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  • Clown (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Clown (2014)

    Director: Jon Watts

    Starring: Laura Allen, Andy Powers & Peter Stormare

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After the entertainment for his young son’s birthday fails to arrive, Clown finds loving father Kent (Andy Powers, In Her Shoes) donning a clown suit and makeup to perform.  Unfortunately, over time the vintage costume and wig refuses to come off, simultaneously altering Kent’s personality into something demonic.  With little hope for a cure, the once wholesome father finds himself in a circus of nightmares that places his family in dire straits.  Laura Allen (The 4400) and Peter Stormare (22 Jump Street) co-star.

    Conceived from a clever mock trailer deceivingly billing eventual Producer Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, The Green Inferno) as its helmer, Clown spotlights the fear-inducing carny figure under unique circumstances as a cobweb infested vintage costume serves as the carrier of evil for an unsuspecting father.  Uniquely crafted, Jon Watts’ (Cop Car, Marvel Studios’ upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming) feature-length directorial debut wastes little time establishing the idyllic family life Kent and wife Meg (Allen) live as they celebrate the birthday of their son Jack (Christian Distefano, PAW Patrol) before peculiar events strike.  Experiencing extreme difficulty in removing the clown nose and full body costume discovered in a mysterious traveling trunk, Kent grows frantic when even power tools fail to sever a single stitch.  Developing a voracious hunger, the real estate agent in clown’s clothing finds answers in the costume’s previous owner Herbert Karlsson (Stormare) who reveals the sinister past of the clown through history and its insatiable appetite for children.  Failing to fatally eliminate the demon’s carrier, Kent, progressively becoming more clown-like, evades death to feed while, Karlsson and Meg join forces to stop a big top reign of blood.

    Shot quickly and cheaply, several years of domestic delays and increased buildup escalated the occasionally creepy feature to heights impossible to live up to.  Presenting one of the better clown designs in recent memory with a grim pursuit of children through Chuck E. Cheese ball pits and unapologetically leaving gallons of prepubescent blood in the demon jester’s wake, Clown also adds a possessed dog in need of decapitation and rainbow spewing body liquid as Kent attempts to unsuccessfully take his life several times.  Greatly suffering from severe pacing issues that jeopardizes the film’s initial suspense, Clown possesses genuine moments of eeriness yet, not nearly enough to leave a lasting impression.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Clown with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Maintaining a softer approach that keeps detail and otherwise more impactful colors mildly restrained, the digitally shot feature is decently presented and appears true to its intended palette.  Although, black levels lack a deeper inkiness common in other modern features resulting in murkier presentations that are mediocre at best.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is greatly prioritized while, the film’s inclusions of heavy bass notes during intense moments of screams and other frights make the track a nice compliment to its onscreen theatrics.  Containing only one supplement, Making Clown (6:24) is a fairly standard EPK with talking heads Eli Roth, Star Laura Allen, Cinematographer Matthew Santo and others discussing the film and their various contributions to it.  In addition, a Digital HD Code has also been included.

    Anticipated for far too long, Clown’s delayed release may have generated welcome buzz yet, its finished product, littered with pacing misfires and an otherwise interesting plot gone dull, diminishes the promise it once had.  While jolts of creativity are contained within, Director Jon Watts has graduated to far better projects that display his talents to much greater effect.  Given its long road to home video, special features are regrettably nominal while, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s presentation is pleasing enough.  

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available August 23rd from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Clown can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015)

    Director(s): Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon

    Starring: Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala & Jayson Lamb

    Released by: Drafthouse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Transfixed by Director Steven Spielberg’s trailblazing 1981 blockbuster, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made documents the journey of three 11-year-old boys from Mississippi who took home movies to an unprecedented level with their own shot-for-shot adaptation, filmed over the course of seven grueling years.  With the exception of the film’s explosive airplane sequence, the tenacious trio and their loyal supporters reunite 20 years later to complete their ambitious project.

    A testament to childhood dreams coming true and quite possibly the most disciplined example of sticktoitiveness, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made recounts the unbelievably true tale of Mississippi youths who, from the wreckage of divorced families and introverted personalities, escaped their realities to capture the greatest adventure of their lives on videotape.  After bonding over their mutual love for Spielberg’s archeological hero and his cinematic debut, Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos would forge a friendship built on their love for film and their desire to helm their own grassroots adaptation.  Teaming with fellow eccentric Jayson Lamb and a revolving door of younger siblings and neighborhood kids, Zala, acting as director in addition to playing multiple onscreen roles while, Strompolos dons the iconic fedora and whip as Indiana Jones, sacrifice summer vacations and weekends over several years to do their treasured feature justice.  Risking life and limb with little to no interference from overprotective parents, Zala and Strompolos leap and drag themselves from moving vehicles while nearly burning their house and selves on fire to capture the perfect shots during the pre-Internet days of youth.  Juxtaposing the two friends detailing the early origins of the film and their regrettably final missing sequence, filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles and Raiders of the Lost Ark star John Rhys-Davies make talking head appearances expressing their admiration and discovery of their diamond in the rough accomplishment.

    In addition, Zala and Strompolos’ parents, wives and supportive crew members are on hand to shape the narrative that is littered with as much agony as there are triumphs.  Endless frustration, high school romances, jealousy and an eventual fallout between the two friends would halt production for years creating two very different life paths that would merge once again following the cult popularity of their circulated childhood tape.  Potentially sacrificing their day jobs to fulfill what they started in their southern backyards years earlier, Zala and Strompolos, tighter than ever before, attempt to finally wrap their long in-development shoot with the highly explosive airplane sequence from the original film.  Plagued with horrendous weather conditions, ballooning budgets and a frightening onset accident, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is emotionally riveting and overwhelmingly inspiring.  Living vicariously through the colorful subjects who never lost sight of a vision that seemed impossible, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made will leave viewers joyously teary-eyed and tipping their own fedoras at real-life heroes that will make you feel that all dreams are within reach.

    Drafthouse Films presents Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Produced in the high-def digital age, footage is pleasingly sharp and well-detailed during the predominate interview sequences and onset footage with only snippets from the VHS sourced Raiders adaptation being of expected lesser quality.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is excellently captured while, the chaotic footage of the airplane sequence boasts several explosions that bode nicely on the track.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Meanwhile, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tim Skousen & Producer/Director Jeremy Coon plus, a second Audio Commentary with The Raiders Guys Eric Zala & Chris Strompolos.  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes (32:39), Outtakes from the Adaptation (19:33), the Q&A at Alamo Drafthouse Premiere of the Adaptation (40:43) captured on May 31, 2003, Trailers for Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made’s Theatrical Trailer (2:08) and other Drafthouse Films features including, 20,000 Days on Earth (2:15), A Band Called Death (2:12), The Final Member (2:02) and I Declare War (1:47) are also included.  Lastly, a 16-page booklet containing reproductions of Zala’s hand drawn storyboards for the adaptation, a DVD edition, Digital HD Code and Reversible Cover Art round out the supplements.

    Akin to Indy defying the Nazi’s and heroically saving the day, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is the embodiment of movie magic come to life.  Retracing their ambitious, troubled and above all, dedicated passion project from their preteen years to its midlife conclusion, John Williams’ goosebump-inducing anthem will no longer conjure images of just everyone’s favorite archeologist but also, the Mississippi boys to men who dared to dream with the Holy Grail always in their mind’s eye.  Drafthouse Films’ acquisition and top-notch presentation of this first-rate documentary makes for one of the most emotionally uplifting chronicles of the year!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Drafthouse Films, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made can be purchased via DrafthouseFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

    Director: Joel M. Reed

    Starring: Seamus O’Brien, Luis De Jesus, Viju Krem, Niles McMaster & Alan Dellay

    Released by: Troma Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly 40 years after its original release, Director Joel M. Reed’s satirical shocker breathes new life in the HD generation.  A bizarre odyssey through New York’s dangerous Soho district, centered on a band of eccentric sadists makes this indie effort an unsettling time capsule of cinema.  Newly transferred from original vault materials and including a never before seen title sequence bearing the Sardu, Master of the Screaming Virgins moniker, Troma Entertainment proudly presents the enduring Bloodsucking Freaks on Blu-ray!

    Bloodsucking Freaks centers on the unusual off-broadway Theatre of the Macabre, hosted by the infamous Sardu (Seamus O’Brien).  Shocking forms of torture, dismemberment and more are all fictionally staged for audiences every night but, when countless people begin disappearing around New York City, the truth is revealed about Sardu’s temple of terror.  Luis De Jesus (Let My Puppets Come), Viju Krem (Fourplay), Niles McMaster (Alice Sweet Alice) and Alan Dellay (Trading Places) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    A blatant satirization of the theatre world, Bloodsucking Freaks also expands on the gory 1960s exploits of Director H.G. Lewis (Blood Feast, Color Me Blood Red).  Sardu’s Theatre of the Macabre is New York’s seedy Soho response to the Grand Guignol where torture and dismemberment are for the entertainment of audience members.  Sardu, brilliantly portrayed by the late Seamous O’Brien, is the perverted, deviant equivalent to Vincent Price.  Aided by his loyal dwarf assistant, Ralphus (Luis De Jesus), Sardu is obsessed by the macabre and has a weakness for whippings at the hands of his female dominatrixes.  When snobbish reviewer, Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay), insults Sardu’s performance, the unhinged entertainer kidnaps and forces him into an imprisonment of torture.  In addition, Sardu has big plans for his grim theatre as he also abducts ballet star, Natasha Di Natalie (Viju Krem) and threatens her into his grandiose vision for a new show of pain and decadence.  Soaked in black humor, Bloodsucking Freaks highlights shock value moments of Ralphus electrically shocking a woman’s nipples and sawing another’s hand off.  In addition, Sardu takes great pleasure in his domineering role by substituting a nude woman as a dinner table and operating a white slave trafficking ring below his theatre.  A demented dentist is also welcomed into Sardu’s sanctuary to perform an unorthodox surgery on a female prisoner, before he is torn apart by mentally insane slaves.  Teaming up with a corrupt detective, Natasha’s football player boyfriend, Tom Maverick (Niles McMaster) is determined to find his love and tracks her to the twisted theatre.  Brainwashed, Natasha performs a sadistic ballet as she repeatedly kicks the imprisoned critic to death onstage.  

    Thin on plot, Bloodsucking Freaks is an exploitation affair that is best appreciated for its grizzly and over the top moments of bloody carnage.  In addition, the quirky cast of characters are beyond memorable with Sardu and Ralphus‘ peculiar submissive/domineering relationship the oddity that keeps eyes glued to the screen.  Bloodsucking Freaks is also noteworthy for its timeless footage of a seedy New York City before its squeaky clean overhaul.  The sleazy, Soho district captured in the film makes one wonder if Sardu’s torture chamber is really half bad in comparison.  Still shocking and unusual as ever, Bloodsucking Freaks is a freak show of torture, sadomasochism and nude, helpless prisoners bound with no escape in sight.  Repulsively rewarding, Bloodsucking Freaks is essential viewing for all trash cinema aficionados.  

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Bloodsucking Freaks is presented in a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Transferred from the original materials, this shock classic hasn’t aged considerably well.  Riddled with scratches and speckles, black levels appear mostly fuzzy and tough to make out.  Meanwhile, colors are mostly dull with exceptions being Ralphus’s brightly colored sweaters and the overly red blood which pops nicely.  Detail varies from hazy to decent with closeups most impressively picking up the dirt found underneath Ralphus’s fingernails.  Bloodsucking Freaks has never looked breathtaking on any format and it can be easily argued that its grindhouse imperfections benefit the viewing experience.  Troma Entertainment’s transfer is arguably the best the film has looked but that doesn’t necessarily make it pretty.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, Bloodsucking Freaks certainly sounds a pinch better than it appears.  Dialogue is picked up nicely with only minor instances of static and pops throughout.  In addition, shrieking sounds of screams and Michael Sahl’s carny-infused music sound nicely.  Not a wide-ranging track, Bloodsucking Freaks is an audible one that is more than sufficient.

    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    • New Introduction by Lloyd Kaufman

    • New Uncut Version (1:29:54): Running 43 seconds longer than the original cut and incorporating the Sardu, Master of the Screaming Virgins title card, a deleted scene has been reinstated spotlighting Sardu submitting to Ralphus.

    • Audio Commentary with Blood and Guts Expert Eli Roth: Ported over from the original Troma DVD release.

    • Eli Roth Interviews Cast & Crew (3:48): Also ported over from the DVD, Roth sits down with Arlana Blue who appeared as one of the ravenous nude prisoners, the demented dentist Ernie Rysher and Co-Editor Victor Kanefsky.

    • Interview with Eli Roth (20:07): The Cabin Fever director sits down for this newly shot interview recounting his contributions to the original DVD release during the early internet days.  Roth expresses genuine love for the low-budget schlock fest and his appreciation for the sleazy pre-Giuliani New York setting.  Plus, Roth discusses his own films including his upcoming The Green Inferno.

    • Interview with WWE Superstar Chris Jericho (14:32): Longtime fan, Chris Jericho discusses his earliest introduction to the film on VHS.  Jericho’s fascination with the film lead him to introduce an assistant/henchmen named Ralphus during his WCW days.  The former WWE champion also waxes intellectual on some of his favorite horror films including Amityville II: The Possession and Cabin Fever.

    • Theatrical Trailer

    • Tromatic Extras: Includes Radiation March, Tromaloha! and Sell Your Own Damn Spider!

    • Troma Trailers: Return to Nuke’Em High Vol. I, The Toxic Avenger, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and The Taint.

    • DVD Copy

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Hilariously shocking and supremely weird, Bloodsucking Freaks has rightfully earned its status in cult history with a tale of endless torture and eccentric performances like no other.  A minimal plot hardly matters when a perverted dwarf, dismemberments, corrupt cops, a sleazy New York setting and pitch black humor substitute.  While, the original elements’ condition plague the technical side, Troma Entertainment’s Blu-ray treatment  is a rewarding package with a wealth of vintage and newly composed special features for fans to cut into.  Gruesomely fun, Bloodsucking Freaks deserves to be with fans harboring an appreciation for the sick and twisted.

    RATING: 4/5

  • The Sacrament (2013) Blu-ray Review

    The Sacrament (2013)

    Director: Ti West

    Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz & Gene Jones

    Released by: Magnolia Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, comes a tale about the false promise of paradise and its haunting consequences.  Produced by Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), The Sacrament is more fictionalized documentary than “found-footage”, set against the backdrop of our grounded reality.  Grim and terrifying, Magnet Releasing guides you to a utopia of nightmares that will leave you in a state of disbelief and shock.

    The Sacrament centers on Sam (AJ Bowen, You’re Next) and Jake (Joe Swanberg, Proxy), two journalists documenting their friend Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) journey to reunite with his estranged sister (Amy Seimetz, The Killing).  Traveling to a remote, utopian compound known as Eden Parish, the trio are welcomed into the self-sustaining community and introduced to the elderly and mysterious leader, referred to as Father (Gene Jones).  Slowly but surely, things are not what they appear as the outsiders begin fearing for their lives.

    MOVIE:

    From devil-worshippers to hotel haunting poltergeists, Director Ti West has a tendency of pushing the limits of his artistic abilities with each new endeavor.  Inspired by the Jonestown cult that rocked headlines in the 1970s, The Sacrament tells its tale through the lens of a fictionalized documentary.  Vice magazine journalists,  Sam (Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Swanberg) are intrigued by their friend’s desire to reunite with his former drug-addicted sister, Caroline (Seimetz), who now resides out of the country in a remote community.  Upon arriving at Eden Parish, the trio are fascinated by the self-sufficient village and its residents‘ infatuation with their savior, known as Father.  Virtually plucked from obscurity, Gene Jones‘ performance as the elderly commune leader is the domineering force that makes The Sacrament as chilling and absorbing as it is.  Clothed in a simple khaki outfit and sporting tinted aviators reminiscent of Jonestown leader, Jim Jones, Father is seen as a warm, loving individual by his followers.  As Caroline parades her brother around her new home, Sam and Jake interview several parish members before sitting down with Father.  Expertly acted, Sam and Father’s interview beings routine enough with followers watching and applauding Father’s every response.  An ominous tone settles in when Father eerily turns the tables on Sam’s inquiries, using personal information against him.  The interview draws you in with curious information about Eden Parish until Father’s brief, off kilter demeanor sends an uncomfortable chill.  Shortly after, Sam and Jake are pulled aside as several members inform the journalists that Eden Parish is not what it seems.  Genuine fear settles in as Sam and Jake have difficulty locating Patrick the night before their return to New York.  The following morning, Eden Parish appears to be crumbling when residents are denied permission to leave the isolated area, resulting in violent force used against them.  Hunted by Fathers’ devoted followers, Sam and Jake know their fate if they remain at Eden Parish any longer.

    The Sacrament goes to great length to create a sense of realism enhanced by Sam and Jake’s affiliation with the very real Vice magazine, known for its unique journalistic stories.  Captured through the lens of Jake’s camera, the viewer is put in the first person of this very tense and chaotic situation with seemingly no way out.  Mirroring the final 48 hours of Jim Jones‘ infamous cult, The Sacrament’s final act is a grim depiction of the control authoritative religious leaders have on brainwashed followers and the extremes those will go to for the ultimate sacrifice.  Unrelentingly suspenseful and believable, The Sacrament is not only one of the most haunting cinematic experiences in recent years but also, Director Ti West’s finest achievement in terror.

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    The Sacrament is presented with a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally with a documentary flair, the transfer bears no instances of scratches or other such anomalies.  Skin tones are relayed naturally, boasting nice contrast.  Eden Parish’s jungle-like surroundings come across lush while, black levels are handled significantly well considering the lack of more controlled lighting.  With no assistance of tripods and operated entirely handheld, The Sacrament is true to its faux-documentary roots and still looks mighty fine.

    RATING: 4.5/5  

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, The Sacrament’s documentary style enables most of the principal cast to be visibly wired, making dialogue come across clearly as can be.  Moments of more hushed tones, especially when Sam and Jake are fighting sleep after their interview with Father, are audible with no issues.  Tyler Bates‘ ominous score is goosebump-inducing and offers a nice contrast to the relatively quiet film.  More climatic moments including gunshots and the roar of helicopters come across effectively blaring as well.  While, not bearing a groundbreaking sound design, The Sacrament sounds more than satisfying.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Ti West and Stars AJ Bowen & Amy Seimetz: The trio command the commentary track with ease, hardly ever taking a breather.  West expresses his first experience with Composer Tyler Bates to be a rewarding one and his extreme satisfaction with the vastly talented group of extras.  The three friends keep it informative and always enlightening while, also sharing humorous stories from the shoot.  A worthy listen for those hungry for more behind the scenes information.

    • Creating The Sacrament: Revealing the Vision (21:07): Director Ti West along with co-producers Eli Roth, Peter Phok and Jacob Jaffke discuss the early seeds of the project and the breakneck speed it was made.  In addition, the cast explains the approaches to their roles and the real-life incident that inspired the film.  Covering nearly everything worth knowing about the production, this featurette is essential viewing for fans of The Sacrament.

    • Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience (5:56): Cast and crew, many of whom are frequent collaborators, speak highly of the director and commend his genuine passion and rich imagination to each project he brings to life.

    • Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter (4:52): A brief look at the film’s finale showcasing West at work with his actors, blocking the intense sequence.

    • AXS TV: A Look at The Sacrament (3:38): A condensed EPK with cast and crew offering their insights on the production.

    • More from Magnolia Home Entertainment: Trailers include Filth, Nymphomaniac Volume I, The Protector 2 and The Double.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Always challenging himself, Director Ti West opted to tell a truly horrific tale, free of the shelter of supernatural genre elements with glowing results.  Akin to Ruggero Deodato’s iconic faux-documentary, Cannibal Holocaust, The Sacrament tells a familiar tale of an unhinged cult leader inspired by unimaginable real events.  Grim, shocking and unsettling, Gene Jones‘ performance as Father will chill viewers to the bone as his effect on his loyal followers is anything but holy.  The realistic, first person perspective as well the leads‘ Vice magazine positions make accepting The Sacrament as a work of fiction, a tough pill to swallow.  Magnolia Pictures‘ video and audio treatment are exceptional while, the special features package is as informative as one could possibly desire.  A gripping work of terror, The Sacrament is Director Ti West’s finest achievement to date, one that wonderfully exemplifies a gifted filmmaker growing and mastering his craft.

    RATING: 5/5