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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Park Is Mine (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Park Is Mine (1985)

    Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

    Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Helen Shaver & Yaphet Kotto

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the suicide of his fellow solider, The Park Is Mine centers on a disgruntled Vietnam war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men) whose disappointment in his country’s respect for vets turns dangerous.  Staging an elaborate take over of New York’s Central Park, the ex-solider’s attempt to bring attention to the bigger issues are met with resistance by the city’s police force and equally skilled commandos.  Helen Shaver (The Believers) and Yaphet Kotto (Alien) costar.

    A surprising made-for-TV effort that exudes cinematic flair, The Park Is Mine, a byproduct of the era’s lucrative Canadian tax-shelter program and a home video mainstay guaranteed to be seen in local shops’ action sections, manages to pack a suspense-filled feature of firepower.  Based on the book by Stephen Peters while deviating from its source’s much darker tones and casting a far more humble light upon its protagonist, The Park Is Mine finds jobless and directionless war veteran Mitch (Jones) grieving over the loss of his former brother-in-arms and uncovering his friend’s unfulfilled attempt to make the masses reappraise their view of sacrificing soldiers.  Examining his fallen comrade’s detailed plans and already implemented tactics to successfully take over the city’s expansive Central Park, Mitch, equally dissatisfied with his own life’s hand, takes command of the operation.  Decorated in war paint, a Yankees hat and heavily loaded with artillery and explosives, Mitch’s terroristic takeover is met with unsuccessful thwarts by New York’s finest before the city’s under appreciated citizens see the system-shaker as a hometown hero.  While the film is complimented with supporting turns by Yaphet Kotto, a pillar of police procedurals and gangster pictures as a cautious officer, Helen Shaver as a daring news camerawoman who gets personally embroiled in Mitch’s one-man war and Gale Garnett (Mad Monster Party) as Mitch’s estranged wife who supplies unintentionally welcome comic relief as she hassles her husband with phone calls during his coup, Tommy Lee Jones’ performance single-handedly dominates the film with the precise blending of a calculated war expert and the shakiness of a distressed man winging his uncertain actions.  Climaxing with a fatal showdown against deadly mercenaries, The Park Is Mine may keep its bodycount low but maintains a tight pace and explosively well-handled action set pieces.  Further cementing its big-screen aura, Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Risky Business) electronically-charged score adds a cherry-topping flavor to this effectively dramatic showcase of urban warfare and anti-heroes defending their turf and wrongly overlooked commitments to their country.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Park Is Mine with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Excusing minor instances of speckling, natural grain is apparent and most pleasing while, skin tones are nicely preserved with Mitch’s fading warpaint and perspiration also well-detailed.  In addition, colors found in Central Park’s robust greenery and the police officer’s bullet-proof vests pop strongly with nighttime sequences demonstrating easy-to-see black levels throughout.  Although several quick drops in volume occur during a diner sequence between Shaver and her colleague, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 handles the duration of all other dialogue with crispness and clarity while, the film’s machine gun blasts and other explosions make respectable racket on the track.  Meanwhile, Tangerine Dream’s underrated synth-score is nothing short of a listening pleasure whenever its head is reared.  Special features include, a highly informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Nathaniel Thompson that covers the intriguing background of the film’s Canadian production backers, the tonal and character development changes made between the book and its adaptation plus, the onscreen acting talent and plenty of other worthy film recommendations that come up in discussion.  Furthermore, Trailers for The Park Is Mine (2:08), Blown Away (1:35), The Package (2:18), Report to the Commissioner (2:21) & Busting (2:45) round out the on-disc supplements with a Reversible Cover Art also on hand.

    Impressing with its big-screen bravado, superior acting talent and choice score compliments of electronic mavericks Tangerine Dream, The Park Is Mine appears more brutal than what is presented while orchestrating well-conceived suspense and a vastly underrated turn from Jones.  Airing on HBO and routinely stocked on video store shelves before their decline, The Park Is Mine remains a worthy thriller to take to the front lines.  A most welcome addition to their wildly diverse catalog, KL Studio Classics salutes this Vietnam vet feature with a top-notch HD debut and a valued commentary track, as informative as its film is entertaining.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • C.H.U.D. (1984) Blu-ray Review

    C.H.U.D. (1984)

    Director: Douglas Creek

    Starring: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, Kim Griest, J.C. Quinn, Michael O’Hare & George Martin

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Beneath the seedy depths of New York City, C.H.U.D. awaits!  Following the disappearance of countless citizens including a police captain’s wife, monstrous beings residing in the city tunnels stalk their unsuspecting prey.  When the concerned captain (Christopher Curry, Red Dragon), a prominent photographer (John Heard, Home Alone) and a soup kitchen operator (Daniel Stern, Bushwhacked) band together to expose the truth, terror invades the streets.

    With its campy acronym fueling its decades long reputation, C.H.U.D. stands tall as a radioactive slice of creature featuretainment that captures the glory days of the Big Apple’s graffiti-stained era where poverty and danger reigned.  While the titular monsters may appear less than expected for such a B-movie treasure, their calculated appearances allow the film to craft a much stronger narrative than it deserves surrounding a trio of city souls from different walks of life.  After a spike in persons, predominately the homeless, go missing, police Captain Bosch, coping with own wife’s disappearance, finds a lead when soup kitchen operator A.J. Shepherd alerts him of a growing number of underground residing friends missing in action.  Earning praise for his photographs of the city’s street people and trust from his subjects, George Cooper finds himself entangled in their dilemma after setting sights on their gruesomely fanged attackers.  Political coverups, a stock supply of toxic waste permeating under the city streets and the multiplying hazard of cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers threatens the safety of all around resulting in the trio of believers to stop them.  Featuring early appearances from John Goodman (Argo) and Sam McMurray (Freaks and Geeks) as New York’s finest, C.H.U.D. oozes tight pacing, impressive creature effects and a splash of pertinent social commentary that joyously reeks of a city that has all but been lost to time.  

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents C.H.U.D. with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining its gritty edge with occasional sequences appearing softer than others, unsightly blemishes in the form of scuffs or scratches are absent while, skin tones and facial closeups reveal natural shades and sharp detail especially in the film’s killer creatures.  In addition, textures in costumes and the uncared for city backgrounds read nicely with black levels seen throughout the dark city sewers and tunnels presented with the utmost clarity.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is audibly exchanged with no hisses present while, the synth-heavy score sounds terrific.  Although not wholly impressive given its limited soundscape, the track is more than adequate.  

    Featuring the film’s Integral Cut (1:36:25) on Disc 1 and its Original Theatrical Cut (1:26:29) on Disc 2 (included as a limited edition exclusive), special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Douglas Creek, Writer Shepard Abbot and Actors John Heard, Daniel Stern & Christopher Curry plus, an Isolated Score and Audio Interviews with Composers Martin Cooper & David A. Hughes.  Furthermore, Red Shirt Pictures rolls up their sleeves with such newly produced extras as A Dirty Look with William Bilowit (19:11) where the production designer discusses his origins in documentaries before transitioning with such films as, Nightmare, Creepshow and of course, C.H.U.D.  Dweller Designs with John Caglione, Jr. (12:07) sits down with the film’s special make-up effects and creature designer while, Notes from Above Ground: The NYC Locations C.H.U.D. (9:10) finds Writer/Director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and Writer/Editor of Rue Morgue Michael Gingold touring the film’s shooting spots today.  Finally, a Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (5:32), an Extended Shower Scene (1:24), the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:36), a 22-page booklet featuring a new essay from Michael Gingold and Reversible Cover Art utilizing the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the supplemental offerings.

    Smart, slimy and downright entertaining, C.H.U.D. has remained in the upper pantheons of cult cinema’s good graces for over three decades with its mutant-like creatures and capturing of New York’s hellish days prime examples of its charm.  Resurrected from the sewers with a crisp 2K scan, multiple cuts and a well-supplied stock of bonus features, Arrow Video gives fans the ultimate reason to continue partying in the underground!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 22nd from Arrow Video, C.H.U.D. can be purchased via Amazon.com

    and other fine retailers.

  • A Mighty Wind (2003) Blu-ray Review

    A Mighty Wind (2003)

    Director: Christopher Guest

    Starring: Bob Balaban, Christoper Guest, John Michael Higgins, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer & Fred Willard

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the maestro of mockumentaries, A Mighty Wind reunites Christopher Guest’s (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) stock company of improvisational jokesters for a heartfelt tale centered on folk musicians banding together for a memorial concert in honor of their late manager.  Focusing on former sweethearts Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy, American Pie and Catherine O’Hara, Beetlejuice), the not-so-subtle Folksmen trio (Michael McKean, Better Call Saul, Christoper Guest, The Princess Bride and Harry Shearer, The Simpsons) and perky “neufet” The New Main Street Singers (headed by John Michael Higgins, Bad Teacher, Jane Lynch, Glee and Parker Posey, You’ve Got Mail), the 60s-era musicians dust off the acoustic guitars and banjos for a live event larger than originally envisioned.  Admittedly not as hilarious as Guest’s previous parodies, A Mighty Wind still allows for several unquestionably knee-slapping sequences courtesy of the infallibly funny Fred Willard (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) as a failed television actor turned folk band manager and Jennifer Coolidge (2 Broke Girls) as a PR specialist whose inability to hum will leave viewers in stitches.  While Guest and his other cohorts have their own share of humorous bits, their musical abilities and stage performances surpass the laughs in a touching culmination of talent during the film’s televised concert.  A sonic reversal of the heavy metal shenanigans in This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind substitutes constant comedy in order to tug at viewers’ heartstrings and succeeds admirably.

    Warner Archive presents A Mighty Wind with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing the markings of a recently cleaned restoration, skin tones greatly impress with filmic quality flourishing in each scene.  Shot on 16mm before being blown up to 35mm for its theatrical release, the documentary feel of the production remains intact with impressive detail spotlighting Mickey’s husband’s model train set while, the pastel colors found in The New Main Street Singers’ costumes pop quite nicely.  Nearly impossible to spot flaws, Warner Archive’s high-def treatment is mighty remarkable.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is easily relayed through the film’s many interview moments while, the climactic concert sequence delivers strong depth that should appease listeners thoroughly.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Actor/Co-Writer/Director Christopher Guest and Actor/Co-Writer Eugene Levy, Additional Scenes (21:59), TV Appearances (9:22), PBN TV Broadcast of Concert and behind-the-scenes Extras (1:20), all of which feature optional audio commentary from Guest and Levy.  In addition, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:26) and a Soundtrack Spot (0:38) are also included.

    Showcasing a more tender side to his comedic exploits, Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind may lack the gauntlet of gags found in his past efforts while, the cast slay their musical-oriented roles with grace and precision.  Sweet if not mediocre compared to more memorable mockumentaries, A Mighty Wind revives the grassroots tunes of the 60s with love and admiration for its originators.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Warner Archive harmonizes an exceptional HD transfer while, carrying over a gust of vintage supplements for fans of this lighthearted love letter to folk music.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • The Wrong Man (1956) Blu-ray Review

    The Wrong Man (1956)

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Starring: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles & Anthony Quayle

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train, Rear Window), The Wrong Man centers on blue-collar musician and loving family man Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda, 12 Angry Men) who is wrongfully accused of robbery.  Emotionally distressed, Manny’s loving wife Rose (Vera Miles, The Searchers) begins losing her sanity while her suspected husband confronts a possible future behind bars.  

    Based on true events, Hitchcock’s influential docudrama is a harrowing depiction of themes commonly depicted in most of the auteurs work including, misidentification and authoritative fear.  Introducing the film in silhouette and barring himself from any distracting cameo appearances, Hitchcock’s final feature for Warner Bros. is composed with the utmost seriousness for its non-fictional source.  Struggling to make ends meet while, his wife requires dental work for the hefty sum of $300, Manny Balestrero (Fonda) seeks to take a loan out against his wife’s insurance policy only to be identified by several office workers as a multiple-offending robber.  Investigated by local detectives, Manny is questioned and whisked away to several businesses where he is accused once more for acts he did not commit.  After a tense interviewing process and a police conducted lineup, Manny is surreally charged and placed behind bars in what appears to be a living nightmare.  Miraculously making bail, Manny is reunited with his loving wife Rose (Miles) as they seek to clear his name by hiring noted attorney Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle, Lawrence of Arabia) to take his case.  Faced with the very real possibility of being found guilty, Manny and his wife push forward to establish several alibis before their grim reality takes an emotional tole on Rose forcing her to be hospitalized.  In what seems like impossible odds stacked against him, Manny’s entire livelihood hinges on the capture of his offending doppelgänger.

    Shot on location in New York City at many of the events actual locations including the now defunct Stork Club, The Wrong Man is intensely thrilling and shockingly potent for today’s society where the innocent are increasingly incarcerated under similar circumstances.  Bringing life to the city that never sleeps, Hitchcock’s on-site coverage welcomes an authenticity that highlights its smoke-filled alleyways and bustling energy that would permeate films to come.  Headlined by legendary talents, Henry Fonda and Vera Miles bring acute believability to their roles while, Miles’ emotional breakdown arguably overshadows her leading man at times.  Equally brilliant, the thespians give their all for achievements that rank highly amongst many of the greatest Hitchcock directed performances.  Tensely crafted and demonstrating the psychological strain an accusation places on the human spirit, The Wrong Man is unanimously found guilty of cinematic perfection.  

    Warner Archive presents The Wrong Man with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Gorgeously reproducing its monochrome photography, the film’s intended gritty appearance is left intact without sacrificing viewability with unfavorable levels of muddiness.  Furthermore, facial features are excellently detailed while, black levels are sound and inky with extremely fleeting instances of speckles spotted.  Beautifully handled, Warner Archive have done Hitch proud.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is strongly prioritized with no indication of hiss on hand.  In addition, the partying crowds at the Stork Club and Composer Bernard Herrmann’s (Citizen Kane, Vertigo) jazzy score make impressive statements.  Special features include, Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and The Wrong Man (20:19), this vintage retrospective offers insight on the film from Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Historians Robert Osborne & Richard Schickel, Art Director Paul Sylbert, Director Richard Franklin (Psycho II) and more.  Finally, the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (2:35) is also included.

    Largely impacting Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, The Wrong Man is a deeply gripping examination of being wrongfully accused, heightened by its chilling real world roots.  Henry Fonda and Vera Miles give outstanding turns in their respective roles while, Hitchcock’s own deep-rooted fear of authority accounts for the film’s effectively unsettling atmosphere.  Meanwhile, Warner Archive’s exemplary work continues, leaving another Hitchcock classic in a glorious state.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, The Wrong Man can be purchased via WBShop.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Walk 3D (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Walk (2015)

    Director: Robert Zemeckis

    Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, James Badge Dale & César Domboy

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a true story, The Walk stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) as daring wire walker Philippe Petit.  Mentored by the talented Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, Schindler’s List) and assisted by a pack of loyal international accomplices, Philippe plans to illegally stage the greatest performance of his lifetime by walking across the newly constructed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey), Clément Sibony (The Tourist), James Badge Dale (The Lone Ranger) and César Domboy (The Princess of Montpensier) co-star.

    Driven by determination and obsessive passion, Philippe Petit’s extraordinary journey from the streets of Paris to 1,350 feet above the city of New York remains an eternal testament to dreamers worldwide.  Based on Petit’s book To Reach the Clouds, The Walk traces his early beginnings as a juggler and amateur wire walker before inspiration strikes upon reading about the completion of the Twin Towers in New York City.  Donning blue contact lenses and perfecting the Frenchmans accent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers one of his finest performances with his intense training from the real Petit beautifully shining through.  Striking up a romance with fellow street performer Annie (Le Bon) and a friendship with photographer Jean-Louis (Sibony), the trio journey east to aid Philippe in his death-defying performance.  The up and coming Le Bon is a striking presence while her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt accentuates the loving commitment the couple have to seeing their dreams come true.  In addition, Sir Ben Kingsley delivers a quaint performance as Philippe’s experienced mentor who although, uncertain of his protégées goals, learns to love him like a son and ensures his safety on his surreal adventure.  Morphing into a caper film of sorts, Philippe, accompanied by several other local New Yorkers, plot “le coup” by masquerading as construction workers, weaseling their way to the tower rooftops and rigorously setting the necessary wires under the shadow of the night.  Although its climax is well-documented, Zemeckis’ masterful direction, complimented by Alan Silvestri’s (Forrest Gump) swelling score, transports viewers on the wire with Philippe for a truly breathtaking finale.

    Although unfairly tanking at the box-office, The Walk is a stunning piece of cinema that delivers phenomenal visuals with an emotionally inspiring story.  Respectfully dedicated to the victims of September 11th, Director Robert Zemeckis' (Back to the Future, Flight) cinematic ode to the people of New York celebrates another memorable day in its history where strangers looked to the sky and were joined together by the magic of a man on a wire.  Powerfully moving and leaving viewers on the edge of their seat, The Walk is a remarkable effort destined to be celebrated for years to come.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Walk with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Marvelously achieved during its theatrical presentation, its home video 3D is equally immersive and projects solid depth as Philippe makes his suspenseful walk across the towers.  Greatly adding to the visual experience, The Walk is destined to become one of the new year’s finest 3D offerings.  Meanwhile, its 2D presentation is excellently detailed with skin tones represented naturally and black levels, most appreciably during Philippe and Jeff’s nighttime rigging of the wires, looking inky and free of digital noise.  Wonderfully bringing life to the New York and Paris of the 1970s with boldly captured colors and sharp crispness, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has delivered a stunning transfer worthy of its praise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is strongly supported while, Alan Silvestri’s score (one of 2015’s best) is exceptionally handled.  Crowded city streets and sound effects of wire clattering are also nicely balanced in a presentation that doesn’t stray far from its essential character driven dynamics.  Special features include, Deleted Scenes (5:44), First Steps: Learning to Walk the Wire (9:11) where Gordon-Levitt, alongside the real life Petit and Director Robert Zemeckis, share the actor’s firsthand experiences learning to wire walk.  In addition, Pillars of Support (8:27) focuses on the supporting cast that help pull off Philippe’s caper while, The Amazing Walk (10:48) explores the fascinating work recreating the Twin Towers and the film’s 3D effects.  Finally, Previews for Aloha (2:41), Ricki and the Flash (2:40), Concussion (1:57) and Risen (1:31) are included alongside a standard Blu-ray edition of the release and a Digital HD Code.

    Failing to attract audiences during a time where theatergoers uninterested in Hollywood blockbusters scream for originality and emotionally driving stories, the mystery of The Walk’s disappointing box-office performance further perplexes the mind.  Severely underappreciated, The Walk weaves a compelling narrative enforced by a phenomenal performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Serving as another highlight in a career of classics for Zemeckis, The Walk is the rare exception where 3D greatly supports its narrative and enhances the experience like no other.  Although falling short on special features, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment delivers an astounding A/V presentation while, its immersive 3D kicks the new year off right.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available January 5th from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, The Walk can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Sentinel (1977) Blu-ray Review

    The Sentinel (1977)

    Director: Michael Winner

    Starring: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith & John Carradine

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the death of her father and an urgent desire for independence, beautiful model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines, The Duellists) moves into a spacious New York brownstone unaware of the danger that awaits her.  Haunted by nightmarish memories and riddled by her peculiar neighbors, Alison learns her once desirable new residence is a gateway to hell.  Chris Sarandon (Child’s Play), Ava Gardner (The Killers), John Carradine (House of Frankenstein), Burgess Meredith (Rocky), Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation), Jerry Orbach (Law & Order), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Eli Wallach (The Magnificent Seven) and Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) co-star.

    Based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, Director Michael Winner (Death Wish) returns to the city that never sleeps for his controversial religious shocker.  Shot on location in Brooklyn Heights, Alison Parker (Raines) moves into the ideal New York brownstone, inhabited by a blind reclusive priest on the building’s top floor.  Shortly after settling in, Alison develops a series of medical drawbacks while becoming acquainted with her eccentric new neighbors.  Unsettled by reoccurring dreams of her recently deceased father and her own previous suicide attempts, Alison’s sanity comes into question after learning she, along with Father Halliran (Carradine), are the only occupants of the apartment complex.  Aided by her boyfriend Michael Lerman (Sarandon), Alison discovers her new home is a gateway to hell that the Catholic Church assign guardians to protect.  While the ailing Father Halliran upholds his duty, Alison has been selected as the next Sentinel for a chance at redemption for her previous sins.  As the demons’ influence take greater hold, Alison’s faith and will to fight back are mankind’s only hope against the forces of darkness.

    Boasting one of the most eclectic casts in 70s horror, The Sentinel continues to tap the hot-button subgenre of religious terror during a time when satan gripped audiences attention.  Matched with underrated makeup effects by Dick Smith (The Exorcist) and bizarre imagery of ballet dancing lesbians fondling themselves, The Sentinel packs a visual identity not soon forgotten.  Considered wildly offensive during its original release for the casting of actors with real-life deformities, Director Michael Winner’s sole horror feature achieves an authentic level of eeriness separating itself from other Catholic based dives into the supernatural.  While generally viewed as a mediocre effort, The Sentinel has rightfully developed an increased appreciation over the decades.  Guided by worthy performances from Raines and Sarandon, along with a scene-stealing Meredith, The Sentinel has kept its hellish inferno burning for viewers to rediscover its chilling charm.

    Scream Factory presents The Sentinel with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a noticeably filmic appearance, skin tones are generally natural looking with colors of the apartment’s greenery and the film’s bloodier moments popping nicely.  Aside from inherent age-related issues of mild scratches and scuffs, detail remains strikingly stable with Dick Smith’s frightening effects better appreciated while, black levels reveal no glaring crushing issues.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and free of any intruding distortion.  Meanwhile, sound effects and Gil Melle’s (Blood Beach) moody tunes come across effectively.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Jeffrey Konvitz, Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Michael Winner and Audio Commentary with Actress Cristina Raines.  In addition, Working with Winner: The Making of The Sentinel (23:56) finds Second Assistant Director Ralph S. Singleton discussing his early starts in the industry and his working relationship with the often tough but respected Winner in this engaging featurette.  Furthermore, a Theatrical Trailer (2:35), TV Spots (1:39), Movie Stills (2:47), B&W Press Photos (2:30) and Lobby Cards and Posters (2:34) Photo Galleries round out the supplements.

    Nicely complimenting Scream Factory’s other resurrected religious frightener The Legacy, The Sentinel packs an impressively diverse cast with enough disturbing imagery to cement itself in horror lovers’ subconscious.  Graduating to high-definition with noticeably improved technical merits and a generous supply of bonus content for such an unsung feature, Scream Factory lures you to the hellish underworld with The Sentinel as your ideal host.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 22nd from Scream Factory, The Sentinel can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Report to the Commissioner (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Report to the Commissioner (1975)

    Director: Milton Katselas

    Starring: Michael Moriarty, Yaphet Kotto, Susan Blakely, Hector Elizondo & Tony King

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the gritty landscape of New York City, Report to the Commissioner stars Michael Moriarty (The Stuff) as rookie cop Bo Lockley whose youthful determination leads to the death of a fellow undercover officer.  Yaphet Kotto (Alien), Susan Blakely (The Towering Inferno), Hector Elizondo (Leviathan) and Tony King (Hell Up in Harlem) co-star in this dramatic thriller from the director of When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? 

    Based on the novel by James Mills, Report to the Commissioner opens on the tragic aftermath of a shootout leaving one female victim dead.  Redirecting viewers to the events leading up to this fatal outcome, inexperienced cop Bo Lockley (Moriarty) is assigned to track the whereabouts of a young runaway named Chicklet, rumored to be wandering the streets of the Big Apple.  Unbeknownst to Lockley, the alleged runaway is undercover officer Patty Butler (Blakely), willingly shacking up with heroin pusher Thomas “Stick” Henderson (King) in order to gather hard evidence.  While Lockley acts in good confidence to find the missing girl, his role contrived by his superiors is only meant to further convince Stick of his live-in girlfriend’s false identity.  After being advised to forget Chicklet as quickly as he finds her, Lockley is determined to rescue her causing a violent showdown between the inexperienced officer and the neighborhood drug lord.  Shot on location in the bygone grime of New York City’s grindhouse and strip club infested streets, Report to the Commissioner bolsters a strong supporting cast including, Yaphet Kotto as Lockley’s streetwise partner Richard “Crunch” Blackstone, Hector Elizondo as corrupt Captain D’Angelo and a young Richard Gere (American Gigolo) making his screen debut as a fedora wearing pimp.  In addition, Michael Moriarty carries the film superbly well as the conflicted Lockley struggling to maintain a decent stature while, confronted with the dark underbellies of criminals and interdepartmental politics.  After Butler is killed in the middle of gunfire, a tense chase sequence from rooftops to a stalled elevator shaft ensues between Lockley and Stick, leaving the two soaked in perspiration with their guns permanently pointed at one another.  While Lockley’s fate over the shooting of Butler is heavily questioned for the sake of his superiors’ livelihood, Report to the Commissioner concludes on an unexpectedly somber note that will stay with viewers long after the end credits.  Tightly paced and excellently acted, Report to the Commissioner delivers a hard-nosed tale of crime and undercover investigations come undone, leading to a thrilling conclusion.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Report to the Commissioner with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting natural grain and a noticeably filmic quality, Report to the Commissioner contains only minor flakes in its presentation while, skin tones are lifelike with crisp detail revealing aging lines and constant perspiration in facial closeups.  Meanwhile, black levels contain slightly more speckling without ever compromising watchability.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible even during the film’s many exterior scenes set against the hustle and bustle of New York City streets.  Composer Elmer Bernstein’s (The Great Escape, Ghostbusters) score and the film’s few gunfire moments ring loudly when designated.  Arriving virtually barebones, special features included are limited to the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:21).

    In his second to last feature film, Director Milton Katselas’ exploration of a rookie cop’s idealism amongst the crime and politics of New York City delivers ample drama and action.  Supported by a committed cast and the tonally perfect landscape of the Big Apple’s nearly forgotten dangers, Report to the Commissioner is an exceptional police procedural that showcases the seedier sides of those who are meant to uphold the law.  Graduating to an impressive high-definition transfer, Kino Lorber Studio Classics preserves the rich, filmic quality of this gritty drama much to the delight of viewers.  Suspenseful and action-oriented, Report to the Commissioner earns its badge of approval.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 7th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Report to the Commissioner can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Wolfen (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Wolfen (1981)

    Director: Michael Wadleigh

    Starring: Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines & Tom Noonan

    Released by: Warner Archive Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring Albert Finney (Big Fish) as New York City detective Dewey Wilson, Wolfen centers on a string of grisly murders plaguing the city with no suspects in sight.  As Dewey’s investigation deepens, supernatural forces responsible for the savage acts become a shocking reality.  Diane Venora (The Insider), Edward James Olmos (Stand and Deliver), Gregory Hines (Running Scared), Tom Noonan (Synecdoche, New York) and Dick O’Neill (The Jerk) co-star.

    Released in the renowned year of the werewolf, Wolfen joined the ranks of Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Landis‘ An American Werewolf in London that strove to make audiences fear a full moon once more.  Lacking the darkly comic tone and groundbreaking transformation sequences of its competitors, Wolfen manages to inject yet another inspired twist in the saga of lycanthropes.  Director Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock), in his only dramatic feature, weaves a mystery of urban crime set in the crumbling borough of the Bronx.  In a role that was reportedly denied, yet better suited for an eager Dustin Hoffman, Albert Finney headlines as seasoned detective Dewey Wilson summoned to a murder scene involving a wealthy tycoon and his coke-loving wife.  In awe of the gory aftermath and stumped on its account, Dewey teams up with Criminal Psychologist Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora) and a city coroner (Hines) to uncover the truth.  As more victims turn up and the idea of a human committing the murders becoming null, the possibility of bloodthirsty wolves preying becomes very real.  Incorporating effective Stedicam techniques by Garrett Brown (Rocky) and thermographic POV imagery popularized later by 1987’s Predator, Wolfen takes great pride in building suspense while keeping itself relatively grounded in reality.

    Admittedly, Albert Finney is competent but grossly miscast as an inner city detective confronted with hounds from hell overtaking his streets.  Meanwhile, the supporting cast shine brightly in their respective roles with Hines and the Oscar-nominated Edward James Olmos as a Native American that may or may not possess shapeshifting abilities rewarding the viewer with their performances.  Far grittier than other werewolf offerings from its decade, Wolfen also provides effective moments of bloodshed sure to satisfy devoted horror enthusiasts.  Critically praised and a reasonable financial hit, Wolfen combines an urban landscape and Native American folklore to deliver an effective thriller at a time when many werewolf films were clawing for their time in the moonlight.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Warner Archive Collection presents Wolfen with a 1080p transfer sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying natural skin tones and exceptional detail in facial features, film grain is appropriately handled with no intruding aging artifacts on display.  Capturing the dilapidated and dimly lit ghettos of the Bronx, black levels appear inky and clear with no crushing allowing Director Michael Wadleigh’s howling opus to shine in high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally strong and audible with only minor instances registering lower due to louder exterior forces.  Composer James Horner’s (Avatar) moody score and sequences of greater intensity are also well handled and effectively delivered.  Finally, the sole special feature is the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (2:17).

    Hardly as appreciated as Dante and Landis‘ own werewolf offerings, Wolfen boldly took a horror subgenre that may have been pushing its luck and delivered an appreciably unique effort.  Soaked in the virtually lost grime and danger of New York City and incorporating a deeper theme of Native American folklore, Wolfen keeps viewers absorbed in its web of mystery and terror.  Warner Archive Collection has proudly presented this often overlooked chiller with an exceptional HD boost that sits nicely against their increasingly impressive library.  Substituting its more gothic roots for a contemporary crime setting, Wolfen howls to be different and generally succeeds.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available June 2nd from Warner Archive Collection, Wolfen can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Best Seller (1987) Blu-ray Review

    Best Seller (1987)

    Director: John Flynn

    Starring: James Woods, Brian Deenehy & Victoria Tennant

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Rolling Thunder, Best Seller centers on veteran police office and best-selling author Dennis Meechum (Brian Deenehy, First Blood).  Widowed and raising his only daughter, Dennis owes his publisher an overdue followup but, suffers from writer’s block.  When Cleve (James Woods, Videodrome), a self-professed career hitman, approaches Dennis about penning his story, Dennis is skeptical but, intrigued.  As the facts surrounding Cleve’s many hits for a high powered executive turn out true, the possibility of the damaging tell-all tale endangers Dennis and those closest to him.  Victoria Tennant (Flowers in the Attic), Allison Balson (Little House on the Prairie) and Paul Shenar (Scarface) co-star.

    Scripted by Larry Cohen (The Stuff, Maniac Cop), although, heavily rewritten by Director John Flynn, Best Seller kicks off in Los Angeles circa 1972 where a trio of Richard Nixon mask wearing gunmen attempt to rob a police evidence facility.  After a struggle ensues and shots are fired, Officer Dennis Meechum (Deenehy) survives the account to publish a novel based on his experiences.  Over a decade later, Meechum, now a detective and raising his only daughter following his wife’s untimely passing, owes his publisher a long overdue followup.  From the shadows, Cleve (Woods) offers Dennis a proposition to pen his life experiences as a career hitman in order to get even with his unappreciative former employer, wealthy executive David Matlock (Shenar).  Curious but, cautious, Dennis is not easily convinced about his collaborators evidence until threats confront them both.  In addition, Dennis realizes that his history with Cleve predates their most recent encounter, making trust between the detective and hitman incredibly tense.  As research continues on the tell-all book, Dennis finds himself in over his head with his daughter in mortal danger.

    Failing to light the box-office on fire, Best Seller is a uniquely different buddy film where law enforcement and career criminal must team up to combat a larger threat.  Brian Deenehy fits comfortably in the role of a respected detective who finds himself unable to produce material for a followup novel.  Dennehy treads the line perfectly of an aggressive cop willing to go to the limits while, possessing an air of sophistication that sells his dual career as a respected author.  Meanwhile, James Woods, in arguably his most underrated role of the decade, plays the snappily dressed Cleve with a fast tongue and an even quicker trigger finger.  Woods brings the right energy that makes Dennis and the viewer equally intrigued and unsure of his questionable motives.  From a kindhearted demeanor to a bloodthirsty killer instinct, Woods’ performance and his yin and yang relationship with Deenehy elevates the film beyond the standard crime picture.  Shot on location in Los Angeles and New York City, Best Seller is a throughly entertaining and tightly orchestrated effort that separates itself from the bunch, courtesy of Woods and Deenehy’s captivating chemistry.

    Olive Films presents Best Seller with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Beginning with a noticeably softer image, the film quickly improves with inviting skin tones and a well-handled color scheme.  Flakes and speckles are mild leading to a nearly blemish free picture while, detail in close-ups wavers in sharpness from decent to strong.  With a healthy layer of grain intact throughout the majority of its runtime, Best Seller satisfies on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix, the film relays all dialogue with clarity and ample range while, Composer Jay Ferguson’s (License to Drive, Bad Dreams) far too brief funky synth score sets the mood accordingly.  Finally, the sole supplement is the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:44).

    Criminally (no pun intended) underrated and capturing top-notch performances from its two leads, Best Seller takes the buddy formula of past crime offerings and delivers a refreshingly suspenseful response.  Olive Films’ high-definition treatment will appease viewers while, the strength of the film and most notably, Woods’ role earning Best Seller a strong recommendation to the uninformed.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Hester Street (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Hester Street (1975)

    Director: Joan Micklin Silver

    Starring: Steven Keats, Carol Kane, Mel Howard, Dorrie Kavanaugh & Doris Roberts

    Released by: Kino Lorber

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in 1896 on the Lower East Side of New York City, Hester Street focuses on Yankl (Steven Keats, Death Wish), a Russian Jewish immigrant, who has adapted the name Jake and grown accustomed to the American culture.  Working for $12 a week and engaged in an affair with a dancer (Dorrie Kavanaugh, Ryan’s Choice), Jake’s wife, Gitl (Carol Kane, Annie Hall), and their young son finally arrive in America to start their new life.  Unfortunately, when Gitl has difficulty adapting to her new environment, tensions arise in their marriage.  Mel Howard (The Washington Affair) and Doris Robert (Everybody Loves Raymond) co-star.

    Based on the novella by Abraham Cahan, Hester Street is a moving and accurate depiction of immigrant struggles at the turn of the century.  Chasing the American dream of a free world, Yankl (Keats) works tirelessly to raise the necessary funds to have his wife and son join him.  Three years into his stay, Yankl, now known as Jake, has fully adapted to the American culture, prompting him to shave off his beard and enter into a new relationship with Mamie (Kavanaugh).  After Jake’s wife, Gitl (Kane), and their son, Yossele, arrive on Ellis Island, Jake is confronted with his traditional Jewish past that he has long since repressed.  Although, overjoyed with their presence, Jake quickly grows bitter and abusive with Gitl for her unwillingness to adapt to the American culture he loves so much.  Nominated for an Academy Award, Carol Kane delivers a quiet, hauntingly memorable performance as a culture-shocked Jewish immigrant with her sorrowful eyes and desperation to retain her traditional identity.  In addition, Steven Keats equally shines in his role as the very flawed and relatable Jake.  Working hard while, ditching his roots for capitalist pursuits and the company of other women, Jake is constantly at odds with his uncooperative loved ones and his need for acceptance and wealth in The New World.  While, broken English, thick accents and occasional Yiddish encompass the film, the performances are only heightened by the detailed, at times difficult, speech patterns.  With their differences shifting them farther apart, Hester Street is a heartbreaking account of Jewish immigration and the uncertain future awaiting in a land that held such promise for all.

    Shot for under a million dollars, Hester Street wonderfully captures the trials and tribulations of all immigrants hoping to carve out a better life for themselves.  With its black and white photography, minimalist set decoration and screen accurate wardrobe, Hester Street feels almost documentary-like in its natural ability to capture its 1890s time period.  Released during a time when female filmmakers were largely uncommon and inspired by her own Russian Jewish lineage, Director Joan Micklin Silver (Chilly Scenes of Winter) pours her heart into every frame, rewarding viewers with a one of a kind experience that was originally hailed as an “ethnic oddity”.  Selected in 2011 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress, Hester Street is an absorbing and culturally important film that masterfully captures the heartache of immigration and the fruitless attempts for wealth.

    Kino Lorber presents Hester Street with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With scratches and debris present throughout, Hester Street still satisfies with reasonable black levels and adequate detail in close-ups.  While, some sequences demonstrate slightly overblown whites, the transfer feels fitting and nicely compliments the film’s period setting, warts and all.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Hester Street suffers from a mild hiss throughout its runtime prompting increases in volume while, dialogue is relayed efficiently enough allowing viewers to capture the thicker accents with little difficulty.  Unfortunately, no special features are included on this release.

    Equally dismal and hopeful, Hester Street engages the viewer with its character study of immigrants yearning to accept a new home while, struggling to give up the old country.  Well regarded for its exceptional performances from Kane and Keats, Director Joan Micklin Silver’s feature film debut is handled with such passion and attention to human emotion, its value to film history is no surprise 40 years later.  Making its Blu-ray debut, Kino Lorber’s transfer shows signs of some wear and other anomalies but, makes great strides delivering a presentation to be satisfied with.  Containing a strong, universal message, Hester Street is a remarkable effort worthy of recommendation.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 17th from Kino Lorber, Hester Street can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • God Told Me To (1976) Blu-ray Review

    God Told Me To (1976)

    Director: Larry Cohen

    Starring: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Richard Lynch & Mike Kellin

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Larry Cohen (Bone, It’s Alive), God Told Me To takes place on the streets of New York City where random acts of mass homicide are committed with the killers insisting God advised them to.  As NYPD Detective Peter J. Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco, The Honeymoon Killers) investigates the bizarre crimes, the repressed Catholic uncovers an underworld of twisted faith, corruption and supernatural occurrences hellbent on damning mankind.  Deborah Raffin (Death Wish 3), Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Sylvia Sydney (Beetlejuice), Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams), Mike Kellin (Sleepaway Camp) and Andy Kaufman (Taxi) co-star.

    As citizens of the Big Apple were overwhelmed with fear as the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, reigned his own terror, Director Larry Cohen would return to his beloved city to helm one of his most memorable films.  Incorporating the harsh realities of senseless murder, God Told Me To pulls no punches with its grizzly opening of a rooftop sniper picking off innocent pedestrians.  Estranged from his wife and committed to a new girlfriend, NYPD Detective Peter J. Nicholas (Lo Bianco) attempts to make peace with the mild-mannered shooter when asking for his homicidal motive.  Before willingly leaping to his death, the shooter claims God himself told him to kill, chilling Nicholas to the core.  In the wake of the horrific incident, more God-advised killings take place including, a loving father blowing his family away with a shotgun and a fellow cop (Andy Kaufman in his debut film appearance) heading a shooting spree during the city’s iconic St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Determined to crack the case, Nicolas spearheads an investigation that will open doors connecting him to the godless violence plaguing the city.  Realistically violent and gorgeously capturing New York City’s less than savory appearances, God Told Me To is a molotov cocktail of exploitation entertainment.  Tony Lo Bianco’s performance as the conflicted Catholic detective is played with terrific pathos and the proper gruff to believably sell a seasoned cop with the experiences to back it up.  

    Blending the worlds of the police procedural and the occult, God Told Me To never allows the viewer to get too comfortable before switching gears once again.  Dirty cops, the religiously unbalanced and interdimensional beings with a penchant for impregnating virgins sends this cult classic in countless directions with consistently pleasing results.  With his own faith waining, Nicholas zeroes in on his verdict to reveal a grim ending destined to leave a lasting impact on its audience.  Supported by a cast of respected cult stars, God Told Me To is a disturbing slice of real world terror meets the supernatural, orchestrated by 42nd Street legend Larry Cohen who glorifies the 1970s wasteland of New York City like few filmmakers can.

    Blue Underground proudly presents God Told Me To in 1080p, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Newly transferred in 4K from the original uncensored negative, Larry Cohen’s cult classic shines like never before.  A filmic layer of grain is well intact with a nearly spotless appearance making way for added appreciation of warm skin pigments and sharp detail.  Dimly lit sequences are vastly improved over the previous DVD release with visibility all the more enhanced.  Unquestionably, God Told Me To arrives with its definitive transfer and one of Blue Underground’s most noted accomplishments to date.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, God Told Me To sounds strong with audible dialogue levels and an impressive balance of authority during crowded city scenes and sharp gunshots.  In addition, optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes have been included for your listening pleasure.  Ported over from its previous DVD release, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Larry Cohen, moderated by Blue Underground’s Bill Lustig, has been included.  In addition, newly added bonus features, produced by Red Shirt Pictures, include, Heaven & Hell On Earth: Interview with Star Tony Lo Bianco (11:27) with the lead actor reminiscing on the film’s shoot and his fond memories of his late fellow co-stars and Bloody Good Times: Interview with Special Effects Artist Steve Neill (9:09) finds Neill providing a brief career retrospective and his various collaborations with Larry Cohen. Plus, other new supplements include, God Told Me To Bone: New Beverly Q&A with Larry Cohen (21:14) and a Lincoln Center Q&A with Larry Cohen (8:06).  Finally, two Theatrical Trailers (2:07), seven TV Spots (3:30) and a Poster & Still Gallery (42 in total) round out the disc’s impressive bonus offerings.

    Amongst an abundance of cult favorites including, Q: The Winged Serpent and The Stuff, Director Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To is a crowning achievement of exploitation filmmaking.  An entertaining blend of genres carried out by a wickedly talented cast and doused in a disturbingly somber tone, God Told Me To is an unholy alliance of drive-in staples.  Blue Underground’s gorgeous 4K transfer and first-class supplements not only solidify the film’s place on home video but, marks one of the distributors finest releases to date.  Forewarned on its artwork to contain scenes of violence and intense horror, God Told Me To makes good on its promise, deeming this jaw-dropping Cohen concoction an essential piece of exploitation.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, God Told Me To can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Going Under (2004) Blu-ray Review

    Going Under (2004)

    Director: Eric Werthman

    Starring: Roger Rees, Geno Lechner & Miho Nikaido

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the underground world of S&M dungeons, Going Under centers on Peter (Roger Rees, The Prestige), a married psychotherapist, and Suzanne (Geno Lechner, Schindler’s List), a professional dominatrix.  Engaged in a rule abiding affair of carnal pleasure and sexual dominance, the two tortured souls decide to see each other in the outside world.  As the line between fantasy and reality blurs, Peter’s rampant obsession matched with the revelation of Suzanne’s own skeletons sends the pair on a dark journey of self-exploration.  

    Erotic and revealing, Going Under investigates the dark realms of fetishized fantasies for those daring to explore their sexuality.  Set in the city that never sleeps, Roger Rees stars as withdrawn psychotherapist Peter, in search of sexual fulfillment and unabashed dominance.  Journeying into the world of S&M dungeons, Peter encounters the hauntingly beautiful Suzanne (Lechner), a leather-donning dominatrix, prepared to fulfill Peter’s fantasies by any means necessary.  Utilizing real New York City fetish dungeons, Going Under plays far more psychologically showcasing the emotional strain and obsession Peter experiences after Suzanne agrees to finally meet him on the outside world.  Genuinely fixated with Suzanne while, combating the desires he had fulfilled in the dungeons, Peter’s determination to be with Suzanne is often met with resistance.  A struggling artist with a worrisome girlfriend, Suzanne harbors her own dark past involving the bond shared with her late father and broken relationship with her mother.  Although, Suzanne is as willing to engage with Peter on the outside, her scattered feelings and constant change of heart only fuels Peter’s obsession to be with her more.  Married with a child, Peter’s wife is aware of his ulterior lifestyle but, does little to dissuade him from engaging in it.  What began as a professional interest has slowly crossed into a very personal part of Peter’s life without causing any discernible harm to those closest to him.  While, Rees and Lechner convey bold performances, Going Under miscalculates by not fleshing out Peter’s background to allow insight into his growing desires with S&M fetishes.  In addition, Peter’s home life and acknowledged but, noticeably absent daughter is a missed opportunity that could have benefitted substantial drama to the picture had they been explored more heavily.

    Shining a heavy light on the taboo culture, Going Under explores the leather-bound spankings and piercing pleasures that thrive in these underground circles.  Rees bravely bears all while partaking in his unordinary turn-ons as the submissive with Lechner dominating said scenes with sexual authority.  Eye-opening to many, Going Under is not nearly as smutty as one would think, taking its sexual risks only so far.  Shot by first time director Eric Werthman, Going Under takes the dark and often misconceived world of S&M culture and unravels a tale of tortured individuals longing for desire.  Unfortunately, Going Under makes several missteps including, underdeveloped backstories for its characters and an unsatisfying conclusion, that could have propelled the film to a higher stature.  Although, the film pales in comparison to Radley Metzger’s explicit submissive/dominate masterpiece The Image, Going Under still maintains its authenticity by shooting in real bondage locations and rewarding the viewer with earnest performances from Rees and Lechner.

    Blue Underground presents Going Under with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Shot on 35mm, Going Under looks natural with healthy skin tones and moderate detail.  Transferred from a somewhat dated master, the film’s black levels slightly suffer with minor noise appearing in several dimly lit scenes.  Otherwise blemish free, Going Under makes a suitable leap to high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue levels are clear and free of any hiss or dropouts with New York City ambiance relayed nicely yet, never overbearing.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has also been provided.  Ported over from Blue Underground’s previous 2007 DVD release, special features include an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Eric Werthman & Star Roger Rees, Pushing the Boundaries capturing interviews with Stars Roger Rees and Geno Lechner (16:37), NYC Black & Blue Ball gives viewers a fly on the wall perspective of New York’s annual fetish celebration (5:55) plus, a Theatrical Trailer (3:14) and Teaser Trailer (1:27) round out the supplemental package.

    Unquestionably capitalizing on the phenomena of Fifty Shades of Grey and its upcoming Hollywood interpretation, 2004’s Going Under weaves a decent tale of erotic obsession and explicit fetishes with notable performances from Roger Rees and Geno Lechner.  Lacking a strong handle on character development, Director Eric Werthman’s sole effort shortchanges itself from becoming something truly special.  Meanwhile, Blue Underground’s high-definition release contains a satisfying transfer, well-balanced sound mix and all the previous DVD supplements carried over.  Mildly engaging amongst its narrative issues, Going Under still manages to be a decent footnote in cinema’s exploration of S&M culture.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now, Going Under can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Love at First Bite (1979) / Love at First Bite (1985) Blu-ray Review

    Love at First Bite (1979) / Once Bitten (1985)

    Director(s): Stan Dragoti / Howard Storm 

    Starring: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James & Richard Benjamin / Jim Carrey, Lauren Hutton & Cleavon Little  

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents a pair of neck biting vampire comedies sure to tickle your funny bones!  First up, Love at First Bite stars George Hamilton (Zorro: The Gay Blade) as Count Dracula who, after being banished from his castle must relocate to New York City.  Out of touch with the times and society, the Count is determined to woo an attractive fashion model if the big city doesn’t swallow him first.  Susan Saint James (Kate & Allie), Richard Benjamin (Westworld) and Arte Johnson (Evil Toons) co-star.  Next up, Once Bitten finds Jim Carrey, in one of his earliest roles, as shy, awkward Mark Kendall.  When a sexy vampire countess (Lauren Hutton, American Gigolo) targets Mark’s virginal blood to retain her youthful beauty, a frantic race against time ensues to seduce Mark for good before he sheds his virginity.  Karen Kopins (Troop Beverly Hills) and Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) co-star.

    Considered one of the top grossing films of its year, Love at First Bite focuses on the Count when his own locals grow tired of his antics, banishing him from his own castle.  Joined by his faithful companion Renfield (Johnson), Count Dracula heads to the Big Apple to start anew while, prowling for flashy fashion model, Cindy Sondheim (Saint James), who he’s admired from afar.  George Hamilton makes a convincing, if not strikingly tan, Dracula with a Lugosi-like accent firmly in place.  The hard-drinking, psychologist dependent Cindy falls victim to the charms of the Count while, her shrink and beau, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg (hilariously played by Richard Benjamin), takes none too kindly to the caped foreigner.  As a descendent of Van Helsing, Rosenberg (name changed strictly for “professional reasons”) vows to destroy Count Dracula once and for all.  While, Love at First Bite accounts for several humorous moments including, Rosenberg attempting to harm the Count with a Star of David instead of a cross and a barrage of comical cameos from The Jeffersons‘ Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford plus, Barry Gordon (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Michael Pataki (Rocky IV), the film suffers from a slight identity crisis.  Favoring its more romantic angle at times over knee-slapping laughs, Love at First Bite doesn’t reach its full potential but, does manage to capture the Big Apple during the last gasps of disco.  Joined by a groovy dance sequence between Hamilton and Saint James to Alicia Bridges‘ “I Love the Nightlife” (previously removed on past home video releases), Love at First Bite is a charming time capsule with noticeable wire-hanging bats and a memorable gothic score from Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street).

    An unabashed childhood favorite, Once Bitten pushes its teen comedy angle instead of attracting screams.  Hollywood newcomer Jim Carrey headlines as the slightly awkward 18-year-old Mark Kendall, determined to lose his virginity to girlfriend Robin (Kopins) to no avail.  A far cry from the comedic force the world would know a few short years later, Carrey’s nervousness plays to the advantage of his character.  Lauren Hutton stuns as the seductive Countess hellbent on literally milking Mark for his virginal blood.  After a one-night stand with the blonde bombshell, Mark begins growing paler and resistant to bright lights as his fixation on her strengthens.  Robin, along with Mark’s bumbling Burger Circus employee best friends, Jamie and Russ (Thomas Ballatore and Skip Lackey, respectively), become concerned with his appearance, the trio begin investigating.  Hilariously, Jamie and Russ decide to locate fang bites on Mark’s body in the locker room showers prompting gay gossip headlines among the other students.  With the Countess aided by her flamboyant butler (Little), a public attempt to lure Mark’s attention takes place at the high school Halloween bop.  Marking one of the cheesiest dance-offs of the 1980s, Kopins and Hutton battle for Carrey’s attention to the sounds of Maria Vidal’s “Hands Off” with hilarious choreography to boot.  As time looms, the Countess must continue feeding off of Mark’s blood before, his virginity is taken and her youthful looks gone, leading to a final chase and escape sequence at the Countess‘ upscale mansion.  Much like its 1970s co-feature, Once Bitten captures mid-80s Hollywood hot spots in all their neon glory with genuine punks and valley girls walking the streets.  Complimented with a synth-heavy, guitar riffing score from John Du Prez (UHF), Once Bitten unapologetically follows tropes of past teen comedies but, remains a nostalgic trip of cheese to please.  

    Scream Factory presents Love at First Bite and Once Bitten with 1080p transfers, both sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Marking their Blu-ray debuts, Love at First Bite arrives with slightly murky black levels seen mostly in Dracula’s fog-entrenched castle.  Colors are generally satisfying with warm skin tones and inky blacks relayed in Hamilton’s caped attire.  Instances of flakes and speckles are apparent but, far from intrude, leaving the film with pleasing clarity.  Meanwhile, Once Bitten kicks off with a softer appearance seen in the Countess‘ bright white mansion before transitioning to a lively picture of, at times, bursting color.  Skin tones are accurate with bold colors, most noticeably the Burger Circus‘ exterior and Mark’s ice cream truck, leaping off the screen while, scuffs and scratches are virtually nonexistent on this satisfying HD upgrade.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films have no trouble relaying dialogue while, musical moments such as, Love at First Bite’s “I Love the Nightlife” dance number and Once Bitten’s Halloween bop sequence, offer a nice additional boost in quality.  Relatively light on special features, this double feature of vampiric laughs comes with a Love at First Bite Theatrical Trailer (3:03) and Radio Spots (2:03) whereas, Once Bitten receives a Theatrical Trailer (0:57).

    Experimenting with new ground, Scream Factory takes a break from their bonafide horror classics to treat viewers with a double feature of fangtastic comedies.  While, Love at First Bite has its charms with memorable comedic cameos, nostalgia reigns supreme awarding Once Bitten the frontrunner of this collection.  Bare on special features, both films make their Blu-ray debuts with pleasing technical honors that should easily appease fans.  The blending of frightful funnies is a welcome change of pace for Scream Factory aficionados and one that will hopefully persist in the future.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available February 10th, Love at First Bite / Once Bitten can be purchased via Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

    Director: Joel M. Reed

    Starring: Seamus O’Brien, Luis De Jesus, Viju Krem, Niles McMaster & Alan Dellay

    Released by: Troma Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly 40 years after its original release, Director Joel M. Reed’s satirical shocker breathes new life in the HD generation.  A bizarre odyssey through New York’s dangerous Soho district, centered on a band of eccentric sadists makes this indie effort an unsettling time capsule of cinema.  Newly transferred from original vault materials and including a never before seen title sequence bearing the Sardu, Master of the Screaming Virgins moniker, Troma Entertainment proudly presents the enduring Bloodsucking Freaks on Blu-ray!

    Bloodsucking Freaks centers on the unusual off-broadway Theatre of the Macabre, hosted by the infamous Sardu (Seamus O’Brien).  Shocking forms of torture, dismemberment and more are all fictionally staged for audiences every night but, when countless people begin disappearing around New York City, the truth is revealed about Sardu’s temple of terror.  Luis De Jesus (Let My Puppets Come), Viju Krem (Fourplay), Niles McMaster (Alice Sweet Alice) and Alan Dellay (Trading Places) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    A blatant satirization of the theatre world, Bloodsucking Freaks also expands on the gory 1960s exploits of Director H.G. Lewis (Blood Feast, Color Me Blood Red).  Sardu’s Theatre of the Macabre is New York’s seedy Soho response to the Grand Guignol where torture and dismemberment are for the entertainment of audience members.  Sardu, brilliantly portrayed by the late Seamous O’Brien, is the perverted, deviant equivalent to Vincent Price.  Aided by his loyal dwarf assistant, Ralphus (Luis De Jesus), Sardu is obsessed by the macabre and has a weakness for whippings at the hands of his female dominatrixes.  When snobbish reviewer, Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay), insults Sardu’s performance, the unhinged entertainer kidnaps and forces him into an imprisonment of torture.  In addition, Sardu has big plans for his grim theatre as he also abducts ballet star, Natasha Di Natalie (Viju Krem) and threatens her into his grandiose vision for a new show of pain and decadence.  Soaked in black humor, Bloodsucking Freaks highlights shock value moments of Ralphus electrically shocking a woman’s nipples and sawing another’s hand off.  In addition, Sardu takes great pleasure in his domineering role by substituting a nude woman as a dinner table and operating a white slave trafficking ring below his theatre.  A demented dentist is also welcomed into Sardu’s sanctuary to perform an unorthodox surgery on a female prisoner, before he is torn apart by mentally insane slaves.  Teaming up with a corrupt detective, Natasha’s football player boyfriend, Tom Maverick (Niles McMaster) is determined to find his love and tracks her to the twisted theatre.  Brainwashed, Natasha performs a sadistic ballet as she repeatedly kicks the imprisoned critic to death onstage.  

    Thin on plot, Bloodsucking Freaks is an exploitation affair that is best appreciated for its grizzly and over the top moments of bloody carnage.  In addition, the quirky cast of characters are beyond memorable with Sardu and Ralphus‘ peculiar submissive/domineering relationship the oddity that keeps eyes glued to the screen.  Bloodsucking Freaks is also noteworthy for its timeless footage of a seedy New York City before its squeaky clean overhaul.  The sleazy, Soho district captured in the film makes one wonder if Sardu’s torture chamber is really half bad in comparison.  Still shocking and unusual as ever, Bloodsucking Freaks is a freak show of torture, sadomasochism and nude, helpless prisoners bound with no escape in sight.  Repulsively rewarding, Bloodsucking Freaks is essential viewing for all trash cinema aficionados.  

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Bloodsucking Freaks is presented in a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Transferred from the original materials, this shock classic hasn’t aged considerably well.  Riddled with scratches and speckles, black levels appear mostly fuzzy and tough to make out.  Meanwhile, colors are mostly dull with exceptions being Ralphus’s brightly colored sweaters and the overly red blood which pops nicely.  Detail varies from hazy to decent with closeups most impressively picking up the dirt found underneath Ralphus’s fingernails.  Bloodsucking Freaks has never looked breathtaking on any format and it can be easily argued that its grindhouse imperfections benefit the viewing experience.  Troma Entertainment’s transfer is arguably the best the film has looked but that doesn’t necessarily make it pretty.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, Bloodsucking Freaks certainly sounds a pinch better than it appears.  Dialogue is picked up nicely with only minor instances of static and pops throughout.  In addition, shrieking sounds of screams and Michael Sahl’s carny-infused music sound nicely.  Not a wide-ranging track, Bloodsucking Freaks is an audible one that is more than sufficient.

    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    • New Introduction by Lloyd Kaufman

    • New Uncut Version (1:29:54): Running 43 seconds longer than the original cut and incorporating the Sardu, Master of the Screaming Virgins title card, a deleted scene has been reinstated spotlighting Sardu submitting to Ralphus.

    • Audio Commentary with Blood and Guts Expert Eli Roth: Ported over from the original Troma DVD release.

    • Eli Roth Interviews Cast & Crew (3:48): Also ported over from the DVD, Roth sits down with Arlana Blue who appeared as one of the ravenous nude prisoners, the demented dentist Ernie Rysher and Co-Editor Victor Kanefsky.

    • Interview with Eli Roth (20:07): The Cabin Fever director sits down for this newly shot interview recounting his contributions to the original DVD release during the early internet days.  Roth expresses genuine love for the low-budget schlock fest and his appreciation for the sleazy pre-Giuliani New York setting.  Plus, Roth discusses his own films including his upcoming The Green Inferno.

    • Interview with WWE Superstar Chris Jericho (14:32): Longtime fan, Chris Jericho discusses his earliest introduction to the film on VHS.  Jericho’s fascination with the film lead him to introduce an assistant/henchmen named Ralphus during his WCW days.  The former WWE champion also waxes intellectual on some of his favorite horror films including Amityville II: The Possession and Cabin Fever.

    • Theatrical Trailer

    • Tromatic Extras: Includes Radiation March, Tromaloha! and Sell Your Own Damn Spider!

    • Troma Trailers: Return to Nuke’Em High Vol. I, The Toxic Avenger, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and The Taint.

    • DVD Copy

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Hilariously shocking and supremely weird, Bloodsucking Freaks has rightfully earned its status in cult history with a tale of endless torture and eccentric performances like no other.  A minimal plot hardly matters when a perverted dwarf, dismemberments, corrupt cops, a sleazy New York setting and pitch black humor substitute.  While, the original elements’ condition plague the technical side, Troma Entertainment’s Blu-ray treatment  is a rewarding package with a wealth of vintage and newly composed special features for fans to cut into.  Gruesomely fun, Bloodsucking Freaks deserves to be with fans harboring an appreciation for the sick and twisted.

    RATING: 4/5

  • The Candidate (1964) w/ Johnny Gunman (1957) DVD Review


    The Candidate (1964) w/ Johnny Gunman (1957)
    Director(s): Robert Angus / Art Ford
    Starring: Mamie Van Doren, June Wilkinson & Ted Knight / Martin E. Brooks, Ana Donaldson & Johnny Seven
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented for the first time on home video, Vinegar Syndrome pairs two very different films together that hail from opposite ends of the track.  A salacious political satire and a late period noir, both filmed in beautiful black and white, come together for one unlikely package.  Will women with looks that kill and some knife wielding mobsters earn a spot on your shelf?  Let’s find out...

    The Candidate stars Mamie Van Doren (Untamed Youth) and June Wilkinson (Career Girl) in a political satire involving the sexcapades of an up and coming politician, played by Ted Knight (Caddyshack).  Eric Mason (Kiss of the Tarantula) co-stars in his film debut.  Next up, Johnny Gunman, takes place over the course of a single night in New York where a tense battle is brewing between two mob boss hopefuls.  Martin E. Brooks (The Six Million Dollar Man) stars in his film debut alongside Ana Donaldson (Kraft Theatre), Woodrow Parfrey (Planet of the Apes) and Johnny Seven (The Apartment).

    MOVIE(s):
    The sexcapades of an up and coming politician sounds almost more appealing as a documentary for today’s audiences but alas this is the basis of our first feature.  The plot sounds ripe for humorous hijinks and maybe some 1960s skin, but sadly that’s not the case.  The trouble with The Candidate is that it never quite knows what it wants to be.  We start off with a campaign manager (Eric Mason) wooing a politician’s secretary (Mamie Van Doren) in hopes to make his way into the candidate’s good graces.  At this point, I was convinced the story would involve Mason and Van Doren hatching a scheme to catch the candidate in embarrassing sexual situations in order for Mason to take control as the next would be senator himself.  Much to my disappointment, the story went another direction.  The film switches back and forth to past events and then jumping forward where the film becomes a courtroom drama.  Knight’s character isn’t even doing anything “wrong” until he begins seeing the gorgeous June Wilkinson, which Mason believes is a bad political move.  Somewhere along the way, Mason knocks up a random broad which results in her aborting the pregnancy and having a disturbing mental breakdown.  Yikes!  The film concludes in the courtroom where see evidence presented in the form of a stag film starring Knight’s latest squeeze, Wilkinson.  The film in turn finds Knight an unfit selection to assume the role of state senator.  But, don’t worry, as if finding out his old lady starred in a sex flick wasn’t enough, Knight becomes overwhelmed by the film and drops dead because of it!  Needless to say, the film ends on a very unexpected, somber note which fell far from my original expectations.  The Candidate told a story without knowing exactly what it wanted to be or achieve.  Luckily, the one shining light of the film is Van Doren and Wilkinson who are so jaw-droppingly beautiful that you’ll nearly forget about the film and focus entirely on them.  The lack of skin was disappointing but expected for such an early execution in sexploitation.  Nothing more than aggressive kissing and a quick peak at Van Doren’s crack is all you get here.  The Candidate was a snoozefest that baffled me at its inability for consistence.  The film is nothing special and only serves as an odd curiosity of early sexploitation mixed with political satire.
    RATING: 2/5

    Teamed up with The Candidate is the late period noir, Johnny Gunman from 1957.  Set over the course of one night in New York, a tense battle ensues between two mob boss hopefuls that can only end with one of them falling.  This lost flick was Written and Directed by Art Ford which would mark his first and only picture behind the camera.  The premise of the film sounded promising enough but the deeper you get in, the more the appeal wears off.  Johnny Gunman fails from stale performances from its cast, mostly from Ana Donaldson who plays Coffee, a woman with dreams of becoming a writer but plans to ditch the city after that doesn’t pan out.  She enters a cafe on her final night in the Big Apple and decides to spend her final hours with three men, one of whom is a mob boss hoping to gain control of the city.  Donaldson has no range whatsoever and has trouble speaking above a whisper.  Her last stab at trying to find something memorable to write about in these three men comes across as uninteresting due to her lack of enthusiasm.  It’s no surprise Johnny Gunman was her first and only film appearance.  At 67 minutes, the film plays at a snail’s speed with not much in the way of excitement happening.  Eventually, it becomes clear that the only way to decide who will reign the city is to meet on a lonely street and have it out like men.  In what concludes as quite possibly the most anti-climatic fight in film history, Johnny Gunman is a failed attempt at capturing the vibe of a quality noir.  The only appealing moments come in the form of exterior shots of Greenwich Village during a street festival that look marvelous.  In addition, one of the final shots of the film finds our hopeful mob boss driving past a gorgeous movie theatre that was playing The Wizard of Oz at the time.  As you can see, Johnny Gunman is far from a masterpiece and fails to entertain anymore than its co-feature.
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    The Candidate has been restored in 2K from 35mm elements and presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The black and white photography looks clean for the most part with only faint cases of lines and scratches present.  Detail comes across nicely, most noticeably in close-ups.  Overall, I walked away pleased with the presentation.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    Like The Candidate, Johnny Gunman was restored in 2K from 35mm film elements.  The film is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio and has its fair share of hiccups.  Scratches and debris are present in the print with exterior shots looking dark and difficult to view.  While close-ups of the cast are nicely detailed, pops in the print occur every so often.  Suffice to say, this is the best Johnny Gunman will ever look and it’s not too shabby, warts and all.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    The Candidate is accompanied with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix which is slightly problematic.  Moments of hissing and an occasional echo of cracks and pops are heard but fortunately don’t intrude on dialogue.  The echo does become tedious as it practically serves as an unintentional piece of background music.  The audio track is serviceable even with these weak spots.
    RATING: 3/5

    Johnny Gunman is equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that is also problematic.  A slight hiss is heard throughout the entire runtime.  Dialogue can be heard well enough but the hissing does get tedious.  One quick audio drop was noticed in the final reel but only for a moment.  The audio mix will get you to the finish line but there’s definitely hurdles on the way there.
    RATING: 2/5

    EXTRAS:

    No special features are included in this collection but a reversible cover is provided which gives Johnny Gunman top billing.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    The Candidate was a convoluted mess that strayed far from what its premise described.  The only worthy mention of the film is the appearances of Mamie Van Doren and June Wilkinson who are both drop dead gorgeous.  Unfortunately, Johnny Gunman fared no better as a failed attempt to capture the spirit of the noir genre they were aiming for.  A stale cast, anti-climatic ending and the lack of an effective score doomed this film from becoming entertaining if handled better.  Vinegar Syndrome should still be praised for rescuing two lost films that would have been permanently extinct without them.  The video and audio presentations on both films are as decent as one could expect from the material.  Sadly, the quality and entertainment value of the productions hurt this release considerably.
    RATING: 2/5

  • Devil's Express (1976) DVD Review



    Devil’s Express (1976)
    Director: Barry Rosen
    Starring: Warhawk Tanzania, Larry Fleischman, Sam De Fazio & Wilfredo Roldan
    Released by: Code Red DVD

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After many years of searching for suitable materials and hope of a release seeming all but lost, Code Red DVD has finally and unexpectedly released one of their most desirable titles yet!  The 75th spine numbered release from the independent distributor comes nearly five years after being announced in what many fans believed was never going to happen.  While the wait has been excruciating, Code Red DVD not only located the original camera negatives for the film but also restored it in HiDef.  After years of waiting, it’s finally time to experience the 50,000 year old death that stalks the subways!  You’ve bought the ticket, now let’s take the ride upon Devil’s Express.  All aboard…

    Devil’s Express tells the story of New York Martial Artist Luke (played by Warhawk Tanzania who quite possibly has the greatest name in history) as he heads to Hong Kong with his student Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan) in order to earn his next level in the Martial Arts world.  It isn’t long until they stumble upon an ancient burial site where an amulet holding demon creatures is found.  Not knowing this, Rodan steals the amulet and takes it back to his gang infested turf of New York City where all hell breaks loose… literally!  Dead bodies start popping up in the subways while the police believe they are a result of gang wars.  It’s up to Luke to confront the demonic beast underground in order to avenge his student before all hope is lost.

    MOVIE:
    With a film like Devil’s Express that has so much expectation, it’s hard to ensure that a film will deliver all that has been promised on the poster and by word of mouth.  Luckily, Devil’s Express is best described as a “grindhouse pizza”, the film has many slices of different subgenres that were populating the theaters found in Times Square at the time like action, martial-arts, horror and blaxploitation.  Every 20 minutes, the film morphs into something else while still pressing on with a story that entertains on a number of levels for its entire 84 minutes.  Sure, there’s hilarity to be found in the less than stellar fighting sequences and Luke’s jive-speech but that all comes with the charming territory.  It’s so often that films get labeled as “grindhouse” simply because they were released in this decade and even played in theaters of its ilk but Devil’s Express is film that not only deserves it, but wears that label proudly.  The film breathes the New York City of the 70s by showcasing alleyway gang fights and wonderful street shots of defunct grindhouse theaters and peepshows that make you long for those days again.  Tanzania’s performance is the light that guides this film through it’s odd journey and manages to make us laugh as well as kick some demon ass.  During the theatrical release of The Warriors, the distributor of Devil’s Express re-titled it as Gang Wars in order to sell it as a gritty gang movie.  While the title is a cool one, Devil’s Express is more fitting and a far more honest description of what the viewer will be getting.  The film took many moons to make its way into our DVD players, but I can safely say that the wait was worth it and deserves a spot on every cult lovers shelf.  Purchase without hesitation, jive-ass turkeys!
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Code Red DVD presents Devil’s Express in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen HiDef transfer from the original camera negatives.  In short, the film looks beautiful.  Colors pop nicely with healthy levels of grain intact that even the minor instances of dirt and debris won’t ruin.  For as long as the negatives took to find, many would have imagined the worst for their condition but worry not because Devil’s Express truly looks terrific.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    The film is presented in an English Mono track and much like its video counterpart, it sounds great.  The roar of subway trains and fight sequences come across just as well as you could imagine while dialogue comes through without a hitch.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    The disc automatically opens up with a trailer for The King of Kung Fu before heading to the main menu.

    - Devil’s Express Trailer

    - Gang Wars Trailer: An alternate Devil’s Express trailer that utilized the Gang Wars title.

    - Code Red Trailers: A sneak peek at some exciting future flicks like Death Promise, The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee (which utilizes Spanish title cards), Running Scared, This Is a Hijack! and Shakma.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Devil’s Express is a superb execution in grindhouse greatness where several different subgenres make up a piece of this entertaining pie.  The film is roller-coaster fun and is presented in quite possibly the best presentation it has ever seen.  Code Red DVD’s HiDef transfer blows the socks out of any fuzzy looking bootleg you may have owned previously and while the release is light on extras (although, they were originally planned for but aborted after waiting so many years for cast and crew participation that never came through) the strength of the film alone earns high marks.  Devil’s Express is deliciously awesome and is essential for any and all grindhouse fans!
    RATING: 4.5/5