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  • The Yakuza (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Yakuza (1974)

    Director: Sydney Pollack

    Starring: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken & Brian Keith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bringing the honored and dangerous underbelly of gang war traditions to the screen, The Yakuza finds former private eye Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter) traveling to Tokyo in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a trusted friend whose business ties to a powerful crime boss have soured.  Relying on his Japanese connections and reuniting with an estranged former flame, his post-war lover’s yakuza connected brother Ken (Takakura Ken, The Yellow Handkerchief), cold to Kilmer yet forever indebted to him for saving his sister’s life years previously, aids the American in his journey that embroils them much deeper into the criminal world’s activities than expected.  Gorgeously shot on location predominately in Japan, The Yakuza rewards viewers with a trifecta of powerhouse talent unanimous with the 70s movie revolution including, Screenwriters Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) & Robert Towne (Chinatown) whose noirish mood gives the film its unique tone and Sydney Pollack’s (Three on the Condor) guided direction that handles the sometimes complex narrative with poise.  As Kilmer and Ken’s investigation puts them directly in the crosshairs of the yakuza organization, guns and blades take precedence over negotiations, testing the very limits of honor and exposing the corruptive truths of those once trusted.  Featuring an evocatively cultural East meets West score by Academy Award winning Composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, The Milagro Beanfield War), The Yakuza is a decently constructed crime-mystery of hardboiled investigation and katana-wielding mobsters that has appreciatively widened its appeal in later years for its unique setup and handsome photography.

    Warner Archive presents The Yakuza with a pristine 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Notably filmic-looking throughout, skin tones are natural with details in sweat beads and battle scars well observed.  Furthermore, the beautiful Japanese exteriors are exceptionally captured while, the gaudy coloring of interior rooms and offices pop nicely.  Meanwhile, Mitchum’s earth tone jackets and turtlenecks are impressively textured with black levels found in the darker suits of the male characters appearing solidly with no traces of digital crush.  Joined by an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue with no pops standing in its way, Grusin’s excellent score benefits the most with gunfire and the clicking of sword blades making striking effects during fight sequences.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack, the vintage Promises to Keep (19:26) featurette and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:01).  Honor, revenge and tradition all converge in this increasingly appreciated albeit, imperfect neo-noir armed with swords and bullets.  Bowing its head in deserved recognition, Warner Archive awards The Yakuza with a stunning hi-def presentation that will obligate viewers to offer a few fingers in exchange for its exceptional quality.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warne Archive, The Yakuza can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Wild Beasts (1984) Blu-ray Review

    Wild Beasts (1984)

    Director: Franco E. Prosperi

    Starring: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Louisa Lloyd & Ugo Bologna

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Rome, Wild Beasts finds a city zoo of animals running amuck when their water supply is contaminated with PCP.  Escaping from the confines of their cages and waging bloody destruction throughout the city, the drug-crazed creatures revert to their savage instincts to feast upon the unsuspecting population.  Boasting notable faces from the many avenues of Italian cult cinema, the Godfather of Mondo Franco E. Prosperi (Mondo Cane) directs.

    In shock documentary maker Franco E. Prosperi’s final film outing, Wild Beasts delivers a bark as loud as its ferocious bite, ranking highly amongst the siege of naturicide pictures from the wild and crazy heyday of Italian made insanity.  After an unexplainable contamination of the local zoo’s water supply with hallucinogenic angel dust, the normally well-behaved animals go rogue, escaping from their barred dwellings to hunt fresh meat found in the unexplored region of the city.  Tasked with determining the cause of the animal’s bloodthirsty behavior, zoologist Rupert Berner (John Aldrich) and Inspector Nat Braun (Ugo Bologna, Nightmare City) combine their efforts to save the citizens now considered prey.  In addition, Berner’s girlfriend, Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox), independently stranded in the chaos struggles to reach her young daughter who is also embroiled in her own animalistic nightmare along with her fellow dance classmates.  With its shocking sequences of beastly brutality brought to life by trained circus tamers under animal attack, Wild Beasts supplies ample doses of blood splattering carnage and wild life lunacy that must be seen to be believed.  Featuring a backseat rendezvous of intimacy disrupted by gnawing sewer rats, face-flattening elephants, a hungry cheetah in pursuit of a Volkswagen Beetle, explosive car wrecks, lions, tigers and much more, Wild Beasts is rabid with over the top energy and chaotic shaky camera kills that adds a level of documentary-like realism to its already impressively captured moments of vicious animal feasting.  Topped with dependably silly dubbed dialogue and a shocking twist that contaminates more than the zoo’s residents, Wild Beasts stands as one of the best and most brutal “animals attack” features that supplies everything and more one would hope to find in an Italian production of its maniacal caliber.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Severin Films welcomes Wild Beasts with a newly remastered 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Outside of minimal speckling, filmic quality is consistent throughout while, skin tones are appropriately natural-looking and gore effects nicely detailed.  In addition, the film’s few prominent colors found in Laura’s bright red attire pops strongly with textures found in animal fur also well preserved.  Predominately set under the cloak of nighttime, black levels are impressively handled with visibility never questioned.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers the English dubbed dialogue with crispness, animal roars, car crashes and the film’s mix of sax and synth stylings by Composer Daniele Patucchi (Sacrifice!, Warrior of the Lost World) all leave exacting and effective marks.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian mix is also included.  

    Special features include, Altered Beasts: Interview with Director Franco E. Prosperi (15:33) reveals the film’s original intention to shoot entirely in Rhodesia before war broke out and a frightening encounter with terrorists prompted the production to relocate to South Africa.  Shortly after recommencing filming, Prosperi recalls his association with Mondo Cane pushed the production out once again before finally settling back in Italy for the remainder of the shoot.  Several funny tales concerning the difficulty of wrangling the film’s many animals are also shared in this intriguing interview with its maker.  Wild Tony: Interview with Actor Tony Di Leo (12:54) finds the film’s lead, credited as John Aldrich, sharing his early beginnings in a musical band before becoming a circus tamer turned into an opportunity at acting.  Di Leo fondly recalls Prosperi’s humorous spirit, his personal distaste for his performance in the film and the fear he held shooting scenes with the animals regardless of his taming experience.  Furthermore, Cut After Cut: Interview with Editor & Mondo Filmmaker Mario Morra (34:54) covers Morra’s lengthy career highlights in detail while, The Circus is in Town: Interview with Animal Wrangler Roberto Tiberti’s son Carlo Tiberti (10:25) discusses the family’s long history and many experiences in the circus business.  Lastly, House of Wild Beasts: A Visit to the Home of Franco E. Prosperi (12:42) and the film’s International Trailer (2:24) conclude the release’s bonus features.

    A top-tier inclusion of the ravenous animals gone mad subgenre, Wild Beasts insanely puts drug-tripping lions, tigers and hyenas at the forefront of this solidly produced slice of spaghetti cinema.  Effectively realized with in-camera animal attacks and grisly gore for likeminded cult enthusiasts to feast upon, Wild Beasts is a stampede of entertaining screams.  Brought to high-definition with a praiseworthy remastering by Severin Films, Freak-O-Rama’s helping of newly produced bonus features is the icing on top of this blood dripping cake.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 7th from Severin Films, Wild Beasts can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • #Horror (2015) Blu-ray Review

    #Horror (2015)

    Director: Tara Subkoff

    Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Timothy Hutton, Natasha Lyonne, Balthazar Getty, Taryn Manning, Stella Schnabel, Sadie Seelert, Hayley Murphy, Bridget McGarry, Blue Lindeberg, Mina Sundwall, Emma Adler, Annabelle Dexter-Jones & Lydia Hearst

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the wealthy backwoods of Connecticut, #Horror follows a group of privileged preteen girls whose obsession with a disturbing online game is tested when the terror becomes real.  Chloë Sevigny (American Psycho), Timothy Hutton (American Crime) and Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is The New Black) star in this contemporary shocker helmed by actress turned director Tara Subkoff (The Cell).

    Stuck up, 12 year-old richies unload their horrendous personalities and mean-spirited cyber shenanigans on one another in a time where online discouragement can be deadly.  Joined together for sleepover, the group of girls enjoy playing dress-up with lavish ensembles and priceless jewelry while, remaining glued to their mobile devices for a macabre, nonsensical game.  Rotten to their cores, the suggested friends take turns tearing each other apart by body-shaming, uploading unflattering pictures of one another to the internet and showing no compassion for the death of their friends own mother.  Juxtaposed with hyperactive imagery of emojis, tagged pictures and blood-filled pools, #Horror lacks focus, appearing as scatterbrained as a tech-obsessed teen.  Containing zero redeeming characters, veteran performers including, Sevigny and Lyonne are merely used for set decoration while, Hutton, admittedly over-the-top, delivers the only mentionable performance in his limited screen time as a hysterical father searching for his missing daughter.  More a showcase of today’s cruel bullying dilemmas than a traditional thriller, #Horror attempts to adhere to slasher standards during its fleeting moments as a masked killer, capturing his/her exploits via smartphone, takes bloody revenge on the heartless girls.  Painfully uninteresting and tackily titled, #Horror’s attempts at capturing the true-life terror of cyberbullying is admirable yet, fatally crashes during its upload.

    Scream Factory presents #Horror with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying natural skin tones with pleasing detail, shadowy moments and black levels during nighttime sequences suffer from crushing issues that result in a noticeable, screen-door effect over the picture.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally strong with occasional instances, noticeably in the film’s opening exchange between two parties in a Ferrari, showing less priority in their delivery while, EMA’s electric music queues offer a more pleasing emphasis.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Containing only the film’s Trailer (1:42), a Reversible Cover Art rounds out the rather light supplemental offerings.

    Boasting wholly unlikeable characters and uncertain with its identity as a social statement or a teen terrorizer, #Horror greatly fails as the latter while, its depiction of the former is bleak and unentertaining.  Meanwhile, Scream Factory, in conjunction with IFC Midnight, welcomes the modern feature with a decent high-definition presentation although, bonus features are far and few between.  If death is trending as its tagline so cleverly suggests, then unsubscribing from #Horror is vital.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available April 5th from Scream Factory, #Horror can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

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

    American Horror Project Vol. I (1973-1976)

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • The Vincent Price Collection III: Master of the World (1961), Tower of London (1962), Diary of a Madman (1963), An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe (1970) & Cry of the Banshee (1970) Blu-ray Review

    The Vincent Price Collection III (1961-1970)

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking their third annual release of chilling tales from the master of horror, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents The Vincent Price Collection III.  Comprised of five more efforts across four Blu-ray’s, each bursting with bonus content, legendary star Vincent Price (The Pit and the Pendulum, House on Haunted Hill) makes headlining turns in Master of the World (1961), Tower of London (1962), Diary of a Madman (1963), An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970) and Cry of the Banshee (1970), presented with both its Director’s Cut and the commonly known American International Theatrical cut.

    Based on the novels by Jules Verne, Vincent Price stars as the God-complex suffering Robur in Master of the World.  Set in the 19th century and riding the skies above in his indestructible airship known as the Albatross, Robur takes capture of four individuals including, government agent John Strock (Charles Bronson, Death Wish) as he details his desire to bring peace to the world through intimidation tactics with the Albatross.  Countries resistant to surrender their militaries suffer the explosive wrath of Robur’s powerful creation, forcing the abducted prisoners to devise a way to overthrow the captain and destroy his destructive weapon.  Although portraying the film’s conflicted antagonist, Master of the World is hardly in the same vein as Price’s lauded frightful features but, more an adventurous tale with fantastical elements.  Commonly compared to similar efforts such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Master of the World is an exciting detour for the horror thespian who delivers another delightful performance as he wickedly drops bombs atop of warships and hangs his prisoners above the clouds via rope.  While taking expected shortcuts through use of stock footage and other such techniques, American International Pictures delivered their most expensive picture to date with its Verne adaptation with the results paying off handsomely onscreen.  Scripted by the brilliant Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone, Tales of Terror) and hosting one of Les Baxter’s (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes) most impactful scores, Master of the World is a high-flying adventure with Price ably steering its ship.

    Blending history with gothic horror, Tower of London reunites Director Roger Corman once again with Vincent Price during the height of their popular Edgar Allan Poe series.  Retelling a reasonably accurate yet, still rightly fictionalized account of King Richard III’s rise to the throne and ultimate downfall, Price headlines as the dastardly Duke of Gloucester as he pays respects to his terminally ill brother King Edward IV before greed and the temptation of power consumes him.  Secretly murdering his other respected brother with the support of his equally vile wife Anne (Joan Camden, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), Richard weaves his influence around the kingdom by sending others who may threaten his plans to the torture chamber and deceiving his own nephews their birthright to the throne.  Expunging all who challenge him, Richard’s control of the kingdom comes at the cost of his own sanity as the ghosts of those slain return to haunt him.  Lacking the colorful composition of their Poe efforts, Tower of London’s black and white photography establishes its own moody ambiance that suits the film’s period setting.  Classically trained in theater, Price brings gravitas to his tragic hunchbacked role while, mixing the mad entertaining glee common to his other horror-oriented performances.  While not quite as applauded as their other collaborations, The Tower of London is an underrated feast with gorgeous camerawork by Archie R. Dalzell (The Addams Family) and an outlet for Price to proudly showcase his Shakespearean chops onscreen.

    Taking liberties with the tales of Guy de Maupassant, Diary of a Madman finds itself working backwards as onlookers gather at the funeral of Magistrate Simon Cordier (Price).  As close friends gather to read from Cordier’s locked diary, the truth of his fate is slowly revealed.  After witnessing a troubled murderer’s accidental death, Cordier finds himself consumed by the entity that forced the deceased’s hand to kill.  Known only as the horla, the respected judge, grieving for years after the death of his chid and suicide of his wife, attempts to counter the wicked voices in his head by embracing his artistic abilities and falling for the attractive Odette Mallotte (Nancy Kovack, Jason and the Argonauts).  Disrupted by the revelation that Odette is legally married to another and his intended bride-to-be favors his wealth over his love, the forceful nature of the horla compels Cordier to handle them accordingly.  Helmed by Reginald Le Borg (The Black Sleep), Diary of a Madman, although visually lavish in its design, tends to drag in several areas with its psychologically driving narrative growing monotonous.  Although Price is unsurprisingly charming and notably comes alive when possessed to stab his lover to death, Nancy Kovack stands as one of the horror maestro’s most intoxicatingly beautiful starlets and delivers a sound performance.  While it may not be Price’s most memorable feature, Diary of a Madman remains worthy of a watch on a preferably rainy evening.

    In this made for television special, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe spotlights Vincent Price, with minimal set dressing and few props, as he eloquently narrates four of Poe’s chilling works.  All told in the first person, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Case of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum come to life courtesy of Price’s intense conviction as he makes quoting Poe as effortless as breathing.  Well directed by Kenneth Johnson (The Bionic Woman), An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe may not be feature length worthy entertainment but, serves as an exceptional showcase for the classically trained Price who makes Poe’s haunting tales even more effective than reading them independently under the blanket of darkness.  Longtime appreciators of the star’s many Poe adaptations will take delight at how ingrained the gothic poet’s works were installed in his vocabulary, greatly enriching their legacy in the process.

    Although prefaced by a passage from Edgar Allan Poe, Cry of the Banshee holds no correlation to the Corman/Price adaptations previously produced by American International Pictures.  Helmed instead by fellow Price collaborator Gordon Hessler (The Oblong Box, Scream and Scream Again), Cry of the Banshee focuses on vile witch hunter Lord Edward Whitman (Price) who uses his influence to exterminate those of the slightest suspicion of devil worship.  Murdering accused teenagers during a dinner party and ordering others to torturous whippings, Edward and his sons ambush a worshipping coven, resulting in several deaths before being cursed by its leader Oona (Elizabeth Bergner, As You Like It).  Summoning the beastly sidhe to rid the Whitman clan, the estate’s gypsy servant Roderick (Patrick Mower, The Devil Rides Out), who is also madly in love with Edwards’ daughter Maureen (Hilary Heath, Witchfinder General), becomes possessed and periodically morphs into the monster to bring death to the Whitman’s family line.  Sporting a colorfully animated title sequence by a young Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and injecting far more nudity (within its Director’s Cut) than most Price features, Cry of the Banshee suffers from an overloaded cast and largely detestable characters.  Juxtaposing from Price, who arguably takes a backseat for portions of the film, to his sons’ individual paths, his daughter and Rodrick’s forbidden romance, the coven of witches and its local villagers, the film struggles to streamline its focus while, Price, who delivers a respectable performance albeit grossly seedy and only second to his turn in Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General.  Achieving success during its original release, Hessler contends Cry of the Banshee to be his most uninteresting AIP feature which is respectfully agreed.       

    Culled from a variety of sources including, inter-positives (Master of the World, Diary of a Madman and Cry of the Banshee), a fine grain film print (Tower of London) and even original tape masters (An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe), each feature is presented with 1080p transfers with the exception of the standard-def, televised Poe effort.  Sporting 1.85:1 (Master of the World, Cry of the Banshee), 1:66:1 (Tower of London, Diary of a Madman) and 1:33:1 (An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe) aspect ratios, each film contains varying degrees of scratches and scuffs, all of which never greatly deter from the viewing experience.  From their striking color schemes, Master of the World and Diary of a Madman greatly impress while, Tower of London begins with rough around the edges before nicely improving, demonstrating pleasing black levels in its monochrome photography.  With expectations at bay regarding the sole SD feature included, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe looks as good as can be expected with only one minor coloring hiccup spotted.  In addition, Cry of the Banshee arrives in a virtually blemish free presentation that is both filmic and natural.  Given the fleeting state of materials for many elder features, Scream Factory has once again worked wonders in preserving several more of Price’s pictures.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes with Master of the World also boasting a newly created Stereo mix from the original 4-track mag, each film satisfies in delivering audible dialogue levels and worthy reproductions of their respective scores.  Admittedly, Diary of a Madman retains a mild hiss of little consequence on its track while, Tower of London has occasional cracks and pops heard throughout.  Unquestionably, Master of the World’s Stereo mix is the most effective of the bunch with Les Baxter’s thunderous score leaving lasting impressions.  

    With a variety of newly produced and vintage supplements, special features on Master of the World’s disc 1 include a new Audio Commentary with Actor David Frankham, an extended cut of Richard Matheson: Storyteller (1:12:05), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:28), Photo Gallery (2:18) and Photo Gallery II (1:59).  Disc 2’s Tower of London hosts a new Interview with Director Roger Corman (7:11), Producing Tower of London featuring interviews with Corman and his brother and fellow producer Gene Corman (14:04).  In addition to a Photo Gallery (4:31), two standard definition episodes of Science Fiction Theatre starring Vincent Price, “One Thousand Eyes” (26:09) and “Operation Flypaper” (26:05), supply fans with even more Priceless small screen entertainment.  Furthermore, Diary of a Madman includes a new Audio Commentary with Film Historian and Author Steve Haberman, a Poster Gallery (1:44) and the Theatrical Trailer (3:16) while, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (also found on disc 3) includes, another new Audio Commentary with Film Historian and Author Steve Haberman and the newly produced Tales of Vincent Price with Kenneth Johnson (21:26).  In addition to both its Director’s Cut (1:30:49) and American International Theatrical Cut (1:26:37), disc 4’s Cry of the Banshee provides yet another new Audio Commentary with Film Historian and Author Steve Haberman on the Director’s Cut, A Devilish Tale of Poe (17:52) featuring an interview with Director Gordon Hessler with its Theatrical Trailer (2:28), TV Spot (0:58), Radio Spot (0:30) and a Poster Gallery (4:09) rounding out the final batch of on-disc extras.  Lastly, a 12-page booklet featuring rare photos is also included.

    In what appears to be their final curtain call for Mr. Price, Scream Factory’s The Vincent Price Collection III offers fans of gothic horror and atmospheric chills a throughly entertaining quintuple of features from the adventure-filled Master of the World to the witch hunting Cry of the Banshee.  Excellently presented and lovingly complimented with ample bonus content for after-movie consumption, The Vincent Price Collection III is a bittersweet accomplishment for the popular horror label that will easily rank as one of the year’s favored releases.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, The Vincent Price Collection III can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Grandma (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Grandma (2015)

    Director: Paul Weitz

    Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox & Sam Elliot

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Shortly after breaking up with her younger girlfriend, Grandma centers on temperamental scholar Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin, Nine to Five) surprised by the arrival of her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) who’s desperately in need of $600 before sundown.  Equally broke, Elle joins her kin on the unconventional fundraising journey visiting faces from Elle’s past and reopening old wounds along the way.  Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock), Judy Greer (Ant-Man), Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black) and Sam Elliot (Tombstone) co-star.

    Broken into six distinct chapters, Director Paul Weitz’s (American Pie, Admission) Grandma marks Academy Award nominated Lily Tomlin’s first headlining appearance in nearly 30 years.  Coping with the loss of her longtime partner, Elle Reid (Tomlin) stubbornly ends her brief relationship with her new girlfriend Olivia (Greer) only to be unexpectedly visited by her high school aged granddaughter Sage (Garner).  Confiding to Elle that she is pregnant and in need of several hundred dollars for an abortion, the two broke women hit the open road visiting Sage’s deadbeat boyfriend, Elle’s old friends and her ex-husband Karl (Elliot) in order to secure the necessary funds.  Unearthing painful skeletons and growing closer on their unusual expedition, all roads eventually lead to their strained relationship with Sage’s mother and Elle’s career-oriented daughter Judy (Harden).

    Refreshingly honest and beautifully written, Grandma combines the humor and tragedy that comprises us all with Tomlin’s tough as nails exterior and witty comical sensibilities making way for her most achingly humanistic performance to date.  In an industry unfairly skewed against actresses past particular ages, Tomlin’s feisty role is played with a no-nonsense attitude, further supported by her heartfelt dedication to stick by her granddaughter at all costs.  Free to speak her mind with bluntness and intelligence, Elle takes hits, both physically and emotionally, in order to face her own demons and come to terms with her partner’s passing.  The up and coming Julia Garner keeps up admirably with Tomlin’s powerhouse performance while, good luck charm supporting player Judy Greer portrays the ideal romantic conflict for Elle on her journey of self-discovery.  In addition, Marcia Gay Harden, although briefly seen, makes her limited screen time count in the film’s final act while, Sam Elliot’s shining moment make for some of Grandma’s most emotionally riveting sequences.  Although clocking in under 80 minutes, Weitz’s tender dramedy never shortchanges viewers, instead wonderfully weaving a simple tale of three generations of women finding themselves on firmer ground than when we found them.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Grandma with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Making impressive statements with flourishing natural skin tones and exterior environments appearing nicely detailed, black levels in Elle’s Dodge Royal and a concluding nighttime sequence are also richly inky.  With no jarring technical blemishes to report, Grandma looks splendid on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is rightly prioritized in this character-driven feature that is relayed with strong precision.  Although not wildly wide-ranging in its abilities, the mix is perfectly suitable for what’s required.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Paul Weitz and Stars Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner & Sam Elliot, A Family Portrait: The Making of Grandma (25:15) (Blu-ray exclusive) and a Grandma Q&A (20:58) with Writer/Director Paul Weitz and Stars Lily Tomlin & Sam Elliot, hosted by Pete Hammond.

    Deservedly nominated by the Golden Globes for her stirring performance, Lily Tomlin has ushered in a new dawn of her career with her headlining turn in Grandma.  Candid and emotionally revealing, Director Paul Weitz’s low-budget charmer reveals another layer of his varied career that will most assuredly grab hold of viewers.  Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment treats the critically praised effort with easily recommended technical merits.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Grandma can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Reviews

    1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983)

    Director: Enzo G. Castellari

    Starring: Vic Morrow, Christopher Connelly, Fred Williamson, Mark Gregory & Stefania Girolami / Giancarlo Prete, Fred Williamson, George Eastman, Anna Kakis & Giovanni Frezza / Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici, Timothy Brent & Antonio Sabato

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blue Underground braces viewers for three doses of post apocalyptic devastation and motorcycle street gangs, Italian style!  First up, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the no man’s land of the Bronx circa 1990 where attempts at law and order have been eliminated.  When a wealthy woman from Manhattan escapes into the wasteland, her corrupt father hires a trained mercenary to recover her.  Unfortunately for the cities corporate brass, gang leader Trash unites rival street dwellers to wage war in order to protect their turf.  Vic Morrow (Twilight Zone: The Movie), Christopher Connelly (Manhattan Baby), Fred Williamson (Hammer), Mark Gregory (Thunder) and Stefania Girolami (The Last Shark) star.  Next up, set in the year 2019, The New Barbarians takes place in the aftermath of nuclear devastation where the brutal Templars and their leader One rule with an iron fist.  When the lone warrior Scorpion rescues the gorgeous Alma from their grasp, Scorpion joins forces with the tactical Nadir and a struggling group of survivors to battle their evil oppressors.  Giancarlo Prete (Street Law), Fred Williamson (The Legend of Nigger Charley), George Eastman (Stagefright), Anna Kakis (2019: After the Fall of New York) and Giovanni Frezza (The House by the Cemetery) star.  Finally, continuing the exploits of Bronx Warrior Trash (Mark Gregory), Escape from the Bronx takes place in the year 2000 where a wealthy corporation seeks to bulldoze the entire borough to create an upscale community.  Sending death squads to clear out the remaining inhabitants, Trash and fellow gang members refuse to go out without a fight.  Henry Silva (Trapped), Valeria D’Obici (Midnight Killer), Timothy Brent (Ladyhawke) and Antonio Sabato (Grand Prix) co-star.      

    Reminiscent of 1979’s The Warriors, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the gang-infested wasteland of the Bronx where police presence and public safety is nothing but a memory.  When the wealthy and attractive Ann (Girolami) travels to the dangerous area to escape her Manhattan existence, she quickly falls for sympathetic gang leader Trash (Gregory).  Heiress to the family’s powerful company, her corrupt father hires ruthless mercenary Hammer (Morrow) to retrieve her only to be met with resistance from the Bronx’s motorcycle riding deviants.  Shot on location in the increasingly dangerous borough, 1990: The Bronx Warriors comes loaded with top-notch production value from a grittier New York that no longer exists.  Action is a plenty when Ann is captured by the rival Zombies gang, prompting Trash and his loyal Riders to risk life and limb trekking across their danger zone.  Seeking assistance from the King of the Bronx himself, The Ogre (Williamson), Trash and his companions battle countless goofy gang members from tunnel dwelling freakazoids to glitter-faced baton twirlers with hand to hand combat and deadly spears.  As Hammer simultaneously infiltrates the Bronx with blowtorch equipped troops, alliances are compromised amongst Trash and his friends leading to an explosive conclusion with the ruthless Hammer receiving a gloriously pointy demise.  An excellent product of gang war wastelands protecting their turf from the man, 1990: The Bronx Warriors is action-fueled spaghetti cinema at its finest.

    Also known as Warriors of the Wasteland, The New Barbarians rides high on the post-apocalyptic success of 1981’s The Road Warrior.  Following a similar plot line, this Italian production once again realized by Director Enzo G. Castellari (Light Blast) takes place in the not too distant future of 2019 where nuclear devastation has eliminated virtually all life.  Predominately populated by the book hating, totalitarian warriors The Templars and their leader One (Eastman), innocent civilians starve and fear for their lives.  Unapologetic in his disdain for the ruthless gang, lone warrior Scorpion (Prete) rescues the beautiful Alma (Kanakis) from them, determined to find permanent salvation for her.  Shot on location in Rome, The New Barbarians injects an added production value of futuristic vehicles and laughable space age costumes matched with a funky, synth-heavy score courtesy of Claudio Simonetti (Demons) of Goblin fame.  Although teaming up with ace marksman Nadir (Williamson) to protect a group of innocent survivors and Alma, Scorpion suffers the wrath of The Templars by being captured and unexpectedly raped by the skunk-haired One before retaliating full force.  While explosive car stunts impress with plenty of decapitated heads and impaled torsos, The New Barbarians falls somewhere in the middle of mediocrity during a time where Mad Max ripoffs were reaching their maximum.  With plenty of fun to still be had and Williamson stealing scenes with his amusing performance, The New Barbarians entertains but, oftentimes sticks too close to formula to stand on its own merits.

    Following the events of 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx takes place a decade into the future where the neglected borough has continued to rot into further decay.  Former leader of The Riders, Trash (Gregory) is now a respected loner who is once again pulled back into the fire following the murder of his parents by a mega-corporation.  Hellbent on exercising the existing Bronx in order to make way for an idyllic community, the General Construction Corporation send in countless death squads, headed by the savage Floyd Wangler (Silva), to exterminate any remaining occupants.  Joining forces with hometown reporter Moon Gray (Dobson), underground dweller Strike (Brent) and his young son Junior (Alessandro Prete, Ironmaster), the trio rally the support of fellow gangs to fight off the man once again.  Bursting with action and featuring nearly 200 casualties, Escape from the Bronx is a no holds barred followup that manages to bring the Bronx to an even more rubbled state.  With the exception of Henry Silva’s excellent appearance and Timothy Brent’s Strike bludgeoning a villain with the butt of a shotgun, the sequel lacks more memorable supporting characters to compliment Trash’s war against corporate tycoons.  Shot on location in the Bronx and Rome, Escape from the Bronx, under its alternate Escape 2000 title, was lovingly roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its seventh season awarding it even more cult acclaim.  While falling slightly shorter than its originator, Escape from the Bronx will ultimately leave action buffs raging with testosterone at the sheer volume of over the top fatalities and nonstop explosions.

    Newly transferred in high-definition, Blue Underground presents all three films with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios.  With all films appearing free of any prominent scratches or scruffs, skin tones look pleasing and non waxy with respectable detail on display.  While not entirely free of digital noise, instances of pixelation can be spotted most prominently in the backgrounds of dilapidated buildings seen in 1990: The Bronx Warriors.  Fortunately, these issues are far from deal breaking and are still a vast improvement over their standard definition predecessors.  Colors spotted in flashier costume choices and gore pop nicely offering solid contrast to the bland and desolate environments of the films.  In addition, black levels during the films’ underground sequences can often appear murky and lacking inkier levels.  Admittedly, the transfers do have their shortcomings but, the effort to deliver upgraded products is equally evident with their lush colors and noticeably cleaner appearances leaving expectant fans generally pleased with the results.  Accompanied with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is always robust and clear without a trace of hiss or distortion.  Each film’s respective score along with sequences of intense gunfire, laser blasts and fiery explosions emerge from the speakers with noticeable authority that is well balanced throughout.  Bestowed with Collector’s Edition banners, each film arrives with a plethora of exciting bonus content with 1990: The Bronx Warriors including, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 1 (14:09), Sourcing the Weaponry (11:55) where Castellari guides us through the Italian Weapons Rental House of Paolo Ricci and Adventures in the Bronx (7:20) with Stuntmen Massimo Vanni interviewed about his experiences on the film.  In addition, Theatrical Trailers including, the International Trailer (2:42), Italian Trailer (2:41), Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25) are also provided with a Poster & Still Gallery (100 in total) and a DVD edition of the release rounding out the supplemental package.  Next up, The New Barbarians arrives with an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 2 (13:55), Tales of the Hammer (20:22) with Star Fred Williamson offering a fascinating career retrospective that stands as the disc’s standout feature.  Also included are Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:25), Italian Trailer #1 (3:26), Italian Trailer #2 (1:58), 1990: The Bronx Warriors Trailer (2:42) and Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15).  Finally, a Poster & Still Gallery (97 in total) and a DVD edition of the release conclude the bonus offerings.  Lastly, Escape from the Bronx includes, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 3 (13:16), The Hunt for Trash (12:42) with Bronx Warriors Superfan Lance Lanley sharing his passion and enthusiasm for the films along with Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:15), Italian Trailer (3:15), 1990: The Bronx Warriors (2:42) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25).  A Poster & Still Gallery (77 in total) and a DVD edition of the release are also included.  

    Submerging viewers with a trinity of post-apocalyptic warfare and urban gang battles, Blue Underground ensures an action-packed serving of spaghetti cinema for cult enthusiasts.  While 1990: The Bronx Warriors is the fan favorite of the three, The New Barbarians still offers a fun dose of futuristic goofiness with Escape from the Bronx assaulting viewers with endless action.  Newly transferred in high-definition, each film makes earnest strides, with a few warts along the way, in delivering noticeable upgrades from their past releases.  With impressive remastered mixes and brand new, quality bonus features, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx make their Blu-ray debuts with a thundering crash, ready to wage war on your cult library!

    1990: The Bronx Warriors RATING: 4/5

    The New Barbarians RATING: 3.5/5

    Escape from the Bronx RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) Collector's Edition / Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Reviews

    Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) / Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)

    Director: Michael A. Simpson

    Starring: Pamela Springsteen, Renée Estevez, Brian Patrick Clarke & Walter Gotell / Pamela Springsteen, Tracy Griffith & Michael J. Pollard

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, invites campers back for a double dose of teenage terror!  Following the events of the original film, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers finds Angela (Pamela Springsteen, Modern Girls) taking a counselor position at Camp Rolling Hills.  Overwhelmed with a siege of “bad campers”, it doesn’t take long for Angela to revert back to her homicidal tendencies.  Next up, Pamela Springsteen returns in Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland.  Continuing her deadly wrath at Camp New Horizons where an experimental retreat bringing stuck-up rich kids and inner city juveniles together is taking place, Angela finds a new stomping ground to weed out more naughty campers.  

    Unafraid to poke fun at its very own genre, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers makes comedy a valued component as much as its bloody carnage.  Taking the role over from Felissa Rose, Pamela Springsteen gives new dimension to the role of sex-changed murderer Angela Baker.  Overly bubbly with a permanent grin on her face, Angela takes a position at Camp Rolling Hills to share her obsessive love of camp songs and wilderness activities with her fellow campers.  Unfortunately, those found  fornicating and dabbling with drugs quickly fall prey to Angela’s deadly tendencies.  With its tongue firmly planted in cheek, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers allows viewers to revel in the hilarity of its over the top performances and ridiculous murder set pieces that include tongue removal, battery acid burning and death by outhouse leeches.  Co-starring Renée Estevez (Heathers) as camp goody girl Molly, this slasher sequel also makes light of other modern day monsters like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface while, two prepubescent boys, better known as “the tit patrol”, take pleasure in secretly photographing the naked side of the camp’s female population.  Bursting with a heavy dose of metal and punk tunes from Anvil, Obsession and The Dead Milkmen, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers is deliciously cheesy and wickedly funny with its blending of genres proving to be one of the best cocktails slasher fans will sip from.

    Shot back to back with its predecessor, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland kicks off with everyone’s favorite camp murderer Angela (Springsteen) knocking off an inner city youth with a garbage truck.  In order to take her spot in an experimental program hosted by Camp New Horizons, Angela cons her way in as a disadvantaged teen brought together with various kids from different tracks of life.  Hoping to once again capture more harmonious times, Angela is quickly disappointed with her fellow campers and wastes no time taking the trash out yet again.  Joined by fellow genre stars including, Tracy Griffith (The First Power) as final girl Marcia, the quirky Michael J. Pollard (House of 1,000 Corpses) as a horny counselor with a weakness for younger women and Jill Terashita (Night of the Demons) as a rebel rouser, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland slightly suffers from a bloated cast and a runtime that doesn’t support its size.  Still capable of presenting memorable characters such as racist richie Cindy (Kim Wall), Director Michael A. Simpson’s second outing with the franchise delivers the goods in the gore department with Wall’s character being hoisted up a flagpole before Angela drops her to her death.  In addition, a firecracker explosion to a camper’s mouth, an axe decapitation and a lawnmower to a counselor’s face round out the film’s grizzly highlights.  Still hamming it up, Springsteen delivers cheesy one-liners following her deathly accomplishments that would make the wisecracking dream demon Freddy Krueger proud.  Admittedly not as strong as Unhappy CampersSleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland manages to inject genuine moments of fun during the final days of the slasher genre.

    Scream Factory presents both Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  With only minimal instances of flakes and speckles on display, both films shine magnificently in high-definition with natural skin tones, rich detail and lively colors highlighting campers‘ t-shirts and bloody decadence.  In addition, black levels are handled admirably with no anomalies and visibility easily relayed.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films deliver dialogue with clarity and ease while, their rock soundtracks, wilderness ambiance and screams of terror are balanced accordingly and efficiently.  Treating fans to an abundance of features, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers arrives with an Audio Commentary with Director Michael A. Simpson and Writer Fritz Gordon, Red Shirt Pictures‘ A Tale of Two Sequels - Part One: Back to Camp (28:06) featuring new interviews with Director Michael A. Simpson, Cinematographer Bill Mills, Editor John David Allen and many more.  Also included, Abandoned - The Filming Locations of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (15:28) featuring a tour of the shooting locations, Behind the Scenes Footage with Commentary from Director Michael A. Simpson (13:21), a Home Video Trailer (2:24), Whatever Happened to Molly Short Film (0:50), Still Gallery (82 in total), DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art round the impressive supplements.  Equally as packed, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland delivers an Audio Commentary with Director Michael A. Simpson and Writer Fritz Gordon, Red Shirt Pictures‘ concluding featurette A Tale of Two Sequels - Part Two: New Victims & New Horizons (26:12) featuring new interviews with Director Michael A. Simpson, Cinematographer Bill Mills, Editor John David Allen, Actors Mark Oliver, Kim Wall and more.  Furthermore, Behind the Scenes Footage with Commentary  from Director Michael A. Simpson (8:28), the Workprint of the film’s Longer Cut (culled from VHS) (1:24:48), Deleted Scenes (18:46), the Home Video Trailer (2:38), Tony Lives! Short Film (1:10), Still Gallery (47 in total), DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art round out the film’s plentiful features.

    Taking a sharp left turn for the franchise, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland inject a heavy dose of humor into their DNA as they playfully make fun of their oversaturated genre while, still delivering the gory goods slashers fans have come to expect.  Absurdly entertaining and oozing of retro atmosphere, Unhappy Campers may be the more favored sequel although, Teenage Wasteland proves you may not be able to keep a transgendered killer down but, still have a hell of a time.  Scream Factory affectionately rolls out the blood red carpet for both films with gorgeous technical achievements and a plethora of rich bonus content, courtesy of the always reliable Red Shirt Pictures, that will leave fans the happiest of campers just in time for the ideal slasher season.

    Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers RATING: 4.5/5

    Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland RATING: 4/5

    Available June 9th from Scream FactorySleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland can be purchased via ShoutFactory.comAmazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Don't Go in the Woods (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Don’t Go in the Woods (1981)

    Director: James Bryan

    Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden, Angie Brown & Tom Drury

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director James Bryan (Boogievision, The Executioner, Part II), Don’t Go in the Woods centers on a group of wandering campers who venture into the wilderness for a weekend getaway.  Unbeknownst to them, a savage maniac is stalking their every move, killing at every chance he gets.  Starring many first time actors, Don’t Go in the Woods remains a slasher classic due to its campy production values and low-budget gore effects.

    Released at the peak of the slasher boom, Don’t Go in the Woods maintains a paper-thin plot of a quartet of campers wandering the wilderness only to evade the wrath of a deadly killer.  Littered with countless other tourists used as mere cattle, this Utah-shot production bolsters a body count that trumps most Friday the 13th installments but, lacks in any real suspense.  With horrendous yet, hilariously entertaining performances, Don’t Go in the Woods packs plenty of gore while, backfiring with many a false jump scares.  Relatively slow-paced, Director James Bryan’s indie effort makes decent use of its wilderness dwelling killer who lives off the land and makes grunting his first language.  With the core group of campers dwindling, the remaining survivors look to avenge their friends deaths by tracking the peculiar killer with weapons off the land, leading to a most bloody finale.  

    Drawing its line in the sand, Don’t Go in the Woods has split slasher enthusiasts for decades with many brushing it off as amateurish dreck while, others find appreciation in its over the top kills and not so serious tone.  While, it can hardly be categorized as a competent slasher with genuine scares, Don’t Go in the Woods possesses a low-budget charm of sticktoitiveness that bleeds in every frame.  Filmed over a two year period, Don’t Go in the Woods takes great pleasure in presenting a simplistic story while, never shying from its slasher genre staples with kills that will most assuredly leave viewers in chuckles rather than fear.  Cheesy but, undeniably appealing, Don’t Go in the Woods is an essential regional slasher for viewers who take delight in its quirkier traits.  

    Newly restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive, Vinegar Syndrome presents Don’t Go in the Woods with a 1080p transfer, sporting its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Plagued with aging artifacts including, scratches and hazy photography, the pros far outweigh the cons.  Colors pop nicely in the film’s lush greenery, pastel colored wardrobe and scenes of blood-soaked carnage.  In addition, skin tones appear natural and inviting while, black levels are handled as well as can be with decent visibility amongst instances of flakes and speckles.  Vinegar Syndrome works wonders with this, at times, rough looking slasher, easily making this its definitive release.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono mix, dialogue is relayed decently with several occurrences of lower volume levels and mild hiss, all of which are never inaudible.  Scenes of slashing mayhem register sharply with Composer H. Kingsley Thurber’s music pushing the most authority in this otherwise contained yet, satisfying sounding mix.  Loaded with extras, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director James Bryan, Audio Commentary with Director James Bryan, Actress Mary Gail Artz and Superfans Deron Miller & Dave Mosca and a third Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues.  Plus, a Cast & Crew Featurette (56:43), TV Promos Compilation (14:14), Autograph Signing Party (29:27), Theatrical Trailer (1:07), Production Stills Gallery (64 in total), Press Artwork Gallery (44 in total), Script Gallery (32 in total) and a DVD edition of the release round out the supplemental offerings. 

    While, its cult classic status has been debated by likeminded viewers, Don’t Go in the Woods holds a special appeal for those who revel in its cheeky charm and hilariously over the top gore effects.  Previously released by Code Red DVD as their inaugural title, Vinegar Syndrome’s newly restored Blu-ray release is a revelation of color and natural grain that trumps its imperfections while, preserving its OAR.  Packed with endless bonus content, Vinegar Syndrome delivers this low-budget slasher affair with all the bells and whistles one could hope to expect.  Whether it’s loved or hated, Don’t Go in the Woods has lasted the test of time and can now be better appreciated and debated with this definitive release.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 10th from Vinegar Syndrome, Don’t Go in the Woods can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 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