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  • Madhouse (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Madhouse (1981)

    Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

    Starring: Trish Everly, Michael Macrae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart, Allison Biggers, Edith Ivey, Richard Baker & Jerry Fujikawa

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Infamously inducted as one of Britain’s prized “video nasties”, Madhouse centers on Julia Sullivan (Trish Everly in her only film role) who continues to try and block out the anguish her cruel twin sister Mary caused her growing up.  Suffering from a disfiguring illness and still harboring disdain for her other half, Mary escapes from the hospital, hellbent on delivering Julia a bloody birthday she’ll never forget.

    A peculiar blending of Italian hyper violence and America’s burgeoning slasher craze with a dash of gothic ambiance, Madhouse thrives on its uneasy tone that attempts to drown out its more questionable plot devices.  Educator to young deaf students, Julia still maintains a fear of her hospitalized twin sister Mary who suffers from a deforming disease and responsible for wrecking havoc on Julia throughout childhood.  Maintaining a close relationship with her loving uncle, Father James (Dennis Robertson, Dark Night of the Scarecrow), Julia seeks to make peace with her dying sister only to be met with frightening hostility.  Exploding into full-blown terror when Mary escapes from her hospital confines, Julia’s approaching 25th birthday seems less likely to be met as supernatural suspicions, a bloodthirsty Rottweiler and a body count start to take shape.  Shot in the suitably atmospheric region of Savannah, Georgia, Madhouse punctuates its proceedings with voyeuristic photography and a certifiably strange soundscape conducted by Riz Ortolani (Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park) to further its descent into darkness.  

    Charismatic and beautiful, Trish Everly holds the picture together with genuine fear and concern for her life reading clearly in her face and actions while, the supporting cast hams it up with generally over-the-top performances.  A noble debut for Everly that would ultimately prove to be her last onscreen, the young actress seemed destined for a career as a future scream queen that was unfortunately not meant to be.  Pulling no punches with its violence and never discriminating against adults or young deaf children as its prey, Madhouse’s Rottweiler attacks on the like surely and appreciatively earned its place in “video nasties” history with ravaged jugulars and torn hands on full display.  While the film’s final showdown between Julia and her doctor boyfriend against the murderous culprits leave far more questions than answers concerning their motivations, Director Ovidio G. Assonitis (Beyond the Door) perhaps smartly bookends the horror-oddity with a quote to properly chase audiences head-scratching motions.

    Scanned in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Arrow Video proudly presents Madhouse with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  A wonderfully filmic-looking offering, grain is healthy and overwhelmingly satisfying to the eye while, skin tones remain natural and clean.  Furthermore, the film’s gorier moments paint the screen red with eye popping boldness with black levels also appearing appreciatively deep.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that registers dialogue crisply, the track also makes excellent use of Composer Riz Ortolani’s evocatively creepy score and usage of lullabies with no hiccups to speak of.  An optional LPCM 2.0 mix has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  

    Bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues, Running the Madhouse with Edith Ivey (12:40) finds the actress recalling her early days in radio and the transition all actors made moving onto television.  Furthermore, Ivey also shares words about her appearance on The Howdy Doody Show, commentating for the Miss USA show for years before landing her role in Madhouse where the director wanted over-the-top performances from his cast.  Framing Fear (19:32) catches up with Director of Photography Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli in this subtitled interview that traces everything from his first paid job on Arturo’s Island to his many works with Assonitis.  Next up, Ovidio Nasty (7:44) chats with the film’s producer/director where he reveals the film’s direct influences to be The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Shining.  Assonitis also discusses the film’s alternate titles but prefers There Was a Little Girl and praises Savannah, Georgia as being the ideal gothic shooting location.  Finally, Alternative Opening Titles (3:01), the Original Trailer (3:04), a 23-page booklet featuring liner notes by John Martin (available only in the release’s first printing), Reversible Cover Art and a DVD edition conclude the supplemental package.  

    An overlooked effort that samples different styles and subgenres, Madhouse is certifiably odd to the bone with a violent bite from Rottweilers and deformed nutcases alike.  Although not one to provide all the answers by its conclusion, Director Ovidio G. Assonitis’ deranged sibling-slasher hybrid makes for a unique late night excursion through horror’s less traveled roads.  In their expected fashion, Arrow Video brings the “video nasty” to high-definition with a striking 2K restoration and a modest spread of extras to further educate and enlighten the minds of horror enthusiasts.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Madhouse can be purchased via DiabolikDVD.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Up All Night with Severin Films: Blackenstein (1973), Cathy's Curse (1977) & The Other Hell (1981) Blu-ray Reviews

      

    Blackenstein (1973)

    Director: William A. Levy

    Starring: John Hart, Ivory Stone, Andrea King, Liz Renay, Roosevelt Jackson, Joe De Sue, Nick Bolin, Cardella Di Milo, James Cousar & Marva Farmer

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Piggybacking on the success of American International Pictures’ black bloodsucker of the previous year, Blackenstein loosely modernizes Mary Shelley’s classic work for a new generation of exploitation-loving jive ass turkeys.  Attempting to rehabilitate her armless and legless Vietnam veteran boyfriend back to health, Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) turns to her mentor Dr. Stein (John Hart, The Lone Ranger) to work medical miracles.  After rejecting a fellow lab assistant’s advances, the disgruntled helper sabotages Winifred’s lovers progress, transforming him into hulking monster.  Stalking the streets of Los Angeles in the shiniest of boots and ripping limbs off of unsuspecting whities before meeting his fate at the fangs of ferocious dobermans, Blackenstein is a tightly paced hoot that plays itself surprisingly straight for such a cooky concept whose behind-the-scenes making is even stranger and sadly more tragic than its own fiction.  

    Befit with a solid-looking 1080p transfer, presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Severin Films honors the blaxploitation-horror oddity with strong colors and only fleeting instances of cigarette burns while, its DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix relays dialogue crisply with no cracks or pops intruding.  Offering both its preferred Theatrical (1:17:46) and Video Release (1:27:05) versions, additional supplements include, Monster Kid (19:02) where June Kirk, sister of Writer/Producer Frank R. Saletri, reminisces about her multitalented brother, his lavish mansion previously owned by Bela Lugosi and later Johnny Depp, his genuine sense of pride producing Blackenstein and the emotional circumstances surrounding Salteri’s still unsolved murder in 1982.  Furthermore, an Archive News Broadcast on the Murder of Frank R. Saletri (6:17), Ken Osborne and Robert Dix Remember Frank Saletri (6:36), culled from the filming of Severin Films’ Al Adamson documentary, Bill Created Blackenstein (9:13) featuring an audio interview with Creature Designer Bill Munns (Swamp Thing, The Return of the Living Dead) and lastly, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:24) are also featured.  Electrifying with bolts of undead absurdity, Blackenstein rises from the examination table, courtesy of resurrectors Severin Films, with a striking HD upgrade, revealing extras and dual versions for completists of the underexploitated world of blaxploitation frighteners.

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Cathy’s Curse (1977)

    Director: Eddy Matalon

    Starring: Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen, Roy Witham, Mary Morter & Dorothy Davis

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Using other satanically-charged killer kiddie flicks such as The Exorcist and The Omen as moneymaking references, the peculiar French/Canadian production of Cathy’s Curse unspools with a fatal car accident that leaves a stressed out father and his young daughter burning alive like logs on a flame.  Returning to his childhood home decades later, older brother George Gimble (Alan Scarfe, Double Impact) looks to start anew with his emotionally troubled wife and sweet daughter Cathy.  Shortly after stumbling upon her late aunt’s creepy doll, Cathy turns sour and is possessed, giving evil a prime spot at the dinner table.  Riddled with discombobulating jump cuts and eerie keyboard tunes, Cathy’s Curse lets the blonde little devil work her supernatural magic by forcing the housemaid out a window, hypnotizing the drunken caretaker with spiders, snakes and rats slithering across his still body while, a blood-filled bathtub and leeches are utilized to further her mother’s descent into madness.  A noble yet, imperfect terror effort from the tax-sheltered north, Cathy’s Curse may not spew pea soup across viewers but does make ample use of a minor amusingly spit firing profanities and rearing her own ghastly burnt face in a final showdown against mommy dearest.

    Newly transferred in 2K from recently discovered elements, Cathy’s Curse makes the wildly unexpected leap to high-definition with sound results that buries its previously underwhelming outings on home video.  Presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 1.85:1 aspect ratio, flashy colors seen in gaudier wallpaper selections pop appreciatively while, white levels, witnessed in snowfall and sunshine creeping through windows, appear naturally softer.  Meanwhile, print damage remains vastly minimal.  Joined by a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue with general ease and only mild hiss detected, the film’s aforementioned keyboard selections are the track’s most memorable cues.  Featuring both the film’s go-to Director’s Cut (1:30:44) and an Alternate U.S. Release Cut (1:21:49), other bonus feature offerings include, an Audio Commentary with BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins & Filmmaker Simon Barret (U.S. Release Cut only), Tricks and Treats: Director Eddy Matalon on Cathy’s Curse (20:16), where the filmmaker, speaking mostly in French with subtitles provided, discusses the production, crew and incredible affordability shooting in Canada.  In addition, Cathy and Mum (12:42) catches up with the elusive Randi Allen who played the possessed titular character and her mother Joyce Allen who acted as the film’s Costume Designer.  Lastly, an Introduction to the Cinematic Void Screening at American Cinematheque by BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins (4:28) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:36) wrap up the disc’s extras.  A true deep cut of Canadian chillers of the possessed persuasion, Cathy’s Curse has the power once more thanks to a crowd pleasing restoration fans will assume was achieved through a deal with the devil himself (at least we hope so!).

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Cathy's Curse can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Other Hell (1981)

    Director: Bruno Mattei

    Starring: Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo, Francesca Carmeno & Susan Forget

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A sacrilege slice of nunsploitation, Italian cult cinema heavyweight Bruno Mattei (Hell of the Living Dead, Rats: Night of Terror), under the pseudonym Stefan Oblowsky, paints church walls red in The Other Hell.  Following several questionable suicides at a nunnery, the depraved Mother Vincenza (Franca Stoppi, Beyond the Darkness) attempts to derail Father Valerio's (Carlo De Mejo, City of the Living Dead) investigation so that her devilish methods may continue.  Narratively messy and lacking such sleaze factors as ample nudity and lesbianism, The Other Hell does little to rattle the cages of excess while, supernatural happenings stake their claim in the form of bloody stigmata and Hell’s head honcho rearing his red blazing eyes, revealing themselves to only be laughable light-up bulbs.  Certain that the evil happenings are the work of a flesh and blood deviant, Father Valerio asks for more than he bargained when a flashback sequence reveals the Mother Superior’s baby was violently boiled and, as the daughter of Satan, the living and badly burned child’s otherworldly abilities are the cause for the convents twisted events.  Certainly seedy with nuns performing grisly abortions and flexing their stabbing reflexes routinely, The Other Hell hardly lives up to its reputation as one of the subgenres best with Mattei and Stoppo’s attachment being the only cause for a passing glance.

    A mild improvement from its previous standard definition release, Severin Films readies The Other Hell with a 1080p transfer, culled from 35mm blow-up elements presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Still showing signs of noticeable wear in the form of scratches, cigarette burns and an intruding vertical line during one dinner sequence in particular, black levels show improvement but remain imperfect while insert shots of the Mother Superior stabbing Father Valerio appear to be sourced from a lesser reference.  Meanwhile, the LPCM 2.0 mix is audible with the English dub track relayed decently but, not without its own faults of cracks, pop and a thin veil of hiss detected throughout.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso, moderated by Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddea, Sister Franca (13:13) catches up with Actress Franca Stoppi where she reveals working on The Other Hell and The True Story of the Nun of Monza simultaneously, often working on the same sets.  In addition, Stoppi recalls the warm and fun relationship working with Carlo De Mejo and as a niece of two nuns growing up, loved the aspect of dressing up as one for films.  Furthermore, To Hell and Back (11:22) features archive interviews with Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo with The Other Hell Trailer (3:34) and Reversible Cover Art concluding the release’s extras.  One may not require a bath in holy water after viewing The Other Hell but, that doesn’t make it the worst of its kind either, just simply less blasphemous than one might expect.  Completists of Mattei’s demented filmography won’t blink twice adding this unholy feature to their shelves with Severin’s noble efforts saving it from certain annihilation well worth falling to your knees for.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, The Other Hell can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Live by Night (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Live by Night (2016)

    Director: Ben Affleck

    Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly a decade after making his directorial debut based on Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck brings his trifecta of talent to the gangster-ridden world of Live by Night, cementing his acute instincts in realizing Lehane’s literary works for the big-screen.  Refusing to follow orders ever again after serving in World War I, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, The Accountant) returns home to Boston and a new life of crime.  While his actions speak otherwise, Joe’s line of business is merely a means to an end unlike the ruthless gangsters who run the corrupt city.  After a risky affair pits him in the crosshairs of a mob war, Joe seeks to right his wrongs and extract revenge by relocating to the humid terrain of Tampa to spread rum and gambling during Prohibition.  Before long, Joe realizes that every one of his dangerous choices comes at an unexpected price.  Returning Affleck to a haven of complicated characters and uniquely wired hoodlums where the auteur thrives, Live by Night is yet another striking achievement in the director’s modest body of work.  While Affleck, along with his male costars do what’s expected of them, the performances by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) as Joe’s Irish femme fatale girlfriend, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) appearing later as Joe’s eventual Cuban wife and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as a wannabe starlet turned junkie who jeopardizes Joe’s empire while enlightening his morale compass, are diversely electric in their roles.  

    Finding his operation combatting against disapproving members of the Ku Klux Klan while focusing on abolishing laws against gambling to open a casino, Joe’s opposition to invest in narcotics by order of his Italian mob boss pits him in a battle unlikely to survive.  From the gloomy streets of Boston to the sweat pouring speakeasies of Florida, Live by Night is an epic examination of a gangster smarter than his gun who runs the gamut of illegal extremes in hopes of making it out alive to protect those most important to him.  Following a myriad of date changes before being dumped to a dead of winter release, Live by Night’s abysmally poor box-performance hardly reflects the film’s exceptional style, cast and swift direction, making it, for better or worse, one of last year’s unfairly overlooked gems.

    Warner Bros. Home Entertainment presents Live by Night with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  While not a wildly colorful film by any stretch, the transfer thrives through its deeply inky black levels that capitalize during nighttime sequences, dimly lit bars and alleyways.  Furthermore, detail is immaculate with textures in the period costumes looking particularly strong.  Meanwhile, skin tones maintain a true appearance with finer details found in wrinkles, Fanning’s track marks and the humidity of the Florida setting apparent on foreheads.  Equipped with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the softer hushes of Affleck’s narrated bits are crisply relayed while more robust exchanges of dialogue are pristine.  Most impressively, the onslaught of gun fire, bar ambiance and the film’s intensely orchestrated car chase sequence all earn the highest of grades.  An optional Dolby Atmos mix is also provided for those technically enabled.  

    Supplementary material includes, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Ben Affleck while, Blu-ray exclusive content offers, Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night (8:54) that finds Affleck and Author Dennis Lehane examining the three sections of Joe Coughlin’s life represented by the three female leads with insight from actresses Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.  Additionally, Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night (8:30) finds Affleck and his costars, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girane and Robert Glenister reflecting on their roles, Live by Night’s Prolific Author (6:53) hosts Lehane as he shares his inspirations for the novel and their themes with additional insight from Affleck and Producer Jennifer Davisson while, In-Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35) details the sequence’s development with Affleck, Stunt Coordinator RA Rondell, Director of Photography Robert Richardson, Editor William Goldenberg and Composer Harry Greyson-Williams detailing their essential contributions.  Lastly and available also on the film’s separate DVD release, Deleted Scenes (15:56) with optional filmmaker commentary are provided with a Digital HD Code concluding the special feature offerings.  Contrary to critical dismissal and low box-office turnout, Live by Night continues Affleck’s remarkable streak behind the camera where an intense examination of a conflicted gangster and the empire he’s built unfolds.  Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s high-definition treatment is an A/V marvel with a surprisingly well-stocked supply of extras on hand likeminded viewers will appreciate.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 21st from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Live by Night 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.

     

  • The Ratings Game (1984) Blu-ray Review

    The Ratings Game (1984)

    Director: Danny DeVito

    Starring: Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Gerrit Graham, Kevin McCarthy, Louis Giambalvo, Frank Sivero & Vincent Schiavelli

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking his directorial debut, Danny DeVito also stars in The Ratings Game as successful Jersey trucking tycoon Vic De Salvo whose aspirations of fame lead him to Hollywood.  Teaming up with his girlfriend (Rhea Perlman, Matilda) who works for the TV ratings service, the tenacious new show runner hatches a scheme to rig the sacred system in his favor.  Gerrit Graham (Used Cars), Kevin McCarthy (Innerspace), Louis Giambalvo (Weekend at Bernie’s), Frank Sivero (Goodfellas) and Vincent Schiavelli (Ghost) co-star.

    Shortly after the cancelation of his successful sitcom Taxi, Asbury Park native Danny DeVito would find himself carrying the torch both behind and in front of the camera for the Showtime network’s debut into original TV movie programming.  Impressing top brass with his comedic creative chops on HBO’s politically funny anthology series Likely Stories, DeVito’s Jersey roots and boisterously Italian heritage rides shotgun in this satirical sendup of showbiz and scandal.  Relocating with his family to Tinseltown and living lavishly off of his trucking business, Vic De Salvo yearns to become a respected TV producer much to the overwhelming disapproval of established players.  After a spiteful decision earns De Salvo a green-lit pilot at the struggling MBC network, the short statured wannabe professional must overcome a suicidal time slot setup by his hilariously unsupportive studio head (Graham).  Teaming up with his girlfriend and fellow Jerseyite Francine (Perlman) who works for the trusted television ratings service, De Salvo’s mafioso-esque plan to rig the system to ensure his show’s popularity shoots his credibility up the charts before a hysterical downward spiral culminates at the annual TV Digest Awards ceremony.  

    Hosting a multitude of appearances from ascending stars including, Michael Richards (Problem Child), George Wendt (Cheers), Daniel Stern (Home Alone) and Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld) as a dismissive network exec, The Ratings Game is a bonafide only in the 80s knee slapper that makes light of TV programs of the era while, DeVito and Perlman’s lovely onscreen chemistry assures viewers what they see is not just movie magic but, the foundation of a personal and professional relationship that has endured four decades.  Well praised during its original release and sending DeVito off on a successful run of theatrical hits, The Ratings Game would ultimately fall into unwarranted near extinction.  Delectably silly and containing an impressively funny ensemble cast, The Ratings Game has aged considerably well, highly earning itself a rerun.

    Olive Films presents The Ratings Games with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing the marks of its TV movie roots with black bars displayed vertically on either sides of frame, bolder colors found in costume choices are eye-catching while, an inherent softness and occasional speckling is unsurprisingly displayed given the film’s original viewing intent.  A vast improvement over its bygone VHS release, The Ratings Game has never looked better.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is sufficient, if not underwhelming, with no troubling levels of distortion or hiss detected.  In a welcome change of pace, Olive Films welcomes the release with a generous helping of supplements including, The Short Films of Danny DeVito: The Selling of Vince D’Angelo (20:37), A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening (13:48), Minestrone (11:51) and The Sound Sleeper (11:52).  In addition, Deleted Scenes (6:03), a Behind the Scenes Featurette (6:50), Promo Spot (1:41) and a 26-page booklet featuring stills, screenplay excerpts and writings on The Ratings Game and Likely Stories are also included.

    Incorporating his own Garden State upbringing with stereotypical cracks at his Italian ethnicity, Star/Director Danny DeVito’s The Ratings Game makes a splash keeping viewers entertained by its many funny performances and charmed by his and real life wife Perlman’s lovable onscreen romance.  Appreciatively saving and reintroducing audiences to Showtime’s first-ever television movie, Olive Films deserves praise for the feature’s remastered high-def presentation and its welcome inclusion of bonus features that will hopefully continue with future releases.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Ratings Game can be purchased via OliveFilms.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.

  • 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Reviews

    1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983)

    Director: Enzo G. Castellari

    Starring: Vic Morrow, Christopher Connelly, Fred Williamson, Mark Gregory & Stefania Girolami / Giancarlo Prete, Fred Williamson, George Eastman, Anna Kakis & Giovanni Frezza / Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici, Timothy Brent & Antonio Sabato

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blue Underground braces viewers for three doses of post apocalyptic devastation and motorcycle street gangs, Italian style!  First up, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the no man’s land of the Bronx circa 1990 where attempts at law and order have been eliminated.  When a wealthy woman from Manhattan escapes into the wasteland, her corrupt father hires a trained mercenary to recover her.  Unfortunately for the cities corporate brass, gang leader Trash unites rival street dwellers to wage war in order to protect their turf.  Vic Morrow (Twilight Zone: The Movie), Christopher Connelly (Manhattan Baby), Fred Williamson (Hammer), Mark Gregory (Thunder) and Stefania Girolami (The Last Shark) star.  Next up, set in the year 2019, The New Barbarians takes place in the aftermath of nuclear devastation where the brutal Templars and their leader One rule with an iron fist.  When the lone warrior Scorpion rescues the gorgeous Alma from their grasp, Scorpion joins forces with the tactical Nadir and a struggling group of survivors to battle their evil oppressors.  Giancarlo Prete (Street Law), Fred Williamson (The Legend of Nigger Charley), George Eastman (Stagefright), Anna Kakis (2019: After the Fall of New York) and Giovanni Frezza (The House by the Cemetery) star.  Finally, continuing the exploits of Bronx Warrior Trash (Mark Gregory), Escape from the Bronx takes place in the year 2000 where a wealthy corporation seeks to bulldoze the entire borough to create an upscale community.  Sending death squads to clear out the remaining inhabitants, Trash and fellow gang members refuse to go out without a fight.  Henry Silva (Trapped), Valeria D’Obici (Midnight Killer), Timothy Brent (Ladyhawke) and Antonio Sabato (Grand Prix) co-star.      

    Reminiscent of 1979’s The Warriors, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the gang-infested wasteland of the Bronx where police presence and public safety is nothing but a memory.  When the wealthy and attractive Ann (Girolami) travels to the dangerous area to escape her Manhattan existence, she quickly falls for sympathetic gang leader Trash (Gregory).  Heiress to the family’s powerful company, her corrupt father hires ruthless mercenary Hammer (Morrow) to retrieve her only to be met with resistance from the Bronx’s motorcycle riding deviants.  Shot on location in the increasingly dangerous borough, 1990: The Bronx Warriors comes loaded with top-notch production value from a grittier New York that no longer exists.  Action is a plenty when Ann is captured by the rival Zombies gang, prompting Trash and his loyal Riders to risk life and limb trekking across their danger zone.  Seeking assistance from the King of the Bronx himself, The Ogre (Williamson), Trash and his companions battle countless goofy gang members from tunnel dwelling freakazoids to glitter-faced baton twirlers with hand to hand combat and deadly spears.  As Hammer simultaneously infiltrates the Bronx with blowtorch equipped troops, alliances are compromised amongst Trash and his friends leading to an explosive conclusion with the ruthless Hammer receiving a gloriously pointy demise.  An excellent product of gang war wastelands protecting their turf from the man, 1990: The Bronx Warriors is action-fueled spaghetti cinema at its finest.

    Also known as Warriors of the Wasteland, The New Barbarians rides high on the post-apocalyptic success of 1981’s The Road Warrior.  Following a similar plot line, this Italian production once again realized by Director Enzo G. Castellari (Light Blast) takes place in the not too distant future of 2019 where nuclear devastation has eliminated virtually all life.  Predominately populated by the book hating, totalitarian warriors The Templars and their leader One (Eastman), innocent civilians starve and fear for their lives.  Unapologetic in his disdain for the ruthless gang, lone warrior Scorpion (Prete) rescues the beautiful Alma (Kanakis) from them, determined to find permanent salvation for her.  Shot on location in Rome, The New Barbarians injects an added production value of futuristic vehicles and laughable space age costumes matched with a funky, synth-heavy score courtesy of Claudio Simonetti (Demons) of Goblin fame.  Although teaming up with ace marksman Nadir (Williamson) to protect a group of innocent survivors and Alma, Scorpion suffers the wrath of The Templars by being captured and unexpectedly raped by the skunk-haired One before retaliating full force.  While explosive car stunts impress with plenty of decapitated heads and impaled torsos, The New Barbarians falls somewhere in the middle of mediocrity during a time where Mad Max ripoffs were reaching their maximum.  With plenty of fun to still be had and Williamson stealing scenes with his amusing performance, The New Barbarians entertains but, oftentimes sticks too close to formula to stand on its own merits.

    Following the events of 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx takes place a decade into the future where the neglected borough has continued to rot into further decay.  Former leader of The Riders, Trash (Gregory) is now a respected loner who is once again pulled back into the fire following the murder of his parents by a mega-corporation.  Hellbent on exercising the existing Bronx in order to make way for an idyllic community, the General Construction Corporation send in countless death squads, headed by the savage Floyd Wangler (Silva), to exterminate any remaining occupants.  Joining forces with hometown reporter Moon Gray (Dobson), underground dweller Strike (Brent) and his young son Junior (Alessandro Prete, Ironmaster), the trio rally the support of fellow gangs to fight off the man once again.  Bursting with action and featuring nearly 200 casualties, Escape from the Bronx is a no holds barred followup that manages to bring the Bronx to an even more rubbled state.  With the exception of Henry Silva’s excellent appearance and Timothy Brent’s Strike bludgeoning a villain with the butt of a shotgun, the sequel lacks more memorable supporting characters to compliment Trash’s war against corporate tycoons.  Shot on location in the Bronx and Rome, Escape from the Bronx, under its alternate Escape 2000 title, was lovingly roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its seventh season awarding it even more cult acclaim.  While falling slightly shorter than its originator, Escape from the Bronx will ultimately leave action buffs raging with testosterone at the sheer volume of over the top fatalities and nonstop explosions.

    Newly transferred in high-definition, Blue Underground presents all three films with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios.  With all films appearing free of any prominent scratches or scruffs, skin tones look pleasing and non waxy with respectable detail on display.  While not entirely free of digital noise, instances of pixelation can be spotted most prominently in the backgrounds of dilapidated buildings seen in 1990: The Bronx Warriors.  Fortunately, these issues are far from deal breaking and are still a vast improvement over their standard definition predecessors.  Colors spotted in flashier costume choices and gore pop nicely offering solid contrast to the bland and desolate environments of the films.  In addition, black levels during the films’ underground sequences can often appear murky and lacking inkier levels.  Admittedly, the transfers do have their shortcomings but, the effort to deliver upgraded products is equally evident with their lush colors and noticeably cleaner appearances leaving expectant fans generally pleased with the results.  Accompanied with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is always robust and clear without a trace of hiss or distortion.  Each film’s respective score along with sequences of intense gunfire, laser blasts and fiery explosions emerge from the speakers with noticeable authority that is well balanced throughout.  Bestowed with Collector’s Edition banners, each film arrives with a plethora of exciting bonus content with 1990: The Bronx Warriors including, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 1 (14:09), Sourcing the Weaponry (11:55) where Castellari guides us through the Italian Weapons Rental House of Paolo Ricci and Adventures in the Bronx (7:20) with Stuntmen Massimo Vanni interviewed about his experiences on the film.  In addition, Theatrical Trailers including, the International Trailer (2:42), Italian Trailer (2:41), Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25) are also provided with a Poster & Still Gallery (100 in total) and a DVD edition of the release rounding out the supplemental package.  Next up, The New Barbarians arrives with an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 2 (13:55), Tales of the Hammer (20:22) with Star Fred Williamson offering a fascinating career retrospective that stands as the disc’s standout feature.  Also included are Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:25), Italian Trailer #1 (3:26), Italian Trailer #2 (1:58), 1990: The Bronx Warriors Trailer (2:42) and Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15).  Finally, a Poster & Still Gallery (97 in total) and a DVD edition of the release conclude the bonus offerings.  Lastly, Escape from the Bronx includes, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 3 (13:16), The Hunt for Trash (12:42) with Bronx Warriors Superfan Lance Lanley sharing his passion and enthusiasm for the films along with Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:15), Italian Trailer (3:15), 1990: The Bronx Warriors (2:42) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25).  A Poster & Still Gallery (77 in total) and a DVD edition of the release are also included.  

    Submerging viewers with a trinity of post-apocalyptic warfare and urban gang battles, Blue Underground ensures an action-packed serving of spaghetti cinema for cult enthusiasts.  While 1990: The Bronx Warriors is the fan favorite of the three, The New Barbarians still offers a fun dose of futuristic goofiness with Escape from the Bronx assaulting viewers with endless action.  Newly transferred in high-definition, each film makes earnest strides, with a few warts along the way, in delivering noticeable upgrades from their past releases.  With impressive remastered mixes and brand new, quality bonus features, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx make their Blu-ray debuts with a thundering crash, ready to wage war on your cult library!

    1990: The Bronx Warriors RATING: 4/5

    The New Barbarians RATING: 3.5/5

    Escape from the Bronx RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Massacre Mafia Style (1974) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Mafia Style (1974)

    Director: Duke Mitchell

    Starring: Duke Mitchell, Vic Caesar, Lorenzo Dodo, Louis Zito & Cara Salerno

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A jack of all trades, Italian-American actor and nightclub singer Duke Mitchell would write, direct, produce and star in his response to The Godfather.  In Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell portrays Mimi Miceli, the son of a mafia kingpin determined to carve a name out for himself by embarking on a bloody crime spree through Hollywood.  Low-budget and intensely violent, Massacre Mafia Style promises “more, guts, action and dynamite” than Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed gangster opus.

    As a noted nightclub singer who would transition to film with such appearances in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Duke Mitchell would graduate to producing his own feature ingrained in his Italian heritage.  Following the massive success of 1972’s The Godfather, Mitchell found a low-budget mafia picture a natural fit to spread his creative wings, wearing several hats on the production including, directing and starring.  Opening with an office building massacre at the hands of Mimi Miceli (Mitchell) and his associate to the upbeat tunes of Mitchell’s own recordings, Massacre Mafia Style makes firm on its promise of more violence than its Academy Award-winning predecessor.  Deported back to Sicily following his rampant crime activity in America, mafia kingpin Don Mimi (Lorenzo Dodo) is confronted with his son Mimi’s desire to reenter the mafia underworld.  Intent on relocating the action of New York City to Hollywood, Mimi travels to sunny California to rekindle his friendship with bartender Jolly (Vic Caesar, Alice Goodbody).  Joining forces with the former drink pusher, Mimi rattles the chains of west coast mob bosses by taking one ransom and wooing the girlfriend (Cara Salerno) of another to prove he means business.  As his notoriety rises, Mimi focuses his attention on bringing down Superspook (Jimmy Williams, Cockfighter), a noted pimp claiming ownership of prime real estate in the city.  Unwilling to easily surrender his turf and women, Mimi is at odds with his violent rise to power and may have bargained for more than he can handle.

    Unquestionably produced on a lower scale than Coppola’s masterpiece, Massacre Mafia Style pushes its exploitative nature of rampant shootouts and over-the-top bloodshed, juxtaposed with jovial music to delightful measure.  Independently funded and shot over the course of weekends in Los Angeles, Duke Mitchell embodies a captivating presence as a ruthless crime boss with a genuine knack for earnest mafioso speech most notably, during a sequence where Mitchell explains how men like himself have disgraced their Sicilian heritage.  Underneath its undeniable cult appeal and entertaining performances, Massacre Mafia Style injects a genuine context for fathers and sons that elevates the picture from other exploitation cash-in attempts.  A goldmine discovery for cult enthusiasts, Massacre Mafia Style stands as a testament of Duke Mitchell’s uncorrupted vision that takes gangster pictures to bloody, fun heights.

    Grindhouse Releasing presents Massacre Mafia Style with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Painstakingly restored, Duke Mitchell’s directorial debut bursts onto high-definition with excellent clarity putting to shame hazy VHS releases from yesteryear.  Appearing near immaculate with only scant traces of scratches, Massacre Mafia Style dazzles with warm skin tones and crisp detail in facial features.  Colors pop magnificently with bright red bloodshed bursting off the screen and black levels in top shape with no crushing on display.  A labor of love, Grindhouse Releasing’s transfer is the definitive statement on this cult favorite.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the digital restoration of the original soundtrack keeps dialogue audible and clear with climatic gunshots and Mitchell’s songs packing a solid punch while, hiss is kept at bay and never intrusive.  Overflowing with impressive bonus content, special features include, Like Father, Like Son: Duke and Jeffrey Mitchell (43:33), an in-depth featurette detailing the relationship between the film’s star and real life son as well as Mitchell’s career highlights.  Also included, Matt Climber and Jim LoBianco Interviews (10:11), Duke Mitchell Home Movies (52:00), a Theatrical Trailer (2:18), five Radio Spots, five Still Galleries consisting of over 200 images, a Duke Mitchell Filmography, Cara Salerno Filmography and Grindhouse Releasing Prevues.  In addition and most excitingly, a bonus feature film, 1952’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (74:19) is included along with its Theatrical Trailer (2:10) and Still Gallery (34 in total).  Plus, a bonus TV special, An Impressionistic Tribute to Jimmy Durante (37:05), accompanied with Durante 16mm Dailies (6:31), a 10-page booklet with an essay from David Szulkin and a DVD edition of the release round out the grandiose supplemental package.   

    Also known as Like Father, Like Son and The Executioner, Massacre Mafia Style’s appeal has grown increasingly through theatrical revival screenings and steady word of mouth.  After nearly 20 years of tireless labor and dedication, Grindhouse Releasing’s Bob Murawksi and the late Sage Stallone’s efforts have paid off in spades with one of the finest treatments and restorations granted to a nearly forgotten gem of cinema.  Exploding with bloodshed and action, Duke Mitchell’s vision of mafia lifestyles and criminal activity unloads a firestorm of exploitation greatness that will easily appease the most casual of cult enthusiasts.  If you’re not in with Massacre Mafia Style, you’re in the way!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Grindhouse Releasing, Massacre Mafia Style can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983)

    Director: Giuliano Carnimeo

    Starring: Robert Iannucci, Alicia Moro, Fernando Bilbao & Luca Venantini

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a post-apocalyptic future where water is the most precious substance, Exterminators of the Year 3000 focuses on a rebellious drifter who wages war against a gang of road-dwelling psychos for control of their deserted environment and its water source.  Joined by a former flame and a young child, the leather-bound warrior undergoes countless car chases and numerous shootouts to make a difference for the few survivors of nuclear fallout. Robert Iannucci (Young Doctors in Love), Alicia Moro (Edge of the Axe), Fernando Bilbao (Roots of Evil), Luciano Pigozzi (Blood and Black Lace) and Luca Venantini (City of the Living Dead) star.

    In true Italian exploitation fashion, Exterminators of the Year 3000 hardly shies from its blatant attempts to mimic George Miller’s Mad Max films.  Substituting gasoline for water, a band of underground survivors strive to locate more of the element in order to keep their peaceful community alive.  After a recovery team is murdered by a gang of road warriors led by Crazy Bull (Bilbao), a child, Tommy (Venantini), is the only survivor left with knowledge of the water source.  Scared and alone, Tommy encounters Animal (Iannucci), a fellow scavenger, who temporarily puts his selfishness aside to journey with Tommy to the mysterious location.  Dodging Crazy Bull and his ruthless gang proves difficult as violent showdowns involving, exploding car chases and Tommy’s robotic arm being ripped from his body, sidelining Animal and his young partner’s mission.  Meanwhile, Animal encounters Trash (Moro), a former flame still angered by his disappearing act on her and determined to join their hunt for water.  With dangerous threats mounting and horribly mutated creatures protecting the valued source, humanity’s last hope for survival is in question.  

    From Director Giuliano Carnimeo (The Case of the Bloody Iris) under the pseudonym Jules Harrison, Exterminators of the Year 3000 is one of many post-apocalyptic cash in attempts that closely mirrors its inspirations with little individuality.  A co-production between Italy and Spain, shot predominately in the latter, Exterminators of the Year 3000 makes the most of its desolate locations and limited budget with an, at times, laughable dub track offering plenty of unintentional hilarity.  In addition, a product of its time, the futuristic film delivers a pleasing synthesizer score with decent action set pieces that should satisfy likeminded viewers.  While, it hardly towers George Miller’s road ravaging classics nor qualifying as a total blunder, Exterminators of the Year 3000 ultimately, falls into the grey area of mediocrity as a B-movie effort with mildly fun moments that never quite reaches the status of cult iconography.

    Scream Factory debuts Exterminators of the Year 3000 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying its drab desert landscape and lacking vibrant colors, the film appears relatively soft with minimal detail in closeups.  Luckily, dirt and debris is virtually nonexistent in this otherwise clean transfer that retains its natural film grain.  Previously released on DVD in full frame, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray treatment while, although mild, is still a decent upgrade in quality that honors the film’s OAR for the first time.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Exterminators of the Year 3000 sounds relatively tame with audible dialogue levels and a rather lackluster boost during more action-orientated sequences.  Ported over from Code Red DVD’s previous release, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Actor Robert Iannucci, moderated by Code Red’s Bill Olsen, Boogie Down with the Alien: Interview with Robert Iannucci (17:43), a Trailer (3:51) and TV Spots (0:43).  

    Following in the tradition of other nuclear aftermath pictures, Exterminators of the Year 3000 does little to differentiate itself from the pack.  Complimented only by its humorous dub track and moderately engaging action sequences, Exterminators of the Year 3000 is best appreciated for laughs than its “wildly unique” concept.  With expectations kept at bay, fans of B-grade, post-apocalyptic fare will find enough in this Italian/Spanish co-production to be entertained by its satisfyingly synth score and copycat characters.  Meanwhile, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray treatment is a suitable upgrade from its past DVD release that improves by retaining the film’s original aspect ratio and porting over all previously available special features.  Cheesy yet, stunted in mediocrity, Exterminators of the Year 3000 falls somewhere in the middle of other futuristic survival films from a decade booming with them.  

    RATING: 3/5

    Available March 3rd from Scream Factory, Exterminators of the Year 3000 can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #1: Neighbors (2014), Stagefright (1987) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray Reviews

    Neighbors (2014)

    Director: Nicholas Stoller

    Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco & Christopher Mintz-Plasse

    Released by: Universal Studios

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Parents to a baby girl and new homeowners, Mac (Seth Rogen, This is the End) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne, Bridesmaids), are adjusting to their new suburban existence when the Delta Psi Beta fraternity moves in next door.  Led by their president, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron, That Awkward Moment), the frat’s parties continue to grow in size as the Radner’s patience wears thin, prompting a hilarious war between the two neighbors.  Dave Franco (21 Jump Street), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass), Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project), Carla Gallo (We Bought a Zoo) and Lisa Kudrow (Friends) co-star.  

    Funnyman Seth Rogen teams with Director Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement) in this modern day Animal House tale of debauchery disrupting the lives of two thirtysomethings.  The unlikely combination of Rogen and High School Musical hunk, Zac Efron, hardly screams comedic gold but, Efron makes a surprising turn as the fraternity president who knows no bounds.  The personality clashes and age differences make for hilarious on-screen chemistry and a drunken debate of whether Michael Keaton or Christian Bale is the definitive Batman will surely ignite laughter and off-screen arguments amongst viewers.  As a house war erupts between the two parties, sabotage antics reach wild heights in this comedy hit.  Co-stars Rose Byrne and Ike Barinholtz are the standout performances with hysterical dialogue that further cements their comedic status.  While, the final act may drag itself out a few minutes too long, Neighbors is still an entertaining romp of college humor hijinks that allows fresh blood like Efron to capably play in the Rogen sandbox of modern comedy.

    Universal Studios presents Neighbors with a 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Crisp and sharp, skin tones appear natural while, colors are always bold and refreshing.  Black levels are also handled very nicely, most noticeably in the neon-lit rave sequence, leaving room for no issues to be seen.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Neighbors sounds just as good as it looks with dialogue always coming across clearly and the modern hits soundtrack offering an added boost for your listening pleasure.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 mix has also been included.

    Neighbors arrives with a generous offering of special features including, Blu-ray exclusive content such as an alternate opening (6:40), deleted/alternate scenes (12:55) and On Set with... (3:41), a brief featurette with Dave Franco as your tour guide showcasing a fundraiser Delta Psi Beta hosts in the film.  In addition, a gag reel (5:57) and Line-O-Rama (2:52) join more informative, albeit brief, featurettes covering various areas of the production such as An Unlikely Pair (5:34) focusing on the pairing of Rogen and Efron, Partying with Neighbors (7:17), highlighting the central elements that created the on-screen hilarity and The Frat (5:44) where the cast of Delta Psi Beta discuss fraternity legends.  Finally, a DVD edition and Ultraviolet code round out the supplemental package.

    With little competition combatting it, Neighbors has been crowned by many to be the funniest comedy of the year.  Hardly breaking new ground, Neighbors is still a barrel of laughs allowing Rogen to do what he does best while, inviting welcome newcomers such as Efron, Byrne and Barinholtz to his comedic circle.  Universal Studios’ audio and visual presentation is pitch perfect with a decent array of special features that offer more added humor than informative production accounts. 

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 23rd, Neighbors can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Stagefright (1987)

    Director: Michele Soavi

    Starring: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Robert Gligorov, Mary Sellers & Piero Vida

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of The Church and Cemetery Man, Stagefright centers on a group of young actors rehearsing a new musical based on a murderer.  When a madman escapes from the local institution, the show’s director locks his cast inside the theater overnight accidentally with the killer.  With no escape, the stage is set for a night of suspense and blood.  Also available on DVD, Blue Underground proudly presents this Italian shocker, newly transferred in high-definition from the uncut negative, and loaded with newly produced special features.

    A protege of Dario Argento (Suspiria, Opera), Michele Soavi would mark his directorial debut with this low-budget, atmospheric tale of terror.  Set in a dingy theater house where a group of starving artists perfect their experimental musical production, a former actor gone mad escapes the confines of his imprisonment to paint the stage red.  While, the film starts off rather slow with the cast aggressively rehearsing their offbeat production, Stagefright truly shines after the killer takes possession of an equally odd owl mask to fall into character.  Once the show’s director locks his team indoors to rehearse through the night, the escaped maniac utilizes a variety of power tools to make his own personal casting cuts.  Brutal and shocking, Stagefright retains its momentum thanks to Composer Simon Boswell’s (Hardware, Lord of Illusions) blending of operatic, synth-heavy tunes.  Nicely photographed by Renato Tafuri (The Church), Stagefright doesn’t always possess the effortless style of Argento’s earliest works but, obviously demonstrates the chops of a young director from the same school of filmmaking.  A third act confrontation on the theater’s catwalk between the sole injured victim and the masked killer is both thrilling and terrifying, sending Stagefright off on a satisfying final note.  Unique and dreamlike, Stagefright remains one of Soavi’s finest efforts due to its claustrophobic setting, startling gore effects and frantic score courtesy of Simon Boswell.

    Unsurprisingly, Blue Underground’s new transfer is a marvel.  Presented in a 1080p widescreen transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Stagefright improves astonishingly over previous DVD releases.  Detail is most impressive in facial close-ups while, colors pop nicely in this generally low-lit film.  Skin tones always appear natural with healthy film grain left intact.  Handled with the utmost care, black levels are consistently visible and show no signs of crushing or pixelation.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is relayed clearly with no distortion to speak of.  That said, several moments of characters speaking in hushed tones may require the occasional increase in volume.  Boswell’s exhilarating synth-heavy score sounds sensational, making itself a  personal highlight of the mix.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD 2.0 mix has also been included.

    Blue Underground compliments their rich audio and visual presentation with a plethora of newly produced bonus features including, Theatre of Delirium - Interview with Director Michele Soavi (19:01) where Soavi recounts the difficult shooting schedule and  credits his experiences with Dario Argento in learning how to create tension and atmosphere.  In addition, House of the Company - Interview with Star David Brandon (11:40), Blood on the Stage Floor - Interview with Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (14:00), The Owl Murders - Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Pietro Tenoglio (11:21) and The Sounds of Aquarius - Interview with Composer Simon Boswell (18:02) round out the impressive array of informative interviews found on the disc.  In addition, a theatrical trailer (2:18) and poster & still gallery (74 in total) have also been included.

    Akin to a frightening fever dream, Stagefright uses its limited budget to its advantage.  Predominately centered in a darkened theater, the owl-masked murderer stalks his prey with patience leaving his victims shy of limbs.  Nicely detailed, possessing sound black levels and free of any aging artifacts, Blue Underground’s new transfer is a sight to be seen with an equally impressive sound mix to satisfy viewers.  In addition, the newly-included assortment of special features are a treat to sit through and should appease dedicated fans.  A delightful directorial debut, Michele Soavi’s Stagefright remains a fan-favorite of late 80s Italian horror that is ripe for revisiting.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 23rd, Stagefright can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

    Director: Tobe Hooper

    Starring: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Teri McCinn, Edwin Neal & Gunnar Hansen

    Released by: Dark Sky Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Eaten Alive, five youths head out on a weekend getaway in rural Texas only to fall prey to a family of ruthless cannibals.  Shocking and controversial, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has unleashed a world of horror on viewers for over 40 years becoming a masterpiece of genre filmmaking.  Dark Sky Films proudly presents the 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in an all-new 4K transfer with a newly crafted 7.1 surround sound mix supervised by Director Tobe Hooper.

    Shot in the sweltering summer of 1973 in Austin, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has achieved iconic status for changing the face of cinema with its brutal depiction of macabre realism.  Equally loved and hated, Writer/Producer/Director Tobe Hooper’s enduring opus has unanimously remained in the public conscience as a groundbreaking effort of independent cinema.  Inspired by the heinous exploits of real-life serial killer Ed Gein, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre grows more grizzly with age as its vintage quality and boiling backroads setting leaves viewers with a hellish representation of a living nightmare.  The equally believable cast headlined by Marilyn Burns as Sally, are our guides as their afternoon of fun morphs into an odyssey of madness.  The horror that unfolds at the Sawyer residence, home of Leatherface and his disturbed family, are the film’s most disturbing moments that have lifted it to iconic heights.  Imagery of human bone constructed furniture and a victim hung on a meathook is just the beginning of this grueling experiment in shock value.  Barely maintaining her sanity and survival, Sally is subjected to a terrifying dinner with her captors before attempting her escape.  Drenched in bright red blood on a highway, Sally is confronted and evades the maniacal Leatherface, angrily waving his deadly power tool in an unforgettable final image.

    Chilling and unsettling, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has remained a cinematic landmark since rattling the public’s senses during the tumultuous 1970s.  Simple in its execution, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s grimy production value matched with its uncomfortable tone sends viewers through a relentless viewing experience that feels authentic.

    Scanned in 4K, Dark Sky Films presents The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in a 1080 anamorphic widescreen transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Improving on their already impressive 2008 release, Dark Sky Films’ latest transfer is the best yet!  Shot guerilla-style, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre retains its warm, Texas appearance with skin tones reading reasonably sharp and accurate.  Lines and debris that have plagued so many previous releases are extinct in this transfer while, always maintaing a layer of natural grain.  Consistently underlit, black levels are nicely handled, especially during Leatherface’s pursuit of Sally in the fields.  Action is satisfyingly visible with no crushing to speak of.  Supervised by Writer/Director Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes equipped with a newly created DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround mix that picks up dialogue clearly with no intrusions and chaotic moments of chain saw mayhem roars across this impressive mix.  In addition, optional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Stereo 2.0 and Original 2.0 Mono mixes have also been included.  

    Bursting with bonus content, the 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition arrives with four commentary tracks including: 1) Writer/Producer/Director, Actor Gunnar Hansen, Cinematographer Daniel Pearl, 2) Actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger & Paul A. Partain and Production Designer Robert Burns.  Plus, two newly recorded tracks from: 3) Writer/Producer/Director Tobe Hooper and 4) Cinematographer Daniel Pearl, Editor Larry J. Carroll and Sound Recordist Ted Nicolauo.  A separate Blu-ray disc of additional bonus features include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (1:12:49), Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (1:11:42), A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen (8:03), a vintage walk through tour from 1993.  In addition, Off the Hook with Teri McMinn (17:02), The Business of Chain Saw: An Interview with Production Manager Ron Bozman (16:27), a new, albeit silent due to the audio being lost, selection of deleted scenes & outtakes (15:07), Grandpa’s Tales: An Interview with John Dugan (15:48), Cutting Chain Saw: An Interview with Editor J. Larry Carroll (10:47), vintage deleted scenes & outtakes (25:23), a blooper reel (2:22), Outtakes from The Shocking Truth (7:40), Horror‘s Hallowed Grounds: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (20:19), where Host Sean Clark visits the original shooting locations, Dr. W.E. Barnes presents Making Grandpa (2:45), a still gallery (2:27) and several trailers, TV & radio spots round out this impressive assortment of special features.  An accompanying DVD edition of the film and special features disc is also included for standard definition needs.

    As effective as it was 40 years ago, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre continues to shock and mesmerize viewers with its unsettling presentation of cannibalistic killers in the barren backroads of Texas.  In a time of endless catalog re-releases of subpar standard, Dark Sky Films have delivered fans the definitive release of this low-budget spectacle.  Beautifully scanned in 4K with an impressive 7.1 surround mix, Dark Sky Films has left no stone unturned with over four hours of bonus content to delve into.  Endlessly disturbing and terrifying, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre never fades in quality and Dark Sky Films‘ 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition firmly proves that the saw is still family!

    RATING: 5/5

    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is available right now and can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

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

    Director: Bruno Mattei

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

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    MOVIE(s):

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

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

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

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

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

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

    • Poster & Still Gallery: 64 slides in total.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:

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

    RATING: 4.5/5