not far behind as the vengeful Lady Kaine and her ruffians seek to infiltrate the castle leaving Rapunzel and Flynn, along with their animal friends, leading the defense.  Welcoming back the voice talents of Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore, Tangled: Before Ever After sets the stage for the Disney Channel’s seemingly surefire followup to the much loved feature.  Introducing new characters, familiar locations and retaining the enchanting tone audiences fell in love with several years ago, this anticipated return for Corona’s favorite couple, complimented by new original songs by legendary Disney composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), is a romantically fun adventure fans will looks favorably upon.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Tangled: Before Ever After in a widescreen format, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally mastered and warmly preserving its very vibrant color scheme, characters and busier castle backgrounds look solid making the watching experience a satisfactory one.  Joined by a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently handled while, the Menken penned song numbers give the track a subtle but, gracious boost in quality.  Bonus goodies include, four Short Cuts mini movies including, Checkmate (2:32), Prison Bake (2:22), Make Me Smile (2:32) and Hare Peace (2:27).  Furthermore, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Descendants 2 (0:34) and Born in China (1:16) are also included.  Lastly, an Exclusive Replica of Rapunzel’s Journal, as seen in the film, is also included in the packaging.  Fans awaiting for more fairy tales to be told from the world of Tangled, fear not, as this humorous new beginning for the beloved characters is on par with the magic of its 2010 originator.  With its formal series now airing and already renewed for a second season, Tangled: Before Ever After is the perfect start to catching up with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, making for a prime Easter basket treat for young viewers this holiday season.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tangled: Before Ever After can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Mickey and the Roadster Racers DVD Review

    Mickey and the Roadster Racers

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Bret Iwan, Russi Taylor, Bill Farmer, Daniel Ross, Tress MacNeille & Nika Futterman

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Less educationally-minded than the preschool geared Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Mickey and the Roadster Racers whizzes into the fast lane of fun for a delightful serving of after school entertainment.  Set in the racer-loving community of Hot Dog Hills, Mickey Mouse and pals Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Pluto compete in the pedal-pushing sport while finding themselves in a series of adventures at home and abroad.  Presenting two tales per episode, the gang sees their vehicles go loony after filling up with Goofy’s experimental gasoline while, Minnie and Daisy, as the Happy Helpers, find their petsitting duties go haywire and their search and rescue of an escaped ape from the zoo be anything but easy.  Also facing off against the infamously unfair Piston Pietro at an international race in Rome, Mickey and friends’ colorful new exploits are a blast from start to finish and ones that young viewers will be glad they took the ride with.  Collecting the program’s first three episodes and featuring appearances from beloved favorites such as, Chip and Dale, Pete, Clarabelle Cow and introducing racing emcee Billy Beagle (voiced by Jay Leno), Mickey and the Roadster Racers is a wildly fun return for the characters where their vibrant personalities and engagement in humorous scenarios takes first place.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents episodes of Mickey and the Roadster Racers in their widescreen (1.78:1) format.  While target viewers may be less enthused by the release’s technical merits than the quality of the show itself, Disney Junior’s latest boasts a colorful vibrancy throughout that makes the computer-generated animation shine nicely.  Likewise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes make for easy dialogue delivery and heightened sound effects, offering more than acceptable listening enjoyment.  Special features include, a Bonus Episode: “Mickey’s Perfecto Day!” / “Running of the Roadsters!” (the show’s fifth), Music Videos for the “Mickey and the Roadster Racers” Theme Song (1:15) and the “Happy Helpers” Theme Song (1:30) plus, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Tangled: The Series (0:18), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Born in China (1:16) and Cars 3 (0:59).  Lastly, a customizable Metal License Plate is included inside the disc’s packaging.  Screeching into high-gear with plenty of laughs, Mickey and the Roadster Racers is tailor-made for tikes looking to join Disney’s golden characters on a track course built on fast speeds and hearty good times.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Mickey and the Roadster Racers can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Fuller House: The Complete First Season DVD Review

    Fuller House: The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campon, Elias Harger, Soni Nicole Bringas & Dashiell & Fox Messitt

    Released by: Warner Bros.

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In one of the small screen’s most popular revival series embraced by nostalgic fans and newbies alike, Fuller House: The Complete First Season returns to San Francisco where the family who hugs and laughs like no other are back.  Widowed with three young sons to raise, dedicated mother and veterinarian D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure, The View) takes over her childhood home as younger sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin, Walt Before Mickey) and best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber, The Skateboard Kid 2), along with her own young daughter, move in to help care for her kids.  A carbon copy of the original show’s premise that stands proudly on its own, Fuller House retains the innocently cornballish comedy and lovably cheesy saccharine heart that fans have come to expect with a playful new self referential spirit in stock.  Inviting former series regulars to the festivities sans youngest sister Michelle (famously played by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) including, John Stamos (Grandfathered), Bob Saget (Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right), Dave Coulier (The Real Ghostbusters) and Lori Loughlin (90210), the new series balances the fan favorite stars exceptionally well, making their appearances enjoyably welcome without ever derailing the show into a constant series of tired reunion episodes.  Matured while fitting back into their original roles like a glove, the self-proclaimed She-Wolf pack of D.J., Stephanie and Kimmy bounce off each other with a vibrancy as if they never left us.  Accompanied by an equally talented roster of child actors, hilarity and hijinks ensue as Kimmy’s Ricardo-esque husband Fernando (Juan Pablo Di Pace, Mamma Mia!) wins her heart back, the She-Wolf pack dance off during a girl’s night out and D.J. decides between love with a new flame or picking things back up with hungry high school boyfriend Steve (Scott Weinger, Aladdin).  Good old fashioned family fun across 13 episodes, Fuller House: The Complete First Season will make being back home a bonafide treat of familiar faces and never enough hugs to go around.

    Warner Bros. presents Fuller House: The Complete First Season in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is both crisp and colorful while, celebrating the familiar sets of the show, wardrobe choices and nicely detailed and throughly natural skin tones of its cast.  Although a newly produced program of its caliber would have only further benefitted from a Blu-ray release, the DVD quality of the episodes are most satisfactory all the same.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that offer sound dialogue deliveries, the well balanced laughter of recorded studio audiences and Carly Rae Jepsen’s new rendition of the title song are handled most appropriately.  Unfortunately, no special features have been included.  With its second season currently streaming on Netflix and a third already greenlit for production, the fans have spoken with their approval for the lighthearted shenanigans of San Francisco’s most loving family.  While its debut season doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor does it intend to, Fuller House: The Complete First Season is a humorous return to form for family sitcoms that will win audiences over that previously embraced big hair, quickly solved household dilemmas and harmlessly cheesy catchphrases.  Have mercy!

    RATING: 4/5

    (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.)

    Available February 28th from Warner Bros., Fuller House: The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Martial Arts Kid (2015) DVD Review

    The Martial Arts Kid (2015)

    Director: Michael Baumgarten

    Starring: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Jansen Panettiere, Kathryn Newton, Matthew Ziff & T.J. Storm

    Released by: Traditionz Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After relocating to sunny Cocoa Beach, Florida for a fresh start, The Martial Arts Kids finds typical teen with an attitude Robbie Oakes (Jansen Panettiere, The Perfect Game) quickly hassled by local bullies, inspiring him to learn the art of self-defense from his dojo-owning uncle (Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Bloodfist).  Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien), Kathryn Newton (Paranormal Activity 4), Matthew Ziff (Kickboxer: Vengeance) and T.J. Storm (Punisher: War Zone) costar.

    From its uninspired title and beyond formulaic plot, The Martial Arts Kid unashamedly takes the very same mechanics that popularized John G. Avildsen’s 1984 coming-of-age classic that although attempting to differentiate itself with a more realistic approach, wholly fails to charm or entertain like its influencer.  After his troublesome behavior lands him a new residence with Floridian relatives, rebellious youth Robbie Oakes has difficulty fitting in while catching the attention of attractive schoolmate Rina (Newton) and the unfortunate abuse from her mean-spirited boyfriend Bo (Ziff).  Committed to changing his ways and standing up for himself, Robbie, through the guidance and martial arts training of his Uncle Glen, learns the value of discipline, responsibility and above all, honor.  Although The Martial Arts Kid may give Robbie a respectfully prolonged development with his training that rings true while invoking an admirable anti-bullying theme, amateurish performances, eye-rolling dialogue and a severe lack of combat sends the film snoozing for much of its runtime.  Boasting appearances from countless real-life martial artists including, Olando Rivera, Glenn C. Wilson and Dewey Cooper, the Kickstarter-funded production’s paint-by-numbers mimicking of The Karate Kid leaves little to no surprises for viewers well accustomed with the underdog tale with every plot point and character development seen coming a mile away.  As Robbie and Bo’s disdain for one another reaches its boiling point by the final act, a long overdue battle between the teens and their dueling dojos takes place that is disappointingly choreographed given the trained talent on hand.  With a positive albeit heavy-handed and generally corny message for young viewers, The Martial Arts Kid suffers greatly from merely tracing what came before it with less than stellar results.

    Traditionz Entertainment presents The Martial Arts Kid in widescreen, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Exuding robust colors in costume choices, Bo’s red sports car and sunny shades of the Cocoa Beach (Wilson’s hometown) community, skin tones are generally strong with an overall sharpness lacking due to the format’s general limitations.  Joined by a pleasing if not mediocre Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Baumgarten, Producers James Wilson & Cheryl Wheeler and Stars Don “The Dragon” Wilson & Cynthia Rothrock.  Additionally, a brief The Martial Arts Kid: The Journey featurette (4:30), Deleted Scenes (4:42) and the Theatrical Trailer (2:06) round out the disc’s supplemental offerings.

    Unfortunately devoid of originality while lacking a stronger script, The Martial Arts Kid has noble intentions of teaching impressionable viewers the value of self-defense and the dangers of bullying yet, results in a product that skates by as harmlessly forgettable.  Brought to home video with sufficient grades by Traditionz Entertainment with its high-definition counterpart looking presumably better, The Martial Arts Kid is a roundhouse kick of disappointment.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available now from Traditionz Entertainment, The Martial Arts Kid can be purchased via MartialArtsKidMovie.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Adventures in Babysitting (2016) DVD Review

    Adventures in Babysitting (2016)

    Director: John Schultz

    Starring: Sabrina Carpenter, Sofia Carson, Nikki Hahn, Jet Jurgensmeyer, Mallory James Mahoney, Madison Horcher & Max Gecowets

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Competing for the same internship, Adventures in Babysitting centers on edgy Lola’s (Sabrina Carpenter, Descendants) rookie attempt caring for several children gone disastrous, forcing her to reach out to brainy competitor and fellow babysitter Jenny (Sabrina Carpenter, Girl Meets World) for a helping hand.  Anything that can go wrong does as the two teenage sitters and their pack of kids trek into the big city for a night of endless adventure and hijinks.

    Inspired by Chris Columbus’ (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) 1987 directorial debut, Adventures in Babysitting follows the basic outline of its originator, modernized for today’s audience down to its G-rated revisions of classic dialogue spouted off by former star Elisabeth Shue.  Adding two sitters to the mix this time around, the 100th Disney Channel Original Movie redo pits contrasting personalities Lola and Jenny against one another for a competitive photography internship before a cell phone mixup and deceitful maneuvers land both girls separate babysitting gigs.  Laid back Lola’s lack of focus results in Trey (Max Gecowets, After the Reality) sneaking off to the city for a concert, prompting the unprepared sitter to begrudgingly ask Jenny for assistance.  Rounding up their troops of kids and commandeering one mother’s newly detailed vehicle, the two parties head into the cityscape for a night that finds them avoiding clumsy criminals in possession of an exotic stolen ferret, dodging prison and hastily trying to reclaim their towed car.  In addition to building the self-confidence of their younger companions, Jenny conjures the courage to tell her crush how she feels all before returning home ahead of the parental units, making the night a wild one that brings both sitters together as friends.

    While the young cast, namely Carpenter and Carson, do fine within the confines of the story and gel nicely with one another, Adventures in Babysitting is understandably catered to a younger generation, far removed from the slightly more adult but, nonetheless hilarious original film.  Unfortunately, attempts to recreate memorable moments from its predecessor fall flat with an eye-rolling sequence previously occurring in a smoke-filled blues bar where the cast must partake in a singing number, replaced here with a groan-inducing freestyle rap battle.  Perhaps too safe and occasionally too cornball to be enjoyed by audiences who fondly remember the much preferred original, Adventures in Babysitting will appeal to Disney’s current tween audience to whom this rendition is built for.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Adventures in Babysitting in widescreen, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Fashioned for television, skin tones, prominent colors in costumes and black levels evident in the nighttime skies in the bustling city are efficiently reproduced yet, lacking an obvious sharpness that could have been remedied under a Blu-ray release.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is appropriately handled with no missteps while, the film’s catchy theme song “Wild Side” (performed by both Carpenter and Carson) provides a lofty oomph to the mix.  In addition to a magnetic picture frame included inside its packaging, special features include, Adventures in Outtakes (1:40) and Sneak Peeks (3:23) at Disney Movie Rewards, Descendants: The Official Mobile Game, Girl Meets World and Finding Dory.

    Refashioning the 80s favorite feature for Disney’s tween TV audience, Adventures in Babysitting is harmless fun for its intended demographic but, fails to hold a candle to the original.  As two of the Disney Channel’s more prominent entertainers, Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson are clearly having a ball as dueling babysitters turned besties and their contagious onscreen enjoyment makes the feature a bearable watch.  Disney Channel addicts should take to the big city, babysitting misadventures nicely while, parents will take greater comfort introducing their own rugrats to the Chris Columbus/Elisabeth Shue effort.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available June 28th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Adventures in Babysitting can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Elstree 1976 (2015) DVD Review

    Elstree 1976 (2015)

    Director: Jon Spira

    Starring: Various

    Released by: MVD Visual

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Documenting the lives of those behind the countless masks and helmets of George Lucas’ original sci-fi phenomenon, Elstree 1976 centers on the diverse personalities of the bit actors and extras that would ultimately comprise the film’s vast galaxy and how their lives have since been affected being apart of its global impact.  

    Spearheaded through a Kickstarter campaign, Director Jon Spira’s (Anyone Can Play Guitar) love letter to the unsung beings that donned heavy makeup and increasingly difficult to see through headwear in the original Star Wars are interviewed to divulge their unique tales landing fleeting yet, generally memorable roles in arguably the greatest blockbuster of all-time.  With many barely grasping the scope of what they were associated with at the time, Elstree 1976 allows each subject to reveal their early beginnings, long before the acting bug took hold.  Emerging from all walks of life across North America and overseas, the selection of interviewees spend considerable time sharing personal childhood memories and their earliest ambitions, providing a deeply rich portrait of each speaker.  Surprisingly, the film’s non-Star Wars related moments prove to be the most engaging as each subject’s candidness makes them solidly grounded and sympathetically relatable.  Featuring David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back) as the more prominent talking heads of the documentary, Elstree 1976’s other participants including, Derek Lyons (Temple Guard / Medal Bearer), Angus Maclnnes (Gold Leader) and John Chapman (Drifter), although loquacious in their interviews, have such “blink and you’ll miss them” appearances in the original film that their insight grows tiresome quickly.  

    With many of the participants no longer in the business, Elstree 1976 winds down with an interesting overview of the thriving Star Wars conventions that many of the film’s costumed players attend for financial means.  The interviewees discuss at great length the politics of their appearances and what they consider in bad taste when other unsung extras join the circuit to make a quick buck themselves.  No matter how minuscule their roles may have been, the subjects of Elstree 1976 hold warm memories of their once in a lifetime experiences onset yet, the overwhelming majority of the interviews related to Star Wars are never deeply interesting with the documentary suffering as it drags itself to a conclusion.  A well-intentioned salute to the background players that comprised both sides of the Force, Elstree 1976 is hardly a definitive document on Lucas’ runaway hit but, contains several worthy interviews that Star Wars devotees will find of interest.

    Shot digitally, Elstree 1976 is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that appears as acceptable as can be.  Restrained to tight closeup style interviews, colors are presented adequately while, film clips from several films and onsite footage from autograph conventions also appear with ease.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the controlled settings of each interview allows for perfectly audible dialogue levels to be captured.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 mix has also been included.  Unfortunately, no special features have been included.

    Earning the adoration of fans worldwide for their brief but, endearing appearances, Elstree 1976’s willingness to shine an honorary light on Star Wars’ many costumed characters and the men and women behind those faces is a gracious notion yet, one that stumbles with one too many monotonous asides.  While the film’s earliest moments prove most interesting, only dedicated fans of George Lucas’ sci-fi saga will take interest.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 28th from MVD Visual, Elstree 1976 can be purchased via MVDShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Zootopia (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Zootopia (2016)

    Director(s): Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush

    Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk & Shakira

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In a metropolis populated by animals, Zootopia centers on Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin, Once Upon a Time), the first bunny on its force, as she seeks to prove her place by cracking her first case.  Confronted with overwhelming odds and minimal support, Judy must team up with scamming fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, Horrible Bosses) to solve the mystery behind what’s reverting residents back to their savage ways.  

    In Disney’s most creatively designed animated feature in recent memory, Zootopia’s buddy cop dynamic demonstrates exemplary levels of laughs and conflicting personalities that send its furry, mismatched protagonists on an adventure-filled journey of animalistic proportions.  Ginnifer Goodwin’s spunky energy infused into Judy Hopps is excellently matched with the dry wit of Jason Bateman’s conniving fox, setting the tone for a feature about the big city, overcoming social prejudices and making a positive difference in a very turbulent world.  With the exception of a knee-slapping sequence set in Zootopia’s DMV offices, Disney’s animated feature announced itself with a mediocre marketing campaign leaving viewers in the dark of its true potential.  Strongly encouraged by overwhelming word of mouth feedback, Zootopia continues the success of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ most recent hits with heart-filled characters, impressive moments of action and peril (most notably when Judy and Nick infiltrate a hidden underground laboratory responsible for targeting the predators of Zootopia) and the always charming touches of saccharine that Disney has perfected.  While Zootopia’s many merits can be simply identified by its comedic touches and dazzling animation, perhaps its greatest strength is its not-so subtle message that true changes of understanding can only come from us.  In a heated political season where targeting the differences between our fellow man is a source of vile negativity, Zootopia’s message of acceptance and embracement of the various critters that compile our own animal kingdom is a lesson that all audiences, particularly ones of a more mature generation, can forever benefit from.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Zootopia with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Bursting with never-ending colors that leap off the screen, detail is immaculate with impressive clarity picking up delicate animal furs and razor-thin whiskers.  In addition, the unique boroughs of Zootopia’s diverse city are all excellently captured while nighttime sequences are perfectly inky and free of any digital artifacts.  As strong and memorable as its narrative, Zootopia’s high-definition transfer is as perfect as one can get.  Equipped with a flawless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that prioritizes dialogue and gives rise to Composer Michael Giacchino’s (Inside Out) eclectic score, special features include, Research: A True-Life Adventure (9:58) where the filmmakers dive into their characters real worlds for invaluable inspiration, The Origin Story of An Animal Tale (9:15) allows the makers to discuss the evolving changes made to the film and Zoology: The Roundtables (18:23), introduced by Ginnifer Goodwin, these three featurettes center on the characters, environments and animation of the film.  Furthermore, Scoretopia (4:59) dances on the wild side as Composer Michael Giaccino crafts the film’s score while Z.P.D. Forensic Files (8:23) investigates the film’s hidden easter eggs.  Lastly, the “Try Everything” Music Video by Shakira (3:21), Deleted Characters (3:16), Deleted Scenes (28:03), Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), the Disney Store (0:32), Girl Meets World (0:32) and Finding Dory (1:43) are also included alongside a DVD edition and a Digital HD Code.

    Eclipsing Frozen’s opening weekend returns at the domestic box-office, Zootopia would ultimately exceed $1 billion from worldwide grosses and be hailed by audiences and critics alike.  Warm, funny and offering an important lesson to embrace all the unique personalities that comprise our world, Zootopia is yet another glowing chapter in Disney’s tradition of timeless tales.  In addition, the Mouse House’s phenomenal high-definition presentation is nothing short of reference quality while, its supplements are nicely stocked and varied offering well-rounded insight into the film’s making.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Zootopia can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Venom (1982) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Venom (1982)

    Director: Piers Haggard

    Starring: Sterling Hayden, Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Susan George, Nicol Williamson & Oliver Reed

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Alan Scholefield, Venom concerns a criminal trio consisting of an attractive maid (Susan George, Straw Dogs), a temperamental chauffeur (Oliver Reed, The Curse of the Werewolf) and an international terrorist (Klaus Kinski, Nosferatu the Vampyre) as they attempt to kidnap a young boy from a lavish London townhouse.  When complications result in a murdered police officer, the unexpected arrival of a deadly black mamba escalates the danger for both the captors and their hostages.  Sterling Hayden (The Killing), Nicol Williamson (Excalibur) and Sarah Miles (The Big Sleep) co-star in this suspenseful thriller.

    The result of a troubled production that initially went before cameras under the direction of Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) before being replaced by Piers Haggard (The Blood on Satan’s Claw), Venom strikes viewers with its simple tale of criminal mischief gone wildly south.  When a planned kidnapping derails into a heart pounding hostage situation, a delivery mixup inviting the world’s most lethal snake into the film’s central location brings certain doom to its many players.  Headlined by the equally hotheaded Kinski and Reed, their clashing offscreen personalities serve their onscreen counterparts well with knife cutting tension as Kinski utilizes Reed as his go-to whipping boy while the Burnt Offerings star boils with anger in his eyes.  Graduating to a tense standoff between crooks and cops, Venom’s true bite comes in the form of its slithery serpent that navigates through the home’s heating ducts and leaps to attack leaving the sexy Susan George on ice in the film’s most grizzly death sequence.  As the sickly child, his elderly grandfather and a herpetologist fear for their survival, Venom strikes sharply as the reptile slides its way up a wounded Reed’s pant leg during another satisfyingly uneasy moment.  While the film would be far more revered in later years on home video, Venom is a notably tense slice of reptilian celluloid, boasting worthy performances from its varied cast and sinking genuine fangs of fear into the uninitiated.  

    Beautifully remastered in 2K, Blue Underground presents Venom with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Looking healthier and more vivid than its previous release, skin tones are pleasingly natural while colors in wall paint are more prominent with detail appearing noticeably sharper.  In addition, print damage in the form of scuffs and scratches are thankfully nonexistent.  Matched with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, optional Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes are also included.  Meanwhile, special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Piers Haggard, the Theatrical Trailer (1:23), Teaser Trailer (0:29), three TV Spots (1:30), a Poster & Stills Gallery (76 in total), a 17-page booklet featuring stills and a deeply researched essay by former Fangoria Editor Michael Gingold.  Finally, a DVD edition and a Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s supplements.

    In one of the few snake-related thrillers of its day, Venom ranks highly with its casting combo of Kinski and Reed plus, its highly suspenseful sequences achieved through the use of real black mambas.  Better appreciated thanks to Blue Underground’s newly remastered Blu-ray, Venom still has the power to make your skin crawl!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, Venom can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hired to Kill (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Hired to Kill (1990)

    Director(s): Nico Mastorakis & Peter Rader

    Starring: Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy & José Ferrer

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bursting with explosive action, Hired to Kill stars Brian Thompson (Cobra) as mercenary Frank Ryan whose latest assignment sends him into a crumbling country to locate a rebel leader.  Undercover as a flamboyant fashion designer, Thompson is aided by seven seductively dangerous female soldiers to overpower the totalitarian regime controlled by the corrupt Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed, Spasms).  George Kennedy (The Delta Force) and José Ferrer (Dune) co-star in this gun-toting spectacle co-directed by Nico Mastorakis (The Zero Boys).

    Reimagining The Magnificent Seven with women, Hired to Kill stars the poor man’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Brian Thompson as skillfully trained mercenary Frank Ryan whose weakness for money presented in leather briefcases leads him to the fictional country of Cypra where an imprisoned leader requires busting out to restore balance to his corruptly tainted homeland.  In order to operate safely, Ryan trades in his macho card for an undercover identity as a fashion designer.  Making clear of his disdain working with women, Ryan is sent into the field with seven  deadly bombshells, acting as his supermodels and his only team of soldiers.  Rubbing elbows on their mission with Cypra’s criminal mastermind Michael Bartos, Oliver Reed’s eccentric and occasionally tipsy performance as the film’s baddie, adorned by a no-nonsense handlebar mustache is pure entertainment that reaches its apex when testing Ryan’s suggested homosexuality by grabbing a handful of crotch inviting a smooch from the muscular American.  Interspersed with training montages of Ryan’s female squad, comprised of such notable names as Barbara Lee Alexander (Psycho Cop Returns), Michelle Moffett (Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans) and Jordana Capra (After Midnight), as they perfect their runway skills while sharpening their aim, Hired to Kill throws political double-crosses and fallen heroes into the mix to expectedly up the ante for its final act.  Slightly overlong with its machine gun fueled sequences growing redundant, Hired to Kill is an enjoyable toast to over the top action cinema that entertains more than its direct-to-video reputation would suggest.

    Newly restored in 4K, Arrow Video presents Hired to Kill with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Looking sharper than ever, detail greatly impresses in facial closeups while, skin tones are always natural and clear.  In addition, the grassy locale of the fictional country (shot on location in Greece) offers strong contrast as the film’s presentation appears free of any scuffs or scratches.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is excellently handled with zero issues in audibility.  Furthermore, sequences of heavy firepower, helicopters and explosions appropriately rattle the speakers to good measure.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix has also been included.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Editor Barry Zeitlin, Hired to… Direct: Behind the Camera with Nico Mastorakis (27:26) where the film’s co-director and producer sits down for a lengthy discussion detailing the film’s beginnings, casting, Reed’s turbulent onset behavior and the unfortunate tragedy that resulted in the death of Stuntman Clint Carpenter.  Also included, Undercover Mercenary (17:33) features a new interview with Star Brian Thompson where the action hero recalls his early memories catching the acting bug, juggling college and securing film work and memories from the Hired to Kill shoot including an instance where Reed dropped his pants and urinated during a take.  Finally, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50), a Stills Gallery (7:18), the Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-Rom content), a 23-page booklet featuring stills and a new essay by James Oliver plus, a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster conclude the extra feature offerings.

    Plastered with babes, bullets and a deliciously silly performance from Oliver Reed, Hired to Kill is precisely what one comes to expect from the ultra machismo days of action cinema.  Delivering an impressive scale of explosive anarchy for its stature, Brian Thompson brings the proper equipment to this gun show with unexpected, yet nonetheless humorous touches through his eccentric undercover identity.  Meanwhile, Arrow Video delivers a remarkable presentation for this cult loved DTV effort with an enjoyably candid spread of new bonus features that viewers will be thrilled with.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season DVD Review

    Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Carlson Young, John Karna, Tracy Middendorf, Amadeus Serafini, Jason Wiles, Tom Maden & Amelia Rose Blaire

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the town of Lakewood, Scream: The TV Series centers on a damaging YouTube video gone viral and a group of teenagers who find themselves targeted by a masked killer in its wake.  Reminiscent of a decades old tragedy, the current wave of murders may connect to Lakewood’s dark past of death.

    Although sharing the same name as Wes Craven’s (who returns as co-executive producer with Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson) seminal franchise, Scream: The TV Series bears no connection to its predecessors while adhering to their basic formula.  Following the upload of a cyber-bullying YouTube video, high school hottie Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne, The DUFF) finds herself victim to a knife-wielding masked murderer catapulting the town of Lakewood into a frightened panic.  With no suspect in custody, popular girl next door Emma Duvall (Fitzgerald) becomes the prime target of the killer while her fellow classmates including, former best friend Audrey Jensen (Taylor-Klaus), fanatical movie geek Noah Foster (Karna), the attractively spoiled Brooke Maddox (Young) and others find themselves stalked by the unknown killer.  Struggling to stay alive, Emma is simultaneously coping with the break-up of her boyfriend Will Belmont (Weil) and the arrival of new student Kieran Wilcox (Serafini) who quickly develops an attraction towards the fragile teen.  Using modern technology to its advantage, Scream: The TV Series  incorporates texting and Facebook into the fold alongside the killer’s chilling phone calls and physical confrontations best associated with the popular film series.  Meanwhile, Craven alumni Tracy Middendorf (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) appears as Emma’s mother who along with many of the town’s adult figures are harboring a secret to Lakewood’s tragic history that eerily links to its current crop of victims.  As media attention circulates, red herrings are introduced and trust is severely tested as those closest to Emma fall victim to the killer’s blade during 10 thrilling episodes to discover who is responsible and who will survive.

    Broadcast on the anything but musical MTV Network whose priorities have shifted to mindless reality programs would understandably leave many curious watchers timid of its handling of an episodic slasher.  Astonishingly, Scream: The TV Series exceeds expectations, crafting a well-plotted debut season filled with likable characters layered with emotion and the self-referential humor fans have come to expect.  Furthermore, suspense and bloodshed are never spared allowing the series to fully embrace two of the genre’s most valued components.  With episodes helmed by such notable talents as Tim Hunter (River’s Edge), Brian Dannelly (Saved!), Rodman Flender (Idle Hands) and Ti West (The House of the Devil), Scream: The TV Series seamlessly taps into the cornerstones that made Craven’s original masterpiece so refreshing with its modern take greatly appealing to a new generation deeply ingrained in the pitfalls of social media.  Easily one of television’s great surprises of last year, Scream: The TV Series is a rollercoaster ride of mystery and scares that lives up to its iconic name.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Scream: The TV Series in anamorphic widescreen, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While skin tones are naturally pleasing and colors are appropriately conveyed, black levels appear decently with occasional hints of crush.  Although presentation is satisfactory, a noticeable sharpness is lacking that could have been easily remedied and far more appreciated on a Blu-ray release.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, audio is strong with clear dialogue levels and suspenseful queues where screams and atmosphere always hit their mark.  Unfortunately light, special features include, a Gag Reel (2:52), Deleted Scenes (5:33) and a Promotional Gallery (8:26).

    Unexpectedly smart and hip, Scream: The TV Series carries the torch of Craven and Williamson’s original quadrilogy while maintaining a solid sense of humor, ample bloodshed and a dizzyingly fun maze of mystery that will keep viewers guessing who until its finale.  Although disappointing in its lack of a Blu-ray release and scarce supplements, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s home video release of MTV’s debut season still gets the job done.  With its anticipated followup season focused on last year’s survivors nearing, Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season is massively entertaining and ranks as one of today’s better film franchises reinterpreted for the small screen.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available May 10th from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015) DVD Review

    Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015)

    Director(s): Michael Hegner & Martin Skov

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the pint-sized adventures of the galaxy’s finest heroes, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales is the exciting five-part mini-series centered around C-3PO and R2-D2’s many exploits.  As the gold protocol droid retells their tales to various listeners, his faithful companion is abducted by a mysterious figure prompting him to save his short, spunky friend.

    Taking place after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales finds the celebrating rebels gathering together as their dependable droids C-3PO and R2-D2 recall their many adventures dating back to the Clone Wars.  Voiced once more by Anthony Daniels, C-3PO engages listeners with the events unfolded in the prequels The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones before R2-D2 is stolen away by a hooded figure.  Struggling with his own fears, the timid droid pursues the mysterious individual in order to reclaim his closest friend while, continuing to tell more of their many escapades to anyone who will listen.  Chocked full of hilarious commentaries on the films and never shying from flinging Jar Jar Binks into space for laughs, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales coasts too closely to events fans have long been accustomed to, making unique storytelling opportunities limited.  Fortunately, an early encounter with Kanan and the Ghost crew of Star Wars Rebels makes for some of the series’ finest moments while, the final episode leading C-3PO to the planet of Geonosis and a confrontation with General Veers makes for a fun sendoff to a mini-series that may lack originality but excels as usual with comedy and delightful animation.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales digitally mastered in widescreen, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Although not nearly as sharp or defined as high-definition, colors are plentiful and pop nicely while, black levels are quite respectable and lack any intrusions of crush.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally clear but may require increases in volume to capture their full extent.  Furthermore, Composer John Williams’ original music, along with his iconic reused themes, offer sizable boosts to the track’s limited capabilities.  Although scant, special features include Sneak Peeks (5:00) at Star Wars Rebels, Zootopia and Disney Movie Rewards.  In addition, an Exclusive Trading Card Set is included inside the packaging.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar (2015) DVD Review

    The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar (2015)

    Director: Howdy Parkins

    Starring: Max Charles, Rob Lowe, Eden Riegel, Joshua Rush, Dusan Brown, Diamond White, Atticus Shaffer & James Earl Jones

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the adventures begun in The Lion King franchise, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar centers on Kion (Max Charles, Mr. Peabody & Sherman), second-born cub of Simba and Nala.  Bestowed with the power of the roar and assuming the role of leader of The Lion Guard, Kion must assemble a team of uniquely suited heroes to protect the Pride Lands and maintain balance within the Circle of Life.  Rob Lowe (The Grinder), Edgen Riegel (All My Children), Joshua Rush (Parental Guidance), Dusan Brown (42), Diamond White (Transformers: Rescue Bots), Atticus Shaffer (The Middle) and James Earl Jones (The Sandlot) also lend their vocal talents.

    Serving as the pilot film for Disney Junior’s latest animated series, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar returns to the Pride Lands of Africa where Simba (Lowe) and Nala (Gabrielle Union, Bring It On) continue to raise their children in harmony.  After their young son Kion defends his honey badger best friend Bunga against a pack of dangerous hyenas, the power of the roar takes hold of the small cub marking him the leader of the long dormant Lion Guard.  Tasked with defending their lands and ensuring the Circle of Life is balanced, Kion looks to Bunga, fast cheetah Fuli, powerful hippopotamus Beshte and keen-sighted cattle egret Ono to uphold the honorable tasks of The Lion Guard.  While Kion doubts his capabilities heading the new team after Simba voices his disapproval over his non-lion selections, the spirit of his deceased grandfather Mufasa (Jones) gives him the encouragement needed to lead.  Determined to seek revenge against the Pride Lands, the ravenous hyenas descend on a herd of gazelle with Kion’s older sister Kiara caught in the crossfire.  Using their unique skills and teamwork, The Lion Guard ward off the predators and save Kiara from certain danger, earning the approval and respect of Simba.

    Littered with a new generation of colorful characters, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar welcomes back the beloved Timon, Pumbaa (voiced once again by Ernie Sabella) and Rafiki in supporting roles.  Honoring the infamous “hakuna matata” catchphrase fans have come to love, Timon and Pumbaa’s adopted nephew Bunga coins his own term with “zuka zama”, presented in a catchy song number that viewers will instantly be humming to.  Beautifully animated for a small screen effort of its caliber, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar returns audiences to the Pride Lands as if they never left while, the humor and heartfelt messages of family and conservation are well intact.  Told through the power of music and adventurous storytelling, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is a thoroughly entertaining starting point for Disney Junior’s newest series that fans, young and old, will appreciate.

    Digitally mastered and presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, colors are bright and plentiful with detail looking appreciatively healthy in closeups of the African animals.  While not quite as crisp as a high-definition release, Disney’s DVD edition is perfectly serviceable for its intended audience.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is audible and free of distortion with the film’s song numbers offering a wider presence.  Although limited, special features include, a “Here Comes the Lion Guard” Music Video by Beau Black and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Zootopia (1:38) and The Good Dinosaur (1:38).  Finally, a special Talking Backpack Pull is included inside the packaging.

    Unlike other revived properties that fail to live up to expectations, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is the surprisingly rare exception that captures the essential elements of its predecessor.  Headed by a pack of new, wildly fun characters while, carrying over other fan favorites to the festivities, Disney Junior’s handling of The Lion King property appears to be off to a strong start leaving original fans and newcomers to the Pride Land equally entertained by its charming humor and enthusiastic soundtrack.  Hakuna matata indeed!

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave (2016) DVD Review

    The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave (2016)

    Director: David Doi

    Starring: Felix Avitia, Anndi McAfee, Aria Noelle Curzon, Jeff Bennett, Rob Paulsen, Barry Bostwick, Reb McEntire & Damon Wayans Jr.

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the latest prehistoric adventure of the long-running series, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave centers on young Apatosaurus Littlefoot (Felix Avitia, Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything), who after learning of his father’s disappearance, sets out to rescue him.  Joined by his faithful pals, Littlefoot travels across strange landscapes and encounters new friends, Etta (Reba McEntire, Charlotte’s Web) and Wild Arms (Damon Wayans Jr., Big Hero 6) on a courageous adventure that enriches their friendship.

    Following a near decade of extinction, the whopping fourteenth installment of The Land Before Time franchise invites a new generation of dinosaur lovers back to the Great Valley.  Centering once again on series mainstay Littlefoot (Avitia), the tiny, long-necked dino anxiously awaits the return of his father Bron (Scott Whyte, City Guys) and the rest of the herd on their annual visit.  Excitement quickly turns to panic when the comically coward Wild Arms (Wayans) alerts the village of a volcanic explosion that resulted in Bron sacrificing his safety for the others.  Too dangerous to trek back, Littlefoot, along with Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike, secretly journey to rescue Bron from impending danger.  Confronted with countless geographical obstacles and overwhelming risks at the hands of hungry Tyrannosaurs Rex, the gang encounter friendly Pterodactyl Etta (McEntire) to help aid in their search for Bron.  Singing their way to save Littlefoot’s father, the young dinosaurs develop a deeper appreciation for each other that will last a lifetime.

    Highlighting a newly recored tune by Reba McEntire, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave fits seamlessly into the franchise’s previous efforts that demonstrate the value of friendship and working together for more impressionable audiences.  With the advent of computer animation, the latest sequel stylistically adheres to the traditional, hand-drawn quality of its predecessors while, its vocal talent comprised of newcomers and guest celebrities entertain accordingly.  Although its plot is fairly paint-by-numbers in the context of the series, this harmless direct to video offering will easily appeal to younger viewers who will take delight in its colorful characters and cheery musical numbers.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave in anamorphic widescreen, boasting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Lacking the sharpness of hi-def releases, the animated effort delivers nicely balanced colors of its many characters and backgrounds, making the viewing experience a perfectly suitable one.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is audible and efficient while, the film’s several musical moments have a slightly wider reach to get heads bopping along.  Appropriately catered to little ones, special features include, Sing-A-Long Songs for “Look For The Light” (2:01), “Today’s the Day” (2:56), “Hot and Stinky” (2:48) and “Better off Alone” (2:02).

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave can be purchased exclusively through Walmart.com and their respective retail outlets. 

  • Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles DVD Review

    Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles

    Director: Michael Hegner

    Starring: Eric Bauza, Michael Dangerfield, Anthony Daniels, Trevor Devall, Heather Doerksen & Tom Kane

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the Lego-centric adventures of a galaxy far, far away, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles finds young Luke Skywalker carelessly pitting his friends into the clutches of the Empire.  In order to strengthen Luke’s training, Master Yoda and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi unearth the Holocrons which possess the secrets of the Jedi.  With the Dark Side not far behind, Darth Vader seeks to claim them.  Assisted by superclone Jek-14 and Luke’s faithful friends, the Rebels will stop at nothing to outwit the Empire.

    Following the prequel set episodes of its first season, the newly titled Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles takes place during the Galactic Empire welcoming Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and other memorable characters from George Lucas’ original trilogy into the fold.  Unproven in his abilities, Luke Skywalker and his friends narrowly escape certain doom signaling Yoda and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi to strengthen Luke’s Jedi training.  With the previously hidden Holocrons withholding the secrets of the Jedi now unearthed to guide Luke, Darth Vader and his endless troops make their retrieval a top priority.  Traveling to the familiar locales of Tatooine and Hoth, Luke, Han, Leia and their loyal droids are assisted by superclone Jek-14 to ensure the Empire never possess the sacred Holocrons.  With exciting battle sequences and its tongue firmly planted in cheek, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles provides viewers with an engaging four episode saga pitting Skywalker’s from both sides of the Force on a quest for a desired MacGuffin.

    Charmingly animated in the style of beloved Lego blocks and a jovial sense of humor allowing itself to poke fun at Star Wars fandom, the sophomore season surpasses its predecessor in story and laughs.  While the entire four episode season is accounted for, viewers will be disappointed with the lack of the program’s third episode, “Attack of the Jedi”, also noticeably absent in season one’s home video release.  Based in the prequel era and hardly disrupting the continuity of season two’s episodes, the disappearance of “Attack of the Jedi” still stings for fans longing to own the complete series.  Technicalities aside, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles remains a comically crafted effort that young Padawans will appreciate most.

    Digitally Mastered and preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles packs bold colors and impressive detail in textures as well as the reflective surfaces of its droid characters.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is always crisp while Composer John Williams’ thrilling music and the show’s wide variety of sound effects never disappointing.  Special features include, an Alternate Ending: “Clash of the Skywalkers” (1:50) and Sneak Peeks (3:37) at upcoming home video releases for Tomorrowland, Aladdin Diamond Edition and Inside Out.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available September 15th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Descendants (2015) DVD Review

    Descendants (2015)

    Director: Kenny Ortega

    Starring: Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart & Sofia Carson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imprisoned on the Isle of the Lost along with their villainous parents, Descendants focuses on the teenage offspring of Maleficent’s daughter Mal (Dove Cameron, Liv and Maddie), Cruella de Vil’s son Carlos (Cameron Boyce, Jessie), Jafar’s son Jay (Booboo Stewart, X-Men: Days of Future Past) and the Evil Queen’s daughter Evie (Sofia Carson, Faking It) as they are invited to the serene prep school of Auradon for a new beginning.  Joined by the children of Disney heroes and princesses, the troublesome four are determined to help their parents regain domination but, become conflicted when they begin embracing the lighter side of their personalities.  Kenny Ortega (Newsies, High School Musical) directs and choreographs this Disney Channel Original Movie event.

    Continuing their successful streak of bringing their memorable animated characters into live-action, Descendants spotlights the teenage exploits of Disney’s next generation of antagonists.  As Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of Beast and Belle, nears his rightful place on the throne, the young teen offers a second chance to a select few from the Isle of the Lost to attend Auradon’s prestigious prep school.  With strict orders to steal the Fairy Godmother’s wand by their parents, the four descendants of infamous Disney villains agree to attend Auardon Prep.  Uncomfortable in their new surroundings and continuously unsuccessful in obtaining the wand, the rebellious teens slowly develop a change of heart towards Auardon.  As Ben and Mal form an unlikely attraction towards one another, Jay thrives in the school’s competitive athletic program while, Carlos learns to love a pet dog and Evie proves she’s more than just a pretty face.  The more comfortable Mal and her friends become at their new school, aiding their evil parents’ wicked plans grows increasingly difficult.  Although not all of Auardon’s citizens are pleased with the offspring of their most dreaded villains, Mal and the gang must overcome oppression and ultimately look inside their hearts to make a new future for themselves.

    Bursting with musical energy and well-executed dance sequences, Descendants arrives with several mildly entertaining tunes with the exception of a dreadful, hip-hop influenced redux of “Be Our Guest”.  In addition, although the villainous parents are secondary to the tale, Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies) as Maleficent and Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus) as the Evil Queen make entertaining appearances while, the talented Keegan Connor Tracy’s (Bates Motel) Belle fails to leave a lasting impression in her brief screen time.  Formulaic but fun, Descendants utilizes some of the network’s brightest young stars for an original concept soaked in the folklore of Disney’s most beloved fantasies.  Entertaining enough, Descendants is built for Disney’s tween audience and younger who will get the most mileage out of this musical television movie.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Descendants in widescreen with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Colors are mostly bold and effective with skin tones relayed clearly and lifelike.  Although lacking a richer sharpness, Descendants appears satisfactory.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is always clear and free of any distortion while, the film’s musical numbers offer an added boost in authority that is evident and pleasing.  Special features include, #Mal (4:30) showcasing the lead character’s journey via social media, Backstage Dance Rehearsals (7:31), Bloopers (2:16), Sneak Peek: Descendants Wicked World (0:19) providing a quick snippet at the new animated series coming this Fall.  In addition, Sneak Peeks (4:39) for Disney Movie Rewards, K.C. Undercover, Girl Meets World, Disney Movies Anywhere, Disneynature’s Born in China and Aladdin Diamond Edition are included along with a free “Isle of the Lost” bracelet.

    Catered for Disney Channel’s young audience, Descendants is a magical blend of fantasy and music through the eyes of angsty teenage characters.  With an emphasis on understanding and young love, Disney’s spirited TV movie has fun playing with its treasured characters while introducing a team of fresh-faced newbies for modern audiences.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents the film with sufficient technical merits but, scant special features that should still appease young viewers.  Although some of its characters are rotten to the core, Descendants will taste sweet to Disney Channel’s most dedicated watchers.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Descendants can be purchased via 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.

  • Hand of Death (1962) DVD Review

    Hand of Death (1962)

    Director: Gene Nelson

    Starring: John Agar, Paula Raymond & Steven Dunne 

    Released by: 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives

    Reviewed by David Steigman

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING 4.5/5

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

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

    Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Rowan Atkinson

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 5/5

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

  • Super Sentai Zyuranger: The Complete Series DVD Review

    Super Sentai Zyuranger: The Complete Series

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Yūta Mochizuki, Sejiu Umon, Hideki Fujiwara, Takumi Hashimoto, Reiko Chiba & Shiro Izumi

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Serving as the first series in the popular Super Sentai franchise to be adapted for the American market, Super Sentai Zyuranger centers on the evil witch Bandora who after 170 million years of imprisonment is hellbent on exacting revenge upon Earth.  Meanwhile, five ancient warriors are summoned from their suspended animation to defend the planet and its citizens against Bandora and her wicked henchmen, utilizing enchanted weapons and giant robots known as the Guardian Beasts.  

    Beginning in 1975, the long-running Super Sentai franchise has marveled the imaginations of Japanese children since its inception while, casual viewers recognize their prominence for inspiring the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series in the early 1990s that would rise to immense popularity in America and the rest of the world.  Interestingly enough, Super Sentai Zyuranger would mark the sixteenth season of the popular series with extensive footage from its 50 episode run incorporated into Mighty Morphin Power Rangers inaugural season.  With the exception of its action footage recycled and reformatted for the American audience, the majority of Super Sentai Zyuranger including its characters and episode narratives are vastly different to its American interpretation.  Instead of summoning five teens with attitude, Super Sentai Zyuranger’s protagonists are a team of ancient warriors utilizing the power of prehistoric dinosaurs and robotic beasts to battle Bandora.  More noticeable changes that left Mighty Morphin fans bewildered for years become clear in Super Sentai Zyuranger such as the original male yellow ranger explaining why the pink ranger was the only one bearing a skirt-like costume in its American incarnation.  While, devoted fans of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series will be familiar with much of the episodes’ footage, those uninitiated with the Japanese program will revel in each adventures original intent.  Noticeably more fantastical than its more superhero driven international version, Super Sentai Zyuranger also possesses a slightly more adult edge with characters using such mild language as “hell” and “damn”.  In addition, the sinister witch Bandora (Rita Repulsa in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) is often threatening to kill her colorful enemies instead of the more commonly used “destroy” term.  

    Filled with marvelous martial arts sequences, vibrant colors and countless Kaiju-like battles, first-time viewers accustomed to the teenagers of Angel Grove will discover a wholly unique experience in Super Sentai Zyuranger that is equally exciting and action-packed.  Containing all 50 episodes across a whopping 10 discs, Super Sentai Zyuranger: The Complete Series is a long-awaited addition into every Power Rangers fans collection and one that will stand proudly next to its American offerings as the series that truly started it all.

    Shout! Factory presents Super Sentai Zyuranger full frame, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  True to its original broadcast appearance, Super Sentai Zyuranger appears murky at times with colors slightly diluted, no question attributed to the show’s low-budget.  Never deal-breaking and with expectations kept at bay, the Japanese program looks as good as can be expected after nearly 25 years and will most definitely please enthusiasts of Shout! Factory’s previous Power Rangers releases.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, Super Sentai Zyuranger arrives with its original Japanese audio intact and optional English subtitles.  Dialogue, the show’s catchy theme song and its explosive battle sequences come across with no issues while, all subtitles appear clearly and easy to follow.  Special features include the sole Power Progenitors: Super Sentai Zyuranger Power Morphicon 2014 Panel where three cast members from the original show field questions from adoring fans with their responses relayed in English subtitles (26:54).

    Marking its DVD debut, Super Sentai Zyuranger: The Complete Series finally offers likeminded fans the opportunity to experience the original Japanese hit that would eventually birth the global sensation of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Endlessly fun and packed with dynamic eye candy, Super Sentai Zyuranger delivers everything that made its American rangers a blast but, with a slightly more fantastical flair.  After doing the impossible and presenting the first 20 years of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and beyond for home entertainment, Shout! Factory goes back to the franchise’s roots and delivers another bonafide helping of morphenomenal awesomeness.

     RATING: 4/5

    Available February 17th from Shout! Factory, Super Sentai Zyuranger: The Complete Series can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Prisoner of Paradise (1980) DVD Review

    Prisoner of Paradise (1980)

    Director(s): Bob Chinn & Gail Palmer

    Starring: John Holmes, Seka, Sue Carol, Jade Wong & Elmo Lavino

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Returning to exotic locales and set against the backdrop of World War II, Director Bob Chinn (Tropic of Desire), along with Harry Mohney (using girlfriend Gail Palmer as a pseudonym), captures John Holmes infiltrating sexually deviant Nazis.  Scanned in 2K from the 35mm negative, the kings of kink, Vinegar Syndrome, proudly present Prisoner of Paradise, where bizarre sex rites reign supreme on an island of sin!

    Prisoner of Paradise stars John Holmes (Johnny Wadd) as American G.I. Joe Murray, marooned on a tropical island following the bombing of his ship.  Discovering a small Nazi outpost and kidnapped American women, Murray is determined to save the day.  Seka (Sunny Days), Sue Carol (The Goodbye Girls), Jade Wong (Oriental Hawaii), Nikki Anderson (The Erotic World of Seka), Brenda Vargo (’11’) and Elmo Lavino (Matinee Idol) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    A blending of Nazisploitation and war epic, Prisoner of Paradise breathes an air of quality above most adult fare.  While, retaining its XXX foundation, Director Bob Chinn chooses to push story and character development ahead of skin.  Re-teaming with his Johnny Wadd leading man, John Holmes stars as G.I. Joe Murray, a WWII soldier grieving over the loss of his girlfriend (Mai Lin, credited as Miko Moto).  After his ship is bombed, Murray is marooned to a tropical island where he survives on coconuts and bathes under waterfalls.  Upon discovering a small Nazi outpost withholding American women, Murray rushes to rescue the damsels from the Furhuer’s clutches.  Holmes is in top form, mustering decent emotion over the loss of his sexy Asian lover while, trying to survive his situation.  Ilsa (Seka) and Greta (Sue Carol) appear as sadistic lesbian Nazis who get their rocks off forcing oral pleasure and sex upon their prisoners.  Overseen by commanding officer Hans (Lavino) and Suke (Wong), a mute Japanese soldier, the American women have little hope for escape after Murray is also taken prisoner.  Impressed with the size of his “gun”, the seductive Nazis force the American scum into salacious activities.  As Greta pleasures herself with a pistol grip, Ilsa, wearing only knee-high leather boots, forces Murray into sex while, threatening him with a luger to not climax in her.  Growing increasingly intoxicated, Hans become voyeur as he then forces a female prisoner to go down on Murray, before eventually copulating.  Cruel whippings and more forced sex follow, diminishing the prisoners hope of survival.  Luckily, Suke develops an uncontrollable attraction to Murray and puts the moves on him.  Reminded of his deceased lover, Murray willingly goes along with the sexual advances, using her trust to his advantage.  Following an intimate session, Murray and his fellow prisoners manage to torch the outpost and escape with their lives.

    Bursting with attractive players and convincing use of wartime stock footage, Prisoner of Paradise takes full advantage of its island location to convey a satisfying story of Nazi imprisonment.  Serving up a scandalous spread of hardcore sequences, Bob Chinn’s big-budget opus places priority on story and production value.  Surprisingly well-acted and genres competently blended, Prisoner of Paradise is a crowning achievement for Chinn that could have easily been reworked as a decent exploitation offering.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Newly restored in 2K from the 35mm negative and sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Prisoner of Paradise arrives with light scratches and vertical lines early on.  Skin tones are conveyed accurately with detail nicely picking up Holmes’ essential stache and long fingernails.  Black levels vary, with slightly fuzzy moments during dimly lit, oriental alley sequences and impressing with the Nazis stark black uniforms.  Colors read well with only Lin’s red attire looking a little too striking.  Flakes and specks occur sporadically, with the lush island setting reading well.  Understandably, the included stock footage is far more scratch-ridden than the rest of the film, but far from unwatchable.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix, Prisoner of Paradise sounds satisfactory with dialogue coming across well, if not a bit hushed at times.  The film’s soundtrack impresses most with the added boost in volume coming across appropriately.  Explosions and machine gun fire also send a decent bump to the otherwise controlled soundscape.  Minor instances of hiss and pops occur, mostly during reel changes, but nothing worth worrying over.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Theatrical Trailer (3:50)

    • Caribbean Films Promos (6:32): Includes California Gigolo, Hot Legs and Prisoner of Paradise.

    RATING: 1.5/5

    OVERALL:

    While, Nazisploitation films may have been on their last legs by 1980, Director Bob Chinn blends the exploitative genre harmoniously as an X-rated war epic.  Adult movie legend, John Holmes delivers a surprising turn as a WWII G.I. with more depth than most would expect.  With a strong visual identity and an early appearance from the uber-sexy, Seka, Prisoner of Paradise entertains as much as it tantalizes.  Continuing the good deed of excavating Chinn’s game changing offerings, Vinegar Syndrome have provided porn enthusiasts with one of his best.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available September 9th, Prisoner of Paradise can be purchased via Vinegar Syndrome and Amazon.com

  • President Wolfman (2012) DVD Review

    President Wolfman (2012)

    Director: Mike Davis

    Starring: Marc Evan Jackson, Ashley Ann, Anthony Jenkins & Casey Robinson

    Released by: Wild Eye Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Utilizing recycled stock footage and injecting new dialogue plus other enhanced effects, this “green film” is the epitome of camp entertainment.  Part horror-comedy blended with political satire, Director Mike Davis (Sex Galaxy) once again meshes his love for public domain footage and hysterical dialogue for another howlingly fun time.  Award winner at several independent film festivals, President Wolfman is the perfect midnight solution during a full moon.

    President Wolfman centers on John Wolfman, single parent, leader of the free world and part-time werewolf.  Tirelessly fighting off the selling of the United States to China through the proposed “Chimerica Bill”, Wolfman is also pitted with saving his young son from a deadly Vice President.

    MOVIE:

    Creatively crafted, President Wolfman wields a story of horror and humor in our nation’s capital relying solely on recycled footage.  Reminiscent of 70s exploitation fare, this zany indie effort works wonders by infusing hilarious voice work over pre-existing footage culled from educational shorts, Smokey the Bear commercials, Miss Teen Beauty Pageants and more.  A breezy runtime, absurd dialogue and footage that doesn’t always make sense creates the perfect cheese-fest cocktail for material of this ilk.  At times reminiscent of poor dubbing examples akin to Godzilla films, President Wolfman is firmly aware of their over the top nature and never shies away from pushing the envelope.  Consistently funny and politically incorrect, President Wolfman is an absolute hoot from start to finish.  Admirers of bad cinema will enjoy the tongue in cheek mentality of the film while, equally appreciating the various stock footage used to push the narrative forward.  President Wolfman is the ideal solution for a good laugh, not to be taken seriously.  Presented in “Stag-O-Vision”, this political lycan is a successful experimentation with cut and paste moviemaking worthy of your vote.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Wild Eye Releasing presents President Wolfman in anamorphic widescreen, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Culled from over 100 pieces of various stock footage, President Wolfman ranges in quality.  Scratches (some purposely intended), lines and faded color are all present but, expected in a film of this caliber.  Understandably, a film consisting of recycled footage should not be judged harshly as it maintains its artistic intent.  While, not pitch perfect looking, President Wolfman appears exactly as it should which makes the ride all the more fun.

    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, President Wolfman sounds crisp and robust.  As the footage appears as it was found, the re-voiced dialogue and blaxploitation-esque tunes are loud and audible with no issues to speak of.  Obviously, an area where sizable budget was put forth to make the film work its magic.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Mike Davis and Co-Producer Miles Flanagan: Davis and Flanagan waste no time diving into the material explaining the elaborate process of making a “green film” of this kind, work.  Davis mentions 1973’s The Werewolf of Washington starring Dean Stockwell as being the central film selection in guiding his film forward while, plucking other material from various industrial films, educational shorts and driver’s safety films.  Flanagan, who also contributed to the film’s visual effects, explains his subtle uses of digitally adding items into scenes that called for added production value.  Fans of the film will find this commentary to be an interesting listen considering its unusual style.  

    - President Wolfman Outtakes (1:42)

    - President Wolfman Music Video (1:54): The main title sequence reused as a separate feature.

    - President Wolfman Highlight Reel (4:00): Several humorous sequences collected in one reel.

    - Shorts: A collection of various stock footage clips, some in their original form and others repurposed by Davis:

                        - Ban Money (0:59)

                        - Experiments (19:39)

                        - Sudden Birth (22:09)

                        - Talking Car (16:02)

                        - Thank You (0:31)

                        - She Wolf (1:44)

                        - Space Prison Trailer (2:05)

    - Trailers: Includes President Wolfman, Deadly X-Mas, The Disco Exorcist, Murder University, Showgirls 2, Mold! and Swamphead.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Copy and paste tattered stock footage and invite the gang of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to re-dub the dialogue and you arrive at President Wolfman.  Unbelievably campy and unrelentingly hilarious, this horror-comedy pokes fun at politics with the guided hand of scratchy footage, best remembered through a school projector.  Director Mike Davis‘ latest effort is a laugh out loud riot, enjoyed amongst other B-movie lovers with a weakness for werewolves running the country.  In addition, Wild Eye Releasing has prepared a wide spread of bonus content for fans to cut into including an informative commentary and various stock footage clips.  Resurrecting long-forgotten footage with newly recorded, comical dialogue is a work of genius or insanity.  Regardless, the end result is a roaringly fun experience that will leave you in support for President Wolfman.

    RATING: 4/5

  • Lust for Freedom (1987) DVD Review

    Lust for Freedom (1987)
    Director: Eric Louzil
    Starring: Melanie Coll, William J. Kulzer, Judi Trevor, Howard Knight & Elizabeth Carroll
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Independent distributors, Vinegar Syndrome, take a breather from their highly successful adult entertainment output to excavate treasures from the Troma Entertainment vaults.  A feministic action tale told behind the bars of a women’s prison sets the course for this 80s cult hit produced by Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) and directed by Eric Louzil (Class of Nuke’ Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown, Class of Nuke’ Em High Part III: The Good, the Bad and the Subhumanoid).  Newly restored from the original negative, Vinegar Syndrome proudly presents Lust for Freedom, where girls take the law into their own hands!

    Lust for Freedom stars Melanie Coll, in her only film role to date, as Gillian Kaites, a special undercover agent who experiences the brutal murder of her boyfriend in a sting operation gone wrong.  Looking to move on after the tragedy, Kaites finds herself in a world of trouble as she is subdued and whisked away to a women’s prison.  Corruption and perversion run rampant as Kaites plots a bloody revenge against those responsible for her unjust imprisonment.  

    MOVIE:
    While, intended to be a parody with comedic shades, Lust for Freedom comes across far more earnest than most Troma productions.  Kicking off with a play by play narration by Coll (that continues throughout the film) of an undercover operation, shootouts run amok with some wildly hilarious gunshot reactions and hokey fight choreography that sets the stage for a film of performers trying their best.  Coll’s partner and boyfriend ends up dead resulting in her need to escape the life and surroundings she has come to know.  Driving aimlessly with no true destination in mind, Coll picks up a frantic female hitchhiker in the desert before being stopped by the local sheriff.  It doesn’t take long before the friendly sheriff cons Coll back to the station to drug and relocate her in the local women’s prison.  A dangerous institution where the prisoners are held under false charges and for the wicked amusement of the warden and his cronies, Coll has entered a living nightmare.  Judi Trevor (Leather Jackets) makes a memorable appearance as the despicable head of the prison who makes life horrifying for the inmates.  Lust for Freedom proudly embellishes the popular traits of women in prison flicks with first time lesbian encounters, shower-filled T&A sequences, rape, brutal whippings plus, inmate wrestling matches to the death.  All the ingredients are present and accounted for, albeit, slightly underused especially for a Troma production.  Luckily, the array of actresses‘, with their nicely styled 80s hairdos and fully applied made-up faces, are quite attractive making risque scenes all the more rewarding.  

    The more time Coll spends in this house of horrors, the better she understands the corruption at work and plots revenge.  Teaming up with fellow inmates, Coll relies on her undercover skills and way with firearms to turn the tables on the establishment.  More shootouts, explosions and a wild inferno, all to the blaring songs of Grim Reaper, bring the heinous prison down.  Lust for Freedom works on nearly every level for fans of the women in prison subgenre, although, the more scandalous material could have benefitted from being exploited more.  In addition, Coll’s endless narration to the obvious grows tiresome but never takes away from the fun of the film.  Shot cheaply, the laughable action sequences and the “high speed” car chases that barely crack school zone limits add an air of charm worth reveling in.  Far from perfect, Lust for Freedom separates itself from other Troma productions by winking at the audience instead of cementing the tongue to their cheek, paving the way for an arrestingly good time.
    RATING: 4/5          

    VIDEO:
    Vinegar Syndrome presents Lust for Freedom in an 1.85:1 aspect ratio, scanned in 2K from a 35mm blow-up negative.  Originally filmed in 16mm, Lust for Freedom experiences instances of vertical lines and flakes early on but, improves as the run time progresses.  A slight speckling appears throughout the film which looks more inherent in the film stock than the restoration process.  The plain and sterile scheme of the prison casts a rather dull appearance especially with the inmates all wearing white.  The few colors present, most notably in Coll’s red shirt before her imprisonment, as well as skin tones pop as nicely as could be expected especially in close-ups.  Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration is a welcome one for a film that would have more than likely received lesser treatment from others.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix, Lust for Freedom slightly suffers from just being a little too low.  Cranking the volume up will become necessary to pick up all dialogue especially in the prison where voices tend to echo constantly.  Luckily, moments of intense gunfire and the rockin’ tunes from Grim Reaper serve up a nice and welcome oomph to the mix.
    RATING: 2.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Eric Louzil: Louzil discusses the similar artistic sensibilities between himself and Kaufman that drew the two together.  Louzil remains chatty the duration of the film but often spends too much time narrating the onscreen action.  That said, Louzil still serves up an informative listen that is worthy to fans of the film.

    - Interview with Producer and Distributor Lloyd Kaufman: Kaufman sits down for a 10 minute interview discussing how the project came to be, his direct involvement, Louzil’s many talents and more.

    - Original Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Far from a diehard Troma fan, Lust for Freedom had all the right ingredients to make its way into this women in prison fans’ heart.  Packed with a line-up of beautiful ladies showcasing T&A and choked full of shootouts, bloodshed and a radical heavy metal soundtrack, Lust for Freedom is a winner for viewers looking to spend 90 minutes in the slammer.  Vinegar Syndrome has done yet another fine service to cult fans by dusting off a goody like this and restoring it from the Troma library.  Coupled with a nice and informative assortment of special features, Lust for Freedom is a cult prison flick that fans should sentence themselves to for life.  With access to the vast Troma vaults, one can only hope that Vinegar Syndrome continues to serve up more entertaining odds and ends like Lust for Freedom.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #5: Gravity, Memory of the Dead, L.A. Law, Oldboy & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #5 includes:

    - Gravity (2013) (0:32)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Warner Bros: http://www.warnerbros.com/

    - L.A. Law Season 1 (6:27)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Memory of the Dead (2011) (11:14)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Artsploitation Films: http://www.artsploitationfilms.com/

    - Gotham City Serials (16:23)
    Street Date: February 4, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com/

    - Oldboy (2013) (19:32)
    Street Date: March 4, 2014
    Sony Pictures: http://www.sonypictures.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (25:11)

  • Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers (1985) DVD Review

    Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers (1985)

    Director: Yoshihiro Kawasaki
    Starring: Jun Izumi, Chiaki Kitahara, Yukari Takeshita & Shu Minagawa
    Released by: Impulse Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Impulse Pictures is back at it, serving up fans of Japanese erotic cinema their 19th helping from the popular Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection.  When a group of horny young nurses all converge at St. Elizabeth Hospital, plenty of naughty habits are bound to arise.  Over the top comedy mixed with tantalizing sex scenes, rewards viewers with a dormitory filled with nurses that exceeds your wildest expectations.  Presented with newly translated English subtitles, Impulse Pictures invites curious patients to an environment where the staff will treat you just right.  If the patient is suffering from Nikkatsu withdrawal, then a serving of Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers might be the remedy you’re seeking.  Let’s find out...

    Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers centers on a group of horny young nurses all looking for love at St. Elizabeth Hospital.  With the arrival and helpful hand of the mysterious Yuki (Jun Izumi), the other nurses sneak their boyfriends into the dorm for nightly sex.  Although, the nurses are kept under the watchful eye of a strict dorm supervisor, Yuki’s influence on them increases as more sexual fun ensues!  Yuki’s past is revealed when Tadao (Shû Minagawa), her former beau, arrives attempting to rekindle their love.  Unfortunately, for Tadao, Yuki has other plans that all converge on a night that involves mistaken identity, absurd disguises, S&M and plenty more!

    MOVIE:
    Nikkatsu pulls no punches when opening their film with a close-up of a young nurse caressing her nipples.  Moaning in enjoyment, the young nurse grabs a vacuum hose in order to pleasure those hard to reach places.  As the viewer is submerged in erotic bliss, the nurse’s dorm supervisor barges in questioning her actions, leaving the audience giggling.  Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers quickly sets the stage with several nurses working at St. Elizabeth Hospital who are at wits end with their horniness.  The arrival of a mysterious new nurse, Yuki (Jun Izumi), encourages the girls to act out on their impulses below the radar of their strict dorm supervisor.  With Yuki’s help, nurses are sneaking their boyfriends into the dorm for hot, nightly sex that translate to a tantalizing experience for the viewer.  Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers manages to convey an erotic tale with steamy scenes in tact, but masquerades it as a humorous sex comedy.  When Yuki’s past is revealed and her ex-lover, Tadao, plans to win her back, Yuki has other ideas.  A night of mistaken identities at the dorm climaxes when horny individuals are entering the wrong rooms and taking up sex with the wrong partners.  In true sex comedy fashion, one of the boyfriend’s is cornered by the strict supervisor only to learn she’s not who she seems.  The young man is swept into her quarters and chained up as a leather-clad S&M session ensues.  Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers lives up to its unique subtitle as a respected doctor gets rather handsy with a fellow nurse and “ throughly examines” her rear.  The film reaches a uproarious high point when Tadao, who has mistaken Yuki with another nurse, is sexually engaged when an unsuspecting vaginal cramp traps Tadao mid thrust.  Hilariously, the entire dormitory rushes to the room, where Yuki, using her nursely expertise, administers her finger into Tadao’s backside to free him.  Who would have guessed?

    Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers accomplished plenty in the erotic department with lesbianism, solo pleasure sessions, group showers and S&M.  But, the hilarious sex comedy energy gave this flick a boost that made it an absolute riot to view.  With a breezy runtime and a groovy soundtrack, Impulse Pictures have served up another fine helping of Nikkatsu erotica blended with madcap hijinks, that goes down as one the most entertaining installments to date.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Impulse Pictures presents Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers in an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that impresses.  Colors are bold with skin tones appearing clear and accurate.  Surprisingly, a film of this ilk, has no scratches or debris intruding which make for a remarkably clean presentation.  Color me caught off guard, Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers looks terrific!
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese Mono mix.  Dialogue comes through with no interruptions and the music, which packs a nice horn section, delivers a decent bass sound.  This mix definitely gets the job done.  In addition, newly translated removable English subtitles are included.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Liner Notes from Japanese Film Scholar Jasper Sharp: Sharp waxes intellectual on the distinctions between pinks films and the Roman Porno releases that Nikkatsu handled.  Sharp educates and informs in these impressive liner notes.

    - Original Theatrical Trailer

    - Reversible cover: While, the film is packaged bearing its censored Nurse Girl Dorm: Sticky Fingers cover, the reverse utilizes its more risque Assy Fingers subtitle.

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers surprised me with its ability to juggle the erotic and tantalizing needs of an adult film while, injecting a hilarious sex comedy spirit of hijinks.  The horny young nurses of St. Elizabeth Hospital have a wild time in the film that will surely please devoted Nikkatsu fans. Impulse Pictures‘ presentation exceeded my expectations with a remarkably clean and colorful transfer, a proper audio mix complimented with nicely prepared English subtitles.  In addition, Impulse Pictures’ inclusion of educated liner notes from Jasper Sharp and a removable cover was a nice touch to an already pleasing package.  Nurse Girl Dorm: Assy Fingers entertains and titillates in all the right ways.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Paper Mask (1990) DVD Review


    Paper Mask (1990)
    Director: Christopher Morahan
    Starring: Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe, Frederick Treves & Tom Wilkinson
    Released by: Scorpion Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The trust we put into doctors is a sacred one.  We are literally putting our livelihood in their hands when seeking medical attention.  The countless years of dedication and education needed to become a licensed doctor is no picnic and we value their expertise at all costs.  But, what if the person you are entrusting your life with isn’t the expert they claim to be?  The suspenseful melodrama, Paper Mask, explores this scenario as one man goes to every extreme to embody the profession he obsessively desires.  Based on the novel by John Collee, future screenwriter of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Happy Feet, Paper Mask will admit you but can’t guarantee a full recovery by its conclusion.  Let’s get the patient prepped and see how this medical thriller holds up...

    Paper Mask stars Paul McGann (Withnail & I) as Matthew Harris, an unhappy hospital intern jealous of the doctors and nurses who surround him.  When a young physician is tragically killed, Matthew assumes his identity and lands a job that the deceased had applied for.  Now, as Dr. Simon Hennessey, Matthew navigates the medical world while falling in love with a friendly nurse, Christine Taylor, played by Amanda Donohoe (Liar Liar).  As Christine learns and maintains Matthew’s secrecy, a fatal mistake leading to a patients death corners the couple into a chilling finale.  Frederick Treves (The Elephant Man) and Tom Wilkinson (The Lone Ranger) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Crafting a persona that is not your own is not exactly a revolutionary plot device.  Secret agents maintaining a cover or superheroes disguising their true identity, pretending to be someone else and the extremes one goes through to maintain it make for solid drama.  Taking that concept and setting it in the medical profession is slightly more unique added with a lowly intern that desires more from life.  Our hopes and dreams are only truly obtained by hard work and determination but some can’t wait for the sun to shine on them.  Paul McGann, as Matthew Harris, headlines Paper Mask with a sadness and desperation of wanting to be a respected medical expert with a white coat.  He feels he has achieved little in life and longs for more when a sudden tragedy turns a lightbulb on in his mind.  Assuming the identity of a deceased physician, Harris takes up shop at a Bristol hospital as he stumbles his way through the chaotic nature of emergency rooms.  One might question why anyone would attempt to falsify themselves as a licensed doctor especially if they aren’t appropriately trained.  But, it is Harris‘ obsession with the profession that drives him without considering his lack of experience.  Harris can barely focus on his patients‘ needs and drinks himself into a stupor after his first day on the job.  Harris befriends Christine Taylor (Amanda Donohoe), an efficient nurse, who helps him on his feet before the two engage in a romantic relationship.  Harris learns quickly and his own personal studying pays off as he upholds the role of a false doctor.  Supervising physician, Dr. Thorn (Tom Wilkinson), is never fully convinced of Harris‘ dedication to his job and remains skeptical.  Wilkinson’s role is minor but he manages to command strict attention to the screen whenever he appears.  When a fellow doctor’s wife dies under Harris‘ care, an intense investigation is issued threatening Matthew’s cover.  Against better judgement, Christine conceals Matthew’s secret as she is reprimanded for lack of patient attention.  Fortunately, Matthew is cleared of any wrong doing as faulty equipment is discovered as the leading cause of death.  As life begins to stabilize again, an old friend from Matthew’s past nearly blows his cover pushing him to new limits.  Matthew’s friend quickly disapproves of his antics before the good doctor attempts to murder him.  Paper Mask takes a chilling turn as Matthew becomes so desperate to remain in his role that he will do whatever is necessary.

    Available for the first time on DVD in America, Paper Mask does a fine job relaying a story about the desires that consume us and what some will do to obtain them.  Paul McGann is terrific as the lead and delivers a personable, albeit chilling performance.  Amanda Donhoe (LA Law) compliments McGann as the capable nurse, head over heels for a clinical madman.  Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins), appearing in an early film role, has brief screen time but leaves an intimidating impression on McGann and the viewer.  Paper Mask could have benefitted from going deeper with Matthew’s darkness after murdering his friend.  Instead, we are left with him ditching Donohoe‘s character, which seems foolish considering she knows his true identity, and taking up shop in a new hospital with one final blank stare at the camera before concluding.  Nonetheless, Paper Mask achieves suspense and believability thanks to the wonderful performances from the cast.  It may not be the finest production to handle the subject of false personas, but Paper Mask is undoubtedly an entertaining watch.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Scorpion Releasing presents Paper Mask in a brand new anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer, mastered in HD.  With the exception of a handful of minor pops, the transfer appears clean and clear of any intruding distractions.  Skin tones look accurate with a nice grain structure apparent throughout the film.  Presented in arguably the best shape the film will ever see, the transfer is a perfectly serviceable one.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Paper Mask comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix.  Dialogue comes across slightly muffled in early sequences and the thicker accents of the English cast make it hard to hear at times.  Raising the volume will be necessary in order to catch what everyone is saying.  Luckily, the mix adjusts nicely and makes for an adequate listen.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Original Trailer

    - Scorpion Releasing Trailers: Includes Go Tell the Spartans, Saint Jack, The Girl Hunters, Wombling Free and The Octagon.

    RATING: 0.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Paper Mask is an intriguing cynical look at the medical profession that shines a light on obsessions and the choices we make to bring them to fruition.  The principal cast of Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe and Tom Wilkinson play their roles efficiently and achieve great results.  Scorpion Releasing’s presentation of Paper Mask is possibly the best the film will ever look and is sure to please viewers.  While, special features are scant, Paper Mask still comes recommended based on the strength of the film itself.  
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • The Power (1984) DVD Review



    The Power (1984)
    Director(s): Jeffrey Obrow & Stephen Carpenter
    Starring: Susan Stokey, Warren Lincoln, Lisa Erickson & J. Dinan Myrtetus
    Released by: Scorpion Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Independent distributor, Scorpion Releasing, is ready to send you for a roller coaster ride filled with possession and horrors thanks to The Power!  This unique blending of genres showcases what happens when an ancient talisman ends up in the wrong hands  and all hell breaks loose.  From the directing duo who brought you The Dorm That Dripped Blood and The Kindred, The Power has been resurrected in a brand new HD master prepared to make you think twice before communicating with the spirit world.  After a lengthy delay, let’s investigate just how powerful this flick is...

    The Power centers on an Aztec idol that is stolen before ending up in the curious hands of three high school students determined to make contact with the spirit world.  Unfortunately, the idols powers are proven very real when another young man steals it for his own purposes and is consumed by its horrific energy.  Can The Power be contained or are the teens doomed to feel the idols wraith?

    MOVIE:
    The alluring rainbow filled poster art for The Power is hypnotic, to say the least.  A cautionary and doom-like tagline ices the cake for what is hoped to be an enjoyable viewing experience.  As the film begins, a college professor is lecturing a class before a snarky student makes offhanded comments.  The professor makes eye contact with an ancient idol sitting in his briefcase before setting his stern gaze on the student causing a bloody nose for the smart aleck.  As the lecture concludes, the professor is greeted by a colleague who is firmly aware that the relic is consuming his friend.  Before long, the professor is left alone with his prized possession until its power is revealed causing the educator to be elevated and impaled on a flagpole.  Suffice to say, a terrific opening.  Without missing a beat, we are whisked away to a desert land where the recently deceased professor’s friend is on the hunt for the relic.  The energy of this ancient talisman continues to grow as the man learns it is now possessed by an elderly gentleman and young boy unwilling to part with it.  The man does the noble thing and shoots them dead before making his claim on it.  This is where The Power begins to test its audiences‘ patience.  The film seems to start over yet again, opening with three high school students planning to conduct a seance later that evening.  Nearly 20 minutes into the film, The Power fails to deliver a stable set of characters for the viewer to latch onto.  Finally, the high schoolers meet at the local cemetery with personal items in tow they feel will protect them should anything go wrong.  Of course, one student has the talisman that seems to be hot on everyone’s Christmas list.  How did his parents come into possession of it before passing it on as a gift?  An explanation is apparently not necessary.  The seance commences with the teens awakening a power that is far beyond their expectations resulting in the death of a cemetery worker.  Just when you thought you had a set of characters you could zone in on, alas more are on the way!  The teens seek the guidance of a local tabloid writer who they believe can help them in their unique situation.  Of course, the writer doesn’t put much faith in their story but her ex-boyfriend isn’t so sure.  He decides to do some investigating on his own before getting consumed by the relic and stealing it for his own purposes.  

    The Power certainly has its share of issues finding its footing but it eventually gets there an hour into the film.  As the idol appears in the writer and her former beau’s life, odd occurrences start.  In an effective nightmare sequence, multiple hands emerge from the woman’s mattress and attempt to stab her before she awakes.  The longer her ex keeps the idol in his possession, the worse his obsession becomes.  He begins to morph into a demon-like creature and is determined to kill his former lover and the teens.  The final act is a fun recovery for an otherwise sloppy first half.  The man’s horrific transformation is a highlight with wonderful make-up effects taking center stage and a demise for the creature that is just as satisfying.  The film concludes jumping ahead three years finding the female teenager in college.  She is greeted by an earlier character that simply appears as a bookend for the film.  He wishes to ask her about her experiences with the relic that have been recorded in a novel written by the tabloid writer that also survived.  The film ends not making a tremendous amount of sense but leaves the viewer with an enjoyable jump scare before the end credits.  The Power had a very bumpy start getting the viewer invested in a core group of characters.  But, the film found its way by finally zeroing in on the three high schoolers and the tabloid writer.  The film would have benefitted immensely had the makers spent less time setting up the relic’s drawn out history and more on those who would possess it for the duration of the film.  Luckily, The Power has some great make-up effects and nifty nightmarish imagery that makes the viewing experience worth it.  The Power may not be the greatest film, but it certainly has some choices moments, warts and all.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    The Power is presented in a brand new HD anamorphic widescreen master (1.78:1).  After being delayed due to a better print being located, The Power makes a decent splash on this release.  The film certainly has its fair share of speckles and pops in the transfer, but detail looks nice with colors represented nicely.  Black levels, while quite murky at times, are still presented as good as can be.  Utilizing this better print, one can only imagine how much worse the film could have looked.  Thankfully, Scorpion Releasing did the right thing and presents this film in arguably the best shape it will see.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    The Power comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that has its fair share of hiccups as well.  Instances of hiss and static are present throughout the mix but surprisingly never intrude on dialogue.  Pops are heard, mostly during reel changes, but again nothing that deters the viewer from catching any moments of dialogue.  A serviceable treatment that could easily have been far worse.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Katarina’s Nightmare Theater: Katarina Leigh Waters hosts this optional featurette providing an intro and outro to the film scattered with informative facts and humorous hijinks.  

    - Original Trailer

    - Scorpion Releasing Trailers: Includes Grizzly, Day of the Animals, Dogs, Lurkers and Sorceress.

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:
    The Power tripped over its feet for spending far too much time establishing the relic’s past with former owners and less on those that would steer the majority of the film.  Thankfully, the film does well bouncing back with likable characters and effective make-up designs that save the film from being a total disappointment.  Scorpion Releasing has again saved another cult favorite from obscurity and preserving it with the best care it is likely to receive.  Special features are minimal but those jonesing for an early 80s effort in evil clay relics, The Power might be worth putting in your hands.  
    RATING: 3/5

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #1: Nightmare City, Die, Monster, Die!, Vinegar Syndrome & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-up #1 includes:

    - Nightmare City (1980)
    Street Date: December 31, 2013
    Raro Video: http://www.rarovideousa.com/

    - Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
    Street Date: January 21, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - Cat People (1982) Collector's Edition
    Street Date: January 21, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - Judy (1969) / The Night Hustlers (1968)
    Street Date: January 7, 2014
    Vinegar Syndrome: http://vinegarsyndrome.com/launch/

    - The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) / The Neanderthal Man (1953)
    Street Date: January 28, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

  • Toad Road (2012) DVD Review


    Toad Road (2012)
    Director: Jason Banker
    Starring: James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Jim Driscoll, Scott Rader & Jamie Siebold
    Released by: Artsploitation Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Cementing their status as one of the leading forces of unique and independent cinema, Artsploitation Films teams up with Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision to invite viewers down a hallucinatory path.  Toad Road is Artsploitation Films’ first American acquisition, shot on a shoestring budget that feels akin to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project in its execution.  Honest and disturbing, Toad Road sends chills down your spine in unexpected ways that make you wish for the terror to end.  The barriers of reality and nightmares become blurred as the characters struggle to navigate in this mixture of urban myth lore and documentary.  In order to find out what truly lies on Toad Road, let’s trip out…


    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Toad_Road__Artsploitation_/toad_road__artsploitation_.html

  • Abduction of an American Playgirl (1975) / Winter Heat (1976) DVD Review


    Abduction of an American Playgirl (1975) / Winter Heat (1976)
    Director(s): Unknown / Claude Goddard
    Starring: Darby Lloyd Rains / Sue Rowan, Helen Madigan, Lisa Young & Jamie Gillis
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Vinegar Syndrome, the saviors of smut, kick off 2014 with a bang.  Literally!  The first entry in the label’s new “Peekarama” line pairs two scandalous features together that are sure to set fire to your senses.  What are a pair of kidnappers to do when their gorgeous victim gives them more of a sexual run than they anticipated?  Plus, winters can get mighty cold especially when a ruthless pack of delinquents barge into your cabin to light their own sexual fire.  Line up for the big show and witness the sultry excitement right before your eyes...

    Abduction of an American Playgirl finds two lonely men who decide that kidnapping a beautiful woman and subjecting her to their sexual pleasures will cure their anxiousness.  Oddly enough, the would-be victim turns the tables and reveals herself to be a supreme nymphomaniac leaving the men helpless to her demands.  Next up, Winter Heat finds a group of ex-cons intruding on and terrorizing a trio of helpless women in their snowbound cabin.

    MOVIE(s):
    Just when you thought you’ve seen it all from Vinegar Syndrome, the indie distributor is ready to surprise you again.  Abduction of an American Playgirl had sleaze written all over it but I was genuinely surprised to find so much humor in the film.  The bumbling kidnappers, one sporting a choice 70s-stache, are hilarious as a a pair of horny bums that are looking to fix their dilemma fast.  Much to their luck, they spot a gorgeous female and hatch a scheme to whisk her away back to their pad and have a wild night of carnal delights.  In addition, the two decide to extort $5,000 (because why get greedy) from the victim’s father in exchange for her safe return.  As the men finally decide to get down to business, the victim shows surprising interest in their “manlier” areas and the party becomes a mutual one.  Sexual positions a plenty invade the next few scenes with everything from oral pleasure to everything in between administered.  Once our kidnappers have had their fill, the victim is far from through.  The duration of the film takes hysterical turns as the men can barely get a moment of sleep let alone finish a cup of coffee before they are forced back into the bedroom.  To make matters worse, the victim’s father laughs off the men’s extortion attempts leaving them in an odyssey of sexual pleasure that they can no longer handle.  Other drifters make their way through the pad getting a taste of the nymphomaniacal victim before throwing in the towel and making their great escape.  Eventually, the father bites on the extortion scheme (for the bargain price of $500) and orders his other daughter to meet the exhausted culprits for the exchange.  Yet again, our victim and her resourceful sister, pull the sheet from under the men and make off with the money and their car!  The energetic sisters crash at a local motel for some incest-filled lovemaking before welcoming an African-American bellboy in for a little threesome action.  Penetrating excitement and a final climax shot wraps the film up with the ladies possibly biting off more than they can even chew.  Abduction of an American Playgirl surprised me with how humorous the actors and their exchanges with one another managed to be.  The film has no shortage of sexually-charged scenes that are sure to please the most devoted adult cinema lover.  
    RATING: 3/5

    There’s no question that Winter Heat was inspired by Wes Craven’s 1972 shocker The Last House on the Left, but how does it differentiate itself?  By turning up the sleaze notch, of course!  This unforgiving roughie, pits a group of ex-cons (three sleazeballs and one chick for good measure) who terrorize and abuse a group of unsuspecting women in a snowbound cabin.  Similar to Abduction of an American Playgirl, Winter Heat opens on a humorous note with the criminals discussing a variety of topics including how one of the men was raped in the rear while serving time plus his near bout with pneumonia.  Of course, conversation can bore some which leads our female henchmen to go down on one of her cronies because why not?  Eventually, the deadbeats make their way to a cabin of women where they force themselves inside for a night of abuse.  Winter Heat is unquestionably one of the sleazier flicks I’ve seen in sometime.  The ex-cons savagely insult and humiliate the women by making them strip, shove mashed potatoes down their throats and force them to perform oral sex.  Oral sex quickly turns into full-fledged rape as climax shots are popping off as early as 10 minutes into the film.  The abuse continues to mount as the rapists trade off girls and the female baddie has her own way with one of the victims.  While, the film doesn’t find the antagonists murdering anyone, they certainly push the sexual angle far more than The Last House on the Left did.  As time goes on, the victims seem to mutually go with the flow and begin to enjoy the company of their new housemates.  While, the sexual nature and shots of penetration are a tad more present here than Abduction of an American Playgirl, Winter Heat is easily the sleazier feature of this collection and will challenge you to take a shower after its viewing.
    RATING: 3/5

    VIDEO:
    Abduction of an American Playgirl has been scanned in 2K from the 35mm negative and presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Yet again, Vinegar Syndrome surprises with how well films of this ilk can clean up.  Scratches and debris are present at times but overall colors are quite nice with the film’s imperfections never intruding.  This certainly gets the job done!
    RATING: 3.5/5

    Winter Heat has also been scanned in 2K from a 35mm archival print and presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with slightly rougher results.  The opening titles have plenty of scratches before stabilizing to better conditions.  Dirt and pops in the frame appear occasionally but not bad enough that you miss out on any action.  Considering the subject matter, the dirty grindhouse projection is nicely fitting for such a feature.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Abduction of an American Playgirl is equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that is serviceable with dialogue coming across clear, albeit low at certain moments.  The dips in audio levels occur late in the film and will only require a few raises to your volume button to catch everything.  Overall, this’ll do.
    RATING: 3/5

    Winter Heat also comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that is on par with the former.  Dialogue is heard clearly with a light hiss appearing at times.  Listening to this film a little louder than normal will benefit the viewing experience.  
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Abduction of an American Plowgirl Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 0.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Vinegar Syndrome’s latest “Peekarama” offering is a unique bundling of edgier adult entertainment.  Abduction of an American Playgirl plays for laughs while still packing plenty of sexual enjoyment in the form of orgies, oral play and more!  Winter Heat is crowned sleaze king of this collection with its despicable portrayal of brutal ex-cons who have their way with innocent women.  The slimeballs definitely give David Hess and company a run for their money without even murdering any of their victims.  The film makes you feel dirty and succeeds in setting a genuine seedy tone.  Vinegar Syndrome continues to prove their fearlessness with the rare titles they release and their “Peekarama” installment may be one of their most risque to date.  Keep’em coming!
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • Wakefield Poole's Bible! (1973) DVD Review


    Wakefield Poole’s Bible! (1973)
    Director: Wakefield Poole
    Starring: Georgina Spelvin, Gloria Grant, Bo White & Caprice Couselle
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The Bible seems like unusual and risque subject matter to utilize for a softcore effort.  Nonetheless, Director Wakefield Poole (Bijou) did just that when he unveiled his own erotic interpretation of collected stories from the good book in 1973.  Starring Georgina Spelvin (The Devil in Miss Jones), Gloria Grant, Bo White (Blue Summer) and Caprice Couselle, this is definitely not The Bible you remember reading in Sunday school.  Restored from the original negative, Vinegar Syndrome proudly presents Wakefield Poole’s Bible! for the first time on home video.  After 40 years, let’s see how this scandalous biblical tale holds up...

    Wakefield Poole’s Bible! is an erotic avant-garde retelling of stories from the holy book including Adam & Eve, Bath Sheba and Samson & Delilah.  Sexual twists are made to all the tales along with a stunning array of visuals and a soundtrack of classical music.

    MOVIE:
    Having never been a religious man, my interest was peaked at the idea of someone taking a source material so worshipped and injecting a sexually charged edge to it.  Director Wakefield Poole introduces the film and cites homages to Walt Disney’s Fantasia, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, which led me to believe that I was in store for a much more sophisticated softcore effort.  Interestingly enough, I was right.  As the film opens, the viewer is treated to beautiful cinematography where Adam is being birthed on a gorgeous beach setting.  Shortly thereafter, he encounters Eve and the two experience the touch and sexual pleasure of another human being for the first time.  The sequence is visually arresting and presented in a very classy manner.  The bite of the infamous apple segways into the next tale.  Bath Sheba (Georgina Spelvin)  grows jealous of her husband’s attraction towards a scantily clad servant and spends the rest of the story attempting to be more sexy.  Spelvin stuns as she bares all and ends up attracting the interest of a peeping tom.  The tale definitely injects the most humor of the lot as the two chase each other around until finally succumbing to their desires.  Finally, Gloria Grant stars as Delilah in perhaps the oddest story of the three.  Midgets covered in body paint along with a muscle man who Delilah goes down on before he’s killed will definitely raise a few eyebrows.  Grant, always proud of her body, shows off everything and is one of the highlights of the entire film alongside Spelvin.

    Wakefield Poole’s Bible! takes a silent film approach and is told with no dialogue (minus a few lines delivered by Eve).  The interactions between the characters and the classical music accompaniment bring the film to life in a similar fashion to Walt Disney’s Fantasia.  The film has plenty of beautiful sequences along with Spelvin and Grant on full display but even at a 75 minute runtime, the film tends to drag its feet.  I would cautiously recommend the film as a tasteful, albeit odd, and elegant execution in softcore, but be advised it may be appreciated for being more “artsy-fartsy” than it is tantalizing.  
    RATING: 3/5

    VIDEO:
    Vinegar Syndrome has restored Wakefield Poole’s Bible! from the original negative in 2K and presents it in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  The film stumbles early on as footage (assumingly stock) of the big bang is loaded with scratches and debris but stabilizes soon after.  Colors are decent enough with milder scratches and pops apparent throughout the runtime without imposing on the viewing experience.  A serviceable presentation for a film that could, and probably should, look a lot worse.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Wakefield Poole’s Bible! comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that does what it needs to.  With barely any dialogue spoken, the mix does a fine job relaying the classical music soundtrack as well as subtle background noises like chirping birds and wave crashes.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Introduction by Director Wakefield Poole

    - Audio Commentary with Director Wakefield Poole: Poole explains how his original intent was to make this a hardcore film but seeing as how this was during the Nixon administration, he opted for softcore.  Poole remains quiet for many portions of the film choosing to set up a scene and and allowing it to play out.  Poole occasionally offers some thoughtful injections on his artistic choices for the film but they are far and few between.

    - Women of Bible - Interviews with Georgina Spelvin & Gloria Grant: Spelvin enthusiastically discusses her early work in hardcore films which eventually lead to her role as Bath Sheba in Bible!.  Spelvin touches on the lightning speed pace of the film shoot and her admiration for Poole.  Meanwhile, Gloria Grant explains how working in a restaurant lead to her being cast in the film.  Grant goes on to explain that she hailed from a family of ministers who were unaware of her appearance in the film.  Grant also discusses her shift to becoming a make-up artist which earned her an Emmy for her work on As the World Turns.

    - Emerald City Interview: Director Wakefield Poole discusses Bible! on a public access network circa 1977.

    - Bible! Screen Tests

    - Stills Gallery

    - Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    Wakefield Poole’s Bible! is an odd but often unique softcore retelling of biblical tales.  The cinematography and classical music add a layer of beauty to a film that already accomplishes a lot visually.  While, the appearances of Spelvin and Grant are the highlights of the film, it does tend to get a little too artsy for my own taste and causes the runtime to stretch itself thin.  For those expecting a sexually graphic interpretation of Adam & Eve going at it, think again because this is far more tasteful than that.  Vinegar Syndrome does a great service by providing a wealth of interesting special features and insight into a film that evaded home video for 40 years.  Wakefield Poole’s Bible! is a unique beast that is sure to have a divided audience but for fans of adult cinema, this is a rare softcore experiment that should be experienced at least once.
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • TV Terrors: The Initiation of Sarah (1978) / Are You in the House Alone?! (1978) DVD Review



    The Initiation of Sarah (1978) / Are You in the House Alone?! (1978)
    Director(s): Robert Day / Walter Grauman
    Starring: Kay Lenz, Morgan Brittany & Morgan Fairchild / Kathleen Beller, Blythe Danner & Dennis Quaid
    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Embarking on uncharted territory, Scream Factory has jumped into your living room with a double dose of television frights from the 1970s.  Two flicks, both from 1978, center on a college freshmen with psychic powers while the other focuses on a high schooler who becomes the target of a stalker, make up this collection from a time when Dallas and Taxi ruled the airwaves.  In today’s reality TV obsessed culture, how do these bygone made-for-television efforts holds up?  Grab your microwavable dinner, turn out the lights and let’s find out…

    The Initiation of Sarah stars Kay Lenz (House) as Sarah Goodwin, a shy college freshman who joins a sorority as a way to fit in.  Unfortunately, the sorority’s housemother played by Shelley Winters, is a witch who knows Sarah has the gift of psychic abilities.  The twisted old woman encourages Sarah to use her powers for revenge.  The supporting cast includes Morgan Brittany (Dallas) and an exceptionally bitchy Morgan Fairchild (The Seduction).  Next up, Are You in the House Alone?! finds a beautiful high school student (Kathleen Beller of The Sword and the Sorcerer) the target of a sadistic stalker who has been leaving obscene messages in her locker and watching her every move.  The stalker is only getting closer and time is running out!  An all-star cast comprised of a young Dennis Quaid (The Rookie), Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents), Tony Bill (Shampoo) and Scott Colomby (Porky’s) all make appearances.

    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/TV_Terrors__Initiation_of_Sara/tv_terrors__initiation_of_sara.html

  • 4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon Volume Two DVD Review


    4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon Volume Two
    Director(s): Steve Carver / Cesar Gallardo / Richard T. Heffron / Howard Avedis
    Starring: Gary Busey / James Iglehart / Jim Mitchum / Connie Stevens
    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Shout! Factory returns with another dose of action-powered goodness in this 2-DVD set.  Volume Two presents four more explosive flicks with high-octane star power and enough shootouts and hand to hand combat to enthrall any action aficionado.  With films ranging from 1974 to 1988, this movie marathon is destined to capture the glory days of drive-ins and grindhouses where cult cinema like this ran rampant.  Load those machine guns and wrap those fists as we hit the ground running on this collection…

    Disc 1 pares two exciting gems from 1988 and 1974 respectively.  First up, Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story) is Bulletproof.  A Los Angeles cop/ex-CIA agent, Frank "Bulletproof" McBain (Busey) travels south of the border to retrieve a top-secret attack vehicle which has been hijacked by Russian-backed Libyan terrorists.  Darlanne Fluegel (Battle Beyond the Stars, Pet Semetary II) co-stars along with L.Q. Jones (Director of A Boy and His Dog), R.G. Armstrong (Dick Tracy) and the always reliable Henry Silva (Trapped).  Next up, Bamboo Gods & Iron Men stars James Iglehart (Savage!) as champion boxer Black Cal Jefferson.  While on his honeymoon in Hong Kong, an attempt is made by an underworld organization to recover a carved Buddha, which protects a substance powerful enough to control the world.  Cal, along with his wife and mute companion, get caught up in the events and they are the only ones to put a stop to it.

    Disc 2 opens with 1976’s Trackdown where a Montana rancher (Jim Mitchum) comes to Los Angeles searching for his runaway sister (Karen Lamm) who has become entangled in the dangerous world of drugs and prostitution.  Erik Estrada (CHiPS, Light Blast), Anna Archer (Fatal Attraction) and Cathy Lee Crosby (Coach) co-star.  Finally, Connie Stevens (Two on a Guillotine) headlines Scorchy, as a female undercover agent who will stop at nothing to bust a drug-smuggling ring.  Cesare Danova (Animal House) and William Smith (Conan the Barbarian) also star.

    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Action_Packed_Movie_Marathon_V/action_packed_movie_marathon_v.html

  • Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying (1977) DVD Review


    Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying (1977)
    Director: Ernst Hofbauer
    Starring: Helga Anders, Sandra Atia, Ulrich Beiger & Rolf Castell
    Released by: Impulse Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Impulse Pictures bears all yet again with the latest, tantalizing installment of Schoolgirl Report.  Director Ernst Hofbauer returns behind the camera for another educational exercise in teenage erotica.  With 10 of the original 13 installments released on DVD, will this latest offering of soft-core vignettes be worthy of a spot in your adult cinema collection?  Let’s get down to it...

    Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying centers on a German radio program where experts have joined to discuss what can be done to protect the youth of today.  As sexually charged stories are explained, the viewer watches them unfold on screen.  A young girl is crushed when her sex partner betrays her during their many sexual study sessions.  Regime, an attractive schoolgirl, claims she was sexually assaulted by her tutor while a foursome in a barn goes from hot to hilarious.  In addition, Michaela plans to commit suicide after being kidnapped and turned into a sex slave while, in the final segment, a group of girls are destined to see their 18 year-old friend Heidi finally lose her virginity.

    MOVIE:
    Admittedly, Volume #11 of this extremely popular franchise is my first encounter with the series.  Having known much about their history and appeal, the films always evaded me until now.  Coming off “hardcore” material such as The Oral Generation and Lustful Feelings, Schoolgirl Report Volume #11 surprised me with its toned down sexual scenes and intriguing story.  Don’t get me wrong, this is very much an adult film but, if you’re searching for moments of penetration or shots of climaxes, you’ve come to the wrong film.  This latest installment weaves a much more interesting story to encompass the sexual vignettes than one would expect.  Assembling a group of experts to discuss the laws enforced on the youth gives the film an almost scholarly approach to the subject matter.  Sexologist, Günther Hunold, co-wrote the film as well as the other installments in the series.  Hunold’s non-fiction book Schulmädchen-Report was the loose inspiration for the films which could explain the very honest and educational slant they possess.  Volume #11 manages to tease the viewer with its array of young ladies as much as it shocks and injects humor into itself.  The foursome of virgins soiling their royal oats in a barn reaches a hilarious climax just as... well, they climax, resulting in a messy, paint covered finale.  The shocker of the bunch is Michaela’s kidnapping and disturbing turn into a sex slave.  Her escape and desire to end her life is a grim one due to the believability of the situation.  I don’t know about you but I’m not sure how pro-life I would be after an experience like that.  Thankfully, the film ends on a much lighter segment with Heidi’s friends constantly nagging her about ditching her virginity.  Heidi’s friend locks her cousin and Heidi in a room together until the deed is done.  The two teens have a hoot making the ladies outside believe things are getting hot and heavy.  Afterwards, Heidi and her new “partner” fall for one another and decide to actually make love on their terms.  Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying was an unexpected, albeit decent execution in soft-core eroticism that just might inspire me to sniff out the previous installments in this enduring series.
    RATING: 3/5

    VIDEO:
    Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) and looks decent enough.  The film’s opening title sequence is the roughest in shape with scratches and debris a plenty but the print stabilizes nicely afterwards.  Colors are slightly drained but not awful looking, with no real eye sores for the rest of the runtime.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Impulse Pictures accompanies the film with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix presented in its original German language.  The mix gets the job done with serviceable treatment and nothing in the way of dialogue.  In addition, newly translated English subtitles are provided as an option.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    No special features included with the exception of the optional English subtitles.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying was my first crash course with this series that garnered much popularity in its heyday.  Arriving so late to the party had me concerned that the series would be losing steam, but Volume #11 managed to tell a unique tale draped in soft-core glory.  Unable to compare it to the other installments, Schoolgirl Report Volume #11: Trying Beats Studying certainly didn’t make me run for the hills in disappointment but rather left me more curious on the staying power of this neverending franchise.
    RATING: 3/5

  • The Candidate (1964) w/ Johnny Gunman (1957) DVD Review


    The Candidate (1964) w/ Johnny Gunman (1957)
    Director(s): Robert Angus / Art Ford
    Starring: Mamie Van Doren, June Wilkinson & Ted Knight / Martin E. Brooks, Ana Donaldson & Johnny Seven
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented for the first time on home video, Vinegar Syndrome pairs two very different films together that hail from opposite ends of the track.  A salacious political satire and a late period noir, both filmed in beautiful black and white, come together for one unlikely package.  Will women with looks that kill and some knife wielding mobsters earn a spot on your shelf?  Let’s find out...

    The Candidate stars Mamie Van Doren (Untamed Youth) and June Wilkinson (Career Girl) in a political satire involving the sexcapades of an up and coming politician, played by Ted Knight (Caddyshack).  Eric Mason (Kiss of the Tarantula) co-stars in his film debut.  Next up, Johnny Gunman, takes place over the course of a single night in New York where a tense battle is brewing between two mob boss hopefuls.  Martin E. Brooks (The Six Million Dollar Man) stars in his film debut alongside Ana Donaldson (Kraft Theatre), Woodrow Parfrey (Planet of the Apes) and Johnny Seven (The Apartment).

    MOVIE(s):
    The sexcapades of an up and coming politician sounds almost more appealing as a documentary for today’s audiences but alas this is the basis of our first feature.  The plot sounds ripe for humorous hijinks and maybe some 1960s skin, but sadly that’s not the case.  The trouble with The Candidate is that it never quite knows what it wants to be.  We start off with a campaign manager (Eric Mason) wooing a politician’s secretary (Mamie Van Doren) in hopes to make his way into the candidate’s good graces.  At this point, I was convinced the story would involve Mason and Van Doren hatching a scheme to catch the candidate in embarrassing sexual situations in order for Mason to take control as the next would be senator himself.  Much to my disappointment, the story went another direction.  The film switches back and forth to past events and then jumping forward where the film becomes a courtroom drama.  Knight’s character isn’t even doing anything “wrong” until he begins seeing the gorgeous June Wilkinson, which Mason believes is a bad political move.  Somewhere along the way, Mason knocks up a random broad which results in her aborting the pregnancy and having a disturbing mental breakdown.  Yikes!  The film concludes in the courtroom where see evidence presented in the form of a stag film starring Knight’s latest squeeze, Wilkinson.  The film in turn finds Knight an unfit selection to assume the role of state senator.  But, don’t worry, as if finding out his old lady starred in a sex flick wasn’t enough, Knight becomes overwhelmed by the film and drops dead because of it!  Needless to say, the film ends on a very unexpected, somber note which fell far from my original expectations.  The Candidate told a story without knowing exactly what it wanted to be or achieve.  Luckily, the one shining light of the film is Van Doren and Wilkinson who are so jaw-droppingly beautiful that you’ll nearly forget about the film and focus entirely on them.  The lack of skin was disappointing but expected for such an early execution in sexploitation.  Nothing more than aggressive kissing and a quick peak at Van Doren’s crack is all you get here.  The Candidate was a snoozefest that baffled me at its inability for consistence.  The film is nothing special and only serves as an odd curiosity of early sexploitation mixed with political satire.
    RATING: 2/5

    Teamed up with The Candidate is the late period noir, Johnny Gunman from 1957.  Set over the course of one night in New York, a tense battle ensues between two mob boss hopefuls that can only end with one of them falling.  This lost flick was Written and Directed by Art Ford which would mark his first and only picture behind the camera.  The premise of the film sounded promising enough but the deeper you get in, the more the appeal wears off.  Johnny Gunman fails from stale performances from its cast, mostly from Ana Donaldson who plays Coffee, a woman with dreams of becoming a writer but plans to ditch the city after that doesn’t pan out.  She enters a cafe on her final night in the Big Apple and decides to spend her final hours with three men, one of whom is a mob boss hoping to gain control of the city.  Donaldson has no range whatsoever and has trouble speaking above a whisper.  Her last stab at trying to find something memorable to write about in these three men comes across as uninteresting due to her lack of enthusiasm.  It’s no surprise Johnny Gunman was her first and only film appearance.  At 67 minutes, the film plays at a snail’s speed with not much in the way of excitement happening.  Eventually, it becomes clear that the only way to decide who will reign the city is to meet on a lonely street and have it out like men.  In what concludes as quite possibly the most anti-climatic fight in film history, Johnny Gunman is a failed attempt at capturing the vibe of a quality noir.  The only appealing moments come in the form of exterior shots of Greenwich Village during a street festival that look marvelous.  In addition, one of the final shots of the film finds our hopeful mob boss driving past a gorgeous movie theatre that was playing The Wizard of Oz at the time.  As you can see, Johnny Gunman is far from a masterpiece and fails to entertain anymore than its co-feature.
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    The Candidate has been restored in 2K from 35mm elements and presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The black and white photography looks clean for the most part with only faint cases of lines and scratches present.  Detail comes across nicely, most noticeably in close-ups.  Overall, I walked away pleased with the presentation.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    Like The Candidate, Johnny Gunman was restored in 2K from 35mm film elements.  The film is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio and has its fair share of hiccups.  Scratches and debris are present in the print with exterior shots looking dark and difficult to view.  While close-ups of the cast are nicely detailed, pops in the print occur every so often.  Suffice to say, this is the best Johnny Gunman will ever look and it’s not too shabby, warts and all.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    The Candidate is accompanied with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix which is slightly problematic.  Moments of hissing and an occasional echo of cracks and pops are heard but fortunately don’t intrude on dialogue.  The echo does become tedious as it practically serves as an unintentional piece of background music.  The audio track is serviceable even with these weak spots.
    RATING: 3/5

    Johnny Gunman is equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that is also problematic.  A slight hiss is heard throughout the entire runtime.  Dialogue can be heard well enough but the hissing does get tedious.  One quick audio drop was noticed in the final reel but only for a moment.  The audio mix will get you to the finish line but there’s definitely hurdles on the way there.
    RATING: 2/5

    EXTRAS:

    No special features are included in this collection but a reversible cover is provided which gives Johnny Gunman top billing.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    The Candidate was a convoluted mess that strayed far from what its premise described.  The only worthy mention of the film is the appearances of Mamie Van Doren and June Wilkinson who are both drop dead gorgeous.  Unfortunately, Johnny Gunman fared no better as a failed attempt to capture the spirit of the noir genre they were aiming for.  A stale cast, anti-climatic ending and the lack of an effective score doomed this film from becoming entertaining if handled better.  Vinegar Syndrome should still be praised for rescuing two lost films that would have been permanently extinct without them.  The video and audio presentations on both films are as decent as one could expect from the material.  Sadly, the quality and entertainment value of the productions hurt this release considerably.
    RATING: 2/5

  • Virgin and the Lover (1973) / Lustful Feelings (1978) DVD Review


    Virgin and the Lover (1973) / Lustful Feelings (1978)
    Director: Kemal Horulu
    Starring: Eric Edwards, Leah Marlon & Jennifer Welles / Leslie Bovee & Jamie Gillis
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Vinegar Syndrome welcomes another double dose of passion and perversion in their popular Drive-In Collection!  The indie label continues to preserve and release some of the most obscure and erotic films in recent history with this latest release being no exception.  Two bonafide skin flicks from Director Kemal Horulu (The Sexualist) are paired up that’s sure to send your senses for a loop with featured talent from Jennifer Welles, Leslie Bovee and Jamie Gillis.  Let’s take a look at these erupting features…

    Virgin and the Lover centers on a filmmaker (Eric Edwards) who lives in a sensual dream world where he is torn between his love for a beautiful woman and his odd desires for a female mannequin.  In Lustful Feelings, a young woman (Leslie Bovee) is forced to earn an income in order to pay off the drug debt her lover (Jamie Gillis) owes.  Unknowingly to her significant other, she takes up prostitution and develops a knack for it.


    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Virgin_and_the_Lover_Lustful_F/virgin_and_the_lover_lustful_f.html

  • Animals (2012) DVD Review



    Animals (2012)
    Director: Marçal Forés
    Starring: Orial Pla, Augustus Prew, Roser Tapias & Martin Freeman
    Released by: Artsploitation Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Is growing up defined by the parting of childish toys that you once cherished so much?  Somewhere between the worlds of reality and fantasy, Animals attempts to explore that question.  Hailing from Spain and marking the feature film debut of Director Marçal Forés, this unconventional story weaves a web about the innocence of childhood and the fear and pain of growing up.  Scooping up the “Best First Feature” Award and “Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement” at OutFest 2013, Animals has intrigued audiences with its unusual, albeit relatable story.  Grab your favorite cuddly companion and let’s take a look for ourselves...

    Animals is a coming-of-age tale rooted in between the realms of fantasy and stark reality.  Pol (Orial Pla), a seventeen-year-old high school student can’t seem to come into his own age.  Pol laughs, confides in and jams to music with his English-speaking teddy bear named Deerhoof.  When a new student, Iraci (Augustus Prew, Kick-Ass 2), arrives Pol’s childhood innocence begins to crumble as he experiences his first taste of love and sexual longing.  Joined by Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) as a high school teacher, Animals spins a unique tale on love, innocence and childhood.

    MOVIE:
    Simply seeing the cover of Artsploitation Films‘ latest release and hearing it involves a boy and his talking teddy bear, may cause some to brush this off as a blatant rip-off of another foul-mouthed talking teddy bear voiced by Seth MacFarlane.  Aside from the obvious, Animals could not be more unique considering the films origins date back to a short film made in 2005.  The beauty of Animals comes in its uncertainty of the messages being relayed to the audience.  As Travis Crawford of Artsploitation Films mentions, Animals, while having little in common with the films of David Lynch, does share in the trait of provoking as many questions as it does providing answers.  The film is very much left up to the viewer to feel and work out what they believe it means.  Some may be bothered by this, but taking in a Hollywood that produces films that are so  perfectly explained by the end credits, Animals is a breath of fresh air that gives due credit to its audience.  

    Headlined by an up and coming group of young actors, the cast does a remarkable job conveying so much emotion and range throughout the film.  Scenes of Pol living out dreams of putting on a rock concert, with Deerhoof on drums, is an image anyone who ever was young can relate to.  It is Pol’s pure heart and “friends ‘til the end” motto with Deerhoof that invokes a bond that isn’t held back by anything including differences in dialect.  The practical puppetry utilized to bring Deerhoof to life is wonderful as well as his interactions with Pol.  As a mysterious new student, Iraci (Prew), enters Pol’s world his innocent bond with Deerhoof becomes threatened.  A poisonous attraction develops between the boys as Pol begins experiencing his first sexual urges and Iraci teaches him not to fear pain through use of self mutilation.  Being fixated in a childlike world, watching Pol thrust into love and sex without causing a big fuss about his sexual orientation was welcoming.  In a way, it’s fitting and childlike that Pol would not pass judgement or question what gender his attraction lies in.  As we move farther away from Pol’s innocence and deeper into his dark maturity, the viewer and Pol both long for better days gone by.  The finale of the film is certainly haunting and will solidify that the magic of childhood is something we all fear losing and desperately try to retain.  Animals is a charming and bizarre film that reminded me how scary and painful growing up can be but also that parting with your childlike spirit is never required.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Animals is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks quite remarkable.  The beautiful cinematography by Eduard Grau translates well on this disc with skin tones looking accurate and detail looking nice.  Outdoor sequences look lush and warm which makes for a pleasant viewing experience.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Artsploitation Films offers a 5.1 Surround Sound mix that serves its purpose well.  Dialogue is clear as a whistle while subtle noises in nature scenes are picked up nicely.  Moments of rock music come out blaring, just the way we like it!  While the film utilizes its native Catalan tongue as well as moments of English, optional English subtitles with optional SDH are provided.  In addition, a 2.0 Stereo mix is also included on the disc.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    Artsploitation Films offers a wonderful assortment of special features to cut into.

    - Making-of Featurette: This nearly 20-minute featurette interviews the cast and crew about the story, its characters, atmosphere and puppetry effects used to bring Deerhoof to life.

    - The Bear Truth: A Short Film: Award-Winning Irish filmmaker Anna Rodgers directed this short documentary, in celebration of the film, about people and their personal stories about their own teddy bears.

    - Animals: The original short film that Director Marçal Forés shot at film school in London of 2005.

    - Audio Commentary with Director Marçal Forés & Travis Crawford

    - 8-page Collectible Booklet: Artsploitation Films’ Travis Crawford interviews Director Marçal Forés in this insightful companion to the film.

    - Animals Trailer

    - Artsploitation Films Trailers

    - Reversible Cover

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:
    Animals is a unique coming-of-age tale that isn’t afraid to ask a lot of questions and allow the viewer to come to their own answers.  The film captures what the magic of childhood feels like and the pain of growing up.  The young cast did remarkable work with a slightly underused yet effective Martin Freeman offering some experienced clout to the film.  Artsploitation Films‘ technical achievements are spot on along with a perfect assortment of special features to round out such an intriguing picture.  Destined to be more than a genre label, Artsploitation Films has managed to deliver yet another strong film that deserves to be seen by more people.  Hats off to the label that is quickly becoming the dark horse with exciting and unpredictable films to look out for.
    RATING: 4.5/5

  • Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger (2011) DVD Review


    Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger (2011)
    Director: Emanuele De Santi
    Starring: Emanuele De Santi, Giulio De Santi, Alessandro Gramanti & Christian Riva
    Released by: Autonomy Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    What happens when you attempt to mix The Crow, fast MTV-eqsue editing and ridiculous amounts of blood?  Apparently, Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger happens.  This 2011 hyper-gory Italian film seems to take influences from many different works before it and create something unique.  Unfortunately, the result is more painful than anything some of the characters experience in this flick.  Let’s not waste any time and dive right into this horrendous mess…

    Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger is set in the fictional Heaven Valley, where Adam is investigating the murder of his wife and learns the local mafia boss is to blame.  Unable to turn to the corrupt police, Adam makes a deal with a demon to offer him superhuman strength and dark powers to avenge his wife.  In exchange for power, Adam must obey the demon’s wishes.  It doesn’t take long before a bloody war is waged on the mafia.

    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Adam_Chaplin__Violent_Avenger_/adam_chaplin__violent_avenger_.html

  • The Sack of Rome (1993) DVD Review


    The Sack of Rome (1993)
    Director: Fabio Bonzi
    Starring: Franco Nero, Vittoria Belvedere & Aleksandr Abdulov
    Released by: One 7 Movies

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    One 7 Movies presents the iconic Franco Nero in a rare joint production from Italy and Russia in The Sack of Rome.  This historical drama from 1993 depicts the Sack of Rome where heinous events destroyed a city and pitted a remarkable artist with living hell right before his eyes.  Nero is accompanied by the beautiful Vittoria Belvedere in this is painfully tragic yet beautiful picture.

    The Sack of Rome takes place in Rome 1527 where the German mercenaries and the Sack of Rome has begun.  Renowned painter Gabriele da Poppi (Franco Nero) believes that due to his status as an accomplished artist, the impending war will not affect him.  Unfortunately, the mercenaries take over his studio and rape his lover and muse, Gesunia (Vittoria Belvedere) as well as murder her brother.  The tragedy that befalls on da Poppi makes him question his own feelings on art and life.

    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Sack_of_Rome__The__One_7_Movie/sack_of_rome__the__one_7_movie.html

  • In Hell (1976) DVD Review


    In Hell (1976)
    Director: Nikos Papatakis
    Starring: Olga Karlatos, Roland Bertin & Philippe Adrien
    Released by: One 7 Movies

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Cult Greek director, Nikos Papatakis, possess’ a fairly modest body of work having only directed five movies in his lifetime.  Interestingly enough, having fled to New York in 1957 for political reasons, he befriended John Cassavetes and became co-producer on Shadows.  Being raised in a politically charged time, Papatakis embarked to tell a truly grueling and reflective story of the Algeria anticolonial liberation struggle.  In what has been claimed as one of the most radical films to emerge from the decade, Papatakis debuted In Hell in 1976.  Is this film truly as radical as it it claims to be?  Pump yourself up for plenty of subtitle reading and let’s find out...

    In Hell, released as Tortura in Italy, tells the story of Hamdias, a producer who’s set to break new boundaries by developing a film on torture.  Hamdias believes that the clash of people is what substantiates human nature as well as love and politics.  Unfortunately, our chipper director unexpectedly dies halting the project.  His leading lady and mother of his child, Gaila, sets out to complete the controversial project with nightmarish results.

    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/In_Hell__One_7_Movies__DVD_/in_hell__one_7_movies__dvd_.html

  • Horror Stories (2012) DVD Review



    Horror Stories (2012)
    Director(s): Kyu-dong Min, Bum-shik Jung, Dae-woong Lim, Ji-Yeong Hong, Gok Kim & Sun Kim
    Starring: Ji-won Kim, Tae-woo Kim, Bo-ra Nam, Mi-ran Ra & Yeon-Seok Yoo
    Released by: Artsploitation Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Anthology films have been around for decades dating back to 1945’s Dead of Night all the way to the highly successful Creepshow from 1982.  As years progressed, the likelihood of witnessing a new anthology based film seemed near impossible as their popularity waned.  Within the past few years, countless horror anthologies have emerged including Trick ‘r Treat, V/H/S and The ABCs of Death.  In 2012, six of Korea’s top genre directors formed to create an anthology film like no other.  One where the wraparound segment, mostly used for gimmicky-like interludes in other films, was as horrifying as the actual short tales.  Horror Stories makes a bold challenge but does it live up to its intent?  Let’s take a look…

    Horror Stories collects six of South Korea’s top directors to tell four horrifying stories that are framed through a wraparound segment (directed by Kyu-dong Min of Memento Mori fame) that finds a high school girl abducted and forced by a psychopath to tell him the most frightening tales she knows.  Her stories include Don’t Answer the Door, directed by Bum-shink Jung (Epitaph), which finds a young brother and sister home alone and under attack by an intruder.  In Director Dae-woong Lim’s (Bloody Reunion) Endless Flight, a serial killer escapes police custody while onboard an otherwise empty flight.  Secret Recipe, directed by Ji-Yeong Hong, tells a macabre fairy tale about two jealous stepsisters who take plastic surgery to the extreme.  Finally, brothers Gok & Sun Kim (White: The Melody of the Curse) direct Ambulance on the Death Zone, a claustrophobic zombie tale detailing the standoff between a paramedic and a mother over the possibility of her daughter being infected.

    MOVIE:
    Being a strong enthusiast of the horror anthology format, Horror Stories immediately peaked my interest.  The outcome exceeded my expectations on every level and ultimately left me chilled to the bone.  The no-nonsense wraparound segment set a frighting tone to the film from the first frame.  The madness seen in the eyes of the serial killer keeping a high school girl captive leaves you disturbed knowing people of this ilk actually exist.  The first and arguably most terrifying segment, Don’t Answer the Phone, made me jump more times then I care to remember.  The end of the segment would make one assume the nightmare is over when in reality its just begun.  Director Bum-shink Jung weaves a suspenseful tale that concludes with an ambitious commentary on Korean employment and economy.  The grim ending truly makes one question whether the fairy tale we just witnessed or the real world reality is more horrifying.  Endless Flight received immediate praise for taking terror back into the skies which brought fond memories back of an anthology favorite found in Twilight Zone: The Movie.  While, the terror in this film is not found in the shape of a monstrous unearthly creature, its almost scarier because we are dealing with a flesh and blood serial killer.  A scene that includes a door peephole and a hairpin will make even the bravest squeam.  Director Ji-Yeong Hong’s Secret Recipe takes two jealous stepsisters and their obsession to wed a plastic surgeon obsessed with eternal youth to twisted heights.  The emphasis on plastic surgery that was utilized so well in another 2012 effort, American Mary, is used more subtly to show how far people will go to obtain what they want.  Nightmarish imagery and a dose of cannibalism makes this a bizarre and unforgettable inclusion.  The final segment, Ambulance on the Death Zone, is quite possibly the most creative of the bunch and proves how effective a zombie tale can be within the constrains of one location and less than a handful of actors.  The standoff between the mother and the paramedic makes the audience believe that the possibly infected daughter is truly infected and the mother doesn’t want to accept it.  Interestingly enough, as the tales continues, the daughter isn’t seen succumbing to the zombie infection as quickly as we’d assume which keeps you guessing until the finale.  The segment is incredibly effective in its delivery and sprays plenty of the red stuff which is always a plus for a zombie flick.  Horror Stories is an incredible execution in suspense and terror with each segment succeeding in making you jump.  The film is quoted on the back of its DVD release as being “one of the scariest Asian horror anthologies of the 21st century”, a gracious compliment indeed but slightly off.  Horror Stories is not just one of the scariest Asian horror anthologies, it’s one the scariest anthologies ever!
    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:
    Artsploitation Films presents Horror Stories in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  The film looks quite nice on DVD with skin tones appearing as natural as can be.  Unfortunately, scenes of darker light (which there are many), have slightly crushed black levels that leaves pixelation to be found.  Colors look decent with images of blood popping nicely.  A serviceable transfer but one that could have looked a bit better.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Horror Stories is presented in its native Korean language in 2.0 Stereo.  Sound quality is nice and robust with dialogue and subtle noises coming across without a hitch.  English subtitles are also provided.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Cast Interviews

    - 12-page collectible booklet: This wonderful companion to the film has two essays entitled Omnibus Onslaught by Travis Crawford and The Terror of Modern Subjectivity: An Overview of Contemporary Korean Horror Cinema by Kyu Hyun Kim.  In addition, A Fairy Tale of the Sun and Moon, an interview with Director Bum-shik Jung conducted by Travis Crawford is included.

    - Reversible cover

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    Horror Stories was a masterful demonstration of four frightening tales all wrapped up in one supreme package.  Every segment possessed immense style and packed enough scares to chill me to the bone.  As we mature and age, it becomes difficult to truly “scare” someone who was raised on genre cinema but “Horror Stories” managed to do just that in spades.  As Kyu Hyun Kim mentions, North American consumers may believe that Korean horror is simply just a variation of the J-wave of horror from Japan showcased in The Ring and Ju-On franchises.  If you’re looking for long haired ghosts that are in desperate need of a chiropractor, look elsewhere because if Horror Stories is an indication of the best Korean horror then the future looks very bright.  Artsploitation Films‘ presentation of the film is serviceable enough and the booklet included is a wonderful read that offers very scholarly approaches to the content.  Artsploitation Films should be praised for bringing such a terrifying and rewarding film stateside and their future in distributing unique and unsettling films is one I anxiously look forward to.  The strength of the film itself gets my highest recommendation as an anthology that deserves to be seen by anyone looking to be truly frightened.
    RATING: 5/5

  • The Oral Generation (1970) DVD Review


    The Oral Generation (1970)
    Director: ?
    Starring: ?
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The exploitation hounds that make up Vinegar Syndrome are back at it again with some more scandalous cinemania from Times Square circa 1970! If you’re yearning for a crash course in the scientific study of how to please your significant other in the oral department, then you’ve come to the right place. The Oral Generation will provide with you all the necessary answers you desire in explicit detail but not before you are treated to four sexy shorts in the flesh. Feelin’ lucky tonight? Then, shut that mouth and prepare to enter The Oral Generation

    In true theatrical viewing experience, the sultry cinema begins as soon as you insert the disc in your player.  We are treated to a trailer for the main attraction, The Oral Generation, which showcases some true money shots that are awaiting the viewer towards the second hour. Next, the sexual odyssey continues in four skintastic shorts that, much like the main feature, are marking their home video debuts. Clinical Sex focuses on Alice, a patient seeking the help of her physician in regards to her inability to be sexually aroused while making love to her husband. Fear not because some “close bonding” with the doc will be sure to clear that right up. Meanwhile, Nurse Ella, the doctor’s faithful companion, tends to another female patient ensuring she is “well taken care of”. Unfortunately, we learn that once Alice’s husband catches wind of the doctor’s “break through” with his wife, he takes legal action and successfully closes down his practice… and things were going so well too.

    Any Way You Like It deals again with a concerned female patient seeking the guidance of her doctor after being disturbed by her brother stimulating a slew of maids with some contraption. The doctor decides the only way to break her mental block with vibrators is by using it on her. For what the check-up fee is, our patient isn’t pleased and insists on the “real thing” while the nurse becomes friendly with the contraption herself. The true oddball of the bunch is Naked Sexes which pits four topless women and three g-string wearing muscle men (who all look like they’d be very fitting in William Friedkin’s Cruising) literally giggling at each other for 15 minutes. There’s no sexual interaction between the opposite sexes just a weird face-off of laughing bursts as the men flex everything from their butt cheeks to their pecs. The short comes off quite hilarious at times but quickly runs out of gas as the constant laughing will drive you insane.

    The Different Sex, the final short, deals with sex education student Sandra, who while writing a paper on the human orgasm finds the best way to learn about the subject is experiencing it firsthand with her two male classmates who amazingly can have sex while wearing their shorts! As Sandra completes her “research” her female roommate and neighbor, Karen, both feel that Sandra could use some “extended notes”. It’s no mystery that Sandra could write her paper with such ease and knowledge on the subject after such intensive studies. Before the main feature begins, we are treated to an outtake from the film where a couple are having an arousingly fun time sucking each others fingers among other things all on a hideous plaid couch.

    Finally, after 52 minutes of shorts to prep you, The Oral Generation takes center stage. The film kicks off with some truly remarkable footage of Times Square 1970 and all the operating grindhouse and peepshow theaters of the time all in their blinking light glory. The Oral Generation certainly attempts to take a very educational standpoint on the oral satisfaction between lovers. The popular sex books at this time in history are discussed as well as the religions stances on certain areas of sex and love making. But, don’t be fooled thinking this is a health class video because before you know it, you are thrown into some truly explicit scenes. A wife narrates as she explains how she relaxes her husband in the shower after a long workday. In addition, a husband, during sex, fantasizes about his wife being a provocative secretary. The scene continues to cut back and forth from the couple going at it to the wife in sexy lingerie having some fun with herself for the camera. As the film progresses, an interracial couple are having an orally good time as the woman imagines her husband as some sort of karate master with sai in hand. Finally, the film climaxes literally with a couple inviting a female friend to join in on their sexual fun.

    MOVIE:
    Without sounding like a prood, I find it difficult to evaluate films of this caliber since they aren’t a major area of interest for me. I appreciate that they have such a dedicated fan base and the content, specifically of the 1970s, made up such a large part of what made that New York City scene so gritty and fascinating. The Oral Generation is certainly a genuine slice of programming from the Times Square theaters during the early 70s and that itself is intriguing. The explicit nature and rawness of the content on this release is something that I’m not even sure exists anymore so to see it saved and so well preserved is quite a sight. The shorts have more comedic moments than anything found in the main feature which was welcoming for someone who doesn’t view much of this content. Other than that, I suppose you get what you’re looking for when it comes to adult flicks of this time. Naked Sexes remains such an oddity to me that I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it anytime soon especially the one g-string wearing gent that sported a Groucho Marxesque mustache. The Oral Generation, the feature presentation, started off appealing to me simply due to the remarkable shots of Times Square early on in the film and other New York landmarks like the New York Public Library that would be so awesomely utilized over a decade later in Ghostbusters. Before long, the educational viewpoints that are presented earlier all take a backseat for the sexual and oral goodness people are coming to expect. Scenes of men and women going down on each other drag for 15 minutes at a time which quickly becomes boring. If you’re jonesing for money shots of penetration that are teased in the trailer then you’ll have to wait until the final moments of the film. I can’t say that I personally hated the film, it’s just not really my cup of tea. There’s no denying that there is a demand for vintage content of this kind and if you’re a lover of the material then The Oral Generation will fit in well with your adult cinema collection. It just wasn’t for me.
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    If you asked me how circa 1970 pornography would look in this day and age, I would have naively said “it’ll look like shit”. But, I’d be wrong. Dead wrong! Vinegar Syndrome presents this release in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives. These flicks are quite the sight. Colors look remarkably bright while skin tones are as natural as can be. Detail is terrific picking up the sweat droplets on faces and every minor blemish one could possibly notice on a body. Minor moments of scratches are seen but they are so quick and insignificant that it barely makes a difference whatsoever. It’s hard to believe these films look as wonderful as they do but take my word for it, these are some top quality looking skin-flicks!
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    The English Mono track does what it needs to do. No distracting hiss or anything to disrupt the film can be found here. Dialogue and groans of ecstasy come off nice and clear.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    Depending on how you look at it, everything that was discussed above, with the exception of the main feature, can be considered as an extra. That said, since the film automatically plays through everything together gives it the impression that it’s all one seamless program. But, for the sake of debating, I’ll re-list the extras in this section as well.

    - The Oral Generation Theatrical Trailer

    - Shorts restored in 2K from 35mm original camera negatives: Clinical Sex, Any Way You Like It, Naked Sexes & The Different Sex

    - 10 minute outtake scene from The Oral Generation

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    The Oral Generation is an explicit, sexually charged journey from yesteryear. A time when pornography was on the rise and really finding its footing in society. While I wasn’t particularly blown away by the material, there’s no denying the demand for content from this era and Vinegar Syndrome has done a remarkable job saving it from oblivion. The video quality is breathtaking when considering the kind of material this is and the extras are a nice assortment of adult goodness that makes this package a great bang for your buck. The Oral Generation is a film that was destined to live and die along with the Times Square scene of the 70s but thankfully Vinegar Syndrome came to the rescue and gave it superior treatment. Regardless of my overall opinion of the content, preserving any film, especially in this case, before they become extinct gets a praise from me. Well done, Vinegar Syndrome!
    RATING: 3/5

  • Blood Thirst (1971) / The Thirsty Dead (1974) DVD Review



    Blood Thirst (1971) / The Thirsty Dead (1974)
    Director(s): Newt Arnold / Terry Becker
    Starring: Robert Winston, Vic Diaz & Katherine Henryk / Jennifer Billingsley & John Cosidine
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Vinegar Syndrome aims to please with yet another double dose from their Drive-In Collection series.  This time, we have two films that both promise to bring blood and death to the viewer.  Please note that the makers of these films are not responsible for your nightmares so be warned.  The eye-grabbing poster art and plots for both of these drive-in flicks certainly have their hearts in the right place but the question remains, will Blood Thirst and The Thirsty Dead be the flicks that will quench the cult lovers taste in you?  Let’s dive in and find out…

    Blood Thirst stars Robert Winston, in his final film performance, as an American investigator who probes the violent goings on at nightclub where beautiful women start turning up dead.  The horrifying secret he stumbles upon may be worse though.  1974’s The Thirsty Dead tags along on this double bill about a sinister cult who kidnaps beautiful women to use in their ghastly blood rites.  Interestingly enough, Filipino exploitation legend, Vic Diaz, makes appearances in both films.

    MOVIE(s):
    Blood Thirst was a film that caught me by surprise the second it started.  I was immediately impressed by the nicely staged opening shots as well as the effective lighting which cast a very noir-ish atmosphere.  The film wastes no time establishing the reason for our American investigator’s stay by knocking off a beautiful woman in no time.  The killer, cast in shadows but noticeably deformed in the face, begins what the viewer anticipates will be the next 65 minutes of the film.  Interestingly enough, Blood Thirst threw me for a loop because the film actually plays more like a detective story more than a killer monster on the loose flick.  I appreciated the unexpected change of pace Blood Thirst packed and found myself throughly entertained by the principal cast.  While, the finale of the film brings its focus back to the deformed killer, the reasoning behind the murders is slightly outlandish but still good fun.  The black and white cinematography looked terrific and set the atmosphere for the entire film.  Director Newt Arnold would go on to direct one more film, 1988’s Bloodsport with Jean-Claude Van Damme while primarily assistant directing other Hollywood gems such as The Godfather: Part II, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Blade Runner, Sixteen Candles, The Goonies and The AbyssBlood Thirst was a film that wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but still managed to thoroughly entertain me with its talented cast, beautiful cinematography and fun plot.
    RATING: 4/5

    If you’re still thirsty for more death than the next feature might be for you!  Unfortunately, The Thirsty Dead didn’t tickle my fancy as much as Blood Thirst.  The film kicks off intriguing enough with a gorgeous woman dancing in a cage for a slew of bar sailors.  Before you know it, she’s abducted, along with other women, by men in hooded robes.  The women’s future does not look bright as they are whisked away to a remote jungle locale where a cult wants their blood for ritual purposes.  The problems begin when the girls arrive at their new “home” and don’t really seem as phased about their situation as one would be.  By the half hour mark, even the viewer will have a hard time seeing what’s wrong with the situation since the “prisoners” seem content for the most part and the cult leaders are quite nice.  The film drags its feet by not pitting the girls in any true danger or sensing any real threats until the leader of the girls (played by Jennifer Billingsley) decides they need to escape.  Odd because I thought that would have been priority number one the second you were abducted.  Billingsley’s character is fawned over by the cult leader and is selected to enjoy the riches of youth forever at the expense of her friends.  Not being able to have her cronies along for the ride changes the whole scenario so escape from these dreaded cult worshippers is shifted into high gear.  Interestingly enough, Billingsley manages to show the cult leader the error of his ways prompting him to help the girls escape.  This doesn’t sit well with his followers who all band together to take their former leader down along with the women.  The lack of blood and horrific imagery is severely lacking plus the rather boring first hour of the film crowns The Thirsty Dead the stinker of this double bill.
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    Blood Thirst has been scanned in 2K from 35mm archival film elements (1.85:1) and looks really gorgeous.  The black levels look strong with grain remaining intact.  There are minor cases of scratches in the film but just the right amount to make you feel at the drive-in without taking away from the viewing experience.  This is exactly how I love seeing films of this caliber.
    RATING: 4/5

    The Thirsty Dead was also scanned in 2K from 35mm archival film elements (1.85:1) but is slightly more problematic.  Scratches and pops are way more apparent in the transfer but it still manages to bolster nice colors and natural grain.  More scratches aren’t necessarily the worst thing in the world depending on which cult fan you ask but this one, while still serviceable, doesn’t look quite as hot as Blood Thirst.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Blood Thirst sounded just as terrific as its video transfer.  No noticeable hissing or muffling to be found.  Dialogue comes out nice and loudly.
    RATING: 4/5

    Much like its video transfer, The Thirsty Dead is slightly problematic.  Hissing and pops can be heard at various moments in the film but luckily it didn’t hinder any dialogue scenes.  Not horrible but it’ll do.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    No special features to be found on this Drive-In Collection.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    Vinegar Syndrome’s latest Drive-In Collection of Blood Thirst and The Thirsty Dead was a mixed bag.  Blood Thirst was hands down the crowning jewel with its fun detective story mixed with a deformed monster as well its gorgeous black and white cinematography.  Unfortunately, The Thirsty Dead is the anchor on this double bill since it fails to captivate the viewer with a fun or even remotely horrific tale.  The lack of any blood or true danger for the principal cast really sent the eyes rolling after the first 30 minutes.  But, like any experience at the drive-in, you win some and lose some.  Vinegar Syndrome always manages to take chances with the films on these double bills which is appreciated but some just manage to ring louder than others.  The strength of Blood Thirst alone and the low price point on this collection definitely calls for a strong recommendation.
    RATING: 3.5/5