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  • The Gate (1987) Blu-ray Review

    The Gate (1987)

    Director: Tibor Takacs 

    Starring: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp & Christa Denton

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After an innocent backyard excavation for crystal stones unearths something sinister, The Gate finds best friends Glen (Stephen Dorff, Somewhere) and Terry (Louis Tripp, Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird) forced to defend themselves against a siege of demons and determine a way to close the evil portal before it’s too late.

    Eliminating parents and other authority figures as rapidly as possible, The Gate pits unsupervised adolescents against the forces of darkness, using only their ingenuity and household items to defend themselves against the ghouls and goblins of the underworld.  Inadvertently opening a hellish backyard portal with the assistance of a satanic heavy metal album, best friends Glen and Terry are confronted with a series of nightmarish images of deceased parents back from the dead and the painful realities of a beloved pet’s passing to shake their youthful cores.  With no adults in sight and Glen’s older sister Al (Christa Denton, 8 Million Ways to Die) taking full advantage with a house party rampant with underage drinking and levitation attempts turned frighteningly real, the demonic forces grow stronger in their attempt to invade the teen’s quaint suburban existence.  Pursued by a pint-sized army of fiendish minions realized through a series of technical tricks ranging from costumed performers, stop-motion animation and forced perspective, Glen, Terry and Al must face their fears in order to definitively close the gate before time runs out.  Although slow-building with a genuine innocence captured in the chemistry between the young performers, The Gate stretches the boundaries of its PG-13 rating with macabre touches of a dead construction worker emerging from the walls, a punctured eyeball through a child’s hand and an overgrown demon flinging his young victims with no remorse to effectively chill preteen audiences.  With false senses of security at every turn and survival seemingly futile, the trio of teens rely on Barbie dolls, dad’s shotgun and model rockets to banish the demons in Director Tibor Takacs’ (I, Madman) effectively realized and certifiably scary devil-raising feature.

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate presents The Gate with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The latest addition in their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, the film is a remarkable upgrade from its near decade old DVD release that honors filmic integrity, mildly soft but still natural-looking skin tones and a sharp color scheme present in the suburban greenery as well as Glen’s red space camp jacket and Al’s lime green sweater.  In addition, black levels are solid with detail largely admired in the creature designs while, only the slightest hint of speckling is observed in this otherwise picturesque presentation of the 80s cult classic.  Equipped with a perfectly adequate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue with ease, heavy metal tunes, lightning storms and rocket blasts all offer solid emphases on the well-orchestrated track.

    Much like the demons bursting from the gate, the overflowing wealth of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Tibor Takacs, Writer Michael Nankin and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, a second Audio Commentary with Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon, Special Effects Artist Frank Carere & Matte Photographer Bill Taylor plus, an Isolated Score and Audio Interview with Composers Michael Hoenig & J. Peter Robinson.  In addition, Red Shirt Pictures delivers several newly recorded featurettes that explore many of the low-budget effort’s technical achievements including, The Gate: Unlocked (27:54) where Takacs and Cook discuss the film’s making in-depth, Minion Maker with Craig Reardon (22:36), From Hell It Came with Andras Hamori (13:13), The Workman Speaks! with Carl Kraines (12:22) and the most interesting Made in Canada (28:28) that sits down with six local cast and crew members from the Canadian shoot as they recall their own unique experiences making the film.  Meanwhile, ported over from the 2009 release, From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate (14:53), The Gatekeepers with Tibor Takacs & Michael Nankin (15:46) and The Making of The Gate (22:55) are also on-hand with the Teaser Trailer (1:08), Theatrical Trailer (1:50), TV Spot (0:32), Storyboard Gallery (9:27) and a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (10:20) rounding out the profound assortment of extras.

    A childhood staple that still stands up, The Gate is a fiendishly fun effort of teens going toe to toe with demonic beings with no one but themselves to rely on.  Incorporating the then timely black sheep of heavy metal into its vortex of fear, Tibor Takacs’ sharply constructed and gloriously effects-driven opus plays largely into the comforting confines of nostalgia where its discovery for many through video rental and repeat cable viewings made it a longstanding favorite.  Hoped for since its line’s formation, The Gate makes it high-definition debut with remarkable technical grades that far exceed its previous release and an overwhelming supply of bonus features earning it the highest praise as one of Vestron Video’s best offerings to date!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available February 28th from Lionsgate, The Gate can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #11 - Halloween Edition: Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), Child's Play (1988) Collector's Edition, Burial Ground (1980), Waxwork (1988) / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1991) & Lady in White (1988) Blu-ray Reviews

    Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973)

    Director: Javier Aguirre

    Starring: Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Haydée Politoff, Mirta Miller, Ingrid Garbo, Álvaro de Luna de Luma & José Manuel Martin

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring Spain’s premiere horror star Paul Naschy (Night of the Werewolf), Count Dracula’s Great Love finds a carriage of travelers derailed and kindly taken in by the handsome Dr. Marlow (Naschy).  Secretly harboring his true identity as the Prince of Darkness, Marlow stalks and seduces his way to the necks of his gorgeous guests, transforming them into bloodthirsty slaves while, shy virginal Karen (Haydée Politoff, Queens of Evil) becomes the apple of his eye and essential to his much grander plan.  Boasting gothic ambiance, full moons and eroticism, Javier Aguirre (Hunchback of the Morgue) directs with elegance in this atmospheric tale that presents a memorable interpretation of Dracula who is quick to whip and axe his victims as commonly as sink his fangs into them.  Weaving a narrative of originality and rich complexity, Count Dracula’s Great Love remains effective for Naschy’s understated performance and the film’s blood ritual used to resurrect Dracula’s deceased daughter, concluding in lovesick tragedy.

    Beautifully scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm internegative, Vinegar Syndrome presents Count Dracula’s Great Love with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  While minor intrusions from scratches and cigarette burns are evident, the Spanish feature has never looked better.  Bringing vibrant life to skin tones and the colorful costume choices of its actresses, detail is crisp preserving the fog-entranced tone while, black levels seen in Count Dracula’s cape, casket and dark dwellings are exceptionally inky.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the film’s English dub track may register t’s and s sounds too sharply but, overwhelmingly exudes clean and audible dialogue levels while, cracks and pop are minimal and of little to no notice.  Presenting both its uncut U.S. edition and its original Spanish language version, viewers are informed that the latter, lacking proper elements from its licensor (and missing shots due to content that are only found in its English counterpart), is presented from lesser quality video sources and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix in order to appreciatively appease fans yearning for both cuts.  Meanwhile, special features include, a never before released Audio Commentary with Director Javier Aguirre & Actor Paul Naschy featuring optional subtitles in both English and Spanish plus, a newly captured Video Interview with Actress Mirta Miller (8:22) with optional English subtitles.  Furthermore, the U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:04), a Still Gallery (2:16) and a 6-page booklet featuring an informative essay from Mirek Lipinski are also included alongside a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art.  Fans of horror’s more gothic and erotic outings will take pleasure sinking their fangs into this significant Spanish offering, splendidly brought to high-definition by Vinegar Syndrome for the first time ever!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Count Dracula’s Great Love can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Child’s Play (1988)

    Director: Tom Holland

    Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent & Brad Dourif

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Instilling a new titan for modern horror and ushering in a frightening franchise of sequels each varying in quality, the original Child’s Play still reigns as the most effective and chilling of Chucky’s many chapters.  When innocent six-year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent, Wait Until Spring, Bandini) is presented with a Good Guy doll on his birthday, strange occurrences and the death of his babysitter raise questions of responsibility in their wake.  Unsuccessfully convincing his single mother and a homicide detective that his doll is alive and behind the recent string of murders, Andy finds himself pursued by the tiny terror in order to take over his soul.  Before the bodycount pictures its later entries would become with the foul-mouthed killer serving as their marketing mascot, Child’s Play’s less is more approach keeps viewers questioning the validity of Andy’s claims more so than blindly assuming his doll is truly possessed.  Wrapped in mystery and edge of your seat suspense with an oftentimes forgotten voodoo subplot, Child’s Play holds up strongly with a believable blend of special effects wizardry, an urban Chicago setting and top-notch performances with Dourif’s shrieking voice as the crazed Chucky leaving an indelible mark on the nightmares of viewers for years to come.

    Newly scanned in 2K from the interpositive, Scream Factory presents Child’s Play with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Casting a darker yet, more natural appearance during nighttime sequences, skin tones are accurate and nicely detailed while, colors found in Chucky’s red-striped and denim attire along with the neon-lit signage of the toy store in the film’s opening pop well.  Scuffs and other blemishes appear to be absent while, softness during daytime exteriors and inside the Barclay’s apartment look similar to its previous release.  Admittedly modest in its improvements, Scream Factory’s latest stab at Child’s Play unquestionably ranks as its best looking.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that projects solid dialogue and booming displays of authority during thunderstorms and Joe Renzetti’s (Poltergeist III) creepy score, sound quality is superior.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Impressively packed with new and old offerings, Disc 1 features a new Audio Commentary with Director Tom Holland plus, a repurposed Audio Commentary with Actors Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks & “Chucky” Designer Kevin Yagher.  Furthermore, another vintage Audio Commentary with Producer David Kirschner & Screenwriter Don Mancini along with hilarious Chucky Commentaries on select scenes are also included.

    Kicking off Disc 2, Behind-the-Scenes Special Effects Footage (1:00:08), Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Till the End (40:53) and Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky with Ed Gale (40:02) comprise the release’s newest and highly fascinating featurettes while, Evil Comes in Small Packages (24:49), Chucky: Building a Nightmare (10:05), A Monster Convention (5:26), Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child’s Play (6:15) and a Vintage Featurette (4:54) from MGM’s previous release are ported over.  In addition, a TV Spot (0:17), Theatrical Trailer (2:02), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (37 in total), a Posters & Lobby Cards Photo Gallery (20 in total) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster conclude the all encompassing slate of extras.  A frightening sophomore followup from Director Tom Holland (Fright Night), Child’s Play maintains its reputation as one of the better supernatural slashers of the 80s while, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition, sprawling with bounds of extras, is nothing short of a gift from the mighty Damballa himself.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

    Burial Ground (1980)

    Director: Andrea Bianchi

    Starring: Mariangela Giordano, Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Peter Bark & Roberto Caporali

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented under its alternate The Nights of Terror title, Burial Ground hosts a smorgasbord of guts and bloody depravity when a country getaway for several couples quickly turns into a fight for their lives against reanimated corpses.  Preoccupied with their own sexual appetite when a scientist’s tinkering with evil forces unleashes hell’s hungriest zombies, the couples struggle to defend themselves while keeping the rotting forces from gaining entry into the mansion.  A wall-to-wall bonkers example of Italian exploitation at its finest, Burial Ground’s plot may be paper thin but, graciously overcompensates with gallons of gore and some of the genre’s most memorable zombie designs befit with gaping facial holes, horrific skeletal features and squirming maggots oozing from their pores.  Weaponizing themselves with pickaxes, scythes and other garden tools, the ravenous undead decapitate the help and repeatedly feast on the torn out organs of their prey.  Perhaps even more memorable than the zombie’s persistent attacks, Burial Ground’s bizarro meter soars when Michael (Peter Bark, Arrivano i gatti), the peculiar-looking son of Karen, grows oddly attracted to his mother and makes an incestuous pass at her in the heat of zombiepalooza.  With options running low and escape unlikely, nothing can prepare viewers for Burial Ground’s absurd mouthful of a finale that draws its line in the sand as one of the great “what the…” moments of splatter cinema.

    Gorgeously restored in 2K from pristine elements, Severin Films presents Burial Ground with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  True to its description, this newly struck scan is leaps and bounds superior to past releases with a blemish-free appearance, strong facial tones and impressive detail bringing out the intricacies of the many zombie makeup designs and their intendedly heinous features.  Furthermore, the film’s plethora of blood pops loudly while, black levels, even during the film’s more dimly lit sequences, are effectively inky, allowing viewers to fully appreciate all that is occurring.  Definitive as can be, Severin Films deserves the utmost praise for their esteemed handling of this Italian gorefest.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible throughout without any static or pops detected.  In addition, a separate Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian mix is included with optional English subtitles.  Bonus offerings include, Villa Parisi - Legacy of Terror (15:47) where Movie Historian Fabio Melelli revisits the filming locations that date back to the 17th century and have been utilized by Italian film productions beginning in the 1960s through the present.  Meanwhile, Peter Still Lives: Festival Q&A with Actor Peter Bark (7:35), Just for the Money: Interview with Actor Simone Mattioli (8:57) and The Smell of Death: Interviews with Producer Gabriele Crisanti & Actress Mariangela Giordano (9:20) are joined by Deleted/Extended Scenes/Shots (10:24), the Theatrical Trailer (3:31) and Reversible Cover Art.  Lastly, limited to the first 3,000 units, an exclusive slipcover featuring new artwork by Wes Benscoter is also included.  Riding high on a profoundly successful 2016, Severin Films continues to spoil exploitation enthusiasts with their treatment of Burial Ground, so definitive that the opening of hell’s gates can be the only justification for quality of this caliber.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Burial Ground can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Waxwork (1988) / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1991)

    Director: Anthony Hickox

    Starring: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Dana Ashbrook, Michah Grant, Eric Brown, Clare Carey, Patrick Macnee & David Warner / Zach Galligan, Monkia Schnarre, Alexander Godunov, Martin Kemp & Bruce Campbell 

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Melding the humorously wacky with the horrific, Waxwork finds a group of collegiate friends who stumble upon a mysterious wax museum displaying the most vile monsters, madmen and psychos albeit without victims.  Before long, their innocent tour lures them into its dark magic to become permanent members of the establishments morbid offerings.  Starring Zach Galligan (Gremlins) and Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl) with appearances from distinguished Englishmen and talented thespians Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) and David Warner (Tron) as the villainous museum owner, Waxwork’s greatest strength lies in its animated displays that honor the classic monsters of yesteryear and submerging would-be victims into their appropriately themed worlds.  Transforming into mini films within a film, the high maintenance China (Michelle Johnson, Death Becomes Her) finds herself immersed within Count Dracula’s gothic castle and forced to duel against his bloodthirsty brides while, the chain-smoking Tony (Dana Ashbrook, Twin Peaks) stumbles into the full moon lit backwoods where the beastly Wolfman (John-Rhys Davies, Raiders of the Lost Ark) hunts.  While the rather busy narrative throws touches of black magic, evil trinkets, freakish butlers and interdimensional realms to the forefront that occasionally scatterbrains the proceedings, Waxwork’s free-for-all conclusion pitting the likes of Marquis de Sade and zombies against the privileged Mark (Galligan) and his wheelchair-bound godfather right the ship in this clever sendup of classic chills under the guise of 80s video age eye-candy.

    Surviving the fiery events of the original film, Mark and Sarah (replaced by Monkia Schnarre, The Peacekeeper) return in Waxwork II: Lost in Time when a resilient zombie hand from the wax museum murders Sarah’s stepfather, pinning the blame on her.  Determined to prove her innocence, the two recover a magical compass enabling them to time travel through dimensions in order to gather the proper evidence to clear Sarah’s name.  Far more fantasy based than its predecessor with the characters winding up in medieval times to combat a black magic wielding sorcerer, Waxwork II: Lost in Time, using Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking-Glass as a loose template, makes greater use of hilariously parodying genre films than properly traveling through historical events.  Making stops at Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory and the streets of London during Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror, Alien, The Haunting and Godzilla among other films all find their way cheekily homaged in this more refined sequel.  Graced with brief roles from B-movie legends Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead) and David Carradine (Death Race 2000), Waxwork II: Lost in Time widens its universe even more so, delivering a followup with more comedic oomph that surprisingly exceeds its originator by a narrow margin.

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate, under their Vestron Video Collector’s Series imprint, presents both Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Bearing generally clean appearances with scant scratches and slight speckling during darker sequences, colors pop effectively with skin tones reading nicely although, softness is not wholly uncommon or overly unpleasant.  Furthermore, its sequel noticeably improves during its extended black and white sequences mocking The Haunting that shine more sharply than the first film.  Respectable upgrades on both features will leave the overwhelming majority of fans more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is admirably conveyed while occasional moments during the first film find character lines at odds with other dominating sound factors.  Otherwise making solid use of their respective musical scores, both tracks strongly live up to expectations.  

    Providing each film on their own Blu-ray disc, special features on Waxwork’s Disc 1 include, an Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Hickox & Actor Zach Galligan and an Isolated Score & Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon.  Additionally, The Waxwork Chronicles (1:22:17), another first-rate Red Shirt Pictures production divided into six parts, explores the development and making of both films with newly captured interviews from Writer/Director Anthony Hickox, Editor Christopher Cibelli, Producer Staffon Ahrenberg, Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor Bob Keen, Actors Zach Galligan, Monika Schnarre and many others covering everything Waxwork related fans would ever want to know.  Also included, a vintage The Making of Waxwork (24:06) featurette, the Theatrical Trailer (2:02) and a Still Gallery (7:55) conclude the disc’s helpings.  Next up, Waxwork II: Lost in Time’s Disc 2 opens with another Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Hickox & Actor Zach Galligan, an Isolated Score & Audio Interview with Composer Steve Schiff, a Music Video (3:50), Theatrical Trailer (3:03), Still Gallery (7:17) and a Reversible Cover Art capping off the double feature’s supplemental package.  Nostalgia will surely ring loudly for viewers raised on both Waxwork features during the heyday of video rental.  A clever and unique injection of horror and comedy during the slasher prominent decade, both films, with its 1991 sequel having a slight advantage, are enjoyable excursions into silliness that have been passionately peppered with ample bonus features to continue making the legacy of Vestron Pictures proud.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Lady in White (1988)

    Director: Frank LaLoggia

    Starring: Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco & Katherine Helmond

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the wholesome suburb of Willowpoint Falls circa 1962, Lady in White centers on monster kid Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas, Mars Attacks!) who narrowly escapes death at the hands of a mysterious child murderer.  Aided by the first victim’s ghost, Frankie vows to bring the elusive killer to justice who may be closer than he knows.  Capturing the virtually lost magic of small-town Americana and shot on location in the picturesque region of Upstate New York, Lady in White weaves its atmospheric tale of local legends, ghosts and cold-blooded murder with expert direction and grounded performances that shine with pure naturalism.  Following Frankie’s supernatural encounter, the neighborhood myth of the lady in white searching for her fallen child ties into the picture’s larger story with the very real threat of her assailant still at large injecting a genuine undercurrent of thrills.  Reminiscent of Stephen King’s best coming of age fables, Lady in White’s acute capturing of simpler times while, injecting deeply rooted themes of family, facing fears and discrimination come from a creative voice of passion and experience that Writer/Director Frank LaLoggia (Fear No Evil) conveys in earnest.  An underrated masterwork with an innate connection to the heart and mystery of childhood, Lady in White remains as riveting as ever, eclipsing its reputation as one of the finest ghost stories of its kind.

    Debuting on high-definition with 2 Discs featuring the Director’s Cut (1:57:49, Disc 1), Theatrical Version (1:53:34, Disc 2) and the preferred Extended Director’s Cut (2:06:52, Disc 2), Scream Factory presents Lady in White with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Utilizing the film’s interpositive and an archived film print to assemble the never-before-released lengthier director’s cut, the inherently soft photography is perfectly maintained while, fall leaves and seasonally appropriate greenery are lively looking.  Seamlessly blending its two elements for a first-rate restoration, the director’s intended cut looks excellent whereas the film’s alternate versions are of equal merit.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that forewarns hiss and pops that are hardly noticeable on its extended version, dialogue is never inaudible with the subtle ambiance of howling winds and crashing waves complimenting the proceedings nicely while, the film’s beautiful music selections, handled also by its Writer/Director, perform most effectively.  In addition an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  However unfortunate that no new supplements were produced for the release, vintage bonus features found entirely on Disc 1 include, an Introduction with Frank LaLoggia (0:46), an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Frank LaLoggia (Director’s Cut only), Behind-the-Scenes Footage with Introduction by Frank LaLoggia (16:21) and optional commentary from its creator.  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Frank LaLoggia (36:13) and optional commentary, a Promotional Short Film (7:18), the Theatrical Trailer (1:57), Alternate Trailers (7:10), TV Spots (1:34), Radio Spots (2:21), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Montage (28 in total) and an Extended Photo Gallery (21 in total) wrap up the on-disc extras while, a Reversible Cover Art is also included.  An evocative coming of age chiller ripe for rediscovery and annual viewing, Lady in White is a prime ghostly offering for the Halloween season that stands out for its relatable themes and haunting narrative worthy of the deepest respect.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

     

  • Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

    Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Jill Marie Jones & Lucy Lawless

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    30 years after saving humanity from demonic takeover, Ash vs Evil Dead finds aging stock boy Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead) revving up the chainsaw once more after foolishly unleashing the Deadites back into the world.  Teaming up with two directionless co-workers, the trio head out on the open road to put the definitive stake into hell’s minions.  Ray Santiago (Sex Ed), Dana DeLorenzo (The Mad Ones), Jill Marie Jones (Girlfriends) and Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) co-star.

    Following the medieval madness of 1992’s Army of Darkness, Evil Dead heads have yearned for the endlessly hinted at fourth adventure of everyone’s favorite monster-hunting stock boy.  Reigniting the franchise torch with a financially successful and fan divided 2013 remake, the likelihood of continuing the continuity of yesteryear appeared dead and buried until the groovy world of television extended itself to all its blood splattering campiness.  Acting as co-executive producer and pilot director, original series helmer Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell) and Star Bruce Campbell return to their stomping grounds, ensuring Ash vs Evil Dead to be the madcap followup viewers have been waiting for.  Living a trailer park life and holding down a dead end position at ValueShop, Ash Williams uses his nincompoop charm and wooden hand to swoon bar floozies into bathroom quickies.  Regressing the horrific events of his past while keeping the demon calling Necronomicon book of the dead locked up, Ash’s own idiocy and a night of high times with a blonde finds the flunky reading from the dreaded tome and unleashing evil yet again.  In true irresponsible fashion, Ash aims to skip town to avoid his problems, inadvertently wrapping up fellow hombre Pablo (Santiago) and his crush Kelly (DeLorenzo) in the mix.  With white-eyed demons on the prowl, Ash’s attempts to undo the damage fail forcing him back into the role as the world’s most unlikely yet, nonetheless badass defender.  Embarking on a hellacious road trip for answers to stop the Deadites, the authorities and a mysterious figure with questionable intentions pursue Ash and his sidekicks through 10 episodes of gloriously over the top gory carnage.

    As cheeky and horrific as its cinematic predecessors, Ash vs Evil Dead captures the tone of Raimi’s backwoods frightfests with absolute precision while, Campbell’s equally cool and corny personality sells the onscreen exploits with his acknowledged age and out of touchness with today’s times making the character funnier than ever.  Always the lone wolf, Ash is served well by his cronies in demon disposing who enhance the show’s humor with their characters gelling solidly with the inherently funny Campbell.  While Ash’s graying hair and belly girdle are the butt of many jokes, Ash vs Evil Dead has a hoot laughing in the face of today’s politically correct mindset taking lighthearted racial and sexist jabs at the expense of his teammates.  Matched with phenomenal makeup designs for its many monsters and geysering with bloodshed albeit, overly reliant on unflattering computer-generated gore, each episode paints the screen red, laughing wildly to its end credits.  Smartly forging new roads from its onset with the establishment of new characters including, the bizarre Ruby (Lawless) who holds Ash solely responsible for the evil’s outbreak and harbors her own desires to own the Necronomicon, Ash vs Evil Dead comes full circle welcoming viewers back to a familiar setting for a horrifically action-packed finale.  A hilariously macabre delight, Ash vs Evil Dead plays all the right notes and fits like a chainsaw, standing proudly as a hail-worthy small screen sequel to Raimi’s three theatrical favorites.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents all 10 episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  Shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras, each episode is blemish free with top-notch detail observed in facial features, costumes and Ash’s messy trailer while, skin tones are exceptionally natural with colors radiating off the screen from Ruby’s red hot vehicle to more subdued shades found in Ash’s navy blue shirts.  In addition, black levels are deep and appealing with only faint noise spotted throughout darkly lit basement sequences in the season finale.  Equipped with Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixes, sound quality is exquisite with dialogue clear as crystal, screams and chainsaws sharply relayed and the show’s phenomenal soundtrack selections from Deep Purple, The Stooges, Whitesnake, Alice Cooper and AC/DC making thoroughly rockin’ statements.  With the pilot episode, “El Jefe”, arriving with an optional Audio Commentary with Creator/Executive Producer Sam Raimi, Co-Executive Producer Ivan Raimi, Executive Producer Rob Tapert & Executive Producer/Actor Bruce Campbell, each subsequent episode contain commentary tracks from a variety of interchanging guests including, Executive Producer Rob Tapert and Actors Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, Jill Marie Jones and Lucy Lawless.  Additional special features include, Inside the World of Ash vs Evil Dead (15:59).  Attached to the end’s of each episode during their original airings, the creators and cast sit-down for brief interviews about their makings.  Furthermore, the self explanatory How to Kill a Deadite (2:31) and the sizzle reel Best of Ash (1:27) round out the bonus offerings.

    Reopening the Book of the Dead after nearly 25 years, fans have much to hail for with Ash vs Evil Dead.  Seamlessly appearing as an extended overdue sequel, Campbell and company have loaded this boomstick debut season with enough humor, horror and buckets of red stuff to have made the wait well worth it.  Deservedly renewed for another season of undead mayhem and snappy one-liners, Anchor Bay Entertainment presents the program with exceptional high-def merits and a generous spread of supplements including, informatively funny commentary tracks on each episode.  Groovy doesn’t even begin to describe Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season but, it’s one hell of a start!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available August 23rd from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Toad Road (2012) DVD Review


    Toad Road (2012)
    Director: Jason Banker
    Starring: James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Jim Driscoll, Scott Rader & Jamie Siebold
    Released by: Artsploitation Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Cementing their status as one of the leading forces of unique and independent cinema, Artsploitation Films teams up with Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision to invite viewers down a hallucinatory path.  Toad Road is Artsploitation Films’ first American acquisition, shot on a shoestring budget that feels akin to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project in its execution.  Honest and disturbing, Toad Road sends chills down your spine in unexpected ways that make you wish for the terror to end.  The barriers of reality and nightmares become blurred as the characters struggle to navigate in this mixture of urban myth lore and documentary.  In order to find out what truly lies on Toad Road, let’s trip out…


    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Toad_Road__Artsploitation_/toad_road__artsploitation_.html