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  • The Lesson (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Lesson (2015)

    Director: Ruth Platt

    Starring: Robert Hands, Evan Bendall, Michaela Prchalová, Dolya Gavanski, Tom Cox & Rory Coltart

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported from England, The Lesson offers a promisingly taut setup of reprimanded disobedience from first time filmmaker Ruth Platt before shades of familiarity untether its agenda.  When disrespectful students Fin (Evan Bendall and Joel (Rory Coltart) push the limits of their rowdy classroom behavior too far, their English teacher Mr. Gale (Robert Hands, Charlotte Gray) vows to educate them at terrifying costs.  Kidnapped and bound to a table, Mr. Gales’ unorthodox teaching methods subjects the conscious Fin to a rapid-fire scurry of definition searches met with nails impaled through his bloodied hands should time run out.  Waxing intellectual on a variety of topics from Charles Dickens to totalitarianism, Fin’s hallucinations of his deceased mother and a blood splattered Joel assisting his captor clouds his thinking that will be essential to his survival.  Developing commendable character development of the troubled youths including Fin’s broken home situation and lust for his older brother’s girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalová), The Lesson’s true tour de force belongs to Robert Hands whose motives may be simplistic and monologues occasionally longwinded, demands the viewers strictest attention like a whip-wielding dictator.  Achieving moments of genuine suspense, The Lesson ultimately feels all too familiar to the tired torture-horror antics popularized in America over a decade ago with only the witty nuttiness of its antagonist truly separating itself from the pack.

    Scream Factory presents The Lesson with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, skin tones are immaculately handled while, tight shots exposing sweat beads, dripping blood and Mr. Gale’s fogged eyeglasses are all sharply detailed.  Although flashbacks presented in black and white are relayed with an expected deepness, instances of digital artifacts creep their way into several sequences that while not deal-breaking, surely make their presence known.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that prioritizes dialogue (with the optional English subtitles coming in handy for some of the actors’ thicker accents), the agonizing screams of the film’s victims to the quieter ambiance at Fin’s home and surrounding neighborhood streets demonstrate the effective ranges of the track.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Virtually nonexistent, the film’s Trailer (1:38) serves as the sole on-disc special feature while, a Reversible Cover Art is also provided.  Not quite the arthouse shocker it’s hailed as, The Lesson demonstrates the encouraging chops of its maker while, its delivery of imprisoned hooligans subjected to torturous enlightenment grows faint quickly and stands as a reminder of a recycled genre already beaten to death.  Worthy of commendation for Hands’ performance and well-handled development of its youthful characters, The Lesson doesn’t teach anything new but, makes a strong case for respecting educators who are dying to inspire young minds.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) / Poltergeist III (1988) Blu-ray Reviews

    Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) / Poltergeist III (1988)

    Director(s): Brian Gibson / Gary Sherman

    Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Julian Beck, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson & Geraldine Fitzgerald / Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke & Zelda Rubinstein

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Haunting high-definition once more in new Collector’s Edition form, Scream Factory, the horror/cult subsidiary of Shout! Factory, welcomes the continued terrorization of the Freeling family to their catalog of frights!  Following the traumatic events of the original film, Poltergeist II: The Other Side finds the Freeling’s attempting to revert back to a normal existence until the forces of darkness, led by the chilling Henry Kane, pursue their clairvoyant daughter Carol Anne with ungodly vengeance.  Next up, from the suburbs to the big city of Chicago, Poltergeist III sees the young Carol Anne living with her aunt and uncle when the restless Reverend Kane weaves his devilish powers upon their daunting high-rise.  

    They’re back as suburban scares persist in the supernatural followup to Steven Spielberg’s original ghostly production of 1982.  Struggling financially in the wake of their house’s frightening decimation, Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson, Coach and JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer respectively), along with their children Robbie (Oliver Robbins, Airplane II: The Sequel) and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke, Happy Days) (sans older sister Dana (played originally by Dominique Dunne who was tragically killed following production on the original film)), attempt to start anew in the house of Diane’s elderly mother.  Retaining her clairvoyant touch, it doesn’t take long before the spirits thought left behind in Cuesta Verde emerge once more to claim Carol Anne for themselves.  Discovering an underground tomb located deeper beneath the Freeling’s former home, trusted psychic Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein, Sixteen Candles) and Native American shaman Taylor (Will Sampson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) sense the greater danger that now targets the evading family.  Stalked by the chilling and skeletal-looking Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck, The Cotton Club), Taylor rushes to the Freelings’ aide in order to prepare them for the dark battle that awaits.  Demonstrating impressively refined special effects that can’t be understated with Native American mysticism and a disturbingly memorable villain, Poltergeist II: The Other Side admirably balances what made the original a suspenseful success while, instilling its own chilling parameters that stand on their own.  Topped with Jerry Goldsmith’s score that blends innocence and dread effortlessly, climactic seat-jumpers featuring nightmarish braces gone wild, floating chainsaws (originally intended for 3-D effectiveness), an unforgettable regurgitated monster worm and a final showdown into the ghostly netherworld all make this sequel a respectably fun and grossly underrated followup to its pitch perfect predecessor.

    Inspired by Lewis Carrol’s own fantastical continuation Through the-Looking Glass, Poltergeist III ditches small-town frights and much of its original cast for a towering continuation of lofty ideas that struggle to land their mark.  Relocating to Chicago for placement in a school for gifted children, Carol Anne, cared for by her Aunt Trisch (Allen), Uncle Bruce (Skerritt) and teenage cousin Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle, Wayne’s World), finds herself frightened by reoccurring images of Reverend Kane (played by Flowers in the Attic’s Nathan Davis following the passing of original actor Julian Beck after wrapping production on its sequel) from beyond the grave.  Sensing Kane’s return and his pursuit of Carol Anne, faithful psychic Tangina (Rubinstein returning once more) seeks to stop the evildoer once and for all.  Jeopardized by budgetary limitations and a personal black cloud of despair following O’Rourke’s untimely passing during the film’s post-production phase, Poltergeist III’s skyscraper setting lends an intriguing visual change of pace for the series that ultimately falls second best to the familiarity of safe suburbia.  In addition, although Skerritt and Allen’s chemistry feels genuine together, Aunt Trisch’s random spouts of disdain for her troubled niece feels uncomfortably out of touch for a character that audiences should see as more maternally understanding.  Furthermore, while the return of Tangina is most welcome, Zelda Rubinstein appears particularly fatigued in the role, further underlining the fumes the franchise is running on.  Passionately directed by genre helmer Gary Sherman (Raw Meat, Dead & Buried), Poltergeist III conveys several worthy concepts through terrifying reflections, demonic doppelgängers, possessed teenagers and Kane’s hellish wrath literally freezing over the high-rise building.  Unavoidably imperfect given its tragic history, Poltergeist III, although busting at the box-office and ranking lowest on the franchise totem pole, delivers just enough light from the other side to draw the curious into its vortex for a brief time.        

    Boasting new 2K scans from their interpositives, Scream Factory presents both sequels with 1080p transfers, preserving their respective 2.35:1 (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) and 1.85:1 (Poltergeist III) aspect ratios.  While both films received above average debuts on the format in years past, their latest outings are that much cleaner, washing away the slight hints of softness found previously with strong skin tones, vibrant color grades, deep black levels and otherwise graciously filmic appearances on hand, leaving both films in their best conditions to date.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes that captures crisp dialogue levels and energetic stabs during supernatural attacks, the film’s scores are excellently handled adding necessary emphasis to their quieter moments and rise to their thrilling tempos.  In addition, both films are accompanied with optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes for your listening pleasure.

    Supplements pertaining to Poltergeist II: The Other Side include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Michael Grais and an Audio Commentary with Poltergeist II Webmaster David Furtney, both of which are newly recorded for this release.  Additionally, Robbie’s Return with Oliver Robins (14:25) catches up with the middle Freeling child today as he commends Director Brian Gibson’s vision for the film, the fun atmosphere making a feature as a child and the sequel’s special effects sequences.  Meanwhile, The Spirit World (22:09) is a first-rate featurette catching up with Special Creature Effects Artists Steve Johnson & Screaming Mad George as well as Special Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund to discuss the many memorable monsters and apparitions that separated the film from the original.  Furthermore, Ghosts of Giger (21:02) takes a look back at the iconic H.R. Giger’s contributions to the film through slideshows and interviews with Steve Johnson and Giger’s agent Les Barany.  Lastly, vintage offerings consisting of They’re Back: The Making of Poltergeist II (6:15), Monster Shop (2:45), Ghost Makers: The Magic of Poltergeist II (6:28), the Theatrical Trailer (1:22) and TV Spots (2:04) are on hand while, a Still Gallery (73 in total), the Poltergeist II Script and Reversible Cover Art retaining the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the bonus features.

    Bonus features found on Poltergeist III include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter/Director Gary Sherman and an Audio Commentary with Poltergeist III Webmaster David Furtney, both newly recorded.  In addition, High Spirits with Co-Screenwriter Brian Taggert (16:02) finds the writer sharing warm memories of his collaborative relationship with Sherman, the film’s budget cuts, O’Rourke’s passing and his friendship with the wise and occasionally feisty Rubinstein.  Reflections with Actress Nancy Allen (12:15) sits down with the star who commends Sherman’s approach to the project, O’Rourke’s old soul personality and her unforgettably sad funeral plus, her working relationship with Skerritt who notes is the only actor she had an argument with in her career.  Furthermore, Mirror Images with Special Make-Up Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr. (12:47), an Alternate Ending (2:50) that lacks audio with dialogue from the original script added in as subtitles, the Theatrical Trailer (1:04), TV Spots (2:06), a Still Gallery (77 in total) and the Poltergeist III Script are also on hand.  Lastly, Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet imagery completes the release’s supplements.

    Topping the television fuzz and tree attacking terror of the original classic may be no easy feat but, the combined efforts of Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III make strong cases for followups of underrated merit.  While, Reverend Kane’s initial attack on the Freeling family is by far the superior sequel, Poltergeist III, although ranking in last place, still maintains a mild charm that continues to persevere through its many setbacks.  Honoring both features with wonderful new scans, a plentiful sum of bonus features exploring the film’s makings and frighteningly fantastic new artwork by Justin Osbourn, Scream Factory welcomes fans back to the ghostly netherworld where your house will be all the cleaner with both Collector’s Edition sequels in them.

    Poltergeist II: The Other Side RATING: 4/5

    Poltergeist III RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Scream Factory, Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • C.H.U.D. (1984) Blu-ray Review

    C.H.U.D. (1984)

    Director: Douglas Creek

    Starring: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, Kim Griest, J.C. Quinn, Michael O’Hare & George Martin

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Beneath the seedy depths of New York City, C.H.U.D. awaits!  Following the disappearance of countless citizens including a police captain’s wife, monstrous beings residing in the city tunnels stalk their unsuspecting prey.  When the concerned captain (Christopher Curry, Red Dragon), a prominent photographer (John Heard, Home Alone) and a soup kitchen operator (Daniel Stern, Bushwhacked) band together to expose the truth, terror invades the streets.

    With its campy acronym fueling its decades long reputation, C.H.U.D. stands tall as a radioactive slice of creature featuretainment that captures the glory days of the Big Apple’s graffiti-stained era where poverty and danger reigned.  While the titular monsters may appear less than expected for such a B-movie treasure, their calculated appearances allow the film to craft a much stronger narrative than it deserves surrounding a trio of city souls from different walks of life.  After a spike in persons, predominately the homeless, go missing, police Captain Bosch, coping with own wife’s disappearance, finds a lead when soup kitchen operator A.J. Shepherd alerts him of a growing number of underground residing friends missing in action.  Earning praise for his photographs of the city’s street people and trust from his subjects, George Cooper finds himself entangled in their dilemma after setting sights on their gruesomely fanged attackers.  Political coverups, a stock supply of toxic waste permeating under the city streets and the multiplying hazard of cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers threatens the safety of all around resulting in the trio of believers to stop them.  Featuring early appearances from John Goodman (Argo) and Sam McMurray (Freaks and Geeks) as New York’s finest, C.H.U.D. oozes tight pacing, impressive creature effects and a splash of pertinent social commentary that joyously reeks of a city that has all but been lost to time.  

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents C.H.U.D. with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining its gritty edge with occasional sequences appearing softer than others, unsightly blemishes in the form of scuffs or scratches are absent while, skin tones and facial closeups reveal natural shades and sharp detail especially in the film’s killer creatures.  In addition, textures in costumes and the uncared for city backgrounds read nicely with black levels seen throughout the dark city sewers and tunnels presented with the utmost clarity.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is audibly exchanged with no hisses present while, the synth-heavy score sounds terrific.  Although not wholly impressive given its limited soundscape, the track is more than adequate.  

    Featuring the film’s Integral Cut (1:36:25) on Disc 1 and its Original Theatrical Cut (1:26:29) on Disc 2 (included as a limited edition exclusive), special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Douglas Creek, Writer Shepard Abbot and Actors John Heard, Daniel Stern & Christopher Curry plus, an Isolated Score and Audio Interviews with Composers Martin Cooper & David A. Hughes.  Furthermore, Red Shirt Pictures rolls up their sleeves with such newly produced extras as A Dirty Look with William Bilowit (19:11) where the production designer discusses his origins in documentaries before transitioning with such films as, Nightmare, Creepshow and of course, C.H.U.D.  Dweller Designs with John Caglione, Jr. (12:07) sits down with the film’s special make-up effects and creature designer while, Notes from Above Ground: The NYC Locations C.H.U.D. (9:10) finds Writer/Director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and Writer/Editor of Rue Morgue Michael Gingold touring the film’s shooting spots today.  Finally, a Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (5:32), an Extended Shower Scene (1:24), the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:36), a 22-page booklet featuring a new essay from Michael Gingold and Reversible Cover Art utilizing the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the supplemental offerings.

    Smart, slimy and downright entertaining, C.H.U.D. has remained in the upper pantheons of cult cinema’s good graces for over three decades with its mutant-like creatures and capturing of New York’s hellish days prime examples of its charm.  Resurrected from the sewers with a crisp 2K scan, multiple cuts and a well-supplied stock of bonus features, Arrow Video gives fans the ultimate reason to continue partying in the underground!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 22nd from Arrow Video, C.H.U.D. can be purchased via 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.

     

  • Disturbing Behavior (1998) Blu-ray Review

    Disturbing Behavior (1998)

    Director: David Nutter

    Starring: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Bruce Greenwood & William Sadler

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following a family tragedy, Steve Clark (James Marsden, X-Men) relocates to the coastal town of Cradle Bay to start anew.  Shortly after arriving at his new high school, Steve suspects something sinister about the popular Blue Ribbons clique who dominate the halls.  Befriended by likeminded outsiders Gavin (Nick Stahl, Sin City) and Rachel (Katie Holmes, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), the rebellious trio uncover a frightening truth that puts Cradle Bay and their own lives at risk.  Scripted by Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity), this teenage response to The Stepford Wives lacks any genuine scares in its science-fiction driven plot with a narrative so tame one questions its own R-rating.  Headlined by a notably fresh-faced cast who would achieve greater success in its wake, Disturbing Behavior merely serves as an uninspired thriller piggybacking off the success of Scream while, never adhering to the same originality or suspense.  Led by the school’s Dr. Calditcott (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek), misguided teens are brainwashed by his experimental procedure into becoming snobby socialites who unapologetically kill those who resist them.  As Steve and Rachel play Nancy Drew to find answers behind the Blue Ribbons’ peculiar demeanors, an unlikely ally is found in the school’s rat-killing janitor Dorian (William Sadler, Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight).  Unsurprisingly predictable, the free-thinking teens combat Cradle Bay’s brainwashed population in an underwhelming finale using noise troubling rat traps as their weapon of choice.  Well-documented for being largely re-edited from the director’s original vision, Disturbing Behavior will hold mild nostalgia for select viewers who raged through years of pant sagging fashion choices and rounds of hacky sack but, ultimately is a far cry from more revered 90s fright flicks.  

    Scream Factory presents Disturbing Behavior with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing clean and free of severe anomalies, skin tones waver from nicely detailed to slightly oversaturated at times.  Meanwhile, black levels are generally strong with occasional hints of murkiness in several sequences.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue delivery is strong while other elements of the film’s mediocre sound design are satisfactory.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Ported over from its previous DVD release, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director David Nutter, Deleted Scenes (24:42) with optional audio commentary from Director David Nutter and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:31).  

    Admittedly imperfect and largely uneventful, Disturbing Behavior’s cutting room fiasco unquestionably led to its setbacks but, isn’t solely responsible for the film’s overall blandness.  While it may not live up to other teen shockers of the era, fans can take pleasure in Scream Factory’s upgraded HD presentation and the majority of its supplemental package recycled from its past DVD release.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available March 22nd from Scream Factory, Disturbing Behavior 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. 

  • Troll (1986) / Troll 2 (1990) Blu-ray Reviews

    Troll (1986) / Troll 2 (1990)

    Director(s): John Carl Buechler / Claudio Fragasso

    Starring: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Phil Fondacaro & June Lockhart / Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie Young, Robert Ormsby & Deborah Reed

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Casting a spell of fantastical frights, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, presents a pair of knee-high cult favorites!  Shortly after moving into their new apartment building, Troll finds big brother Harry Potter Jr. (Noah Hathaway, The NeverEnding Story) recognizing dramatic changes in his little sister’s behavior.  With a mischievous troll behind the trouble, the mythical monster begins transforming the apartments into gardens of evil and their tenants into disgusting hobgoblins with Harry serving as their only hope.  Next up, the vastly unrelated Troll 2 finds a family of four taking a lengthy vacation in a desolate farm community.  Upon arrival, the unsuspecting visitors find themselves as the main course for the town’s human-morphing tribe of goblins.     

    Shot in Italy at the height of Empire Pictures’ success, Troll continues the decade’s trend of dark fantasy family-oriented efforts, albeit on a significantly lower budget.  Boasting one of Empire’s more impressive casts including, prominent child actor Noah Hathaway and Phil Fondacaro (Willow), performing dual roles as Torok the Troll and the heartwarming Professor Malcolm Mallory, to the film debut of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) and the curious casting of Sonny Bono as a hilarious swinging tenant, Troll hosts an eclectic range of thespians for such a modestly produced effort.  Sporting impressive creature designs crafted by its director John Carl Buechler (Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood), this special-effects cheapie, although slowly paced, offers plenty of adolescent fun as Harry Potter Jr. treks into Torok’s vast gardens to retrieve his sister and confront a snarling giant monster.  A bonafide smash on home video that may have influenced a certain student of Hogwarts, Troll has remained a cult favorite for its fairy tale atmosphere and charming effects work.

    Capitalizing on the minor success of 1986’s Troll and helmed by an Italian-speaking crew, Troll 2  serves no connection to its family-fantasy predecessor yet, would develop an unexpected following like no other.  Shot on location in Utah and utilizing local talent, Troll 2, partly plagued by communication breakdowns between cast and crew, is a nonsensical disaster that welcomes more unintended laughter than genuine scares.  Substituting trolls for goblins and witches, the film’s poorly designed monster effects and stilted acting of its inexperienced performers demands how a film of such hilariously poor quality could be crafted.  Traveling to the not so cleverly named town of Nilbog, a vacationing family find themselves encouraged to eat brightly colored green food in order for the local goblin community to better feast upon their flesh.  Young Joshua Waits (Michael Stephenson, Beyond Darkness), aided by the spirit of his deceased grandfather, must protect his family at all costs by urinating on their tainted food or devouring a double-stacked bologna sandwich to ward off the vegan-preferred goblins.  Horribly received upon its short-lived release and embarrassingly repressed by most of its creators, Troll 2 would be resurrected as one of the most infamous “bad” movies of all time where it has garnered massive appreciation by devoted cult cinema aficionados.  Uncontrollably funny and reeking of poor quality, Troll 2 remains one of the most entertaining romps for fans of “so bad, they’re good” cinema.  

    Scream Factory presents both Troll and Troll 2 with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Possessing filmic levels of grain, the original film’s moments of effects work can become noticeably more grainy while, skin tones are generally pleasing and detail nicely brings out the impressive creature designs of John Carl Buechler.  Meanwhile, its sequel appears in slightly better condition, sharing the same appearance as its previous Blu-ray release by MGM in 2010.  Clarity is sharp with the film’s brightly colored emphasis on green liquid popping nicely while, detail in the less than effective monster effects pleases with skin tones of the human cast appearing quite naturally.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue in both films are well handled and prominently prioritized while, sound effects and the sequel’s oddly contrasting synth soundtrack delivers excellent depth.  Special features include, a typically great Scream Factory featurette with Troll Empire: The Making of Troll (50:07) featuring new interviews with Producer Charles Band, Director John Carl Buechler, Writer Ed Naha and many more.  In addition, the Theatrical Trailer (2:47) and a Photo Gallery (1:27) are included.  Furthermore, its sequel arrives with a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Actors George Hardy & Deborah Reed and its Theatrical Trailer (2:21).  Finally, included on DVD, albeit only the first 5,000 units of the release, is 2010’s Best Worst Movie.  Helmed by Troll 2’s Michael Stephenson, this heartfelt and enthralling documentary takes a retrospective look at the disaster of Troll 2 with interviews from its cast and its delusional director Claudio Fragasso who still hails the film as a work of quality.

    Providing viewers with a double dose of fantasy-filled scares and unintended comedy, Scream Factory’s packaging of Director John Carl Buechler’s low-budget charmer with its misleadingly titled catastrophe of a sequel make for solid inclusions into the labels eclectic lineup.  Joined by the wonderfully conceived documentary Best Worst Movie and other newly produced bonus features, this collection of cult favorites is one worth being afraid of for all the right reasons.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Troll / Troll 2 can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Shock 'Em Dead (1991) Blu-ray Review

    Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)

    Director: Mark Freed

    Starring: Traci Lords, Aldo Ray, Troy Donahue & Stephen Quadros

    Released by: Slasher // Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hard rock and homicide come together in Shock ‘Em Dead when rising band manager Lindsay Roberts (Traci Lords, Not of This Earth) discovers guitar virtuoso Angel Martin (Stephen Quadros, Demon Wind) to lead her fiancé’s act to new heights.  Unknown to his fellow band members, Angel has made a pact with evil forces granting him unprecedented musical talent in exchange to feed on living souls.  As infatuation increases, Lindsay’s lust for Angel morphs into fear after discovering his dark secrets.

    Appearing in one of her first mainstream roles following her controversial career in adult entertainment, Traci Lords, although top-billed, plays second string to the film’s heavy metal antagonist.  Making a pact with a voodoo temptress, former nerd Martin morphs into hard-rocking, guitar playing god Angel (Quadros).  After landing a spot in manager Lindsay Roberts’ up and coming band, Angel is met with limitless talent, women and fame only to discover his dark deal requires him to kill in order to sustain his new life.  Coupled with several scantily clad females and heavy guitar licks provided by Nitro’s Michael Angelo Batio, Shock ‘Em Dead joins the niche subgenre of other heavy metal-horror efforts including, Trick or Treat (1986) and Rock ’N’ Roll Nightmare (1987).  Accompanied by a pack of sexy groupies who share a similar arrangement with evil forces, Angel stabs his way through several unsavory characters who treated his former self wrongly while harboring a growing attraction to his manager and bass player’s fiancée.  Before long, Angel’s secret is revealed forcing Lindsay and her beau Greg (Tim Moffett in his film debut) to destroy him by goofily force feeding their twisted band leader and his devilish jezebels to their doom.  Moderately fun with an enjoyable head-explosion during its fleeting moments, Shock ‘Em Dead tends to become routine before its conclusion while, serving as a loving testament to hair metal’s final days that kept heads banging for the better part of the previous decade.  Although not the finest hour for metal/horror hybrids, Shock ‘Em Dead still manages to host a decent party of soul killing mayhem and the very sexy Traci Lords giving an earnest performance.

    Arriving in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Slasher // Video respectfully alerts viewers that Shock ‘Em Dead is not sourced from an HD master but, rather remastered from a 1” tape source and upconverted to Blu-ray specifications.  Appearing noticeably of lesser quality than desired, Shock ‘Em Dead contains inherent softness in its picture common to its outdated source material.  Unquestionably bearing a video age look, colors are relayed decently while, black levels understandably suffer from a hazier appearance during dimly lit sequences.  In addition, minor flakes and speckles are spotted while, tracking lines are thankfully nowhere to be seen.  Considering the best available elements were provided for its release, Shock ‘Em Dead may not look astounding but, certainly fares better than one could hope for under the conditions.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, dialogue ranges in quality from audible to problematic with exterior factors such as sound effects and guitar riffs overpowering the performers with mild hiss detected intermittently.  Supplied with a surprising number of supplements, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mark Freed, an Interview with Director Mark Freed (4:53), Cast Reunion 2015 (22:59) and a “Director’s Cut” (1:42) serving as a sizzle reel of the film’s more scandalous moments.  In addition, Deleted & Extended Scenes (5:15), Actor Auditions (6:23), a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (8:27), a Cast Revisits Audition Tapes featurette (6:18), Cast Views & Comments on Deleted Scenes (5:39), the Shock ‘Em Dead Trailer (0:51) and a Poster & Art Gallery (13:36) round out the disc’s bonus content.

    Shortly after her collaborations with King of the B’s Roger Corman and Pink Flamingos director John Waters, Traci Lords would combat rockin’ evil in Shock ‘Em Dead.  Cheaply produced and serving as one of the last heavy metal-horror films of its time, Mark Freed’s headbanging directorial debut contains its moments before running itself in circles.  Although not sourced from ideal elements, Slasher // Video admirably makes fans aware of the film’s visual limitations in order to keep expectations contained.  Presented to the best of its abilities, Shock ‘Em Dead’s generous price tag and favorable amount of supplements make it easily recommendable.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Slasher // Video, Shock ‘Em Dead can be purchased via OliveFilms.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.

  • Don't Go in the Woods (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Don’t Go in the Woods (1981)

    Director: James Bryan

    Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden, Angie Brown & Tom Drury

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director James Bryan (Boogievision, The Executioner, Part II), Don’t Go in the Woods centers on a group of wandering campers who venture into the wilderness for a weekend getaway.  Unbeknownst to them, a savage maniac is stalking their every move, killing at every chance he gets.  Starring many first time actors, Don’t Go in the Woods remains a slasher classic due to its campy production values and low-budget gore effects.

    Released at the peak of the slasher boom, Don’t Go in the Woods maintains a paper-thin plot of a quartet of campers wandering the wilderness only to evade the wrath of a deadly killer.  Littered with countless other tourists used as mere cattle, this Utah-shot production bolsters a body count that trumps most Friday the 13th installments but, lacks in any real suspense.  With horrendous yet, hilariously entertaining performances, Don’t Go in the Woods packs plenty of gore while, backfiring with many a false jump scares.  Relatively slow-paced, Director James Bryan’s indie effort makes decent use of its wilderness dwelling killer who lives off the land and makes grunting his first language.  With the core group of campers dwindling, the remaining survivors look to avenge their friends deaths by tracking the peculiar killer with weapons off the land, leading to a most bloody finale.  

    Drawing its line in the sand, Don’t Go in the Woods has split slasher enthusiasts for decades with many brushing it off as amateurish dreck while, others find appreciation in its over the top kills and not so serious tone.  While, it can hardly be categorized as a competent slasher with genuine scares, Don’t Go in the Woods possesses a low-budget charm of sticktoitiveness that bleeds in every frame.  Filmed over a two year period, Don’t Go in the Woods takes great pleasure in presenting a simplistic story while, never shying from its slasher genre staples with kills that will most assuredly leave viewers in chuckles rather than fear.  Cheesy but, undeniably appealing, Don’t Go in the Woods is an essential regional slasher for viewers who take delight in its quirkier traits.  

    Newly restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive, Vinegar Syndrome presents Don’t Go in the Woods with a 1080p transfer, sporting its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Plagued with aging artifacts including, scratches and hazy photography, the pros far outweigh the cons.  Colors pop nicely in the film’s lush greenery, pastel colored wardrobe and scenes of blood-soaked carnage.  In addition, skin tones appear natural and inviting while, black levels are handled as well as can be with decent visibility amongst instances of flakes and speckles.  Vinegar Syndrome works wonders with this, at times, rough looking slasher, easily making this its definitive release.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono mix, dialogue is relayed decently with several occurrences of lower volume levels and mild hiss, all of which are never inaudible.  Scenes of slashing mayhem register sharply with Composer H. Kingsley Thurber’s music pushing the most authority in this otherwise contained yet, satisfying sounding mix.  Loaded with extras, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director James Bryan, Audio Commentary with Director James Bryan, Actress Mary Gail Artz and Superfans Deron Miller & Dave Mosca and a third Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues.  Plus, a Cast & Crew Featurette (56:43), TV Promos Compilation (14:14), Autograph Signing Party (29:27), Theatrical Trailer (1:07), Production Stills Gallery (64 in total), Press Artwork Gallery (44 in total), Script Gallery (32 in total) and a DVD edition of the release round out the supplemental offerings. 

    While, its cult classic status has been debated by likeminded viewers, Don’t Go in the Woods holds a special appeal for those who revel in its cheeky charm and hilariously over the top gore effects.  Previously released by Code Red DVD as their inaugural title, Vinegar Syndrome’s newly restored Blu-ray release is a revelation of color and natural grain that trumps its imperfections while, preserving its OAR.  Packed with endless bonus content, Vinegar Syndrome delivers this low-budget slasher affair with all the bells and whistles one could hope to expect.  Whether it’s loved or hated, Don’t Go in the Woods has lasted the test of time and can now be better appreciated and debated with this definitive release.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 10th from Vinegar Syndrome, Don’t Go in the Woods can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Fright Night (1985) 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

    Fright Night (1985)

    Director: Tom Holland

    Starring: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse & Stephen Geoffreys

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Thinner), Fright Night focuses on suburban boy next door, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), whose convinced his mysterious new neighbors are vampires.  When his attempts for help fall on deaf ears, Charley seeks out Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a washed-up actor best known as an infamous vampire killer, to restore peace to his quiet neighborhood.  Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride), Amanda Bearse (Married with Children), Stephen Geoffreys (976-Evil) and Jonathan Stark (House II: The Second Story) co-star.

    Released at the height of the slasher movie boom, Fright Night pays tribute to the gothic tales of bloodsuckers, set in the modern suburban landscape of the 1980s.  William Ragsdale (Mannequin: On the Move) perfectly emulates the prototypical boy next door, Charley Brewster, struggling with trigonometry and increasingly horny.  Head over heels in love with his attractive girlfriend Amy (Bearse) and a horror movie aficionado, Charley becomes suspicious of his new neighbor, the suave Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon).  Only seen at night and caught ushering a coffin into his basement with his assistant and suggested male lover, Charley is certain vampires have moved into his neighborhood.  Sarandon with his handsome good looks and charming smile captures the sexual essence of screen vampires before him while, reinventing the mythic figure for a new decade.  The lovely Amanda Bearse shines as Charley’s better half who falls under Jerry’s hypnotizing will leading to an erotically charged dance sequence at a quintessentially 80s discotheque.  Unsurprisingly, the late Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) hams it up as horror host Peter Vincent who helps Charley in his mission after much convincing.  As an established cult icon, McDowall fits into the role like a glove with his performance ranking among one of his best.  Meanwhile, Stephen Geoffreys, playing Charley’s odd best friend “Evil” Ed, steals the show with his high-cracking voice and maniacal laughter.  Uncomfortable in his own skin and potentially shunning his own homosexuality, Ed is seduced by Jerry and comforted by the connection to another likeminded soul.  The effective emotions and suggested subtext separates Fright Night from being just any other ordinary vampire film.

    With well-paced suspense and memorable humor (once again, courtesy of Geoffreys), Fright Night has all the ingredients to make a modern day classic.  Matched with spectacular visual effects, most notably a wolf to human transformation on par with Rick Baker’s work on An American Werewolf in London, from Richard Edlund (Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China) and Randall Cook (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Fright Night leaves the viewer equally tickled and frightened the way all great horror films should.  A personal favorite, Tom Holland’s debut picture is righteously entertaining and one that stands proudly, along with The Lost Boys and Near Dark, as one of the finest vampire films to emerge from the 1980s.

    Twilight Time welcomes Fright Night back onto Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  With only a slight and personally pleasing contrast boost, the transfer is identical to its already impressive 2011 counterpart.  Colors are rich and plentiful with detail bursting in facial features and the actors’ costumes.  Retaining its natural filmic grain, Fright Night absolutely stuns on Blu-ray!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Fright Night’s sound levels remain consistent with its previous release, delighting with crisp dialogue and 80s pop music adding an intended boost while, Composer Brad Fiedel’s (The Terminator) score sets the atmosphere with utmost clarity.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  While, its previous release was virtually bare bones, Twilight Time’s 30th Anniversary Edition comes bursting with content!  Special features included are an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tom Holland, Actors Chris Sarandon & Jonathan Stark, moderated by Filmmaker Tim Sullivan plus, an additional commentary with Writer/Director Tom Holland, Actors William Ragsdale & Stephen Geoffreys and FX Artist Randall Cook, moderated by Journalist Jeremy Smith and Tim Sullivan.  In addition, the 1st Ever Fright Night Reunion Panel at Fear Fest 2 (2008) with Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (54:22).  Broken into three parts, Shock Til You Drop Presents Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek has Holland interviewed at his house about his various credits including Psycho II, The Beast Within, Child’s Play and of course, Fright Night (27:38).  Furthermore, a Vintage EPK with Behind the Scene Raw Footage (1:34:52), a Stills and Memorabilia Gallery from the Tom Holland Archives (73 in total), Original Theatrical Trailer “G” Rating (1:23), Original Theatrical Trailer “R” Rating (1:26), an Isolated Score Track and a 6-page booklet carrying over Julie Kirgo’s essay from the original 2011 release round out this impressive supplemental package.

    Long cherished by horror enthusiasts, Fright Night never overstays its welcome with an entertaining cast and its effortless ability to inject humor and instill terror simultaneously.  Joined by a slightly belated and underrated sequel in 1989 as well as a mediocre remake in 2011 and adjoining sequel in 2013, Tom Holland’s debut opus gave slasher obsessed audiences a modernized tale that made vampires hip once again while, tipping its hat to its gorgeously gothic predecessors.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Twilight Time welcomes Fright Night back onto Blu-ray with stunning technical merits and a whopping supplemental package that ranks as one of Twilight Time’s most comprehensive to date.  Simple and endlessly satisfying, few vampire films have achieved such praise with its tongue implanted so firmly in cheek but, the children of the night are all the better for it.  Welcome to Fright Night...  for real!

    RATING: 5/5

    Previously available in a limited edition of 5,000 units, Fright Night 30th Anniversary Edition is officially sold out.