Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category

Currently showing posts tagged George A. Romero

  • Creepshow 2 (1987) Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

    Creepshow 2 (1987)

    Director: Michael Gornick

    Starring: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour & Tom Savini

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Once again inspired by the moralistic terror tales of EC Comics, Creepshow 2 lures viewers into three stories of the macabre focused on a vengeful Indian statue, an oil slick hungry for teens and a relentless hitchhiker who won’t take no for an answer.  Starring an ensemble roster including, Lois Chiles (Broadcast News), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Dorothy Lamour (The Greatest Show on Earth) and Tom Savini (From Dusk Till Dawn) as The Creeper, Michael Gornick (TV’s Tales from the Darkside) directs the horror anthology sequel.

    Scripted by original Creepshow helmer George A. Romero, the frightening followup, a victim of reduced budgets and scary segments, struggles to achieve the morbidly gleeful heights of its predecessor while making the best of its efforts with occasional moments of eerie excellence.  Drawing horror hounds into the comic carnage via wrap-around segments starring Special Makeup Effects maestro Tom Savini as the ghoulish Creeper, Creepshow 2’s opening tale, Old Chief Wood’nhead, starring George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour in her final performance as elderly general store operators who fall victim to senseless murder is generally dull as board until the shop’s Native American warrior statue comes alive to retrieve an eye for an eye.  As the thieving trio, headed by a notably long-haired and bare chested hoodlum (Holt McCallany, Alien 3), plan to skip town, Old Chief Wood’nhead’s deliciously un-PC scalping of the assailant nearly forgives the installment’s stale buildup.  Meanwhile, an idyllic day at the lake turned deadly earns The Raft the highest honors for the sequel.  When four horny teens find themselves stranded on water, the stalking presence of a foreboding oil slick slimes its way through the cracks of their raft to dine on their young bodies.  As they drop like flies and a pervy attempt at nookie goes south, The Raft keeps suspense central with a splashingly sinister finale fitting for the lone swimmer who couldn’t keep his hormones under control.  Finally, The Hitch-Hiker finds a wealthy businesswoman and gigolo customer roadblocked by nightmarish images of the hitcher she accidentally killed.  Simple yet effective, gunshots and continued car ramming does little to shake the bloodied man who just wants a ride.  Concluding with an expected jump scare and an animated interstitial where a Venus Fly Trap feasts on a four-course meal of schoolyard bullies, Creepshow 2, a staple of late night programming and weekend rentals, may not equal its predecessor’s tighter stories, sense of humor or star power yet, the followup, specifically the strength of its second lakeside segment, captures a nostalgic charm that makes the ride a worthwhile one.

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Creepshow 2 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably revealing more information on either sides of frame more so than previous releases, colors are radiant as can be with details in Old Chief Wood’nhead’s sunbaked features nicely revealed while, the bright yellow speedo and other skimpy swimwear in The Raft pop brightly.  Furthermore, cleanup, outside of fleeting instances of speckles during darker sequences found in The Hitch-Hiker, is top-notch easily making this presentation the best the sequel has ever looked.  Equipped with varying audio options, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix boasts audible dialogue deliveries with the film’s synth-heavy opening title sequence sounding excellent.  Optional LPCM 1.0 Mono and 2.0 Stereo mixes have also been included for your listening pleasure.  

    Well packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Gornick, moderated by Perry Martin, Screenplay for a Sequel with George A. Romero (10:45) where the zombie cultivator discusses his love for the anthology format and heaps praise on Gornick for delivering a quality picture under unideal circumstances, Tales from the Creep with Tom Savini (7:53) finds the actor discussing the technical process of becoming his ghoulish onscreen character, Poncho’s Last Ride with Daniel Beer (14:44) finds The Raft costar reminiscing on the brutal shoot, his health scare with hypothermia during filming and Gornick’s endless support while, The Road to Dover with Tom Wright (13:51) has the trained actor detailing his early professional roots and his skills as a stuntman that helped land him the role as the deadly hitcher.  Other vintage supplements recycled from the Anchor Bay release include, Nightmares in Foam Rubber (32:03) featuring interviews from FX Artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero and My Friend Rick (2:43) where Berger recalls his early encounters and fascination with his mentor Rick Baker while, a Behind-the-Scenes featurette (5:50), Image Gallery (3:34), Trailers & TV Spots (3:24) and the Original Screenplay (BD-ROM) are also on hand.  Finally, a 19-page booklet featuring stills and a new essay entitled Deadtime Stories by Michael Blyth is included along with a Creepshow: Pinfall Limited Edition Comic Book that brings life to one of the sequel’s exorcised segments and a Reversible Cover Art featuring both new imagery by Michael Saputo and the film’s original 1-sheet poster rounding out the hefty bonus offerings.

    Nearing its own 30th anniversary, Creepshow 2 suffers from standard sequelitis and a shortened stack of segments that disrupts its full potential while, persevering to deliver shades of genuine fun.  Although The Raft remains the fan-favorite of the followup, its co-features vary in mileage yet retain a charm that makes revisiting them a pleasurable blast from the past.  In their latest excavation from the Lakeshore catalog, Arrow Video has pulled the curtain back on the much-requested anthology with a definitive video treatment, a handsome stack of supplements and a gorgeously designed package sure to hitch a ride with fans.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available December 13th from Arrow Video in a limited 3,000 unit release, Creepshow 2 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow (2007) Special Edition Blu-ray Review

    Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow (2007)

    Director: Michael Felsher

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Celebrating the first creative collaboration between horror maestro George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and the master of suspense Stephen King, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow delves into the beloved anthologies influences, creation and continued appreciation through interviews with its talented cast and crew 25 years after the film’s original release.

    Previously available on Second Sight’s international Blu-ray release of Creepshow, Director Michael Felsher’s love letter to 1982’s anthology frightfest finally arrives domestically, elevated from its previous stature as a mere supplement to be better appreciated for the singular achievement it is.  Universally hailed as a career milestone for zombie popularizer George A. Romero, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow hosts a feature-length retrospective on the film that explores its obvious EC Comics influences and the chance encounter and eventual friendship between Romero and King that would generate their horrific nostalgia-driven opus.  Featuring detailed insight into the film’s development, Romero, Producer Richard P. Rubinstein (Dawn of the Dead, Martin) and Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, The Burning) are prominently on hand to discuss the swift 60 day period King took to compose the screenplay, casting more well-known faces than previously used before in other Romero productions and the groundbreaking effects work utilized to bring the film’s monstrous segments to life.  While King is noticeably absent along with new sit-downs from stars including, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson and Hal Holbrook, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow welcomes genre legends Tom Atkins (Halloween III: Season of the Witch), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog) and most impressively, Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind) as they look back on the making of the film with warm memories, most humorously about Nielsen’s onset practical jokes and his knee-slapping usage of a fart machine.  Also covering extensive ground from behind the scenes talent, Felsher’s documentary spotlights Bernie Wrightson’s artistic contributions to the film’s comic book infused sequences while, First Assistant Director John Harrison details his impressive musical abilities landing him composing duties on the shoot.  Exceptionally thorough, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow joins the ranks of other finely realized retrospectives on genre pictures that provides fans with invaluable insight into the film’s making with vivid detail from its makers.

    Synapse Films presents Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  As a purveyor of bonus features for several genre labels through his Red Shirt Pictures banner, Felsher’s camerawork and interview footage appears unsurprisingly clean and fluid with sharp clarity throughout.  While vintage material and photographs from Creepshow’s shoot is noticeably of lesser quality at times, the doc’s presentation remains professionally rich.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is perfectly clear throughout making this predominately talky track most pleasing.  As bloated as its feature is extensive, the whopping assortment of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director/Editor Michael Felsher plus, a second Audio Commentary featuring Interviews with Actor John Amplas, Property Master Bruce Alan Miller & Make-Up Effects Assistant Darryl Ferruccui.  Furthermore, Creepshow Days with Michael Gornick (8:01) finds the Creepshow 2 director discussing his role as cinematographer on the original film and its impressive special effects work.  Also included, Tom Savini’s Behind-the-Screams (26:31) shares rough video recorded footage of the film’s effects in progress, Extended Interview Segments (23:45) with George A. Romero, Tom Savini and Bernie Wrightston plus, Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark (14:56) where the spiky-haired horror host explores some of the film’s shooting locations today.  Finally, a Vintage 1982 Evening Magazine Segment (7:31), a Behind-the-Scenes of Creepshow Photo Gallery (8:30) and most excitingly, Scream Greats Volume One: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects (52:54) makes its long-awaited home video rerelease following its VHS debut 30 years earlier.

    While many horror aficionados abroad may already possess Felsher’s top-notch effort, domestic viewers who patiently waited for the definitive companion to Romero and King’s classic chiller to arrive have been handsomely rewarded.  Unlike other modern documentaries whose focus covers decades long franchises and their endless sequels, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow makes its one picture coverage an endlessly engaging watch for a game changing anthology that has undeniably stood the test of time.  Distributed by Synapse Films, this special edition release arrives with enough supplemental offerings including, the fan favorite Scream Greats installment that will undoubtedly tide fans over for the foreseeable future.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 12th from Synapse Films, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow can be purchased via Synapse-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hell of the Living Dead (1980) / Rats: Night of Terror (1984) Blu-ray Review

    Hell of the Living Dead (1980) / Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

    Director: Bruno Mattei

    Starring: Margit Evelyn Newton & Frank Garfield / Ottaviano Dell’Acqua & Geretta Gereatta

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Two Italian shockers paired up in one blood-curdling, high-definition double feature!  Under the watchful direction of Bruno Mattei (Women’s Prison Massacre) comes flesh-eating zombies and highly intelligent vermin yearning for blood.  Over the top and insanely gory, Blue Underground proudly presents both films newly transferred from their original uncut and uncensored prints, packed with bonus content!

    After an accident at a chemical plant unleashes a deadly virus, a highly trained SWAT team are sent to New Guinea to investigate.  Shortly after arriving, flesh-eating zombies welcome their latest meals.  Joined by an investigative reporter, can these civilians survive this Hell of the Living Dead?  Next up, Rats: Night of Terror takes place in the year 225 A.B. (“after the bomb”), where a group of formerly underground scavengers discover an abandoned laboratory and a swarm of bloodthirsty rats.  Short on ammunition, will the last of the human race survive the night against the killer vermin?

    MOVIE(s):

    Also known as Virus and Night of the Zombies, Hell of the Living Dead follows familiar waters that George A. Romero beautifully crafted in 1968.  Broadening its horizons, this Italian gut-muncher succeeds by feeling like several different films in one.  Kicking off with a deadly accident at the Hope chemical plant, a catastrophic virus is unleashed morphing humans into flesh-eating savages.  Shortly after, an intense hostage standoff takes place between SWAT teams and crazed terrorists demanding the fall of the Hope corporation.  Bearing witness to the relationship amongst four SWAT members who end the situation, the group is shipped off to New Guinea to investigate the plant’s accident.  Navigating the lush jungles, the team encounter investigative reporter Lia Rousseau (Margit Evelyn Newton, The Adventures of Hercules II).  With the area in peril from zombies, the civilians team up to survive the nightmare.  With exceptionally effective gore on display, the SWAT team still have difficulty remembering to aim for the head after being reminded countless times by one of their own.  Utilizing documentary footage, Hell of the Living Dead morphs once again, feeling akin to a faux-cannibal documentary.  Encountering jungle tribes, Rousseau sheds clothing and applies face paint to mingle and gain information, only to discover the jungle is swarming with countless undead limb lickers.  Throughly entertaining, Hell of the Living Dead climaxes with a government coverup revelation and one of the most “eye-popping” deaths in zombie history.  Admittedly, this Italian gorefest missteps only by keeping the majority of the cast alive until the final few moments.  Shedding substantial victims earlier would have upped the suspense, but luckily the film still works.  In true Italian fashion, Hell of the Living Dead is a consistently bloody piece of early 80s zombie goodness, sure to please gorehounds.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Adhering to the post-apocalyptic setting popularized by George Miller’s Mad Max, Rats: Night of Terror takes place in the aftermath of world obliteration.  A group of scavenging road warriors discover an abandoned laboratory in search of supplies, only to discover deadly rats.  Hilarious and surprisingly brutal, the motorcycle riding group bear rebelliously retro names such as Video and Chocolate.  Incorporating clunky 80s computer technology, the leather clad team spew laugh out loud dialogue while, combatting the highly intelligent vermin with firearms and flamethrowers.  In addition, friction amongst the friends creates turmoil when working together against the creepy critters.  Rats: Night of Terror has a wildly likable cast that suffer gruesome deaths at the paws of the disease-ridden killers.  Providing action, blood and brief T&A, Rats: Night of Terror fits the bill for a quality effort in post-apocalyptic fun.  While, the final act may feel like it loses minor steam, the identity reveal of the surviving road warriors‘ savior is nearly worth the entire film.  Absurdly cheesy and rarely dull, Rats: Night of Terror turns the ravaged world genre on its head with B-movie traits that get the job done.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Uncut and uncensored from their original negatives, both films are presented with 1080p widescreen transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Virtually free of any anomalies such as scratches or dirt, each film looks remarkably clean while, retaining a fine natural layer of grain.  Skin tones appear vivid with colors, most appreciatively during bloodier moments, popping exceptionally well.  Hell of the Living Dead’s stock footage sequences appear only mildly inferior while, black levels are handled respectfully.  Shot entirely at night with actors wearing darker wardrobe, several sequences in Rats: Night of Terror appear slightly softer than others, but never deal-breaking.  Both films have never looked better warranting Blue Underground praise for their superb treatment.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mixes, both films sound wonderfully crisp with dialogue coming off clearly.  No hisses or pops to speak of on either audio track.  In addition, the always reliable Goblin, with their freaky and frantic score in Hell of the Living Dead offers a nicely balanced boost while, Composer Luigi Ceccarelli’s synth-heavy score in Rats: Night of Terror is relayed nicely.  Some of Ceccarelli’s music queues begin with decreased volume before stabilizing to full blast.  Barely noticeable, it appears to be more of an issue with the original recording.  Overall, both films couldn’t have sounded better and will leave you bopping your head to their infectious scores.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Bonded by Blood - Interviews with Co-Writer/Co-Director Claudio Fragasso and Stars Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua & Massimo Vanni (50:14): This lengthy sit down with several key participants of both films finds Fragasso citing Soylent Green and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as direct inspirations for Hell of the Living Dead.  In addition, Fragasso meets up with Ottaviano Dell’Acqua and Massimo Vanni, who played Kurt and Taurus respectively in Rats: Night of Terror, as they visit the original filming locations and reminisce.  Covering much detail, this featurette is a treat to sit down with.  

    • Hell Rats of the Living Dead - Interview with Director Bruno Mattei (8:39): Before passing in 2007, Mattei explains here that Rats: Night of Terror was essentially his re-telling of Night of the Living Dead, replacing zombies with rats.  In addition, Mattei reveals the difficulty shooting with the animals and that many of them were guinea pigs in disguise.  Mattei also recounts his satisfaction with the stock footage working so well in Hell of the Living Dead and his personal appreciation for Goblin which led to their involvement in scoring the film.

    • International Trailer #1 (2:09): Bearing the Rats: Night of Terror title.

    • International Trailer #2 (3:54): An extended trailer of Rats: Night of Terror utilizing the alternate Blood Kill title.

    • Italian Trailer (3:56): Rats: Notte di terrore

    • Poster & Still Gallery: 64 slides in total.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Fans of blood-soaked Italian cinema will revel in this latest Blu-ray double feature from Blue Underground.  While, both films have their minor shortcomings, Hell of the Living Dead is a supremely gory zombie film with wonderful effects work and the ability to dabble in multiple genres, leading to one entertaining experience.  Meanwhile, post-apocalyptic thrills await in Rats: Night of Terror with dingy settings, uproarious dialogue and thousands of hyper-intelligent critters dying for human flesh.  Blue Underground has done a tremendous job preserving two, nonstop Italian splatterfests in glorious detail with over an hour of comprehensive bonus content to enjoy as well.  While, their output may not be as frequent as other labels, this ridiculously entertaining double feature is just another reminder of the esteemed quality standards Blue Underground upholds.

    RATING: 4.5/5  

  • Reel Zombies (2008) Special Edition DVD Review

    Reel Zombies (2008)
    Director(s): Mike Masters & David J. Francis
    Starring: Mike Masters, David J. Francis, Stephen Papadimitriou, Sam Hall & Paul Fler
    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Since the golden days of Romero to the recent runaway success of The Walking Dead, zombies have held a grasp on audiences for decades.  With inflated budgets and A-list talent attaching themselves to projects of the living dead, originality is running stale in the genre.  Queue a Canadian team of indie filmmakers with a shoestring budget and playing themselves onscreen to inject some fresh blood.  Synapse Films proudly presents a satirical mockumentary about a ragtag group of friends attempting to stage their latest zombie flick amongst a very real zombie apocalypse.  Grab your weapons and most importantly, your filming equipment as we capture a peek of Reel Zombies...

    Reel Zombies stars Mike Masters and David J. Francis, appearing as themselves, as they eagerly attempt to complete the third film in their Zombie Night trilogy.  Set in the real world of a post zombie apocalypse, Masters and Francis gather up as many of their friends and real zombies to pull off this exciting venture.  With a dirt cheap budget and production woes every step of the way, a documentary crew follows their progress as the danger of actual flesh eating zombies slowly becomes their smallest worry.

    MOVIE:
    While, the zombie genre has grown tired with its overwhelming amount of awareness amongst the masses, a few promising efforts have impressed, most notably World War Z, Shaun of the Dead and Cockneys VS. Zombies.  With so many similar projects competing for audiences‘ attention, it becomes difficult to gauge the entertainment and originality factor for said projects.  The zombie genre has transformed little since George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead debuted, but any attempt to try something unique always attracts attention.  Reel Zombies, completed in 2008, attempts to spin a Christopher Guest-esque mockumentary against a zombie breakout with mostly successful results.  Directors Mike Masters and David J. Francis appear as themselves, along with the rest of their indie filmmaking cronies, when sheer boredom inspires them to shoot a new fictional zombie flick in their infested Canadian homestead.  The charm of Reel Zombies comes from the naturalistic quality of the cast that invites their actual offscreen friendships and humor to shine.  Contrary to popular belief, when asked to “act natural”, most people do the opposite and are not self aware enough to let their true personalities show.  The cast of Reel Zombies have no issue showcasing who they are, opening the floodgates for hilarious banter at every turn.  The documentary that is simultaneously being shot on the making of the film, which is constantly labeled as a mere EPK (Electronic Press Kit, for those unaware) by the cast, captures the good and bad but mostly, the bad.  The fly on the wall footage echos moments of The Office where dimwitted conversation is caught while trying to stage sequences.  Wrangling the real zombies becomes difficult as cast members turn up dead, forcing the makers of the film to take on a “pain is temporary, film is forever” stance and press on.  Reel Zombies not only works as an indie effort in zombie films but, as an effective showcase of the struggles of low-budget filmmaking.  The viewer walks away well informed on many stages of the process without ever feeling like they witnessed a tutorial.

    Reel Zombies works decently as the satirical mockumentary it is but, struggles to shake its less than stellar low-budget feel.  Surely intended, but by the final act, the aesthetic just begins to lose its mojo when the real zombies slowly take over.  As the viewer, we’re supposed to acknowledge these “real” zombies as threats that are endangering our heros but, unfortunately they appear no different than the mock-zombies found in the fictional film.  While, the final act finds the entire cast, with the exception of the documentary crew, meeting an unfortunate end, Reel Zombies still walks away as a decent independent effort that dared to be original.  With a slightly bigger budget and the right cast, Reel Zombies could easily be remade with even better results, but this small Canadian production did a fine job with everything they didn’t have.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Synapse Films presents Reel Zombies in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer.  Captured through the lens of the documentary crews‘ digital camera, the film matches its intended look with off the cuff interviews and shaky camera movements.  The video presentation isn’t flawless but still captures detail and colors quite nicely.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, Reel Zombies captures dialogue decently especially in on camera interviews but moments where several people are speaking at once, most notably during the script’s table read, the audio becomes overwhelmed and slightly muffled.  Overall, a decent mix that is relayed sufficiently.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Directors Mike Masters & David J. Francis and Producer Stephen Papadimitriou: The three friends discuss the genesis of the project as well as their past efforts.  Humor and laughter run rampant as well as informative anecdotes about the shoot.

    - Deleted Scenes and Outtakes: Over 40 minutes worth of material.

    - Original Trailer

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    Reel Zombies is a decent and unique stab at the zombie genre through the eyes of a satirical mockumentary.  The core cast and makers of the film succeed in letting their offscreen personalities shine, creating some truly funny moments.  While, the low-budget angle is clearly intended, it simultaneously hurts the production when attempting to make the real zombies appear menacing.  Synapse Films did a great service acquiring this earnest indie flick which doubles as an informative crash course in no-budget filmmaking.  The video and audio presentation are suitable with a supplemental package of decent extras worth exploring.  Reel Zombies may not be perfect but, it’s desire to try something wildly unique from other zombie efforts deserves a look.
    RATING: 3/5