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

    Drive-In Massacre (1976)

    Director: Stu Segall

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

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Wild Beasts (1984) Blu-ray Review

    Wild Beasts (1984)

    Director: Franco E. Prosperi

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

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Black Christmas (1974) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Black Christmas (1974)

    Director: Bob Clark

    Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder & John Saxon 

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Bob Clark (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, A Christmas Story), Black Christmas finds a houseful of sorority sisters stalked by a menacing stranger.  Harassed with obscene phone calls and violently picked off by the mysterious killer, fear and panic overwhelms the friends when their assailant proves to be closer than they thought.  Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror) and John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street) star.

    Hailing from the chilly Canadian north and predating John Carpenter’s 1978 trick-or-treating opus, Black Christmas, largely overlooked for its impact within the genre casts a masterfully suspenseful tone that continues to cut like a sharp icicle over four decades later.  Set within the bustling college town of Bedford, the ladies of the Pi Kappa Sigma house are prepping for their holiday getaways from school when terror strikes.  Disturbingly vulgar phone calls quickly turns into murder leaving the remaining sorority sisters scared for their own lives.  Brought to life by a diverse cast of local talent and thriving domestic stars, the house residents quickly gain the admiration of audiences for their naturalness and their unique character developments that find them struggling with alcoholism and relationship woes.  Unsettled by the murder of a young child and disappearance of their dwindling housemates, an investigation, led by Lt. Kenneth Fuller (Saxon), turns up more questions than answers related to the true culprit.  Incorporating POV footage from the killer long before its use became commonplace and encasing the film in a suffocating grip of dread eased only by well-injected touches of light humor, Black Christmas excels in its methodical plotting that although, slower-paced, serves the pre-slasher effort increasingly well.  Successfully tripping viewers up with several red herrings, tightly edited death scenes juxtaposed with Christmas caroling children and a strong “less is more” approach to its macabre narrative, Black Christmas remains one of the finest slices of holiday horror with twists not seen coming and a frightening finale that lives up to its cheeky tagline.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the original negative, Disc 1 features Black Christmas with a 1080p transfer, sporting the director’s preferred 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  In order to temper expectations, Scream Factory appreciatively alerted viewers of inherent damage to the negative that remains present although, not hopefully intrusive.  True to their word and free of any digital noise, skin tones are natural-looking while, contrast is nicely more boosted than previous releases with colors in costume textures and patterns appearing lively.  Instances of speckling remain on display throughout the film but remain noticeably more cleaned up than before while, black levels also even out nicely with passing moments of murkiness observed.  Amidst its age-related anomalies, presentation is filmic as can be earning Black Christmas its best HD outing to date.  For completists, Disc 2 includes the equally adequate 2006 Critical Mass HD Master, screened in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio for those who fancy it.  Equipped with a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that hones pleasing exchanges of dialogue, blowing winds and creaky floorboard ambiance in the sorority house, controversy has emerged regarding the track’s uses of substituted sound effects and drowned out lines while, its accompanying audio options (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo and Mono mixes, namely the latter) suffers from substantial cracks and pops.  Although an internal investigation appears to be underway for the tracks, the 5.1 mix remains the most effective listening option.

    Predominately packaged with recycled extras on top of a few new exclusives, Disc 1’s special features consist of three vintage Audio Commentary tracks.  The first including Director Bob Clark, the second featuring Actors John Saxon & Keir Dullea and lastly, one from “Billy”.  In addition, an Audio Interview with Director Bob Clark, lasting roughly 30 minutes, can also be listened to while observing the feature.

    Meanwhile, Disc 2’s bonus feature packed offerings include, the newly captured Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle (26:11) and Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin (26:35), both of which dig deep into the thespians respective careers and their time making Bob Clark’s Christmastime shocker.  Vintage additions cover, Black Christmas Legacy (40:22), a 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 (18:02), On Screen!: Black Christmas (48:41), 12 Days of Black Christmas (19:48), Black Christmas Revisited (36:25), Archival Interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark & John Saxon (1:41:30), a Midnight Screening Q&A with John Saxon, Bob Clark & Carl Zittrer (20:21) and Two Scenes with a new soundtrack (3:04).  Finally, English and French Theatrical Trailers (8:16), Original TV and Radio Spots (3:09), an Alternate Title Sequence (2:47) utilizing the film’s Silent Night, Evil Night moniker and a Photo Gallery (53 in total) conclude the on-disc treats while, Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster is also provided.

    A genre staple that made way for the masked madman antics of the 1980s, Black Christmas has endured due to its chilling tone and strangulating suspense that makes it one of the scariest gift wrapped features to revisit during the jolliest time of year.  Early reports and ongoing speculation into the release’s audio issues aside, Scream Factory’s new 2K transfer makes for an early Christmas miracle that should easily satisfy dedicated fans while, the release’s few new extras and Joel Robinson’s cover artwork nicely compliment the hefty sum of repurposed supplements.  While its technical merits have rightly been questioned with a hopefully pleasing resolution to follow, Black Christmas remains highly recommend for the trailblazing shocker it is. 

    RATING: 4/5

    Available December 13th from Scream Factory, Black Christmas can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Shocker (1989) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Shocker (1989)

    Director: Wes Craven

    Starring: Peter Berg, Michael Murphy, Cami Cooper & Mitch Pileggi

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Shocker centers on demented mass murderer Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi, The X-Files) who after being sentenced to the death, harnesses electricity to return from the grave to continue his reign of terror.  Connected to Pinker through a series of surreal dreams, college football star Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg, Collateral) is the only one that can turn Pinker’s abilities against him.  Michael Murphy (Count Yorga, Vampire), Cami Cooper (Meet the Applegates), Sam Scarber (Over the Top), Richard Brooks (The Crow: City of Angels) and Ted Raimi (Darkman) co-star.

    Long considered a lesser effort in Director Wes Craven’s filmography and made unashamedly by its creator to recapture the success of his popular 1984 dream slasher, Shocker injects electrifying volts of hokey carnage.  Starring future director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Lone Survivor) as fostered football star Jonathan Parker who loses his family and girlfriend to a murderous crimewave, Jonathan experiences a wave of preemptive dreams alerting him of the killer’s identity and where he will strike next.  With his surviving adoptive father Lt. Don Parker (Murphy) heading the investigation, TV repairman and black magic worshipper Horace Pinker (Pileggi) is captured and sentenced to death by electricity for his brutal crimes.  Harnessing the powerful volts, Pinker takes his revenge by body jumping into several different victims to continue his murder spree and wipe out Jonathan once and for all.  Blending memorable special effects with somewhat antiquated yet nostalgic video technology, Shocker visually pleases while delivering gory set pieces of mouth to mouth resuscitation gone terribly wrong and several slit throats.

    Although plot holes run aplenty along with a slightly overambitious runtime, Shocker has aged well emerging as a bonafide campfest best enjoyed for its over the top antagonist and hard rocking soundtrack comprised of Megadeth, The Dude of Wrath and Bonfire.  Intended to launch a new horror franchise, dismal box-office performance and lackluster interest from audiences halted any such plans.  While Craven enthusiasts remain split, Shocker is more fun than credited and ripe for a jolting rediscovery.

    Scream Factory presents Shocker with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Free of any discernible aging artifacts, colors found in costume choices and blood-splattered murder sequences burst off the screen.  Meanwhile, skin tones appear natural and nicely detailed while black levels are excellently inky and absent of any crushing.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is robust and clear with electrical explosions and the film’s impressive rock soundtrack making a thunderous impact.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included for your listening pleasure.  Worthy of its collector’s edition banner, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Wes Craven, Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Jacques Haitkin, Producer Robert Engelman and Composer William Goldstein.  In addition, Cable Guy with Mitch Pileggi (17:36), Alison’s Adventures with Camille Cooper (17:12), It’s Alive! with Shep Gordon (11:57) and No More Mr. Nice Guy: The Music of Shocker (26:13) with insight from Music Supervisor Desmond Child, Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys), David Ellefson (Megadeth) and Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper) is also included.  Finally, Trailer & TV Spots (2:32), Radio Spots (1:09), Vintage Making Of (8:48), Storyboard Gallery (8:55), Still Gallery (77 in total) and Reversible Cover Art utilizing the film’s original one-sheet artwork round out the disc’s hefty supplements.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available September 8th from Scream Factory, Shocker can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) Blu-ray Review

    The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

    Director: Don Taylor

    Starring: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera & Richard Basehart

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau finds Andrew Braddock (Michael York, Logan’s Run), the sole survivor of a shipwreck, finally discovering land after an extended period at sea.  Home to the brilliant but, mad Dr. Moreau (Burt Lancaster, The Train), Braddock begins fearing for his life when Moreau’s experiments of animalistic monstrosities become evident.  Nigel Davenport (Chariots of Fire), Barbara Carrera (Embryo) and Richard Basehart (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) co-star.

    Continuing their output of H.G. Wells adaptations following 1976’s The Food of the Gods, American International Pictures would bring to life one of the author’s most noted stories.  Drifting at sea for days, Andrew Braddock (York) finds salvation after discovering an exotic tropical island.  Home and base of genetic experimentations for Dr. Moreau (Lancaster), Braddock turns fearful when Moreau’s god complex of turning wild animals into humans is revealed.  Developing an attraction for the island’s gorgeous Maria (Carrera), Braddock is determined to escape the wrath of Moreau’s bizarre surgeries before he becomes his next target.  Lacking the tense tone of its previous film adaptation, 1932’s Island of Lost Souls, The Island of Dr. Moreau still delivers with lavish scenery, shot on location in The Virgin Islands and the effective casting of Burt Lancaster as the twisted Dr. Moreau.  Displaying an array of wild animals including, lions, tigers, bears and panthers, Director Don Taylor’s (Damien: Omen II) sci-fi oddity packs its most memorable punch with memorable make-up designs courtesy of John Chambers (Planet of the Apes).  With respectable performances from York and Davenport, appearing as Moreau’s assistant Montgomery who develops a conscience only to pay heavily for it, The Island of Dr. Moreau may not tower the effect of its predecessor but, still delivers as a mildly entertaining mad scientist effort with the star power and modern day movie magic to justify its merit.  

    Presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, The Island of Dr. Moreau maintains its share of softness while, colors generally please with skin tones reading naturally.  Detail is most respectable in facial close-ups and the impressive make-up designs of the island’s monstrous creatures.  In addition, black levels appear decently with only mild instances of noise on display.  With its elements in decent shape, The Island of Dr. Moreau makes an acceptable leap to high-definition.  Meanwhile, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix provides clear dialogue levels with hiss or static a nonissue.  Instances of stronger sound effects ranging from gunshots and thunder impress if not, ringing too sharply at times.  Other island ambiance and growling animal noises are also balanced effectively.  Special features include, an Extended Trailer (5:51), Original Theatrical Trailer (2:13) and a Deleted Final Image only included on the network television airing of the film.

    Boasting an impressive performance from Burt Lancaster as the demented Dr. Moreau and top-notch make-up work, The Island of Dr. Moreau slightly suffers from a lack of tension that was so well utilized in its 1932 counterpart.  Missteps aside, Director Don Taylor’s retelling makes serviceable strides in capturing a tone true to Wells’ spirit.  Making its Blu-ray debut, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents this jungle nightmare with a pleasing transfer sans mild age-related issues that should satisfy audiences all the same.  Fans of Wells’ timeless tales and American International Pictures’ drive-in opuses will find their fair share of charm in this science fiction shocker.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 23rd from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, The Island of Dr. Moreau can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.