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Currently showing posts tagged Supernatural

  • The Skull (1965) Blu-ray Review

    The Skull (1965)

    Director: Freddie Francis

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

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Up All Night with Severin Films: Blackenstein (1973), Cathy's Curse (1977) & The Other Hell (1981) Blu-ray Reviews

      

    Blackenstein (1973)

    Director: William A. Levy

    Starring: John Hart, Ivory Stone, Andrea King, Liz Renay, Roosevelt Jackson, Joe De Sue, Nick Bolin, Cardella Di Milo, James Cousar & Marva Farmer

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Piggybacking on the success of American International Pictures’ black bloodsucker of the previous year, Blackenstein loosely modernizes Mary Shelley’s classic work for a new generation of exploitation-loving jive ass turkeys.  Attempting to rehabilitate her armless and legless Vietnam veteran boyfriend back to health, Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) turns to her mentor Dr. Stein (John Hart, The Lone Ranger) to work medical miracles.  After rejecting a fellow lab assistant’s advances, the disgruntled helper sabotages Winifred’s lovers progress, transforming him into hulking monster.  Stalking the streets of Los Angeles in the shiniest of boots and ripping limbs off of unsuspecting whities before meeting his fate at the fangs of ferocious dobermans, Blackenstein is a tightly paced hoot that plays itself surprisingly straight for such a cooky concept whose behind-the-scenes making is even stranger and sadly more tragic than its own fiction.  

    Befit with a solid-looking 1080p transfer, presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Severin Films honors the blaxploitation-horror oddity with strong colors and only fleeting instances of cigarette burns while, its DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix relays dialogue crisply with no cracks or pops intruding.  Offering both its preferred Theatrical (1:17:46) and Video Release (1:27:05) versions, additional supplements include, Monster Kid (19:02) where June Kirk, sister of Writer/Producer Frank R. Saletri, reminisces about her multitalented brother, his lavish mansion previously owned by Bela Lugosi and later Johnny Depp, his genuine sense of pride producing Blackenstein and the emotional circumstances surrounding Salteri’s still unsolved murder in 1982.  Furthermore, an Archive News Broadcast on the Murder of Frank R. Saletri (6:17), Ken Osborne and Robert Dix Remember Frank Saletri (6:36), culled from the filming of Severin Films’ Al Adamson documentary, Bill Created Blackenstein (9:13) featuring an audio interview with Creature Designer Bill Munns (Swamp Thing, The Return of the Living Dead) and lastly, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:24) are also featured.  Electrifying with bolts of undead absurdity, Blackenstein rises from the examination table, courtesy of resurrectors Severin Films, with a striking HD upgrade, revealing extras and dual versions for completists of the underexploitated world of blaxploitation frighteners.

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Cathy’s Curse (1977)

    Director: Eddy Matalon

    Starring: Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen, Roy Witham, Mary Morter & Dorothy Davis

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Using other satanically-charged killer kiddie flicks such as The Exorcist and The Omen as moneymaking references, the peculiar French/Canadian production of Cathy’s Curse unspools with a fatal car accident that leaves a stressed out father and his young daughter burning alive like logs on a flame.  Returning to his childhood home decades later, older brother George Gimble (Alan Scarfe, Double Impact) looks to start anew with his emotionally troubled wife and sweet daughter Cathy.  Shortly after stumbling upon her late aunt’s creepy doll, Cathy turns sour and is possessed, giving evil a prime spot at the dinner table.  Riddled with discombobulating jump cuts and eerie keyboard tunes, Cathy’s Curse lets the blonde little devil work her supernatural magic by forcing the housemaid out a window, hypnotizing the drunken caretaker with spiders, snakes and rats slithering across his still body while, a blood-filled bathtub and leeches are utilized to further her mother’s descent into madness.  A noble yet, imperfect terror effort from the tax-sheltered north, Cathy’s Curse may not spew pea soup across viewers but does make ample use of a minor amusingly spit firing profanities and rearing her own ghastly burnt face in a final showdown against mommy dearest.

    Newly transferred in 2K from recently discovered elements, Cathy’s Curse makes the wildly unexpected leap to high-definition with sound results that buries its previously underwhelming outings on home video.  Presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 1.85:1 aspect ratio, flashy colors seen in gaudier wallpaper selections pop appreciatively while, white levels, witnessed in snowfall and sunshine creeping through windows, appear naturally softer.  Meanwhile, print damage remains vastly minimal.  Joined by a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue with general ease and only mild hiss detected, the film’s aforementioned keyboard selections are the track’s most memorable cues.  Featuring both the film’s go-to Director’s Cut (1:30:44) and an Alternate U.S. Release Cut (1:21:49), other bonus feature offerings include, an Audio Commentary with BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins & Filmmaker Simon Barret (U.S. Release Cut only), Tricks and Treats: Director Eddy Matalon on Cathy’s Curse (20:16), where the filmmaker, speaking mostly in French with subtitles provided, discusses the production, crew and incredible affordability shooting in Canada.  In addition, Cathy and Mum (12:42) catches up with the elusive Randi Allen who played the possessed titular character and her mother Joyce Allen who acted as the film’s Costume Designer.  Lastly, an Introduction to the Cinematic Void Screening at American Cinematheque by BirthMoviesDeath Critic Brian Collins (4:28) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:36) wrap up the disc’s extras.  A true deep cut of Canadian chillers of the possessed persuasion, Cathy’s Curse has the power once more thanks to a crowd pleasing restoration fans will assume was achieved through a deal with the devil himself (at least we hope so!).

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Cathy's Curse can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Other Hell (1981)

    Director: Bruno Mattei

    Starring: Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo, Francesca Carmeno & Susan Forget

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A sacrilege slice of nunsploitation, Italian cult cinema heavyweight Bruno Mattei (Hell of the Living Dead, Rats: Night of Terror), under the pseudonym Stefan Oblowsky, paints church walls red in The Other Hell.  Following several questionable suicides at a nunnery, the depraved Mother Vincenza (Franca Stoppi, Beyond the Darkness) attempts to derail Father Valerio's (Carlo De Mejo, City of the Living Dead) investigation so that her devilish methods may continue.  Narratively messy and lacking such sleaze factors as ample nudity and lesbianism, The Other Hell does little to rattle the cages of excess while, supernatural happenings stake their claim in the form of bloody stigmata and Hell’s head honcho rearing his red blazing eyes, revealing themselves to only be laughable light-up bulbs.  Certain that the evil happenings are the work of a flesh and blood deviant, Father Valerio asks for more than he bargained when a flashback sequence reveals the Mother Superior’s baby was violently boiled and, as the daughter of Satan, the living and badly burned child’s otherworldly abilities are the cause for the convents twisted events.  Certainly seedy with nuns performing grisly abortions and flexing their stabbing reflexes routinely, The Other Hell hardly lives up to its reputation as one of the subgenres best with Mattei and Stoppo’s attachment being the only cause for a passing glance.

    A mild improvement from its previous standard definition release, Severin Films readies The Other Hell with a 1080p transfer, culled from 35mm blow-up elements presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Still showing signs of noticeable wear in the form of scratches, cigarette burns and an intruding vertical line during one dinner sequence in particular, black levels show improvement but remain imperfect while insert shots of the Mother Superior stabbing Father Valerio appear to be sourced from a lesser reference.  Meanwhile, the LPCM 2.0 mix is audible with the English dub track relayed decently but, not without its own faults of cracks, pop and a thin veil of hiss detected throughout.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso, moderated by Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddea, Sister Franca (13:13) catches up with Actress Franca Stoppi where she reveals working on The Other Hell and The True Story of the Nun of Monza simultaneously, often working on the same sets.  In addition, Stoppi recalls the warm and fun relationship working with Carlo De Mejo and as a niece of two nuns growing up, loved the aspect of dressing up as one for films.  Furthermore, To Hell and Back (11:22) features archive interviews with Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo with The Other Hell Trailer (3:34) and Reversible Cover Art concluding the release’s extras.  One may not require a bath in holy water after viewing The Other Hell but, that doesn’t make it the worst of its kind either, just simply less blasphemous than one might expect.  Completists of Mattei’s demented filmography won’t blink twice adding this unholy feature to their shelves with Severin’s noble efforts saving it from certain annihilation well worth falling to your knees for.

    RATING: 2.5/5

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

  • Teen Witch (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Teen Witch (1989)

    Director: Dorian Walker

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

    Released by: Kino Lorber

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Survivor (1981) Blu-ray Review

    The Survivor (1981)

    Director: David Hemmings

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

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Regression (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Regression (2015)

    Director: Alejandro Amenábar

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

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • The Boy (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Boy (2016)

    Director: William Brent Bell

    Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, James Russell & Ben Robson

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a secluded English village, The Boy finds young American Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead) relocating to assume the position of nanny to a young boy.  Shortly after learning she will be caring for a life-sized doll modeled after the child in the wake of his death, Greta begins experiencing a series of unexplainable events leading her to believe the doll is alive.

    Escaping an abusive relationship, Greta Evans (Cohan) treks abroad to care for Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire’s (Jim Norton, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Diana Hardcastle, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) 8-year-old son on their sprawling English property.  Laughing off what she assumes is a practical joke, Greta quickly realizes her responsibilities are to care for a porcelain doll bearing the likeness of their late son Brahms.  Serving as a coping device for the grieving parents, Greta is ordered to adhere to a series of strict caring rules, treating the inanimate object as if it were alive while the Heelshire’s take a long overdue holiday.  Striking up a relationship with local grocer Malcolm (Rupert Evans, Hellboy), the American woman slowly learns more about the real Brahms and his peculiar personality before his untimely death in a house fire.  Alone and with little outside interaction, Greta’s deviation from the doll’s care triggers an eerie chain events that finds Greta’s personal belongings disappearing, records being played on their own and the doll noticeably moving from one place to another.  Frightened and questioning her own sanity, Greta’s fears are validated when Malcolm is witness to the boy’s unbelievable movement.  Uncertain whether evil forces are at play or not, Greta’s nightmare ex-boyfriend unexpectedly arrives hoping to forcefully resolve their differences only to experience Brahms’ true intentions firsthand.

    Shot on location in Victoria, British Columbia and originally titled The Inhabitant, The Boy is cinema’s latest attempt at haunted doll scares with a thinly veiled plot audiences will spot a million miles away.  Admittedly, while its setup is painfully generic with the greater majority of its thrills spoiled in its marketing campaign, The Boy takes a third act detour mildly unique to what’s expected.  Unfortunately, although its watcher in the walls angle matched with a fast-paced chase of its heroine jolts the film with much needed energy, attempts to raise the film above its mediocrity are too little, too late.  Inexpensively produced and released during the dead of winter, The Boy would perform strongly at the box-office for its intended teen audience yet, plays itself too safe, ultimately lacking any solid suspense and indulging in below average cheap scares.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Boy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Excellently handled, skin tones are exacting and true, details found in knickknacks around the Heelshire’s lavish household are crisp while, the grassy exteriors are lavish and bold.  Black levels are predominately inky and pleasing with only fleeting mentions of crush bearing little to no consequence to the film’s remarkable transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue, including moments of hushed tones, are perfectly captured while, moody ambiance around the house is exquisitely balanced against the wall smashing and high-pitched shrieks of its final act.  With the exception of a Digital HD Code, no bonus features have been included.

    Publicized as more of the same while its final product strives to be different, The Boy is an uneventful opus that builds itself on lackluster frights suited for teens who don’t know any better.  Hardly the worst of its kind, The Boy does little to stand out in a crowd marking it for a forgettable future.  Luckily, Universal Studios Home Entertainment pampers the feature with exceptional technical merits but, severely slacks in the special features department.  In a toy box filled of better supernatural efforts centered on dolls, The Boy shouldn’t be counted on to haunt viewers’ dreams.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available May 10th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Boy can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • American Horror Project Vol. I: Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973), The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976) & The Premonition (1976) Blu-ray Review

    American Horror Project Vol. I (1973-1976)

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scouring the bizarre and obscure avenues of America’s horrifically under appreciated efforts, Arrow Video proudly presents American Horror Project Vol. I!  Curating a triple dose of features and scholarly supplemental evaluations, this 3,000 unit limited edition collection welcomes Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood where a family searching for their son finds themselves in the stranglehold of a dilapidated amusement park overrun by a peculiar host and cannibalistic ghouls.  Next up, The Witch Who Came from the Sea centers on a troubled woman with a traumatic past whose violent fantasies find their way into her reality.  Finally, The Premonition threatens the livelihood of a five-year-old girl when she is abducted, leaving her mother riddled with frightening visions that may also lead to her daughter’s rescue.      

    From the dilapidated backroads of Pennsylvania emerges Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.  Marking the first and only feature from Director Christopher Speeth, this psychedelic blend of horror and high-art maintains the production quality of many independent efforts of the era while, constructing an identity of its own under the guise of carnie insanity.  Short on narrative structure yet, maximizing its visual splendor, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood finds the central Norris family joining the sideshow business in order to conceal their true agenda of locating their missing son.  However earnest their quest seems, all plans are abruptly abandoned when their own survival is threatened.  Headed by the ominous Malatesta (Daniel Dietrich, Fleshpot on 42nd Street), the vampiric Mr. Blood (Jerome Dempsey, Network), devilish dwarf Bobo (Hervé Villechaize, Fantasy Island) and a colony of cannibalistic underground dwellers, the Norris family and other unlucky attendees fall victim to a grizzly rollercoaster beheading, stabbings and of course, feasts upon their flesh.  Guiding viewers through a funhouse of trashcan constructed production design where its grey-faced people eaters rally in front of silent film loops, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is viscerally unnerving with the trappings of its peculiar soundtrack and music cues heightening one’s fear of the offbeat attraction scattered across rural America.

    Teetering on the fringes of exploitation and psychologically frightening, Director Matt Cimber’s (Gemini Affair, Lady Cocoa) The Witch Who Came from the Sea is an unsung effort that explores the darkness of child sex abuse and the lifelong repercussions of the violated.  Starring Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as barmaid Molly whose violent daydreams including, the tying of two macho football players before straight-razoring their genitals proves wildly similar to recently reported events.  Adhering to a strict diet of alcohol and pill-popping, Molly’s romanticized memories, retold to her adoring nephews, about her late father is juxtaposed with uncomfortable imagery of her younger self faced with the overbearing seaman.  Robbed of her innocence while insistent on her late father’s perfection, Molly’s peculiar interest in the glamour of television and all its pretty faces compels the delusional woman to act out her fatal aggression on them.  The realms between Molly’s surrealistic episodes and reality come to a head when detectives (played by Richard Kennedy of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS and George “Buck” Flower, best known for his roles as hobos in Back to the Future and John Carpenter’s They Live) begin connecting the dots back to Molly.  Hardly considered a horror film in the traditional sense with the exception of several razor slashing sequences, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is an uncomfortable yet, polarizing picture that strikes fear into the viewer with its touchy portrayal of incest and the physical and mental damage afflicted on its victims.  Complimented with early cinematography by Dean Cundey (Halloween, Jurassic Park) and a rather dreamlike aura, The Witch Who Came from the Sea stands as an exhaustive terror ride into the depravity of human beings.

    Long enchanted by the paranormal and the nature of interconnectivity, Director Robert Allen Schnitzer’s (No Place to Hide) metaphysical frightmare melds his respected interests with a tale detailing a mother’s worst nightmare.  Filmed in the tax-incentive region of Jackson, Mississippi, The Premonition introduces the mentally unstable Andrea (Ellen Barber, Blood Bride), assisted by the lovesick carnie Jude (Richard Lynch, Bad Dreams), as she attempts to steal back her young daughter from her adoptive parents.  In the film’s most hauntingly scarring scene, protective mother Sheri Bennett (Sharon Farrell, The Stunt Man) looks in on her sleeping child only to discover the eerie Andrea rocking the innocent girl to sleep before viciously attacking Sheri.  Although safe from capture, Sheri begins experiencing unexplainable visions that warn her of impending doom while, her scientific-minded husband Miles (Edward Bell, Helter Skelter) can’t wrap his brain around her condition.  After a freakish accident occurs, five-year-old Janie (Danielle Brisebois, Big Bad Mama II) is taken, increasing Sheri’s terrifying sightings of Andrea leading the Bennett’s to rely on spiritual forces beyond their understanding.  Although an investigation is put forth, The Premonition resists becoming a police procedural and wisely focuses on the film’s family dynamic, its gray-shaded characters and the emotional whiplash of a missing child to stay uniquely grounded.  While its horrific set pieces may not come in the form of a masked mute with a butcher knife, The Premonition presses on to deliver a film that is both respectfully challenging and psychologically engaging, leaving viewers with an added appreciation for its sophistication and artistic flair.  Enriched by an otherworldly score by classical composer Henry Mollicone, The Premonition is the standout opus of the collection that will stay with viewers long after the credits have concluded.

    Working from the best available materials for the collection’s obscure offerings, Arrow Video has restored each director-approved feature in 2K resolution with 1080p transfers, sporting their respective 1.85:1 (Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood and The Premonition) and 2.35:1 (The Witch Who Came from the Sea) aspect ratios.  Although excessive dirt removal was applied, each film still maintains their fair share of scuffs and scratches with varying degrees of vertical lines and cigarette burns on display.  Given the dire state of such rarely preserved films, their imperfections never deter from the viewing experience and, in the rare instance, actually add charm to their grindhouse roots.  Boasting respectable skin tones, fairly boosted color schemes, understandably speckled black levels and otherwise naturally filmic representations, The Witch Who Came from the Sea appears in the roughest shape with The Premonition unquestionably looking the best.  Joined by LPCM 1.0 mixes, each feature arrives with audible dialogue levels yet, imperfections are present.  Cracks and pops are common at reel changes and other various moments while, prolonged static is most noticeable throughout The Witch Who Came from the Sea.  Much like their visual counterparts, audio quality is not pristine but, easily does what is required for a pleasurable watching experience.  

    Unsurprisingly, supplements are plentiful with Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood arriving with an Introduction by Author and Co-Curator Stephen Thrower (3:41), an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith and The Secrets of Malatesta (14:06) featuring an insightful new interview with Director Christopher Speeth.  In addition, Crimson Speak (11:49) sits down with Screenwriter Werner Liepolt, Malatesta’s Underground (10:10) highlights Art Directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson’s invaluable contributions to the film while, Outtakes (2:59), a Still Gallery (38 in total), the Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content) and a Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster is also included.  Meanwhile, The Witch Who Came from the Sea features an Introduction by Author and Co-Curator Stephen Thrower (4:52), an Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Matt Cimber, Actress Millie Perkins and Director of Photography Dean Cundey plus, the brand-new retrospective documentary Tides & Nightmares (23:28) featuring interviews with the cast and crew.  Furthermore, the vintage supplement of A Maiden’s Voyage: Remembering the Witch Who Came from the Sea (36:14) is included alongside, Lost at Sea (3:55), a new reflection of the film by Director Matt Cimber and a Reversible Cover Art also showcasing the original 1-sheet design.  Finally, The Premonition hosts an Introduction by Author and Co-Curator Stephen Thrower (3:16), an Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Robert Allen Schnitzer, the Isolated Score and Pictures from a Premonition (21:19) featuring new interviews with key talent behind the camera.  In addition, a vintage Robert Allen Schnitzer Interview (5:51), a vintage Richard Lynch Interview (16:06), Schnitzer’s Short Films including, Terminal Point (40:45), Vernal Equinox (30:08) and A Rumbling in the Land (11:05) are included alongside, Peace Spots (3:38), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:23), TV Spots (3:27) and a Reversible Cover Art incorporating the original 1-sheet imagery.  Lastly, DVD editions of each film are also included with an impressive 60-page booklet housing some of Arrow’s finest liner notes to date with insights on the films from Stephen Thrower, Kim Newman, Kier-La Janisse and Brian Albright.

    Exceptionally curated, Arrow Video’s American Horror Project Vol. I dusts the cobwebs off some of the genre’s oddest and under appreciated efforts to emerge from the independent mavericks of the era.  While personal favorites are subjective to each viewer, there’s no denying this triple threat of terror and madness is an invaluable crash course on three diamonds in the rough of low-budget American exploitation.  Although securing film materials was no easy task with all showing their share of mileage, each film’s director-approved transfers look better than ever with Arrow’s phenomenal supplemental package offering viewers top-rated scholarly insight into these forgotten features.  With immediate hope for future installments to grace their collection, Arrow Video’s American Horror Project Vol. I is the horror enthusiasts ideal roadmap to the weird and alternative.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, American Horror Project Vol. I can be purchase via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

    Director: Wes Craven

    Starring: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Moake, Paul Winfield, Brent Jennings, Michael Gough & Dey Young

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow centers on anthropologist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman, Spaceballs) as he journeys to Haiti to retrieve a mystic powder said to bring life to the dead.  Navigating the dangerous locale, Dennis finds himself involved in the deadly world of voodoo where the undead, possessions and ancient curses reign.  Cathy Tyson (Mona Lisa), Zakes Moake (Waterworld), Paul Winfield (The Terminator), Brent Jennings (Witness), Michael Gough (Batman) and Dey Young (Strange Behavior) co-star.

    Inspired by real life experiences documented in Wade Davis’ book, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a daring exploration of voodoo and the black arts.  Shot partly in the reportedly unsafe Haiti, Director Wes Craven’s nightmare-fueled opus is a noticeable departure from his previous shockers with an emphasis on the island’s factual political turmoil.  After barely surviving an Amazonia search for rare herbs and experiencing a psychedelic episode, anthropologist Dennis Alan (Pullman) is summoned by a domestic drug corporation to investigate a mysterious powder used during voodoo practices in Haiti that supposedly raises the dead.  Aided by doctor Marielle Duchamp (Tyson), Dennis’ encounter with a local zombie who roams cemeteries fuels his desire to locate the substance only to find himself ruffling the feathers of the barbaric authorities, led by Captain Dargent Peytraud (Moake).  Warned but not harmed, Dennis’ search leads him to swindling witch doctor Mozart (Jennings) who makes a deal to show the American how to develop the drug.  Pursued once again by the authorities, Dennis finds himself in dire straits when he is ruthlessly tortured and has his scrotum nailed to a chair, demanding his immediate departure from Haiti.  Riddled with frightening nightmares of rotting corpses and sinister snakes, Dennis’ short-lived return to America where friends are possessed and his concern for Marielle increased, leads him back to the black magic plagued isle.  Upon arrival, Peytraud’s power and influence knows no bounds as people are slaughtered with the resilient doctor learning firsthand the grave danger he is in.

    Although hesitantly considered a horror film, Craven’s cult classic supplies plenty of unsettling nightmare imagery where a serpent emerges from a decomposing body to attack Dennis while, dark forces cause a scorpion to crawl from the mouth of a living man.  In addition, the savage brutality of the Tonton Macoute beheading innocent lives is equally grizzly and not far removed from reality.  Akin to a fever dream of terror that never wanes, The Serpent and the Rainbow is one of Craven’s most progressively daring features that affects viewers on a purely visceral level of fear.  Earning respectable returns at the box-office, The Serpent and the Rainbow is the rare voodoo related feature that lives up to its intent as a supernatural spectacle.

    Scream Factory presents The Serpent and the Rainbow with a newly struck 1080p transfer from the inter-positive film element, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Although appearing occasionally soft in the dilapidated dwellings of the Haitian villages, greenery is noticeably lush and striking throughout.  Skin tones read moderately well and natural with several instances falling on the redder side.  Meanwhile, detail is strong with perspiration glistening on faces and the intricacies of rotting flesh found on the undead looking quiet noticeable.  Psychedelic colors and blood pop nicely while, black levels are inky and clear.  Filmic and hosting very scant scratches, The Serpent and the Rainbow makes a respectable high-definition debut.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is audible and effective while, the bustling sounds of the Haitian streets are lively and appropriately balanced.  Meanwhile, Brad Fiedel’s (Fright Night, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) score makes impressive statements against the shrieking screams of terror.  Welcomed into Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition series, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Actor Bill Pullman, moderated by Rob Galluzzo.  Although Pullman is only present for less than an hour due to filming commitments, Galluzzo does a remarkable job keeping the conversation interesting with Pullman injecting plenty of anecdotes about the filming experience.  In addition, The Making of The Serpent and the Rainbow (23:57) features new (audio) interviews from Pullman while, Author Wade Davis, Director of Photography John Lindley and Special Makeup Effects Artists Lance Anderson and David Anderson appear on-camera.  Yet another typically informative retrospective that fans will appreciate although, the scholarly insight from the late Craven is sadly lacking.  Furthermore, the Theatrical Trailer (1:23), TV Spot (0:31), a Photo Gallery (60 in total) and a Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet artwork conclude the supplemental package.

    In what appears to be their last Craven related release and classily dedicated to his memory, Scream Factory welcomes The Serpent and the Rainbow’s unsettling levels of voodoo terror and nightmarish imagery into their respected line of Collector’s Editions.  Casting a superior looking curse with its Blu-ray debut, special features, although understandably lighter than past Craven efforts, deliver worthwhile information that fans of this cult classic will surely appreciate.  Hosting another stellar art design by Joel Robinson (Nightbreed, The Vincent Price Collections), The Serpent and the Rainbow will possess you with its frightening twists and turns.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Hellions (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Hellions (2015)

    Director: Bruce McDonald

    Starring: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson & Luke Bilyk

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set on Halloween, Hellions centers on teenage Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose, Degrassi: The Next Generation) who’s forced to defend herself and home against unsavory mischief makers.  Determined to take control of something dear to Dora, the hellacious trick-or-treaters will stop at nothing until they have what they desire.  Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), Rossif Sutherland (Timeline), Rachel Wilson (Total Drama) and Luke Bilyk (Degrassi: The Next Generation) co-star.

    Establishing an atmospheric Halloween-time spirit, Hellions melds the year’s most sinister season with intense teenage conflict for a uniquely suited horror outing.  After learning she is pregnant, high school senior Dora Vogel (Rose) scrambles to find the way to tell her boyfriend the unexpected news.  Left home alone while getting ready for a Halloween party, Dora is slowly harassed by several vicious trick-or-treaters with knowledge of her unborn child.  Fearing for her life while pregnancy pains increase at an accelerated rate, Dora finds herself in a nightmarish version of her home as the deadly troublemakers multiply and desire her child.  Aided by Dr. Henry (Sutherland) and neighborhood officer Mike Corman (Patrick), Dora must fight for her survival with household appliances and limited firepower to evade being sacrificed to the hellions’ cause.

    Combining supernatural spooks with a home invasion thriller, Hellions demands to be original and generally succeeds.  The emotional conflict of Dora’s unexpected pregnancy raises the film’s suspense levels while, freakish imagery of the final girl’s evil reflection dining on a bloody fetus is an uncomfortable yet, effective moment.  Although the monstrous hell raisers appear visually reminiscent to Michael Dougherty’s Sam character in his Halloween opus Trick ‘r Treat, the designs work nicely.  In addition, as Dora’s pregnancy increases at a rapid pace throughout the film, Director Bruce McDonald’s (Pontypool) shift into a monotone, nightmarish reality sends the Canadian effort into visual pool of dread.  Collecting a minor body count and concluding on a rather open-ended note, Hellions stands as a contemporary chiller that dares to be different, choosing to blend genres and forming its own entertaining personality.

    Scream Factory presents Hellions with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, skin tones are impressively detailed and natural looking while, the suburban setting and greenery of its local pumpkin patches boast impressive colors.  In addition, black levels are generally strong with the few minor imperfections appearing more artistically driven than true technical defects.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is well handled with only occasional instances of Dora and boyfriend Jace speaking in hushed tones requiring additional volumes boosts.  Otherwise, the hellions’ attack on Dora’s home, shotgun blasts and the fierce weather conditions during Dora’s long night all make strong impressions on the boisterous mix.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Unfortunately scant, special features include, the film’s Trailer (1:48) and a Reversible Cover Art displaying alternate poster imagery.  

    Providing a refreshing spin on the Halloween night of terror formula, Hellions layers its central character with greater stakes uncommon to most final girls while, its injection of supernatural forces gives the film leeway to enter nightmarish realms for one eerily intense standoff.  Marking one of their finest contemporary acquisitions from IFC Midnight, Scream Factory presents their latest spookshow with top-notch technical grades although, special features are wholly lacking.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Over Your Dead Body (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Over Your Dead Body (2014)

    Director: Takashi Miike

    Starring: Ebizô Ichikawa, Ko Shibasaki, Miho Nakanishi, Maiko, Toshie Negishi, Ikkô Furuya & Hideaki Itô

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Audition, Over Your Dead Body centers on an accomplished actress (Ko Shibasaki, 47 Ronin) starring in a stage rendition of a legendary ghost story.  After getting her lover cast as the male lead, rehearsals for the play, focusing on a troubled relationship and a supernatural presence, begin taking shape offstage as well.  When the line between reality and fantasy become heavily blurred, the young thespians find themselves consumed by the darkness.  

    Focusing on the exhaustive rehearsal process of a stage play, Over Your Dead Body begins promisingly, inviting viewers into the beautiful and dramatic narrative of its mock production.  Weaving a tale of an abusive relationship, samurais and apparitions, Director Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer) spends considerable time establishing the characters of his play within a film before revealing their complicated lives offstage.  Successfully landing her lover a leading role in her latest opus, Miyuke’s (Shibasaki) relationship with Kousuke (Ichikawa) is anything but ideal.  Struggling to cope with the heavy subject matter of her role, Miyuke finds her onstage drama suffocating her once loving relationship with her costar.  Meanwhile, Kousuke secretly takes comfort in the sexual company of Miyuke’s understudy as the supernatural elements of the play begin taking hold of the actors’ lives.

    Considerably slow-building, Over Your Dead Body remains fixated on the visual splendor of its faux stage play while, Miyuke and Kousuke’s relationship dilemmas increase and become intertwined with the play’s grim narrative.  In its final act, Over Your Dead Body supplies unsettling footage of Miyuke attempting to claw at her womb with kitchen utensils for a fetus making the scareless first hour nearly forgotten.  In addition, the eerie awakening of a prop baby and Miyuke’s deformed transformation similar to that of her stage character gives the film added chills.  Effortlessly blending the realms of nightmares and reality at the expense of its runtime, Over Your Dead Body may not be Miike’s finest hour, yet successfully achieves a haunting tone by its conclusion.  

    Scream Factory presents Over Your Dead Body with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A product of the digital age, flesh tones appear lively and well-detailed with the dimly lit sets of the film’s play offering healthy black levels.  That said, nighttime sequences of intimacy between Miyuke and Kousuke suffer slightly with foggier appearances and hints of digital noise.  Beyond these minor grievances, Over Your Dead Body makes a spirited debut on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the Japanese dialogue is delivered sharply with moments of hushed tones never suffering.  Meanwhile, the film’s haunting score by Composer Kôji Endô (13 Assassins) and its glass-shattering sound effects are prominently prioritized enhancing scenes of suspense.  In rare Scream Factory form, special features are limited to only the film’s Trailer (2:03).

    Director Takashi Miike’s latest effort takes its time painting a picture of a troubled couple eventually overcome by dark forces.  Although its narrative is intertwined with the drama of its supernatural play, scares and nightmarish imagery are reserved until the film’s rewarding final act.  While its pace and lack of frights can grow tiresome, Over Your Dead Body maintains some of J-horror’s best qualities.  Continuing to expand their horizons to all facets of terror, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release awards viewers with a strong audio/visual presentation although, supplements are noticeably scant in comparison to past releases.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Over Your Dead Body can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Guardian (1990) Blu-ray Review

    The Guardian (1990)

    Director: William Friedkin

    Starring: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown & Carey Lowell

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Dan Greenburg, The Guardian centers on young parents Phil (Dwier Brown, Field of Dreams) and Kate (Carey Lowell, License to Kill) welcoming the arrival of their newborn baby.  Shortly after hiring the ideal live-in babysitter, Phil and Kate’s worst nightmare comes true when Camilla’s (Jenny Seagrove, Local Hero) supernatural intentions for their child are revealed.  Brad Hall (Saturday Night Live), Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop), Natalija Nogulich (Hoffa) and Gary Swanson (Vice Squad) co-star.

    Marketed as Academy Award winning director William Friedkin’s (The French Connection, The Exorcist) return to the horror genre, The Guardian modernizes the dark origins of fairy tales with the deep-rooted fears of all parents for a uniquely-suited picture.  Adhering to the ancient druid worship of trees, an evil yet, convincingly caring nanny (Seagrove) connives her way into the lives of unsuspecting parents in order to sacrifice their newborn babies.  Disappearing only to resurface under a new identity as Camilla, Phil (Brown) and Kate (Lowell) hire the charmingly attractive woman to care for their newborn only to find themselves rattled by unsettling nightmares and the declining health of their baby.  While local friends fall victim to Camilla’s wicked ways courtesy of flesh-eating wolves, the couple’s suspicions are validated after a grieving former victim comes forward to warn the couple of the monster living under their roof.  Unsuccessfully convincing the authorities of the supernatural powers at play, Phil and Kate must trek to the source of the evil in order to protect their baby’s soul.

    Previously developed for Director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spider-Man) before jumping ship to helm Darkman, the project would suffer through several grueling rewrites once Friedkin joined the production.  With the foundation of a solid premise, The Guardian falters due to its noticeably shaky screenplay and Friedkin’s quick-cutting that capsizes any effect the film’s scarier moments intend.  Although sequences of homicidal trees dismembering three deserving thugs make for solid eye-candy, The Guardian’s dark fairy tale tone finds itself largely lost in the woods.  Failing to attract audiences or sizable box-office returns with Friedkin also distancing himself from the project, The Guardian has marginally grown in appreciation amongst cult cinema circles.  Hardly reaching the quality of Friedkin’s devil-possessing 1973 classic, The Guardian, with its occasionally striking moments of grim imagery, is neither entirely forgettable nor remarkably memorable.  

    Scream Factory presents The Guardian with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Amidst several instances of flakes and specks, skin tones appear well saturated and boasting natural appearances.  Meanwhile, colors are strongly enforced with greenery and moments of gore popping most nicely.  With countless sequences shrouded in darkness and shadow, black levels appear inky and well detailed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is prominently handled with audibility never an issue.  Furthermore, moments of suspenseful intensity including Ned’s savage assault from wolves and Phil’s chainsaw-wielding battle in the film’s final act are sharp and effective.  Packed with a varied assortment of new and vintage supplements, special features include, A Happy Coincidence with Dwier Brown (21:56), From Strasberg to The Guardian with Gary Swanson (10:10), A Mother’s Journey with Natalija Nogulich (11:33), Scoring the Guardian with Jack Hues (6:40) and Tree Woman: The Effects of The Guardian with Matthew Mungle (13:07) all produced by Aine Leicht’s dependable Cavetown Pictures.  Also included, Return to the Genre: An Interview with William Friedkin (17:25), The Nanny: An Interview with Jenny Seagrave (13:19) and Don’t Go in the Woods: An Interview with Stephen Volk (21:00).  Finally, a Still Gallery (1:19) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:34) round out the disc’s bonus content.

    Unfairly compared to one of the genre’s most enduring efforts, The Guardian is all but destined for failure.  That said, judged on its own merits, Friedkin’s grim fairy tale never quite lives up to its full potential with a problematic screenplay and stabs at suspense crumbling.  Although its narrative may appeal to some more than others, Scream Factory’s high-definition upgrade unanimously impresses with its technical grades checking out and its supplemental package being worth the price of admission alone.  Long out of print, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is prime for Friedkinphiles and others unfamiliar with the Academy Award winner’s horror followup.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available January 19th from Scream Factory, The Guardian can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • A Christmas Horror Story (2015) Blu-ray Review

    A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

    Director(s): Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban & Brett Sullivan

    Starring: George Buza, Rob Archer, Zoé De Grand Maison, Alex Ozerov & William Shatner

    Released by: RLJ Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    One year following a mysterious set of murders, A Christmas Horror Story centers on the interwoven tales of a trio of teenage investigators hoping to crack the case, the disturbed first responder whose young son becomes affected by the supernatural and a less than wholesome family hunted by the mythical Krampus.  In addition, Santa Claus is overwhelmed by more than Christmas Eve chaos when his elves turn into bloodthirsty monsters.  Continuing the revived trend of horror anthologies, A Christmas Horror Story takes full advantage of turning the cheeriest time of year into a bloody massacre.  Blending a murder mystery with tales of changeling creatures and St. Nick battling his loyal helpers turned man-eaters is a rollicking fun time.  While each set of characters share events in common, A Christmas Horror Story never truly brings them altogether for a more connective payoff, allowing each segment to stand better on their own hoofs.  In addition, its generally unknown cast, comprised of local Canadian talent, are effective with the more prominent William Shatner (Star Trek) relegated to little more than a cameo as an eggnog chugging radio disc jockey.  With each segment delivering the many unique subgenres of horror, all with pleasing doses of gore and crafty makeup effects, A Christmas Horror Story’s twist conclusion is a well added touch.  Although undoubtedly timed to coincide with this Christmas’ horror opus Krampus, A Christmas Horror Story is an admirable indie effort with several effective scares that can stand tall with other niche Xmas shockers.

    RLJ Entertainment presents A Christmas Horror Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A product of the digital age, clarity is sharp and pleasing with skin tones appearing natural and well-defined.  With the majority of its runtime spent in dim locations, black levels are inky and deep while, the brighter colors illuminating from decorations pop nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, sound quality impresses with dialogue consistently clear and the film’s more shocking moments of screams and other suspenseful jump moments hitting their marks.  Relatively scant on supplements, the sole inclusion A Christmas Horror Story: Behind the Scenes (14:45) is a standard EPK with brief interviews from key talent and onset footage of the shoot.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from RJL Entertainment, A Christmas Horror Story 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. 

  • The Legacy (1978) Blu-ray Review

    The Legacy (1978)

    Director: Richard Marquand

    Starring: Katharine Ross, Sam Elliot, John Standing, Margaret Tyzack & Roger Daltrey

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Richard Marquand (Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi), The Legacy centers on Maggie (Katharine Ross, The Stepford Wives), along with boyfriend Pete (Sam Elliot, Mask), on business in the English countryside.  After being involved in a car accident, the couple are invited back to the fellow driver’s lavish estate only to be surprised by other guests expecting them.  With an uneasiness filling the air, the houseguests begin unexpectedly dying as supernatural forces are suspected.  John Standing (The Elephant Man), Margaret Tyzack (2001: A Space Odyssey), Ian Hogg (Rasputin), Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out) and Roger Daltrey (Tommy) co-star.

    Invited overseas by a mystery client, interior decorator Maggie Walsh (Ross) and hunky boyfriend Pete Danner (Elliot) travel to the English countryside only to be sidetracked by a car accident.  Safe with the exception of Pete’s motorcycle, the couple are graciously invited back to their fellow driver Jason Mountolive’s (Standing) extravagant mansion.  Greeted by several houseguests already expecting them, Maggie and Pete are introduced to their powerful new acquaintances as Jason’s declining health is the basis for their visit.  Summoned to his death bed, Maggie is bestowed with a sinister ring also worn by her fellow guests that refuses to leave her finger.  As Maggie and Pete’s desire to leave the estate are slyly denied, the possibility of black magic being conducted turns frighteningly real as the visitors meet fatal ends under questionable circumstances.  A disturbing drowning, chicken bone choking, fiery inferno and shattered mirror shards claim Jason’s unsavory business partners as the couple discover a shocking lineage between witchcraft and Jason’s family line.  Imperative that Jason’s legacy lives on and seduced by the satanic allure of power, Maggie’s fate becomes sealed.

    Slow-building yet increasingly tense, The Legacy carries the torch for satanic frights popularized earlier in the decade by The Exorcist and The Omen.  While not hardly as praised as its predecessors, Director Richard Marquand’s black magic opus weaves an intriguing, character driven tale with an eclectic cast and eerie imagery of a gothic mansion and creepy cats.  Although plot holes can sometimes be glaring and its narrative explanations slightly overindulgent, the film’s minimal but effective death sequences and dark conclusion easily make up for most of its shortcomings.  Critically divided and commercially unsuccessful, The Legacy remains an underappreciated occult tale forgotten in the wake of the burgeoning slasher movement.

    Boasting a new high-definition transfer, Scream Factory presents The Legacy in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of modest levels of speckling, the picture is noticeably sharp with a natural grain layer and impressive detail in facial features giving way to the slightest wrinkles surrounding Ross’ eyes.  Skin tones are inviting while dual colors of a particular white cat’s eyes and the film’s blood dripping deaths pop exceptionally well.  Meanwhile, black levels are decently inky with only moderate instances of flakes apparent in more dimly lit moments.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is predominately clear with an occasion of hushed tones requiring an increase in volume.  Kiki Dee’s main title song and more striking sound effects including, gunshots ring loudly sans distortion.  Special features include, Anne V. Coates: An Editing Legacy (13:47) where the charmingly elder editor discuss her first introduction to cinema seeing Wuthering Heights and her admiration for the late Richard Marquand.  In addition, The Make-Up Effects of The Legacy: Robin Grantham (10:46), TV Spot (0:32), Radio Spot (0:29), Theatrical Trailer (1:43), Photo Gallery (2:32) and a Reversible Cover Art round out the supplemental package.

    Commonly forgotten in the annals of 70s horror cinema, The Legacy compliments satanic pictures before it with its unorthodox plot and diverse cast including, a brief but effective appearance by The Who’s Roger Daltrey.  With several murders, Sam Elliot showcasing his bare asset and supernatural happenings at every turn, The Legacy is casting a spell to be resurrected by curious viewers.  Graced with a newly struck transfer, Scream Factory ushers the film into a new era looking better than ever.  Accompanied with newly produced bonus features compliments of the consistently talented Aine Leicht, The Legacy is devilishly worth dancing with.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 15th from Scream Factory, The Legacy can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Scarecrows (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Scarecrows (1988)

    Director: William Wesley

    Starring: Ted Vernon, Michael Simms & Richard Vidan

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Centering on a band of ex-military criminals, Scarecrows finds the team pulling off a multi-million dollar heist and boarding a getaway plane for Mexico.  Taking hostage a civilian pilot and his teenage daughter, one of their own betrays the group leading to a ground search through a desolate area of farmland.  As night sets in, the heavily armed group find themselves confronted with a nightmarish array of deadly scarecrows.

    Blending the realms of action and horror seemed a novel idea during a decade of much testosterone-induced debauchery.  Unfortunately, Scarecrows never rises above its unique concept to be anything more than mediocre.  Substituting horny teenagers for military criminals, a betrayal by one to keep millions for himself sends his former cronies hunting for him in backwoods country, eerily surrounded by a heavy dose of scarecrows.  Armed to the teeth and with an innocent pilot’s daughter held hostage, the criminals set their new course to locate their backstabber and reclaim their fortune.  While the scarecrow designs, compliments of Special Make-Up Effects Creator Norman Cabrera (Drag Me to Hell) are impressive, the film dawdles for most of its runtime following the criminals’ endless hunt while genuine scares and thrills are kept to a bare minimum.  Admittedly, chemistry between the thugs is apparent and lends itself to moments of humor while machine gun shootouts are plentiful in this unlikely hybrid.  With its true horror colors reserved for its final act where the haunting antagonists finally take center stage, Scarecrows makes a valiant attempt to test new waters but, ultimately suffers from bland characters and overly emphasizing one subgenre over another leading to an uneven tone.

    Scream Factory presents Scarecrows with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Although shrouded in darkness, black levels appear welcomingly inky with no crushing levels even if visibility, attributed to the dimly lit production, isn’t always ideal.  In addition, detail shines through most effectively in Cabrera’s scarecrow designs with skin tones generally pleasing.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is always audible with moments of gunfire and Composer Terry Plumeri’s (Sometimes They Come Back) chilling score registering nicely.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  Stuffed like hay, Scarecrows arrives with a plentiful selection of special features including, an Audio Commentary with Director William Wesley & Producer Cami Winikoff, an Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter Richard Jeffries, Director of Photography Peter Deming & Composer Terry Plumeri.  In addition, The Last Straw with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Norman Cabrera (16:35) finds Cabrera recalling the nonprofessional learning ground the production was for him while, Cornfield Commando with Actor Ted Vernon (8:46) finds the mustached musclemen warmly looking back on his role in the film.  Finally, Original Storyboards (3:48), a Still Gallery (60 in total), Theatrical Trailer (1:32) and Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s supplements.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Scarecrows holds a charm for those won over by its action-horror hybrid approach.  While impressing with its make-up designs and awarded for its attempted originality, Scarecrows ultimately procrastinates for much of its run time ditching suspense and scares until its final fleeting act.  Luckily, Scream Factory’s efforts shine with a pleasing technical presentation and a generous helping of quality special features sure to please dedicated fans of this scarecrow stalking cocktail.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Ouija (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Ouija (2014)

    Director: Stiles White

    Starring: Olivia Cooke, Douglas Smith, Bianca A. Santos & Daren Kagasoff

    Released by: Universal Studios

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the tragic death of her best friend (Shelley Hennig, Teen Wolf), Ouija centers on Laine (Olivia Cooke, Bate Motel) as she attempts to contact her using an antiquated Ouija board.  After tinkering with the superstitious relic, Laine, along with her friends, awaken a resident spirit leading to a series of horrifying events.  Douglas Smith (Big Love), Bianca A. Santos (Happyland), Ana Coto (DisCONNECTED), Daren Kagasoff (The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Robin Lively (Teen Witch) and Lin Shaye (Insidious) co-star.

    In the tradition of board game adaptations such as Clue and Battleship, Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse Productions, in association with Hasbro Studios, unveil their long in-development take on Ouija.  Previously intended as a big-budget spectacle with several directors including McG (Terminator Salvation) and Breck Eisner (The Crazies) attached, Ouija would ultimately settle on a tighter $5 million budget with first time director Stiles White at the helm.  With the game soaked in supernatural intrigue for generations, its modern day cinematic treatment is anything but memorable.  After Debbie (Hennig) unexpectedly commits suicide, Laine (Cooke), with the assistance of her friends, try to summon her through the means of a Ouija board.  After several contacts prove they are not communicating with their dearly departed friend, an evil spirit has instead been summoned, vowing to extract terror upon the teens.  Littered with painfully dull characters and cheap jump scares, Ouija, ripe with potential, fails to make a chilling impact.  As its cast slowly drops like flies, Laine investigates the history behind her deceased friend’s house where the board was found, leading her to its former inhabitant, Paulina Zander (Shaye), and her tragic history.  While, Blumhouse Productions‘ good luck charm, Shaye, delivers one of the more solid performances as a mentally disturbed woman with a questionable past, her screen time is quite limited.  In addition, talented lead actress Olivia Cooke, hot off her success on A&E’s Bates Motel, is vastly underwhelming due entirely to the film’s uneventful screenplay.  Amongst a forgettable supporting cast of newcomers, retro enthusiasts will appreciate the lovely Robyn Lively (The Karate Kid, Part III, Teen Witch) in a brief role as Debbie’s grieving mother.  

    Considered a massive financial success earning over $95 million at the box-office, Ouija is predictable as they come, lacking suspense and a worthwhile narrative with such a novel icon at its core.  As Platinum Dunes (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th) and Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, The Purge) add another bankable effort under their belts, Ouija is sadly one, if not their biggest, blunder to date.

    Universal Studios debuts Ouija with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Where the film miscalculates narratively, its high-definition presentation makes up for.  Sparkling with natural skin tones, deep, inky black levels and fine detail, Ouija looks hauntingly superior.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Ouija pleases with crystal clear dialogue levels and aggressive jump scares prioritized nicely in their delivery.  No distortion or any other such anomalies interfere in this otherwise tip top track.  Supplemental features include two Blu-ray exclusives, The Spirit Board: An Evolution, tracing the Ouija boards history through the years with various interview subjects including Director Stiles White and Co-Writer Juliet Snowden (4:07) plus, Icons of the Unknown takes a brief scientific look into how the game works (4:00).  In addition, Adapting the Fear interviews the cast and crew about turning the eerie board game into a feature film (3:45).  Finally, a DVD edition of the film and a Digital HD UltraViolet code round out the packages bonus content.

    With other board game adaptations including Monopoly and Candy Land in active development, Ouija most assuredly won’t be applauded for its memorability.  Uninspired and relying on shallow scares, Ouija remains a spirit not worth communicating with.  Universal Studios ushers the film onto Blu-ray with top-notch A/V standards and a small, rather uneventful spread of special features.  Worthy of a stronger narrative considering its rich, supernatural background, Ouija is as lifeless as the spirits conjured within it. 

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now, Ouija can be purchased through Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Deliver Us from Evil (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

    Starring: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris and Joel McHale

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Sinister and Marvel Studios’ upcoming Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson, leads you into a supernatural journey through New York’s gritty streets.  Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Deliver Us from Evil melds the worlds of the police procedural with the occult for a truly terrifying experience.  Presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Deliver Us from Evil urges you to hold fast to your faith...  you’ll need it.

    Inspired by actual accounts, Deliver Us from Evil centers on New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana, Munich).  While, investigating a series of disturbing and unexplainable crimes, Sarchie discovers supernatural forces behind their doing.  Joining forces with a rebellious priest (Édgar Ramírez, Domino), the duo must confront demonic possessions that are overrunning the city.  Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), Sean Harris (Prometheus) and Joel McHale (Ted) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    No stranger to stories of the supernatural, Director Scott Derrickson took inspiration from Author Ralph Sarchie’s nonfiction work, Beware the Night, to weave his latest opus of horror.  Grounded in the urban reality of The Bronx, New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Bana) attempts to maintain law and order against daily dangers on the job.  Encountering several unexplainable crimes linked to three Iraqi war veterans, the faithless Sarchie begins experiencing supernatural occurrences.  Pursued by a hard-drinking unconventional priest (Ramírez), Sarchie begins to believe in the otherworldly incidents plaguing his life.  When his family becomes entangled in the demons wrath, Sarchie must confront his own skeletons and assist his unlikely priest partner in religiously combating the evil.  Bana adapts a New York accent effortlessly while, channeling the proper attitude and aggression to portray a tough street cop.  Loving, albeit neglectful of his wife and daughter, Sarchie’s grim dealings of recovering deceased babies from dumpsters and responding to spousal abuse calls takes drastic tolls on his psyche.  Unfortunately, Bana’s performance slightly lacks by not showing a stronger sense of his conflicting emotions.  While, showcasing more anger and depression would have humanized the character more, Bana still delivers a performance worth standing by.  Meanwhile, Édgar Ramírez breaks the obvious conventions of clergymen with his Latin American ethnicity and dependency on cigarettes and booze.  Intensely serious, Ramírez does well in his role as exorcist while, harboring personal demons of his own.  The gorgeous Olivia Munn is often underused but, satisfies in her role as Sarchie’s dedicated wife.  The unusual casting of funnyman Joel McHale as Sarchie’s partner plays to the film’s advantage with his subtle comic relief and strong chemistry with Bana.  In addition, McHale’s aggressive training with knives pays off as his stunt scenes come off authentic and thrilling.

    While, Derrickson’s previous encounter with demonic possessions, 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, was more courtroom drama, Deliver Us from Evil shares more with 70s police dramas and Martin Scorsese’s underrated Bringing out the Dead.  Disturbing in its gritty realism of horrific crimes, the film’s supernatural layer of possessions, contorted bodies and inanimate objects moving, invokes a genuine sense of uneasiness and suspense.  With the exception of minor character flaws, Deliver Us from Evil is an effectively frightening effort in urban crime and demonic terror.  

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Deliver Us from Evil arrives in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Shot in predominant darkness with endless nighttime sequences, somber overcasts and dimly lit offices, Deliver Us from Evil shines on the Blu-ray format.  Crisp and clear with no crushing whatsoever, detail is remarkable allowing for total appreciation of subtitles such as Bana’s five ’clock shadow and Sean Harris‘ outstanding prosthetic scars.  While, colors are virtually nonexistent in this supernatural tale, the intendedly grim appearance is flawless.

    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Deliver Us from Evil packs a solid punch with dialogue relayed with no hitches.  The mix also makes great use of a variety of ranges, including subtle animals noises in The Bronx Zoo to the wildly booming intensity of the film’s climatic exorcism sequence.  Demonic gibberish, crashing glass and the impactful use of songs from The Doors earn this track a perfect seal of approval.

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson

    • Illuminating Evil (13:36): This slightly brief, albeit informative, making of featurette traces the origins of the project and its appeal to the production team.  Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson, Co-Writer Paul Harris Boardman, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the core cast of Bana, Munn and McHale are all interviewed.

    • Deliver Us from Demons (8:25): Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, Prosthetic Makeup Designer Mike Marino shares his creative process crafting Sean Harris‘ detailed prosthetic scars.

    • The Two Sergeants (8:05): In another Blu-ray exclusive featurette, Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson and Star Eric Bana discuss the real Ralph Sarchie and the importance of capturing his mannerisms and intense personality.

    • The Demon Detective: “The Work” and the Real Ralph Sarchie (9:37): In this final Blu-ray exclusive, Author Ralph Sarchie is interviewed about his tenure on the New York Police force, his encounters with the supernatural and his current work as a demonologist.

    • Previews: Trailers include No Good Deed, The Equalizer, The Remaining, Predestination, Grace: The Possession and The Calling.

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Continuing his successful genre efforts, Director Scott Derrickson has weaved an undeniably eerie and disturbing tale about a faithless law enforcer tasked with facing the devil.  Capturing a grim tone set in the real world hell of South Bronx, Deliver Us from Evil continues to widen Derrickson’s creative canvas as he plunges into “marvelous” worlds of magic and sorcery.  Much to the delight of viewers, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has delivered pitch perfect audio and video treatments with a wide-ranging spread of rich and informative bonus features.  Just in time for the Halloween season, enthusiasts of gritty cop dramas and supernatural thrillers will find much in Deliver Us from Evil to keep you equally entertained and unsettled.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Availble now, Deliver Us from Evil can purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #13: The Bob Newhart Show, Dan Curtis' Dracula, Gang War in Milan & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #13 includes:

    - Dan Curtis' Dracula (1973) (0:36)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    MPI: http://www.mpihomevideo.com/

    - House in the Alley (2012) (6:28)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series (12:04)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Gang War in Milan (1973) (20:26)
    Street Date: May 20, 2014
    Raro Video: http://www.rarovideousa.com/

    - Chances Are (1989) (27:10)
    Street Date: April 22, 2014
    Image Entertainment: http://www.watchimage.com/

    - Death Spa (1989) (31:40)
    Street Date: May 27, 2014
    MPI: http://www.mpihomevideo.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (37:55)

  • The Black Torment (1964) DVD Review

    The Black Torment (1964)
    Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
    Starring: John Turner, Heather Sears, Ann Lynn, Peter Arne & Norman Bird
    Released by: Kino Lorber

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Soaked in gothic atmosphere reminiscent of the Hammer horror films of the decade, Compton Films issued their own response with this eerie period piece.  Shot at the iconic Shepperton Studios, Robert Hartford-Davis (Corruption) directs this hauntingly underrated execution in British horror.  Previously released in less than stellar presentations, Kino Lorber, in conjunction with their Redemption line, proudly presents The Black Torment mastered in HD.  Largely forgotten since its theatrical run, The Black Torment has been resurrected with the intent of striking fear into your soul!

    Set in the 18th-century, The Black Torment stars John Turner (The Power of One) as Sir Richard Fordyce returning to his country estate with his new bride played by Heather Sears (The Phantom of the Opera).  After the brutal rape and murder of a young girl, suspicion increases as the locals believe Sir Richard is responsible.  Firm on his innocence, citizens are not convinced while Sir Richard begins experiencing severe mood changes and supernatural events.  As more people continue to disappear, Sir Richard begins questioning his own sanity.

    MOVIE:
    The stalking and eventual murder of a young, beautiful girl sets the gears in motion for this deliciously gothic whodunit.  Returning home from his honeymoon, Sir Richard Fordyce (Turner) is greeted by his wheelchair-bound father, his caretaker and sister of Sir Richard’s late first wife and her cousin Seymour.  Rumors have escalated amongst the townsfolk that Sir Richard is responsible for the girl’s death.  Shot cheaply without compromising style, The Black Torment takes its time establishing its characters while lavish sets and costumes attract the viewers eye.  As more victims disappear, Sir Richard is haunted by visions of his late wife who committed suicide some years earlier.  John Turner balances the gentlemanly and unhinged side of his role convincing the audience something is astray.  The gorgeous Heather Sears compliments Turner as a lovely devoted wife who eventually is consumed to fear him as an erratic and possibly deadly man.  While, often compared to the efforts of Hammer horror and possessing its fair share of eroticism, The Black Torment is far more tame compared to the popular studio.  In addition, death scenes are present but rely on showing less in order to suggest more to the audience, a tactic that is proven successful here.  The Black Torment may be considered slow moving to some but, its patience to develop its principal characters against the gloomy gothic setting works to its advantage.  

    Ghostly happenings and an uncertainty of who’s committing the murders adds a true level of mystery to this entertaining thriller.  As the finale approaches, the culprits dying words answer all questions in a surprising, albeit slightly over explained, attempt at wrapping up loose ends.  Beautifully shot by Peter Newbrook (whose sole directorial effort would come in 1973 with The Asphyx), The Black Torment is a spooky, period piece that wonderfully captures the gothic atmosphere only selected studios could achieve so well.  
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Released twice before with unimpressive results, Kino Lorber have presented The Black Torment in HD from 35mm archival elements.  Preserving its 1.66:1 aspect ratio in anamorphic widescreen, The Black Torment has never looked better.  Black levels are lively and vivid while flesh tones are relayed accurately.  Detail is quite nice and most appreciated in the lavish set design of Sir Richard’s estate.  Most noticeably is the remarkably clean presentation of the transfer.  No lines or scratches to be seen which only enhances the viewing pleasure of the film.  Admittedly, it’s a shame Kino Lorber decided against a Blu-ray release as the appearance of the elements are far superior compared to past Redemption titles issued on the format.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix, The Black Torment is clear and surprisingly very robust.  No distortion to speak of and Robert Richards‘ powerful score rattles your speakers with his thunderous horns and elegant string sections.  No complaints to be seen here!
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Robert Hartford-Davis Interview: This rare 13-minute interview finds Hartford-Davis discussing his cost conscience way of filmmaking while mainly speaking of the business side of the movie industry.  The interviewer tends to ask a question before stopping and attempting to simplify its delivery which tends to get tiresome.  The inclusion of this rarity is still a treat for fans of Hartford-Davis‘ work.

    - Trailers: Includes The Blood Beast Terror, Virgin Witch, Killer’s Moon and Burke and Hare.

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:
    Banished to obscurity and nearly forgotten, The Black Torment has thankfully been resurrected much to the delight of gothic horror fans.  On par with Hammer horror films, The Black Torment weaves a thrilling tale set against murder and the supernatural.  The lush production design, impressive performances and patient pace make The Black Torment a wonderful addition to British horror’s history.  Kino Lorber’s HD presentation is unquestionably the best the film has ever looked.  The proper aspect ratio preserved and the overall clean appearance of the film will hopefully encourage Kino to issue this underrated gem on Blu-ray in the near future.  Rounding out the release with a rare interview from Director Robert Hartford-Davis should make picking up The Black Torment simple for those with an affection for full moons and the fog infested scenery of British horror.
    RATING: 4/5