Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

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Currently showing posts tagged Mystery

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.  

  • Cat People (1942) Blu-ray Review

    Cat People (1942)

    Director: Jacques Tourneur

    Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph & Jack Holt

    Released by: The Criterion Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Produced by famed auteur Val Lewton (I Walked with a Zombie), Cat People centers on Serbian immigrant Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon, Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) whose marriage to American architect Oliver Reed (Kent Smith, The Spiral Staircase) is put in peril when her homeland fears of transforming into a savage feline during intimacy are suggested.  Tom Conway (101 Dalmatians), Jane Randolph (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) and Jack Holt (They Were Expendable) co-star.

    Stylish and mysteriously evocative, Producer Val Lewton’s debut effort and his first for RKO Pictures accentuates what haunts viewers in the shadows and rises above its genre label to deliver a gem of psychological madness and tragic love.  Gorgeously shot by Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) and under the refined direction of Jacques Tourneur (Curse of the Demon), Cat People, unlike the prominently displayed Universal Monsters from the same era, uses calculated suspense and an increasingly dreadful tone to suggest more onscreen horror than what is showcased.  After a chance encounter at the city zoo prompts a love at first sight romance, gorgeous Serbian artist Irena is overwhelmed with her feelings for the handsome Oliver only to have childhood myths cloud her happiness.  Terrified that a mere kiss from her new husband will transform her into a cat-like person with wicked intentions, Irena’s mental state comes into question, forcing Oliver to second-guess his own feelings for the foreign beauty.  Coupled with a scandalous love triangle that surges Irena’s jealously while maintaining the very real possibility that her darkest fears of an ancient curse are true, Cat People, realized on a shoestring budget and utilizing recycled sets, delivers a frightening tale of marital woes and forbidden sexual desires under the subtext of witchcraft that strikingly stands out from other horror-billed efforts of the 1940s.  Strongly performed and leaving audiences to imaginatively paint their own dark pictures where the fog resides, Cat People purrs with consummate atmosphere, leaving an indelible impact on those looking into its poetic cage of horror.

    The Criterion Collection presents Cat People with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally restored in 2K, the monochrome photography arrives with gorgeous detail and a remarkable emphasis on black levels giving the film’s shadowy presence new dimensionality.  In addition, age-related scratches and scuffs are all but vanished making the viewing experience all the greater.  Bearing black bars on either sides of the frame to preserve its intended format, Cat People has never looked more splendid.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is strongly carried with even Simon’s thick accent never falling on strained ears while, Composer Roy Webb’s (Notorious) classy score is effectively laid.  Special features include, a 2005 recorded Audio Commentary with Film Historian Gregory Mank, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (1:16:40), the accomplished 2008 documentary by Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) that delves into Lewton’s short-lived yet, revered career with narration from Director Martin Scorsese.  Furthermore, Ciné Regards (26:37) presents a vintage 1977 interview with Director Jacques Tourneur on his career, the newly-crafted John Bailey (16:36) catches up with the director of photography of 1982’s Cat People and As Good As It Gets to discuss Musuraca’s mesmerizing approaches to the original feature while, the film’s Trailer (1:04) and an Essay entitled Darkness Betrayed by Critic Geoffrey O’Brien featuring a reversible poster rounds out the impressive supplemental offerings that could have only been made perfect by the inclusion of the 1944 sequel The Curse of the Cat People.

    Far more restrained than most genre efforts of the decade but arguably more effective, Cat People uses subtlety and psychological intrigue to lure audiences into its shadowy realm of a troubled marriage and catastrophic curses.  Just in time for the Halloween season, The Criterion Collection celebrates one of Lewton’s finest efforts and a towering achievement of elegant frights with its definitive presentation and a wonderful assortment of extras to claw into.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available September 20th from The Criterion Collection, Cat People can be purchased via Criterion.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967)

    Director(s): John Moxey / Jeremy Summers

    Starring: Christopher Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Marddern & Maurice Kaufmann / Bob Cummings, Margaret Lee, Rupert Davies, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm & Maria Perschy

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presenting a double serving of Edgar Wallace crime tales, Blue Underground proudly presents Circus of Fear where a calculated car heist leads to a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a traveling circus.  Featuring an ensemble cast including, Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) and Klaus Kinski (Venom), greed, revenge and red herrings reign supreme in this British whodunit.  Next up, Five Golden Dragons finds wealthy American Bob Mitchell (Bob Cummings, Dial M for Murder) embroiled in the crosshairs of a deadly crime syndicate during his Hong Kong getaway.  Struggling to survive, Mitchell attempts to discover the identities of his mysterious misfortune makers.  

    Released in America as Psycho-Circus in a heavily edited form to appease the later half of its double feature bookings, Circus of Fear’s impressive onscreen talent matched with the directorial knowhow of John Moxey (The City of the Dead) does little to salvage this tiresomely dull caper.  After successfully shaking down an armored vehicle of riches, a gang member stashes the loot in Barberini’s Circus before falling victim to a mystery throwers blade.  With a full-scale investigation initiated, the eccentric personalities of the traveling roadshow are introduced and suspected including, but not limited to, masked lion tamer Gregor (Lee).  Although top billed, Lee, whose performance appears rather stiffly, remains shrouded for much of the film, reportedly hiding a severely scarred appearance that is anything but.  The deeper the authorities, led by Detective Elliot (Leo Genn, Moby Dick) dig, the more circus performers turn up dead.  While captivating character actor Klaus Kinski appearing as a chain-smoking crook is yawningly reduced to hiding in the shadows, blonde bombshell Margaret Lee’s (Venus in Furs) glamorous looks help offset the disappointment.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an overly complicated plot of family pasts involving slain fathers and escaped convicts, Circus of Fear is never wholly thrilling or terribly exciting.  Like a carnival barker baiting viewers with its intriguing title and respectable cast, Circus of Fear is an unfortunate big-top bust.

    Appearing in his final film effort before returning to television indefinitely, funnyman Bob Cummings brings his all-American lightheartedness to the B-grade comedy caper antics of Five Golden Dragons.  Shot on location in Hong Kong and the infamous Shaw Brothers Studios, Cummings’ chewing gum salesman Bob Mitchell receives a peculiar note from a murdered man with links to an illegal, top secret operation.  Much like a fish out of water, Mitchell finds himself in over his head as the crime syndicate looks to eliminate the clueless tourist before their organization is jeopardized.  Circus of Fear Producer Harry Alan Towers and Screenwriter Peter Welbeck re-team on this mildly entertaining mystery, recycling several thespians from their previous collaboration including, the very sexy Margaret Lee appearing as corrupt singer Magda while, Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee are relegated to forgettable cameo appearances.  Bumbling his way through secret passages and making nervous conversation at gunpoint, Cummings, although far older than imagined for the part, is likable enough as he attempts to keep his poolside crush Ingrid (Maria Rohm, Count Dracula) safe while, hoping to unmask the identities of the criminal Five Golden Dragons with assistance from Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies, Witchfinder General) who makes quoting and citing Shakespeare a necessity.  Capturing the beautiful surroundings of Hong Kong’s seaport and featuring a charming musical performance from guest singer Yukari Itô, Five Golden Dragons is only sparingly humorous with its greatest unintentional laugh arriving at the expense of the titular villains who interface under the hilarious disguises of oversized dragon heads.

    Blue Underground proudly presents both films newly remastered from their original negatives with 1080p transfers.  While Circus of Fear sports a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Five Golden Dragons debuts with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting healthy skin tones, pleasingly bold colors in wardrobe choices and strong detail in backgrounds, black levels are richly defined in tuxedos and Lee’s dark mask while, no glaring evidence of age-related artifacts are present on either transfer.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films offer easy to follow tracks with audible levels of clarity although, Five Golden Dragons appears to have a tinnier effect during dialogue delivery.  With no noticeable cracks or pops detected, each mix is more than satisfactory.  Meanwhile, supplements on Circus of Fear feature a recycled Audio Commentary with Director John Moxey, moderated by David Gregory, an International Color Trailer (2:29), International B&W Trailer (2:30), a U.S. Color Trailer (2:02), U.S. B&W Trailer (2:04) and a Poster & Still Gallery (87 in total) whereas, Five Golden Dragons includes its Theatrical Trailer (2:49) and a Poster & Still Gallery (92 in total).

    Inviting viewers to the crime-filled menagerie of Edgar Wallace’s mysteries, Circus of Fear is a grave disappointment with an alluring poster design and surefire cast that unfortunately fails to thrill yet, succeeds in being overly complicated.  Joined by its more comedic co-feature, Five Golden Dragons also stumbles to be memorable although Cummings’ personality matched with Margaret Lee’s jaw dropping beauty and the gorgeous sights of Hong Kong all make for worthy notices.  Meanwhile, Blue Underground treats viewers with praiseworthy restorations of both features that are noticeable advancements over their more than decade old standard definition releases.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, Circus of Fear / Five Golden Dragons can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Slasher: Season One Blu-ray Review

    Slasher: Season One 

    Director: Craig David Wallace

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Regression (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Regression (2015)

    Director: Alejandro Amenábar

    Starring: Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Denick, David Thewlis, Devon Bostick, Dale Dickey & Aaron Ashmore

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Inspired by true events, Director Alejandro Amenábar’s (The Others) Regression finds Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) investigating the troubled case of the victimized Angela (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) who accuses her father (David Denick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) of sexual abuse.  Accepting guilt of the crime with little to no memory of its occurrence, Kenner calls upon the respected Professor Raines (David Thewlis, The Theory of Everything) to unlock the dark memories hidden inside, triggering a nationwide panic of satanic worship and deceit.  Utilizing the wildly reported claims of devil worshippers and sacrificial crimes during the late 80s and early 90s, Regression enters a bleak playground of fear that was very real for its time although its validity would ultimately prove false.  Set in the overcast lands of Minnesota circa 1990, frightened teen Angela seeks solace from her local church to evade further sexual abuse from her father and imminent danger from mysterious satan worshippers.  As the lines begin to connect, Detective Bruce Kenner uncovers a link between Angela’s abuse and members of his own department when an experimental psychological technique is implemented to retrieve repressed memories from the subconscious.  When the local community and the media’s interest in the occult increases, Kenner finds himself confronted with nightmarish imagery and threats that may or may not be happening, rattling his judgement of the case.  Continuing his successful streak of horror fueled pictures including Sinister and The Purge, Ethan Hawke delivers a fine performance as the hard-boiled detective itching to find justice for Angela only to discover a darker evil at play.  In addition, the lovely Emma Watson conjures a strongly layered performance as the fragile victim who cries wolf only to have her own testimony being questioned.  Mysteriously plotted with suggestions of the supernatural and the black arts, Regression delivers a well-crafted investigative thriller that some may feel slighted by in its revealing third act.  While its conclusion may not be as haunting as one would predict, the message is a strong reminder of the dangers of falling victim to hysteria and that the most vile monsters exist among us.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Regression with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Cast under grey skies and darker tones, the film succeeds in delivering inky black levels with healthy depth and no anomalies.  Skin tones are healthily handled with sharp detail while, the subdued colors and textures of Kenner’s suits are appropriately captured.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, ideal sound quality is effortlessly achieved with clear dialogue levels and ghostly music touches while, the dreary ambiance of the rainy environment is also appreciatively captured.  Light and rather repetitive as each supplement covers similar ground, special features include, Ethan Hawke - Bruce’s Obsession (2:04), Emma Watson - The Complexity of Angela (2:30), The Cast of Regression (2:26) and The Vision of Regression (2:43).  In addition, a Digital HD Code is also included.  Formulating an intriguing whodunit against the backdrop of one of the countries most scandalizing reports, Regression plays its cards carefully with worthy performances and a suspenseful pace.  Concluding on a more grounded and unsettling note, Director Alejandro Amenábar’s return to his darker roots is a pleasing feature, excellently presented courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Regression can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season DVD Review

    Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Carlson Young, John Karna, Tracy Middendorf, Amadeus Serafini, Jason Wiles, Tom Maden & Amelia Rose Blaire

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the town of Lakewood, Scream: The TV Series centers on a damaging YouTube video gone viral and a group of teenagers who find themselves targeted by a masked killer in its wake.  Reminiscent of a decades old tragedy, the current wave of murders may connect to Lakewood’s dark past of death.

    Although sharing the same name as Wes Craven’s (who returns as co-executive producer with Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson) seminal franchise, Scream: The TV Series bears no connection to its predecessors while adhering to their basic formula.  Following the upload of a cyber-bullying YouTube video, high school hottie Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne, The DUFF) finds herself victim to a knife-wielding masked murderer catapulting the town of Lakewood into a frightened panic.  With no suspect in custody, popular girl next door Emma Duvall (Fitzgerald) becomes the prime target of the killer while her fellow classmates including, former best friend Audrey Jensen (Taylor-Klaus), fanatical movie geek Noah Foster (Karna), the attractively spoiled Brooke Maddox (Young) and others find themselves stalked by the unknown killer.  Struggling to stay alive, Emma is simultaneously coping with the break-up of her boyfriend Will Belmont (Weil) and the arrival of new student Kieran Wilcox (Serafini) who quickly develops an attraction towards the fragile teen.  Using modern technology to its advantage, Scream: The TV Series  incorporates texting and Facebook into the fold alongside the killer’s chilling phone calls and physical confrontations best associated with the popular film series.  Meanwhile, Craven alumni Tracy Middendorf (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) appears as Emma’s mother who along with many of the town’s adult figures are harboring a secret to Lakewood’s tragic history that eerily links to its current crop of victims.  As media attention circulates, red herrings are introduced and trust is severely tested as those closest to Emma fall victim to the killer’s blade during 10 thrilling episodes to discover who is responsible and who will survive.

    Broadcast on the anything but musical MTV Network whose priorities have shifted to mindless reality programs would understandably leave many curious watchers timid of its handling of an episodic slasher.  Astonishingly, Scream: The TV Series exceeds expectations, crafting a well-plotted debut season filled with likable characters layered with emotion and the self-referential humor fans have come to expect.  Furthermore, suspense and bloodshed are never spared allowing the series to fully embrace two of the genre’s most valued components.  With episodes helmed by such notable talents as Tim Hunter (River’s Edge), Brian Dannelly (Saved!), Rodman Flender (Idle Hands) and Ti West (The House of the Devil), Scream: The TV Series seamlessly taps into the cornerstones that made Craven’s original masterpiece so refreshing with its modern take greatly appealing to a new generation deeply ingrained in the pitfalls of social media.  Easily one of television’s great surprises of last year, Scream: The TV Series is a rollercoaster ride of mystery and scares that lives up to its iconic name.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Scream: The TV Series in anamorphic widescreen, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While skin tones are naturally pleasing and colors are appropriately conveyed, black levels appear decently with occasional hints of crush.  Although presentation is satisfactory, a noticeable sharpness is lacking that could have been easily remedied and far more appreciated on a Blu-ray release.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, audio is strong with clear dialogue levels and suspenseful queues where screams and atmosphere always hit their mark.  Unfortunately light, special features include, a Gag Reel (2:52), Deleted Scenes (5:33) and a Promotional Gallery (8:26).

    Unexpectedly smart and hip, Scream: The TV Series carries the torch of Craven and Williamson’s original quadrilogy while maintaining a solid sense of humor, ample bloodshed and a dizzyingly fun maze of mystery that will keep viewers guessing who until its finale.  Although disappointing in its lack of a Blu-ray release and scarce supplements, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s home video release of MTV’s debut season still gets the job done.  With its anticipated followup season focused on last year’s survivors nearing, Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season is massively entertaining and ranks as one of today’s better film franchises reinterpreted for the small screen.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available May 10th from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Suspicion (1941) Blu-ray Review

    Suspicion (1941)

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Starring: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce & Dame May Whitty

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Strangers on a Train), Suspicion stars Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) as bookish Lina McLaidlaw who’s swept off her feet by the dashing Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant, North by Northwest).  Overwhelmed with affection and married hastily, Lina slowly learns the truths of her new husband’s dishonesty and potentially murderous agenda with the newlywed fearing she may be his next victim.  Sir Cedric Hardwicke (The Ten Commandments), Nigel Bruce (Limelight) and Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Miniver) co-star.

    Adapted from Anthony Berkeley’s (under the pseudonym Francis Illes) novel Before the Fact, Suspicion presents a romantically conceived tale, tensely elevated to soaring heights as a girl in love suspects her one and only is out for blood.  Playing against type, the charismatic Cary Grant slides his way into frame as the worry-free and financially irresponsible Johnnie Aysgarth whose good looks and fast talk only take him so far when shards of his true self are slowly revealed to his hopelessly in love new bride Lina (Fontaine).  Moving into a mammoth estate, Lina learns that not only is Johnnie jobless but gets by routinely borrowing large sums of money in order to gamble his way into actual fortunes that never last.  In order to put his wife’s worries at bay, Johnnie takes employment with his cousin as his loveably buffoonish buddy Beaky (Bruce) visits the couple and innocently informs Lina of Johnnie’s untruthful way with words.  Before long and without Johnnie’s knowledge, Lina learns of his job loss due to embezzlement of funds shortly before a family tragedy strikes.  While Lina grieves over the loss of her father, Johnnie grows frustrated at their dismal inheritance leading a real estate opportunity to bloom with Beaky.  As lies and deceit mount in the wake of yet another questionable death, Lina begins to suspect her husband will do anything to stay financially stable… even murder.

    Rightly earning Joan Fontaine an Academy Award for the only Hitchcock lensed performance to earn such an honor, Suspicion is gracefully directed with Grant and Fontaine’s irresistible love story warming viewers’ hearts.  While Johnnie consistently lies and increasing disappoints Lina, Grant’s wit and obvious infatuation with his onscreen wife make his wrongs forgivable.  Shifting its tone to a tensely orchestrated thriller, Johnnie’s obsession with mystery novels and untraceable poisons convinces Lina that her next glass of milk may be her last.  Rattled by nerves and a heart-pounding, high speed car sequence in its waning moments, Suspicion throws itself through the windshield with a wholly underwhelming conclusion that preaches the cons of wrongly suspecting others instead of delivering a gutsier conclusion found in its original source material.  While its ending may be uneventful, Suspicion captures a cocktail of effective atmosphere, sound performances from its leads and remains as technically polished as anything helmed by Hitchcock during this era.

    Presented in 1080p, screened in its 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Suspicion looks sumptuous with deep blacks and natural grain permeating its runtime.  While the lavish settings and intricacies of set pieces including, Lina’s heirloom chairs, appear nicely detailed, textures in costume choices and the film’s monochrome photography are beautifully communicated.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is wonderfully handled with any signs of crackling distortion absent.  With the exception of Franz Waxman’s (Stalag 17) evocatively simple score, the track is rather simple in its range but, handsomely treated.  Furthermore, special features include, Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock (21:36) which offers a valuable critical analysis of the feature with insight from Author Bill Krohn, Film Historian Robert Osbourne, Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and others while, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:41) rounds out the supplements.

    In a particularly marvelous decade for the auteur, Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, although suffering from a rather dull finale, ranks highly for its genre blending prowess and award winning turn by Fontaine.  Masterfully restored, Warner Archive treats another of cinema’s greats with the expected quality and care film enthusiasts have come to expect.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Suspicion can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Jack's Back (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Jack’s Back (1988)

    Director: Rowdy Herrington

    Starring: James Spader, Cynthia Gibb, Jim Haynie, Robert Picardo, Rod Loomis & Rex Ryon

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    One hundred years after the brutal slayings of Jack the Ripper, Jack’s Back takes place in modern day Los Angeles where a copycat killer stalks the streets, leaving a trail of victims in his wake.  When intelligent medical student John Wesford (James Spader, Avengers: Age of Ultron) is suspected, the mystery thickens following his own shocking death.  Disturbed by nightmarish visions, John’s estranged twin brother Rick emerges to discover the true culprit.  Cynthia Gibb (Modern Girls), Jim Haynie (The Peacemaker), Robert Picardo (The Howling), Rod Loomis (The Beastmaster) and Rex Ryon (Feds) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Rowdy Herrington (Road House), Jack’s Back is a crafty, murder-mystery whodunit that takes the unsolved legend of Jack the Ripper and transports it to the flashy lights of Los Angeles.  Following a string of copycat murders in the vein of London’s most noteworthy criminal, doctor in training and fellow humanitarian John Wesford (Spader) finds himself in the crosshairs of the supposed killer only to meet a fatal demise.  With evidence linking him to the murders and his own suicide, John’s rough around the edges twin brother Rick is convinced otherwise after experiencing nightmares of his brother’s murder.  Seeking assistance from a hypnotizing psychologist (Picardo) and John’s potential love interest Chris (Gibb), Rick may have bargained for more than he can handle when those close to him are targeted.

    From Paul Saax’s catchy rendition of “Red Harvest” over its opening credits to quintessential 80s saxophone queues throughout, Jack’s Back sets the intended tone of a thriller for its time.  Following his teenage turns in efforts such as Tuff Turf and Pretty in Pink, James Spader graduates to more adult fare as an ace med student and disturbed tough boy, handling both sides of the same coin effectively.  In addition, while coasting the L.A. streets of yesteryear before stumbling upon a seedy peep store for firepower, nostalgic Gen Xers will take comfort as Rick and the attractive Chris pass a neon lit movie house playing Can’t Buy Me Love and La Bamba.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an engaging plot that keeps viewers guessing until its dramatic conclusion, Jack’s Back is far more clever and inventive than credited.

    Boasting a newly struck transfer from the original camera negative, Scream Factory presents Jack’s Back in 1080p, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While black levels found in its opening sequence appear mildly splotchy with other instances possessing hints of noise, skin tones maintain respectable detail.  In addition, interior daytime sequences occasionally suffer from overblown white levels although, the noticeably clean, virtually free of nicks and scratches, transfer sports an overall filmic quality.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is cleanly relayed with Paul Saax’s opening number and the film’s multiple car chases offering decent, if not mediocre, boosts in authority.  Furthermore, no discernible instances of hiss or pops were detected.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rowdy Herrington,The Making of Jack’s Back (23:51) featuring new interviews with Herrington, Director of Photography Shelly Johnson, Producer Tim Moore and Actress Cynthia Gibb.  Finally, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (0:57) and a DVD edition of the release round out the supplements.

    Suspenseful and smart, Jack’s Back is a well-paced and thrilling showcase for the up and coming Spader before his respected turns in Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Crash.  After a short delay, Scream Factory delivers this underrated effort in a worthy presentation, just in time for its Blu-ray debut.  Joined by a newly recorded commentary and an informative retrospective featurette, Jack’s Back returns for the better.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Jack’s Back can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Night of the Strangler (1972) DVD Review

    Night of the Strangler (1972)

    Director: Joy N. Houck, Jr.

    Starring: Chuck Patterson, Micky Dolenz, Michael Anthony & Jim Ralston

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the muggy region of Louisiana, Night of the Strangler centers on the scandalous relationship between a caucasian woman and her black lover.  Amidst family controversy and escalating racial tension, a string of mysterious murders follows in its path.  Chuck Patterson (Hair), Micky Dolenz (The Monkees), Michael Anthony (Keep Off My Grass!) and Jim Ralston (Thunder Run) star.

    Bearing an intriguing yet, wildly misleading title, Night of the Strangler crafts a whodunit murder mystery amongst the segregated south of New Orleans.  Returning home from college to inform her brothers of life changing news, Denise (Susan McCullough in her only film appearance) nervously admits to being impregnated by her African-American lover whom she plans to wed.  Bigoted big brother Dan (Ralston) doesn’t take kindly to the news of his baby sister shacking up with a colored man and intends to fix the situation.  Meanwhile, Denise’s middle brother Vance (Dolenz), equally unhappy with Dan following his own girlfriend being taken for himself, sympathizes with her.  With Denise madly in love and excited for her future, Dan’s wealth and power ensures their lives being cut short in order to not tarnish his own reputation.  Distraught over his sister’s alleged suicide, Vance seeks refuge in close family friend Father Jessie (Patterson), a black priest.  As tension builds between brothers, more murders conducted by a mysterious individual begin.  Lacking any kind of strangulation sequences, Night of the Strangler introduces viewers to hate spewing antagonist Dan as a character everyone lives to hate.  In addition, as victims linked to the brothers are targeted, intriguing murder attempts including a venomous snake hidden in flowers unfold.  While each brother is vehemently convinced the other is responsible for the homicides, viewers are left certain they know until a surprising finale proves everyone wrong.  Washing away the squeaky-clean image of his television stardom, Micky Dolenz makes an unexpected appearance in this mildly sleazy film, far from the tracks of Clarksville.  While overt violence and nudity are minimal, Night of the Strangler is an intriguing mystery centered on a racially-charged family triangle and the brotherly priest stuck in its crosshairs.

    Scanned and restored in 2K from the American Genre Film Archive’s 35mm print, Vinegar Syndrome presents Night of the Strangler in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio for the first time ever.  Diluted of more vibrant color, the film’s wear is evident with its soft focus and moderate scratches.  In addition, dimly lit sequences demonstrate doses of flakes and speckles while the occasional cigarette burn can be spotted.  Aging artifacts aside, the less than stellar qualities never make the viewing experience unwatchable.  Instead, the film’s grindhouse battle wounds add a level of charm for those with managed expectations.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 1.0 mix, dialogue is relayed as decently as can be while, instances of soft distortion can be heard in quieter sequences.  Spared of any overwhelming pops or cracks, sound quality is serviceable but, can be benefitted by increased volume.  Finally, no special features are included on this release.

    Continuing their fitting collaboration with the American Genre Film Archive, Vinegar Syndrome delivers another peculiar picture filled with racist richies and interracial love affairs.  Far from an exploitation free for all, Night of the Strangler boasts a decent murder mystery with a reveal audiences won’t see coming.  Starring a formerly well-trained Monkee, Director Joy N. Houck, Jr.’s (Creature from Black Lake) non-strangulating effort makes for a decent stay in the disgustingly sweaty south.  While it may not always look pretty, Vinegar Syndrome’s 2K restoration saves the film from permanent extinction and appreciatively presents it in its original aspect ratio for the first time ever.  Seeking confession for the lack of racially-charged mysteries starring Micky Dolenz?  Night of the Strangler is your only penance!

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Night of the Strangler can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Malice (1993) Blu-ray Review

    Malice (1993)

    Director: Harold Becker

    Starring: Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Bebe Neuwirth & George C. Scott

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Harold Becker (The Onion Field), Malice centers on laid-back college dean Andy Safian (Bill Pullman, Lake Placid) coping with a string of on-campus rapes.  In addition, as Andy struggles to renovate his house, his wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut) begins developing severe stomach cramps.  Shortly after inviting the cocky and charismatic Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin, The Departed) to move in with the couple, Andy’s life is turned upside down by a series of chilling events.  George C. Scott (Hardcore), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers), Peter Gallagher (American Beauty), Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man), Tobin Bell (Saw) and Anne Bancroft (The Graduate) co-star.

    Co-scripted by Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Malice is a deliciously deceptive thriller that oozes style and intrigue.  Living an idyllic life, college dean Andy Safian (Pullman) is rattled when a serial rapist claims several victims on his campus.  Following the recovery of one survivor, Andy is reacquainted with former high school alumni Dr. Jed Hill (Baldwin), forging a new found friendship.  New to the community, Andy invites Jed to move in with him and his wife Tracy (Kidman) to help alleviate financial pressure.  Shortly after, one of Andy’s students is discovered dead marking him a possible suspect in the mysterious crimes.  In addition, as Tracy’s stomach cramps increase resulting in emergency surgery, Jed serving as the acting surgeon confronts Andy with a difficult decision that will weigh heavily on the couple’s future.  Before long, Tracy is devastated with the outcome prompting her to abandon Andy and file a lawsuit against Jed’s malpractice.  Shrouded in mystery and loaded with red herrings, Malice welcomes viewers into the false normalcy of Andy and Tracy’s marriage before slowly unveiling the sinister surface below.  Pullman and Kidman evoke genuine chemistry as a loving couple while sharing steamy sequences of ecstasy together.  Meanwhile, Baldwin effortlessly projects sex appeal and charm as the Safian’s unexpected roommate who becomes a crucial part in their complicated story of conspiracy and shady characters.  While the film’s serial rapist subplot serves as nothing more than a suspenseful smokescreen, Malice ultimately delivers a chilling thrill ride that leaves viewers unsure who to trust.  Accompanied by a haunting score by Jerry Goldsmith (Poltergeist, Rudy) and atmospheric cinematography by Gordon Willis (The Purple Rose of Cairo), Malice is an edge of your seat, character-driven mystery that is sorely lacking in today’s cinematic landscape.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Malice with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Free of any discernible scratches and bearing a filmic appearance, colors pop boldly while skin tones remain warm and inviting.  Evident in wardrobe, facial details and backgrounds, detail is crisp and clear while, black levels, sans minimal instances of speckling, appear inky and visible.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and excused of any distortion while, Goldsmith’s ghostly score and sound effects ranging from a rainstorm to glass shattering deliver a noticeably pleasing increase in authority.  Finally, special features include, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:57) and The Onion Field Theatrical Trailer (1:59).

    Rarely missing a beat, Malice is a wickedly entertaining examination of three individuals and the complex circumstances that befall on them.  Constantly keeping viewers guessing and in a state of shock, Director Harold Becker’s thriller delivers memorable performances from its core performers and effective turns from its supporting players including, Bebe Neuwirth and Anne Bancroft.  In addition, Kino Lorber Studio Classics issues this endlessly mysterious gem with splendid technical specifications that greatly enrich the viewing experience.  Blending deception, murder and betrayal, Malice is an exhilarating mystery that will viewers blindsided.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Malice can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Night Game (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Night Game (1989)

    Director: Peter Masterson

    Starring: Roy Scheider, Karen Young, Richard Bradford, Carlin Glynn & Paul Gleason

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set against the backdrop of Major League Baseball, Night Game stars Roy Scheider (Sorcerer) as Texas police detective Mike Seaver.  When a string of mysterious murders linked to night baseball games strikes the Galveston area, Seaver must connect the dots before another life is taken.  Karen Young (9 1/2 Weeks), Lane Smith (The Mighty Ducks), Richard Bradford (The Untouchables), Carlin Glynn (Sixteen Candles) and Paul Gleason (Die Hard) co-star.

    Continuing in his string of gritty crime thrillers, Roy Scheider appears unconvincingly as Texas detective Mike Seaver, hot on the case of a ruthless serial killer with a weakness for blondes.  Murdering his victims with a hook-like instrument and leaving them with mysterious notes, Seaver and his team are left with few leads as more bodies begin turning up on Galveston’s beaches.  Juggling his recent engagement to the much younger Roxy (Young) and feeling pressure from his superiors, Mike, a former minor league ball player, takes notice of the questionable coincidences between the murders and the Houston Astros‘ winning streak.  Before long, it’s clear whenever Astros pitcher Silvio Baretto takes the team to victory, another murder is committed leading Seaver on a hot trail to pinning his suspect down.  

    Shot on location in Galveston, Texas and the Astrodome in Houston, Night Game stumbles to build a story of suspense and criminal intrigue.  Considerably miscast, Scheider does little to disguise his New Jersey roots as a Texan and appears generally unenthusiastic in his performance.  Cloaked in far too much mystery until its closing moments, attempts to bulk Scheider’s character up with a past as a former minor leaguer and being the son of a crime boss is suggested but, never serves much purpose to the plot.  With viewers left clueless the entire picture about the killer’s identity, the reveal is ultimately unoriginal and wildly underwhelming.  In addition, wasting the talents of supporting players such as, Lane Smith (My Cousin Vinny) and Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) in throwaway roles, Night Game suggests a worthwhile thriller with its alluring slasher-esque poster art but, instead delivers a curveball of disappointment.

    Olive Films presents Night Game with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a natural, filmic appearance and inconsequential moments of speckling, Night Game delivers strong detail with perspiration off baseball players‘ faces and wardrobe relaying sharply.  Skin tones are inviting while, black levels are handled appropriately with little to no crushing observed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and crisp with Composer Pino Donaggio’s (The Howling, Blow Out) score delivered authoritatively and balanced evenly with sound effects.  Unfortunately, Night Game strikes out with no special features.  

    Performing poorly at the box-office, Night Game never strives to be original and wallows in the tropes of other run-of-the-mill crime thrillers.  Instead of weaving a quality tale of mystery, viewers are left oblivious to its uninspired outcome with Scheider closing the decade out on a low note.  Olive Films delivers the film for the time on Blu-ray (and DVD) with pleasing technical achievements sans special features.  Boasting a better poster design than memorable film, Night Game is an unfortunate bust.  

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Night Game can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Cover Up (1949) Blu-ray Review

    Cover Up (1949)

    Director: Alfred E. Green

    Starring: Dennis O’Keefe, Barbara Briton, William Bendix & Art Baker

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a charming Midwest town in the wake of a possible suicide, Cover Up stars Dennis O’Keefe (Raw Deal) as insurance investigator Sam Donovan following up on his deceased policyholder.  Convinced murder is at hand but, struggling to receive assistance from fellow citizens, least of all the local sheriff (William Bendix, Detective Story), Sam finds love and answers in local bombshell Anita (Barbara Briton, Mr. & Mrs. North) as the truth slowly unravels.

    Taking a cue from Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Double Indemnity, Dennis O’Keefe stars as ace insurance investigator Sam Donovan arriving in a peaceful, small-town community to uncover the answers surrounding a policyholders supposed suicide.  Before exiting his train, Donovan catches the attention of the strikingly attractive Anita (Briton), beginning a romance that will persist throughout the picture.  Getting right down to business, Donovan finds the suicide’s circumstances questionable after the murder weapon is reported missing and the local sheriff highly uncooperative.  As townspeople grow weary of Donovan’s questions and likely suspects including, the niece of the deceased and her probable husband, coming into focus, Donovan is more than convinced that someone wanted his universally hated policyholder dead.  With the investigation taking longer than expected, Donovan and Anita’s brief encounter escalates to true love until, several clues indicate someone close to her may be responsible for the crime.  With the writing seemingly on the wall, Cover Up descents into a tense final act that throws viewers for a satisfying twist most will not see coming.

    With snappy dialogue and stylish cinematography courtesy of Ernest Laszlo (Ten Seconds to Hell), Cover Up is an intriguing mystery that keeps viewers guessing until the end.  Dennis O’Keefe possesses the looks to woo his leading lady and the tenacity to crack the case while, Barbara Briton turns heads in every frame with her perfect smile and effortless grace.  In addition, William Bendix steals scenes as the secretive sheriff who gives O’Keefe’s Donovan a run for his money.  Filmed in gorgeous black and white photography and guided under the well executed direction of Alfred E. Green (Baby Face), Cover Up is an underrated murder mystery gem, ripe for rediscovery.  

    Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Cover Up with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor speckling and brief instances of softness,Cover Up achieves strong detail in facial features and its small-town setting.  The period photography offers satisfyingly inky black levels with only a later sequence in a dimly lit room bearing signs of noise.  Generally clean looking, Cover Up looks as good as it plays.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Cover Up relays underwhelming dialogue levels that project on the low side, requiring a vast increase in volume.  With a hint of hiss apparent on its mix, dialogue levels are still audible with no other distracting occurrences to mention.  Unfortunately, no special features are included on this release.

    Well shot and cleverly crafted, Cover Up is a tightly paced mystery thriller with admirable performances and a left field twist ending.  Meanwhile, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new high-definition remaster is a valued effort that preserves this lesser discussed picture for a whole new generation to discover.  Although, set during the Christmas season, Cover Up will hardly keep viewers out in the cold with a crime tale this satisfying.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 24th from Kino Lorber Studio ClassicsCover Up can be purchased via KinoLorber.comAmazon.com and other fine retailers.