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Currently showing posts tagged Halloween

  • 31 (2016) Blu-ray Review

    31 (2016)

    Director: Rob Zombie

    Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Richard Brake, Lew Temple, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson & Malcom McDowell

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When a group of carnival workers are abducted on Halloween night, 31 finds them imprisoned in a deranged compound and forced to partake in a sadistic game.  Tasked to stay alive for 12 hours against crazed clowns and other homicidal deviants, the unfortunate players must band together in hopes of seeing dawn.

    Impressively funded by a successful fan backed campaign, 31 returns horror maestro Rob Zombie to the 70s-style foundation of his earliest films with a morbid depravity and artistic freedom not seen since 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects.  Following the rapid abduction of five traveling carnival workers, 31 finds the unsuspecting quintet at the mercy of three aristocratic lunatics.  Forced to take part in their annual game at the labyrinth-esque compound known as Murderworld, the frightened friends must survive 12 grueling hours, relying only on their resourcefulness and willingness to live, to defend themselves against crazed Nazi midgets, chainsaw-wielding madmen and terrifying clowns determined to annihilate them before time’s up.  Headed by Sheri Moon Zombie in her most tenacious role since Baby Firefly, the tightly-budgeted bloodbath welcomes newcomers Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs (Welcome Back, Kotter), Kevin Jackson (Rosewood) and Jane Carr (Dear John) to Zombie’s latest carnival of madness while, other such former collaborators including, Jeff Daniel Phillips (The Lords of Salem), Meg Foster (They Live), Malcolm McDowell (Halloween) among others beef out the impressive company of victims and slayers.  While 31 arguably boasts Zombie’s goriest and most deranged set pieces to date, its screenplay, admittedly secondary to its onscreen carnage, suffers from unavoidably trashy stereotypes common to varying degrees in previous Zombie efforts.  In addition, although the vast majority of 31’s characters fail to leave lasting impressions, the House of 1,000 Corpses helmer does succeed in bringing to life another worthy antagonist in Doom-Head whose performance by Richard Brake (Batman Begins), performed with perversion, eloquence and blood splattered clown makeup, single handily steals the show.  Serving as horror’s unrestrained answer to The Running Man with a finale that excellently demonstrates Zombie’s melding of music selections to his imagery, 31 falls somewhere in between the best and more problematic of the fright maker’s modest filmography, valued best for its buckets of blood and live or die obstacles.

    Lionsgate presents 31 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of its sun-bleached daytime openings and closings, Zombie’s latest shrouds itself in overwhelming darkness and dimly lit sets in the various sections of Murderworld where black levels rank strongly.  While occasionally murky levels and scant digital noise obstruct detail in skin tones, quality is overwhelmingly positive with the film’s few bolder colors seen in bright red blood, Sheri Moon Zombie’s yellow-blonde hair and Doom-Head’s smudged face paint noticeably standing out for the better.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that projects dialogue clearly at all times, the track captures the echoey ambiance of Murderworld’s quieter nooks with swift precision while, screams, chainsaw clatter and suspenseful guitar riffs provide excellent oomph to the festivities.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rob Zombie and In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31 (2:11:27), a five-part and rewardingly in-depth documentary common to most of Zombie’s other features that explores the film’s journey from pre-production through its speedy 20 day film shoot.  In addition, an Also from Lionsgate (9:27) section boasting trailers for Blair Witch, The Devil’s Rejects, Cell, Knock Knock and Cooties are included alongside a Digital HD Code.  While supplemental volume may seem scant, the comprehensiveness of the offerings are made up for in their top-tier quality.

    One strictly for the gorehounds, 31 does little to stretch the creative wings of Zombie but succeeds greatly in delivering a kill or be killed horror showdown, uncompromised by thoughtless executives or meddling studio brass.  Simplistically plotted and brutally carried out, Zombie’s newest feature may not rank amongst his finest but has earned slightly more appreciation through additional viewings.  Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s high-definition presentation is overwhelmingly solid while, the disc’s bonus offerings are exceptional crash courses in filmmaking with Zombie’s valued insight and fly on the wall footage of the film’s intense making guiding the way.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, 31 can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Slasher: Season One Blu-ray Review

    Slasher: Season One 

    Director: Craig David Wallace

    Starring: Katie McGrath, Brandon Jay McLaren, Steve Byers, Dean McDermott & Wendy Crewson

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    30 years after her parents were brutally slain, Slasher finds Sarah Bennett (Katie McGrath, Jurassic World) and her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) returning to her hometown of Waterbury when a series of copycat murders begin occurring.  With each victim’s death centered around one of the seven deadly sins, the identity of The Executioner comes into question as the original killer remains behind bars.  With the sleepy community’s body count rising, dark secrets of those closest to Sarah are brought to light making everyone a potential suspect.

    Descending from the northern region that bred such classics as My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night, Slasher rewards fans of body count pictures with a contemporary model that adheres to the beloved tropes of its influences while taking advantage of its episodic narrative to concoct a mysteriously geared plot and multi-layered characters.  Headlined by rising newcomer Katie McGrath whose Irish accent sneaks its way into many a episodes, Sarah Bennett’s return to her hometown of Waterbury is met with promise before slowly unraveling when a new series of murders takes place modeled after the seven deadly sins.  Racially and sexually diverse, Sarah’s friends and fellow townspeople including gay couple Justin (Mark Ghanimé, Helix) and Robin (Christopher Jacot, Rogue), her husband’s boss and publisher of the Waterbury Bulletin Alison Sutherland (Mayko Nguyen, Cracked) and the incarcerated Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow, Poltergeist) responsible for the murder of Sarah’s parents all become targets of the blade-wielding Executioner.  Shortly after surviving her own brush with the masked murderer, Sarah’s investigation into her past reveals unsavory secrets and deeply buried skeletons in the closet that paint a disturbing picture of the parents she never knew.  Determined to learn the truth regarding her parents and insight into who may be responsible for the new killings, Sarah relies on visits with Tom Winston to pave the way to answers.  Meanwhile, Sarah’s husband Dylan, serving as editor-in-chief of the local paper is conflicted when his own journalistic drive for a career making story unveils a series of lies pertaining to his relationship with his wife.  

    Notably influenced by John Carpenter’s Halloween and modern cult favorite It Follows, Slasher boasts a sometimes overabundant cast of characters, each with their own dark secrets that luckily all pay off with unexpected plot twists, intensely graphic demises or both.  Starring a cast of predominant Canucks, Dean McDermott (Power Play), impressively bouncing back from reality television hogwash, appears as Waterbury’s corrupt police chief and delivers the standout performance of the series showcasing the Toronto native’s diverse chops.  Creatively overseen by Creator/Writer Aaron Martin (The Best Years) and Director Craig David Wallace (Todd and the Book of Pure Evil), Slasher’s quality standards are evident in its plotting and suspense-driven jolts that never shy from cutting limbs off victims or showcasing a particularly unsettling drug overdose to make their violent points yet, gore never remains the primary focus for this tightly crafted whodunit.  Marking the Chiller Network’s first original program, Slasher may be horror’s closest answer to HBO’s True Detective with its small-town murder spree revived decades later where characters, many of whom corrupted by various factors, are hardly what they appear to be.  A fine melding of mystery, scandal and murder, Slasher may have minor setbacks namely its killer’s motivations but, its pros strongly outweigh its cons.

    Scream Factory presents Slasher with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  Presenting its eight episode debut season across two discs, black levels appear soundly inky with detail sharply evident in The Executioner’s leather hood while, skin tones look lush and natural.  Meanwhile, colors found in wardrobe choices and the show’s many blood splattering moments pop exceptionally well allowing for a respectably solid high-definition presentation for a modern series of its ilk.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, dialogue never suffers and is consummately projected with the series’ more climactic areas involving stalking sequences, frightened screams, gunshots and police sirens making effective statements.  In addition, optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes are also provided on each episode.  Although brief, the sole Behind the Scenes (14:59) featurette provides a decent general overview of the series’ making with the majority of the headlining cast on hand for interviews plus, Creator Aaron Martin and Series Director Craig David Wallace discuss the show’s influences ranging from John Carpenter and Brian De Palma to Dario Argento.

    Hitting a home run with their first slice of original content, Chiller Network’s Slasher takes obvious cues from its 70s and 80s influences while spearheading a modern mystery brought to life by a diverse pool of onscreen talent and ripe with some of television’s most grisly gore.  Basking in an era of top-quality, small screen frights, Slasher may be the new killer on the block but cuts to the point with its terrifying and scandalous turns leaving viewers glued.  In only their second television series acquisition to date, Scream Factory has made a razor-sharp call adding this acclaimed newcomer to their ever-growing catalog, one that horror hounds will surely find much to chomp into.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 12th from Scream Factory, Slasher: Season One can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Funhouse Massacre (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Funhouse Massacre (2015)

    Director: Andy Palmer

    Starring: Jere Burns, Scottie Thompson, Clint Howard, Courtney Gains & Robert Englund

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set on Halloween night, The Funhouse Massacre centers on a group of the most heinous serial killers in the country as they escape from their secluded asylum.  Descending upon a funhouse attraction themed to their very own murderous exploits, the homicidal lunatics continue their reign of terror on the unsuspecting guests.  In a last ditch effort to save their own lives, a group of college students, a bumbling deputy and a tough sheriff must band together to stop the crazed murderers.  Genre icons Clint Howard (Evilspeak), Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn) and Robert England (A Nightmare on Elm Street) comprise the film’s impressive supporting cast.

    Incapable of taking itself seriously much to the enjoyment of viewers, The Funhouse Massacre uses its over the top violence and familiar faces from the genre to lure viewers into its modern splatterfest of mayhem.  Shortly after breaking out of Statesville Asylum, an insane troop of serial murderers, led by Mental Manny (Jere Burns, Angie Tribeca), target a local horror-themed funhouse to kickstart their old habits.  Joined by a monstrously strong clown, an eerie doll-like vixen with a talent for knives, a bulbous cannibal, a demented dentist and a twisted taxidermist, a racially diverse group of college pals find themselves caught in the crosshairs of the Halloween killings.  Hilariously poking fun at the stereotypical roles in the film, The Funhouse Massacre makes light of the sole Hispanic character and his desire to emulate Danny Trejo’s Machete in a shtick that runs through the film’s bloodier moments.  While the fresh-faced talent carry the film well with a fine handling of its comedy, the film’s boasting of fan favorite horror stars falls short with only Robert Englund’s brief performance as the asylum’s warden being of worthy mention while, Clint Howard and Courtney Gains are reduced to little more than glorified cameos.  Earning itself the award for Best Special Effects (and Best Film) at Horrorhound Weekend Convention’s Film Festival, The Funhouse Massacre’s practical approach to its gory carnage of decapitated heads, knife slashes and body puncturing bullet shots is easily the indie efforts strongest attribute that purists will revel in.  Although not wildly original, The Funhouse Massacre is a decent horror-comedy that delivers several solid laughs and even more impressive effects work that warrants a watch.

    Scream Factory presents The Funhouse Massacre with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying nicely balanced colors and strong black levels, this modern feature looks as good as can be expected.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally strong with only Robert Englund’s descriptions of each inmate occasionally being drowned out by music effects.  Otherwise crisply captured with wailing screams and ammunition blasts making the most prominent marks on the track, sound quality is efficient.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Andy Palmer, Producer Warner Davis and Actors Clint Howard & Courtney Gains, Production Diaries (5:35), A Day on the Set (3:15), Popcorn Talk’s Video Commentary with Director Andy Palmer and Co-Writers/Co-Stars Ben Begley and Renne Dorian (1:33:34) (exclusive to Blu-ray).  Finally, the Theatrical Trailer (2:20) and a Reversible Cover Art conclude the disc’s bonus content.

    Treading the familiar territory of a funhouse centered murder show, The Funhouse Massacre never dares to be too different yet, satisfies audiences with its handling of laughs and bloodshed.  Although its final product may only be of mediocre quality, there’s no denying the exceedingly well-crafted special effects that brings the film’s gorier moments to life.  Furthermore, Scream Factory’s presentation serves the film solidly with several helpings of special features for homicidal carnies in training to cut into.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, The Funhouse Massacre can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hellions (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Hellions (2015)

    Director: Bruce McDonald

    Starring: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson & Luke Bilyk

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set on Halloween, Hellions centers on teenage Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose, Degrassi: The Next Generation) who’s forced to defend herself and home against unsavory mischief makers.  Determined to take control of something dear to Dora, the hellacious trick-or-treaters will stop at nothing until they have what they desire.  Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), Rossif Sutherland (Timeline), Rachel Wilson (Total Drama) and Luke Bilyk (Degrassi: The Next Generation) co-star.

    Establishing an atmospheric Halloween-time spirit, Hellions melds the year’s most sinister season with intense teenage conflict for a uniquely suited horror outing.  After learning she is pregnant, high school senior Dora Vogel (Rose) scrambles to find the way to tell her boyfriend the unexpected news.  Left home alone while getting ready for a Halloween party, Dora is slowly harassed by several vicious trick-or-treaters with knowledge of her unborn child.  Fearing for her life while pregnancy pains increase at an accelerated rate, Dora finds herself in a nightmarish version of her home as the deadly troublemakers multiply and desire her child.  Aided by Dr. Henry (Sutherland) and neighborhood officer Mike Corman (Patrick), Dora must fight for her survival with household appliances and limited firepower to evade being sacrificed to the hellions’ cause.

    Combining supernatural spooks with a home invasion thriller, Hellions demands to be original and generally succeeds.  The emotional conflict of Dora’s unexpected pregnancy raises the film’s suspense levels while, freakish imagery of the final girl’s evil reflection dining on a bloody fetus is an uncomfortable yet, effective moment.  Although the monstrous hell raisers appear visually reminiscent to Michael Dougherty’s Sam character in his Halloween opus Trick ‘r Treat, the designs work nicely.  In addition, as Dora’s pregnancy increases at a rapid pace throughout the film, Director Bruce McDonald’s (Pontypool) shift into a monotone, nightmarish reality sends the Canadian effort into visual pool of dread.  Collecting a minor body count and concluding on a rather open-ended note, Hellions stands as a contemporary chiller that dares to be different, choosing to blend genres and forming its own entertaining personality.

    Scream Factory presents Hellions with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, skin tones are impressively detailed and natural looking while, the suburban setting and greenery of its local pumpkin patches boast impressive colors.  In addition, black levels are generally strong with the few minor imperfections appearing more artistically driven than true technical defects.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is well handled with only occasional instances of Dora and boyfriend Jace speaking in hushed tones requiring additional volumes boosts.  Otherwise, the hellions’ attack on Dora’s home, shotgun blasts and the fierce weather conditions during Dora’s long night all make strong impressions on the boisterous mix.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Unfortunately scant, special features include, the film’s Trailer (1:48) and a Reversible Cover Art displaying alternate poster imagery.  

    Providing a refreshing spin on the Halloween night of terror formula, Hellions layers its central character with greater stakes uncommon to most final girls while, its injection of supernatural forces gives the film leeway to enter nightmarish realms for one eerily intense standoff.  Marking one of their finest contemporary acquisitions from IFC Midnight, Scream Factory presents their latest spookshow with top-notch technical grades although, special features are wholly lacking.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Hellions can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Assault on New Releases #7: Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight Collector's Edition (1995), Pay the Ghost (2015) & Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood Collector's Edition (1996) Blu-ray Reviews

     

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #7

    Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight (1995)

    Director: Ernest Dickerson

    Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, CCH Pounder, Thomas Haden Church & Dick Miller

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From small screen frights to Hollywood haunts, Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight finds mysterious drifter Brayker (William Sadler, The Green Mile) protecting the last of seven biblical keys containing the power to abolish all evil.  Intent on reclaiming the sacred relic, the demonic Collector (Billy Zane, Titanic), along with his vile minions, track Brayker to an unsightly motel where the key’s protector and a motley crew of misfits must defend themselves against the forces of darkness.  Starring an eclectic mix of up and comers (Jada Pinkett, Madagascar), future Academy Award nominees (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) and B-movie legends (Dick Miller, Gremlins), Demon Knight maintains the entertainingly dark humor and suspenseful scares best known to its popular HBO series.  Introduced by its ghoulish host The Crypt Keeper (infamously voiced by John Kassir) on set of his own directorial effort, Demon Knight provides ample fun as its cast of unlikely heroes do battle against several ghoulish creatures during an endless night of terror and fully stocked ammunition.  Complimented by impressive visual effects and an effectively 90s soundtrack including hits from Filter, Pantera and Megadeth, Demon Knight douses viewers in neon green gore and countless possessions while, crafting a big-screen romp that proudly carries on the shocks established by EC Comics’ forefathers.

    Scream Factory, the horror offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents Demon Knight with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Following a rather grainy introduction well known to its television audience, colors, although sparse, pop nicely while skin tones are rich and natural under the film’s dim lighting.  Meanwhile, detail is quite sharp in facial features with black levels greatly impressing with no discernible instances of crushing.  In addition to maintaining a pleasing filmic appearance, the use of neon green in the demons blood and their electric responses to harm offer an effective contrast to the film’s dark ambience.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Demon Knight makes a most satisfyingly spooky splash in high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, dialogue is robust with intense moments of demonic anarchy and explosive carnage giving the mix a thrilling rumble.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Joining the ranks of Scream Factory’s respected Collector’s Editions, special features for Demon Knight include, an Audio Commentary with Director Ernest Dickerson and an Audio Commentary with Special Effects Creator Todd Masters, Visual Effects Supervisor John Van Vilet, Special Effects Coordinator Thomas Bellissimo and Demon Performer Walter Phelan.  In addition, an Egyptian Theater Q&A Session (9:46), Under Siege: The Making of Demon Knight (39:12) marking another first-class retrospective from Red Shirt Pictures featuring new interviews with many of the cast and crew, a Still Gallery (66 in total), Theatrical Trailer (2:01) and Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s scary supplements.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Pay the Ghost (2015)

    Director: Uli Edel

    Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Veronica Ferres, Lyriq Bent & Jack Fulton

    Released by: RLJ Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage (Matchstick Men) headlines Pay the Ghost as college professor Mike Lawford who finds himself childless following the disappearance of his son on Halloween night.  One tragic year later and estranged from his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies, The Walking Dead), Mike is haunted by unexplainable events that lead him to a startling link between the city’s missing children and the occult.  Based on the novella by Tim Lebbon and realized by Director Uli Edel (Christiane F.), Pay the Ghost weaves a unique yarn of supernatural occurrences and a parent’s worst fears for an intriguing mystery thriller.  After his young son vanishes at a Halloween carnival, Mike Lawford (Cage) desperately searches for answers when an ancient Celtic myth and a ghostly being are found responsible for the abduction.  As Mike’s investigation deepens, haunting imagery of his son and the possession of his wife occur, further proving the supernatural abilities of the entity.  While Cage musters up a halfway decent performance as a grieving father hellbent on retrieving his only child, the film’s lackluster visual effects and attempts at suspense largely fall flat.  Boasting a refreshingly original premise, Pay the Ghost never quite reaches above mediocrity even with its full-blown descent into the supernatural realm during its final act.  With a tightened script and an increased budget, Nicolas Cage’s latest indie effort may have achieved greater results but as is, Pay the Ghost is not an entirely wasted investment.

    RLJ Entertainment presents Pay the Ghost with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Lacking a broad color scheme, city streets and interior locations appear rather drab while, skin tones read decently given the soft lighting choices of the film.  Meanwhile, nighttime sequences, most appreciatively during the Halloween carnival, offer admirable black levels although the blemish free transfer tends to highlight the film’s rather unimpressive CG effects.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue projects on the lower end requiring an ample increase in volume.  With minimal music and few instances of potent sound effects, the mix does little to overly impress.  In addition, no special features have been included.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available November 10th from RLJ Entertainment, Pay the Ghost can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood (1996)

    Director: Gilbert Adler

    Starring: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon & Corey Feldman

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Culled from a story by Back to the Future’s Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood centers on sarcastic private eye Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller, Joe Dirt) after being hired by the attractive Catherine Verdoux (Erika Eleniak, Baywatch) to locate her missing delinquent brother.  As the investigation leads to a seductive brothel headed by Madam Lilith (Angie Everhart, Jade), Rafe uncovers their vampiric alter egos and must do battle with the seductive bloodsuckers.  Debuting shortly after the cancellation of the HBO series, Bordello of Blood lacks the overall excitement of its predecessor but, substitutes its shortcomings with eye-popping gore effects and healthy doses of female flesh.  With Miller’s hilariously dry humor coursing through the film, Chris Sarandon (Child’s Play) makes a welcome appearance as an over the top, electric guitar wielding preacher while, 80s icon Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys) gives fans his last prominent role for several years as nose-pierced horndog Caleb Verdoux.  With a familiar relic making an appearance, Bordello of Blood hits its stride when Guttman and Reverend Current invade the bloodthirsty brothel equipped with holy water contained Super Soakers, laying to rest the scantily clad vampiresses.  Although critically dismissed, Bordello of Blood has earned itself a cult reputation by fans who revel in its blatant outrageousness.  Lacking the bite of its first cinematic outing, Bordello of Blood is still worthy of a one night fling that luckily never takes itself seriously.

    Scream Factory presents Bordello of Blood with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With occasional softness and mild speckling on display, skin tones are consistent and well-detailed while, the colors of supermodel Angie Everhart’s red hair and even bolder gore sequences pop nicely.  Meanwhile, black levels are generally pleasing with no alarming imperfections on display.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is always audible and prioritized while, the film’s rocking soundtrack including hits like Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” give effective boosts when applied.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Also joining the Collector’s Edition ranks, special features for Bordello of Blood include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter/Co-Producer A.L. Katz, Tainted Blood: The Making of Bordello of Blood (36:08) has Red Shirt Pictures once again delivering another worthy retrospective as the majority of the cast and crew hail the film as an embarrassment.  Furthermore, a Video Promo (3:12), Still Gallery (65 in total), Theatrical Trailer (1:42) and Reversible Cover Art wrap up the disc’s bonus content.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #5: Nightmare Weekend (1985), Gravy (2015) & Eaten Alive (1976) Blu-ray Reviews

         

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #5

    Nightmare Weekend (1985)

    Director: Henri Sala

    Starring: Debbie Laster, Dale Midkiff, Debra Hunter, Lori Lewis, Andrea Thompson & Robert Burke

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Filmed on location in Florida by a crew of French filmmakers, Nightmare Weekend is a bizarre blending of horror and softcore sex plagued by a blatant communication breakdown during its making.  When a brilliant scientist with the ability to alter personalities allows a fellow specialist to test the experiment on a group of hard-partying females, chaos erupts when they are turned into bloodthirsty savages.  Comprised of a young and inexperienced cast, including Dale Midkiff (Pet Sematary) and Robert Burke (Robocop 3), Nightmare Weekend is a nonsensical head spinner that continues to live up to its moniker as one of the odder offerings of the 1980s.  Loaded with surprisingly impressive make-up effects by Dean Gates (Maximum Overdrive, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), an eye-raising hand puppet named George, a quintessentially 80s aerobics sequence, sex atop a pinball machine and hilariously dubbed dialogue, Nightmare Weekend baffles the senses while charming the appetites of oddball cinema enthusiasts.

    Vinegar Syndrome presents Nightmare Weekend with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Presented uncut for the first time ever, colors appear refreshingly vivid with skin tones relayed naturally and nicely detailed.  A filmic layer of grain is apparent with occasional instances of scratches and vertical lines sneaking their way into the otherwise impressive transfer.  Meanwhile, black levels are satisfactory while the warm Floridian setting looks lively.  Licensed from Troma Entertainment following less than desirable releases of the film, Vinegar Syndrome restores Nightmare Weekend to top-notch quality.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the dubbed dialogue is fairly clear with only a hint of hiss detected.  Music and other potent sound effects offer moderate enhancements that compliment the mix nicely.  Special features include, Thanks God It’s Monday: Surviving Nightmare Weekend with Dean Gates (22:54) has Make-Up Effects Artists Gates sitting down for a detailed and lengthy interview as he recalls the shooting of the film, the occasional difficulties working with a mostly non-English speaking crew and the constraints of creating on a low-budget.  In addition, Killer Weekend: An Interview with Marc Gottlieb (12:50), Alternate “R Rated” Edits (7:47), the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:26), Reversible Cover Art and a DVD edition round out the supplemental package.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Nightmare Weekend can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Gravy (2015)

    Director: James Roday

    Starring: Michael Weston, Jimmi Simpson, Sutton Foster, Gabourey Sidibe & Sarah Silverman

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Complimenting their steady diet of cult favorites, Scream Factory, the horror offshoot of Shout! Factory, craves a little Gravy.  Set on Halloween night, a motley crew of bar workers are caught off guard when a trio of costumed cannibals invade their Mexican cantina and add them to their personal menu.  Starring a diverse cast including Michael Weston (Cherry Falls), Jimmi Simpson (Zodiac), Academy Award nominee Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) and Sarah Silverman (Wreck-It Ralph), Gravy crafts a hilarious concoction of home invasion terrors meets cannibalism with its tongue never leaving its cheek.  As the witty yet deranged trio with a craving for flesh hold an entire bar staff captive, a fatal game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon ensues while the bar’s accomplished chef is forced to turn his friends into ravishing meals.  For all its suggestive gory scenarios expertly realized by legends Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) and Howard Berger (Drag Me to Hell), Gravy keeps its sense of humor prominently prioritized allowing viewers to be more tickled pink than repulsed.  Accompanied by choice soundtrack cuts from Cutting Crew, Katrina and the Wave and Los Lobos, Gravy nicely balances the frightening and funnier aspects of its narrative with amusing performances from the entire cast.  Marking the film debut of Director James Roday (Psych), Gravy is a horrific hoot that unexpectedly stands as one of Scream Factory’s most refreshing contemporary offerings.  

    Scream Factory presents Gravy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, colors are bright and nicely saturated in costumes and bloodspraying moments while skin tones read naturally.  The dimly lit, windowless bar setting is wonderfully presented with detail never losing consistency.  In addition, black levels are always inky and free of any anomalies allowing for a most pleasing picture.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is clearly presented with occasional moments being overwhelmed only by loud bursts of music.  Sound effects of shattering bottles, bar brawls and shrieks of terror come across effectively with memorable songs such as “(I Just) Died In Your Arms” gracing the mix with an authoritative presence.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Finally, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director James Roday and Actors Sutton Foster & Jimmi Simpson, a humorous What is Gravy? (5:56) featurette, an EPK (6:23), Trailer (2:16) and Reversible Cover Art.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available October 6th from Scream Factory, Gravy can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Eaten Alive (1976)

    Director: Tobe Hooper

    Starring: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Kyle Richards & Robert Englund

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the breakout success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Director Tobe Hooper would look to the humid south once again to stage his next effort in terror.  Shot completely on Hollywood soundstages, Eaten Alive takes place in the Louisiana wetlands at the dreary Starlight Hotel, ran solely by the peculiar Judd (Neville Brand, The Police Connection).  Originally seen as odd yet harmless, Judd’s over the top temper and sheer insanity is revealed when a former prostitute rents a room prompting the elder owner to make his guest food for his enormous alligator.  As more patrons including, a family with a young daughter and a desperate man in search of his runaway daughter rent rooms at the Starlight Hotel, Judd’s homicidal behavior increases making a scythe his weapon of choice.  While murdering the handicapped in his shocking directorial debut kept viewers on the edge of their seats, all bets are off in Hooper’s followup as an adorable puppy falls prey to the film’s reptilian monster and a heart-pounding game of cat and mouse between Judd and effective child actor Kyle Richards takes place under the hotel.  In addition, Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) makes a most seedy appearance as scene stealing scumbag Buck, nicely complimenting another bizarro performance from co-star William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise).  Admirably capturing an uneasy atmosphere courtesy of the film’s claustrophobic production design, Neville Brand’s deranged performance is the glorified stamp on the film making Eaten Alive one of Hooper’s best and often underrated gems.

    Restored in 2K from the film’s original camera negative, Arrow Video presents Eaten Alive with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing the approval of Director Tobe Hooper, colors are bold and defined with skin tones looking warm and natural.  While a softer appearance is occasionally spotted during Buck’s first encounter with runaway prostitute Clara, dirt, debris or other such blemishes are virtually nonexistent in this impressively cleaned up transfer.  In addition, detail is strikingly sharp with the Starlight Hotel’s dim lighting being of no issue as wallpaper stains and other intentional imperfections are spotted clearly.  Continuing to make great strides in the U.S. market, Arrow Video have treated viewers with the definitive presentation of this exploitation favorite.  Accompanied with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is strongly relayed while the screams of child actor Kyle Richards and the film’s unique score are excellently balanced.  Overflowing with content, special features include, an Introduction with Director Tobe Hooper (0:20), an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Producer Mardi Rustam, Actors Roberta Collins, William Finley & Kyle Richards and Make-Up Artist Craig Reardon.  In addition, newly recorded interviews featuring Blood on the Bayou: An Interview with Tobe Hooper (14:03), Gator Bait: An Interview with Janus Blythe (11:38) and Monsters and Metaphors: An Interview with Craig Reardon (11:25) are also included.  Furthermore, The Gator Creator with Tobe Hooper (19:38), My Name is Buck: A Look Back at Eaten Alive (15:05) and 5ive Minutes with Marilyn (5:18) have been ported over from Dark Sky Films’ previous home video release.  Additionally, The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball (23:05), Theatrical Trailers (13:35), TV and Radio Spots (2:52), Alternate Credits (1:05), a Behind the Scenes Slideshow (8:09), Stills and Promo Material Gallery (1:02) and Comment Cards Gallery (0:33) are provided while, a 22-page booklet featuring an essay from Brad Stevens, Reversible Cover Art utilizing the film’s original 1-sheet poster and a DVD Edition of the release conclude the film’s first-rate supplemental package.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Eaten Alive can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • New Year's Evil (1980) Blu-ray Review

    New Year’s Evil (1980)

    Director: Emmett Alston

    Starring: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, Louisa Moritz & Teri Copley

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Taking place on the hardest partying evening of the year, New Year’s Evil focuses on Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly, Happy Days), the host of a televised punk/new wave show, who’s receiving eerie phone calls from a mysterious killer.  As the night lingers, murders are committed as each time zone in America brings in the new year, with the killer inching closer to Diane.  Kip Niven (Magnum Force), Grant Cramer (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), Louisa Moritz (The Last American Virgin), Taaffe O’Connell (Galaxy of Terror) and Teri Copley (Transylvania Twist) co-star.

    Marking one of the earliest efforts for Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus‘ The Cannon Group, New Year’s Evil continues the holiday-themed slasher trend kickstarted by John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Set amongst the punk music scene of Hollywood, New Year’s Evil attempts to turn the formula of a masked killer on its head by showcasing its culprit early on.  As sexy music emcee, Diane “Blaze” Sullivan, hosts her own televised new year’s event, a mysterious caller promising to off victims as each time zone strikes midnight, leaves Diane chilled.  Using a voice modulator and adorning several different costumes, the killer’s unknown, albeit relatively obvious, connection to Diane is the driving force of the film.  Conflicted with fear and all but oblivious to her withdrawn son (Cramer) who suffers from severe headaches, Diane agrees to go on with the show in hopes of luring the maniac out in the open.  A bonafide time capsule of 1980, New Year’s Evil makes great use of its rock show setting with youthful punks and live music from Shadow, who perform the constantly recycled title track.  While, light on its body count, New Year’s Evil offers enjoyable performances from its main cast and a series of notable locations our killer stalks including, a drive-in movie theater hosting an all-night horrothon and a mental sanitarium.  

    Far from perfect and almost always predictable, New Year’s Evil still offers a charming energy that plays to its nostalgic time period and holiday cash-in title.  An unabashed favorite that attempts to differ from its fellow slashers, New Year’s Evil entertains, both intentionally and unintentionally, with its punk sensibilities and campy, neon-lit, atmosphere.  Featuring notable cult stars and a bitchin‘ retro soundtrack, New Year’s Evil serves well as a prime candidate for fun, late-night slasher consumption.

    Previously released on DVD-R as part of MGM’s Limited Edition MOD program, Scream Factory presents New Year’s Evil with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor, barely noticeable aging artifacts, the transfer impresses with a clean appearance, natural skin tones and remarkable detail in close-ups.  In addition, colors pop nicely from Diane’s glittering dress to the neon lights shining on the live rock bands.  Black levels are handled well with appreciable visibility that improves over its previous release.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, New Year’s Evil offers crisp dialogue levels with no distorting interference.  While, not overly impressive, music packs a noticeable punch with more climatic sequences offering an additional edge within its limited constraints.  Special features include an Audio Commentary with Director Emmett Alston, moderated by Bill Olsen of Code Red DVD.  Although, plagued with its fair share of dry spells, Alston offers notable anecdotes from the making of the film including, its tight budget and speedy 18 day shooting schedule.  In addition, Aine Leicht (Ginger Snaps, Without Warning) once again provides slasher enthusiasts with another detailed retrospective featurette with Call Me Eeevil...  The Making of New Year’s Evil (37:16).  This lengthy look back includes new interviews with Actors Kip Naven, Grant Cramer, Taaffee O’Connell and Director of Photography Thomas Ackerman discussing their unique involvements with the film.  Finally, a Theatrical Trailer (1:46) and reversible cover art round out the supplemental offerings.

    Joining the ranks of other calendar dated slashers including, Halloween and Friday the 13th, New Year’s Evil may fall below the iconic status of its originators but, still casts an identifiable charm for fans with a penchant for its heavy 80s tone.  Littered with punk rockers, gaudy new wave makeup and cheesy tunes, New Year’s Evil offers plenty of slasher staples to keep fans satisfied while, also injecting its own subtle twists for good measure.  Sandwiched between the release of fellow Cannon Film Group slashers, 1980’s Schizoid and 1981‘s Hospital Massacre, New Year’s Evil is an entertaining romp that although, doesn’t pack an overwhelming body count, makes up for in its unrelenting retro atmosphere and willingness to be unique on its limited budget.  Scream Factory’s high-definition treatment is a treasure, offering the film in its best presentation to date with an overly generous supply of bonus content for likeminded fans.  A personal favorite and a proud member of the unofficial holiday slashers collection, New Year’s Evil delights with its campiness and will most assuredly, award viewers with an affection for its bygone decade.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, New Year’s Evil can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Prom Night (1980) Special Edition Blu-ray Review

    Prom Night (1980)

    Director: Paul Lynch

    Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens & Antoinette Bower

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Long considered one of the finest slashers to emerge from the 1980s, “Scream Queen” Jamie Lee Curtis lends her star power to this memorable Canadian offering.  Co-starring Leslie Nielsen (Airplane, The Naked Gun), Prom Night is a bloodthirsty tale of tragedy and revenge set on every teenagers‘ most special evening.  Remastered and restored in 2K, Synapse Films proudly presents the original disco madness classic on Blu-ray for the first time ever and packed with new bonus content.  

    Prom Night centers on four Hamilton High seniors hoarding a dark secret from their past.  After a childish game turned into tragedy, someone who witnessed the incident is seeking revenge.  On the evening of their high school prom, an axe-wielding madman has arrived to play a bloody game of his own on the unsuspecting teenagers.  Anne-Marie Martin (The Boogens), Michael Tough (Skullduggery), Pita Oliver (Double Negative), Mary Beth Rubens (Firebird 2015 AD), Joy Thompson (Trapped) and Sheldon Rybowski (Spring Fever) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Calm and calculated, Prom Night chooses to weave a tragedy and develop characters, as opposed to racking up the body count.  With the exception of the inaugural death sequence, this tax-sheltered production makes the viewer wait over an hour for evidence of a true slasher film.  Generally, this slow-burn approach would cost the film severely but, Prom Night is all the better for it.  After accidentally costing the life of one of their peers, four children promise to conceal their secret.  Six years later, Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Alex (Michael Tough) deal with the sadness of their deceased sister while, preparing for their prom.  Unfortunately, a hooded madman who witnessed the fatal incident is making harassing phone calls to the guilty teens.  Prom Night spins several red herrings with success while, maintaing the mystery of the masked assailant until the final act.  The remainder of the runtime allows the viewer to appreciate the colorful characters and their unique relationships with one another.  Best remembered for its cheesy disco sequences, Prom Night showcases the incredible dance skills of Jamie Lee Curtis who has somehow evaded a spot on the popular competition show, Dancing with the Stars.  As dates are found and jealous ex-girlfriends become bitter, prom night arrives with the axe-wielding murderer waiting in the shadows.  In its final act, Prom Night wears its slasher label proudly with suspense and a killer who never shies from chasing his victims.  Throat slashings and axe beheadings follow before a dance floor brawl ensues between Kim’s date and the killer.  The madman’s reveal is unexpected and emotional as the viewer genuinely sympathizes with this actions.  

    While, the film is relatively light on blood and slow moving, Prom Night works wonders as a thrilling whodunit during a time when disco was all the rage.  Halloween alumni, Jamie Lee Curtis, once again serves up a memorable performance as the final girl with rhythm, cementing her status as a bonafide horror icon.  Complimented by addicting disco tunes from Composer Paul Zaza (My Bloody Valentine, Curtains) and guided direction by Paul Lynch (Humongous), Prom Night rewards the viewer with an engaging story, charming performances and a bloody, neon-lit finale, slashers fans won’t soon forget.  

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    Remastered and restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Prom Night is presented with a 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Poorly treated in previous releases, Synapse Films‘ presentation is a revelation.  The overblown lighting and inherent softness in daytime sequences are retained but, finally controlled and nicely balanced.  Skin tones are accurately relayed and boast nice clarity.  Whether you’re admiring Anne-Marie Martin’s sparkling red gown, Casey Stevens‘ baby blue tux or the neon disco lights, colors pop incredibly well with much to appreciate.  While, minor specks and flakes appear, black levels are rich and boast the best visibility to date.  Previously known for its criminal mistreatment on home video, Synapse Films has brought their meticulous work ethic and dedication to one of slasher’s finest in its definitive form.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix, Prom Night is crisp with dialogue always audible.  With no hiss or distortion to speak of, Prom Night truly comes alive during its memorable prom sequences.  Composer Paul Zaza’s tunes pack a roaring punch and a suitable bass that fill your speakers with disco fever.  Glass shattering and van explosions also send sufficient shrieks to the soundscape, enriching the viewing experience along the way.  In addition, an original Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix is also included. 

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Director Paul Lynch & Screenwriter William Gray: Moderated by Pat Jankiewicz, Lynch and Gray jump right into the proceedings, playing a who’s who over the opening credits and detailing where everyones career went.  Lynch expresses his extreme interest in casting Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch fame in the lead role before Jamie Lee Curtis’ management caught wind of the project.  In addition, Nielsen, whom Lynch worked with several times, was hailed as a joy to work with.  Dry spells do occur but, Jankiewicz does a fine job keeping the two collaborators engaged, making this an otherwise informative listen.

    • The Horrors of Hamilton High: The Making of Prom Night (41:04): Red Shirt Pictures crafts this insightful history lesson on the making of the production.  Director Paul Lynch explains his ad concept for the movie sparking an interest with Halloween producer, Irwin Yablans.  Unfortunately for Yablans, Producer Peter Simpson quickly signed Lynch to a deal.  Cast members Mary Beth Rubens, Joy Thompson, Michael Tough and Jeff Wincott share their experiences from the film including, Nielsen’s off-screen hijinks using a fart machine.  Plus, Art Director Reuben Freed, Composer Paul Zaza and Prosthetics Creator Warren Keillor also share their memories and respective contributions to the film.  A splendid retrospective featurette that covers all the bases.  Prom Night enthusiasts couldn’t ask for more!

    • Original Theatrical Trailer (1:49)

    • Original TV Spots (3:17): Six in total.

    • Original Radio Spots (1:06): Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, two spots are included.

    • Motion Still Gallery (6:20): Also exclusive to the Blu-ray release.

    • Additional Footage Added for Television Broadcast (11:11): TV Version Editor Michael MacLaverty prefaces the included six scenes.

    • Never-Before-Seen Outtakes from the Original Prom Night Shoot (23:15): The final Blu-ray exclusive feature.

    • Reversible Cover Art  

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Beloved by fans and a personal favorite, Prom Night is a seminal high school slasher that chooses to mystify with suspense and character development, building to a climatic, bloody showdown on the dance floor.  Jamie Lee Curtis, who would board a terrifying train and face her Halloween foe once again before surrendering her scream queen status, shines as the sweet and sexy heroine with a talent for cutting a rug.  Accompanied by a far too brief appearance from funnyman Leslie Nielsen and a cast of talented Canadian hopefuls, Prom Night conveys a surprisingly twisty tale while, serving up a handful of teenage victims.  Shamefully handled for years, Synapse Films have outdone themselves restoring this slasher classic to its former glory.  Boasting bold colors and natural grain with a newly created surround remix, Prom Night has never looked and sounded better.  Overflowing with rich bonus content and a generously included reversible cover, Synapse Films has rewarded fans with one of the finest releases of the year!

    RATING: 5/5

    Also available on DVD, Prom Night can be purchased on September 9th from Synapse Films and Amazon

  • Bloody Birthday (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Bloody Birthday (1981)
    Director: Ed Hunt
    Starring: Lori Lethin, K.C. Martel, Julie Brown, Elizabeth Hoy, Billy Jayne & Andrew Freeman
    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A bonafide cult classic of the killer kids subgenre, where three suburban tikes wage a full-scale murdering spree on their quiet community.  Still shocking and controversial, Director Ed Hunt (Starship Invasions) weaves a slasher-esque tale of carnage with the most unlikely murderers at the helm.  Boasting a new HD transfer from the original vault materials, Severin Films proudly presents Bloody Birthday on Blu-ray for the first time in America.

    Bloody Birthday kicks off in Meadowvale, California circa 1970 where three babies are born at the height of a solar eclipse.  10 years later, Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy, X-Ray), Curtis (Billy Jayne, Just One of the Guys) and Steven (Andrew Freeman, Beyond Witch Mountain) begin a sadistic murder spree on the adults in their town.  When fellow classmate Timmy (K.C. Martel, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) and older sister Joyce (Lori Lethin, The Prey) learn who’s responsible, the killer trio are determined to keep them quite permanently.  Susan Strasberg (Sweet 16), José Ferrer (Dune) and MTV hottie Julie Brown (Earth Girls Are Easy) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    By 1981, cinemagoers were well aware of the hulking, silent slashers of the Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises.  In addition, the sudden popularity in the genre birthed countless imitators whose devious antagonists were generally, insane men hiding behind the disguise of a mask.  Director Ed Hunt’s killer kiddie flick, Bloody Birthday, instead chose to humanize its horror and shock audiences by turning innocence into fear.  Sweet-looking but bearing devilish grins, the deadly children have no remorse for their heinous crimes, similar to a young Michael Myers.  Following traditional slasher tropes, the trios‘ targets are horny teenagers and any authority figure that stands in their way.  Being birthed during a solar eclipse and a hokey astrological explanation serves as exposition for the kids‘ fatal behavior.  While, bordering on the cheesy side, the film earnestly sticks to its guns, ensuring a fun time for all.

    The trio waste little time doing away with Debbie’s father (who also serves as the town sheriff) by pelting him repeatedly with a baseball bat.  With daddy dearest out of the way, our pint-sized serial killers are in possession of his firearm.  Unusual by slasher standards, the kids incorporating a gun into their assaults makes sense given the unfair advantage of their size.  Retrospectively, viewing the film in a post-Columbine age, the effect is even more frightening.  The tiny terrors unleash more death in the form of jump rope strangulations, beatings and most notably, a bow is used to launch an arrow into a victims eye.  Bloody Birthday also supplies a suitable amount of nudity that includes Julie Brown undressing while, Curtis and Steven snoop through a peep hole, confirming that sex is still high on the minds of 10-year-old homicidal children.  Secondly, a sex-craved couple get hot and heavy in a graveyard while, another bare all in the back of a van before Curtis installs bullets through their heads.  After fellow classmate Timmy (Martel) and older sister Joyce (Lethin) learn the truth, the deviants make them their prime targets.  An exciting third act involves siblings dodging bullets and Timmy exchanging blows with Curtis, before the jig gets pulled on the little monsters.  The film concludes open-endedly, leaving room for a potential sequel that sadly, would never come.

    Shot cheaply and quickly, Bloody Birthday is a sadistically fun time, ranking high as one of the best killer kiddie flicks to invade the horror genre.  Reminiscent of Village of the Damned with an 80s slasher twist, Bloody Birthday is an underrated gem ripe for rediscovery.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Severin Films presents Bloody Birthday with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Understandably, Bloody Birthday has never looked phenomenal on home video.  Severin Films upgrades their original DVD release to the Blu-ray format which bolsters decent, albeit slightly washed out colors.  Contrast and detail aren’t meticulously sharp but can still be appreciated most in facial close-ups.  Black levels, while admittedly underlit, can be quite murky, mostly noticed in the opening graveyard sequence.  Fortunately, Bloody Birthday possesses a relatively clean presentation with little to no intruding scratch factors.  A marginal upgrade from its previous DVD release, but unquestionably, the finest the film has ever looked.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a LPCM 2.0 Mono mix, Bloody Birthday sounds rather flat, but audible.  Dialogue comes across fine although, a slight hiss and the occasional pops can be heard on the mix.  A brief audio dropout occurs near the final act but luckily, no dialogue is lost in the moment.  Slightly underwhelming, the mix is still sufficient.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:
    Severin Films has kindly ported over all the features from their original DVD release:

    - Audio Interview with Director Ed Hunt: Nearing over 50 minutes, Hunt sits down and discusses his original interest in filmmaking, attending film school at UCLA and his professional film efforts leading up to Bloody Birthday and beyond.  The interview is  very extensive and informative leaving no stone unturned.

    - Don’t Eat That Cake - An Interview with Lori Lethin: Lethin sits down to discuss her work on the picture, the lack of child safety on the set and her current occupation as a drug and alcohol counselor.

    - A Brief History of Slasher Films Featurette: Adam Rockoff, author of Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986, provides a general history lesson on the popular genre, incorporating clips and poster artwork for some of the most memorable titles.  

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - Teaser Trailer: Provided as an Easter egg on the disc.

    - Severin Films Trailers: Includes Bloody Moon, Horror Express, Nightmares and The Baby.

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    Continuing the cycle of other slashers, Bloody Birthday dares to be unique by placing sweet children as the ruthless killers.  Still controversial, Director Ed Hunt’s killer kiddie flick works low-budget wonders with a fun cast to watch and some brutal murder sequences that are enhanced by the merciless young maniacs.  Severin Films rightly deserves praise for promoting this underrated goodie to HD in its finest edition to date.  The strength and entertainment factor of the film alone deserves a high recommendation to fans in need of more homicidal children in their cult collections.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Big Trouble in Little China (1986) Blu-ray Review (UK)


    Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
    Director: John Carpenter
    Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, Victor Wong & James Hong
    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Coming off the massive success of 1978’s Halloween, Director John Carpenter ushered in the 1980s with an output of films that are all retrospectively considered seminal cult classics.  From the ghostly atmosphere of The Fog to the apocalyptic future of Escape from New York and the FX-driven mastery of The Thing, Carpenter seemed hellbent on trying new things.  A jumbling of genres ranging from martial arts, fantasy and action, Big Trouble in Little China seemed to be Carpenter’s most off the wall film to date.  Re-teaming with Kurt Russell, Carpenter embarked on a film that would inevitably fail at the box-office before thriving on home video and be reborn as a bonafide cult favorite.  Arrow Video presents one of Carpenter’s most beloved films with an exciting abundance of special features as well as a variant limited edition SteelBook.  Sit tight and hold the fort while we find out how well ol‘ Jack Burton is doin‘...

    Big Trouble in Little China centers on Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), an American trucker, passing through San Francisco’s Chinatown.  When trouble strikes and his friend’s fiancée is kidnapped, Jack finds himself caught in a war involving Chinese black magic and sorcery.  Lo Pan (James Hong), an evil 2000 year-old magician, is the ringleader of the chaos along with his powerful henchmen, The Three Storms.  Jack and friends band together to battle these ancient villains before it’s too late.  Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City), Dennis Dun (Prince of Darkness), Kate Burton (The Ice Storm), Donald Li (One Crazy Summer) and Victor Wong (3 Ninjas) all co-star.

    MOVIE:
    With an embarrassingly low-key ad campaign, Big Trouble in Little China was doomed to fail at the box-office.  While studio executives were hoping Carpenter would deliver something more akin to Indiana Jones, they were unappreciatively handed Jack Burton.  In retrospect, the flashy set design, over the top shennanigans and nifty visual effects, make Big Trouble in Little China more on par with the Indiana Jones franchise than most others at the time.  While the film lived and died quickly during its theatrical run, home video paved the way for an inevitable resurrection.  Throughout the years, Big Trouble in Little China has evolved into a cult classic and one of Carpenter’s most treasured films, which is easy to understand.  The blending of genres filtered through Russell’s sense of humor as the buffoonish but lovable Jack Burton and the impressive visual effects, mark this a decade highlight of the 1980s.  The sheer popcorn entertainment of Big Trouble in Little China is what makes it work so well and continues to age effortlessly.  While Russell’s incompetence and snappy one-liners command the film, the supporting cast add all the juices to make the film flow.  Jack’s friend, Wang (Dennis Dun), the real “hero” of the film, is the yin to Jack’s yang.  The camaraderie between the two is plain fun to watch and Dun’s martial arts scenes are some of the most exciting.  The young and beautiful Kim Cattrall is a knock-out as lawyer Gracie Law.  Appearing in the original Police Academy, Cattrall’s comedic timing is unsurprisingly spot on and compliments Russell nicely.  In addition, Victor Wong (Tremors) serves as the wise old man who guides the characters throughout all the black magic happenings that have befallen them.

    Carpenter directs this flashy picture with style and makes excellent use of the soundstage built sets that served as Chinatown.  Battle scenes involving The Three Storms are a highlight with incredible martial arts showcased along with delightful 80s visual effects to create their vicious lightning powers.  If Rob Bottin’s masterful makeup effects in The Thing were to invoke fear, than those found in Big Trouble in Little China are meant entirely for laughs.  The intricate effects are hilarious and make for some of the greatest eye candy of the entire film.  Carpenter, in association with Alan Howarth (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Christine), compose yet another effective and unmistakably “Carpeterian” soundtrack that rates highly against their other collaborations.  Awesomely enough, Carpenter’s Coup de Villes, lay down the catchy main theme song for the film.  Big Trouble in Little China is a total hoot from start to finish with a roller coaster fun story, memorable characters, quotable lines, eye candy galore found in the terrific visual effects and a killer soundtrack.  What studio executives failed to “get” back in 1986 became genre lovers’ gain in the long run.  Big Trouble in Little China remains one of Carpenter’s most loved films where I imagine it will rightfully stay for eternity.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Big Trouble in Little China is presented in a 1080p High-Definition (2.35:1) transfer.  While, 20th Century Fox’s domestic Blu-ray release was top notch, Arrow Videos’ treatment hardly differs.  Grain is naturally apparent throughout with an overall clean presentation.  Detail is nicely crisp and skin tones look as natural as one could hope.  Colors pop wonderfully, most impressive is during visual effects scenes where the lightning bolts seem as though they are jumping through your screen.  Arrow’s video presentation appears just a shade clearer than the domestic release which makes the viewer appreciate Cattrall’s green contact lenses all the more.  By a hair, Arrow Videos‘ treatment walks away as the definitive video presentation of the film.
    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:
    Big Trouble in Little China comes tuned with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that impresses.  Sound is robust with dialogue never missing a hitch and battle scenes and soundtrack moments living up to expectation.  Loud, crisp and clear will get the job done every time.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:
    (NOTE: The collector’s booklet listed below was not provided for the purposes of this review, therefor the rating of this section cannot take it into consideration)

    - Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter & Actor Kurt Russell

    - Return to Little China: John Carpenter, laid back with cigarette in hand, sits down for a brand new interview discussing the project and the politics of making a studio picture.  Candid as always, Carpenter discusses the uproar Asian activist groups had with the film with one particular “piece of shit” getting under Carpenter’s skin.  “Fuck him”.  Carpenter’s words, not mine.  A priceless interview!

    - Being Jack Burton: Star Kurt Russell graciously covers his collaborations with Carpenter and their friendship throughout the years.  Russell discusses the hardships the film went through upon completion and offers plenty of quality insight in this brand new interview that runs 20 minutes.

    - Carpenter & I: Director of Photography Dean Cundey (Halloween, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) is interviewed.

    - Producing Big Trouble: Larry Franco (Escape from New York, The Rocketter) is interviewed.

    - Staging Big Trouble: Jeff Imada discusses the stunt work of the film.

    - Interview with Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund

    - Deleted Scenes

    - Extended Ending

    - Vintage Featurette

    - Music Video

    - Trailers

    - TV Spots

    - Gallery

    - Isolated Score

    - Collector’s booklet: Includes new writing on the film by John Kenneth Muir, author of The Films of John Carpenter and a re-print of an article on the effects of the film from American Cinematographer.

    - Reversible cover: Newly commissioned artwork provided by Jay Shaw included only in the standard release.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:
    Big Trouble in Little China is the little film that could.  While the studio expected big results with the film, they left it for dead after not “getting” it.  A tragic loss and box-office disappointment segued into a much deserved rediscovery via home video.  Nearly 30 years after its release, Big Trouble in Little China is not only one of Carpenter’s finest accomplishments but it is the definition of a cult classic.  Arrow Videos‘ release is the definitive treatment for such a beloved film with a perfect video presentation, a booming sound mix and an epic assortment of vintage and newly crafted special features.  Pay your dues and throw the check in the mail because Arrow Videos‘ Big Trouble in Little China deserves a spot on every genre lovers shelf.
    RATING: 5/5