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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.

  • 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.

  • Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014)

    Director: Bobs Gannaway

    Starring: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, Stacy Keach & Hal Holbrook

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From DisneyToon Studios, Dusty Crophopper and a new gang of soaring characters take to the skies in this action-adventure follow-up.  Confronted with hard truths, accomplished racer Dusty, must adapt to his new situation in order to help those closest to him.  Dane Cook (Dan in Real Life) returns to voice the cropduster who could as he faces endless obstacles and dangers on his road to becoming a firefighter.  Above the world of Cars, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment proudly presents Planes: Fire & Rescue.

    Following the success of world racer Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook), Planes: Fire & Rescue finds the noble former cropduster confronted with crushing news about his malfunctioning gearbox.  With his racing career halted, an accident caused by Dusty signals the inadequate firefighting capabilities of Propwash Junction airport.  In order to reopen, Dusty heads to Piston Peak National Park to undergo firefighting training by working side by side with seasoned vets and combating intense blazes.  Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Curtis Armstrong (American Dad!), John Michael Higgins (Bad Teacher), Hal Holbrook (Lincoln), Teri Hatcher (Coraline), Stacy Keach (American History X) and Cedric the Entertainer (Larry Crowne) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Following the underdog formula of Cars, the original Planes skyrocketed from direct-to- video captivity to become a theatrical box-office smash.  Released only a year later, Planes: Fire & Rescue ambitiously moves the story in new directions with unimaginative results.  While, avoiding repetition and implementing more action, the sequel lacks colorful supporting characters and bolsters a dull narrative.  Moments of genuine emotion are halted far too quickly to be effective and the intended humor fails to register.  Dusty’s lively friends and co-racers from the original film are nonexistent or regulated to cameos, making way for a squad of new unmemorable characters.  Training with an efficient team of wilderness firefighters, headed by Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), Dusty hopes to find a new purpose in life while, restoring safety to his hometown.  Filled with visually impressive sequences of fire blazing action, Planes: Fire & Rescue ultimately registers as all fluff and little flair.

    Incorporating rock tunes from AC/DC and various pop culture references (Howard the Truck), Planes: Fire & Rescue should be commended for its willingness to experiment but, fails to obtain the simple charms that made its predecessor a delight.  Headlined by an impressive voice cast, the performers find difficulty making the shallow story and weak characters gel.  As a professed fan of the original, Planes: Fire & Rescue offers splendid, at times gorgeous, animation with an action-heavy emphasis but, in the end, nosedives into mediocrity.

    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:

    Where its narrative falters, its high-definition appearance soars.  Arriving with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, Plane: Fire & Rescue possesses the pristine charm of Disney’s newly released animated features.  Bright and bold, colors pop off the screen, ranging from the varying spectrums of the planes and the glorious scenery.  Black levels are handled with care, appearing with no crush or digital noise, allowing for optimal clarity.  In addition, scenes of intense inferno allow for impressive detail of the element to shine through.  Once again, Disney flies high with a pitch perfect transfer for viewers to marvel at.  

    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, Planes: Fire & Rescue registers loud and clearly with more than satisfying results.  Dialogue is crisp with only minor moments of sound effects and music dampening its volume.  The wailing wind as the planes soar by and the crackling fire are effective and balanced nicely throughout the mix.  Music including, Spencer Lee’s “Still I Fly”, is always given priority and forcefully invades your speakers.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular (5:55): In this exclusive short, Dusty and Chug have to fill in for absent stunt show performers, Air Devil Jones and Vademonium, resulting in hilarity.

    • Welcome to Piston Peak! (2:49): Faux vintage commercial for the wilderness area seen in the film.

    • “CHoPs” TV Promo (0:45)

    • Air Attack: Firefighters From the Sky (4:47): Producer Ferell Barron and Director Bobs Gannaway tour a California Air Attack base giving viewers an inside look at the brave firefighters‘ rigorous training and complex equipment.

    • Deleted Scenes (4:32): Two scenes including Honkers and Dusty’s Dream No More are accompanied by intros from Producer Ferell Barron and Director Bobs Gannaway.

    • “Still I Fly” Music Video by Spencer Lee (1:31)

    • Animated Shorts: Dipper (1:45) and Smoke Jumpers (1:44).

    • Sneak Peeks: Promos for the Disney Store, Star Wars Rebels and Maleficent.

    • DVD Edition

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 2.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Hardly taking a breather after the original film’s success, Planes: Fire & Rescue zoomed into theaters less than a year later with lesser reverence.  Willing to spread its creative wings, this continuation ups the action but, substitutes humorous characters for uninspired ones.  DisneyToon Studios, predominately responsible for direct-to-video work including the popular Tinkerbell franchise, simultaneously delivers sensational animation and a hollow story.  Fortunately, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray shines in every way possible from bold colors to quality sound mixing.  With the exception of the enjoyable Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular short, special features are rather scant and uneventful.  Released theatrically in 3D, Planes: Fire & Rescue joins Maleficent as the latest Disney offering to unfortunately evade a 3D Blu-ray release.  While, Planes: Fire & Rescue may entertain younger audiences, its hasty release and monotonous narrative limit a wider appeal.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available November 4thPlanes: Fire & Rescue can be purchased through Disney.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.