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  • Cars 3 (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Cars 3 (2017)

    Director: Brian Fee

    Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt & Kerry Washington

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Riding high as renowned champion for years, Cars 3 finds racing legend Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris) being pushed out of the limelight by a new generation of hotshot racers.  Recognizing times are a-changin’, McQueen teams with an enthusiastic trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo, Cristela), to prove he still has what it takes to go the distance.

    Reverting back to the bluegrass roots of its originator, Cars 3 comes full circle as Lightning McQueen, the once arrogant rookie turned lovable champ, becomes the aging pro to face his biggest and most emotional challenge yet.  Continuing to enjoy a successful winning streak and unanimous respect amongst his peers, McQueen and others of his breed are quickly sideswiped by a new crop of determined and technologically superior vehicles with their eyes on racing glory.  Rattled by the speed and cockiness of his new foe, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer, The Lone Ranger), and the retirements of longtime pals, McQueen begins to feel his time may also be up after suffering a near fatal wreck.  Recovering in Radiator Springs and longing for guidance from his late mentor Doc Hudson, McQueen’s spirits are lifted by his Route 66 family and his determination renewed by new Rust-eze owner, Sterling (Nathan Fillion, Castle).  Teamed with spunky motivational trainer Cruz Ramirez, McQueen, through soul-searching and additional support from Doc Hudson’s mentor Smokey (Chris Cooper, The Muppets), navigates his way through the evolving world of racing while learning to see a future beyond just his own career.  

    Ditching the sillier espionage hijinks of its predecessor, Cars 3 is a leaps and bounds improvement, reverting the spotlight back onto Lightning McQueen in a tale that resonates with an aging audience who have grown much since happening upon Radiator Springs a decade ago.  While humor is in noticeably shorter supply with franchise mainstays such as, McQueen bestie Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, Jingle All the Way 2) surprisingly regulated to background decoration, the third installment recaptures the small-town charms and big city dreams that was sorely lacking in its internationally sprawling and mindlessly mundane sequel.  Taking over directorial duties from John Lasseter, longtime Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee (Cars, WALL-E) paints a picturesque installment with photorealistic animation including, the most devastatingly heart wrenching sequence of the series and a tender core that reaffirms audiences deep-rooted love for these chatty cars.  Incorporating flashback sequences and previously recorded dialogue from Paul Newman as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, Cars 3 is a lightning fast return to form for the series that, in its presumable last lap, whizzes past the finishing line as the best effort since its 2006 debut.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Cars 3 with a pristine 1080p transfer, fitted in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Sparkling from start to finish, the wide spectrum of unique car colors burst off the screen while finer details appearing in rust and asphalt boast equal levels of crisp quality.  Matching its glorious high-definition picture, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 excels during high-speed races and heart-pounding wrecks with dialogue exchanges rightly prioritized for ideal listening.  Sprawled across two discs, special features on Disc 1 include, an in-depth Audio Commentary with Director Brian Fee, Co-Producer Andrea Warren and Creative Director Jay Ward, Lou (6:43), Pixar’s latest short film about a schoolyard’s magical lost-and-found bin and Miss Fritter’s Racing Sckoool (5:40), an exclusive new mini-movie/commercial attracting cars on how to get their mojo back.  Furthermore, Ready for the Race (5:40) sits down with actual race car driver William Byron on his passion for the sport and Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could (7:46) takes a deeper look into the evolution and vocal talent attached to Lightning McQueen’s new coach.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:32), Dolphins (1:16), Coco (1:37), Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (1:34) and The Walt Disney Signature Collection (1:33) are also provided.  

    Meanwhile, Disc 2 kicks off with an extensive five-part Behind the Scenes featurette including, Generations: The Story of Cars 3 (11:20), Let’s. Get. Crazy (7:41), Cars to Die(cast) For (5:21), Legendary (11:22) and World’s Fastest Billboard (5:30) that explores the film’s tricky development, new and returning characters, the making of the toys based on the film and the many logos and faux brands implemented in the sequel.  Furthermore, Fly Throughs puts viewers in the driver seat for some of the film’s digital environments including, Thomasville (1:10), Florida International Speedway (0:37) and Rust-Eze Racing Center (0:56).  My First Car finds cast and crew participants discussing their very own first ride in A Green Car on the Red Carpet with Kerry Washington (1:53), Old Blue (1:21) and Still in the Family (2:16).  Also included, Deleted Scenes (26:17) with optional director introduction, Trailers featuring Crash - North American Teaser (0:56), Icon - North American Trailer (2:33), Theatrical Payoff - Japan Trailer (2:02), All New - International Teaser (0:31) and Rivalry - Global Trailer (2:10).  Finally, Promos for Cars D’Oeuvres (4:27) and Cars Reveals spotlighting the characters of Lightning McQueen (0:39), Cruz Ramirez (0:41) and Jackson Storm (0:39) close out the on-disc supplemental content while a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Speeding onto home video as Pixar’s next anticipated effort lights up theaters, Cars 3 is a true return to form for the franchise once thought to be left in the dust.  An endearing tale about the trials of aging gracefully, Lightning McQueen’s last lap is one that sends viewers off into the sunset with warm memories of the residents of Radiator Springs.  Unsurprisingly, Disney has once again ensured an extravagant audio and visual presentation while its bonus content covers considerable ground for fans of behind the scenes happenings.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 7th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Cars 3 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Vampirina DVD Review

    Vampirina 

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Isabella Crovetti, James Van Der Beek, Lauren Graham & Jordan Alexa Davis

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Fangs never appeared more precious than in Disney Junior’s Vampirina.  Based on the book series by Anne Marie Pace, this brightly-colored animated series finds young Vampirina relocating to Pennsylvania from Transylvania and adapting to her new surroundings as a monster in a human’s world.  Presenting the program’s first four episodes consisting of two unique adventures each, Vampirina befriends her new next-door neighbors who graciously overlook her family’s monsterific appearances while, Vee’s parents attempt to open their own B&B without their spookier and more human clientele scaring one another off.  Befit with catchy musical numbers in each installment, Vampirina’s nerves get the best of her during the first day of school, an all-girls sleepover to win over Vee’s especially scaredy cat pal takes place while, Vampirina’s household conducts a different kind of surprise party and a viral video of Vee and best friend Poppy busting a move becomes a viral sensation leading to a dance off against Transylvania’s own Dragos the Dancer.  Featuring familiar voice talent from James Van Der Beek (Dawnson’s Creek) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) to Wanda Sykes (Alpha House) and Dee Bradley Baker (Star Wars Rebels), Vampirina, arriving just in time for the Halloween season, joining the ranks of the Disney Channel’s Hotel Transylvania: The Series, Vampirina that continues to fill the void of more spooky-centric content for preschoolers.

    Although the program’s intended demographic may not be the most vocal of videophiles, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment offers Vampirina in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, relaying the blue skin tones of Vee and her family with crispness as well as the family’s gothic homestead with glowing allure.  Furthermore, the accompanied Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes on each episode are also perfectly serviceable making dialogue and song cuts an easy and satisfying listen.  Apart from  Sneak Peeks at Coco (1:38) and Disneynature’s Dolphins (1:17), no special features are included.  Pleasantly entertaining as much as it teaches valuable lessons about accepting others regardless of their appearances or social backgrounds, Vampirina is fangtastic fun for youngsters.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Vampirina can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

    Director(s): Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally & Geoffrey Rush

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Crashing into the cinematic seas for its fifth adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds the flamboyant Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Alice Through the Looking Glass) caught in the crosshairs of his most formidable foe yet, the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, Skyfall).  After being outsmarted by Sparrow years earlier and cursed upon entry into the Devil’s Triangle, the vengeful Salazar seeks to make the endlessly drunk pirate pay.  Meanwhile, young Henry Turner’s (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent) determination to locate the Trident of Poseidon to free his own father from sea-drifting captivity pits him with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner), a resourceful astronomer whose curiosity and intelligence make the journey possible.  Also welcoming Captain Jack’s established frenemy, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Genius), back to the proceedings, the young newcomers find themselves, for better or worse, in the company of Jack as Salazar hunts the swashbucklers to the Trident’s island in an action-packed climax.

    Billed as the franchise’s curtain call, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales returns to the ghoulish roots of its original chapter with a fresh-faced cast of newcomers playing strongly against Depp’s eccentric captain who continues to prove the chameleon-like thespian is having more fun than ever in the role.  Kickstarting with a hilarious and technically impressive bank robbery by Jack’s crew who accidentally steal the entire bank itself, Javier Bardem sends chills down audiences’ spines as the demonic Captain Salzar whose mouthful of black slobber and undead appearance casts an effectively foreboding shadow upon the film.  With several surprises in store for longtime fans of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales also gives the treasured Captain Barbossa far more depth than before making the film perhaps the most gratifying for the series veteran.  Far more in line with the charm of the Disney film’s debut outing and boasting top-tier spectacle value, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an above average delight that proves Captain Jack still commands the high seas.

    Marveling with its 1080p transfer, presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment continues to prove its pristine abilities with this flawless presentation that accentuates sharp skin tones, exacting black levels and crisp details spotted in Salazar’s deathly appearance and his man-eating zombie sharks.  Accompanied with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply projected while, the film’s swelling themes provide bonafide boosts to the action-packed proceedings.  Notably shorter than previous Pirates films, special features include, Dead Men Tell More Tales: The Making of a New Adventure (47:50), a seven-part featurette exploring the creation of the epic production with interviews from some of the film’s young stars, the film’s many visual effects and the franchise’s enduring presence in pop culture.  Furthermore, Bloopers of the Caribbean (2:58), a Jerry Bruckheimer Photo Diary (1:40) and Deleted Scenes (2:59) round out the on-disc supplements while, a DVD copy and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Earning a respectable near $800 million while dividing critics and audiences, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a return to form for the franchise that once left fans dizzied by its third adventure before sticking to simplicity with On Stranger Tides.  Harkening back to what made the original film so special without overthrowing it, the fifth installment does an admirable job with its renewed mojo hinting that this may not be Captain Jack’s final sail at sea after all to which we say yo-ho!  Although less desirable in its scant offering of bonus features, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents the film in a quality as visually and sonically rich as the Caribbean itself.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As the resistance grows stronger, the Empire’s new leadership spells greater challenges for the Ghost crew in Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three.  Following the fatal conclusion of last season, young Ezra, now even wiser with the Force and adopting more responsibilities in the fight against evil, faces the fleet’s most daunting adversary to date in Grand Admiral Thrawn.

    Suffering physical and emotional setbacks on Malachor that left Ahsoka dead and Kanan blinded, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three finds the Ghost crew healing their wounds while restrategizing their fight against Imperial forces.  Growing restless with the rebels’ ongoing interference, the Empire instates the strategically deadly Grand Admiral Thrawn to take down the resistance fighters once and for all.  Further tempted and deceived by Sith Lord Darth Maul whose desire to possess the holocrons boarders on obsession, Ezra’s mistrust in Maul weighs heavily on his development as a Jedi while, Thrawn's methodical assault on the resistance slowly begins to take shape.  Continuing to excellently develop the characters in new ways with the scars of battle weighing on their psyche, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three follows its sophomore year with a general sense of the same excitement fans have come to expect while, several episodes involving an Imperial droid sneakily attempting to infiltrate the rebel’s base and another where Chopper comes under the Empire’s control, albeit entertaining enough, serve as mere fodder and deter from the season’s ongoing narrative.  

    Although these one-off character centered tales are few and far between, true highlights of the season find Hera and the crew facing Thrawn during an intense face-off on her home planet, Sabine’s wielding of the Darksaber and her eventual decision to reunite with her Mandalorian family plus, the nail biting suspense of the Empire discovering Agent Kallus as a rebel spy keeps the show’s quality at a premium.  Furthermore, the welcome return of Obi-Wan Kenobi (during a rather underwhelming confrontation against Maul) on Tatooine makes a fan-pleasing nod to the chosen one before the program’s most epic season finale to date takes to the skies.  As the rebels prepare to stage an attack on Lothal, Thrawn discovers their plan, resulting in a cinematic battle amongst the stars that brings old friends, Force wielders and the Empire’s deadliest fleets head to head.  Yet another striking chapter in the rebel’s efforts to overthrow evil with few miscalculations to be had, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three balances drama and action with refined skill ensuring another season’s worth of intergalactic adventure is on the way.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents all 22 episodes of Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  Once again delivering sterling clarity and highlighting sensational color grades from the many lightsabers to Grand Admiral Thrawn’s glowingly blue skin, the show’s visual presentation continues to impress.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is nicely refined while the many intergalactic sound effects and dramatic scoring cues please immensely.  

    Special features on Disc 1 include, Rebels Recon (51:26) where Star Wars Correspondent Andi Gutierrez acts as your guide in this overview of the show’s first 8 episodes.  In addition, Sneak Peeks at Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2:10) is also included.  Next up, supplements on Disc 2 continue with two Audio Commentary tracks on “Trials of the Darksaber” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni and “Legacy of Mandalore” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, CG Supervisor/Lighting & EFX Joel Aron, Animation Supervisor Keith Kellogg, Art Director Kilian Plunkett & Supervising Director Justin Ridge.  Furthermore, Rebels Recon (46:24) continues with coverage on episodes 9-16 while, Disc 3 features A Rebel Alliance (6:10) that details the show’s place within Rogue One’s timeline and beyond into its next season, Return to Mandalore (6:59) (Blu-ray exclusive) explores the fan-favorite culture and Sabine’s personal struggles this season with uniting her people against a common foe plus, Thrawn: A Legend Returns (6:59) (Blu-ray exclusive) celebrates the rebels mighty new adversary and what his future may hold throughout the series.  Additionally, Apprentices to Outcasts: Kenobi and Maul (8:47) (Blu-ray exclusive) covers the history between the two characters and the epic conclusion to their tale.  

    Also on Disc 3, The Original Rebel: Saw Gerrera Returns - Extended (3:19) (Blu-ray exclusive) catches up with Forest Whitaker as he discusses bringing his character into both live-action and animation, three additional Audio Commentaries on “Through Imperial Eyes” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, CG Supervisor/Lighting & EFX Joel Aron, Animation Supervisor Keith Kellogg, Art Director Kilian Plunkett & Supervising Director Justin Ridge, “Double Agent Droid” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, CG Supervisor/Lighting & EFX Joel Aron, Animation Supervisor Keith Kellogg, Art Director Kilian Plunkett, Supervising Director Justin Ridge & Co-Executive Producer Henry Gilroy and “Twin Suns” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni are also on-hand.  Finally, Rebels Recon (44:48) concludes its coverage on the season’s final six episodes.

    While several one-off adventures, albeit entertaining ones, slightly take away from the season’s larger picture, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three greatly captivates with the arrival of the brooding Grand Admiral Thrawn, Sabine’s personal struggles and yet another thrilling season finale to keep Jedi enthusiasts anxiously wanting more.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment ensures another first-rate technical package with a supplemental supply that easily bests its previous seasons.       

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Power Rangers (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Power Rangers (2017)

    Director: Dean Israelite

    Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cycler, Becky G., Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston & Elizabeth Banks

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Revitalizing the television phenomenon for the big-screen, Power Rangers centers on five ordinary teens, chosen by destiny, to form a superhuman team of defenders to save the world from the evil Rita Repulsa’s wrath.  Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) directs from a screenplay by John Gatins (Real Steel, Flight).

    Marking the famous franchise’s return to cinemas in two decades, Power Rangers uses the original and arguably, most popular iteration of the series as a springboard to reintroduce modern audiences and longtime fans back to an Angel Grove in desperate need of heroes.  Establishing an apocalyptic world where the Power Rangers, led by Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), are losing the battle against their former friend and betrayer Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games), the fading leader seeks to preserve the safety of the desired Zeo Crystal by hiding the coveted power coins in hopes of a new team one day emerging to protect Earth.  Juxtaposing to modern day Angel Grove, high school football star turned delinquent Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery, A Few Less Men) pulls an unruly prank, landing him in detention for the rest of the school year.  Shortly after befriending bullied and autistic classmate Billy Cranston (RJ Cycler, Me and Early and the Dying Girl), Jason is convinced to join Billy at a mine site where an explosion and chance encounters with several other troubled teens including, Kimberly (Naomi Scott, The 33), a former popularity queen now ditched by her friends, Zach (Ludi Lin, Monster Hunt), a wild teen tasked with caring for his ailing mother and Trini (Becky G., Empire), a loner struggling with her own sexuality, converge in an experience that will change their lives.  Discovering the hidden power coins and the nerve center of Zordon, now constrained to its matrix system, and his faithful robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader, Inside Out), the teens are appointed as new members of the Power Rangers and must prepare for the inevitable threat of their awakened nemesis, Rita Repulsa.  Learning to trust one another and believe in themselves prove difficult as the fate of Angel Grove and the world hang in the balance against the forces of evil.  

    Darker than its bubble gum pop series but never overly brooding, Power Rangers greatly impresses with its diverse up and coming cast that convey relatable teenage troubles with organic conviction.  Noticeably influenced by the works of John Hughes with so few modern day attempts at capturing youthful voices succeeding, Power Rangers is the rare feat that does so and genuinely makes audiences care through deep character development that, for better or worse, comes at the cost of more high-octane action.  While their self-doubts restrict them from morphing into their costumed counterparts for an extended period, the film’s final act finds the the heroes finally adorned in their eye-catching armored suits to do battle against the bolder-looking Putties and Rita’s visually disappointing henchman, Goldar.  Although a shameless product placement opportunity rears its head into the plot, Elizabeth Banks delivers an enjoyably over-the-top and occasionally frightening performance as lead baddie Rita while, the city-destructing climax of the Rangers facing off in the mighty Megazord is nothing audiences haven’t seen before.  Minor grievances aside for the film’s action set pieces which unfortunately seem to have caused the ballooning $100 million budget, Power Rangers is a surprisingly fresh and energetic effort that although, based on the nostalgically campy series of the same name, takes itself and its audience seriously while having a morphinominally fun time doing it.

    Lionsgate presents Power Rangers with a striking 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptional-looking from start to finish, skin tones are naturally pleasing and detailed while, black levels seen during nighttime sequences at the mine appear deep and inky.  Digital manifestations such as, Alpha 5 and the literal looking Goldar all dazzle with the bolder colors of the rangers suits and Rita’s shimmering green garb leaping off the screen.  Without a false note to report, Power Rangers morphs into action with the utmost clarity.  Equipped with an equally perfect Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal clear with action scenes from the rangers’ training montages to the film’s final zord battle filled with explosive action greatly impress with grand authority.  Furthermore, song selections including, a contemporary rendering of the infamous theme song, all make noticeable statements on the track that push speakers to work overtime.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Dean Israelite & Writer John Gatins, The Power of Present (2:20:12), a comprehensively morphin’ nine-part featurette that looks back at the franchise’s early years to this film’s culmination.  Insight from original series creator Haim Saban as well as the cast and crew are on-hand while, the development of the film’s costumes, the cast’s intensive training and music are all explored in this perfect companion piece to the feature.  Also included, Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes (33:39), Outtakes (3:41) and the Theatrical Trailer with Audio Commentary by Director Dean Israelite (2:21).  Lastly, an Also from Lionsgate (4:40) section offers trailers and promos for Power Rangers: Legacy Wars, The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection, Allegiant and Now You See Me 2.  Additionally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Although struggling to be the massive moneymaker hoped for by the studio, Power Rangers may be the year’s biggest blockbuster surprise that balances the delicate line of respecting its franchise roots while injecting a youthful, harder-edged voice that lifelong fans will appreciate.  Planned for a whopping six-film story arc and teasing the arrival of a certain character of the green persuasion, Power Rangers is hopefully only the beginning in a great new series that deserves more installments.  Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s phenomenal high-definition release is a technical marvel with a staggering supply of bonus content ranger fans will eat up.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Power Rangers can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Scar (1948) Blu-ray Review

    The Scar (1948)

    Director: Steve Sekely

    Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen, Mabel Paige & Herbert Rudely

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a casino hit gone wrong, The Scar finds on-the-run gambler John Muller (Paul Henreid, Casablanca) evading mobsters that want him dead.  Bearing a striking resemblance to psychiatrist Dr. Batrok, Muller decides to take control of the good doctor’s life in the perfect scheme to stay alive.  While Bartok’s secretary (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows) grows suspicious of her employer, Muller slowly begins to inherit Bartok’s own personal troubles.  Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids) directs.

    Soaked in juicy thrills and the threat of danger constantly looming, The Scar, initially released as Hollow Triumph, may be the spawn of respected Poverty Row distributor Eagle-Lion Films but, rises above its inherent B-picture DNA to deliver a tense noir unafraid of remaining in the gloomy shadows.  Based on Murray Forbes’ novel, recently released prisoner John Muller seeks to get rich quick and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process.  A brilliant mind who ditched out on medical school, Muller gathers his old cronies together for a hit on feared mob boss Rocky Stansyck’s casino only for the plot to crumble, leaving some dead and Muller wanted the same way by the mobsters.  Relocating, Muller is mistaken for a local psychologist who, with the exception of a glaring scar upon his cheek, could pass as the doctor’s twin.  Running low on options and using his education to his advantage, Muller, simultaneously wooing Bartok’s beautiful secretary Evelyn Hahn as himself, sets out to impersonate the psychoanalyst.  Fudging up which cheek to scar after disposing of the actual Bartok, Muller’s act surprisingly fools patients and friends alike only to have Evelyn, Bartok’s former mistress, not fully convinced.  Paranoid after several close calls with Stansyck’s henchmen and emotionally conflicted with Evelyn, Muller’s new life may not be quite as innocent as he once assumed.  A crafty potboiler that invites viewers into the mind of a calculated crook, The Scar may not be a game changer but, greatly impresses with its gorgeous monochrome photography and a surprisingly bleak conclusion that outshines any of its more contrived, albeit still entertaining, moments.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics welcomes The Scar to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  While bouts of scratches and reel change pronunciations are spotted, overall clarity is strong while, black levels, seen in the film’s many suits and coat jackets, are deeply inky.  In addition, facial details are best observed in medium shots with tighter angles, although still pleasing, appear noticeably softer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed audibly with gunshots and suspenseful music cues registering as defiantly as expected for a film of its age.  A mild layer of static is also present but thankfully never overly intrusive.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Imogen Sara and Trailers for 99 River Street (2:13), Cry of the City (2:33), Shield for Murder (1:45), Boomerang (2:30) and He Ran All the Way (2:13).

    A well-oiled noir that engages and never bores, The Scar arrives with clichés to spare but, the combined performances of Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett mixed with the film’s striking appearance and daringly somber finale make it a solid getaway car for noir enthusiasts.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ new remastering of the picture is a welcome upgrade that preserves the thriller for years to come.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Scar can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Unholy (1988) Blu-ray Review

    The Unholy (1988)

    Director: Camilo Vila

    Starring: Ben Cross, Ned Beatty, William Russ, Jill Carroll, Hal Holbrook & Trevor Howard

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in New Orleans where a dark underbelly of satanic worship resides, The Unholy centers on Father Michael (Ben Cross, Chariots of Fire), the newly appointed priest of St. Agnes Church.  Following the brutal and unsolved murders of the parishes previous pastors, an ungodly evil threatens the house of worship with Michael’s pure soul being its last hope of survival.  Ned Beatty (Toy Story 3), William Russ (Boy Meets World), Jill Carroll (Psycho II), Hal Holbrook (The Fog) and Trevor Howard (The Third Man) costar.

    Channeling the satanic allure of The Exorcist and The Omen having been originally scripted in their wake and revived more than a decade later, The Unholy injects more special-effects wizardry into its proceedings where demonic beasts and grisly deaths reign while struggling to remain narratively appealing.  Miraculously surviving a fall off a building, Father Michael is appointed to reopen the dormant St. Agnes Church in New Orleans following the tragic murder of his predecessor.  Considered to be “the chosen one” by his mentors, Father Michael is quickly haunted by nightmarish visions of a seductive temptress while investigating the unsolved murders plaguing his church.  Stumbling upon a black magic-worshipping nightclub in his research, Father Michael’s encounter with teenage runaway Millie (Carroll), who confided in the deceased Father Dennis, begins to reveal a frightening truth.  Skeptical of Millie’s insistence that demonic forces are at play, strange occurrences including, a dog slain at the church’s alter and threats made by Millie’s club-owning over protector Luke (Russ) persist.  Juxtaposing between more nightmare-fueled visions of the scantly clad vixen and a victim, intestines gruesomely hanging, displayed as an inverted cross, The Unholy pays off with gory sights and a faith vs. demonic monster showdown during its climax yet, fails to dig deeper into Father Michael’s psyche as the chosen one.  Furthermore, while potential reasons and accused culprits behind the sinister happenings are unnecessarily named, none prove conclusive and simply serve as a way to buffer the runtime and muddy the waters of an effort best blamed simply on the devil.  Mildly taxing for these reasons yet, redeeming in its showcase of visual effects, creature designs and the red stuff, The Unholy offers more in its style than its substance.

    Debuting as the tenth inclusion of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Lionsgate presents The Unholy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Photographed during nighttime sequences or under dimly-lit circumstances, black levels are commendable while occasionally looking grainier than desired.  Furthermore, skin tones are natural with Millie’s 80s-centric makeup popping nicely.  Although the film’s few daytime sequences of sunshine understandably soften up the picture, this softness, although not wildly overwhelming, carries over throughout much of the film, appearing not as sharp as one would hope but also not an uncommon sight for lower-budgeted films from this era.  Meanwhile, moments of neck-torn gore and detail observed in the demonic creatures earn some of the transfer’s highest marks of clarity.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue never disappoints while, the film’s synth-heavy score by Roger Bellon (Waxwork) sounds excellent.  

    Exceptionally packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Camilo Vila, Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon, an Audio Interview with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca, featuring Isolated Selections from his Unused Score.  Also included, Sins of the Father with Ben Cross (19:09) where the film’s star covers his adolescent fascination with the arts, attending drama school, early days rooming with the film’s director and praise for his costars.  Demons in the Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy (22:26) catches up with Make-Up Effects Designer Jerry Macaluso who scored the job on the feature as a teenager in high school with additional insight into the film’s reworked ending from Art Director/Additional Special Effects Unit Steve Hardie and Effects Artist/Special Effects Unit Neil Gorton.  Prayer Offerings with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (18:35) and the Original Ending featuring Optional Audio Commentary with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (15:02) are also on-hand while, the Theatrical Trailer (1:17), TV Spots (2:15), Radio Spots (2:25), an Original Storyboard Gallery (18:40) and a Still Gallery (11:51) round out this five-star offering of supplements conducted by the tireless Red Shirt Pictures.

    An imperfect tale of satanic seduction that rightly has its dedicated fans, The Unholy certainly has its moments of fright-filled anarchy but has difficulty crafting characters that command our attention.  Worshippers of the black magic horror opus will be overjoyed by its inclusion in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series that blesses it with a respectable HD upgrade and an ungodly awesome stash of newly recorded bonus extras.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 27th from Lionsgate, The Unholy can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Car Wash (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Car Wash (1976)

    Director: Michael Schultz

    Starring: Franklyn Ajaye, George Carlin, Professor Irwin Corey, Ivan Dixon, Antonio Fargas, Jack Kehoe, Clarence Muse, Lorraine Gary, The Pointer Sisters & Richard Pryor

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in sunny Los Angeles, Car Wash hosts a day in the life of a ragtag group of car washers and and the hilarious hijinks that ensue on the job, all to a fast-moving, body-shaking soundtrack of hits.  Scripted by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, Falling Down) and starring a diverse roster of character actors, musicians and comedy’s finest, Michael Schultz (Cooley High, The Last Dragon) directs this hot wax of hilarity.

    Uncontrollably fun and capturing the laughs of the blue-collar grind, Car Wash, originally intended as a Broadway musical, uses its nonlinear construction to great effect, making viewers apart of the onscreen ball-busting camaraderie and radio wave boogieing.  Best known for their “hand job” touch, the stocked staff of a busy car wash including, Justin (Leon Pinkney, Deadly Hero), an African-American constantly hassled by his girlfriend to ditch his position and return to college, T.C. (Franklin Ajaye, Convoy), an afro-rockin’ employee determined to win a local radio contest and woo the local diner’s waitress, Abduallah (Bill Duke, Predator), a Black Muslim revolutionary formerly known as Duane, Lindy (Antonio Fargas, Starsky & Hutch), a flamboyantly gay employee who dishes attitude better than anyone else and the musical, dancing duo of Floyd (Darrow Igus, Fridays) and Lloyd (Otis Day, D.C. Cab), among others all bust a move while making Cali cars sparkle and shine.  From erroneously tackling a customer thought to be a criminal bomber, fellow employee Hippo (Jamie Spinks, The Big Score) knocking the boots with a local prostitute who is hilariously pursued by an all too trusting cabbie (George Carlin, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) for skipping out on a fare and graced by the money-hungry presence of a pimp-like preacher known as Daddy Rich (Richard Pryor, The Toy), Car Wash is never in short supply of comic situations and absurdness.  Rightfully earning a Grammy for Best Album written for a film, Car Wash is never overly crude or falters due to its unconventional plot that is more inclined to let audiences hang with the gang than anything else.  Instead, the cult hit keeps the fun times rolling and holds the jive allowing for an effort doused in outrageous laughs.

    Shout Select presents Car Wash with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With only the faintest of speckling popping up every now and again, colors pop remarkably well with the employee’s orange jumpsuits, bright yellow taxi cabs and the establishment’s big-lettered signage all making top-notch bursts on screen.  Furthermore, skin tones are exceptional with detail evident in close-ups and white levels, most noticeably seen in Daddy Rich’s gaudy suit, looking solidly.  A most filmic representation of the musically-driven comedy, Car Wash truly shimmers in high-definition.  Matched with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is overwhelmingly audible with only occasional moments where outdoor ambiance can drown out character exchanges.  That said, the film’s constant undercurrent of music is balanced appreciatively with talky moments while, specific music-driven cues including the opening and closing titles will leave viewers singing along for days and impressed by the song’s depths.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Schultz, Workin’ at the Car Wash with Otis Day (12:13) where the actor recalls a 2 week rehearsal period on the Universal soundstages that greatly developed the cast’s chemistry before filming commenced.  Understandably, Day mentions growing incredibly sick of hearing the title song on a daily basis while also praising Schultz’s direction and hailing him as someone who truly cared about the project.  Car Wash from Start to Finish with Gary Stomberg (34:22) finds the film’s producer sharing his early starts in public relations repping the likes of Ray Charles before forming his own company that would ultimately represent Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf and The Doors.  Stromberg also remembers coming up with the idea of Car Wash during a particularly loaded evening citing Robert Altman’s Nashville as an inspiration.  Understanding the music world while Universal were left scratching their heads about the film’s potential, Stromberg’s theory to spread head the project with an album produced by Norman Whitfield that would ultimately pay for the film’s making proved true and one the studio immediately responded to.  Lastly, Radio Spots (2:59), the film’s Trailer (2:21) and Reversible Cover Art conclude the release’s extras.

    Although not an original commercial success before graduating to cult accolades, Car Wash is a hilarious hangout session with the working man where pranks, kooky customers and a rhythm-splitting soundtrack take shotgun.  A groovy time capsule with funny performances from its many principal players, this lighthearted blaxploitation romp is prime picking for all 9-5ers.  Meanwhile, Shout Select’s high-definition upgrade is a filmic stunner with a smaller but, nonetheless engaging offering of extras and dynamite new cover art provided by Paul Shipper that shines the flick up nice.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Car Wash can be purchased ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Skull (1965) Blu-ray Review

    The Skull (1965)

    Director: Freddie Francis

    Starring: Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Jill Bennett, Michael Gough, George Coulouris & Christopher Lee

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a story by Robert Bloch (Psycho), The Skull centers on occult antiquities collector Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing, Horror of Dracula) whose encounter with the skull of the Maquis de Sade proves frightening.  Forewarned of its effects by friend and former owner of the dreaded remains, Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein), Maitland’s livelihood quickly becomes threatened by the skull’s evil forces.

    A supernatural mystery produced by noted Hammer competitor Amicus Productions, The Skull is a stylishly eerie effort from British genre titan Freddie Francis (The Evil of Frankenstein, Tales from the Crypt) that utilizes atmosphere and improvisational knowhow to its advantage.  Following a historically earlier pre-title sequence where a grave robber’s excavation of the Maquis de Sade’s cranium leaves him dead from an unknown presence, The Skull’s modern day London setting introduces occult collector Dr. Christopher Maitland whose pricy offering of the very same specimen by a shady dealer proves far too expensive albeit, very intriguing to the curious researcher.  Learning the item was stolen from a fellow colleague who was glad to be free of it, warnings of its evil capabilities fall on Maitland’s deaf ears, prompting him to retrieve it after the thieving dealer is unexplainably killed.  Casting a spell of madness and nightmarish hallucinations upon on its new owner, Maitland’s terrifying firsthand experience with the skull reveals its true potential to the previously skeptical scholar.  Headlining the feature with expected grace, Peter Cushing sells his descent into terror with a conviction memorably showcased during a particularly nail biting nightmare sequence of forced Russian roulette.  Appearing in a guest starring role, Christopher Lee’s small but welcome inclusion as a rare non-villain gives an added class to the film’s ghoulish festivities while, Francis’ resourceful direction, demonstrated in the film’s frantic and virtually dialogue-free final act, is overwhelmingly suspenseful regardless of the “floating” skull’s noticeably seen wires.  An early chapter in Amicus’ horror history, The Skull remains an effectively strong picture of its creepy caliber with its direction earning the most praise of all.

    KL Studio Classics presents The Skull with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing noticeable signs of scuffs and speckles throughout its runtime, colors also appear occasionally drab while, skin tones and delicate facial features revealing aging lines and acne scars are well-detailed.  Meanwhile, black levels are mediocre yet, costume textures and the many artifacts spotted in Maitland’s library are agreeable.  Although a fresh scan would have been appreciated, the results remain quite adequate.  Equipped with a rather flat but serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handled sufficiently while an early encounter between Maitland and Marco, the sleazy dealer, registers slightly lower.  Scoring cues are decent but lacking oomph with a mild layer of hiss detected.  Special features include, an expertly researched Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, Jonathan Rigby on The Skull (24:14) and Kim Newman on The Skull (27:18), both of which offer encyclopedic insight into Amicus Productions, its founders, Freddie Francis and Robert Bloch’s original short story making each featurette invaluable compliments to the film.  Furthermore, The Skull: “Trailers from Hell” with Joe Dante (2:36) and additional Trailers for Tales of Terror (2:21), The Oblong Box (1:56), Madhouse (1:48), House of the Long Shadows (2:27) and The Crimson Cult (2:03) are also provided alongside Reversible Cover Art.

    A well recommended Amicus offering, The Skull brings some of gothic cinema’s finest faces together for chilling thrills and consummate direction from Freddie Francis making it a technical sight to appreciate given the film’s originally less than solid screenplay.  Possession, death and the black arts reign wildly in this nightmare come to life with a most fascinating selection of supplements making KL Studio Classics’ upgrade of the film an easy choice for fan’s unholy collections.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Skull can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • They're Playing with Fire (1984) Blu-ray Review

    They’re Playing with Fire (1984)

    Director: Howard Avedis

    Starring: Sybil Danning, Eric Brown, Andrew Prine & Paul Clemens

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Combining skin and thrills, They’re Playing with Fire stars Sybil Danning (Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf) as a sultry college professor who seduces a horny student (Eric Brown, Private Lessons), entangling him in a dangerous plot to obtain her in-laws wealthy inheritance.  Andrew Prine (Amityville II: The Possession) and Paul Clemens (The Beast Within) costar.

    Shrouded as a wild sex-romp in tune with most young men’s desires, They’re Playing with Fire, albeit being very tantalizing, pulls the carpet under its audience in one of the oddest genre switch ups of the decade.  Incessantly drooling over his foxy professor, Mrs. Diane Stevens, and performing odd jobs aboard her luxurious yacht, college student Jay Richard’s lusting pays off when seduced by the blonde bombshell.  Unknowingly plotting a scheme with her husband Michael (Prine) to inherit his family riches from her in-laws, a virtually harmless crack at prowling to scare off the elderly Stevens’ backfires on Jay when a masked assailant ruthlessly knocks off Michael’s mother and grandmother instead.  Trapping him in a seductive love triangle with life or death stakes, Jay’s hormonal jackpot grows grayer by the day.  Regarded as exploitation royalty, Sybil Danning makes mouths water with her fiercely flirtatious performance and sizzling nude sequences that, much to the delight of teenage boys during the video boom, are plentiful.  In a deliriously unexpected spin for viewers assuming the plot from its provocative poster art, They’re Playing with Fire morphs into an erotically-charged thriller with slasher elements that pollinate the film with bloody bursts of violence catching first time watchers off guard.  Helmed by Howard Avedis (Scorchy, Mortuary), They’re Playing with Fire, rightly earning Danning one of her finest performances in a career of countlessly sexy and sleazy roles, is a wild effort right down to its even kookier reveal of the true murderer that is as unusually different as it is libido driving.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics upgrades They’re Playing with Fire with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Revealing satisfying layers of detail in facial features, skin tones are sound with Danning certainly showing off her fair share during the film’s many moments of passion.  Meanwhile, costumes, background pieces and bolder colored vehicles pop quite decently with the film’s source material arriving in tiptop shape and generally free of any unsavory scratches.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles character exchanges, both in intimate, hushed tones and louder barroom environments, nicely while, music cues are well orchestrated and ear-pleasing.  Special features include, Sun & Seduction with Sybil Danning (18:25) where the still mightily attractive lead reveals she landed the role based on her appearance in Playboy Magazine and her initial concerns that the script was overly convoluted.  Furthermore, Danning recalls many a fan encounters where the film played heavily into their puberty and instances of teens stealing the videotape from their fathers!  The genre titan, although finding him cute, reveals costar Eric Brown made the shoot difficult due to his unwillingness to be nude in the film.  Lastly, Trailers for They’re Playing with Fire (1:25), The Bitch (2:38) and The Stud (2:52) conclude the disc’s supplements.

    Beloved by Mr. Skin himself and most young men who experienced the film’s sumptuous offerings during its heyday, They’re Playing with Fire offers plenty of bare-breasted Sybil Danning and a chameleon-like plot that supplies an alarmingly fun touch of slasher elements for fans of the decade’s body count pictures.  A career high for the buxom B-movie queen, carnal delights never tasted this sweet or deadly before her voluptuous college professor wraps her legs around such impressionable hound dogs.  KL Studio Classics’ high-def handling of the sexy sizzler is a solid boost in quality with Danning’s newly recorded chatty sit-down a fine inclusion.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, They’re Playing with Fire can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 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.

  • Don't Give Up the Ship (1959) Blu-ray Review

    Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959)

    Director: Norman Taurog

    Starring: Jerry Lewis, Dina Merril, Diana Spencer, Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert Middleton, Gale Gordon, Mabel Albertson & Chuck Wassil

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Unbelievably based on an actual incident, Don’t Give Up the Ship stars Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor) as a wet-behind-the-ears naval newlywed who is whisked away from his honeymoon by a committee investigating the disappearance of the battleship previously under his command.  Suffering a mental block, a blonde bombshell of a psychiatrist (Dina Merril, Operation Petticoat) is brought in to help rattle the officer’s memory.  

    Produced in accordance with the U.S. Navy who are praised for their cooperation and sense of humor at the film’s onset, Don’t Give Up the Ship interrupts the celebratory victory of World War II when a displeased congressman refuses to approve a $4 billion appropriation fund for the Navy due to the mysterious disappearance of destroyer vessel, the U.S.S. Kornblatt.  Tying the knot with his lovely new bride Prudence (Diana Spencer, TV’s Johnny Ringo), the dimwitted but harmless Lieutenant John Paul Steckler VIII is quickly fingered by an investigative committee and summoned to the Pentagon to explain the most unusual circumstance behind the whereabouts of the ship that was under his control.  Ordered to locate the vessel in mere days while being hilariously disrupted at every chance of intimacy with his wife, Steckler’s mental block and seemingly tall tales about the events surrounding the Kornblatt make matters laughably more difficult for the Navy veteran.  Aided by an attractive psychologist tasked with helping Steckler remember the stranger than fiction facts, comical hijinks including, sharing a train compartment with another woman much to the dismay of his wife, being captured by Japanese soldiers unaware of the war’s conclusion and a deep sea exploration finding the goofy cadet and a fellow Navy man confronted by sharks, mermaids and a massive octopus.  While the funnyman’s madcap energy and comedic timing are the heart of the film, Don’t Give Up the Ship is a fairly middle-of-the-road effort from Jerry Lewis’ career of laughs with a plot that runs its course by the time the end credits roll.  Although Steckler’s robbed opportunities at whoopee making become repetitive, Lewis’ brand of childish silliness and knee-slapping physicality still make for a fine time.

    Newly remastered in 4K, KL Studio Classics presents Don’t Give Up the Ship with a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A gorgeous sight to behold, the monochrome photography looks stunning with excellent detail observed in skin tones, the fairly basic Navy uniforms and the film’s underwater sequence that is relayed with the utmost quality.  Boasting deeply inky black levels and hardly a scratch to be seen, it doesn’t get much better than this for a film so many decades removed.  Charmed with an equally impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that appears basic enough yet, sells dialogue exchanges, city street ambiance, and hurricane winds with top-notch care.  Although unrelated to the main feature, the disc’s sole special feature is Trailers for After the Fox (2:49), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2:23), Haunted Honeymoon (2:19), Life Stinks (2:01), Delirious (2:22) and The Couch Trip (1:14).

    Helmed by Academy Award-winning Director Norman Taurog (Slippy, The Wizard of Oz, albeit uncredited for his contributions on the latter), Don’t Give Up the Ship succeeds in letting Lewis does what he does best while, carrying the otherwise mediocre plot on his shoulders with ease.  Unable to keep your eyes off of the animated thespian for fear of missing the slightest funny nuance, Lewis keeps the ship afloat steadily.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ exceptional 4K mastering of the feature is an absolute knockout and now the only way to view this well-received comedy.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Don’t Give Up the Ship can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

    Director: Art Linson

    Starring: Peter Boyle & Bill Murray

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Culled from the wild and crazy exploits of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam centers on the eccentric reporter (Bill Murray, Caddyshack) and his ex-attorney Carlo Lazlo, Esq. (Peter Boyle, Young Frankenstein), fueled on drugs and a madness for adventure, as they navigate the politically spiraling and violent days of the late sixties and seventies.

    The first film taken from Thompson’s toxic brand of chaotic intellect, Where the Buffalo Roam takes liberties with the facts concerning the journalist’s construction of a story based on the misadventures of friend and ex-attorney Carlo Lazlo, Esq.  Rewinding to the years 1968-1972 where Lazlo attempts to free an avalanche of San Francisco youths from overly severe drug charges, Thompson drinks and drugs his way through the proceedings while his latest deadline looms.  Rambling his way from one city to the next and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, Thompson’s coverage of Super Bowl VI is sidetracked by the equally eccentric Lazlo’s presence who convinces the writer to join him on a mission to supply freedom fighters with heavy artillery.  Bailing on the plane escaping madness once the fuzz show and capturing the attention of young adults across the college campus circuit, Thompson offers sage advice by supporting the notion of illegal substances in the writing process and confronting then Presidential candidate Richard Nixon during an awkward bathroom encounter.  While the chemistry between Murray and Boyle sells and their performances, most notably Murray who does a sound impression of Thompson that was, for better and sometimes worse according to his fellow cast members, carried over to his next season of Saturday Night Live, Where the Buffalo Roam is structurally messy and never as funny or witty as it thinks it is.  Scored by Neil Young in one of his only film efforts, a lackluster screenplay and dismal box-office returns, trifled by Thompson’s own disdain for the finished effort, leaves Where the Buffalo Roam as merely the forgotten predecessor to Terry Gilliam’s much trippier and appreciated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas adaptation.

    Shout Select welcomes Where the Buffalo Roam to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A softer sight, colors are favorable but never do much popping while, skin tones remain nicely detailed and natural-looking.  Very scant notices of scuffs aside, a filmic quality is inherent throughout the feature without any over-sharpening techniques applied.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is serviceable with the mumbling manner of Thompson’s speech requiring an occasional increase in volume while, the film’s excellent music choices (presented for the first time ever on home video!) ranging from cuts by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Temptations, Neil Young and more, offer stronger boosts in range and bass.  

    Billed under Shout Select’s Collector’s Edition banner, special features, although limited, include, Inventing the Buffalo: A Look Back with John Kaye (41:58) where the screenwriter recalls being originally tasked with scripting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although caring little for its source citing a lackluster narrative structure, while its rights situation was resolved.  Bluntly put, Kaye also admits to being a former drug-addict and cites his research trip with Thompson through such cities as Aspen, Los Angeles and New Orleans as a fun drug binge.  In addition, Kaye felt Art Linson, making his directorial debut on the picture, was in over his head and maintains that his working relationship with Murray was a friendly one with the exception of one evening where the star badgered Kaye to come out and party resulting in Kaye having him removed from his hotel.  Lengthy and refreshingly honest, the interview is a must-watch for fans and detractors alike.  Furthermore, the Theatrical Trailer (3:14) and Reversible Cover Art conclude the supplemental package.

    Rarely funny but earning mild points for Murray’s spot-on interpretation of Thompson and Boyle’s equally worthy performance, Where the Buffalo Roam remains Hollywood’s dusty paperback attempt at bringing Thompson’s madcap brilliance to the big-screen with mostly unfavorable results.  Although its Collector’s Edition status, given its limited supply of extras, may be debated, the quality of Kaye’s interview and the film’s original music fully intact is warrant enough.  Murray completists will be pleased with what he brings to role of one of journalism’s most eccentric voices while, Thompson purists won’t help feeling underwhelmed.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Where the Buffalo Roam can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Malibu High (1978) Blu-ray Review

    Malibu High (1978)

    Director: Irvin Berwick

    Starring: Jill Lansing, Katie Johnson, Alex Mann, Tammy Taylor, Stuart Taylor, Wallace Earl Laven, Garth Pillsbury, John Harmon & John Yates

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Jill Lansing, in her only film appearance, stars as underachieving high school student turned hooker in the sleazily fun Malibu High.  An avalanche of misfortune from flunking classes to getting dumped by her steady beau opens the attractively feisty Kim Bentley’s eyes to a whole new career of opportunity.  Before long, getting horizontal turns her grades around and fills her wallet but her scandalous way of life leads the barely legal teen down a deadly path.  Irvin Berwick (The Monster of Piedras Blancas, Hitch Hike to Hell) directs.

    A true crowning jewel from low-budget purveyors Crown International Pictures, Malibu High sells  a sultry cocktail of sex, crime and murder where putting out for a price comes at a fatal cost.  Tonally shifting from teeny sexploitation hilarity to coldblooded crime shocker, failing high schooler Kim Bentley, who self-medicates her troubles with booze and pot, finds her calling when taking up local drug dealer and smalltime pimp Tony (Alex Mann, I Drink Your Blood) on his offer to start hooking for him.  Wildly sexy, Kim takes to her new profession with ease, racking up a clientele of johns while learning the tricks of the trade to pocket extra cash every opportunity she gets.  Sleeping her way to better grades but, unhappy with her current wage, Kim trades up with crime kingpin Lance (Garth Pillsbury, Mistress of the Apes) who rewards her services in flashy cars and lavish accommodations.  In turn, Kim’s role as a high-end prostitute is morphed into a hit girl, commanded with blowing away Lance’s top competitors…  or else.  Fuming with typical teenage jealousy over her ex-boyfriend’s new girl before flaunting her untanned breasts during several sexual rendezvous and ultimately getting off on the pull of trigger, Jill Lansing commands this drive-in favorite with untamed energy and looks that kill, making her memorably but, all-too-brief film career a whirlwind of what could have been.  Constantly throwing curveballs at its audience culminating in a tragic conclusion that’s a far cry from its scandalously bubbly beginnings, Malibu High is exploitation excellence with the skin and violence to back it up!  

    Newly restored in 2K from the 35mm original camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome works wonders with this beaten to death favorite previously banished to a variety of multi-film budget packs.  Arriving with a gorgeous 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, colors are bursting with bright shades seen in such prominent vehicles as an electric blue Mustang and flashy 70s attire.  Additionally, skin tones are natural and sharply detailed while, age-related damage is practically nonexistent in this spectacular handling of one of Crown’s best pictures.  While not a wildly dynamic track, the DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix conveys speech with ease and only fleeting instances of an echoey presence with music inclusions also well supported.  

    Loading the release with a bevy of desirable content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer Lawrence Foldes & Actress Tammy Taylor, Making Malibu High: An Interview with Producer Lawrence Foldes (26:40) is an exceptional sit-down with the producer who made the film at the shocking age of 18 while, sharing stories on the film’s sometimes challenging star, Crown International’s distribution capabilities and his lifelong obsession with films, Playing Annette: An Interview with Actress Tammy Taylor (12:42) catches up with actress who played Kim’s bitter rival in the film and her early desire to act that culminated in early roles in Don’t Go Near the Park and Malibu High while still in college.  Furthermore, Playing the Boss: An Interview with Actor Garth Pillsbury (14:51) finds the actor turned photographer expressing his head-scratching surprise at the film’s continued appeal with fans and recalls his other roles including appearances in two memorable Star Trek episodes, a Q&A from the New Beverly Cinema Screening with Producer Lawrence Foldes, Actress Tammy Taylor & Actor Alex Mann (27:02), Struggle for Israel: A Short Film by Lawrence Foldes (19:57) from 1976, Grandpa & Marika: A Short Film by Lawrence Foldes (11:07) from 1975, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:17), a Promotional Still Gallery (2:52), DVD edition and a Reversible Cover with slightly modified artwork concluding the impressive slate of extras.

    Fun in the sun where a trigger happy teen hooker makes her living, Malibu High is a wildly different experience than one might expect from its sexploitation teasing poster but, a ride that exceeds itself in all the best ways.  Thriving on its genre-mashing DNA while supplying all the exploitation goods, Vinegar Syndrome’s definitive release does the impossible by urging fans to buy this drive-in staple one last time for its spectacular presentation and stacked supplements, making the release its final statement on home video.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Malibu High can be purchased via VinegarSyndome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bambi (1942) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Bambi (1942)

    Director(s): David Hand, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield & Normal Wright

    Starring: Bobby Stewart, Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, Peter Behn, Stan Alexander, Paula Winslowe, Will Wright & Ann Gillis

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Felix Salten’s novel, Bambi charts a young deer’s adventures in the wild from infancy to maturity as memorable moments and dangerous encounters shape him into the prince of the forest he was born to be.

    Intended to be Walt Disney’s followup to his critically acclaimed debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the tale’s bleaker tone and Disney’s perfectionism to capture realistic animated depictions of the characters required years of extensive development before fully coming to fruition.  A master of intuitive storytelling, Disney’s softening of the material for his family-friendly audience proved wise while, the slow and oftentimes demanding nature of bringing more lifelike expression to forest animals than ever before would payoff as one of the studio’s most visually dazzling sights.  Quieter on dialogue with the changing of seasons, complimented by musical orchestrations and the chimes of nature’s critters, unfolding the narrative, Bambi invites viewers to the miracle of a baby deer’s birth as we witness his first steps and words before befriending lifelong friends Thumper, the adorable scene-stealing bunny, and Flower, a bashful skunk.  Cared for by his protective mother and slowly learning how to survive the harsh winter seasons, the threat of gun-touting hunters alter the young deer’s life forever in a sequence long considered one of Disney’s most tragically effective.  Taken in by the fatherly great prince of the woods, Bambi comes of age, returning to the wilderness of his youth to reunite with old friends, falls for a fellow deer and faces his greatest challenge yet when his home is engulfed in flames.  

    The fifth of Disney’s cherished animated features only behind other such classics as Fantasia and Dumbo, Bambi excels through its gorgeous visuals and flawless animation that once again set a new bar of excellence for the studio.  A costly investment that failed to recoup its original budget, Bambi’s impact on audiences has never wavered and continues to delight viewers with its humorous moments of Bambi struggling to find his balance on ice and the tearjerking drama conveyed through its moments of personal loss.  A touchstone achievement with timeless themes of love and conservation at its core, Bambi stands as animation’s lasting love letter to nature and all its majestic inhabitants.

    Recycling their Diamond Edition transfer from 2011, Walt Disney Studios’ Home Entertainment’s 1080p transfer (1:33:1) of Bambi is just as marvelous as before with the gorgeous greenery of the woods, vibrants colors found in the various furs of the animals and fantastic background paintings looking flawless.  Meanwhile, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is once again on hand delivering dialogue clearly and giving eloquent force to Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb’s beautifully dreamy score.  

    In addition to presenting the Original Theatrical Edition (1:09:50) with optional DisneyView and a thoroughly interesting Inside Walt’s Story Meetings: Extended Edition (1:35:55), new supplements include, Studio Stories: Bambi (4:56) featuring archival recordings of Walt Disney culled from interviews circa 1956, Deleted Scenes (7:25) with introductions by Animator Floyd Norman, an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Africa Before Dark (5:50) short film, The Bambi Effect (3:00) and Bambi Fawn Facts (3:34).  Furthermore, vintage bonus features carried over feature Classic Deleted Scenes (3:07), a Deleted Song: “Twitterpated” (1:52), The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born (53:15), Tricks of Our Trade (Excerpt) (7:18), Inside the Disney Archives (8:39), The Old Mill: Animated Short (8:58), The Golden Age (6:24) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:12).  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Cars 3 (0:57) and Beauty and the Beast (1:38) round out the on-disc extras.  Additionally, Celebrating Tyrus Wong (8:56), available only digitally, examines the long life of the famed artist, who passed away only last year at the age of 106, and his lasting impressions on Bambi.  Fans are also treated to a Collectible Tyrus Wong Lithograph in the packaging’s interior while, a DVD edition and Digital HD are also provided.

    Retaining the same splendid audio and visual specifications as its previous outing on Blu-ray, Bambi’s Signature Collection Edition joins the line with several new worthy supplements including a new Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short while, a stash, albeit incomplete, selection of classic extras are also on-hand.  Lovers, young and old, of Disney’s golden age efforts will be delighted to add this quintessential feature into their collections if they haven’t already and cherish the breathtaking sights of Bambi and his furry friends for years to come.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Bambi can be purchased via 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.

  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (2017)

    Director: Bill Condon

    Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining Disney’s animated masterpiece into live-action, Beauty and the Beast tells the time-honored tale of the bookish Belle (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whose eternal imprisonment in the castle of a cursed Beast (Dan Stevens, The Guest) morphs into an unexpected chance at love.  

    Perhaps more anticipated than Disney’s previous 21st century fairy tale adaptations and cautiously guarded by enthusiasts who value the 1991 version as a treasured benchmark of the Disney Renaissance era, Beauty and the Beast waltzes with whimsy and charm that harnesses the magic of its predecessor while, enchanting audiences through its live performances and visual-effects wizardry.  Straying closely to its counterparts narrative beats, Emma Watson stuns as the ideal Belle whose independent personality shines brightly and singing chops bring new dimension to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s classic songs.  Furthermore, Dan Stevens conjures an intimidating ferociousness and tenderness in his role as the Beast that growls through his digitized masking while, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) flexes his muscles as the living embodiment of the egotistical Gaston.  Meanwhile, Josh Gad (Frozen) consistently steals scenes as the suggestively gay LeFou with his clumsy humor and hopeless crush on Gaston offering the biggest laughs with an impressive supporting roster of thespians including, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) as the french candelabra Lumière, Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes) as the worrisome Cogsworth and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as the warm Mrs. Potts all bringing their inanimate characters to life in colorful fashion.  

    Enrapturing the film with fantastical glow and intricate detail, Production Designer Sarah Greenwood’s (Atonement) efforts are a work of art unto themselves while, the fan-favorite tunes continue to cast their enchanting spell on audiences with several new musical arrangements on hand including, “How Does A Moment Last Forever” by Celine Dion.  For all its dazzling majesty and subtle enhancements that bond Belle and the beast’s romance through shared grief, the trickiness of bringing a lifelike beast creature to reality falters when sharing the screen with the very real Watson.  Lacking the believability of the animal characters found in Disney’s groundbreaking reinvention of The Jungle Book, the Beast’s appearance works respectably on its own while demonstrating its obvious shortcomings in closeups that never fully suspends our disbelief and slightly takes attention away from intimate sequences.  Concurrently, the castle’s cursed inhabitants in their possession form are a visual marvel, making splashing sequences such as their dinner table rendition of “Be Our Guest” one of the film’s most memorable.  Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is overwhelmingly delightful with Bill Condon’s (Dreamgirls) grand direction perfectly suited for the musical material.  As warmly conducted as its animated brethren, Disney’s latest interpretation of Beauty and the Beast reaffirms the tale’s splendor and reputation as one of the greatest romances of all-time.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Beauty and the Beast with a sparkling 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Radiating with pristine quality, Belle’s quaint village glows under sunny skies while the grim and cobweb-infested layers of the Beast’s castle are presented with striking clarity.  Furthermore, skin tones appear warm and naturally inviting with Belle’s dazzling golden gown and the castle’s CG-rendered characters bursting with detail and colorful grace.  Yet another knockout transfer for the Mouse House, Beauty and the Beast will leave viewers visually waltzing in wonder!  Equipped with an equally exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the crispest of dialogue levels while taking full advantage of the film’s musical compositions, the track is nothing short of sonically fantastic.  

    As well stocked as the inhabitants in the Beast’s towering estate, special features include, Enchanted Table Read (13:31) giving viewers a unique look at one of the most theatrical read-throughs of any production captured on film, A Beauty of a Tale (27:08) finds the filmmakers and cast members discussing their attractions and utmost responsibility in telling this tale faithfully yet with its own unique charms while, The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (5:17) spotlights the creative contributions to the film by Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, Set Decorator Katie Spencer, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, Casting Director Lucy Bevan and Editor Virginia Katz.  Additionally, From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences (13:26), Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” with Introduction by Bill Condon (4:08), Deleted Scenes (6:23) also accompanied by an Introduction by Condon and Making a Moment with Celine Dion (3:24) where the emotional singer shares her personal ties to the project’s 1991 originator and the honor of being asked to contribute to its live-action counterpart.  Finally, the “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video by Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02), Making the Music Video: “Beauty and the Beast” (2:07), a Disney Song Selection (33:09) that allows viewers to jump to the film’s musical sequences and Sneak Peeks at Cars 3 (0:57) and Descendants 2 (0:32) conclude the on-disc supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Unanimously loved by both audiences and critics, Beauty and the Beast’s magical live-action makeover would skyrocket to billion dollar success ultimately becoming the most profitable movie musical of all time.  Retaining the enchanting splendor of its predecessor while using today’s technology and a stunning new cast under the guidance of musically minded director Bill Condon, Beauty and the Beast ensures its time-old tale of romance lives on for another generation.  As efficient as ever, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers another first-rate example of high-definition excellence with an appetizing selection of bonus features for seconds.  With the exception of its absent 3D edition that, similar to The Jungle Book’s home video strategy, is most surely to come at a later date, Beauty and the Beast comes highly recommended for fairy tale devotees and Disney lovers alike.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 6th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Founder (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Founder (2016)

    Director: John Lee Hancock

    Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak & Laura Dern

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the true story, The Founder charts the grassroots rise and eventual worldwide presence of the McDonald’s corporation.  Starring Michael Keaton (Spotlight) as struggling milkshake maker salesman Ray Kroc during America’s golden 50s, the discovery of a tiny yet, revolutionary fast-making burger eatery in Souther California sparks the wick of inspiration in the persistent businessman who sees nothing but endless possibilities.  Impressed by the operation and wooing its owners, Mac and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation and John Carroll Lynch, Channel Zero respectively), with fast talk of franchising, Kroc storms the midwest with undeniable success before desires of growing the McDonald’s brand become much more profound.  Robbed of an Academy Award nomination for his performance, Michael Keaton, although in excellent company with a stable of talent consisting of Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), singlehandedly commands the picture with restless energy and a mixture of ambition and underhanded practices that make his character bursting with depth and relatable flaws.  Looking beyond what the McDonald’s brothers envisioned while constantly being constrained by contractual terms, Kroc leverages his placement within the company by seedily taking credit for its creation before maneuvering a bonafide takeover.  A vastly intriguing character study that reveals its warts and all perhaps more so than Hancock’s charmingly saccharine Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder pulls no punches in detailing McDonald’s fascinating origin, littered with humor, mistrust and greed that could only be made and served in America.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents The Founder with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally composed with strong detail observed in Keaton’s facial features that reveal aging lines and rosy makeup choices in its female performers, the gorgeous vistas and greenery spotted along Route 66 are also prominently relayed.  In addition, the neon signage illuminating from the film’s many McDonald’s exteriors and their spotless kitchens pop most effectively with black levels observed during nighttime sequences and blacktop lots registering deeply.  Accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is crisply handled without a hiccup observed while, more frantic activity during kitchen sequences provide more notable atmospherics.  Special features include, a Behind the Scenes Gallery consisting of the following several featurettes, The Story Behind the Story (4:32), Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc (3:08), The McDonald’s Brothers (4:01), The Production Design (7:06) and Building McDonald’s: Time Lapse Video (1:21).  Furthermore, a Press Conference with Filmmakers and Cast (37:44) recorded in Los Angeles on January 12, 2017 closes out the on-disc extras while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.  An exemplary effort chronicling the advancements of one of the world’s most thriving fast food chains that deliberately challenged the values of its originators, The Founder is a sharply constructed feature with yet another fascinating performance from Keaton that unfortunately went vastly under seen.  Served with a side order of mediocre supplements, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s high-definition presentation honors the film’s period setting with picturesque quality, making this trip to the golden arches as narratively revealing as it is visually pleasing.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Anchor Bay Entertainment, The Founder can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Teen Witch (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Teen Witch (1989)

    Director: Dorian Walker

    Starring: Robyn Lively, Zelda Rubinstein, Dan Gauthier, Joshua Miller & Dick Sargent

    Released by: Kino Lorber

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A bonafide titan of cult cinema categorized by many under the “so bad, it’s good” section, Teen Witch exudes a laughable charm with countless quotable one-liners and even goofier musical interludes that must be seen to be believed.  Originally intended as the female equivalent to the Teen Wolf films, Teen Witch casts its own spell focusing on high school nobody Louise Miller (Robyn Lively, The Karate Kid Part III) whose crush on senior hunk Brad (Dan Gauthier, Son in Law) and hopes of popular acceptance are a stretch far from her reality.  Learning of her ties to Salem’s witches on her 16th birthday, Louise, mentored by palm reader Madame Serena (Zelda Rubinstein, Poltergeist), uses her spectacular powers to turn herself from brainy introvert to the most popular girl in school.  Helmed by Making the Grade’s Dorian Walker, this supernatural love story remains a riot from start to finish with Louise’s hilariously cruel and occasionally creepy younger brother Richie (Joshua Miller, Near Dark) stealing scenes as he dramatically ridicules his sister for being a dog before having the tables turned on him.  While its girl meets boy and falls in love structure is certifiably formulaic, Teen Witch’s major draws come from the not-so intentional humor derived from its gaudy 80s sensibilities and beyond wacky rap battle song numbers that will leave viewers crying with tears of laughter.  Sprinkled with quintessential sexy sax music and rise to popularity montages, Louise’s decision to ultimately ditch spells in order to gain real love is as cheesily enjoyable as one might expect.  Sharing company with similar misunderstood blunders as The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and Howard the Duck, Teen Witch, much like its counterparts, is a wildly fun concoction fit for cult loving cinema hounds.

    Kino Lorber presents Teen Witch with a radiant 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Minor specking aside, colors featured in the loud clothing and makeup choices of the era pop solidly while, skin tones remain strong with natural grain layers firmly intact.  Sharp and crisp-looking throughout, Teen Witch has never looked better on home video.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is clear-sounding with musical moments during the girl’s locker room sequence, the infamous rap duel and the closing prom night scene all offering increased weight much to the delight of listeners.  

    Packaged with a first-rate supply of newly crafted supplements, the disc’s many special features include, an Audio Commentary with Stars Robyn Lively, Joshua Miller, Dan Gauthier & Mandy Ingber, Finest Hour: Robyn Lively on Teen Witch (23:19) sits down with the lovable lead today as she recalls the audition process and heaves praise for each one of her cast members, Dan Gauthier Remembers Teen Witch (20:14) catches up with Brad today in an equally lengthy interview where viewers learn the production introduced him to his costar and future wife.  Furthermore, Lisa Fuller Remembers Teen Witch (3:50) echoes many of her husband’s warm sentiments making the film with hazier clarity, Maken It Big: Mandy Ingber Remembers Teen Witch (16:19) discusses her love for costar Lively, her lack of confidence in Walker’s vision and embarrassment having to film the much discussed rap scene while, The Music of Teen Witch (21:18) catches up with Music Producers Larry & Tom Weir as they discuss their approaches to the film’s pop and rap numbers, the latter of which they knew little to nothing about after the production insisted upon its inclusion in the film.  Finally, Top That: A Conversation with Robyn Lively & Mandy Ingber (15:38) is a sweet and candid reunion between the two friends as they exchange memories from the shoot.  The film’s Trailer (2:17) concludes the impressive slate of extras.  A financial disaster left to die, Teen Witch has not only survived years of ridicule but, reemerged as a justifiable treasure of cult cinema.  Spells, dreamy hunks, gorgeous girls and… rap all serve their role in making this cheesy good time one that dares to be topped.  Kino Lorber outdoes themselves with the care given to such a B-movie favorite with its definitive collection of extras leaving fans bewitched.  Top that!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber, Teen Witch can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Wanderers (1979) Blu-ray Review

    The Wanderers (1979)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

    Starring: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen & Toni Kalem

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Richard Price’s novel, The Wanderers centers on a Bronx gang of teens whose experiences growing up in the mid 60s provide a rich canvas for youthful decadence and eventual maturity against an ever-changing world.  Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff) directs this coming-of-age wonder.

    Depicting a time and place in New York City all but lost to time, The Wanderers fascinating depiction of universal themes plaguing directionless street dwellers during the final stretch of their teen years rings with pure sincerity nearly four decades later.  Set in the radically changing year of 1963, high school gang, The Wanderers, spend their days less worrying about their futures than defending their turf against rival hoods and chasing tail.  Sporting identical jackets bearing their squad name and greased up hairdos, the Italian teens find themselves embroiled in a racially tense standoff against the black Del Bombers while losing a fellow member to leather-bound baddies the Fordham Baldies.  Leaning on his girlfriend’s mafioso father for assistance, Wanderers leader Richie (Ken Wahl, Wiseguy) simultaneously falls for new girl on the block Nina (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Ark) in a controversial move that puts him on the outs with best friend Joey (John Friedrich, The Final Terror) and the rest of his gang.  Upholding their tough guy personas through violent brawls and chauvinism, The Wanderers manages to break through these shell casings as friendships are tested, hearts are broken and unexpected responsibilities are sprung upon them.  As the nation reacts and changes following the assassination of JFK, a high stakes football game against their African-American foes spirals into an all out war, finding the once divided units battling a shared enemy.  Beautifully aided by a soundtrack of doo wop hits and other golden oldies, The Wanderers is the perfect bridge between other youth centered pictures like American Graffiti and The Warriors.  While its setting may be a thing of the past, The Wanderers speaks a language firmly rooted in the tender years of youth that is as unforgettably beautiful and painful as our own memories.

    Newly restored in 2K, KL Studio Classics proudly presents The Wanderers with a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.85:1 (1:78:1 for its included Preview Cut edition) aspect ratio.  Sporting a wonderfully cleaned up appearance free of unsightly scratches or tears, skin tones are warmly inviting while, filmic quality is as organic as can be.  Furthermore, the dingy city alleyways and storefronts are excellently presented with colors and textures found in the wide variety of gang jackets and the Del Bombers’ loud football uniforms popping nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that does a fine job relaying dialogue recorded on busy New York streets, the film’s period soundtrack cuts make for the strongest enforcements on the otherwise healthy track.  

    Divided over two discs featuring both its Theatrical Cut (1:57:09) and rare Preview Cut (2:03:50), Disc 1’s special features kicks off with a Director’s Statement (1:56) followed by an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Philip Kaufman.  Also included, Back in the Bronx with Richard Price (35:18), The Wanderers Forever!: Live Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias & Richard Price (16:35) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52).  Meanwhile, Disc 2’s offerings feature an Introduction with Stars Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias (0:40), an Audio Commentary with Columbia University Film Professor & Author of Philip Kaufman Annette Insdorf, The Wanderers Q&A at The Cinefamily with Philip Kaufman, Alan Rosenberg & Peter Kaufman (31:59), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Philip Kaufman (19:46), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Richard Price (16:41), the Re-Release Trailer (1:40) and a TV Spot (0:33).

    A continually growing cult classic and a high-water achievement in coming-of-age cinema, The Wanderers recalls the struggles and fears common in most teens attempting to make sense of the big world surrounding them with a palpable relatability few films capture.  In one of their standout efforts of the year, KL Studio Classics reinstates this golden oldie back into the public eye with a gorgeous 2K restoration, hefty supplements and dual cuts of the film that make joining up with this particular gang a splendid life choice.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Wanderers can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Tangled: Before Ever After (2017) DVD Review

    Tangled: Before Ever After (2017)

    Director(s): Tom Caulfield & Stephen Sandoval

    Starring: Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Eden Espinosa, Clancy Brown, Julie Bowen & Jeffrey Tambor

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Taking place after the events of the original film but before the lead characters’ eventual marriage, Tangled: Before Ever After brings the charming heart and humor of Rapunzel and beau Eugene to the small screen in this original movie event, kickstarting its new episodic series.  Exchanging its slick computer-generated animation for a more traditional 2D style that echoes an illustrated storybook come to life, Rapunzel, although thrilled to be back home and surrounded by loved ones, struggles to adapt to her new royal lifestyle and the responsibilities it demands.  Temporarily turning down the love of her life’s proposal in order to explore sights beyond her castle walls, the barefoot beauty teams up with her resourceful aide Cassandra and encounters a mystical rock formation that returns her lengthy locks.  Attempting to fulfill her coronation ceremony, danger is not far behind as the vengeful Lady Kaine and her ruffians seek to infiltrate the castle leaving Rapunzel and Flynn, along with their animal friends, leading the defense.  Welcoming back the voice talents of Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore, Tangled: Before Ever After sets the stage for the Disney Channel’s seemingly surefire followup to the much loved feature.  Introducing new characters, familiar locations and retaining the enchanting tone audiences fell in love with several years ago, this anticipated return for Corona’s favorite couple, complimented by new original songs by legendary Disney composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), is a romantically fun adventure fans will looks favorably upon.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Tangled: Before Ever After in a widescreen format, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally mastered and warmly preserving its very vibrant color scheme, characters and busier castle backgrounds look solid making the watching experience a satisfactory one.  Joined by a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently handled while, the Menken penned song numbers give the track a subtle but, gracious boost in quality.  Bonus goodies include, four Short Cuts mini movies including, Checkmate (2:32), Prison Bake (2:22), Make Me Smile (2:32) and Hare Peace (2:27).  Furthermore, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Descendants 2 (0:34) and Born in China (1:16) are also included.  Lastly, an Exclusive Replica of Rapunzel’s Journal, as seen in the film, is also included in the packaging.  Fans awaiting for more fairy tales to be told from the world of Tangled, fear not, as this humorous new beginning for the beloved characters is on par with the magic of its 2010 originator.  With its formal series now airing and already renewed for a second season, Tangled: Before Ever After is the perfect start to catching up with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, making for a prime Easter basket treat for young viewers this holiday season.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tangled: Before Ever After can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Drive-In Massacre (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Drive-In Massacre (1976)

    Director: Stu Segall

    Starring: Jake Barnes, Adam Lawrence, Douglas Gudbye & Verkina Flowers

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Although bearing a glorified grindhouse moniker further personified by its gritty photography, Drive-In Massacre falls short of living up to its promise of exploitation excess.  Co-scripted by Back to the Future’s quintessential hobo George “Buck” Flower, a sweltering California drive-in is targeted by a sword-wielding madmen with a penchant for necking couples.  Kicking off with an impactful opening leaving the heads of unsuspecting lovers literally rolling, Drive-In Massacre quickly veers off course as a dull duo of detectives investigate the murders leading them down a rabbit hole of red herrings ranging from public ejaculators and bumbling maintenance men to no avail.  Unsurprisingly shot in less than a week, this smartly marketed indie effort makes little case in the realm of appealing characters and a slim body count that can’t only help but disappoint based on the film’s tagline deeming itself too terrifying for the average moviegoer.  While its classic drive-in and latter carnival filming locations make for nostalgic eye candy, Drive-In Massacre ultimately dawdles for much of its barely hour-long runtime before the coppers zero in on a warehouse where yet another machete-wielding red herring withholds a young woman.  Completely unrelated to their actual unknown suspect, the film’s “killer is still out there” sendoff not only feels cheap but, lacks any sort of punch actual drive-inners may have had shifting their ride into reverse by the end credits.  Notable for preceding the slasher craze and boasting an uncompromisingly eye-catching title, Drive-In Massacre can be appreciated for its humble efforts but, hardly leaves a true developmental mark on the genre.

    Newly restored from the original camera negative, Severin Films presents Drive-In Massacre with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Although sporadic instances of scuffs, scratches and reel change snafus are to be expected, this no-budget crash course in exploitation moviemaking surprises with an overwhelmingly filmic appearance that comes alive best during the film’s sunnier sequences.  Furthermore, colors seen in drive-in manager Mr. Johnson’s flashy attire pop strongly while, the neon-lit carnival rides also spruce up the picture nicely.  Meanwhile, black levels vary in quality from serviceable to overly grainy.  Unfortunately, the film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix suffers from more innate issues of muffling and restraint making dialogue delivery a challenging but, not impossible feat to absorb.  Scoring cues are at least more functional while, traces of static interference also rear their head from time to time.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Stu Segall followed by an Easter Egg accessed by clicking left of its icon revealing the Theatrical Trailer for Segall’s 1972 effort C.B. Hustlers (2:52).  Next up, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:49) and Drive-In Days: A Conversation with Co-Writer/Actor John F. Goff (16:18) who recalls his early love affair with film through his uncle’s movie theater and his eventual affliction with the acting bug is provided.  Additionally, Norm Sheridan Recalls Drive-In Massacre (11:45) shares his own treasured experiences making the film that transpired several years after returning home from the Vietnam War.  Lastly, the vintage Making the Massacre: Interview with Director Stu Segall (6:32) is also included alongside Reversible Cover Art.  Far from an essential exploitation opus, Drive-In Massacre makes for a curious watch for grindhouse completists with its head-lopping introduction just worthy enough of its time.  Unfazed by its unavoidable wear and tear, Severin Films delivers this no-so trashy cheapie in the best shape imaginable for its high-definition domestic debut, befit with a generous helping of on-disc goodies.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Tales from the Hood (1995) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Tales from the Hood (1995)

    Director: Rusty Cundieff

    Starring: Corbin Bersen, Rosalind Cash, Rusty Cundieff, David Alan Grier, Anthony Griffith, Wings Hauser, Paula Jai Parker, Joe Torry & Clarence Williams III

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Executive Producer Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), Tales from the Hood unspools an anthology of urban frights set against the backdrop of inner city social issues as frightening as the monsters depicted in them.  Nightmares and reality are forever blurred when a trio of hoodlums retrieving a stash of missing drugs from an eerie mortician find themselves subjected to several tales from beyond the grave.

    Released in a dire genre year just ahead of Wes Craven’s postmodern slasher masterpiece rejuvenating audiences thirst, Tales from the Hood stands as one of the few crowning achievements from the lumpish decade that offers genuine frights with effectively delivered messages entwined in their narratives.  Seldom seen during the scatterbrained era but nonetheless serving as one of the best anthology efforts of its day, Tales from the Hood’s urban slant provides a chillingly fresh perspective on a proven formula with its commentary on issues such as, police brutality, domestic abuse and gang violence unfortunately still potent today.  Guiding his trigger-happy guests around his funeral home, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III, Mod Squad) weaves a web of ghoulish stories in accordance with their own ethnic environment.  When an African-American rookie cop watches on as a civil rights leader is attacked by corrupt officers, Rogue Cop Revelation finds his lack of action comes at a haunting price while, Boys Do Get Bruised finds a child’s fear of the monster in his closet foreshadowing the real-life domestic abuse he suffers and the power of his own imagination that puts an end to it in this Twilight Zone-esque episode.  Furthermore, KKK Comeuppance centers on former Klansman and running politician Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen, L.A. Law) learning his former plantation homestead is overrun by vengeful slave dolls brought to life by stop-motion wizardry.  Lastly, gang violence, hate and a failed attempt to rehabilitate a murderous convict in Hard Core Convert strikes genuine fear into the hearts of viewers with its grizzly imagery of real-life lynchings.  While most films of its kind leave audiences cherry-picking their favorite segments, Tales from the Hood continuously tops itself throughout its duration with its seamless blending of terror and gritty, urban realism making it one of the most smartly conceived efforts of the 90s.

    Reportedly thought to have no workable prints to remaster from, Scream Factory comes through to deliver Tales from the Hood with a strong 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Leaps and bounds better than its nearly decade-old discontinued DVD release, colors are striking while, skin tones are naturally pleasing with black levels, evident during the film’s overwhelming nighttime sequences, looking deeply inky with no intrusions of digital crush.  Scant speckling traces aside, the transfer is a remarkable sight that will leave fans yearning for a trip back to the hood more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue sharply and emphasizes its rap soundtrack authoritatively, an Alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 culled from the film’s LaserDisc release is also included for your listening pleasure.  Joining its place alongside other worthy Collector’s Edition releases, supplemental offerings include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Rusty Cundieff also recycled from its LaserDisc release, the newly-produced and exceptionally well made Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood (56:13) featuring interviews from Cundieff, Co-Writer/Producer Darin Scott and several cast members, a Vintage Featurette (6:04), the Theatrical Trailer (1:41), TV Spots (3:26), a Photo Gallery (9:46) and Reversible Cover Art bearing the original 1-sheet.

    Retrieved from Universal’s vaults after rampant requests from fans, Tales from the Hood is an underrated gem from a decade largely considered in peril with few redeeming genre efforts.  A horrific journey of eerie episodes with much more on its mind than simply scaring its audiences, this socially conscious and wickedly fun frightfest is urban horror at its finest.  Bestowed with new luridly crafted artwork by Joel Robinson (The Vincent Price Collections), Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release brings the hood back to life with a sightly high-definition makeover and a quality serving of mostly vintage supplements while, its brand-new, nearly hour-long retrospective doc is the disc’s towering extra.  Gather round the casket and don’t be left out on the streets without this recommended anthology of nightmares!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Scream Factory, Tales from the Hood can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

    Director: Gareth Edwards

    Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen & Forest Whitaker

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    During a time of ruthless Imperial rule, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finds an unlikely band of heroes headed by the daring Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) and rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, The Terminal) as they plot to steal the coveted plans to the Empire’s most destructive weapon, the Death Star.  Ben Mendelsohn (Una), Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange), Alan Tudyk (Frozen), Jiang Wen (The Sun Also Rises) and Forest Whitaker (Arrival) costar.

    Marking the first of many planned stand-alone films in the popular sci-fi saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivers an action-packed and emotionally riveting tale based on a crucial footnote, often referred to but never explored in the film universe on such a profound scale.  Following the murder of her mother and capturing of her scientist father (Mikkelsen) fifteen years ago, Jyn Erso, resorting to petty theft and anything else to survive in the war-ravaged world the Empire has fashioned, is rescued from incarceration by rebels with an imperative message from her thought to be dead father, Galen Erso.  Using his brilliance to design the Empire’s most invaluable weapon for total domination, Galen alerts Jyn of the Death Star’s near completion and its sole vulnerability.  Aided by rebel officer Cassian Andor and the series’ most hilariously blunt droid to date, K-2SO (Tudyk), to retrieve the elder Erso in an effort to assist the Alliance, Jyn must scour distant and dangerous worlds, confront old foes and ensure the plans to the Death Star are captured in a mission built entirely on hope and outnumbered by the odds.  

    A far riskier endeavor than its previous Episode-connected installment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story forges on with an adventure, visually and thematically, engrained in the spirit of Lucas’ franchise-starting wave of films.  Grittier and focusing on a new breed of unlikely and richly diverse heroes that come together to aid Jyn’s deathly mission, the prequel to A New Hope flourishes with stunning visual effects and a groundbreaking achievement that resurrects the deceased Peter Cushing’s likeness to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin.  As strong and appealing as these new rebels including, the determined Jyn and blind Force believer Chirrut Îmwe (Yen) are individually, their chemistry as a unit lacks and is a far cry from the charming connections seen between the stars of George Lucas’ original trilogy.  While character development issues, also present in his 2014 Godzilla reboot are repeated here, Director Gareth Edwards handles the wealth of the narrative with a steady hand and an obvious appreciation for the detailed universe.  Complimented by a distinct yet familiar score by Michael Giacchino (Tomorrowland, Doctor Strange) that seamlessly taps into John Williams’ beloved themes and featuring the most viciously exciting appearance by Darth Vader on film yet, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, although leading to an unavoidably predictable finale, is a thrilling journey into the galaxy’s past that stands strongly on its own merits.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Immaculately handled, the digital photography detailing the various planet landscapes and colder color textures seen early in the film make for a flawlessly crisp picture.  Furthermore, skin tones are naturally preserved with the deepest of black levels observed during high-flying space battles, death trooper armor and of course, Darth Vader’s iconic garb.  A picturesque high-definition experience on all fronts, the Force is triumphantly strong with this transfer.  Equipped with a fittingly perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that delivers dialogue with the swiftest of precision, Michael Giacchino’s swelling score boldly supports the spectacular visuals while, the whizzing sounds of TIE fighters, X-wings and explosive laser blasts all make reference-worthy statements on the track.

    Respectably stocked and presented on a separate disc, supplements found under The Stories banner include, A Rogue Idea (9:00) that finds ILM’s John Knoll discussing how he came up with the film’s concept that would ultimately launch the Star Wars stand-alone projects, Jyn: The Rebel (6:16) explores the lead character’s traits and backstory with insight from Actress Felicity Jones, Cassian: The Spy (4:14) hosts Actor Diego Luna as he discusses Cassian’s own complexities being a hero against immeasurable odds, K-2SO: The Droid (7:43) details the technical process bringing the droid to life through Alan Tudyk’s performance, Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20) digs deeper into the characters’ backstories and the Chinese superstars playing them, Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (8:35) finds Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed reflecting on their very unique roles as an extremist rebel leader and Imperial pilot gone rogue while, The Empire (8:18) gives a revealing look into the film’s antagonists, Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24) explores the production’s challenge with making a film that could visually fit into the realm of the original trilogy’s appearance, The Princess & The Governor (5:49) sheds light on the impressive movie magic that brought a younger Princess Leia and Governor Tarkin back to the big-screen and Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15) finds the filmmakers and cast reflecting on the experience with footage from the film’s world premiere included.  In addition, Rogue Connections (4:31) points out all the Easter eggs and references to other films in the Star Wars universe found in the film with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code concluding the bonus feature offerings.

    Following up on the momentum of The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story successfully charts a new course in a universe of stand-alone features that overwhelmingly soars on its first flight.  Minor character development hiccups aside, the prequel invites viewers back to a familiar world, this time told via strangers eyes, who win the affections of its audience through compelling performances and mesmerizing visual effects.  While its ultimate destination may be easily foreseen, the journey and near-impossible mission at hand is as exciting as one could hope for from a new chapter in the Star Wars universe.  Unsurprisingly, Disney’s high-definition presentation is a lavish-looking, reference worthy example of excellence with a serviceable amount of supplements bested only by its own Target exclusive release containing additional on-disc content and a 3D presentation.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 4th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Chamber of Horrors (1940) Blu-ray Review

    Chamber of Horrors (1940)

    Director: Norman Lee

    Starring: Leslie Banks, Lilli Palmer, Gina Malo & Conny Van Dyke

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported by Poverty Row distributor Monogram Pictures shortly after a British band on horror fare was lifted, the adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s The Door with Seven Locks, retitled to the more attention-grabbing Chamber of Horrors for American shores is a convoluted labyrinth of intrigue that thrives on its solid atmosphere.  Following the passing of a wealthy lord who’s entombed with a treasure of jewels requiring seven keys to undo its locks, the unlikely heiress to his fortune, June Lansdowne (Lilli Palmer, The House That Screamed), finds herself and those closest to her entangled in a tortuous web of murder and deceit.  Hamming it up nicely as the suspected Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks, The Most Dangerous Game) whose affection for collecting historical torture devices is far from subtle, Chamber of Horrors plays more directly as a murder mystery than its more garish title suggests although, a prominent chamber where artifacts of death are on display serves as host to some of the film’s more memorable and revealing sequences.  Jaw-droppingly beautiful and injecting a fearless sense of adventure into her role, Lilli Palmer does admirably in her headlining performance contrary to early criticisms at the time of the film’s release.  Occasionally heavy-handed and bewildering in its explanations for the criminal parties seeking to make the riches their own, Chamber of Horrors may not be all that’s expected of it and instead better appreciated as a complex whodunit with effective shades of ghastly set pieces.

    KL Studio Classics presents Chamber of Horrors newly remastered with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Commonly sporting sporadic instances of scratches and vertical lines, overblown white levels, presumably from overexposed film elements or harsher onset lighting, casts many moments in a bright wash that takes away from the atmospheric setting and corresponding details.  Otherwise, black levels spotted in costumed attire are as deep as one might expect while, facial closeups of the thespians capture respectable intricacies.  Surely the elements are far from pristine but, the upgraded high-definition picture is the best a feature of this ilk will ever look.  Matched with a rather problematic DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that relays inconsistent dialogue levels that range from clear to muffled and echoey, static is also present requiring essential volume increases and a sharp ear to collect all the track has to offer.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Kenneth J. Hall that finds genre enthusiast Del Valle right at home dishing one intriguing anecdote after another with Hall complimenting the conversation nicely.  A horror aficionado like no other, Del Valle’s infectious love for the genre and his well-prepared words are always a treat to listen to for likeminded viewers.  Finally, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included alongside Reversible Cover Art.  An acceptable investigative thriller that only trips up due to its own narrative complexities, Chamber of Horrors comes cautiously recommend for those knowing more or less what’s in store while, the expert commentary track provided is worth the price alone.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Chamber of Horrors can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Invisible Ghost (1941) Blu-ray Review

    Invisible Ghost (1941)

    Director: Joseph H. Lewis

    Starring: Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire & Clarence Muse

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The first of nine Monogram Pictures features produced by genre dabbler and schlockmeister Sam Katzman (Earth VS. The Flying Saucers, The Giant Claw), Invisible Ghost combines the realms of psychological horror and the murder mystery for an evocative gothic fused tale guided by one of the genre’s finest presences.  Continuing to mourn the loss of his unfaithful wife, the friendly Mr. Kessler (Bela Lugosi, Dracula) is plagued with homicidal urges after being hypnotized by the image of his wife who, unbeknownst to the good doctor, lives in secret in their cellar.  As several murders take place at Kessler’s estate with his daughter’s (Polly Ann Young in her final film role) beau wrongly sentenced to death for them, the convicted’s twin brother (John McGuire of Sands of Iowa Jima fame playing double duty as both Ralph and Paul Dickinson) arrives on the scene searching for answers.  Predominately set at the scene of the crimes, Invisible Ghost juggles its approaches in terror efficiently with its rather absurd premise of fatal secrets and a hallucinatory tone taken seriously by its players.  Turning an otherwise monotonous role into a worthy watch, Bela Lugosi dominates the film with his Jekyll & Hydish personality and striking stare making his juxtaposition as a loving father to an oblivious sinister strangler a grisly delight.  Easily digestible and enjoyably spooky, Invisible Ghost remains a well-constructed and moody descent into unknowing madness.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics presents Invisible Ghost with a 1080p transfer, retaining its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Expected of lower-budgeted cheapies from the era, the black-and-white photography bears several instances of film degradation in the later portion of the film while, the overwhelming majority of its hour long runtime greatly impresses with striking black levels observed during nighttime sequences and in the suits of the actors.  In addition, detail seen in closeups of Lugosi as he slowly descends upon his sleeping maid are excellent and earn the transfer its highest marks of quality.  Equipped with a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handled decently with “S” sounds registering particularly sharp while, a mild surface of hiss is detected throughout.  Supplemental material includes, an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Tom Weaver, Gary Rhodes & Dr. Robert J. Kiss that finds Weaver predominately guiding the well-researched track with Rhodes and Kiss relegated to guest appearances that still add quality value to their portions of the film.  Lastly, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included.  Graciously handled to the best of their abilities, KL Studio Classics brings Invisible Ghost back from the dead much to the appreciation of Lugosi completists.  A juggling act of horror approaches that give the film a peculiar style and iconic star with plenty to chew into, Invisible Ghost is a gothic gas worth being hypnotized by.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Invisible Ghost can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Witchtrap (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Witchtrap (1989)

    Director: Kevin Tenney

    Starring: Linnea Quigley, James Quinn, Kathleen Bailey, Judy Tatum, Hal Havins & Rob Zapple

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bearing its alternate The Presence title card, Witchtrap, aggressively marketed as not a sequel to 1987’s Witchboard, scares up the screen as Director Kevin Tenney’s most overlooked spooktacular showcase from the wild and waning late 80s.  Afflicted with a reputation for being haunted and further confirmed following an unexplainable death on its grounds, the Lauder House, failing to sell to potential buyers attempts to reinvent itself as a bed and breakfast.  Hired by the property’s inheritor (Tenney in a brief role), a team of paranormal experts, aided by a trio of security operatives, use their tools and know-how to cleanse the home of its sinister evil but find themselves meeting fatal demises the longer they stay.  Boasting charmingly clunky acting and genuinely funny dialogue, Witchtrap delivers a black mass of gory special effects mayhem including, automobile impalements, exploding noggins, a bullet (sans gunfire) through the skull and the always dependable axe to the head.  In addition, scream queen Linnea Quigley reteams with her Night of the Demons helmer for a minor but, wildly memorable role that finds her baring her full assets and landing the film’s highlight death scene with a shower head driven through her neck.  Another low-budget marvel in Tenney’s rolodex of features overrun with possessed partygoers and eerie Ouija boards, Witchtrap keeps the fun rolling well into its final act where smart-assed lone survivor Tony Vincente (James Quinn, Witchboard) goes head to head with the black magic-worshipping entity of Avery Lauder (J.P. Luebsen, also of Witchboard fame) in a ghost busting brawl for the ghoul’s heart.

    Newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm interpositive, Vinegar Syndrome presents Witchtrap fully uncut with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Cleansed to perfection while maintaining its filmic integrity, skin tones are highly detailed and warmly accurate while, colors found in the bedrooms of the Lauder House and its surrounding greenery burst with vibrancy.  In addition, the film’s gorier moments are further enhanced by the image’s crispness revealing all the technical team’s efforts.  Lastly, black levels are deeply inky and universally sound, chalking up another flawless restoration for the consistent indie label.  Joined by a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the film’s dubbed dialogue is handled effectively while its overall usage is occasionally jarring in motion.  Furthermore, the eerie atmospherics and musical underscores are appropriately balanced for a less forceful but nonetheless efficiently pleasing listening experience.

    Packed to the brim with content, special features include, a chatty Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Tenney, Producer Dan Duncan, Cinematographer Tom Jewett & Actor Hal Havins, several newly recorded interview featurettes including, Making Witchtrap with Kevin Tenney (23:36) who discusses his film school days before exiting once landing the opportunity to helm Witchboard and his other successive features and the hardships of making smaller budgeted films, Acting Witchtrap with Linnea Quigley (13:40) who recounts her chance encounter falling into acting and her creative relationship with Tenney, Shooting Witchtrap: An Interview with Tom Jewett (15:90) plus, Special Effects with Tassilo Baur (17:11).  Additionally, Audio Interviews with Special Makeup Artist Judy Yonemoto (8:18) and Music Composer Dennis Michael Tenney (13:13) are provided along with the Witchtrap Video Trailer (2:55), Book of Joe Short Film directed by Kevin Tenney (23:23) and an Alternate Ending for Book of Joe (3:44).  Lastly, a Production/Promotional Still Gallery (12 in total), DVD Edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original and favored VHS poster close out the robust spread of supplements.  A supernaturally splendid hodgepodge from the last breathes of the 1980s featuring a haunted house and buckets of blood, Witchtrap sits proudly next to Tenney’s other cult favorites from the era while earnestly deserving more praise than time has provided for its tightly budgeted and highly entertaining execution in satanic shrieks.  Treating viewers to the missing link in Tenney’s early trifecta of terror, Vinegar Syndrome outdoes themselves with the film’s definitive release.  Perfect in quality and presentation in all its uncut glory, the included bonus features are a staggering sight to behold and a pleasure to be possessed by.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Witchtrap can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • A Game of Death (1945) Blu-ray Review

    A Game of Death (1945)

    Director: Robert Wise

    Starring: John Loder, Audrey Long, Edgar Barrier & Russell Wade

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Readapting Richard Connell’s thrilling tale just over a decade after its pre-Code movie makeover from the directors of King Kong, A Game of Death is a briskly paced and suspenseful jungle-based adventure where the hunter becomes the hunted.  Starring John Loder (How Green Was My Valley) as noted author and respected hunter Don Rainsford who after becoming shipwrecked, finds shelter in Erich Kreiger’s (Edgar Barrier, Macbeth) exotic island homestead.  An isolated locale hosting fellow shipwrecked siblings Ellen (Audrey Long, Born to Kill) and Bob (Russell Wade, The Body Snatcher) Trowbridge, their welcoming host proves sinister as his homicidal tendencies to hunt humans across his vast land are revealed.  Tensely orchestrated by the masterly Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting) while recycling selected footage from The Most Dangerous Game, A Game of Death never wanes in its excitement with commendable performances put forth by the respectably gruff Loder and deliciously wicked Barrier as the German human hunter who prefers a bow and arrows over rifles.  Climaxing with a fog-entrenched pursuit through the island’s jungle greenery with hungry bloodhounds on Don and Ellen’s coattails, A Game of Death is a thoroughly entertaining catch, tonally reminiscent of the weekly film serials of the era with an unquestionably cinematic punch drawing viewers into its horrifying island of danger.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics proudly presents A Game of Death with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing age-related traces of speckles and scratches to varying degrees, the 1945 black-and-white remake overwhelmingly impresses with its conveyed detail in Kreiger’s prize room and the dirt and blood stains found on Rainsford’s attire.  Meanwhile, black levels bear strong deepness while, recycled footage from the ship’s destruction to instances of the hounds pursuing Don and Ellen show obviously grainier levels.  Equipped with a basic-sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is decently relayed with increases in volume recommended to fully capture their entirety.  Furthermore, mild instances of hiss are present but never deal-breaking on the track while, obscene cracks or pops are thankfully excused.  Special features include, a richly researched Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith and Trailers for The Quatermass Xperiment (2:13), The Earth Dies Screaming (2:14), 99 River Street (2:13) and No Highway in the Sky (2:09).  An excellent second stab at Connell’s revered short story, A Game of Death keeps its suspense high and runtime swift ensuring a pulse-beating good time for all.  Bestowing a solid HD remastering on the RKO thriller with a recommended audio commentary, KL Studio Classics have claimed another keeper in their hunt for film’s treasures.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, A Game of Death can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury (2017)

    Director: Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As a surge of trailer compilations celebrating exploitation’s finest offerings continue to make their way to home video, Severin Films, in assosciation with The Cube, assaults viewers once more with a second helping of bone-cracking madness in Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury!  Collecting another 35 trailers consisting of over two hours of sizzling martial arts badassery, this celebration of kung fu cinema’s peak decades during the 70s and 80s spotlights such legends as, Angela Mao, Don Wong, Chang Yi and Bruce Li in some of their most prized efforts.  Unspooling in all their high-definition glory, prominent inclusions encompass, Thunderbolt, Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat, The Invisible Terrorist, Bruce and the Iron Finger, The Owl, White Haired Devil Lady, The Super Kung-Fu Fighter, Revenge of the Shaolin Kid, The Old Master, Itchy Fingers, The Dragon and the Tiger Kids, The Avenging Boxer among many more.  A natural extension of its impressive predecessor, Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury ensures a doubling of brutality and energetic fight choreography to make serious martial arts movie aficionados bowing in approval at its continued depth and preservation of these nostalgically tattered promotional pieces.  

    Severin Films presents Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio on the overwhelming majority of bumpers included.  While each trailer contains expected and varying levels of age-related anomalies including, faded colors, scratches, vertical lines and film tears, their enhanced resolution is evident with the overall quality of the 35 trailers surprisingly besting the original volume’s 31 without question.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that suffers from similar battle wounds with cracks and pops common on each trailer, traces of hiss and a general narrowness in their pitch are also unfortunately present but nonetheless expected given the condition of their elements.  Included as the disc’s sole special feature, an Audio Commentary with Kung Fu Movie Experts Ric Meyers, Frank Djeng, Greg Schiller & Rich Stelow is wonderfully chatty and informative, capturing the vibe of a casual party-like conversation with some of the genre’s biggest fans whose passion is as deep as their vast knowledge for the subjects on hand.  Fans breaking wooden boards in anticipation for another tidal wave of hand-to-hand combat trailers will be most pleased with Severin Films’ Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury.  Bearing their grindhouse wear with pride, two additional hours of content with yet another insightful commentary track is the perfect opponent for your Blu-ray player to do battle with. 

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • World Without End (1956) Blu-ray Review

    World Without End (1956)

    Director: Edward Bernds

    Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Nelson Leigh, Rod Taylor, Shawn Smith & Lisa Montell

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A cost conscience effort that earnestly takes audiences to infinity and beyond, World Without End, using rocket ship stock footage from 1951’s Flight to Mars as a launchpad, finds four daring astronauts en route back home following a successful mission to Mars when a space warp spirals them centuries ahead into a brooding future.  Crash-landing in the nuclear ravaged Earth of 2508 A.D., our daring explorers are confronted by mutated cyclops-men and overgrown spiders in search of civilization.  Creating a pacifist way of life underground away from the savages, the astronauts are welcomed by a peaceful community of colorful bald cap-wearing men and miniskirted vixens who dare not retake the land above, jeopardizing the existence of mankind’s future generations.  Determined to ensure humanity’s survival, the time traveling outsiders fight back against this Earth’s beastly mutations.  Beautifully shot in CinemaScope (the genre’s very first) and boasting a respectable cast of brave souls including an early appearance from Rod Taylor (The Time Machine, The Birds), World Without End takes what should be a routine saucer men from Mars cheapie and instead delivers a lost in space, time traveling cheapie with commendable style that echoes later genre classics (much to the chagrin of its director who felt ripped off) including, Planet of the Apes.  While not a top-tier sci-fi feature, the film’s vibrant colors, effective but seldomly seen brutes and gorgeous sights of Nancy Gates (Comanche Station) and Lisa Montell (She Gods of Shark Reef) make World Without End an entertaining prime directive from the director of Queen of Outer Space and Return of the Fly.

    Warner Archive welcomes World Without End to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Presented with spotless detail, colors are bold and exacting, giving radiance to matte paintings, earthly greenery and flashy costume choices while, black levels are as deep as one could hope for.  Retaining a prominent layer of natural film grain throughout and rosy skin tones, this lesser revered space effort has never looked and surely will ever look better!  Matched with a pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that offers crisp dialogue levels with no indications of crack or pops, special features are unfortunately void on this release.  A wonderful bone thrown to space-age baby boomers, World Without End is a fun, adventure-filled journey to a ravaged world with only travelers from the past to save it.  Although absent of any supplemental content, Warner Archive has singlehandedly ensured this B-movie favorite a grandiose Blu-ray debut that makes its Cinemascope photography pop like never before.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 28th from Warner Archive, World Without End can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Firestarter (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Firestarter (1984)

    Director: Mark L. Lester

    Starring: David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney & Louise Fletcher

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Sandwiched between several other Stephen King adaptations from Producer Dino De Laurentiis (Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet), Firestarter may have failed to ignite explosive box-office returns, yet stands as an above average retelling of the best-selling novel with a top-tier cast and spellbinding score lighting the way.  Shortly after partaking in a paid medical study, Andy McGee (David Keith, White of the Eye) and his future wife Vicky (Heather Locklear, T.J. Hooker) develop the unique abilities to read and overtake others’ minds.  Raising their young daughter Charlie (Drew Barrymore, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) who has developed her own abilities to ignite fires and foresee future events, a secret government agency, known as The Shop, intent on capturing the child for their own weaponizing needs, murders Vicky, forcing the widowed Andy and Charlie to permanently outrun their seekers.  Relentless in their search, the head of The Shop, Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now), hires the methodically unhinged Agent John Rainbird (George C. Scott, Patton) to retrieve the little girl with her destruction being his sole consolation.  Fighting tooth and nail to remain with her father at all odds, Charlie is eventually pushed to her boiling point and must rely on her repressed powers to fight back.  

    Featuring brief appearances from Art Carney (The Honeymooners) and Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as trustworthy old-timers, Firestarter is an affectionately faithful adaptation that rises above the genre-laden capabilities of its leads with their onscreen chemistry as father and daughter reflected best.  The film’s all-star cast from the fresh faced Barrymore to the Oscar winning Scott, in a deliciously underrated role, all bring their A-game while, Director Mark L. Lester’s (Class of 1984, Commando) graduation to studio pictures is a solid progression from his much loved drive-in fare.  Concluding with an inferno of effects-work akin to the finale of King’s debut novel, Firestarter is hardly the pinnacle of the Master of Horror’s cinematic responses, yet deserves more credit for its survivalist tale of struggle and Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Legend) synth-inducing score that ranks amongst their best.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the interpositive, Scream Factory presents Firestarter with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Eviscerating Universal Studios’ previous and heavily DNRed transfer from 2014, the King adaptation maintains a gorgeously filmic appearance with vibrant greenery on display during exterior sequences while, the skin tones of all actors are natural and exceptionally detailed, making way for the crispest of clarity in observing Barrymore’s rolling tears and Keith’s delicate nosebleed streams.  Although insignificant speckles are occasionally spotted, Firestarter’s latest hi-def outing is nothing short of definitive.  Equipped with a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue efficiently, the surprisingly light on sound effects track offers little to bite into while, the fiery blasts and thuds of the unfortunate souls in Charlie’s path offer their best punch.  Without question, Tangerine Dream’s hypnotic score is the best dish on the menu.

    A solid entry into the boutique label’s Collector’s Edition banner, newly conceived special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mark L. Lester, Playing with Fire: The Making of Firestarter (52:40) that hosts Lester recalling John Carpenter’s original role in the production before earning himself directorial duties, praise for De Laurentiis’ sound advice and other intriguing anecdotes such as Drew Barrymore beating Poltergeist’s Heather O’Rourke for the lead role.  Actors Drew Snyder, Freddie Jones, Dick Warlock and Tangerine Dream’s Johannes Schmoelling also offer their own unique insights to working on the show in this first-rate featurette.  In addition, Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories with Johannes Schmoelling (17:07) catches up with the keyboardist as he recounts the band’s peak decade in the 80s and their work on such films as Michael Mann’s Thief.  Meanwhile, the awesome and self-explanatory Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream Plays “Charlie’s Theme” (3:43) is the surprise nugget of the release while, Theatrical Trailers (3:43), Radio Spots (4:34), a Still Gallery (69 in total) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster design round out the bonus feature selections.  A worthy King adaptation that unfairly gets lost in the shuffle too often,  Firestarter returns to Blu-ray with a definitive 2K scan upgrade and another juicy offering of featurettes, aptly produced by the tireless Cavetown Pictures, that serve Scream Factory’s Collector Edition moniker proud.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • We Are the Flesh (2016) Blu-ray Review

    We Are the Flesh (2016)

    Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter

    Starring: Noé Hernández, María Evoli & Diego Gamaliel

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in an impoverished underworld of solitude, We Are the Flesh finds wandering brother and sister Fauna (María Evoli, Extraño pero verdadero) and Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) taking refuge in the peculiar dwelling of off kilter hermit Mariano (Noé Hernández, La Hermandad) where carnal desires and nightmares reign free.  A disorientating and visually grim experience that thrives on shocking and sexually perverse imagery, We Are the Flesh offers little insight into its intentions other than to rattle the senses of audiences who reside in a world of rules and morales, to which it unfailingly succeeds.  Unfortunately, Emiliano Rocha Minter’s experimental directorial debut, befit with a psychedelic presence and a certifiably Manson-like performance from the magnetic Noé Hernández, feels too dense in its delivery to appear as anything more than a flashy exploitation of scandalous imagery for shock’s sake.  

    Tasked with building a cavernous interior made of cardboard in exchange for shelter, Fauna and Lucio quickly find themselves at the mercy and under the spell of Mariano’s depraved fantasies, igniting an incestuous love affair between the two virgin siblings.  Performing vivid acts of fellatio on her brother and seductively dripping menstrual blood into his mouth, Mariano meets his untimely fate after climaxing to the sight of the teenagers fornicating in a dizzying display of abstractness meant to represent the dark underbelly of Mexico.  Returning to existence following a slimy rebirth from the cave’s womb-like crevices, Mariano’s resurrection calls for a cannibalistic feast where the throat-slitting of a captured soldier and an orgy of consumption and penetration takes place.  Concluding with an unexpected revelation of what we believe is a post-apocalyptic world, We Are the Flesh, unquestionably showcasing the artistic individuality of its maker, is a scarring and equally confounding experience unlikely to lure many to its cave of madness for long.

    Arrow Video presents We Are the Flesh with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  An intentionally bleak-looking picture, the cool grays and overall washed out appearance of the setting maintain strong detail while, the dirty complexions of the actors and their bare bodies spattered with sweat and blood are competently presented.  Furthermore, black levels are overwhelmingly healthy with only scant appearances of crushing on display.  Meanwhile, the few bursts of red and blue lighting cues along with infrared photography during an intimate sequence between the siblings offer the transfer’s boldest shades that nicely contrast the film’s otherwise somber color scheme.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the minimal Spanish dialogue (accompanied by optional English subtitles) is effectively handled while, the few areas of dreary ambiance serve the track and the effectiveness on the visuals admirably.  An optional LPCM 2.0 has also been included for your listening pleasure.  

    Bonus features include, Minter’s two earlier short films for Dentro (12:39) and Videohome (10:55), the expertly enlightening Virginie Salévy on We Are the Flesh (36:21) video essay, Interviews with Emiliano Rocha Minter (18:20), Noé Hernández (20:20), María Evoli (13:09) and Diego Gamaliel (13:30) plus, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:29).  Additionally, a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (30 in total), a 22-page booklet accompanied with an insightful essay by Anton Bitel that better explores the film’s themes and intentions with Reversible Cover Art concluding the disc’s supplementary inclusions.  As bizarrely perverse as they come, We Are the Flesh will attract the curiously daring with only few destined to take more away from its proceedings than its seedy visuals have to offer.  Graced with a respectable home video treatment north of its border, Arrow Video maintains its expected high quality of care with scholarly supplements that although unlikely to alter the opinions of many, appreciatively reveals more of the film’s kooky inner workings.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, We Are the Flesh can be purchased via ArrowVideo.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.

  • Colors (1988) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Colors (1988)

    Director: Dennis Hopper

    Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Don Cheadle & Damon Wayans

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Eye-opening at the time of its original release and unfortunately still potent in today’s divided society, Colors presents the dangerous world of gang warfare in a realistically gritty light.  Within a year’s reach of retirement, veteran L.A.P.D. officer Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall, The Godfather) is partnered with hot-headed rookie Danny McGavin (Sean Penn, Milk) in an anti-gang unit.  With clashing personalities, the two must learn to trust one another in order to survive the mayhem of Los Angeles’ South Central district.  Returning Academy Award nominee Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) back behind the camera, Colors stages the murder of a Bloods gang member that heightens the turf war between the neighboring Crips and Barrio residing hoodlums, culminating in bullets, bloodshed and the police’s role in the center of their fatal path.  Riskily shot in the thicket of real gang territory that adds a genuine honesty to the proceedings and resulted in the actual shooting of extras during filming, Colors doesn’t flinch at the harsh realities of its crime-infested ghettos while, balancing the line of controversial good cop/bad cop approaches in protecting lawmen’s own and the community.  

    Although the casting of Penn and Duvall is inspired, their characters never fully develop as deeply as anticipated while, gang vengeance toward trigger-happy Crip member Rocket (Don Cheadle, House of Lies) takes control of the final act, leaving Hodges and McGavin’s purpose all but lost in the shuffle and shortchanging a still harrowing but, nonetheless weakened conclusion.  Featuring a chart-topping soundtrack of rap hits from such artists as, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane and Salt-N-Pepa, Colors also costars future players Damon Wayans (Lethal Weapon) as a drug-addicted gangbanger, Tony Todd (Candyman) and Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell) in a blink-and-you’ll-miss him role as a young thug.  An intense examination of gang life that has debatably improved over time, Colors is perhaps best recognized for its capturing of the lifestyle’s arguably darkest era and the L.A.P.D.’s equally deadly attempts to right its ship.

    Preserving its unrated cut for the first time on high-definition, Shout Select presents Colors with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Welcoming natural skin tones and lush radiance during the many sunny daytime sequences, black levels found in officer’s uniforms are deeply inky while, the drama’s filmic integrity remains firmly intact with no major anomalies to speak of.  Equipped with a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is never challenged by cracks or pops while, the heavy beats of the film’s hip-hop soundtrack and jackhammering assault of bullets pulverizes onscreen action terrifically.  Carried over from Second Sight’s U.K. edition, special features include, Cry of Alarm: An Interview with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (28:46) that shares the dangerous risks Schiffer undertook to understand the gang culture and accurately capture members’ speech patterns and slang for the script.  In addition, Cops & Robbers (16:53) hosts Technical Advisor/L.A.P.D. Gang Division Dennis Fanning on his unique career perspectives that were brought to ensure a legitimacy to the story.  Lastly, the film’s Trailer (1:53) is also included while, a hidden Easter Egg (accessed by clicking right of the Trailer in the disc’s bonus features section) offers an additional interview snippet with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (2:16).  While the lack of supplements may fall short of other Collector’s Edition entries in the Shout Select catalog, what is included is luckily informative.  Appreciatively ensuring the film’s uncut presentation, Colors’ mileage may vary by viewer but, remains a recommendable watch for its believable expression of L.A. gangs and their very real mean streets of the era.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Colors can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Fences (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Fences (2016)

    Director: Denzel Washington

    Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson & Saniyya Sidney

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the award winning play by the late August Wilson who also contributed the film’s screenplay adaptation, Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters) returns to the director’s chair after a decade long hiatus while reprising his Tony Award-winning role from the Broadway revival.  Set in the hardworking community of Pittsburgh during the 1950s, garbage collector Troy Maxson (Washington) carries on to provide for his loving wife Rose (Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder) and teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo, The Leftovers).  Strict and dismissive of Cory and his elder son Lyons’ (Russell Hornsby, Grimm) ambitions of playing football and music over committing to real careers, Troy’s troubling past of his own abusive father, lengthy imprisonment and unrealized potential as a baseball player weighs heavily on his complicated role as a husband and father.  Proudly promoted as the first African-American garbage truck driver while getting embroiled in an affair with another woman, Troy’s once dominantly controlled world comes under fire as friendships dissolve and family members rebel against him.  Recycling the majority of its talented cast from the 2010 revived production, Fences thrives on Wilson’s written words and powerful performances in its tale of blue-collar hopes and broken dreams.  Retaining the otherwise simplistic nature of a stage production with the rhythmic intensity of the thespians heightened thanks to Washington’s watchful direction, Fences is a powerhouse drama dependent on its first-rate performances, namely Washington in one of his most commanding roles and Viola Davis, who deservedly earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  

    Paramount Pictures presents Fences with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Beautifully shot on film and resulting in an equally filmic and impressively detailed home video experience, the earthy color palette shines while, the Maxson’s red brick house and aged outdoor furniture are handsomely preserved in all their lived-in condition.  Furthermore, skin tones are flawless with detail in facial wrinkles and graying hair reading immaculately.  A solid transfer from start to finish, Fences is built for perfection.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that offers little to overly impress, the film’s dialogue-driven agenda never misses a beat with crisp exchanges throughout yet, the lack of musical interludes or other sonically-challenging moments excuse the track from a grander purpose.  Bonus features include, Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen (8:53) that explores the original stage production and its impact with interviews from its revival’s director Kenny Leon and cast members, The Company of Fences (9:17) details the play’s cast and their leap to bringing the show to the big-screen, Building Fences: Denzel Washington (6:56) sits down with the film’s star and director as he addresses his love for the source material and his artistic approaches in its adaptation, Playing the Part: Rose Maxson (6:57) finds Viola Davis discussing her character in-depth while, August Wilson’s Hill District (6:25) spotlights the real Pittsburgh locations used for the film’s shoot.  Lastly, Digital HD Codes for Fences and the Denzel Washington-starrer The Manchurian Candidate are also included.  One of last year’s critical darlings, Fences brings the work of August Wilson to life on film with the effort’s true calling card being its masterful performances.  Additionally, Paramount Pictures’ home video presentation does not disappoint with its limited supplements offering worthy anecdotes on the film’s making and its enduring stage production.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, Fences can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956) Blu-ray Review

    23 Paces to Baker Street (1956)

    Director: Henry Hathaway

    Starring: Van Johnson, Vera Miles, Cecil Parker & Patricia Laffan

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Philip MacDonald’s novel and invoking an unmistakably Hitchcockian tone that stumbles only slightly in its execution, 23 Paces to Baker Street offers thrills and intrigue when American playwright Philip Hannon (Van Johnson, Battleground), blind and now residing in London, overhears a potentially criminally-minded conversation involving kidnapping and extortion.  Reporting his findings to the local authorities with little evidence to act on other than his instincts, Hannon, with assistance from his loyal butler (Cecil Parker, The Ladykillers) and ex-fiancée (Vera Miles, Psycho), takes matters into his own hands.  Filmed on location in England and the Fox studio lot, Henry Hathaway (Niagara, True Grit) directs with precision while, Milton Krasner’s (All About Eve) cinematography brings a warm vibrancy to Philip’s tidy flat and dreary mood to the fog-entrenched streets of London.  While striking similarities to Hitchcock’s own Rear Window including, protagonists both restrained by physical debilities and consumed by mysterious plots may hinder its overall effectiveness and a finale riddled with unanswered questions regarding the shrouded child-napping culprit, 23 Paces to Baker Street stands tall as a moderately effective whodunit worthy of more eyes spotting it.

    Beautifully restored in 4K, KL Studio Classics welcomes 23 Paces to Baker Street with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.55:1 aspect ratio.  Shot in colorful CinemaScope, the mystery-thriller arrives with little to no source damage while, details shine most effectively in Philip’s London flat with textures in costume attire reading nicely.  Skin tones are warm and natural-looking with black levels looking respectably inky with occasional variances in lieu of intentional fogginess understandably clouding some moments.  Although slightly imperfect, KL Studio Classics’ restoration marks the film’s finest home video outing to date.  Joined by an exceedingly strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is sharply relayed while, sound effects from gun shots to pinball machine racket all offer distinct exchanges.  Furthermore, Leigh Harline’s (Pinocchio) score of dramatic cues and romantic melodies are sonically pleasing, making for the grandest statements on the track.  Special features include, an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Kent Jones and Trailers for 23 Paces to Baker Street (2:15), Cast a Giant Shadow (3:38), Foreign Intrigue (1:55), The File of the Golden Goose (2:37) and When Eight Bells Toll (2:49).  Lastly, a Reversible Cover Art is also included.  Familiar territory to The Master of Suspense’s work, 23 Paces to Baker Street instills gorgeous photography and a generally curious plot of its own to make its investigation a recommendable one to viewers.  Appreciatively restored to its finest state yet, KL Studio Classics’ 4K presentation is a filmic sight to the beholder sure to please without fail.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, 23 Paces to Baker Street can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Mickey and the Roadster Racers DVD Review

    Mickey and the Roadster Racers

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Bret Iwan, Russi Taylor, Bill Farmer, Daniel Ross, Tress MacNeille & Nika Futterman

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Less educationally-minded than the preschool geared Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Mickey and the Roadster Racers whizzes into the fast lane of fun for a delightful serving of after school entertainment.  Set in the racer-loving community of Hot Dog Hills, Mickey Mouse and pals Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Pluto compete in the pedal-pushing sport while finding themselves in a series of adventures at home and abroad.  Presenting two tales per episode, the gang sees their vehicles go loony after filling up with Goofy’s experimental gasoline while, Minnie and Daisy, as the Happy Helpers, find their petsitting duties go haywire and their search and rescue of an escaped ape from the zoo be anything but easy.  Also facing off against the infamously unfair Piston Pietro at an international race in Rome, Mickey and friends’ colorful new exploits are a blast from start to finish and ones that young viewers will be glad they took the ride with.  Collecting the program’s first three episodes and featuring appearances from beloved favorites such as, Chip and Dale, Pete, Clarabelle Cow and introducing racing emcee Billy Beagle (voiced by Jay Leno), Mickey and the Roadster Racers is a wildly fun return for the characters where their vibrant personalities and engagement in humorous scenarios takes first place.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents episodes of Mickey and the Roadster Racers in their widescreen (1.78:1) format.  While target viewers may be less enthused by the release’s technical merits than the quality of the show itself, Disney Junior’s latest boasts a colorful vibrancy throughout that makes the computer-generated animation shine nicely.  Likewise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes make for easy dialogue delivery and heightened sound effects, offering more than acceptable listening enjoyment.  Special features include, a Bonus Episode: “Mickey’s Perfecto Day!” / “Running of the Roadsters!” (the show’s fifth), Music Videos for the “Mickey and the Roadster Racers” Theme Song (1:15) and the “Happy Helpers” Theme Song (1:30) plus, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Tangled: The Series (0:18), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Born in China (1:16) and Cars 3 (0:59).  Lastly, a customizable Metal License Plate is included inside the disc’s packaging.  Screeching into high-gear with plenty of laughs, Mickey and the Roadster Racers is tailor-made for tikes looking to join Disney’s golden characters on a track course built on fast speeds and hearty good times.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Mickey and the Roadster Racers can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Lesson (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Lesson (2015)

    Director: Ruth Platt

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Moana 3D (2016) Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Moana (2016)

    Director(s): John Musker & Ron Clements and Chris Williams & Don Hall

    Starring: Auli’i Cravalho & Dwayne Johnson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A mythic adventure like no other, Moana sets sail on a daring teenager (Auli’i Cravalho in her film debut) whose mission to fulfill her ancestors’ wish teams her up with the powerful and cocky demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas).  Charting the gorgeous seas together, the determined duo encounter waves of danger and immeasurable odds on their journey.

    From the talented twosome that helped redefine a Disney generation with such milestone hits as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Directors John Musker and Ron Clements, with co-direction from Big Hero 6’s Chris Williams and Don Hall, tell a richly original tale seeped in the culture and splendor of the South Pacific islands.  Once great sailors, the ancient islanders have seized voyages for a thousand years until their picturesque home begins to crumble.  Teenage Moana, spiritually connected to the sea since childhood and Polynesian princess to her people, rebels against her land’s reef-fearing rules and sets sails on a daring mission across the sea to restore balance.  Seeking out the aid of demigod Maui whose reputation has since been tarnished, Moana’s youthful ambition matched with Maui’s desire to redeem himself and live up to his heroic mantra make for an unexpectedly ideal combination to face the peril of cantankerous coconut warriors, lava monsters and their own self-doubt.  

    Continuing their virtually flawless streak of quality animation and instantly classic storytelling, Disney’s oceanic adventure adheres to the studio’s high benchmarks of recent years with the film’s uniquely proportioned character designs, mind-blowingly photorealistic settings and inventive interpretation of factual mythology all contributing to its arresting effect.  Creating harmonious chemistry with one another, newcomer Auli’i Cravalho’s range of fearlessness and innocence coupled with the inherent charm and full-of-himself humor of Dwayne Johnson bring true magic to the screen.  Serving as an invaluable component to the film’s rhythmic nature, the combined musical efforts of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda offer viewers culturally moving compositions and immensely catchy tunes including, but hardly not limited to, the terrific track “You’re Welcome” that showcases Johnson’s surprisingly solid singing chops.  Riding a current of immaculate artistic beauty and a moving story filled with unwavering heart and humor, Moana is yet another shining example of the very best of Disney animation that fans will happily be sailing with for years to come.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Moana with a pitch-perfect 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Thrusting viewers into the action with its depth-fulfilling 3D capabilities, the deep blue waves of the sea and Maui’s constant in your face moments are shining examples of the format solidly put to use while, its 2D transfer is an equally glorious sight of tropical colors, lifelike water effects and the deepest of black levels that are nothing short of reference quality.  Equipped with a striking DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply relayed while, oceanic sound effects and the film’s delightful musical numbers seal the track’s fate as another first-rate Disney effort.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Directors Ron Clements & John Musker, Inner Workings (6:26), featuring an introduction by the filmmakers, Disney’s latest short feature examines the struggle between’s a man’s logistical and free-spirited sides in a gorgeous blend of animation styles, a Maui-Mini Movie: Gone Finishing (2:29) and Voice of the Islands (31:13), takes a detailed look at how the Pacific Island people and their vibrant culture impacted the film and its makers.  Additionally, Things You Didn’t Know About… (4:00) hosts Q&A’s with the voice cast and musical teams while, Island Fashion (5:13) catches up with Costume Designer Neysa Bové and her artistic approaches to the film’s garbs plus, The Elements of… (14:14) explores the effects work that brought to life many of the film’s supporting characters in this four-part featurette.  They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37) hosts musicians Opetaia Foa’I, Marc Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda as they reflect on their life changing involvements crafting the memorable tunes, a Deleted Song: “Warrior Face” (3:41), Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52) explores the hidden nods to other Disney features found in the film and Deleted Scenes (25:56) with optional filmmaker introductions are also found on the release.  Finally, the “How Far I’ll Go” Music Video by Alessia Cara (3:04), “How Far I’ll Go Around the World” (2:44), a multi-language reel of the song and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Disney’s Aulani Resort (0:32), Cars 3 (0:57) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) round out the on-disc supplements while, separate 3D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray and DVD editions are provided alongside a Digital HD Code.

    With little else to add except you’re welcome, Disney has once again rode the waves into viewers’ hearts with Moana, delivering delightful characters, exceptional visual sights that seamlessly captures the splendor of the Pacific Islands and a phenomenal selection of songs that rivals the titanic popularity of Frozen’s biggest hits.  Dazzling audiences with yet another pristine presentation of reference worthy 3D and handsome supplements, Disney’s Academy Award nominated feature is a sight of beauty that will move the hearts of many like the rhythm of the sea.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 7th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Moana can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) Blu-ray Review

    No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

    Director: Corey Yuen

    Starring: Kurt McKinney, J.W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter Cunningham, Kent Lipham & Jean-Claude Van Damme

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Unquestionably reminiscent of other more prominent teenage-geared martial arts pictures, No Retreat, No Surrender plays far more emphasis on its combat sequences as evidenced by its unoriginal narrative and charmingly cheesy performances.  After a pack of threatening mobsters with plans of taking over every dojo in the country descends on his father’s establishment, Bruce Lee obsessed teen Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney, Guiding Light) and his family head to Seattle to start anew.  Finding a pal in the break-dancing R.J. Madison (J.W. Fails, 21 Jump Street) and rekindling a romance with a former flame, Jason finds himself targeted by overweight bully Scott (Kent Lipham, Extreme Prejudice) and local karate hothead Dean Ramsay (Dale Jacoby, Ring of Fire) on the regular.  Consistently outmatched by his peers and punished by his father for his improper use of fighting, Jason seeks solace at the gravesite of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.  Training in an abandoned house with a shrine to his hero, Jason is stunned when the ghost of Lee returns to personally guide him on his path to becoming a prized fighter.  Trouble strikes again when a local tournament is disrupted by the mobsters and their deadly enforcer Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kickboxer) who ravages the competition with only young Jason left to defend the community and his family’s name.  An unsurprisingly first time effort for much of the principal talent, No Retreat, No Surrender is a ridiculous fight feature with hilarity to be had at the expense of the film’s goofy screenplay and unexpectedly silly plot device of Bruce Lee returning from the grave to play sensei.  Adorned with amusing training montages, a feverishly high-powered theme song and a fast-paced final round bout between the American teen and oh-so-80s Russian villain, No Retreat, No Surrender can’t help but be a fun time, using its amateurish shortcomings to its full advantage.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Retreat, No Surrender for the first time on high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing surface scrapes and scratches throughout its runtime, colors are bold and exacting seen through the bright costume choices with sharp detail observed in facial closeups.  Furthermore, skin tones are consummately natural with a solidly filmic presence left intact.  Joined by a rather shoddy DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that struggles to make any definable distinctions, dialogue is serviceable while, music, roaring crowds and the clatter of punches being thrown fall flat and underwhelming.  Although pops and other such anomalies are virtually absent, a large increase in volume during viewing is essential for the rather subdued track.  

    Containing both its recommend International (1:38:55) and U.S. Theatrical Cuts (1:24:01), additional special features include, an Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg, Stand on Your Own with Kurt McKinney (17:12) where the film’s star recalls training in martial arts his entire life, landing the gig during an open casting call and the production spending more rehearsal time on fight choreography than the actual performances.  In addition, McKinney delves into the rather shady circumstances that convinced both he and Van Damme to pass on the sequel.  Lastly, Trailers for the International Cut of No Retreat, No Surrender (3:20), An Eye for an Eye (1:52), Enter the Ninja (2:53), Avenging Force (1:18), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41) and Steele Justice (1:36) are also on hand.  Delightfully silly with respectable fight sequences featured, No Retreat, No Surrender may technically be a poorly made effort but, one that cult enthusiasts will revel in for all its dodgy issues and valiant efforts.  Making its Blu-ray debut with both cuts included, KL Studio Classics delivers a roundhouse kick of satisfaction to fans anxiously awaiting for this Cold War of martial arts movies.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Retreat, No Surrender can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Deadtime Stories (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Deadtime Stories (1986)

    Director: Jeffrey Delman

    Starring: Scott Valentine, Melissa Leo, Cathryn DePrume, Anne Redfern, Nicole Picard, Matt Mitler, Kathy Fleig & Phyllis Craig

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As imperfect as most horror anthologies go, Deadtime Stories is a mixed bag of mostly tricks and few treats where nightmares and fairy tales converge.  In order to put his monster-fearing nephew to bed, a disgruntled man retells three beloved bedtime fables with a macabre twist.  With the exception of atmospheric scenery, Peter and the Witches acts as the film’s unfortunate Sandman story where an enslaved boy (Scott Valentine, My Demon Lover) must kidnap a fair maiden for his witch captors to use in a sacrificial ceremony to resurrect their deceased sister.  Featuring effective make-up effects of a gory corpse being reanimated, the chiller’s first chapter is anything but a page turner.  Next up, Little Red Runninghood finds an attractive teen stalked by a ravenous werewolf who blames the sexually curious girl for mistakenly stealing his meds.  A decently modeled beast taken down by a silver cake server during a tense standoff, the second segment remains far from memorable but, a modest improvement over its predecessor.  Lastly, the final and most enjoyable of the trio, Goldi Lox and the Three Baers finds Mama (future Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, The Fighter) breaking her criminally insane husband and son from the loony bin only to learn their shady residence has been taken over by the homicidally telekinetic Goldi Lox (Cathryn De Prume, Wild).  Turning the absurdity into overdrive with over the top performances so intentionally bad, they’re a hoot, the closing tale is the true saving grace in this otherwise lackluster anthology of not-so-many frights.

    Boasting a new HD transfer culled from the original camera negative, Scream Factory presents Deadtime Stores with a solid 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio that puts to shame previous bargain bin releases sourced from grainy and barely watchable VHS prints.  Retaining a natural grain structure and robust colors, the film has never seen better days.  Joined by a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue and music, most notably the goofy opening song by Taj, solidly, the track satisfies fine.  Kicking off with a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Jeffrey Delman, additional special features include, I Like the Grotesque: A Conversation with Jef Delman (15:42) that finds the filmmaker discussing everything from shooting in Westchester County, NY and the difficulty in selling an anthology picture to the special effects, casting, locations and music of the film.  Furthermore, A Band of Gypsies: The Making of Deadtime Stories (15:35) catches up with Cathryn DePrune (Goldi Lox), Melissa Leo (“Mama” Baer) and Scott Valentine (Peter) as they reminisce on their clique at the time of the movie’s making and their warm regards for the project’s loyal following.  Lastly, The Black Forest (29:49), the original short film version of the Peter and the Witches segment with an introduction by Delman, Deleted Scenes (2:32) also prefaced by Delman, Theatrical Trailers (3:12), a Photo Gallery (4:14) and DVD Edition wrap up the release’s bonus features.  Offering sporadic bursts of intentional and not-so intentional ridiculousness, Deadtime Stories may have its followers but, its trifecta of tales do little to terrify and much to disappoint.  Thankfully for fans, Scream Factory have rescued the film from tape-sourced hell with a new high-definition makeover and a modest spread of supplements that demonstrate the class of Academy Award winners humbly unashamed of their earliest beginnings.  Cautiously recommended to horror anthology curiosos.  

    RATING: 2.5/5 

    Available now from Scream Factory, Deadtime Stories can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazom.com and other fine retailers.

  • Slaughterhouse (1987) Blu-ray Review

    Slaughterhouse (1987)

    Director: Rich Roessler

    Starring: Sherry Bendor Leigh, Joe B. Barton, Don Barrett, Bill Brinsfield, Jane Higginson & William Houck 

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hog wild horror ensues in Slaughterhouse when financially ruined butcher Lester Bacon (Don Barrett, Hobgoblins) finds his business rival, with an informed lawyer and town sheriff in his back pocket, itching to buy his decrepit property.  Convinced a conspiracy is at hand, the eccentric old-timer orders his cleaver-wielding, pig sound-making son Buddy (Joe B. Barton, Blood Diner) to take care of the offenders.  An above average slasher offering from the glory days of video rentals, Slaughterhouse delivers a simplistically sound plot that takes pride in its story better than most of its indie competitors where body count was always priority.  Following a dare to remain in the foreclosed kill kennel the longest, four teenagers, befit with big hair and hammy dialogue, find themselves at the mercy of the overall-wearing madman where the film truly lives up to it name.  Graced with hilariously oddball performances from Barrett and Barton, Slaughterhouse draws blood with a variety of kills including, limb chopping, skull crushing and taking advantage of the tools at their disposal, corpse grinding.  Climaxing with an expected yet, surprisingly well-orchestrated showdown between the hulkish killer and the film’s final girl surrounded by a shrine of meathooked victims, the inexpensively shot Slaughterhouse may not reinvent the cycle yet, stands as a solid entry next to other southern comfort slashers where its buckets of blood will make likeminded viewers squeal like piggies.

    Exceptionally restored in 2K from the original 35MM interpositive, Vinegary Syndrome proudly presents Slaughterhouse with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Shattering preemptive expectations based on the scratchy American Artists logo at the film’s onset, the low-budget slasher dazzles like never before.  Boasting stable skin tones, bold color grades throughout costume choices and the film’s bloodier moments to deep black levels offering a clear presentation of the onscreen occurrences, Slaughterhouse shines with filmic grace and a virtually spotless cleanup that definitively puts to bed shoddier standard definition and overseas releases alike.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that honors the film’s original Ultra-Stereo track for the first time on home video, dialogue is clear and robust while musical selections are handled with fine authority, making the feature a delightful listen.  Additionally, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 is also included.  

    Packed with both new and vintage supplements, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rich Roessler, Producer Jerry Encoe & Production Designer Michael Scaglione, Reminiscene: Interview with Sherry Bendorf Leigh (10:40) catches up with the film’s leading lady as she reflects on the wild time making the film, Making a Low Budget Indie with Writer/Director Rick Roessler (28:16) sits down with the filmmaker as he recounts the development process of the slasher and his goal to push plot while, The Art of Producing a Low Budget Feature with Executive Producer Jerry Encoe (5:37) echoes many of Roessler’s sentiments including, their boredom making military training films that encouraged them to make Slaughterhouse and the difficulty of financing the project.  In addition, an Archival Interview with Rick Roessler from 1999 (15:16), an Archival Interview with Jerry Encoe from 1999 (10:45), Epilogue: 30 Years After the Slaughter (1:13), a Radio Interview Featurette from 1987 (4:50), Local News Coverage of Slaughterhouse Premiere (3:59) and a Shooting the Scenes: Behind the Scenes Featurette (20:48) is also included.  Lastly, Outtakes (3:08), a “No Smoking” - Slaughterhouse Theatrical Snipe (0:28), Theatrical Trailers (2:04), TV Spots (4:26), Radio Spots (0:45), the Slaughterhouse Shooting Script, a DVD Edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art conclude the mammoth spread of supplements.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary in true style, Vinegar Syndrome continues to prove their status as one of cult cinema’s leading distributors with its sparkling 2K restoration of this pigsploitation slasher, tailor-made for fans hogtied by its bloodtastically promising cover art.      

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Slaughterhouse can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • One Million Years B.C. (1966) Blu-ray Review

    One Million Years B.C. (1966)

    Director: Don Chaffey

    Starring: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick, Robert Brown, Percy Herbert & Yvonne Horner

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Exchanging gothic ambiance and monsters for prehistoric excellence, One Millions Years B.C. would skyrocket to become Hammer Film Productions’ biggest box-office smash and one of science fiction’s finest efforts of the era.  After being banished by his own tribe, Tumak (John Richardson, Black Sunday) scours the desolate wasteland and stumbles upon the generous and resourceful Shell People.  Finding a kindred spirit in the beautiful Loana (Raquel Welch, Fantastic Voyage), the two decide to face the land on their own, confronting a siege of deadly dinosaurs and other ferocious beasts on their journey.  Guided only by a documentary-like narration by Vic Perrin (The Outer Limits) and grunts of caveman lingo, One Million Years B.C. thrives on its visual splendor of gorgeous rocky vistas and fantastical elements that find our heroes pitted against giant iguanas, spiders and brilliantly conceived stop-motion dinos.  Engineered by Harryhausen-effect driven wizardry and keen direction by Don Chaffey (Jason and the Argonauts), the scantly-clad sight of sex symbol Raquel Welch in the starring role not only is invaluable to the film’s success but, a lasting testament to its impact on popular culture.  Featuring barbaric beatdowns amongst the many tribesmen, soaring Pteranodons flying off with victims and a volcanic finale, One Million Years B.C. is a towering achievement of special effects magic, ranking as one of the best fantasy features of its time.

    Gorgeously restored in 4K, KL Studio Classics welcomes One Million Years B.C. to domestic high-definition with a flawless 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Colorful and crisp, filmic quality is excellent while, skin tones remain immaculate with detail in the film’s stop-motion critters relaying their many intricacies with ease.  A first-rate achievement that will leave fans young and old bewitched by its restoration, stampedes of praise can only be recommended.  Equipped with an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that gives prominence to the thundering crash of dinosaur attacks and the more subtle grunts of its human characters, the track satisfies on all fronts.  Appreciatively appeasing completists of the film, the preferred International Cut (1:40:37) and shorter U.S. Cut (1:31:59) are included on separate discs with Disc 1’s supplemental offerings featuring an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, an Animated Montage of Posters and Images (3:05) and the Original International Theatrical Trailer (3:00).  Joining the U.S. Cut on Disc 2, bonus features include, vintage offerings such as Raquel Welch: In the Valley of the Dinosaurs (7:45), An Interview with Ray Harryhausen (12:29) and a 2016-shot Interview with Martine Beswick (16:36).  Lastly, the Original U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:08) rounds out the disc’s extras.  A fantastical fun time that highlights some of Harryhausen’s finest stop-motion effects work and the sexy radiance of Raquel Welch, One Million Years B.C. is a primeval journey into the past that glows with imagination and wonder.  Already ranking as one of the year’s genre must-haves, KL Studio Classics’ 4K restoration is a stunning sight that includes both cuts of the film and a healthy spread of bonus content sure to please cavemen from all walks of life.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, One Million Years B.C. can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Survivor (1981) Blu-ray Review

    The Survivor (1981)

    Director: David Hemmings

    Starring: Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotten, Peter Sumner & Lorna Lesley

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on James Herbert’s novel, The Survivor takes flight when a bustling 747 suffers a fiery demise, leaving only its pilot (Robert Powell, Tommy) alive and thoughtless on the doomed event’s occurrence.  Investigated by many demanding answers and befriended by a psychic (Jenny Agutter, An American Werewolf in London) with connections to the fallen passengers, David Hemmings’ (Running Scared) mystery-thriller crashes and nearly burns in its cerebrally dull approach.  Although impressing with its genuinely chilling crash sequence that spearheads the film’s narrative, The Survivor wanes with subdued performances and unclear developments meant to enhance thrills that instead leave viewers scratching their heads in confusion.  While a nosy photojournalist meets his maker via a rolling train and sporadic appearances from child apparitions attempt to give rise to the film’s supernatural touches, The Survivor ultimately settles for an admittedly unexpected albeit, uneventful revelation that is more flesh and blood plotted than hauntingly engineered.  Dismissing the adaptation of his work as sheer rubbish, Author James Herbert’s critique of the competently made, if not uninteresting, film may be overly harsh while, Ozploitation producing maverick Anthony I. Ginnane’s (Thirst, Patrick) regrets over the film’s lack of gore and misguided emphasis on flat mood are far more accurate for this Aussie dud.

    Newly transferred in 2K, Severin Films proudly presents The Survivor with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Released several times before with varying results, the film’s high-definition debut is a step above past offerings with a healthy layer of natural grain intact, steady skin tones and a radiant color scheme observed in sunny exterior sequences.  While mild instances of speckling and early frame wobble early in the film are observed, cool shades of blue and deep black levels give rise to the film’s nighttime and plane-based scenes for an otherwise solid viewing experience.  Joined by an LPCM 2.0 mix that is hardly sonically-defining yet, more than capable of relaying dialogue and explosions clearly, the cargo-filled hatch of bonus contents include, Extended Scenes (3:34), Not Quite Hollywood Extended Interviews with Producer Anthony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale (22:12) and The Legacy of James Herbert (9:19) with Chris Cooke of Mayhem Film Festival and David Flint of The Reprobate Magazine waxing intellectual about the author and his many works.  Additionally, Robert Powell on James Herbert (3:24), an Archive TV Special on Location Featuring Interviews with Stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner (29:59), an Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings (15:43) and an Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings and Robert Powell (5:56) are also on hand while, an Anthony I. Ginnane Trailer Reel (32:03) and TV Spot (0:28) conclude the supplemental offerings.  An instance of tone and mood creating drowsiness rather than shocks, The Survivor offers good intentions for the right viewer while leaving most seated in coach yearning for more.  Presented with excellent care, Severin Films ensures viewers a first-class presentation of the thriller with a slick 2K remastering and a high-flying offering of special features Ozploitation fans will revel in.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • The Gate (1987) Blu-ray Review

    The Gate (1987)

    Director: Tibor Takacs 

    Starring: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp & Christa Denton

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After an innocent backyard excavation for crystal stones unearths something sinister, The Gate finds best friends Glen (Stephen Dorff, Somewhere) and Terry (Louis Tripp, Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird) forced to defend themselves against a siege of demons and determine a way to close the evil portal before it’s too late.

    Eliminating parents and other authority figures as rapidly as possible, The Gate pits unsupervised adolescents against the forces of darkness, using only their ingenuity and household items to defend themselves against the ghouls and goblins of the underworld.  Inadvertently opening a hellish backyard portal with the assistance of a satanic heavy metal album, best friends Glen and Terry are confronted with a series of nightmarish images of deceased parents back from the dead and the painful realities of a beloved pet’s passing to shake their youthful cores.  With no adults in sight and Glen’s older sister Al (Christa Denton, 8 Million Ways to Die) taking full advantage with a house party rampant with underage drinking and levitation attempts turned frighteningly real, the demonic forces grow stronger in their attempt to invade the teen’s quaint suburban existence.  Pursued by a pint-sized army of fiendish minions realized through a series of technical tricks ranging from costumed performers, stop-motion animation and forced perspective, Glen, Terry and Al must face their fears in order to definitively close the gate before time runs out.  Although slow-building with a genuine innocence captured in the chemistry between the young performers, The Gate stretches the boundaries of its PG-13 rating with macabre touches of a dead construction worker emerging from the walls, a punctured eyeball through a child’s hand and an overgrown demon flinging his young victims with no remorse to effectively chill preteen audiences.  With false senses of security at every turn and survival seemingly futile, the trio of teens rely on Barbie dolls, dad’s shotgun and model rockets to banish the demons in Director Tibor Takacs’ (I, Madman) effectively realized and certifiably scary devil-raising feature.

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate presents The Gate with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The latest addition in their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, the film is a remarkable upgrade from its near decade old DVD release that honors filmic integrity, mildly soft but still natural-looking skin tones and a sharp color scheme present in the suburban greenery as well as Glen’s red space camp jacket and Al’s lime green sweater.  In addition, black levels are solid with detail largely admired in the creature designs while, only the slightest hint of speckling is observed in this otherwise picturesque presentation of the 80s cult classic.  Equipped with a perfectly adequate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue with ease, heavy metal tunes, lightning storms and rocket blasts all offer solid emphases on the well-orchestrated track.

    Much like the demons bursting from the gate, the overflowing wealth of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Tibor Takacs, Writer Michael Nankin and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, a second Audio Commentary with Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon, Special Effects Artist Frank Carere & Matte Photographer Bill Taylor plus, an Isolated Score and Audio Interview with Composers Michael Hoenig & J. Peter Robinson.  In addition, Red Shirt Pictures delivers several newly recorded featurettes that explore many of the low-budget effort’s technical achievements including, The Gate: Unlocked (27:54) where Takacs and Cook discuss the film’s making in-depth, Minion Maker with Craig Reardon (22:36), From Hell It Came with Andras Hamori (13:13), The Workman Speaks! with Carl Kraines (12:22) and the most interesting Made in Canada (28:28) that sits down with six local cast and crew members from the Canadian shoot as they recall their own unique experiences making the film.  Meanwhile, ported over from the 2009 release, From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate (14:53), The Gatekeepers with Tibor Takacs & Michael Nankin (15:46) and The Making of The Gate (22:55) are also on-hand with the Teaser Trailer (1:08), Theatrical Trailer (1:50), TV Spot (0:32), Storyboard Gallery (9:27) and a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (10:20) rounding out the profound assortment of extras.

    A childhood staple that still stands up, The Gate is a fiendishly fun effort of teens going toe to toe with demonic beings with no one but themselves to rely on.  Incorporating the then timely black sheep of heavy metal into its vortex of fear, Tibor Takacs’ sharply constructed and gloriously effects-driven opus plays largely into the comforting confines of nostalgia where its discovery for many through video rental and repeat cable viewings made it a longstanding favorite.  Hoped for since its line’s formation, The Gate makes it high-definition debut with remarkable technical grades that far exceed its previous release and an overwhelming supply of bonus features earning it the highest praise as one of Vestron Video’s best offerings to date!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available February 28th from Lionsgate, The Gate can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Doctor Strange 3D (2016) Cinematic Universe Edition Blu-ray Review

    Doctor Strange (2016)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

    Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor, Rachael McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen & Tilda Swinton

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Embarking into the mystical realm of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe, Doctor Strange offers shades of familiarity while conjuring enough freshness and action-packed spells to make the stay an entertainingly magical one.  After suffering a debilitating accident, accomplished neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game) travels to Nepal seeking guidance beyond what his world can offer.  Taken under the wing of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin), Strange learns the art of sorcery and the impending threat of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), a former student deceived by the dark and brooding Dormammu of the Dark Dimension.  Ditching his trivial arrogance and opening his mind to his new teachings, Strange yields his new powers, with invaluable assistance from the Cloak of Levitation, to stand with his fellow sorcerers and save the planet from Kaeciliius’ wrath of destruction.  Bringing to life their trickiest character to date with his own unique challenges, Marvel Studios welcomes Doctor Strange to their expansive universe with passionate direction from Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil) who handles character development, humor and the film’s trippy action sequences with seamlessness.  In addition, the core cast, led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor (12 Years a Slave) as the Ancient One’s second-in-command Mordo, the underused but competent Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as Strange’s former flame and the controversial yet, inspired turn from Tilda Swinton as Strange’s sorceress mentor are all excellent in their respective roles.  With its intense fight choreography and building bending visual effects bringing prestige to their thrilling sequences, Doctor Strange suffers mildly from perhaps an unavailable case of origintitis that fans have become all too accustomed to.  While Doctor Strange’s narrative may appear predictable at times, fun remains in ample supply with the sorcerer’s anticipated future adventures already looking brighter.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Doctor Strange with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  With its mind-bending sequences of skyscraper turning set battles and eye-popping destruction featuring immersive depth, Marvel Studios’ latest adventure awards viewers with their finest 3D release to date.  In addition, the equally strong 2D presentation handles skin tones, bold color grades in Strange’s cloak and the Dark Dimension as well as exceptionally inky black levels, of which their are many, up to the usual standards viewers have come to expect from Marvel’s latest superhero epics.  Equipped with a reference quality DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that honors immaculate clarity in dialogue exchanges and thrilling emphases in action scenes and Michael Giaccino’s (Jurassic World, Star Trek Beyond) effective score, the track is nothing short of a stunner.  

    Plentifully packed, special features include, an Introduction by Director Scott Derrickson (1:06), an Audio Commentary with Director Scott Derrickson, A Strange Transformation (9:42), a fairly standard EPK overview of the production with interviews from key participants, Strange Company (12:37) covers the film’s supporting cast while, The Fabric of Reality (12:32) explores the costume and set design.  Furthermore, Across Time and Space (13:21) details the film’s impressive fight choreography and visual effects with The Score-Cerer Supreme (9:51) examining Michael Giacchino’s score with footage of its actual orchestral recording process.  Also included, a Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28), the hilarious Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38) short, Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52), a Gag Reel (4:12) and Sneak Peeks at Marvel Contest of Champions (1:32), Marvel Future Fight (1:32) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (1:34).  Lastly, in addition to separate 3D and 2D Blu-ray’s, a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code are included alongside an Exclusive Collectible Lenticular.  In closing, Doctor Strange’s bold debut into the MCU has landed with surreal excellence and a strong cast to guide its mystical maneuvers.  While Strange’s fall to rise story from neurosurgeon to superhero sorcerer feels largely paint by numbers, the embracement of his powers and battle against darker forces are what makes the film the visual treat it is.  Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment provides viewers with not only their most noteworthy 3D release to date but, one of stuffed supplements well worth exploring after the film’s curtain call.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 28th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Doctor Strange can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Fuller House: The Complete First Season DVD Review

    Fuller House: The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campon, Elias Harger, Soni Nicole Bringas & Dashiell & Fox Messitt

    Released by: Warner Bros.

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In one of the small screen’s most popular revival series embraced by nostalgic fans and newbies alike, Fuller House: The Complete First Season returns to San Francisco where the family who hugs and laughs like no other are back.  Widowed with three young sons to raise, dedicated mother and veterinarian D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure, The View) takes over her childhood home as younger sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin, Walt Before Mickey) and best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber, The Skateboard Kid 2), along with her own young daughter, move in to help care for her kids.  A carbon copy of the original show’s premise that stands proudly on its own, Fuller House retains the innocently cornballish comedy and lovably cheesy saccharine heart that fans have come to expect with a playful new self referential spirit in stock.  Inviting former series regulars to the festivities sans youngest sister Michelle (famously played by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) including, John Stamos (Grandfathered), Bob Saget (Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right), Dave Coulier (The Real Ghostbusters) and Lori Loughlin (90210), the new series balances the fan favorite stars exceptionally well, making their appearances enjoyably welcome without ever derailing the show into a constant series of tired reunion episodes.  Matured while fitting back into their original roles like a glove, the self-proclaimed She-Wolf pack of D.J., Stephanie and Kimmy bounce off each other with a vibrancy as if they never left us.  Accompanied by an equally talented roster of child actors, hilarity and hijinks ensue as Kimmy’s Ricardo-esque husband Fernando (Juan Pablo Di Pace, Mamma Mia!) wins her heart back, the She-Wolf pack dance off during a girl’s night out and D.J. decides between love with a new flame or picking things back up with hungry high school boyfriend Steve (Scott Weinger, Aladdin).  Good old fashioned family fun across 13 episodes, Fuller House: The Complete First Season will make being back home a bonafide treat of familiar faces and never enough hugs to go around.

    Warner Bros. presents Fuller House: The Complete First Season in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is both crisp and colorful while, celebrating the familiar sets of the show, wardrobe choices and nicely detailed and throughly natural skin tones of its cast.  Although a newly produced program of its caliber would have only further benefitted from a Blu-ray release, the DVD quality of the episodes are most satisfactory all the same.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that offer sound dialogue deliveries, the well balanced laughter of recorded studio audiences and Carly Rae Jepsen’s new rendition of the title song are handled most appropriately.  Unfortunately, no special features have been included.  With its second season currently streaming on Netflix and a third already greenlit for production, the fans have spoken with their approval for the lighthearted shenanigans of San Francisco’s most loving family.  While its debut season doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor does it intend to, Fuller House: The Complete First Season is a humorous return to form for family sitcoms that will win audiences over that previously embraced big hair, quickly solved household dilemmas and harmlessly cheesy catchphrases.  Have mercy!

    RATING: 4/5

    (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.)

    Available February 28th from Warner Bros., Fuller House: The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Yakuza (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Yakuza (1974)

    Director: Sydney Pollack

    Starring: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken & Brian Keith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bringing the honored and dangerous underbelly of gang war traditions to the screen, The Yakuza finds former private eye Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter) traveling to Tokyo in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a trusted friend whose business ties to a powerful crime boss have soured.  Relying on his Japanese connections and reuniting with an estranged former flame, his post-war lover’s yakuza connected brother Ken (Takakura Ken, The Yellow Handkerchief), cold to Kilmer yet forever indebted to him for saving his sister’s life years previously, aids the American in his journey that embroils them much deeper into the criminal world’s activities than expected.  Gorgeously shot on location predominately in Japan, The Yakuza rewards viewers with a trifecta of powerhouse talent unanimous with the 70s movie revolution including, Screenwriters Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) & Robert Towne (Chinatown) whose noirish mood gives the film its unique tone and Sydney Pollack’s (Three on the Condor) guided direction that handles the sometimes complex narrative with poise.  As Kilmer and Ken’s investigation puts them directly in the crosshairs of the yakuza organization, guns and blades take precedence over negotiations, testing the very limits of honor and exposing the corruptive truths of those once trusted.  Featuring an evocatively cultural East meets West score by Academy Award winning Composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, The Milagro Beanfield War), The Yakuza is a decently constructed crime-mystery of hardboiled investigation and katana-wielding mobsters that has appreciatively widened its appeal in later years for its unique setup and handsome photography.

    Warner Archive presents The Yakuza with a pristine 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Notably filmic-looking throughout, skin tones are natural with details in sweat beads and battle scars well observed.  Furthermore, the beautiful Japanese exteriors are exceptionally captured while, the gaudy coloring of interior rooms and offices pop nicely.  Meanwhile, Mitchum’s earth tone jackets and turtlenecks are impressively textured with black levels found in the darker suits of the male characters appearing solidly with no traces of digital crush.  Joined by an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue with no pops standing in its way, Grusin’s excellent score benefits the most with gunfire and the clicking of sword blades making striking effects during fight sequences.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack, the vintage Promises to Keep (19:26) featurette and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:01).  Honor, revenge and tradition all converge in this increasingly appreciated albeit, imperfect neo-noir armed with swords and bullets.  Bowing its head in deserved recognition, Warner Archive awards The Yakuza with a stunning hi-def presentation that will obligate viewers to offer a few fingers in exchange for its exceptional quality.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warne Archive, The Yakuza can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • No Highway in the Sky (1951) Blu-ray Review

    No Highway in the Sky (1951)

    Director: Henry Koster

    Starring: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins, Janette Scott, Elizabeth Allan, Ronald Squire & Jill Clifford

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Nevil Shute’s acclaimed novel, No Highway in the Sky stars James Stewart (Rear Window) as bookish aeronautical engineer Theodore Honey whose unproven theory concerning the failure of England’s Reindeer planes is challenged under dire circumstances.  Aboard a Reindeer plane crossing its calculated flying time of disaster, the absent-minded yet nonetheless determined Honey painstakingly struggles to convince the crew of the certain doom that awaits them while, inspiring a famous actress passenger (Marlene Dietrich, Witness for the Prosecution) adored by his late wife and a kind flight attendant (Glynis John, Mary Poppins) to trust his judgement.  Suspending viewers in a dizzying trance of nail-biting suspense, No Highway in the Sky reteams Stewart with his Harvey director, the underrated Henry Koster, in a professionally constructed aviation feature that not only puts lives in peril but, Honey’s credibility and sanity under fierce examination.  Almost singlehandedly, Stewart’s performance of an eccentrically forgettable scientist and single father makes the film, as unconventional as it is, soar as gracefully as it does with Honey’s stirring sticktoitiveness serving as its glue and offering audiences a leading man to believe in.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Highway in the Sky with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of expectant traces of speckling and sporadic vertical lines, the black and white cinematography arrives in otherwise splendid condition with strong detail observed in facial features while, Stewart’s dark suit and jacket are displayed with throughly inky levels.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue exchanges with ease, the engines of the Reindeer plane roar satisfactorily without overwhelming the track’s more primary concerns.  Surprisingly and most pleasingly to report, cracks and pops are of no discernible concern.  Special features include, a rather chatty and informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jeremy Arnold & Bob Koster that deeply covers the film’s making as well as the directorial career of Koster’s father who claims No Highway in the Sky was one of the late Koster’s proudest efforts.  In addition, Trailers for No Highway in the Sky (2:09), Deadline - U.S.A. (2:45), Ten Seconds to Hell (2:14) and Witness for the Prosecution (3:07) conclude the on disc supplements while, Reversible Cover Art reveals the film’s gorgeous U.S. 1-sheet poster presented centerfold style.  Richly conceived and remarkably performed by Stewart, No Highway in the Sky is an undervalued suspense-drama worthy of new sights now made possible by KL Studio Classics’ solid hi-def handling.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Highway in the Sky can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

    Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

    Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson & Kyra Sedgwick

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the fresh of breath air directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen finds teenage social outcast Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2) struggling to adjust to her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) and popular older brother Darian’s (Blake Jenner, Everybody Wants Some!!!) new relationship.  Forever out of touch with her own generation and now more alone than ever, Nadine finds solace in her blunt but truthful teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective) as she comes to grips with growing up.  Set in today’s modern times while, appealing to all whoever felt out of place roaming the locker-filled hallways where bad lunch and geometry roamed, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply funny and emotional topsy-turvy that channels the pain and pleasures of our teen years with the utmost sincerity.  Featuring a standout performance from Hailee Steinfeld as the disheveled youth and a hilarious turn from Woody Harrelson as a teacher unafraid to tell a student they’re a loser, The Edge of Seventeen earns flying grades in the yearbook of other coming-of-age charmers that manages to bridge the rare gap between contemporary relatability and timeless angst that is both comforting and entertaining.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Edge of Seventeen with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Without a false note on display, skin tones are immaculate and well-detailed while, colors found in Nadine’s assortment of sneakers, store signage and neon-lit amusement park attractions shine brightly.  Meanwhile, black levels observed during Nadine’s regrettable rainy drive with the dreamy bad boy Nick and late night swim with the equally shy and awkward Erwin all appear with the utmost crispness.  Equipped with a polished DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the dialogue-driven track with solid clarity, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” makes an impressively worthy statement on the otherwise straightforward mix.  Regrettably scant, special features include, a Gag Reel (5:21), Deleted Scenes (4:03), a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code.  While John Hughes’ high school high note equated growing up and your heart dying being one and the same, The Edge of Seventeen reminds us all that no matter how far removed or engaged we are in the turbulence of our youth, the laughs and tears don’t kill us but, strengthen us to look back at our growing pains with a smirk and maybe slightly less awkwardness.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 14th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Edge of Seventeen can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Band of the Hand (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Band of the Hand (1986)

    Director: Paul Michael Glaser

    Starring: Stephen Lang, James Remar, Michael Carmine, Leon Robinson, John Cameron Mitchell, Danny Quinn, Al Shannon, Lauren Holly & Larry Fishburne 

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Executive produced by Michael Mann (Thief, Heat), Band of the Hand finds five incarcerated youths released to an intense rehab program that teaches them survival and value for one another.  Returning to the gang-infested streets of Miami, the one time criminals wage their own war against the drug kingpins destroying it.  

    Retaining the dangerously seductive allure of Mann’s hit television series Miami Vice with the backwoods survival instincts of Lord of the Flies, Band of the Hand makes crime and violence essential to the scenery that both corrupts and cures the film’s pack of anti-heroes.  Serving time for a multitude of offenses, five juvenile felons including, drug trafficker Carlos Aragon (Danny Quinn, Stradivari), punk turned murderer J.L. McEwen (John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), car thief and attempted prison escapee Dorcey Bridger (Al Shannon, Casualties of War) and rival gang leaders Ruben Pancecho (Michael Carmine, Leviathan) and Moss Roosevelt (Leon Robinson, Cool Runnings) find themselves facing lengthy sentences until fate intervenes.  Unknowingly transported to the swampy Everglades and under the watchful eye of Native American Vietnam veteran Joe Tegra (Stephen Lang, Avatar), the hot blooded teens must learn to work together and survive the cruel conditions of nature in an intensely experimental rehabilitation program.  Sharpening their skills and developing a trusting foundation, the group return to the mean streets of Miami where after revitalizing an abandoned house, seek to do the same for the crime-ridden community.  Igniting a war against feared pimp Cream (Larry Fishburne, Boyz n the Hood) and black magic worshipping drug lord Nestor (James Remar, The Warriors) who claimed Carlos’s girlfriend Nikki (Lauren Holly, Dumb & Dumber) for his own, the band of vigilantes have their work cut out for them.

    Helmed with style and a rebelliously youthful attitude by Paul Michael Glaser (The Running Man), Band of the Hand takes cues once again from Crockett and Tubbs with a pop-rock soundtrack of hits from Bob Dylan (who supplies the film’s title track with assistance from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Prince and Mr. Mister that brings aggressive synergy to the onscreen action.  Following an explosive shootout between the band and Miami’s worst leaving one of their own dead, a go for broke retaliation on Nestor’s drug facility leaves the screen littered with enough bullet holes and bodies to quench the thirst of action hounds.  While the film may be less refined than Mann’s weekly crime series set in the same city, Band of the Hand funnels similar ingredients of fast cars, drug pushers, sexy women and ghettos through the delinquent eyes of teenage thugs turned saviors, making it a worthy and largely overlooked crime thriller drenched in 80s decadence and pastel hues.

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Band of the Hand with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While the film bears its fair share of speckling, rearing its head most noticeably in black levels during countless nighttime sequences, skin tones are generally satisfying with colors found in the vibrant costume choices prevalent during the 80s Miami scene popping as appreciatively as one might hope.  Natural grain is notably retained while, screen jitter is observed but mostly held to the film’s opening sequences.  A mixed bag of quality that thankfully never gravely disappoints where it counts, Band of the Hand makes a respectable first leap to high-definition.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that treats dialogue with prioritization while, the film’s selection of songs celebrates a healthier emphasis of authority, much like sequences of explosive inferno and machine gun fire, the track is a middle of the road affair that suffices.  Although no on-disc special features are included, a Reversible Cover Art revealing slightly modified poster imagery is provided.

    The heat is on as teenage badasses return to their former stomping ground to clean up the filth and mayhem controlling the streets.  Taking on the likes of pimps and pushers, Band of the Hand mimics the style and energy of Miami Vice with enhanced violence and an imperfect yet, still entertaining execution.  Well casted and vibrantly photographed, Glaser’s directorial feature film debut is a promising urban action opus unfortunately missed by many during its initial release.  Arriving on Blu-ray for the first time ever, Mill Creek Entertainment offers the film a decent debut that admires the colorful sights of its 80s fashion choices and Miami hotspots with appreciable quality.  Void of bonus content, the inclusion of reversible cover art is a rare and welcome treat from the budget label.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Band of the Hand can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Scavenger Hunt (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Scavenger Hunt (1979)

    Director: Michael Schultz

    Starring: Richard Benjamin, James Coco, Scatman Crothers, Ruth Gordon, Cloris Leachman, Cleavon Little, Roddy McDowall, Richard Mulligan, Tony Randall, Dirk Benedict, Willie Aames, Stephanie Faracy, Stephen Furst & Richard Masur

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After the passing of eccentrically wealthy game maker Milton Parker (Vincent Price, House of Wax), Scavenger Hunt brings his fifteen diverse would-be heirs together for a competitive shot at his $200 million estate.  Simply instructed, whoever finds all the items by the day’s end will be hailed as the winner in this mad dash through the streets of sunny California.  Michael Schultz (Car Wash) helms the ensemble comedy.

    Feeding the flame that gave rise to other comical rat races in pursuit of cold hard cash, Scavenger Hunt follows the formula admirably with a mansion sized cast serving as its most prized asset.  Summoned for the announcement of dearly departed millionaire Milton Parker’s will, fifteen possible heirs to his fortune including, his staff of servants: Jenkins (Roddy McDowall, Fright Night), Henri (James Coco, Man of La Mancha), Jackson (Cleavon Little, Once Bitten) and Babette (Stephanie Faracy, The Great Outdoors), son-in-law Henry Motely (Tony Randall, The Odd Couple) and his four children, Parker’s widowed sister Mildred Carruthers (Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show), her buffoonish son Georgie (Richard Masur, The Thing) and their greedy attorney Stewart Sellsome (Richard Benjamin, Westworld) plus, Parker’s nephews Kenny (Willie Aames, Charles in Charge) and Jeff (Dirk Benedict, The A-Team) Stephens, joined by Mildred’s stepdaughter Lisa (Maureen Taffy, Grease 2) and thoughtless cabbie Marvin Dummitz (Richard Mulligan, Empty Nest) all arrive with a once in a lifetime opportunity at luxury and wealth.  Required to retrieve an endless supply of oddball items including, but surely not limited to, an ostrich, crystal ball, toilet, safe, moose head, false teeth, fox tail and even a fat person, the diverse pool of participants form five separate teams in order to better their odds at the desirable $200 million.  

    Featuring additional appearances from Scatman Crothers (The Shining), Meat Loaf (Roadie) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) as a fitness instructor, Scavenger Hunt is littered with one loony sequence after another when Richard Benjamin’s Stewart suffers from a case of bad luck with elevators and a run-in with a violent biker gang while, a high-speed pursuit of the many scavengers through San Diego is met with expected crashes and a lemon meringue mess.  While the film may not be the laugh-a-minute bonanza one might expect with a runtime that overextends itself by a minuscule margin, Scavenger Hunt packs plenty of physical sight gags and feverish energy to make the ride a worthy one.  Additionally, the dynamite selection of performers also ranks as one of the finer ensemble casts found in a star-studded comedy of its ilk.

    KL Studio Classics welcomes Scavenger Hunt to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Maintaining intermittent moments of softness, colors are bright and bold with Kenny and Jeff’s orange van as well as Stewart’s baby blue suit popping most effectively.  Furthermore, skin tones are healthy and respectably detailed with the greenery of the San Diego Zoo making an authentic presence.  Natural grain is evident throughout with no digital-noise tinkering observed.  Equipped with a rather hollow sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible yet, lacks a stronger push that trickles down to the film’s rather lifeless score and dull-sounding action sequences.  A faint hiss is detected throughout but hardly a deal breaking bother.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Schultz, Play to Win with Richard Benjamin (10:07) where the star recalls his early work on the stage and other career highlights while, addressing Wile E. Coyote’s direct inspiration on his character in the film.  Benjamin also praises Schultz’s generous nature and his love for Laurel & Hardy that he also injected into the film’s many physically funny moments.  In addition, Winner Take All with Richard Masur (10:12) confirms the obvious that the film was consciously attempting to be Hellzapoppin’ and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World for the late 70s.  Masur shares that his character and mannerisms in the film were based on a young neighbor while, recalling the difficulty of handling an ostrich which can be extremely dangerous to contain.  The Risky Business star also praises Leachman and her underrated comedic abilities.  Lastly, Trailers for Moving Violations (1:28), After the Fox (2:49) and Married to the Mob (2:09) are also included along with Reversible Cover Art.

    A zany romp where the working class and well off compete for a shot at millions, Scavenger Hunt stays the course of similar ensemble efforts before it with varying results.  While its laughs aren’t always as huge or memorable as its impressive cast, the film’s hunt for absurd items and the physical exploits that follow in their pursuit make for an entertaining journey to take with the fellow scavengers.  Arriving on Blu-ray with strong albeit, uneven technical grades, KL Studio Classics buffers the release with a welcome assortment of new cast interviews and a filmmaker’s commentary worth exploring.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Scavenger Hunt can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Wild Beasts (1984) Blu-ray Review

    Wild Beasts (1984)

    Director: Franco E. Prosperi

    Starring: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Louisa Lloyd & Ugo Bologna

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Rome, Wild Beasts finds a city zoo of animals running amuck when their water supply is contaminated with PCP.  Escaping from the confines of their cages and waging bloody destruction throughout the city, the drug-crazed creatures revert to their savage instincts to feast upon the unsuspecting population.  Boasting notable faces from the many avenues of Italian cult cinema, the Godfather of Mondo Franco E. Prosperi (Mondo Cane) directs.

    In shock documentary maker Franco E. Prosperi’s final film outing, Wild Beasts delivers a bark as loud as its ferocious bite, ranking highly amongst the siege of naturicide pictures from the wild and crazy heyday of Italian made insanity.  After an unexplainable contamination of the local zoo’s water supply with hallucinogenic angel dust, the normally well-behaved animals go rogue, escaping from their barred dwellings to hunt fresh meat found in the unexplored region of the city.  Tasked with determining the cause of the animal’s bloodthirsty behavior, zoologist Rupert Berner (John Aldrich) and Inspector Nat Braun (Ugo Bologna, Nightmare City) combine their efforts to save the citizens now considered prey.  In addition, Berner’s girlfriend, Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox), independently stranded in the chaos struggles to reach her young daughter who is also embroiled in her own animalistic nightmare along with her fellow dance classmates.  With its shocking sequences of beastly brutality brought to life by trained circus tamers under animal attack, Wild Beasts supplies ample doses of blood splattering carnage and wild life lunacy that must be seen to be believed.  Featuring a backseat rendezvous of intimacy disrupted by gnawing sewer rats, face-flattening elephants, a hungry cheetah in pursuit of a Volkswagen Beetle, explosive car wrecks, lions, tigers and much more, Wild Beasts is rabid with over the top energy and chaotic shaky camera kills that adds a level of documentary-like realism to its already impressively captured moments of vicious animal feasting.  Topped with dependably silly dubbed dialogue and a shocking twist that contaminates more than the zoo’s residents, Wild Beasts stands as one of the best and most brutal “animals attack” features that supplies everything and more one would hope to find in an Italian production of its maniacal caliber.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Severin Films welcomes Wild Beasts with a newly remastered 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Outside of minimal speckling, filmic quality is consistent throughout while, skin tones are appropriately natural-looking and gore effects nicely detailed.  In addition, the film’s few prominent colors found in Laura’s bright red attire pops strongly with textures found in animal fur also well preserved.  Predominately set under the cloak of nighttime, black levels are impressively handled with visibility never questioned.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers the English dubbed dialogue with crispness, animal roars, car crashes and the film’s mix of sax and synth stylings by Composer Daniele Patucchi (Sacrifice!, Warrior of the Lost World) all leave exacting and effective marks.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian mix is also included.  

    Special features include, Altered Beasts: Interview with Director Franco E. Prosperi (15:33) reveals the film’s original intention to shoot entirely in Rhodesia before war broke out and a frightening encounter with terrorists prompted the production to relocate to South Africa.  Shortly after recommencing filming, Prosperi recalls his association with Mondo Cane pushed the production out once again before finally settling back in Italy for the remainder of the shoot.  Several funny tales concerning the difficulty of wrangling the film’s many animals are also shared in this intriguing interview with its maker.  Wild Tony: Interview with Actor Tony Di Leo (12:54) finds the film’s lead, credited as John Aldrich, sharing his early beginnings in a musical band before becoming a circus tamer turned into an opportunity at acting.  Di Leo fondly recalls Prosperi’s humorous spirit, his personal distaste for his performance in the film and the fear he held shooting scenes with the animals regardless of his taming experience.  Furthermore, Cut After Cut: Interview with Editor & Mondo Filmmaker Mario Morra (34:54) covers Morra’s lengthy career highlights in detail while, The Circus is in Town: Interview with Animal Wrangler Roberto Tiberti’s son Carlo Tiberti (10:25) discusses the family’s long history and many experiences in the circus business.  Lastly, House of Wild Beasts: A Visit to the Home of Franco E. Prosperi (12:42) and the film’s International Trailer (2:24) conclude the release’s bonus features.

    A top-tier inclusion of the ravenous animals gone mad subgenre, Wild Beasts insanely puts drug-tripping lions, tigers and hyenas at the forefront of this solidly produced slice of spaghetti cinema.  Effectively realized with in-camera animal attacks and grisly gore for likeminded cult enthusiasts to feast upon, Wild Beasts is a stampede of entertaining screams.  Brought to high-definition with a praiseworthy remastering by Severin Films, Freak-O-Rama’s helping of newly produced bonus features is the icing on top of this blood dripping cake.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 7th from Severin Films, Wild Beasts can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pinocchio (1940) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Pinocchio (1940)

    Director(s): Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson & T. Hee

    Starring: Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards, Mel Blanc, Charles Judels & Evelyn Venable

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Walt Disney’s animated masterpiece, Pinocchio finds a magical wooden puppet coming to life and assisted by his conscience, the faithful Jiminy Cricket.  In an adventurous quest that tests the impressionable marionette’s bravery and honesty, the wave crashing events will determine his desire to become a real boy to his loving creator Geppetto.

    Based on, albeit severely deviating, from Carlo Collodi’s enduring tale, Disney’s followup to the spectacle of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs eclipses its predecessor in every way.  With the profits of Disney’s animated feature-length debut handy, technical advancements from blended color effects to animated underwater realism and a profound desire to prove his studio and artists were more than one-trick ponies, Pinocchio stands as the defining work of a creator unrestricted by his limitless imagination, never to be seen or experienced on such a grand scale again.  Yearning for a child of his own, lonely toymaker Geppetto wishes upon a star for his latest puppet to become a real boy.  Given life to his wooden body by the enchanting Blue Fairy, Pinocchio must prove himself honest and brave before the wish can truly come to fruition.  Narrating the film’s proceedings and serving as Pinocchio’s personal conscience, pint-sized Jiminy Cricket promises to guide the now stringless puppet on his journey of self-discovery.  As temptation rears its head and ignoring the advice of Jiminy, Pinocchio finds himself conned by the swindling Honest John and his feline companion Gideon before being sold to the heinous Stromboli as a moneymaker in his puppet sideshow and whisked away to the anarchic Pleasure Island by a devilish Coachman.  While Geppetto, along with his faithful pets Figaro and Cleo, frantically search for his son, Pinocchio is absorbed by the island’s seedy activities and ultimately transformed into a donkey.  Before long, Pinocchio’s family is swallowed whole by the ghastly whale Monstro, inspiring the wooden boy and Jiminy Cricket to risk life and limb to save them from certain doom and rightly earning his place as a real boy.

    A clear advancement over Walt Disney’s game-changing opus just three years earlier, Pinocchio is the fullest embodiment of Disney’s visionary style and also the studio’s bleakest effort produced during its Golden era.  Retaining the cautionary tone of age-old folktales, Pinocchio urges young viewers to mind menacing temptations and remain truthful while, at its core, is a heartfelt story concerning fathers and sons.  From its serene beginnings in Geppetto’s warm workshop to the foreboding downpours and unwholesome characters Pinocchio encounters on his road to righteousness, the film serves as a fabled account of prepubescent maturity.  Through the garishly intriguing sights of Pleasure Island and Pinocchio’s frightening confrontation with Monstro, the unrelenting suspense and drama captured in these sequences are unparalleled in Disney’s vast history.  Juxtaposed with touching yet, not overly sentimental warmth and comical sight gags at the expense of the puppet’s naiveté, Pinocchio runs the emotional gamut with ease and utmost precision.  With his money firmly placed where his mouth was once again, Disney spared no expense from the film’s grandest moments to its more rudimentary details presenting a feature eclipsing anything produced by its makers, earning its place as Disney’s gold standard for all other features to be compared to.

    Recycling the technical specifications of its Platinum Edition release, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Pinocchio with a 1080p transfer, retaining its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  A mark of high-definition excellence, colors are vast and bold with age-related anomalies nonexistent and black levels appearing deeply rich.  Furthermore, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix strongly relays the film’s dialogue levels and award winning score with only mild exchanges of softness that is less a complaint then an observation.  Newly produced supplements on this release include, the two-part featurette The Pinocchio Project: “When You Wish Upon A Star” with The Project (3:03) focusing on the recoding of the beloved track’s cover with interviews from the musical participants while, The Video (2:49) presents the finished music video of the completed song.  In addition, Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island (7:14) takes transcriptions from 1938-1939 story meetings and presents them with recreated narrations and stills to detail the development of this awe-inspiring sequence.  Also included, In Walt’s Words - Pinocchio (4:48) is an archival recording of Walt Disney from interviews conducted in 1956 and his thoughts on his animated followup.  Lastly, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit in “Poor Papa” (5:19), an animated short featuring Disney’s pre-Mickey star rounds out the release’s new to disc bonus  features.

    Offering the film’s Original Theatrical Edition, DisneyView and Sing-Along with the Movie options, classic bonus features ported over include, No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio (56:09), Deleted Scenes (10:33), The Sweatbox (6:25), Geppetto’s Then and Now (10:57), Live-Action Reference Footage (9:57) and a Publicity section featuring the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52), the 1984 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:25) and the 1992 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:33).  Furthermore, “When You Wish Upon A Star” Music Video by Meaghan Jette Martin (3:14), A Wish Come True: The Making of Pinocchio (5:06), a Storyboard-To-Film Final Comparison (4:04) and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Born in China (1:14), 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) and Moana (1:37) round out the entirety of the disc’s supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Simply stated, the artistic majesty, adventurous storytelling and iconic characters of Disney’s Pinocchio make the film a direct result of wishing upon a star and witnessing true magic come alive.  Released in a golden era of unequivocal classics, Disney’s daring second feature is unlike anything else with a beauty and emotional core unmatched, soaring above the others as the studio’s towering achievement.  Retaining its Platinum Edition’s already flawless restoration, the Signature Collection’s handful of new and stockpile of vintage supplements make those without this essential slice of animated perfection a no-brainer.  

    RATING: 5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pinocchio can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Parents (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Parents (1989)

    Director: Bob Balaban

    Starring: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt & Sandy Dennis

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the suburban comfort of the 1950s, Parents centers on ten-year-old outcast Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky in his only film role) who suspects that his model mother and father (played by Mary Beth Hurt, The World According to Garp and Randy Quaid, Kingpin respectively) are up to more than meets the eye.  As Michael’s curiosity grows regarding the family’s limitless supply of leftovers, the nightmarish truth is revealed.  Academy Award winner Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) costars in Bob Balaban’s (My Boyfriend’s Back) directorial debut.

    Painted with stark black comedy and horror undertones of cannibalism, Parents is a quirky slice of life from yesteryear demonstrating father (and mother) know best, especially when they’re eating you.  Relocating from Massachusetts during the picturesque 1950s, quiet and peculiar youngster Michael Laemle struggles to fit in his new surroundings while, experiencing a wrath of hellish nightmares that feel all too real.  Hauntingly awkward and an incorrigibly picky eater, Michael sticks out like a sore thumb next to his seemingly perfect All-American parents.  Looks prove deceiving as Nick and Lily Laemle demonstrate their own eccentricities and questionable behavior alerting their young son that all is not kosher at home.  Further troubled by increased nightmares and bloody hallucinations, Michael’s imagination runs wild when determining the origin of the family’s nightly supply of meat.  Sneakily following his father to his job at the local chemical lab where human cadavers are tested upon, Michael’s suspicion blossoms into full-blown fear when discovering the source of the Laemle’s personal meat market.  Developing a trust with the school psychologist (Dennis) while attempting to concretely prove what he already knows, Michael pits himself and the few close to him in finger-lickin’ danger with mommy and daddy.  Never hysterical nor the bodycount picture prevalent at the time, Parents never makes fully clear when we should cackle or wince in terror, making such uncertainty all part of its Rubik’s Cube of unconventional attraction.  Recreating the time with Rockwellian precision, Quaid and Hurt are inspired casting, if not slightly one note, making the entirety of the Laemle family appear rather and perhaps intentionally, subdued throughout the film.  Featuring a grossly underdeveloped friendship between Michael and a female classmate who insists she's an extraterrestrial from the moon, Parents is not immune to miscalculations while serving as an offbeat statement on yesterday’s rarely discussed domestic dilemmas that’s earned its place amongst cult circles.

    (image not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Lionsgate, as part of their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, presents Parents with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally restored and appearing appreciatively filmic throughout, the bright canvas of suburbia brings attention to the Laemle’s orderly household while, bolder colors found in Nick’s bright yellow sweater vest and the family’s turquoise Oldsmobile pop graciously.  Detail is also strongly admired in facial features and closeups on the cannibalistic parents carving into cooked meat with skin tones reading naturally.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that hones dialogue levels strongly for such a character-driven film, Michael’s nightmares provide suspenseful boosts that rattle the mix comparatively.  

    Graced with a winning serving of supplemental features, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Bob Balaban & Producer Bonnie Palef is on hand with Isolated Score Selections and an Audio Interview with Composer Jonathan Elias also included.  Additionally, Leftovers to Be with Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne (16:48) reveals that prolific producer Ray Stark (Steel Magnolias) was attached to the project before Vestron opted out citing Stark’s high fee as the cause.  Furthermore, Director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doll House) turned down the film before Balaban joined the production with the latter injecting much of his own childhood into the narrative.  Hawthorne also retells that the parallels between Quaid’s performance and his own father were so close, his parents refused to speak to him for a lengthy period of time.  Mother’s Day with Actress Mary Beth Hurt (14:29) finds the cannibalistic homemaker recalling Balaban offering her the role during a regular charades game that was frequented by the likes of Tim Robbins and Al Franken.  Hurt also expresses her love for the film’s time period and the prospect of its costumes being her major draws to the project.  Next up, Inside Out with Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon (13:58) finds that the cinematographer took over duties after original D.P. Ernie Day’s (Revenge of the Pink Panther) wife fell ill.  Shooting the majority of the film’s interior sequences, Vidgeon believes his work on Hellraiser landed him the job on Parents.  Lastly, Vintage Tastes with Decorative Consultant Yolanda Cuomo (9:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:33), Radio Spots (1:42) and a Still Gallery (4:52) conclude the release’s extra features.

    (images not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    A satirical sendup of 50s family values with a taste for flesh, Parents uniquely portrays every child’s safeguards as the source of their nightmares in this cannibalistic comedy.  Served with a side order of limbs, Bob Balaban’s oddball feature arrives with a fittingly scatterbrained tone and an underlying statement on the romanticized notion of growing up in the wholesome decade.  A cooky concoction of cultish charisma, Parents joins the Vestron Video Collector’s Series with solid technical grades and a most revealing slate of extras sure to fill up the hungry horror fan.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, Parents can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Lair of the White Worm (1988) Blu-ray Review

    The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

    Director: Ken Russell

    Starring: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis & Stratford Johns

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From noted auteur Ken Russell (The Devils), The Lair of the White Worm finds Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant, Love Actually) returning to his English castle where the legendary folklore of his ancestor slaying a monstrous white worm with a taste for virgin flesh is literally dug up.  Discovering the skeletal remains of a large reptilian beast and other questionable finds, archaeology student Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who) seeks to convince the Lord of the tale’s legitimacy when James’s girlfriend vanishes, leading the daring duo to uncover the worm’s lair and rid its evil.  

    Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s final novel, The Lair of the White Worm blends the gothically sinister with Russell’s innate taste for the erotic and darkly humorous ensuring a most unusually psychotronic trip of sexy serpents, religious blasphemy and acquired campiness.  Following the excavation of an abnormally huge snake-like skull, archaeology student Angus Flint believes his find roots directly to the local legend of John D’Ampton who bravely slain the dreaded White Worm in years past.  Solely occupying the family estate, James D’Ampton begins to find merit in his ancestor’s fantastical history when his girlfriend Eve Trent (Catherine Oxenberg, Dynasty) disappears shortly after searching for her own missing parents with sister Mary (Sammi Davis, The Rainbow).  Suspicious of nearby neighbor, the gorgeous Oscar Wilde quoting Lady Sylvia (Amanda Donohoe, Liar Liar) and incognito priestess to a pagan snake god, who uses her alluring lingerie and thigh-high leather boots to seductively slither victims into her grasp, Angus and James combine their efforts to locate the worm’s cavernous lair and save the Trent sisters.  A deranged assemblage part arthouse, part B-movie monsterpalooza, juxtaposed with bursts of extreme music video energy, The Lair of the White Worm is an uneasily definable genre mash that equally defies and baffles most viewer expectations.  Doused with tedious touches of complicated exposition in accordance with Stoker’s own work, The Lair of the White Worm works best as a visual opiate that shocks viewers senses with religious imagery depicting a crucified Christ and virgin nuns being raped at his feet.  In addition, Donohoe commandeers the picture with her magnetic charm and ssssinister handling of weak-minded men in hot tubs who are left squealing shy of one body part.  A cult curioso certain to divide audiences, The Lair of the White Worm will surely entrance those swayed by its peculiar blend of oddness while, the film, for better or worse, places style above substance.

    (images are not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate presents The Lair of the White Worm with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  True to the gray overcast of the film’s setting, colors are sparse while skin tones remain natural-looking and nicely detailed.  In addition, black levels are respectable with only mild softness detected.  Furthermore, scratches or other age-related follies are washed away ensuring the film the most proper of HD debuts.  Equipped with a satisfactory DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles the heavy accents of its performers adequately, the sexy saxophone injections by Composer Stanislas Syrewicz (The Fantasist) provides the liveliest mentions on the otherwise unvaried mix.  Continuing the tradition of its fellow Vestron Video Collector’s Series titles, substantial supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Director Ken Russell and a second Audio Commentary with Lisi Russell, in conversation with Film Historian Matthew Melia.  Meanwhile, Red Shirt Pictures offers enthralling new featurettes with Worm Food: The Effects of The Lair of the White Worm (27:08) where Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Designer Geoff Portas, Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Modeler Neil Gorton and Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Technician Paul Jones share their unique experiences working with the eccentric Russell and their artistic approaches to the project.  Furthermore, Cutting for Ken with Editor Peter Davies (9:32) discusses his rather easy hiring on the job while, Trailers from Hell featuring the late Dan Ireland (2:45), Mary, Mary with Sammi Davis (15:42), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:11) and a Still Gallery (2:59) round out the bonus feature offerings.

    (images are not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    One of Vestron Pictures’ own original productions, The Lair of the White Worm remains an immensely split feature with a deliriously off-kilter tone befitting of Russell’s weird style.  Head-scratchingly bizarre and monstrously campy, the unique adaptation of Stoker’s panned final work is certainly not for all but, one worth digging up for its undefinable place in genre circles.  Making its Blu-ray debut as the sixth installment of the fan-favorite Collector’s Series, Lionsgate gives Russell’s phantasmagoric oddity a most respectable remastering and a generous touch of supplements viewers have quickly come to expect.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, The Lair of the White Worm can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

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

    Director(s): Brian Gibson / Gary Sherman

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Poltergeist II: The Other Side RATING: 4/5

    Poltergeist III RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Queen of Katwe (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Queen of Katwe (2016)

    Director: Mira Nair

    Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza & Taryn Kyaze

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the inspiring true story, Queen of Katwe centers on chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga in her film debut) whose gift of the game propels her from poverty to the World Chess Olympiads.  David Oyelowo (Selma) and Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) costar.

    Developed in association with ESPN Films, Queen of Katwe celebrates the tireless spirit and beauty of Uganda through the gorgeously cultivated direction of Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake).  Residing in the slums of Kampala with her siblings and hardworking widowed mother (Nyong’o), Phiona Mutesi's encounter with local missionary Robert Katende (Oyelowo) alters her life for the better.  Teaching his newest student the art and strategies of chess, Phiona’s natural abilities to foresee movements and defeat her fellow players with ease is met with newfound confidence and encouragement to compete.  Harnessing her skills, Phiona finds herself envisioning a future where proper education is within reach and relieving her family of the poverty they’ve only ever known is now possible.  Adhering to the tried and true structure of most underdog tales, Queen of Katwe monitors Phiona’s rise to prominence before overconfidence, family struggles and defeat knocks her down but hardly keeps her out from regaining balance.  Seamlessly tugging at viewer’s heartstrings, the mentor/student relationship between David Oyelowo the young Nalwanga succeeds in overwhelming audiences with emotion and giving reason to cheer during the traditionally quiet game of chess.  In addition, Lupita Nyong’o delivers another standout performance in a career of many as Phiona’s single mother who will stop at nothing to ensure her children’s well-being.  

    Shot inexpensively with its African locations capturing priceless photography, Queen of Katwe also welcomes the sounds of Uganda with soundtrack cuts from A Pass, Jose Chameleone and Goodlyfe Crew included alongside a newly produced song by Alicia Keys.  While its inspirational narrative doesn’t necessarily stretch the wings of what has come before it, Queen of Katwe excels with its prominently all black cast, evocative setting and Nair’s intimate direction all making exacting moves.  Inviting audiences to their latest tale of unconventional athleticism, Queen of Katwe honors Disney’s celebrated blending of family entertainment and true stories for another crowd pleasing checkmate.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Queen of Katwe with a stunning 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the sunny shades of Uganda’s scenery, bold colors found in virtually all costume choices leap off the screen while, skin tones are radiant and always natural-looking.  In addition, the poverty stricken areas of Phiona’s household and the faded turquoise boards encompassing her chess training ground are captured with immaculate detail, allowing viewers to fully bask in a presentation of such crispness.  Equipped with an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that balances the transition of dialogue, bustling street ambiance and the film’s rhythmic song selections seamlessly, the track is nothing short of delightful.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe: Their Story (29:39), a three-part featurette exploring the filmmakers’ journey bringing the true story to fruition and the culture’s undeniable impact on the finished product plus, A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight (13:14), Nair’s original short film on the real Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo in the film.  In addition, In the Studio with Alicia Keys (6:26), a “Back to Life” by Alicia Keys Lyric Video (5:01), “#1 Spice” by Young Cardamom & HAB Music Video (3:55) are also included alongside Deleted Scenes (20:25) with optional introductions by Director Mira Nair.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks (4:30) at Born in China, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and Moana conclude the on-disc supplements while, a Digital HD Code is also included.

    Champions are often found in the most unlikely of places and circumstances.  Rising above poverty and a lack of education, Queen of Katwe brings welcome notice to the beauty and hardship of a Ugandan upbringing and the perseverance of the human spirit.  An inspirational journey ripe with heart and humor, Disney’s latest true story dramatization is a hit thematically while, its home video release exudes high-definition beauty and a worthy helping of bonus features including, the continued inclusion of a filmmaker’s commentary.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Queen of Katwe can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Internecine Project (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Internecine Project (1974)

    Director: Ken Hughes

    Starring: James Coburn, Lee Grant, Harry Andrews, Michael Jayston, Christiane Kruger & Keenan Wynn

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When former secret agent Professor Robert Elliot (James Coburn, The Great Escape) is offered the prestigious position of advisor to the President of the United States, The Internecine Project explores his devious plot to exterminate the few with knowledge of his dark past.  Lee Grant (Damian: Omen II), Harry Andrews (Moby Dick), Michael Jayston (Zulu Dawn), Christiane Kruger (Mother) and Keenan Wynn (Point Blank) costar.

    Co-scripted and produced by Barry Levinson (Who?), The Internecine Project is an intricately plotted examination of corruption, espionage and murder in the pursuit of power and greed.  Continuing his ascension in the political stratosphere, Professor Robert Elliot welcomes the coveted role of advisor to the President with pleasure.  Pleased with the life changing opportunity, Elliot, a former secret agent with skeletons in his closet, quickly realizes that with every achievement comes backlash from others.  Devising a grand plan to eliminate four individuals that could potentially threaten his future, the soon-to-be advisor intends to rid them all in a single evening.  Expertly crafted with no loose ends leading back to its puppet master, civil servant Alex Hellman (Ian Hendry, Repulsion), elderly masseur Bert Parsons (Andrews), high-end hooker Christina Larsson (Kruger) and diabetic scientist David Baker (Jayston), all fall for Elliot’s scheme, unknowingly offing one another consecutively.  Providing each individual with detailed instructions while playing a clever game of phone tag with Elliot each step of the way to report their progress, the diverse quartet find themselves picked off by a deadly injection of insulin and a fatal frequency of sound waves among other tragedies.  An intriguing premise with the always dependable Coburn leading the pack, The Internecine Project leaves much to wonder about Elliot’s past while his hunger for control remains his main source of fuel.  A product of its time that handles suspense sufficiently with an unexpected albeit, karma-serving conclusion, The Internecine Project may be too vague for some while, satisfying others with its devotion to fiendish plots.

    Leaping to high-definition, KL Studio Classics presents The Internecine Project with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Softly photographed with fleeting instances of scuffs, colors are satisfactory with natural appearances in skin tones and respective details preserved.  Not a particularly vivid-looking feature, darker levels found in Elliot’s quiet study and the night time homicides carried out by the supporting cast are well-handled under intended low lighting.  Overall, the Ken Hughes thriller makes an agreeable debut on the format.  Joined by a decent DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently relayed while, the scoring cues of Roy Bud (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger) make their point in bulking up the film’s tenser moments.  Far from a sonically-charged sound mix, the track achieves the necessary.  Ported over from Scorpion Releasing’s previous DVD release, special features consist of Decoding the Project: Conversation with Writer Jonathan Lynn (18:47) where Lynn discusses taking the project on for free since he had no credits at the time, his fond memories of Levinson and the changes made following Director Ken Hughes’s involvement.  Lastly, a Trailer Gallery featuring The Internecine Project (3:00), Harry in Your Pocket (1:59), Loophole (1:26) and The Naked Face (2:10) conclude the supplements.

    While power is central to Elliot’s endgame, The Internecine Project feels one-sided with so little known about the dirt threatening his career, leaving the brutal and occasionally silly murders as the film’s true calling card.  Coburn is expectedly aces in the lead role with a twisty conclusion that could have felt even more heightened provided more substance to the brilliantly lethal professor was spared.  Carrying over the previously available interview with Screenwriter Jonathan Lynn, KL Studio Classics sees the film receives respectable hi-def treatment.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Internecine Project can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Wait Until Dark (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Wait Until Dark (1967)

    Director: Terence Young

    Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Creena, Jack Weston & Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Struggling to adjust to her recent blindness, Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffanys) stars as Susy Hendrix in Wait Until Dark.  When three ruthless thugs invade her home in search of a doll stuffed with heroin, suspense and thrills dominate Susy’s night of survival.  Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Richard Creena (First Blood), Jack Weston (Cuba) and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Batman: The Animated Series) costar.

    Based on the stage play by Frederick Knott and unquestionably invoking a Hitchcockian tone in its approach, Wait Until Dark builds its incarcerated pulse by setting its narrative in a New York brownstone inhabited by a blind woman whose darkest nightmare is only just beginning.  After an attractive female smuggles heroin from Montreal to New York City in the stuffing of a doll, paranoia consumes her, entrusting fellow passenger Sam Hendrix (Zimbalist, Jr.) to care for the seemingly innocent toy from falling into the hands of the crazed Harry Roat, Jr. (Arkin).  Later, two convincing conmen, Mike Talman (Creena) and Carlino (Weston), arrive at what they think is the drug-smuggling female’s residence only to be greeted by Roat who blackmails the duo with her corpse.  Striking a deal beneficial to all parties dependent on the recovery of the doll, Hendrix’s wife Susy, recently left blind by a car accident, returns to her apartment and is quickly misled by false identities and elaborate tales by the trio, fingering her husband’s possible involvement with the deceased female while sniffing out the whereabouts of the desired doll.  Overcomplicating the festivities with Talman’s drawn-out charade as one of Sam’s war buddies and Carlino’s phony telephone calls as an officer to throw the already disadvantaged Susy off their scent halts the film’s pace substantially while, Hepburn’s vulnerable performance and Arkin’s seedy turn as the lead psychopath keeps the thriller focused.  Graced with a hauntingly eerie score by Henry Mancini (Victor/Victoria, Mommie Dearest) and a positively nail-biting finale pitting the cutthroat Roat against Susy who uses her condition to her advantage, Wait Until Dark may take unnecessary detours into the masquerade to the extreme for much of its runtime yet, the strong performances and taut direction by Terence Young (Dr. No) more than balance the proceedings.

    Warner Archive presents Wait Until Dark with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Filmic-looking throughout, clarity is pristine with black levels reading deeply, namely during the film’s fleeting moments of pitch black terror.  In addition, textures and skin tones leave little else to be desired with exacting touches and top-notch detail observed.  Furthermore, no digital-noise tinkering or other age-related anomalies are present on this exceptional presentation.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that packs a healthy range, clear capturing of dialogue and an effective handling of Mancini’s sinister score, the track is a strong counterpart to its visual showcase.  Special features include, Take a Look in the Dark (8:40), ported over from its previous DVD release, the shore featurette interviews star Alan Arkin and Producer Mel Ferrer on the film’s making.  In addition, the Theatrical Trailer (2:36) and the film’s Warning Teaser Trailer (1:08) round out the otherwise scant offerings.

    Undoubtedly influential albeit with its own share of shortcomings, Wait Until Dark excels through Hepburn and Arkin’s top-notch performances and the film’s exceptionally tense final act that one could only wish seeped into the remainder of the film.  Nonetheless, Warner Archive serves this favored thriller with remarkable technical grades worthy of high praise.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 24th from Warner Archive, Wait Until Dark can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Who? (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Who? (1975)

    Director: Jack Gold

    Starring: Elliot Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, Edward Grover & James Noble

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the disappearance of a noted American scientist after a near fatal wreck in the Soviet Union, Who? finds the survivor reappearing unrecognizable as a robotic-hybrid of his former self.  Tasked with determining the true identity of this metallic being, FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliot Gould, The Long Goodbye) remains cautiously unsure whether who stands before him is the wounded scientist or an elaborate rouse by Russian forces.  Trevor Howard (Meteor), Joseph Bova (Serpico), Edward Grover (Death Wish) and James Noble (Benson) costar.

    Based on the sci-fi novel by Algis Budrys, Who? stages a tediously dull thriller of uncertain identities and international espionage, brought to life by performances as yawningly robotic as the film’s scientist in metal clothing.  After American scientist and leader of the confidential Neptune Project, Lucas Martino (Bova), vanishes following a deadly car crash along the Soviet border, the thought to be dead professor emerges with his brain and right arm intact whereas the remainder of his body is of robotic material.  Escorted back to the custody of domestic agencies, FBI agent Sean Rogers is all but certain Martino is not who he says he is.  Part paranoid and inclined to trust his instincts, Rogers, through countless interrogations and investigations into the roboman’s past, must determine the truth including the likelihood of Russian intelligence attempting to obtain more information on the Neptune Project.  Juxtaposing between the FBI and the Soviet’s time with the robot assumed to be Martino, Who? is a slow-burn that stumbles to remain interesting or exciting with the exception of a far too short airport runway car chase.  Unintentionally silly in its roboman design and doused in somber tones leaving the film cold to the touch, Who? sounds far more intriguing than it is entertaining resulting in an otherwise forgettable curiosity piece.

    KL Studio Classics presents Who? with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Containing numerous instances of scratches, speckles and cigarette burns to varying degrees, picture quality falls generally softer with black levels, evident in the film’s opening border exchange of Martino, leaving more to be desired.  In addition, skin tones are handled decently while, detail is not of the sharpest caliber with colors occasionally failing to remain consistent.  Although its elements appear to not be the most well maintained, the high-definition transfer remains of average grade.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that neither gravely disappoints or overwhelming satisfies, dialogue is efficiently exchanged with cracks and pops present mostly during reel changes.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Jack Gold, moderated by Film Historian Anthony Sloman.  Finally, a Trailer Gallery consisting of The Long Goodbye (2:31), Busting (2:45), The Offence (1:51) and The Naked Face (2:10) conclude the disc’s supplemental package.

    An intriguing premise that lacks style, Who? short-circuits quickly turning a quality cast into a siege of wooden performances, chalking this Cold War thriller into a battle badly lost.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, KL Studio Classics brings the peculiar spy feature to hi-def with passable grades that bare their fair share of battle wounds yet, get the job done all the same.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Who? can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) Blu-ray Review

    Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

    Director: John Sturges

    Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Russell Collins & Walter Sande

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a desert ghost town, Bad Day at Black Rock finds WWII veteran John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind) passing through only to find his visit and reasons for doing so confronted with suspicion and threats from the locals, led by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan, The Set-Up).  Unwelcome wherever he roams, Macreedy’s mysterious presence slowly reveals the town’s deadly secret.  John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) helms the drama, nominated for three Academy Awards.

    Beautifully shot in the golden vistas of Lone Pine, California and neighboring Nevada, Bad Day at Black Rock is a captivating viewing experience, blending the realms of western noir and suspenseful intrigue.  Following the aftermath of World War II, handicapped veteran John J. Macreedy travels to the sleepy community of Black Rock in search of a man named Komoko.  Met with unwavering suspicion and coldness from the tight-knit locals, Macreedy finds himself refused a hotel room and overwhelmed with questions regarding his business.  Slowly developing a pleasant relationship with the local doctor while, the town sheriff wallows in self-pity and alcohol, the town’s true leader Remo Smith informs the curious traveler that his Japanese friend was interned during the course of the war.  Refusing to believe the questionable tales spun by Black Rock’s aggressively racist residents, Macreedy investigates matters on his own determining more is not right than previously assumed.  With messages to the state police left unsent and Smith’s henchmen hellbent on making the veteran suffer for not leaving well enough alone, a war is waged between Smith longing to keep the town’s secret intact and the outsider with nothing left to lose.  Battling his own personal fight against alcoholism at the time while being questionably too old for the part, Spencer Tracy dazzles in the lead as a suit-wearing mystery man arriving in a dusty town uncovering the worst and then some.  In addition, Robert Ryan plays the film’s heel with a sharp coyness that makes his violent turn against Macreedy in the final act all the more effective.  Furthermore, Smith’s cronies, played namely by Lee Marvin (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Ernest Borgnine (Marty) who goes toe-to-toe with Macreedy in a barroom brawl, are perfect supporting heavies to Ryan’s calm but dangerous baddie.  An expert demonstration of drama and tensely orchestrated suspense, Bad Day at Black Rock, rightly categorized by Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osbourne as essential, is just that.

    Warner Archive presents Bad Day at Black Rock with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the grandiose mountains, blue skies and desert terrain of its setting, colors are bold and beautiful while, skin tones are never comprised.  Featuring crisp levels of detail in the costume’s of Black Rock’s locals and Macreedy’s black suit, sweat beads and dirt scuffs on facial features and attire are captured with ease.  Free of any unwanted scuffs or scratches, the film’s transfer is an absolute stunner.  Equipped with a perfectly suited DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that relays crisp dialogue exchanges and the roar of train engines, quality is of equal measure to its visual counterpart.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Dana Polan and the Theatrical Trailer (3:26).

    Gorgeously photographed and packing powerful performances, Bad Day at Black Rock is a most memorable experience with cutting suspense capable of keeping viewers glued to its unfolding.  Also known as being Spencer Tracy’s last onscreen role for MGM, Warner Archive upgrades this essential slice of cinema to high-definition with splendid clarity and filmic naturalness sure to be hailed as its definitive home video statement.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Bad Day at Black Rock can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Loophole (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Loophole (1981)

    Director: John Quested

    Starring: Albert Finney, Martin Sheen, Susannah York, Colin Blakely, Jonathan Pryce & Robert Morley

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Robert Pollack, Loophole centers on career criminal Mike Daniels (Albert Finney, Big Fish) and his cronies as they embark on an ambitious heist of one of London’s most prestigious bank vaults.  Requiring the services of a straight man in the highly successful yet, unemployed Stephen Booker (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now), the desperate architect agrees to join the team in hopes of turning his misfortunes around.  Susannah York (The Awakening), Colin Blakely (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) and Robert Morley (Around the World in Eighty Days) costar.

    Marking the final directorial effort of John Quested (Philadelphia, Here I Come), Loophole is a tightly crafted and well-executed crime picture bringing the worlds of expert thieves and one down on his luck businessman together for the heist of a lifetime.  Suffering from a series of professional setbacks and living a lifestyle well beyond his means, respected architect Stephen Booker is offered a position unlike anything else.  Discovering a vulnerability in the underground sewer systems, professional bank robber Mike Daniels targets the International Securities Bank holding millions and requires Stephen’s architectural expertise to navigate the team’s entry.  Struggling to repay his own debts while funding his wife’s (York) new interior design business, Stephen agrees to the arrangement pending no violence is utilized.  Efficient and precise in their work, the crew penetrate a nearby manhole cover as they descend under the city to eventually emerge through the floor of the thought to be impenetrable vault.  Tearing through brick walls and combatting poisonous gas, rats and unexpected flooding, the well-thought-out scheme may cost the men their lives before recovering their riches.  Hosting excellent performances from both Finney and Sheen, Loophole may not be the most exciting of pictures yet, the thieving crew’s calculated plot and refreshing camaraderie between them make the film an engaging watch.  In addition, although Stephen’s insistence of nonviolence foreshadows the likelihood of a rogue teammate backstabbing his allies, the lack of such an expected cliché makes seeing the charismatic crew succeed in their mission all the greater.  Critically panned and largely overlooked by audiences at the time of its release, Loophole is a crafty crime thriller worthy of retrieval from the vault.

    Presented with a 1080p transfer and sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, KL Studio Classics’ handling of Loophole is a passable effort that admires accurate skin tones and only slight traces of speckling seen mostly during the film’s opening.  Far from a wide-varyingly colorful feature, costume textures are pleasing while, the crew’s yellow truck pops effectively.  Furthermore, once the thieves enter London’s sewer system black levels are respectable with visibility generally satisfying.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue with ease, Lalo Schifrin’s (Mission: Impossible) score is presented with decent, if not, inconsistent effectiveness while, the click-clang and explosive sound effects during the crew’s penetration of the sewer rings nicely.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director John Quested, moderated by FilmWax Radio’s Adam Schartoff.  Lastly, a Trailer Gallery featuring Loophole (1:26), When Eight Bells Toll (2:49), Juggernaut (2:54), Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (2:00), The File of the Golden Goose (2:37) and The Internecine Project (3:00) conclude the disc’s bonus offerings.

    While Loophole may not take more dramatic chances with its narrative, the film offers wonderful performances from its entire cast and delivers an excellent overview of the painstaking planning of a job, perhaps better than most heist films before or after.  Scant on extras, KL Studio Classics breaks this bank robbing picture into the HD realm with admirable results, sure to satisfy cinematic heist hounds with a penchant for the overlooked.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Loophole can be purchased via KinoLorber.com and other fine retailers.