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  • Witchtrap (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Witchtrap (1989)

    Director: Kevin Tenney

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

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • Graduation Day (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Graduation Day (1981)

    Director: Herb Freed

    Starring: Patch Mackenzie, Christopher George, Michael Pataki & E.J. Peaker

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After prom night and before summer camp begins, graduation day awaits!  From the director of Beyond Evil and Tomboy, the class of ’81 are disappearing and seemingly everyone is suspected.  In association with Troma Entertainment, Vinegar Syndrome proudly presents the quintessential high school slasher, Graduation Day, newly restored in 4K and on Blu-ray for the first time ever!

    Following the tragic death of a high school track star, Graduation Day centers on a masked killer targeting student athletes and fellow teachers.  With graduation mere days away, the class of ’81 are dropping like flies.  As the mystery unfolds and bodies continue to emerge, a strict coach, the victim’s grieving sister (Mackenzie) and boyfriend are all suspected of the bloody crimes.  Christopher George (Pieces), Michael Pataki (Rocky IV), E. Danny Murphy (Final Mission), E.J. Peaker (Hello, Dolly!), Carmen Argenziano (Stand and Deliver) and Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Capturing the overly intense devotion to high school athletics, Graduation Day is yet another slasher re-telling of an anticipated moment in teenage lives, painted red.  Chaotically edited, this 80s effort moves at a swift place while, adhering to the rhythmic beats that fuel genre films.  After a blood clot tragically kills a graduating track star, a mysterious killer, adorned in a fencing mask and black leather gloves, begins targeting fellow athletes and faculty members.  Grieving the loss of her younger sister, naval officer, Anne (Mackenzie), arrives in town to better understand the circumstances of her death.  Amongst a sea of would-be killers including, a demanding track coach (George) and strict stepfather, Anne joins the ranks as a potential murderer to the suspecting audience.  While, the core cast of teens are rather underwhelming, “Scream Queen” in the making, Linnea Quigley (Savage Streets, The Return of the Living Dead) appears as a scandalous student who shows off her assets and gets cuddly with a teacher to ensure a passing grade.  In addition, Christopher George’s niece and future Wheel of Fortune letter-turner, Vanna White, makes a brief appearance as a fellow student.  

    Filled with locker room stalkings and backwoods prowling, Graduation Day takes full advantage of its sports obsessed tone with clever sword slayings and high jump horrors.  While, the film detours by setting up several suspenseful sequences that lead nowhere and one too many red herrings, Graduation Day still entertains with a cast of seasoned vets like George and Pataki that ham it up nicely.  Finally, as the climax nears, an over the top performance emerges from the revealed killer with an effective jump ending, sending the film off on a satisfying note.  Honoring the slasher ethics of moviemaking, Graduation Day is not immune to missteps but, succeeds overall as an entertaining 90-minute romp with a killer who likes making good time with his dirty deeds.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Newly restored in 4K, Vinegar Syndrome presents Graduation Day in a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio for the first time on home video.  Retaining a natural grain appearance, this indie slasher maintains its 80s-esque softness with bold colors, most prominently in the red graduation gowns and other pastel colored wardrobe, popping nicely.  Scratches and flakes are present in varying amounts, but never overly intrusive.  Skin tones are warmly relayed while, black levels, although mostly visible, still encounter their fair share of speckling.  Based on previous video sourced releases, Vinegar Syndrome have worked wonders with this latest presentation.

    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono mix, Graduation Day is projected nicely with effective musical cues during suspenseful moments.  Dialogue is mostly audible with locker room scenes, understandably echoing while, others involving multiple chatter at once, overwhelms the mix at times.  In addition, the roller rink sequence with new wave band Felony, kicks relatively high punches but a little too much sharpness.  Overall, the audio succeeds during crucial moments of talk and terror.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Producer David Baughn

    • Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Lives

    • Acting Out in School - An Interview with Patch Mackenzie (8:48): Lead actress Mackenzie discusses her strict British upbringing, opinion clashes with Director Herb Freed on the film and her guest appearances on countless television shows such as The Waltons and Taxi.

    • Surviving the Class of ’81 - An Interview with Herb Freed (12:22): Previously serving as a rabbi for three years, Freed credits his late wife and Co-Screenwriter Anne Marisse for supporting his passion for film.  The director also reminisces on his casting choices and the joy in hearing actors bring his lines to life.

    • Graduation Day Blues - An Interview with David Baughn (11:34): Lifelong film fan, Producer Baughn discusses his early beginnings with MGM, booking Russ Meyer films and forming a friendship with the man.  Baughn also discusses the films ad campaign and his memorable working relationship with Freed.

    • Cutting Class - An Interview with Martin Jay Sadoff (7:20): Hailing from NYU, Sadoff explains how his love for music influenced the fast-cutting editing approach to Graduation Day.

    • Theatrical Trailer (2:04)

    • DVD Edition

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    In a climate of holiday-themed slashers, Graduation Day corrupted another seminal day in the lives of teenagers with entertaining results.  Scattered with up and coming scream queens and future television personalities, this high school bloodbath spins a twisting tale of sports related murders.  The teenage cast fail to leave a lasting impression but, the film’s tone and atmosphere are rightly in place.  Vinegar Syndrome’s impressive 4K restoration washes away dreadful memories of previous releases along, with a satisfying spread of bonus content to jump into.  Over 30 years later and long overdue, the class of ’81 can once again be celebrated in this memorable retro slasher.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 9th, Graduation Day can be purchased via Vinegar Syndrome or Amazon.com

  • Prom Night (1980) Special Edition Blu-ray Review

    Prom Night (1980)

    Director: Paul Lynch

    Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens & Antoinette Bower

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Long considered one of the finest slashers to emerge from the 1980s, “Scream Queen” Jamie Lee Curtis lends her star power to this memorable Canadian offering.  Co-starring Leslie Nielsen (Airplane, The Naked Gun), Prom Night is a bloodthirsty tale of tragedy and revenge set on every teenagers‘ most special evening.  Remastered and restored in 2K, Synapse Films proudly presents the original disco madness classic on Blu-ray for the first time ever and packed with new bonus content.  

    Prom Night centers on four Hamilton High seniors hoarding a dark secret from their past.  After a childish game turned into tragedy, someone who witnessed the incident is seeking revenge.  On the evening of their high school prom, an axe-wielding madman has arrived to play a bloody game of his own on the unsuspecting teenagers.  Anne-Marie Martin (The Boogens), Michael Tough (Skullduggery), Pita Oliver (Double Negative), Mary Beth Rubens (Firebird 2015 AD), Joy Thompson (Trapped) and Sheldon Rybowski (Spring Fever) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Calm and calculated, Prom Night chooses to weave a tragedy and develop characters, as opposed to racking up the body count.  With the exception of the inaugural death sequence, this tax-sheltered production makes the viewer wait over an hour for evidence of a true slasher film.  Generally, this slow-burn approach would cost the film severely but, Prom Night is all the better for it.  After accidentally costing the life of one of their peers, four children promise to conceal their secret.  Six years later, Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Alex (Michael Tough) deal with the sadness of their deceased sister while, preparing for their prom.  Unfortunately, a hooded madman who witnessed the fatal incident is making harassing phone calls to the guilty teens.  Prom Night spins several red herrings with success while, maintaing the mystery of the masked assailant until the final act.  The remainder of the runtime allows the viewer to appreciate the colorful characters and their unique relationships with one another.  Best remembered for its cheesy disco sequences, Prom Night showcases the incredible dance skills of Jamie Lee Curtis who has somehow evaded a spot on the popular competition show, Dancing with the Stars.  As dates are found and jealous ex-girlfriends become bitter, prom night arrives with the axe-wielding murderer waiting in the shadows.  In its final act, Prom Night wears its slasher label proudly with suspense and a killer who never shies from chasing his victims.  Throat slashings and axe beheadings follow before a dance floor brawl ensues between Kim’s date and the killer.  The madman’s reveal is unexpected and emotional as the viewer genuinely sympathizes with this actions.  

    While, the film is relatively light on blood and slow moving, Prom Night works wonders as a thrilling whodunit during a time when disco was all the rage.  Halloween alumni, Jamie Lee Curtis, once again serves up a memorable performance as the final girl with rhythm, cementing her status as a bonafide horror icon.  Complimented by addicting disco tunes from Composer Paul Zaza (My Bloody Valentine, Curtains) and guided direction by Paul Lynch (Humongous), Prom Night rewards the viewer with an engaging story, charming performances and a bloody, neon-lit finale, slashers fans won’t soon forget.  

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    Remastered and restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Prom Night is presented with a 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Poorly treated in previous releases, Synapse Films‘ presentation is a revelation.  The overblown lighting and inherent softness in daytime sequences are retained but, finally controlled and nicely balanced.  Skin tones are accurately relayed and boast nice clarity.  Whether you’re admiring Anne-Marie Martin’s sparkling red gown, Casey Stevens‘ baby blue tux or the neon disco lights, colors pop incredibly well with much to appreciate.  While, minor specks and flakes appear, black levels are rich and boast the best visibility to date.  Previously known for its criminal mistreatment on home video, Synapse Films has brought their meticulous work ethic and dedication to one of slasher’s finest in its definitive form.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix, Prom Night is crisp with dialogue always audible.  With no hiss or distortion to speak of, Prom Night truly comes alive during its memorable prom sequences.  Composer Paul Zaza’s tunes pack a roaring punch and a suitable bass that fill your speakers with disco fever.  Glass shattering and van explosions also send sufficient shrieks to the soundscape, enriching the viewing experience along the way.  In addition, an original Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix is also included. 

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Director Paul Lynch & Screenwriter William Gray: Moderated by Pat Jankiewicz, Lynch and Gray jump right into the proceedings, playing a who’s who over the opening credits and detailing where everyones career went.  Lynch expresses his extreme interest in casting Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch fame in the lead role before Jamie Lee Curtis’ management caught wind of the project.  In addition, Nielsen, whom Lynch worked with several times, was hailed as a joy to work with.  Dry spells do occur but, Jankiewicz does a fine job keeping the two collaborators engaged, making this an otherwise informative listen.

    • The Horrors of Hamilton High: The Making of Prom Night (41:04): Red Shirt Pictures crafts this insightful history lesson on the making of the production.  Director Paul Lynch explains his ad concept for the movie sparking an interest with Halloween producer, Irwin Yablans.  Unfortunately for Yablans, Producer Peter Simpson quickly signed Lynch to a deal.  Cast members Mary Beth Rubens, Joy Thompson, Michael Tough and Jeff Wincott share their experiences from the film including, Nielsen’s off-screen hijinks using a fart machine.  Plus, Art Director Reuben Freed, Composer Paul Zaza and Prosthetics Creator Warren Keillor also share their memories and respective contributions to the film.  A splendid retrospective featurette that covers all the bases.  Prom Night enthusiasts couldn’t ask for more!

    • Original Theatrical Trailer (1:49)

    • Original TV Spots (3:17): Six in total.

    • Original Radio Spots (1:06): Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, two spots are included.

    • Motion Still Gallery (6:20): Also exclusive to the Blu-ray release.

    • Additional Footage Added for Television Broadcast (11:11): TV Version Editor Michael MacLaverty prefaces the included six scenes.

    • Never-Before-Seen Outtakes from the Original Prom Night Shoot (23:15): The final Blu-ray exclusive feature.

    • Reversible Cover Art  

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Beloved by fans and a personal favorite, Prom Night is a seminal high school slasher that chooses to mystify with suspense and character development, building to a climatic, bloody showdown on the dance floor.  Jamie Lee Curtis, who would board a terrifying train and face her Halloween foe once again before surrendering her scream queen status, shines as the sweet and sexy heroine with a talent for cutting a rug.  Accompanied by a far too brief appearance from funnyman Leslie Nielsen and a cast of talented Canadian hopefuls, Prom Night conveys a surprisingly twisty tale while, serving up a handful of teenage victims.  Shamefully handled for years, Synapse Films have outdone themselves restoring this slasher classic to its former glory.  Boasting bold colors and natural grain with a newly created surround remix, Prom Night has never looked and sounded better.  Overflowing with rich bonus content and a generously included reversible cover, Synapse Films has rewarded fans with one of the finest releases of the year!

    RATING: 5/5

    Also available on DVD, Prom Night can be purchased on September 9th from Synapse Films and Amazon