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Currently showing posts tagged John Carpenter

  • Slasher: Season One Blu-ray Review

    Slasher: Season One 

    Director: Craig David Wallace

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Village of the Damned (1995) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Village of the Damned (1995)

    Director: John Carpenter

    Starring: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Paré, Mark Hamill & Meredith Salenger

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Director John Carpenter’s (Halloween, The Thing) modernization of the 1960 British feature, Village of the Damned finds the small village of Midwich interrupted by unseen forces, leaving ten of the town’s women mysteriously pregnant.  Joining together to uncover the truth behind the phenomenon, local physician Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve, Superman) and government scientist Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley, Look Who’s Talking) realize the birth of the bleach blonde children is only the beginning of Midwich’s troubles.  Linda Kozlowski (Crocodile Dundee), Michael Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers), Mark Hamill (Star Wars) and Meredith Salenger (Lake Placid) co-star.

    Retaining the town’s name but substituting its original British location for northern California, John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned remains relatively close to its source material while, injecting subtle perspective changes through its narrative.  Starring the late Christopher Reeve in his final role before his devastating paralyzation, Carpenter’s remake, unlike that of his reimagining of 1952’s The Thing from Another World, takes little creative risk in crafting a truly unique experience with character development for the film’s adult actors appearing stunted and uneven, indubitably caused by studio interference.  Following Midwich’s bizarre blackout leaving ten women impregnated, the film attempts to shift focus onto single mother Jill McGowan (Kozlowski) and the weight of raising her peculiar newborn son and grieving over the loss of her husband.  An inspired deviation from the original film, Village of the Damned unfortunately never affords the proper time to fully invest in its soon-to-be victims as attention is juxtaposed with scientist Dr. Susan Verner’s (Alley) own interest in the children’s development.  Highly intelligent and appearing intendedly from another era, the blonde-haired younglings finesse their supernatural powers of mind control, prompting an increase of harrowing suicides in the community.  With humanity all but lost on the majority of the sinister children, recently widowed local physician Dr. Alan Chaffee (Reeve) makes the ultimate sacrifice to bring stability to the human race.  

    Pronounced by Carpenter to be more a contractual obligation than a passion project, Village of the Damned offers strong performances from Reeve as Midwich’s good-natured doctor confronted with otherworldly forces while, Lindsey Haun (True Blood) as the clan’s evil leader and Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the only blonde child with a heart deliver both effective and emotional moments.  Surely not as daring as other Carpenter efforts, Village of the Damned has aged better than expected, amid its developmental character struggles, to remain suitably entertaining.

    Scream Factory presents Village of the Damned with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Featuring beautiful photography of its sunny, rural locations, colors are prominent with flesh tones appearing equally lush and finely detailed.  In addition, the blindingly blonde hair of the film’s antagonists pop accordingly with black levels always appearing smooth and balanced.  With no signs of damage and boasting an exceptionally filmic quality, Village of the Damned makes an impactful leap to high-def.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is always audible while, Carpenter and Dave Davies of The Kinks’ music establish intended levels of eeriness.  Suspenseful sound queues and explosive gunfire in the film’s third act also provide the mix with a strong depth that appropriately enhances the viewing experience.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Rightly earning itself a spot in Scream Factory’s coveted Collector’s Edition series, plentiful special features include, It Takes a Village: The Making of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned (49:17).  This top-notch featurette finds Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King, Special Make Up Effects Artist Greg Nicotero and countless cast members reflecting on their experiences making the troubled film with nothing but warm memories and an overflow of behind-the-scenes info.  In addition, Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (20:58) finds host Sean Clark revisiting the original shooting locations today, The Go To Guy: Peter Jason on John Carpenter (45:13) sits down with the Carpenter regular as he reflects on his many collaborations with the famed director plus, Vintage Interviews and Behind-the-Scenes (24:40), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:59), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (23 in total) and a Reversible Cover Art utilizing the original 1-sheet poster round out another knockout spread of supplements for the horror sub label.

    While not one of Carpenter’s finest moments but, by no means his worst, Village of the Damned has its setbacks yet, contains sizable levels of fun that likeminded viewers shouldn’t dismiss.  With more studio support, Carpenter’s contractual obligation could have fared far better than originally received although, its final product has aged more gracefully than most modern remakes.  In quite possibly their home video swan song to the director’s filmography, Scream Factory ensures an exceptional high-definition transfer and a glut of bonus features that will surely control viewers minds.  Beware the children cautiously but, resisting Village of the Damned’s Collector’s Edition will be futile!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 12th from Scream Factory, Village of the Damned can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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


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

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    - Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter & Actor Kurt Russell

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

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

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

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

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

    - Interview with Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund

    - Deleted Scenes

    - Extended Ending

    - Vintage Featurette

    - Music Video

    - Trailers

    - TV Spots

    - Gallery

    - Isolated Score

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

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

    RATING: 5/5

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

  • Body Bags (1993) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review



    Body Bags (1993)
    Director(s): John Carpenter & Tobe Hooper
    Starring: Robert Carradine, David Naughton Stacy Keach, David Warner & Mark Hamill
    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After an already illustrious career directing gems like Halloween, The Fog, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, Director John Carpenter turned to the small screen for a taste of anthology madness. Following up Carpenter’s disappointing 1992 effort of Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Showtime came a knockin’ with a proposal that enabled Carpenter with wife and Producer, Sandy King, to gather a wide selection of their friends and genre vets to make a fun and horrific anthology flick. The result was Body Bags. In addition to Carpenter directing the first two segments and appearing as the ghoulish-like coroner who hosts the wrap-around segments, Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce) joins the festivities for the final segment of the film. With creative talent like this behind and in front of the camera, is this anthology of horrors worth remembering or best left for dead? Zip yourself in tight and let’s find out…

    Body Bags is a nifty anthology of three horror tales that are all hosted by a ghoulish-looking coroner (John Carpenter) who has a taste for the macabre and formaldehyde. The Gas Station, helmed by John Carpenter, centers on a woman (Alex Datcher) working the late shift at a gas station while an insane killer is on the loose.  Hair, again directed by Carpenter, stars Stacy Keach (Road Games, American History X) as a man that will do anything to stop the loss of his hair. Finally, Tobe Hooper directs Eye, a story about a baseball player (Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame) that agrees to a transplant after losing his eye in a brutal car accident. Don’t blink or else you’ll miss appearances from icons like Deborah Harry, Sheena Easton, David Naughton, David Warner as well as cameos by Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hooper, Tom Arnold and the infamous Roger Corman.

    MOVIE:
    When the topic of horror anthologies arises, I find it a real shame that Body Bags isn’t discussed nearly as much as it deserves to be. The strategy of releasing horror anthologies has never proven to be widely successful or financially profitable for the studios which makes Body Bags an even more unique case. The heyday of the 1980s slasher craze was all but dead when 1993 rolled around and a cable channel named Showtime chose to take a chance. The benefit to horror fans was that we were treated to a wonderfully entertaining TV movie that brought together so many genre vets on one production. Sure, the incredible Creepshow brought George A. Romero and Stephen King together with a cast that included Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Harris, Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen. But, I think Body Bags is the only other anthology film that rivals it with a cast and crew that is just as noteworthy and talks the talk when it comes to their segments. John Carpenter’s efforts for The Gas Station and Hair are so polar opposite from one another but also so identifiably Carpenter.  The Gas Station rewards viewers with the suspense and terror we’ve come to know from Carpenter while Hair allows him to explore aliens once more with a dark comedic tone attached.  Stacy Keach is absolutely looney in his performance and the long hair he yearns for gives us a nostalgic reminder for what year this was made.  In addition, Robert Carradine’s mad portrayal of the killer in The Gas Station was not only refreshing but genuinely creepy. Tobe Hooper’s finale in Eye is what will really send shivers down your spine. The nightmarish imagery and descent into madness that Mark Hamill portrays is quite frightening and caught me off guard with a few jump-scares. John Carpenter’s acting chops in the wrap-around segments is what keeps the film fun and light similar to HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. While it is a shame that this TV movie didn’t morph into a fully fledged series as Showtime was hoping, we are still left with a remarkably fun anthology of tales that is painfully underrated as it is one of the best.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Scream Factory presents Body Bags in a 1080p High-Definition Widescreen transfer in 1:78:1.  The film looks nice and clean with barely any scratches to be seen.  Black levels look great which is a major plus for how many night scenes there are.  Grain is nicely intact and colors pop well specifically in Carpenter’s wrap-around segments.  Scream Factory does it again!
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Body Bags comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that hits all the right notes.  Dialogue is clear as crystal while moments of terror are loud and booming.  No hisses or pops were heard on this track.  In addition, a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also provided.  What else could be asked for?
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    Scream Factory treats this Collector’s Edition accordingly with a nice assortment of special features.

    - Unzipping Body Bags: A 20 minute featurette with interviews from John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King and Actors Robert Carradine and Stacy Keach.

    - Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter & Actor Robert Carradine on The Gas Station

    - Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter & Actor Stacy Keach on Hair

    - Audio Commentary with Producer Sandy King & Justin Beahm on Eye

    - Original Trailer

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Body Bags came at a time when horror was on life support and Showtime was willing to take a risky chance.  Thankfully, the finished product is a rewarding piece of anthology horror that brought together so many beloved genre vets on one project.  The film is light on its toes and has fun with itself while also packing the scares and terror when necessary.  Body Bags is an overlooked chapter in horror anthology history that not only produced some of Carpenter and Hooper’s best efforts of the 1990s but for the entire sub-genre.  Scream Factory’s uncut presentation of the film is a real marvel to the eyes and ears as it looks and sounds just terrific. The special features provided are wonderful and offer great candid anecdotes on the making of the film from the players involved although it would have been nifty to hear Hooper’s thoughts on his segment.  Scream Factory also provides gorgeous new cover art for the film provided by Justin Osbourne.  While, the option of having reversible covers that utilize the original 1-sheet artwork is normally provided on these Collector’s Editions, the rights holders for Body Bags always despised it and insisted on just using the new artwork.  Not a huge deal but certainly worth noting for fans of this popular collection.  Regardless, Body Bags is a hell of a fun time and thanks to Scream Factory’s superior treatment this release should be in every horror fan’s collection.
    RATING: 4.5/5