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  • 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.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

    Director: J.J. Abrams

    Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew & Max Von Sydow

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finds the galaxy confronted with a new threat in the form of the First Order.  When a rebellious young heroes are caught in the crosshairs of the galactic war, resistance fighters from the past aid them in their battle against the dark side.  Featuring franchise veterans and impressive up and comers, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Stark Trek) directs the anticipated seventh episode of George Lucas’ enduring saga.

    Cinematically dormant since the concluding chapter of Lucas’ prequel trilogy in 2005, fans worldwide came to the unfortunate realization that further adventures set in a galaxy far, far away were to be left only to the imagination.  A force was truly awoken in 2012 following Disney’s purchase of Lucas’ illustrious company and the Star Wars franchise with the intent of continuing the beloved legacy set forth in 1977.  With scripting duties by its director, franchise favorite Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3), Star Wars: The Force Awakens returns viewers to a world not quite seen since the fall of Darth Vader and the destruction of the evil Empire.  Perfectly encapsulating the dirty, lived-in environments we remember while, setting its course on a journey yet unknown, the latest installment finds the galaxy at the mercy of the ruthless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Girls) and the First Order, both born from the ashes of the Empire.  Following the disappearance of sole Jedi master Luke Skywalker, lonesome scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley, Scrawl) and Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block), a former stormtrooper gone rogue, team up with war hero Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Resistance to locate Skywalker and restore balance to the Force.  Joined by the accomplished Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina) as rebel pilot Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens welcomes back its seasoned cast of original stars including but not limited to, Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Harrison Ford who, after years of resistance returning to his famed role, has an absolute blast as everyone’s favorite smuggler.  Juggling the delicate realms of nostalgia and forward-thinking storytelling, Star Wars: The Force Awakens accomplishes both in spades as familiar faces are integral to its narrative yet, never outshine the new and exciting characters introduced to carry the franchise’s respected torch.  

    Furthermore, Abrams and his talented crew restore the charming practicality of the original trilogies special effects and creature designs while, flawlessly injecting modern techniques such as, motion-capture and CG into its narrative that feels both seamless and visually stunning.  Although detractors have sighted the film’s similar structure to A New Hope as a grave flaw, the reoccurring theme between the light and the dark is ever-present in all Star Wars films and can hardly be viewed as a setback in a film crafted with so much heart and obvious respect for its source.  From its scroll defining intro blessed with John Williams’ iconic score to its thrilling cliffhanger conclusion, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wildly exciting adventure bursting with action, heartbreak and nonstop fun.  Through the power of the Force, Abrams and company have magically transported viewers back to a euphoric state of youth where old friends have gathered to welcome us as we warmly embrace the path of our new heroes.  An absolute return to form for the beloved franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has restored the magic for all generations to marvel.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Impressive from start to finish, skin tones are naturally presented with impeccable detail picking up perspiration caused on Jakku and Poe’s blood-spattered face.  In addition, the film’s unique environments from desolate desert landscapes to the lush greenery of Maz Kanata’s planet leap off the screen while, the delicacies of shadowy sequences, prominently seen in the film’s opening battle, are handled beautifully.  Meanwhile, black levels found in the film’s many space battles and Kylo Ren’s costume are brilliantly inky with no disruptions.  A remarkable accomplishment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ transfer is the epitome of perfection.  Equipped with an equally pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is exacting and crisp while, the whizzing noises of high-flying TIE Fighters, X-Wings and of course, the Millennium Falcon make thunderous impressions on your speakers.  In addition, explosions, laser blasts and the thrashing of lightsabers provide ample activity in their respective scenes with the mix only enriching their impact.  Presented on their own Blu-ray disc, special features include, Secrets of the Force: A Cinematic Journey (1:09:14), a four-part overview of the making of The Force Awakens from pre-production to its completion with interviews from cast and crew, The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4:01) finds the cast reflecting on the first group reading of the script with footage from the actual day, Crafting Creatures (9:34) showcases how the various creatures were brought to life using a multitude of different techniques, Building BB-8 (6:03) documents the complicated process of realizing the franchise’s favorite new droid, Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02) explores the making of the film’s climactic lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo Ren while, ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force (7:55) dives into the film’s magnificent digital effects work.  In addition, John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51) spotlights the iconic composer as he reflects on his enduring involvement with the Star Wars saga, six Deleted Scenes (4:15) of trivial value and Force For Change (3:22) exploring the series’ humanitarian initiative across the globe round out the healthy assortment of bonus features.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    A marvelous journey back to a familiar world plagued with new dangers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens sends viewers on an exhilarating ride that reignites a 30 year old magic like never before.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment awards the box-office juggernaut with pitch perfect technical grades and an equally pleasing spread of bonus content which, although not entirely definitive and sure to be expanded in future rereleases, still offer tons of enjoyment.  Easily the standout feature of last year and a shoe-in for one of this year’s most impressive home video releases, Star Wars: The Force Awakens achieves our highest recommendation!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available April 5th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 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