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  • Creepshow 2 (1987) Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

    Creepshow 2 (1987)

    Director: Michael Gornick

    Starring: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour & Tom Savini

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Once again inspired by the moralistic terror tales of EC Comics, Creepshow 2 lures viewers into three stories of the macabre focused on a vengeful Indian statue, an oil slick hungry for teens and a relentless hitchhiker who won’t take no for an answer.  Starring an ensemble roster including, Lois Chiles (Broadcast News), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Dorothy Lamour (The Greatest Show on Earth) and Tom Savini (From Dusk Till Dawn) as The Creeper, Michael Gornick (TV’s Tales from the Darkside) directs the horror anthology sequel.

    Scripted by original Creepshow helmer George A. Romero, the frightening followup, a victim of reduced budgets and scary segments, struggles to achieve the morbidly gleeful heights of its predecessor while making the best of its efforts with occasional moments of eerie excellence.  Drawing horror hounds into the comic carnage via wrap-around segments starring Special Makeup Effects maestro Tom Savini as the ghoulish Creeper, Creepshow 2’s opening tale, Old Chief Wood’nhead, starring George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour in her final performance as elderly general store operators who fall victim to senseless murder is generally dull as board until the shop’s Native American warrior statue comes alive to retrieve an eye for an eye.  As the thieving trio, headed by a notably long-haired and bare chested hoodlum (Holt McCallany, Alien 3), plan to skip town, Old Chief Wood’nhead’s deliciously un-PC scalping of the assailant nearly forgives the installment’s stale buildup.  Meanwhile, an idyllic day at the lake turned deadly earns The Raft the highest honors for the sequel.  When four horny teens find themselves stranded on water, the stalking presence of a foreboding oil slick slimes its way through the cracks of their raft to dine on their young bodies.  As they drop like flies and a pervy attempt at nookie goes south, The Raft keeps suspense central with a splashingly sinister finale fitting for the lone swimmer who couldn’t keep his hormones under control.  Finally, The Hitch-Hiker finds a wealthy businesswoman and gigolo customer roadblocked by nightmarish images of the hitcher she accidentally killed.  Simple yet effective, gunshots and continued car ramming does little to shake the bloodied man who just wants a ride.  Concluding with an expected jump scare and an animated interstitial where a Venus Fly Trap feasts on a four-course meal of schoolyard bullies, Creepshow 2, a staple of late night programming and weekend rentals, may not equal its predecessor’s tighter stories, sense of humor or star power yet, the followup, specifically the strength of its second lakeside segment, captures a nostalgic charm that makes the ride a worthwhile one.

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Creepshow 2 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably revealing more information on either sides of frame more so than previous releases, colors are radiant as can be with details in Old Chief Wood’nhead’s sunbaked features nicely revealed while, the bright yellow speedo and other skimpy swimwear in The Raft pop brightly.  Furthermore, cleanup, outside of fleeting instances of speckles during darker sequences found in The Hitch-Hiker, is top-notch easily making this presentation the best the sequel has ever looked.  Equipped with varying audio options, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix boasts audible dialogue deliveries with the film’s synth-heavy opening title sequence sounding excellent.  Optional LPCM 1.0 Mono and 2.0 Stereo mixes have also been included for your listening pleasure.  

    Well packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Gornick, moderated by Perry Martin, Screenplay for a Sequel with George A. Romero (10:45) where the zombie cultivator discusses his love for the anthology format and heaps praise on Gornick for delivering a quality picture under unideal circumstances, Tales from the Creep with Tom Savini (7:53) finds the actor discussing the technical process of becoming his ghoulish onscreen character, Poncho’s Last Ride with Daniel Beer (14:44) finds The Raft costar reminiscing on the brutal shoot, his health scare with hypothermia during filming and Gornick’s endless support while, The Road to Dover with Tom Wright (13:51) has the trained actor detailing his early professional roots and his skills as a stuntman that helped land him the role as the deadly hitcher.  Other vintage supplements recycled from the Anchor Bay release include, Nightmares in Foam Rubber (32:03) featuring interviews from FX Artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero and My Friend Rick (2:43) where Berger recalls his early encounters and fascination with his mentor Rick Baker while, a Behind-the-Scenes featurette (5:50), Image Gallery (3:34), Trailers & TV Spots (3:24) and the Original Screenplay (BD-ROM) are also on hand.  Finally, a 19-page booklet featuring stills and a new essay entitled Deadtime Stories by Michael Blyth is included along with a Creepshow: Pinfall Limited Edition Comic Book that brings life to one of the sequel’s exorcised segments and a Reversible Cover Art featuring both new imagery by Michael Saputo and the film’s original 1-sheet poster rounding out the hefty bonus offerings.

    Nearing its own 30th anniversary, Creepshow 2 suffers from standard sequelitis and a shortened stack of segments that disrupts its full potential while, persevering to deliver shades of genuine fun.  Although The Raft remains the fan-favorite of the followup, its co-features vary in mileage yet retain a charm that makes revisiting them a pleasurable blast from the past.  In their latest excavation from the Lakeshore catalog, Arrow Video has pulled the curtain back on the much-requested anthology with a definitive video treatment, a handsome stack of supplements and a gorgeously designed package sure to hitch a ride with fans.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available December 13th from Arrow Video in a limited 3,000 unit release, Creepshow 2 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

    Director: Woody Allen

    Starring: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello & Diane Wiest

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As The Great Depression takes hold of the country, an unhappily married New Jersey waitress (Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby) turns to the magic of the movies for escapism. When her favorite movie star (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom) emerges from the screen, a charming romance ensues.  Sweet and enchanting, The Purple Rose of Cairo co-stars Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing) and Diane Wiest (Edward Scissorhands).

    Delicately straddling the line between reality and fiction, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a tender love letter to cinema akin to Ed Wood and Matinee.  Critically applauded but, financially stunted at the box-office, Woody Allen’s tragi-comedy speaks to the average day dreamers quietly suffering in their daily lives but, rejuvenated by the alluring glow of the silver screen.  Mia Farrow headlines as Cecilia, an oppressed, overworked wife and waitress, constantly abused by her unfaithful, unemployed husband (intensely portrayed by Danny Aiello).  Cecilia’s escape is at her local movie house where Hollywood’s endless tales transport her to dreamlike states where her favorite actor, Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), melts her heart with his talents and good looks.  Farrow’s wide-eyed, childlike enthusiasm easily relates to those who care deeply for cinema and are as affectionately moved by its sweeping images.  When Shepherd’s latest film, The Purple Rose of Cairo debuts, Cecilia finds herself returning to encore shows only to witness Tom Baxter, Shepherd’s onscreen persona (also played by Daniels), leaping off the screen and entering Cecilia’s reality.  As Baxter lacks real world skills and Cecilia’s desperation to rid herself of her depressing lifestyle becomes clear, the two connect and fall hopelessly in love.  Through all its genuine magic and emotional chemistry perfectly delivered by Farrow and Daniels, Allen injects heaps of playful humor from disgruntled moviegoers less impressed with a movie star stepping through a screen and more concerned with being ripped off.  In addition, Baxter is understandably confused when a working girl (Diane Wiest) invites him to her brothel for an “experimental adventure” leading to an adorably hilarious exchange.  

    As word reaches the Hollywood big shots and Gil Shepherd himself, the pack head to New Jersey to contain the possibility of endless Tom Baxter’s escaping screens.  Genuinely sweet and determined to be more than a supporting actor, Shepherd is quickly taken by Cecilia’s kindness and admiration for his talents.  Before long, Cecilia finds herself in a confusing love triangle where two men, one real, the other fictional, are vying for her love.  As our hearts are invested as much as Cecilia’s, the difficult option of choosing between her fantasies or reality is a heart-rending, bittersweet sendoff that equally delights our imaginations and forces us to confront the imperfect complexities of life.  Delightful and enduring, The Purple Rose of Cairo could very well be Allen’s finest effort and one that wears its adoration for romance and movie magic proudly on its sleeve.

    Twilight Time presents The Purple Rose of Cairo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Gorgeously shot by Cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather), colors, or lack thereof, are relayed nicely while, the transfer bears only minor instances of flakes and speckles.  Closeups aren’t drastically sharp but do offer suitable detail that appease.  Overall, The Purple Rose of Cairo maintains a natural, filmic appearance that delivers considerably.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Purple Rose of Cairo projects clear dialogue with no issues to speak of.  Expectedly, the mix never charges with much authority but, does offer an appreciated boost with the loud horn section at the Copacabana.  Relatively light, special features included are an Isolated Score Track, Original Theatrical Trailer (1:37), MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06) and a 6-page booklet bearing stills from the film and another spot-on analysis and appreciation for the film from Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo.

    Remarkably acted and achingly moving, The Purple Rose of Cairo speaks to the dreamers whisked away to exotic lands of adventure and romance from the unspooling of film reels.  Farrow and Daniels could hardly be more perfect with their intoxicating chemistry and Allen’s witty handling of dialogue carving out the film’s optimal quality.  Twilight Time delivers Allen’s 1985 gem with a filmic video appearance and fitting sound mix while, special features unfortunately fall on the lighter side, Julie Kirgo’s latest essay is as always, enriching.  Breezy at only 82 minutes, The Purple Rose of Cairo is essential viewing for anyone swept away by the magic of movies and the enchanting spell they cast.  Fade out.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now in a limited edition of 3,000 units, The Purple Rose of Cairo can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

  • Runaway Nightmare (1982) Blu-ray Review

    Runaway Nightmare (1982)
    Director: Mike Cartel
    Starring: Mike Cartel, Al Valletta, Sijtske Vandenberg & Cindy Donlan
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Filmed over the course of several years, Runaway Nightmare serves as an excellent example of renegade filmmaking in the late 70s and early 80s.  Abstract and bizarre, Director Mike Cartel’s sole effort, incorporating elements of horror, black comedy and action, can hardly be labeled under one genre.  Welcomed into Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Blu-ray series of 1,000 units, Runaway Nightmare has been scanned and restored in glorious 4K.  Destined to leave you scratching your head in wonderment, this is one nightmare you won’t soon be forgetting!

    Runaway Nightmare focuses on Ralph (Mike Cartel) and Jason (Al Valletta), two worm farmers stationed in Death Valley.  After discovering a woman buried alive, Ralph and Mike find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Shortly after, a sexy all-female cult of gun runners kidnap the men, force them to become their sex slaves and enlist them to help steal a suitcase of platinum from the mafia.  Strange and unusual, Runaway Nightmare co-stars Sijtske Vandenberg (Bitter Pleasure), Cindy Donlan (Schizoid) and Jody Lee Olhava (Three-Way Weekend).  

    MOVIE:
    For better or worse, Director Mike Cartel’s magnum opus is the work of a low-budget auteur.  Beginning in 1978, with principal photography lasting until 1982, Runaway Nightmare manages to not only corral some of the finest looking ladies in Death Valley but also assemble a production team of up and comers, Rowdy Harrington (director of Road House) and Daryn Okada (cinematographer on Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later), who continued to move up the Hollywood ladder.  Runaway Nightmare begins with two local worm farmers, Ralph (Cartel) and Jason (Valletta, director of Alley Cat), bored with their occupation and longing for adventure.  Unwanted excitement comes in the form of a female cult who abducts and keeps them under their watchful eye.  Runaway Nightmare rapidly switches gears, scene to scene as the viewer questions what’s unfolding before their eyes.  Imprisoned by beautiful women has its perks as the ladies never shy from seducing their prisoners.  But, after several tantalizing teases and the array of beautiful women on display, Runaway Nightmare never makes good on any skin.  That said, All Seasons Entertainment’s VHS release did insert several moments of glorious nudity without Cartel’s knowledge.  Moving forward, as the runtime increases, Runaway Nightmare only continues to grow weirder.  A bizarre dinner sequence takes place, feeling Lynchian in tone, where the female gang make statements, making little to no sense, as if there mid-conversation.  In addition, the only heavyset woman of the gang can’t resist randomly shouting “worm farmers” before exploding into uncontrollable laughter.  Fearing for their life and confronted with torture, Ralph and Jason can’t help making off-handed, hilarious comments that would normally feel out of place but, instead are appropriately at home in Runaway Nightmare.  The pitch black comedy mixed with their captors‘ odd sensibilities creates a surrealistic vibe few films can capture.  The climax of the film includes the men being tasked with retrieving a briefcase from the mafia filled with platinum.  Double and even triple-crossings take place that sends the viewer for a head spin keeping up with the overly complicated plot points.

    Actors stumbling over lines and even being replaced midway through shooting cements the indescribable charm of Runaway Nightmare.  Finding sense in Director Mike Cartel’s directorial debut is self-defeating and is best appreciated as a trippy cinematic experience that will leave you spaced out.  Whether Runaway Nightmare is a valiant effort or utter trash is in the eye of the beholder.  Most certainly, an acquired taste that lends itself to repeat viewings, Runaway Nightmare is a unique effort you won’t forget no matter how much you sleep it off.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Scanned in 4K from the original 35mm camera negatives, Runaway Nightmare is presented in 1080p, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Needles to say, the film looks gorgeous.  The scratch-free appearance matched with the near perfect clarity makes one appreciate the bright blue skies and dry environment of Death Valley.  Skin tones look remarkable with minor details such as aging wrinkles and graying hairs leaping off the screen.  Black levels are decent, albeit, some darker sequences contain more flakes and dust than desired.  In addition, a scene involving a gun dual between two of the cult members, drops significantly in quality, most likely attributed to a different film stock being used.  Overall, Vinegar Syndrome’s outstanding presentation is a dream come true for enthusiasts of this surreal indie effort.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Runaway Nightmare captures all dialogue magnificently.  Captured in post-production, the dialogue comes across louder than one might expect, ensuring you don’t miss a beat.  In addition, the electric, space-age sounding score comes across crisp and effective.  No noticeable signs of distortion or hiss were noticed making this one fulfilling sound mix.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Mike Cartel: Joined by his wife, Mari Cartel, who wore numerous hats on the production and moderated by Joel Rudin and film historian Howard S. Berger, Cartel provides a lively commentary touching on various topics.  The formulation of the project, guerilla filmmaking techniques that included stealing shots without proper permits.  Plus, the songs and the surreal quality of the film are discussed at length making this an ideal commentary to tune into for fans of the film.

    - Alternate Video Scenes: Presented in poor, yet visible VHS quality, the much requested, nudity scenes found in the All Seasons Entertainment VHS release are compiled for all to see.  While, inserted without Cartel’s knowledge, the scenes add a nice air of sex appeal for a film that shied away from skin.

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    Vinegar Syndrome’s latest limited edition Blu-ray release is an experience that is difficult to convey and is best left witnessing firsthand.  Unusual and dreamlike, Runaway Nightmare does not conform to a typical narrative but instead, transcends into the oddest journey through Death Valley you’re bound to take.  Also available in a standard DVD edition from retail outlets, Vinegar Syndrome has answered the call of the weird and accomplished another noble feat with this latest offering.  A beyond satisfactory video presentation, a strong audio mix and a nice selection of special features, including the highly-requested video sequences, make Runaway Nightmare deserving of a spot in your cult library.  
    RATING: 4/5 

  • The Mechanic (1972) Blu-ray Review

    The Mechanic (1972)
    Director: Michael Winner
    Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn & Jill Ireland
    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their working relationship, Director Michael Winner (The Sentinel) and star Charles Bronson (Mr. Majestyk) re-team for a tale about professionalism.  Tough and weathered, Bronson brings his always reliable acting chops to the table that would propel him to superstardom two short years later with Death Wish.  Stylistically taken for granted today, The Mechanic stands tall as a character-driven action thriller with stellar performances and an effective score from Composer Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch).  Available in a limited edition of 3,000 units, Twilight Time proudly presents this long appreciated Winner/Bronson collaboration for the first time on Blu-ray!

    The Mechanic stars Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop, a professional hitman feeling the stress of his work.  After striking up a friendship with a hungry up-and-comer (Jan-Michael Vincent), the student/teacher partnership slowly unravels into dangerous territory.  Keenan Wynn (Nashville) and Jill Ireland (Hard Times) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Kicking off with a 16-minute dialogue free introduction, The Mechanic quickly draws you into the gritty Los Angeles landscape and Bronson’s calculated surveillance of his next victim.  The fly on the wall approach as we witness Bronson’s crafty steps to ensure the job looks like an accident makes the viewer feel as if they are part of the hit.  Shortly after, Arthur Brooks (Bronson) is summoned by a friend of his late father (Keenan Wynn) for protection only to have Brooks double cross him in the way of business.  Ruthless yet reserved, Brooks is growing tired of his lifestyle and yearns for normalcy.  Returning home to what appears to be a beautiful girlfriend (played by Bronson’s real life wife, Jill Ireland) anxiously awaiting his presence, the two engage in a night of passionate lovemaking.  The following morning, Brooks is seen paying the woman and complimenting her on her role-playing skills, further cementing Brooks’ desire for a regular existence.  The void in Brooks’ life is filled in the form of Steve McKeena, (Jan-Michael Vincent), son of Brook’s last hit.  Surprisingly, McKeena’s determination impresses the seasoned hitman and the two form a partnership.  Deadly and less cautious, McKeena is the perfect contrast to Brooks’ old-school yet effective methods.  Thrilling sequences for the team include a hit gone wrong, escalating into a high-stakes motorcycle chase.

    Director Michael Winner’s focused and quick cut style keeps the energy high as Brooks and McKeena’s relationship is tested as the apprentice challenges the teacher.  Brooks’ anxiety and frequent fainting bouts doesn’t help matters as McKeena becomes more unpredictable.  Leading to an exciting third act with twists at every turn, The Mechanic is a testament to the changing climate in Hollywood at the time where gritty, independent cinema was beginning to take hold.  Remade in 2011 with Jason Statham (Crank) and Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) starring, Michael Winner’s original 1972 thriller maintains true style and Bronson’s steady performance would help reinvent the action star image for a new decade.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Twilight Time presents The Mechanic with a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining natural grain, The Mechanic looks very pleasing and accurately captures its 70s city landscapes.  Flakes and specks are at a minimum with colors and detail popping nicely.  With the exception of some softer-looking scenes, The Mechanic looks more than satisfying.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Mechanic comes in loud and rather robust at times.  Dialogue is crisp while scenes of gunfire and explosions fill your speakers with force.  No noticeable distortion was found, making the audio treatment on par with the film’s excellent transfer.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Richard H. Kline: Moderated by film historian Nick Redman, Kline sits down for his first commentary discussing his early beginnings as a camera operator at Columbia Pictures as well as making over 100 films under Sam Katzman before eventually becoming a director of photography.  Kline recalls his working relationship with Director Michael Winner on several projects and regards him as a focused and talented artist.  Redman does his homework and engages Kline with great questions making this commentary a very beneficial one to listen to.

    - Isolated Score Track: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

    - 6-page booklet: Includes a well done essay by Julie Kirgo accompanied with screenshots from the film.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Exciting and riveting, The Mechanic is a film many others try to replicate today with lesser results.  Simple in execution, the film thrives on Bronson and Vincent’s chemistry as well as the edge of your seat action sequences that helped propel Winner as a mainstay in the genre.  Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray is a knockout with a clean, natural appearance and a lively sound mix.  In addition, Cinematographer Richard H. Kline’s first audio commentary is an informative one, well worth a listen.  Bronson fans will revel in this pre-Death Wish examination of a skilled hitman at odds with his apprentice.
    RATING: 4/5