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  • The Unholy (1988) Blu-ray Review

    The Unholy (1988)

    Director: Camilo Vila

    Starring: Ben Cross, Ned Beatty, William Russ, Jill Carroll, Hal Holbrook & Trevor Howard

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in New Orleans where a dark underbelly of satanic worship resides, The Unholy centers on Father Michael (Ben Cross, Chariots of Fire), the newly appointed priest of St. Agnes Church.  Following the brutal and unsolved murders of the parishes previous pastors, an ungodly evil threatens the house of worship with Michael’s pure soul being its last hope of survival.  Ned Beatty (Toy Story 3), William Russ (Boy Meets World), Jill Carroll (Psycho II), Hal Holbrook (The Fog) and Trevor Howard (The Third Man) costar.

    Channeling the satanic allure of The Exorcist and The Omen having been originally scripted in their wake and revived more than a decade later, The Unholy injects more special-effects wizardry into its proceedings where demonic beasts and grisly deaths reign while struggling to remain narratively appealing.  Miraculously surviving a fall off a building, Father Michael is appointed to reopen the dormant St. Agnes Church in New Orleans following the tragic murder of his predecessor.  Considered to be “the chosen one” by his mentors, Father Michael is quickly haunted by nightmarish visions of a seductive temptress while investigating the unsolved murders plaguing his church.  Stumbling upon a black magic-worshipping nightclub in his research, Father Michael’s encounter with teenage runaway Millie (Carroll), who confided in the deceased Father Dennis, begins to reveal a frightening truth.  Skeptical of Millie’s insistence that demonic forces are at play, strange occurrences including, a dog slain at the church’s alter and threats made by Millie’s club-owning over protector Luke (Russ) persist.  Juxtaposing between more nightmare-fueled visions of the scantly clad vixen and a victim, intestines gruesomely hanging, displayed as an inverted cross, The Unholy pays off with gory sights and a faith vs. demonic monster showdown during its climax yet, fails to dig deeper into Father Michael’s psyche as the chosen one.  Furthermore, while potential reasons and accused culprits behind the sinister happenings are unnecessarily named, none prove conclusive and simply serve as a way to buffer the runtime and muddy the waters of an effort best blamed simply on the devil.  Mildly taxing for these reasons yet, redeeming in its showcase of visual effects, creature designs and the red stuff, The Unholy offers more in its style than its substance.

    Debuting as the tenth inclusion of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Lionsgate presents The Unholy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Photographed during nighttime sequences or under dimly-lit circumstances, black levels are commendable while occasionally looking grainier than desired.  Furthermore, skin tones are natural with Millie’s 80s-centric makeup popping nicely.  Although the film’s few daytime sequences of sunshine understandably soften up the picture, this softness, although not wildly overwhelming, carries over throughout much of the film, appearing not as sharp as one would hope but also not an uncommon sight for lower-budgeted films from this era.  Meanwhile, moments of neck-torn gore and detail observed in the demonic creatures earn some of the transfer’s highest marks of clarity.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue never disappoints while, the film’s synth-heavy score by Roger Bellon (Waxwork) sounds excellent.  

    Exceptionally packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Camilo Vila, Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon, an Audio Interview with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca, featuring Isolated Selections from his Unused Score.  Also included, Sins of the Father with Ben Cross (19:09) where the film’s star covers his adolescent fascination with the arts, attending drama school, early days rooming with the film’s director and praise for his costars.  Demons in the Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy (22:26) catches up with Make-Up Effects Designer Jerry Macaluso who scored the job on the feature as a teenager in high school with additional insight into the film’s reworked ending from Art Director/Additional Special Effects Unit Steve Hardie and Effects Artist/Special Effects Unit Neil Gorton.  Prayer Offerings with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (18:35) and the Original Ending featuring Optional Audio Commentary with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (15:02) are also on-hand while, the Theatrical Trailer (1:17), TV Spots (2:15), Radio Spots (2:25), an Original Storyboard Gallery (18:40) and a Still Gallery (11:51) round out this five-star offering of supplements conducted by the tireless Red Shirt Pictures.

    An imperfect tale of satanic seduction that rightly has its dedicated fans, The Unholy certainly has its moments of fright-filled anarchy but has difficulty crafting characters that command our attention.  Worshippers of the black magic horror opus will be overjoyed by its inclusion in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series that blesses it with a respectable HD upgrade and an ungodly awesome stash of newly recorded bonus extras.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 27th from Lionsgate, The Unholy can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hardcore (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Hardcore (1979)

    Director: Paul Schrader

    Starring: George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley, Dick Sargent & Ilah Davis

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Writer/Director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo), Hardcore explores the seedy underbelly of pornography when religiously devout Midwesterner Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott, The Hustler) scours Los Angeles to find his missing daughter subjected to the sex-driven trade.  Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein), Season Hubley (Elvis), Dick Sargent (Bewitched) and Ilah Davis in her only feature film co-star.

    Haunting and uncomfortably captivating, Paul Schrader’s descent into the sleazy subculture of peep shows and underage pornography stabs like a knife that equally shocks and emotionally runs it toll on audiences and its traumatized characters alike.  Leading a simple life in the chilly, religiously-minded Grand Rapids, businessman and single father Jake Van Dorn sees his young daughter Kristen (Davis) off on a church sanctioned getaway to sunny California when every parent’s worst nightmare comes true.  Alerted that the adolescent girl has gone missing, Van Dorn wastes little time heading to Los Angeles where the local authorities offer little assistance outside of recommending the hire of a private detective.  Foul-mouthed and unorthodox, the troubled father enlists the services of Andy Mast (Boyle) who makes the harrowing discovery of a ratty stag film starring the precocious teen.  Virtually impossible to track and overcome with pain and anger, Van Dorn takes matters into his own hands to locate his child, leading him through a sensory shocking exploration of the adult film underworld and its unsavory operators.  Asking questions best left unanswered before masquerading as a film producer to better infiltrate his surroundings, the straight-laced Calvinist’s connection to a working girl (Hubley) with insider access sends the mismatched pair to the illuminated porn palaces and bathhouses of San Diego and Frisco where more depraved alleyways are opened to Van Dorn.  Subjected to grizzly snuff films and entry into bondage-style dungeons, the forever changed parent reaches rock bottom when a gut-wrenching revelation is made on his surreal odyssey of turmoil.

    Capturing the bygone storefronts and coin-operated sex shows of the Sunset Strip, Hardcore is an authentically gripping and viscerally effective feature that leaves scars long after its end credits fade to black.  The Academy Award winning Scott is exceptional as a father struggling to salvage his faith in the gutters of S&M debauchery while, Boyle makes for an intriguingly sordid private eye with sex on the mind.  In addition, Season Hubley greatly impresses in her role as the street hustling key to Van Dorn’s daughter with early appearances from Tracey Walter (Repo Man) as a perfectly cast adult store clerk and Ed Begley Jr. (St. Elsewhere) as a fully dressed porn star, also on hand.  Crafting outsider personalities and bringing hypnotic allure to urban decay like no other, Schrader’s West Coast-based feature, although narratively unique, serves as a welcome companion piece to his scripted Taxi Driver masterwork that both host psychologically wounded characters suffocating within their dark environments.  Although easing the brakes on a more appropriately traumatizing conclusion, Hardcore still leaves viewers in a state of awe and disbelief by the sights and sounds most would assume only reside in nightmares and not the very real crevices of our imperfect society.

    Limited to 3,000 units, Twilight Time presents Hardcore with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting natural film grain throughout with spot-on facial tones and soothing contrast, Schrader’s sophomore feature arrives free of scuffs and scratches with vastly impressive black levels seen during its many nighttime street sequences and in the backrooms of porn shops.  In addition, detail is striking with easily seen fingerprints on peep show booths plus, boastful colors admired though neon-lit lighting and Scott’s Hawaiian shirts greatly impress.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the track is far from spellbinding or wildly dynamic but, prioritizes dialogue and makes Composer Jack Nitzsche's (Cruising, Stand by Me) trembling guitar chords wholly impactful.  Special features include, a new 2016 recorded Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Paul Schrader followed by an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer & Paul Scrabo.  In addition, an Isolated Score Track, the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:21) and a 6-page booklet featuring another excellently authored essay by Julie Virgo conclude the supplemental package.

    One of Schrader’s most accomplished efforts that unquestionably influenced Joel Schumacher’s snuff film thriller 8MM two decades later, Hardcore is an unflinchingly brutal assault on parental fears and broken faith set under the hot, throbbing lights of pornography skid row.  Shocking and emotionally draining, Twilight Time ushers the controversial classic onto Blu-ray with a definitive presentation, chatty and informative commentary tracks from its creator and well-versed historians plus, engaging liner notes making the release essential to any 70s film enthusiast.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now and limited to 3,000 units from Twilight Time, Hardcore can be purchased exclusively via TwilightTimeMovies.com and ScreenArchives.com.

  • The Reverend (2011) DVD Review

    The Reverend (2011)
    Director: Neil Jones
    Starring: Stuart Brennan, Tamer Hassan, Emily Booth, Doug Bradley & Rutger Hauer
    Released by: Level 33 Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The eternal battle between good and evil continues in a cautionary tale about belief and temptation.  Sworn by his oath to the church, a young Reverend’s life at his new parish are put to the test after learning of the village’s dark side.  Filled with spiritual themes and gory violence, Level 33 Entertainment proudly presents The Reverend.  Starring genre vets including Doug Bradley (Hellraiser) and Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), The Reverend advises you to cling to your faith before experiencing this soul-scorching film...

    The Reverend stars Stuart Brennan (Risen) as a young clergyman, who shortly after delivering his first sermon, is savagely bitten on the neck by a beautiful woman.  Surviving the attack, the Reverend simultaneously develops an uncontrollable thirst for blood and learns the dark nature that plagues his community.  Overrun by drugs and prostitution, the Reverend uses his new abilities to bring justice to the sinners of the village.  Based on an unpublished graphic novel, the film co-stars Tamer Hassan (Batman Begins), Emily Booth (Doghouse), Doug Bradley (Nightbreed) and Rutger Hauer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

    MOVIE:
    Opening with a confrontation between God (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and Satan (Rutger Hauer) debating the soul of a devoted clergyman, The Reverend appears promising enough.  Sadly, this all too brief appearance from cult icon Hauer will mark his only moment in the film.  Showcasing panels from the unpublished graphic novel over the opening credits, the film attempts to attract a Sin City-esque spirit with miserable results.  The Reverend presents a decent enough plot but stumbles in selling it properly to the viewer.  Consumed with overlong dialogue sequences that seemingly go nowhere, The Reverend reeks of a production plagued by a director wearing one too many hats.  Interestingly enough, Director Neil Jones not only directed but, wrote and produced the film which could explain much.  Presumably staying true to the source material, the film manages to suffer even with a plot centered around a vampiric Reverend sworn to achieve justice.  The lack of excitement is substituted with more scenes of talkative mumbo-jumbo that suggests a director’s unwillingness to yell “cut”.  Luckily, Stuart Brennan’s lead performance is an earnest one that is only stunted from the subpar screenplay and lack of direction.  Brennan’s descent into vampirism is borderline laughable as he attends a gothic film club meeting and researches the mythology in an internet cafe.  One would assume that a Reverend researching vampires in public would raise quite a few eyebrows.  In addition, genre vet, Doug Bradley’s (Hellraiser), brief role as a fellow clergyman is so futile that any second rate actor could have accomplished it.  What the film lacks in action and depth, slightly makes up for in gore.  Savage neck bites and stabbings are on full display in well-achieved graphic detail.

    The Reverend attempted a unique tale on vampires and faith that fell apart almost immediately.  Mindless direction and an anti-climatic ending firmly planted the stake in this missed opportunity.  Stuart Brennan’s satisfactory performance and the surprising amount of blood utilized in the few violent sequences are credited as the film’s only saving graces.  The lack of publication for the graphic novel begs the question how a film adaptation was ever green lit.
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    Level 33 Entertainment presents The Reverend in a widescreen transfer that is generally acceptable.  The film possesses a rather muted look with a lack of colors.  Detail is decent in faces and wardrobe while, black levels vary in quality from scene to scene.  The digital cameras used are evident giving the film a noticeable digital-age quality that removes you from the experience.  The transfer isn’t horrendous, but it’s nothing that deserves praise either.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, The Reverend sounds pretty awful.  The opening scene between Radice and Hauer captures a far echo-ier sound than needed, restraining dialogue from being heard properly.  In addition, the remainder of dialogue scenes never pack a solid punch forcing one to continue raising the volume which hardly helps.  Brennan’s narrations are painfully low with background music all but overpowering his words making each moment far from audible.  A disappointing mix that constricts the viewing experience.
    RATING: 2/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Behind the Scenes Slideshow: Over 40 shots are on display.

    - Trailer

    RATING: 1/5

    OVERALL:
    The Reverend presented itself with a promising story but failed in delivering.  The film feels lifeless, struggling to push the narrative with overlong dialogue sequences that halt  any exciting energy it could have had.  The appearances from the talented Bradley and Hauer are too brief to even be remembered, while Brennan achieves decent emotion but only sinks due to the film’s inability to be more enthralling.  Level 33 Entertainment’s video presentation is adequate but greatly suffers from a horrendous audio mix and subpar special features.  The disappointment of this curious concept can be firmly laid to rest, six feet below.
    RATING: 2/5