Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category

Currently showing posts tagged Suspense

  • The Scar (1948) Blu-ray Review

    The Scar (1948)

    Director: Steve Sekely

    Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen, Mabel Paige & Herbert Rudely

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a casino hit gone wrong, The Scar finds on-the-run gambler John Muller (Paul Henreid, Casablanca) evading mobsters that want him dead.  Bearing a striking resemblance to psychiatrist Dr. Batrok, Muller decides to take control of the good doctor’s life in the perfect scheme to stay alive.  While Bartok’s secretary (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows) grows suspicious of her employer, Muller slowly begins to inherit Bartok’s own personal troubles.  Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids) directs.

    Soaked in juicy thrills and the threat of danger constantly looming, The Scar, initially released as Hollow Triumph, may be the spawn of respected Poverty Row distributor Eagle-Lion Films but, rises above its inherent B-picture DNA to deliver a tense noir unafraid of remaining in the gloomy shadows.  Based on Murray Forbes’ novel, recently released prisoner John Muller seeks to get rich quick and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process.  A brilliant mind who ditched out on medical school, Muller gathers his old cronies together for a hit on feared mob boss Rocky Stansyck’s casino only for the plot to crumble, leaving some dead and Muller wanted the same way by the mobsters.  Relocating, Muller is mistaken for a local psychologist who, with the exception of a glaring scar upon his cheek, could pass as the doctor’s twin.  Running low on options and using his education to his advantage, Muller, simultaneously wooing Bartok’s beautiful secretary Evelyn Hahn as himself, sets out to impersonate the psychoanalyst.  Fudging up which cheek to scar after disposing of the actual Bartok, Muller’s act surprisingly fools patients and friends alike only to have Evelyn, Bartok’s former mistress, not fully convinced.  Paranoid after several close calls with Stansyck’s henchmen and emotionally conflicted with Evelyn, Muller’s new life may not be quite as innocent as he once assumed.  A crafty potboiler that invites viewers into the mind of a calculated crook, The Scar may not be a game changer but, greatly impresses with its gorgeous monochrome photography and a surprisingly bleak conclusion that outshines any of its more contrived, albeit still entertaining, moments.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics welcomes The Scar to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  While bouts of scratches and reel change pronunciations are spotted, overall clarity is strong while, black levels, seen in the film’s many suits and coat jackets, are deeply inky.  In addition, facial details are best observed in medium shots with tighter angles, although still pleasing, appear noticeably softer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed audibly with gunshots and suspenseful music cues registering as defiantly as expected for a film of its age.  A mild layer of static is also present but thankfully never overly intrusive.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Imogen Sara and Trailers for 99 River Street (2:13), Cry of the City (2:33), Shield for Murder (1:45), Boomerang (2:30) and He Ran All the Way (2:13).

    A well-oiled noir that engages and never bores, The Scar arrives with clichés to spare but, the combined performances of Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett mixed with the film’s striking appearance and daringly somber finale make it a solid getaway car for noir enthusiasts.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ new remastering of the picture is a welcome upgrade that preserves the thriller for years to come.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • A Game of Death (1945) Blu-ray Review

    A Game of Death (1945)

    Director: Robert Wise

    Starring: John Loder, Audrey Long, Edgar Barrier & Russell Wade

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Readapting Richard Connell’s thrilling tale just over a decade after its pre-Code movie makeover from the directors of King Kong, A Game of Death is a briskly paced and suspenseful jungle-based adventure where the hunter becomes the hunted.  Starring John Loder (How Green Was My Valley) as noted author and respected hunter Don Rainsford who after becoming shipwrecked, finds shelter in Erich Kreiger’s (Edgar Barrier, Macbeth) exotic island homestead.  An isolated locale hosting fellow shipwrecked siblings Ellen (Audrey Long, Born to Kill) and Bob (Russell Wade, The Body Snatcher) Trowbridge, their welcoming host proves sinister as his homicidal tendencies to hunt humans across his vast land are revealed.  Tensely orchestrated by the masterly Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting) while recycling selected footage from The Most Dangerous Game, A Game of Death never wanes in its excitement with commendable performances put forth by the respectably gruff Loder and deliciously wicked Barrier as the German human hunter who prefers a bow and arrows over rifles.  Climaxing with a fog-entrenched pursuit through the island’s jungle greenery with hungry bloodhounds on Don and Ellen’s coattails, A Game of Death is a thoroughly entertaining catch, tonally reminiscent of the weekly film serials of the era with an unquestionably cinematic punch drawing viewers into its horrifying island of danger.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics proudly presents A Game of Death with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing age-related traces of speckles and scratches to varying degrees, the 1945 black-and-white remake overwhelmingly impresses with its conveyed detail in Kreiger’s prize room and the dirt and blood stains found on Rainsford’s attire.  Meanwhile, black levels bear strong deepness while, recycled footage from the ship’s destruction to instances of the hounds pursuing Don and Ellen show obviously grainier levels.  Equipped with a basic-sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is decently relayed with increases in volume recommended to fully capture their entirety.  Furthermore, mild instances of hiss are present but never deal-breaking on the track while, obscene cracks or pops are thankfully excused.  Special features include, a richly researched Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith and Trailers for The Quatermass Xperiment (2:13), The Earth Dies Screaming (2:14), 99 River Street (2:13) and No Highway in the Sky (2:09).  An excellent second stab at Connell’s revered short story, A Game of Death keeps its suspense high and runtime swift ensuring a pulse-beating good time for all.  Bestowing a solid HD remastering on the RKO thriller with a recommended audio commentary, KL Studio Classics have claimed another keeper in their hunt for film’s treasures.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, A Game of Death can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Firestarter (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Firestarter (1984)

    Director: Mark L. Lester

    Starring: David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney & Louise Fletcher

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Sandwiched between several other Stephen King adaptations from Producer Dino De Laurentiis (Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet), Firestarter may have failed to ignite explosive box-office returns, yet stands as an above average retelling of the best-selling novel with a top-tier cast and spellbinding score lighting the way.  Shortly after partaking in a paid medical study, Andy McGee (David Keith, White of the Eye) and his future wife Vicky (Heather Locklear, T.J. Hooker) develop the unique abilities to read and overtake others’ minds.  Raising their young daughter Charlie (Drew Barrymore, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) who has developed her own abilities to ignite fires and foresee future events, a secret government agency, known as The Shop, intent on capturing the child for their own weaponizing needs, murders Vicky, forcing the widowed Andy and Charlie to permanently outrun their seekers.  Relentless in their search, the head of The Shop, Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now), hires the methodically unhinged Agent John Rainbird (George C. Scott, Patton) to retrieve the little girl with her destruction being his sole consolation.  Fighting tooth and nail to remain with her father at all odds, Charlie is eventually pushed to her boiling point and must rely on her repressed powers to fight back.  

    Featuring brief appearances from Art Carney (The Honeymooners) and Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as trustworthy old-timers, Firestarter is an affectionately faithful adaptation that rises above the genre-laden capabilities of its leads with their onscreen chemistry as father and daughter reflected best.  The film’s all-star cast from the fresh faced Barrymore to the Oscar winning Scott, in a deliciously underrated role, all bring their A-game while, Director Mark L. Lester’s (Class of 1984, Commando) graduation to studio pictures is a solid progression from his much loved drive-in fare.  Concluding with an inferno of effects-work akin to the finale of King’s debut novel, Firestarter is hardly the pinnacle of the Master of Horror’s cinematic responses, yet deserves more credit for its survivalist tale of struggle and Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Legend) synth-inducing score that ranks amongst their best.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the interpositive, Scream Factory presents Firestarter with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Eviscerating Universal Studios’ previous and heavily DNRed transfer from 2014, the King adaptation maintains a gorgeously filmic appearance with vibrant greenery on display during exterior sequences while, the skin tones of all actors are natural and exceptionally detailed, making way for the crispest of clarity in observing Barrymore’s rolling tears and Keith’s delicate nosebleed streams.  Although insignificant speckles are occasionally spotted, Firestarter’s latest hi-def outing is nothing short of definitive.  Equipped with a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue efficiently, the surprisingly light on sound effects track offers little to bite into while, the fiery blasts and thuds of the unfortunate souls in Charlie’s path offer their best punch.  Without question, Tangerine Dream’s hypnotic score is the best dish on the menu.

    A solid entry into the boutique label’s Collector’s Edition banner, newly conceived special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mark L. Lester, Playing with Fire: The Making of Firestarter (52:40) that hosts Lester recalling John Carpenter’s original role in the production before earning himself directorial duties, praise for De Laurentiis’ sound advice and other intriguing anecdotes such as Drew Barrymore beating Poltergeist’s Heather O’Rourke for the lead role.  Actors Drew Snyder, Freddie Jones, Dick Warlock and Tangerine Dream’s Johannes Schmoelling also offer their own unique insights to working on the show in this first-rate featurette.  In addition, Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories with Johannes Schmoelling (17:07) catches up with the keyboardist as he recounts the band’s peak decade in the 80s and their work on such films as Michael Mann’s Thief.  Meanwhile, the awesome and self-explanatory Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream Plays “Charlie’s Theme” (3:43) is the surprise nugget of the release while, Theatrical Trailers (3:43), Radio Spots (4:34), a Still Gallery (69 in total) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster design round out the bonus feature selections.  A worthy King adaptation that unfairly gets lost in the shuffle too often,  Firestarter returns to Blu-ray with a definitive 2K scan upgrade and another juicy offering of featurettes, aptly produced by the tireless Cavetown Pictures, that serve Scream Factory’s Collector Edition moniker proud.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956) Blu-ray Review

    23 Paces to Baker Street (1956)

    Director: Henry Hathaway

    Starring: Van Johnson, Vera Miles, Cecil Parker & Patricia Laffan

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Philip MacDonald’s novel and invoking an unmistakably Hitchcockian tone that stumbles only slightly in its execution, 23 Paces to Baker Street offers thrills and intrigue when American playwright Philip Hannon (Van Johnson, Battleground), blind and now residing in London, overhears a potentially criminally-minded conversation involving kidnapping and extortion.  Reporting his findings to the local authorities with little evidence to act on other than his instincts, Hannon, with assistance from his loyal butler (Cecil Parker, The Ladykillers) and ex-fiancée (Vera Miles, Psycho), takes matters into his own hands.  Filmed on location in England and the Fox studio lot, Henry Hathaway (Niagara, True Grit) directs with precision while, Milton Krasner’s (All About Eve) cinematography brings a warm vibrancy to Philip’s tidy flat and dreary mood to the fog-entrenched streets of London.  While striking similarities to Hitchcock’s own Rear Window including, protagonists both restrained by physical debilities and consumed by mysterious plots may hinder its overall effectiveness and a finale riddled with unanswered questions regarding the shrouded child-napping culprit, 23 Paces to Baker Street stands tall as a moderately effective whodunit worthy of more eyes spotting it.

    Beautifully restored in 4K, KL Studio Classics welcomes 23 Paces to Baker Street with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.55:1 aspect ratio.  Shot in colorful CinemaScope, the mystery-thriller arrives with little to no source damage while, details shine most effectively in Philip’s London flat with textures in costume attire reading nicely.  Skin tones are warm and natural-looking with black levels looking respectably inky with occasional variances in lieu of intentional fogginess understandably clouding some moments.  Although slightly imperfect, KL Studio Classics’ restoration marks the film’s finest home video outing to date.  Joined by an exceedingly strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is sharply relayed while, sound effects from gun shots to pinball machine racket all offer distinct exchanges.  Furthermore, Leigh Harline’s (Pinocchio) score of dramatic cues and romantic melodies are sonically pleasing, making for the grandest statements on the track.  Special features include, an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Kent Jones and Trailers for 23 Paces to Baker Street (2:15), Cast a Giant Shadow (3:38), Foreign Intrigue (1:55), The File of the Golden Goose (2:37) and When Eight Bells Toll (2:49).  Lastly, a Reversible Cover Art is also included.  Familiar territory to The Master of Suspense’s work, 23 Paces to Baker Street instills gorgeous photography and a generally curious plot of its own to make its investigation a recommendable one to viewers.  Appreciatively restored to its finest state yet, KL Studio Classics’ 4K presentation is a filmic sight to the beholder sure to please without fail.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, 23 Paces to Baker Street can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Lesson (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Lesson (2015)

    Director: Ruth Platt

    Starring: Robert Hands, Evan Bendall, Michaela Prchalová, Dolya Gavanski, Tom Cox & Rory Coltart

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported from England, The Lesson offers a promisingly taut setup of reprimanded disobedience from first time filmmaker Ruth Platt before shades of familiarity untether its agenda.  When disrespectful students Fin (Evan Bendall and Joel (Rory Coltart) push the limits of their rowdy classroom behavior too far, their English teacher Mr. Gale (Robert Hands, Charlotte Gray) vows to educate them at terrifying costs.  Kidnapped and bound to a table, Mr. Gales’ unorthodox teaching methods subjects the conscious Fin to a rapid-fire scurry of definition searches met with nails impaled through his bloodied hands should time run out.  Waxing intellectual on a variety of topics from Charles Dickens to totalitarianism, Fin’s hallucinations of his deceased mother and a blood splattered Joel assisting his captor clouds his thinking that will be essential to his survival.  Developing commendable character development of the troubled youths including Fin’s broken home situation and lust for his older brother’s girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalová), The Lesson’s true tour de force belongs to Robert Hands whose motives may be simplistic and monologues occasionally longwinded, demands the viewers strictest attention like a whip-wielding dictator.  Achieving moments of genuine suspense, The Lesson ultimately feels all too familiar to the tired torture-horror antics popularized in America over a decade ago with only the witty nuttiness of its antagonist truly separating itself from the pack.

    Scream Factory presents The Lesson with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, skin tones are immaculately handled while, tight shots exposing sweat beads, dripping blood and Mr. Gale’s fogged eyeglasses are all sharply detailed.  Although flashbacks presented in black and white are relayed with an expected deepness, instances of digital artifacts creep their way into several sequences that while not deal-breaking, surely make their presence known.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that prioritizes dialogue (with the optional English subtitles coming in handy for some of the actors’ thicker accents), the agonizing screams of the film’s victims to the quieter ambiance at Fin’s home and surrounding neighborhood streets demonstrate the effective ranges of the track.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Virtually nonexistent, the film’s Trailer (1:38) serves as the sole on-disc special feature while, a Reversible Cover Art is also provided.  Not quite the arthouse shocker it’s hailed as, The Lesson demonstrates the encouraging chops of its maker while, its delivery of imprisoned hooligans subjected to torturous enlightenment grows faint quickly and stands as a reminder of a recycled genre already beaten to death.  Worthy of commendation for Hands’ performance and well-handled development of its youthful characters, The Lesson doesn’t teach anything new but, makes a strong case for respecting educators who are dying to inspire young minds.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • No Highway in the Sky (1951) Blu-ray Review

    No Highway in the Sky (1951)

    Director: Henry Koster

    Starring: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins, Janette Scott, Elizabeth Allan, Ronald Squire & Jill Clifford

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Nevil Shute’s acclaimed novel, No Highway in the Sky stars James Stewart (Rear Window) as bookish aeronautical engineer Theodore Honey whose unproven theory concerning the failure of England’s Reindeer planes is challenged under dire circumstances.  Aboard a Reindeer plane crossing its calculated flying time of disaster, the absent-minded yet nonetheless determined Honey painstakingly struggles to convince the crew of the certain doom that awaits them while, inspiring a famous actress passenger (Marlene Dietrich, Witness for the Prosecution) adored by his late wife and a kind flight attendant (Glynis John, Mary Poppins) to trust his judgement.  Suspending viewers in a dizzying trance of nail-biting suspense, No Highway in the Sky reteams Stewart with his Harvey director, the underrated Henry Koster, in a professionally constructed aviation feature that not only puts lives in peril but, Honey’s credibility and sanity under fierce examination.  Almost singlehandedly, Stewart’s performance of an eccentrically forgettable scientist and single father makes the film, as unconventional as it is, soar as gracefully as it does with Honey’s stirring sticktoitiveness serving as its glue and offering audiences a leading man to believe in.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Highway in the Sky with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of expectant traces of speckling and sporadic vertical lines, the black and white cinematography arrives in otherwise splendid condition with strong detail observed in facial features while, Stewart’s dark suit and jacket are displayed with throughly inky levels.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue exchanges with ease, the engines of the Reindeer plane roar satisfactorily without overwhelming the track’s more primary concerns.  Surprisingly and most pleasingly to report, cracks and pops are of no discernible concern.  Special features include, a rather chatty and informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jeremy Arnold & Bob Koster that deeply covers the film’s making as well as the directorial career of Koster’s father who claims No Highway in the Sky was one of the late Koster’s proudest efforts.  In addition, Trailers for No Highway in the Sky (2:09), Deadline - U.S.A. (2:45), Ten Seconds to Hell (2:14) and Witness for the Prosecution (3:07) conclude the on disc supplements while, Reversible Cover Art reveals the film’s gorgeous U.S. 1-sheet poster presented centerfold style.  Richly conceived and remarkably performed by Stewart, No Highway in the Sky is an undervalued suspense-drama worthy of new sights now made possible by KL Studio Classics’ solid hi-def handling.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Highway in the Sky can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Parents (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Parents (1989)

    Director: Bob Balaban

    Starring: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt & Sandy Dennis

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the suburban comfort of the 1950s, Parents centers on ten-year-old outcast Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky in his only film role) who suspects that his model mother and father (played by Mary Beth Hurt, The World According to Garp and Randy Quaid, Kingpin respectively) are up to more than meets the eye.  As Michael’s curiosity grows regarding the family’s limitless supply of leftovers, the nightmarish truth is revealed.  Academy Award winner Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) costars in Bob Balaban’s (My Boyfriend’s Back) directorial debut.

    Painted with stark black comedy and horror undertones of cannibalism, Parents is a quirky slice of life from yesteryear demonstrating father (and mother) know best, especially when they’re eating you.  Relocating from Massachusetts during the picturesque 1950s, quiet and peculiar youngster Michael Laemle struggles to fit in his new surroundings while, experiencing a wrath of hellish nightmares that feel all too real.  Hauntingly awkward and an incorrigibly picky eater, Michael sticks out like a sore thumb next to his seemingly perfect All-American parents.  Looks prove deceiving as Nick and Lily Laemle demonstrate their own eccentricities and questionable behavior alerting their young son that all is not kosher at home.  Further troubled by increased nightmares and bloody hallucinations, Michael’s imagination runs wild when determining the origin of the family’s nightly supply of meat.  Sneakily following his father to his job at the local chemical lab where human cadavers are tested upon, Michael’s suspicion blossoms into full-blown fear when discovering the source of the Laemle’s personal meat market.  Developing a trust with the school psychologist (Dennis) while attempting to concretely prove what he already knows, Michael pits himself and the few close to him in finger-lickin’ danger with mommy and daddy.  Never hysterical nor the bodycount picture prevalent at the time, Parents never makes fully clear when we should cackle or wince in terror, making such uncertainty all part of its Rubik’s Cube of unconventional attraction.  Recreating the time with Rockwellian precision, Quaid and Hurt are inspired casting, if not slightly one note, making the entirety of the Laemle family appear rather and perhaps intentionally, subdued throughout the film.  Featuring a grossly underdeveloped friendship between Michael and a female classmate who insists she's an extraterrestrial from the moon, Parents is not immune to miscalculations while serving as an offbeat statement on yesterday’s rarely discussed domestic dilemmas that’s earned its place amongst cult circles.

    (image not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Lionsgate, as part of their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, presents Parents with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally restored and appearing appreciatively filmic throughout, the bright canvas of suburbia brings attention to the Laemle’s orderly household while, bolder colors found in Nick’s bright yellow sweater vest and the family’s turquoise Oldsmobile pop graciously.  Detail is also strongly admired in facial features and closeups on the cannibalistic parents carving into cooked meat with skin tones reading naturally.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that hones dialogue levels strongly for such a character-driven film, Michael’s nightmares provide suspenseful boosts that rattle the mix comparatively.  

    Graced with a winning serving of supplemental features, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Bob Balaban & Producer Bonnie Palef is on hand with Isolated Score Selections and an Audio Interview with Composer Jonathan Elias also included.  Additionally, Leftovers to Be with Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne (16:48) reveals that prolific producer Ray Stark (Steel Magnolias) was attached to the project before Vestron opted out citing Stark’s high fee as the cause.  Furthermore, Director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doll House) turned down the film before Balaban joined the production with the latter injecting much of his own childhood into the narrative.  Hawthorne also retells that the parallels between Quaid’s performance and his own father were so close, his parents refused to speak to him for a lengthy period of time.  Mother’s Day with Actress Mary Beth Hurt (14:29) finds the cannibalistic homemaker recalling Balaban offering her the role during a regular charades game that was frequented by the likes of Tim Robbins and Al Franken.  Hurt also expresses her love for the film’s time period and the prospect of its costumes being her major draws to the project.  Next up, Inside Out with Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon (13:58) finds that the cinematographer took over duties after original D.P. Ernie Day’s (Revenge of the Pink Panther) wife fell ill.  Shooting the majority of the film’s interior sequences, Vidgeon believes his work on Hellraiser landed him the job on Parents.  Lastly, Vintage Tastes with Decorative Consultant Yolanda Cuomo (9:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:33), Radio Spots (1:42) and a Still Gallery (4:52) conclude the release’s extra features.

    (images not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    A satirical sendup of 50s family values with a taste for flesh, Parents uniquely portrays every child’s safeguards as the source of their nightmares in this cannibalistic comedy.  Served with a side order of limbs, Bob Balaban’s oddball feature arrives with a fittingly scatterbrained tone and an underlying statement on the romanticized notion of growing up in the wholesome decade.  A cooky concoction of cultish charisma, Parents joins the Vestron Video Collector’s Series with solid technical grades and a most revealing slate of extras sure to fill up the hungry horror fan.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, Parents can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Wait Until Dark (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Wait Until Dark (1967)

    Director: Terence Young

    Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Creena, Jack Weston & Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Struggling to adjust to her recent blindness, Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffanys) stars as Susy Hendrix in Wait Until Dark.  When three ruthless thugs invade her home in search of a doll stuffed with heroin, suspense and thrills dominate Susy’s night of survival.  Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Richard Creena (First Blood), Jack Weston (Cuba) and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Batman: The Animated Series) costar.

    Based on the stage play by Frederick Knott and unquestionably invoking a Hitchcockian tone in its approach, Wait Until Dark builds its incarcerated pulse by setting its narrative in a New York brownstone inhabited by a blind woman whose darkest nightmare is only just beginning.  After an attractive female smuggles heroin from Montreal to New York City in the stuffing of a doll, paranoia consumes her, entrusting fellow passenger Sam Hendrix (Zimbalist, Jr.) to care for the seemingly innocent toy from falling into the hands of the crazed Harry Roat, Jr. (Arkin).  Later, two convincing conmen, Mike Talman (Creena) and Carlino (Weston), arrive at what they think is the drug-smuggling female’s residence only to be greeted by Roat who blackmails the duo with her corpse.  Striking a deal beneficial to all parties dependent on the recovery of the doll, Hendrix’s wife Susy, recently left blind by a car accident, returns to her apartment and is quickly misled by false identities and elaborate tales by the trio, fingering her husband’s possible involvement with the deceased female while sniffing out the whereabouts of the desired doll.  Overcomplicating the festivities with Talman’s drawn-out charade as one of Sam’s war buddies and Carlino’s phony telephone calls as an officer to throw the already disadvantaged Susy off their scent halts the film’s pace substantially while, Hepburn’s vulnerable performance and Arkin’s seedy turn as the lead psychopath keeps the thriller focused.  Graced with a hauntingly eerie score by Henry Mancini (Victor/Victoria, Mommie Dearest) and a positively nail-biting finale pitting the cutthroat Roat against Susy who uses her condition to her advantage, Wait Until Dark may take unnecessary detours into the masquerade to the extreme for much of its runtime yet, the strong performances and taut direction by Terence Young (Dr. No) more than balance the proceedings.

    Warner Archive presents Wait Until Dark with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Filmic-looking throughout, clarity is pristine with black levels reading deeply, namely during the film’s fleeting moments of pitch black terror.  In addition, textures and skin tones leave little else to be desired with exacting touches and top-notch detail observed.  Furthermore, no digital-noise tinkering or other age-related anomalies are present on this exceptional presentation.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that packs a healthy range, clear capturing of dialogue and an effective handling of Mancini’s sinister score, the track is a strong counterpart to its visual showcase.  Special features include, Take a Look in the Dark (8:40), ported over from its previous DVD release, the shore featurette interviews star Alan Arkin and Producer Mel Ferrer on the film’s making.  In addition, the Theatrical Trailer (2:36) and the film’s Warning Teaser Trailer (1:08) round out the otherwise scant offerings.

    Undoubtedly influential albeit with its own share of shortcomings, Wait Until Dark excels through Hepburn and Arkin’s top-notch performances and the film’s exceptionally tense final act that one could only wish seeped into the remainder of the film.  Nonetheless, Warner Archive serves this favored thriller with remarkable technical grades worthy of high praise.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 24th from Warner Archive, Wait Until Dark can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) Blu-ray Review

    Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

    Director: John Sturges

    Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Russell Collins & Walter Sande

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a desert ghost town, Bad Day at Black Rock finds WWII veteran John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind) passing through only to find his visit and reasons for doing so confronted with suspicion and threats from the locals, led by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan, The Set-Up).  Unwelcome wherever he roams, Macreedy’s mysterious presence slowly reveals the town’s deadly secret.  John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) helms the drama, nominated for three Academy Awards.

    Beautifully shot in the golden vistas of Lone Pine, California and neighboring Nevada, Bad Day at Black Rock is a captivating viewing experience, blending the realms of western noir and suspenseful intrigue.  Following the aftermath of World War II, handicapped veteran John J. Macreedy travels to the sleepy community of Black Rock in search of a man named Komoko.  Met with unwavering suspicion and coldness from the tight-knit locals, Macreedy finds himself refused a hotel room and overwhelmed with questions regarding his business.  Slowly developing a pleasant relationship with the local doctor while, the town sheriff wallows in self-pity and alcohol, the town’s true leader Remo Smith informs the curious traveler that his Japanese friend was interned during the course of the war.  Refusing to believe the questionable tales spun by Black Rock’s aggressively racist residents, Macreedy investigates matters on his own determining more is not right than previously assumed.  With messages to the state police left unsent and Smith’s henchmen hellbent on making the veteran suffer for not leaving well enough alone, a war is waged between Smith longing to keep the town’s secret intact and the outsider with nothing left to lose.  Battling his own personal fight against alcoholism at the time while being questionably too old for the part, Spencer Tracy dazzles in the lead as a suit-wearing mystery man arriving in a dusty town uncovering the worst and then some.  In addition, Robert Ryan plays the film’s heel with a sharp coyness that makes his violent turn against Macreedy in the final act all the more effective.  Furthermore, Smith’s cronies, played namely by Lee Marvin (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Ernest Borgnine (Marty) who goes toe-to-toe with Macreedy in a barroom brawl, are perfect supporting heavies to Ryan’s calm but dangerous baddie.  An expert demonstration of drama and tensely orchestrated suspense, Bad Day at Black Rock, rightly categorized by Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osbourne as essential, is just that.

    Warner Archive presents Bad Day at Black Rock with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the grandiose mountains, blue skies and desert terrain of its setting, colors are bold and beautiful while, skin tones are never comprised.  Featuring crisp levels of detail in the costume’s of Black Rock’s locals and Macreedy’s black suit, sweat beads and dirt scuffs on facial features and attire are captured with ease.  Free of any unwanted scuffs or scratches, the film’s transfer is an absolute stunner.  Equipped with a perfectly suited DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that relays crisp dialogue exchanges and the roar of train engines, quality is of equal measure to its visual counterpart.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Dana Polan and the Theatrical Trailer (3:26).

    Gorgeously photographed and packing powerful performances, Bad Day at Black Rock is a most memorable experience with cutting suspense capable of keeping viewers glued to its unfolding.  Also known as being Spencer Tracy’s last onscreen role for MGM, Warner Archive upgrades this essential slice of cinema to high-definition with splendid clarity and filmic naturalness sure to be hailed as its definitive home video statement.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Bad Day at Black Rock can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Loophole (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Loophole (1981)

    Director: John Quested

    Starring: Albert Finney, Martin Sheen, Susannah York, Colin Blakely, Jonathan Pryce & Robert Morley

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Robert Pollack, Loophole centers on career criminal Mike Daniels (Albert Finney, Big Fish) and his cronies as they embark on an ambitious heist of one of London’s most prestigious bank vaults.  Requiring the services of a straight man in the highly successful yet, unemployed Stephen Booker (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now), the desperate architect agrees to join the team in hopes of turning his misfortunes around.  Susannah York (The Awakening), Colin Blakely (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) and Robert Morley (Around the World in Eighty Days) costar.

    Marking the final directorial effort of John Quested (Philadelphia, Here I Come), Loophole is a tightly crafted and well-executed crime picture bringing the worlds of expert thieves and one down on his luck businessman together for the heist of a lifetime.  Suffering from a series of professional setbacks and living a lifestyle well beyond his means, respected architect Stephen Booker is offered a position unlike anything else.  Discovering a vulnerability in the underground sewer systems, professional bank robber Mike Daniels targets the International Securities Bank holding millions and requires Stephen’s architectural expertise to navigate the team’s entry.  Struggling to repay his own debts while funding his wife’s (York) new interior design business, Stephen agrees to the arrangement pending no violence is utilized.  Efficient and precise in their work, the crew penetrate a nearby manhole cover as they descend under the city to eventually emerge through the floor of the thought to be impenetrable vault.  Tearing through brick walls and combatting poisonous gas, rats and unexpected flooding, the well-thought-out scheme may cost the men their lives before recovering their riches.  Hosting excellent performances from both Finney and Sheen, Loophole may not be the most exciting of pictures yet, the thieving crew’s calculated plot and refreshing camaraderie between them make the film an engaging watch.  In addition, although Stephen’s insistence of nonviolence foreshadows the likelihood of a rogue teammate backstabbing his allies, the lack of such an expected cliché makes seeing the charismatic crew succeed in their mission all the greater.  Critically panned and largely overlooked by audiences at the time of its release, Loophole is a crafty crime thriller worthy of retrieval from the vault.

    Presented with a 1080p transfer and sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, KL Studio Classics’ handling of Loophole is a passable effort that admires accurate skin tones and only slight traces of speckling seen mostly during the film’s opening.  Far from a wide-varyingly colorful feature, costume textures are pleasing while, the crew’s yellow truck pops effectively.  Furthermore, once the thieves enter London’s sewer system black levels are respectable with visibility generally satisfying.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue with ease, Lalo Schifrin’s (Mission: Impossible) score is presented with decent, if not, inconsistent effectiveness while, the click-clang and explosive sound effects during the crew’s penetration of the sewer rings nicely.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director John Quested, moderated by FilmWax Radio’s Adam Schartoff.  Lastly, a Trailer Gallery featuring Loophole (1:26), When Eight Bells Toll (2:49), Juggernaut (2:54), Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (2:00), The File of the Golden Goose (2:37) and The Internecine Project (3:00) conclude the disc’s bonus offerings.

    While Loophole may not take more dramatic chances with its narrative, the film offers wonderful performances from its entire cast and delivers an excellent overview of the painstaking planning of a job, perhaps better than most heist films before or after.  Scant on extras, KL Studio Classics breaks this bank robbing picture into the HD realm with admirable results, sure to satisfy cinematic heist hounds with a penchant for the overlooked.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

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

    Black Christmas (1974)

    Director: Bob Clark

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Wolf Lake (1980) Blu-ray Review

    Wolf Lake (1980)

    Director: Burt Kennedy

    Starring: Rod Steiger, David Huffman, Robin Mattson, Jerry Hardin, Richard Herd & Paul Mantee

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Writer/Director Burt Kennedy (The Train Robbers), Wolf Lake centers on decorated WWII veteran Charlie (Rob Steiger, In the Heat of the Night), along with his war buddies, who travel to a Canadian lakeside for a weekend of hunting.  Shortly after meeting caretaker David (David Huffman, Blood Beach) and his girlfriend, tension rises once his recent past as a war deserter is revealed.  Short on tolerance, Charlie engages in a crazed hunt for the couple, invoking David’s own ruthless survival instincts.  Robin Mattson (Santa Barbra), Jerry Hardin (Cujo), Richard Herd (Planes, Trains & Automobiles) and Paul Mantee (Framed) costar.

    Surprisingly filmed in Mexico, Wolf Lake is a rarely seen yet, masterfully achieved effort that examines the contrasting viewpoints amongst soldiers, divided by generations and unique experiences.  Delivering a powerhouse performance, Rod Steiger conveys unwavering patriotism, vulnerability, anger and madness in his role as lead hunter and WWII vet Charlie whose crackpot remarks towards reserved caretaker David ignite a war of differences between the two former soldiers.  Learning of David’s wartime desertion while coping with the death of his own son killed in Vietnam, Charlie’s emotions run rampant with desires to make David pay for his cowardice ways.  When a belligerent evening of drinking brings harm to David’s girlfriend, a new war is claimed between the two parties.  Methodically tracking the couple with rifles, Charlie and his cohorts find an admirable opponent in David who is merely trying to stay alive.  Featuring a shrieking score from Composer Ken Thorne (Superman II) and nail biting suspense throughout, Wolf Lake is a vastly underrated chapter in the annals of Vietnam War centered pictures with Steiger’s phenomenal performance ranking among one of his best and unfortunately overlooked.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Wolf Lake with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While image stability is slightly uneven at times with scratches and scruffs making occasional notices, skin tones are accurate and well-defined while, the isolated scenic locations retain their natural splendor.  Furthermore, speckling is not uncommon in lower lit sequences with the overall condition of its elements satisfying otherwise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, cracks and pops make seldom statements while, dialogue is audibly relayed with outdoorsy ambiance including, howling winds and chirping birds sounding clear while, Thorne’s musical queues make passable strides in effectiveness.  

    Special features include, Jerry Hardin and Richard Herdon on Wolf Lake (10:17).  In this brief featurette, the elderly actors recall the bond formed between the cast at the film’s isolated location with mentions of Burt Kennedy’s own decorated war history and his respected talent.  In addition, Lance Hool on Wolf Lake (11:21) finds the producer recollecting on his unique upbringing in Mexico that earned him parts in Howard Hawks films and other features before transitioning to producing.  Hool discusses the casting of Steiger and his unbelievable audition, the film’s controversial themes that caused physical fights during test screenings and its slow distribution death resulting in Hool turning down future Vietnam related pictures such as First Blood and Platoon.  Furthermore, a Trailer Gallery consisting of Avenging Force (1:18), Malone (2:00), Assassination (1:57), Steele Justice (1:36) and Hero and the Terror (1:26) are included with Alternate Artwork concluding the supplemental package.

    Emotionally charged and unnervingly thrilling, Wolf Lake stands as one of Steiger’s most passionate performances that has remained largely unseen due to the film’s hot-button themes released in the wake of the controversial Vietnam war.  Although not taking place on the frontline of battle, Writer/Director Burt Kennedy’s character-driven opus, surrounding the expectations of a soldier and the damaging effects of war on those involved, is a powerful showcase of different opinions turned deadly.  Worthy of praise for rescuing such a rediscovered gem, Kino Lorber Studio Classics welcomes the film to HD with expected quality and insightful interviews regarding the film’s unique making and unfortunate release history.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • Assault on New Releases #11 - Halloween Edition: Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), Child's Play (1988) Collector's Edition, Burial Ground (1980), Waxwork (1988) / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1991) & Lady in White (1988) Blu-ray Reviews

    Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973)

    Director: Javier Aguirre

    Starring: Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Haydée Politoff, Mirta Miller, Ingrid Garbo, Álvaro de Luna de Luma & José Manuel Martin

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring Spain’s premiere horror star Paul Naschy (Night of the Werewolf), Count Dracula’s Great Love finds a carriage of travelers derailed and kindly taken in by the handsome Dr. Marlow (Naschy).  Secretly harboring his true identity as the Prince of Darkness, Marlow stalks and seduces his way to the necks of his gorgeous guests, transforming them into bloodthirsty slaves while, shy virginal Karen (Haydée Politoff, Queens of Evil) becomes the apple of his eye and essential to his much grander plan.  Boasting gothic ambiance, full moons and eroticism, Javier Aguirre (Hunchback of the Morgue) directs with elegance in this atmospheric tale that presents a memorable interpretation of Dracula who is quick to whip and axe his victims as commonly as sink his fangs into them.  Weaving a narrative of originality and rich complexity, Count Dracula’s Great Love remains effective for Naschy’s understated performance and the film’s blood ritual used to resurrect Dracula’s deceased daughter, concluding in lovesick tragedy.

    Beautifully scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm internegative, Vinegar Syndrome presents Count Dracula’s Great Love with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  While minor intrusions from scratches and cigarette burns are evident, the Spanish feature has never looked better.  Bringing vibrant life to skin tones and the colorful costume choices of its actresses, detail is crisp preserving the fog-entranced tone while, black levels seen in Count Dracula’s cape, casket and dark dwellings are exceptionally inky.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the film’s English dub track may register t’s and s sounds too sharply but, overwhelmingly exudes clean and audible dialogue levels while, cracks and pop are minimal and of little to no notice.  Presenting both its uncut U.S. edition and its original Spanish language version, viewers are informed that the latter, lacking proper elements from its licensor (and missing shots due to content that are only found in its English counterpart), is presented from lesser quality video sources and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix in order to appreciatively appease fans yearning for both cuts.  Meanwhile, special features include, a never before released Audio Commentary with Director Javier Aguirre & Actor Paul Naschy featuring optional subtitles in both English and Spanish plus, a newly captured Video Interview with Actress Mirta Miller (8:22) with optional English subtitles.  Furthermore, the U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:04), a Still Gallery (2:16) and a 6-page booklet featuring an informative essay from Mirek Lipinski are also included alongside a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art.  Fans of horror’s more gothic and erotic outings will take pleasure sinking their fangs into this significant Spanish offering, splendidly brought to high-definition by Vinegar Syndrome for the first time ever!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Count Dracula’s Great Love can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Child’s Play (1988)

    Director: Tom Holland

    Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent & Brad Dourif

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Instilling a new titan for modern horror and ushering in a frightening franchise of sequels each varying in quality, the original Child’s Play still reigns as the most effective and chilling of Chucky’s many chapters.  When innocent six-year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent, Wait Until Spring, Bandini) is presented with a Good Guy doll on his birthday, strange occurrences and the death of his babysitter raise questions of responsibility in their wake.  Unsuccessfully convincing his single mother and a homicide detective that his doll is alive and behind the recent string of murders, Andy finds himself pursued by the tiny terror in order to take over his soul.  Before the bodycount pictures its later entries would become with the foul-mouthed killer serving as their marketing mascot, Child’s Play’s less is more approach keeps viewers questioning the validity of Andy’s claims more so than blindly assuming his doll is truly possessed.  Wrapped in mystery and edge of your seat suspense with an oftentimes forgotten voodoo subplot, Child’s Play holds up strongly with a believable blend of special effects wizardry, an urban Chicago setting and top-notch performances with Dourif’s shrieking voice as the crazed Chucky leaving an indelible mark on the nightmares of viewers for years to come.

    Newly scanned in 2K from the interpositive, Scream Factory presents Child’s Play with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Casting a darker yet, more natural appearance during nighttime sequences, skin tones are accurate and nicely detailed while, colors found in Chucky’s red-striped and denim attire along with the neon-lit signage of the toy store in the film’s opening pop well.  Scuffs and other blemishes appear to be absent while, softness during daytime exteriors and inside the Barclay’s apartment look similar to its previous release.  Admittedly modest in its improvements, Scream Factory’s latest stab at Child’s Play unquestionably ranks as its best looking.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that projects solid dialogue and booming displays of authority during thunderstorms and Joe Renzetti’s (Poltergeist III) creepy score, sound quality is superior.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Impressively packed with new and old offerings, Disc 1 features a new Audio Commentary with Director Tom Holland plus, a repurposed Audio Commentary with Actors Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks & “Chucky” Designer Kevin Yagher.  Furthermore, another vintage Audio Commentary with Producer David Kirschner & Screenwriter Don Mancini along with hilarious Chucky Commentaries on select scenes are also included.

    Kicking off Disc 2, Behind-the-Scenes Special Effects Footage (1:00:08), Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Till the End (40:53) and Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky with Ed Gale (40:02) comprise the release’s newest and highly fascinating featurettes while, Evil Comes in Small Packages (24:49), Chucky: Building a Nightmare (10:05), A Monster Convention (5:26), Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child’s Play (6:15) and a Vintage Featurette (4:54) from MGM’s previous release are ported over.  In addition, a TV Spot (0:17), Theatrical Trailer (2:02), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (37 in total), a Posters & Lobby Cards Photo Gallery (20 in total) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster conclude the all encompassing slate of extras.  A frightening sophomore followup from Director Tom Holland (Fright Night), Child’s Play maintains its reputation as one of the better supernatural slashers of the 80s while, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition, sprawling with bounds of extras, is nothing short of a gift from the mighty Damballa himself.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

    Burial Ground (1980)

    Director: Andrea Bianchi

    Starring: Mariangela Giordano, Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Peter Bark & Roberto Caporali

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented under its alternate The Nights of Terror title, Burial Ground hosts a smorgasbord of guts and bloody depravity when a country getaway for several couples quickly turns into a fight for their lives against reanimated corpses.  Preoccupied with their own sexual appetite when a scientist’s tinkering with evil forces unleashes hell’s hungriest zombies, the couples struggle to defend themselves while keeping the rotting forces from gaining entry into the mansion.  A wall-to-wall bonkers example of Italian exploitation at its finest, Burial Ground’s plot may be paper thin but, graciously overcompensates with gallons of gore and some of the genre’s most memorable zombie designs befit with gaping facial holes, horrific skeletal features and squirming maggots oozing from their pores.  Weaponizing themselves with pickaxes, scythes and other garden tools, the ravenous undead decapitate the help and repeatedly feast on the torn out organs of their prey.  Perhaps even more memorable than the zombie’s persistent attacks, Burial Ground’s bizarro meter soars when Michael (Peter Bark, Arrivano i gatti), the peculiar-looking son of Karen, grows oddly attracted to his mother and makes an incestuous pass at her in the heat of zombiepalooza.  With options running low and escape unlikely, nothing can prepare viewers for Burial Ground’s absurd mouthful of a finale that draws its line in the sand as one of the great “what the…” moments of splatter cinema.

    Gorgeously restored in 2K from pristine elements, Severin Films presents Burial Ground with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  True to its description, this newly struck scan is leaps and bounds superior to past releases with a blemish-free appearance, strong facial tones and impressive detail bringing out the intricacies of the many zombie makeup designs and their intendedly heinous features.  Furthermore, the film’s plethora of blood pops loudly while, black levels, even during the film’s more dimly lit sequences, are effectively inky, allowing viewers to fully appreciate all that is occurring.  Definitive as can be, Severin Films deserves the utmost praise for their esteemed handling of this Italian gorefest.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible throughout without any static or pops detected.  In addition, a separate Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian mix is included with optional English subtitles.  Bonus offerings include, Villa Parisi - Legacy of Terror (15:47) where Movie Historian Fabio Melelli revisits the filming locations that date back to the 17th century and have been utilized by Italian film productions beginning in the 1960s through the present.  Meanwhile, Peter Still Lives: Festival Q&A with Actor Peter Bark (7:35), Just for the Money: Interview with Actor Simone Mattioli (8:57) and The Smell of Death: Interviews with Producer Gabriele Crisanti & Actress Mariangela Giordano (9:20) are joined by Deleted/Extended Scenes/Shots (10:24), the Theatrical Trailer (3:31) and Reversible Cover Art.  Lastly, limited to the first 3,000 units, an exclusive slipcover featuring new artwork by Wes Benscoter is also included.  Riding high on a profoundly successful 2016, Severin Films continues to spoil exploitation enthusiasts with their treatment of Burial Ground, so definitive that the opening of hell’s gates can be the only justification for quality of this caliber.

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Waxwork (1988) / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1991)

    Director: Anthony Hickox

    Starring: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Dana Ashbrook, Michah Grant, Eric Brown, Clare Carey, Patrick Macnee & David Warner / Zach Galligan, Monkia Schnarre, Alexander Godunov, Martin Kemp & Bruce Campbell 

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Melding the humorously wacky with the horrific, Waxwork finds a group of collegiate friends who stumble upon a mysterious wax museum displaying the most vile monsters, madmen and psychos albeit without victims.  Before long, their innocent tour lures them into its dark magic to become permanent members of the establishments morbid offerings.  Starring Zach Galligan (Gremlins) and Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl) with appearances from distinguished Englishmen and talented thespians Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) and David Warner (Tron) as the villainous museum owner, Waxwork’s greatest strength lies in its animated displays that honor the classic monsters of yesteryear and submerging would-be victims into their appropriately themed worlds.  Transforming into mini films within a film, the high maintenance China (Michelle Johnson, Death Becomes Her) finds herself immersed within Count Dracula’s gothic castle and forced to duel against his bloodthirsty brides while, the chain-smoking Tony (Dana Ashbrook, Twin Peaks) stumbles into the full moon lit backwoods where the beastly Wolfman (John-Rhys Davies, Raiders of the Lost Ark) hunts.  While the rather busy narrative throws touches of black magic, evil trinkets, freakish butlers and interdimensional realms to the forefront that occasionally scatterbrains the proceedings, Waxwork’s free-for-all conclusion pitting the likes of Marquis de Sade and zombies against the privileged Mark (Galligan) and his wheelchair-bound godfather right the ship in this clever sendup of classic chills under the guise of 80s video age eye-candy.

    Surviving the fiery events of the original film, Mark and Sarah (replaced by Monkia Schnarre, The Peacekeeper) return in Waxwork II: Lost in Time when a resilient zombie hand from the wax museum murders Sarah’s stepfather, pinning the blame on her.  Determined to prove her innocence, the two recover a magical compass enabling them to time travel through dimensions in order to gather the proper evidence to clear Sarah’s name.  Far more fantasy based than its predecessor with the characters winding up in medieval times to combat a black magic wielding sorcerer, Waxwork II: Lost in Time, using Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking-Glass as a loose template, makes greater use of hilariously parodying genre films than properly traveling through historical events.  Making stops at Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory and the streets of London during Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror, Alien, The Haunting and Godzilla among other films all find their way cheekily homaged in this more refined sequel.  Graced with brief roles from B-movie legends Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead) and David Carradine (Death Race 2000), Waxwork II: Lost in Time widens its universe even more so, delivering a followup with more comedic oomph that surprisingly exceeds its originator by a narrow margin.

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate, under their Vestron Video Collector’s Series imprint, presents both Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Bearing generally clean appearances with scant scratches and slight speckling during darker sequences, colors pop effectively with skin tones reading nicely although, softness is not wholly uncommon or overly unpleasant.  Furthermore, its sequel noticeably improves during its extended black and white sequences mocking The Haunting that shine more sharply than the first film.  Respectable upgrades on both features will leave the overwhelming majority of fans more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is admirably conveyed while occasional moments during the first film find character lines at odds with other dominating sound factors.  Otherwise making solid use of their respective musical scores, both tracks strongly live up to expectations.  

    Providing each film on their own Blu-ray disc, special features on Waxwork’s Disc 1 include, an Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Hickox & Actor Zach Galligan and an Isolated Score & Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon.  Additionally, The Waxwork Chronicles (1:22:17), another first-rate Red Shirt Pictures production divided into six parts, explores the development and making of both films with newly captured interviews from Writer/Director Anthony Hickox, Editor Christopher Cibelli, Producer Staffon Ahrenberg, Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor Bob Keen, Actors Zach Galligan, Monika Schnarre and many others covering everything Waxwork related fans would ever want to know.  Also included, a vintage The Making of Waxwork (24:06) featurette, the Theatrical Trailer (2:02) and a Still Gallery (7:55) conclude the disc’s helpings.  Next up, Waxwork II: Lost in Time’s Disc 2 opens with another Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Hickox & Actor Zach Galligan, an Isolated Score & Audio Interview with Composer Steve Schiff, a Music Video (3:50), Theatrical Trailer (3:03), Still Gallery (7:17) and a Reversible Cover Art capping off the double feature’s supplemental package.  Nostalgia will surely ring loudly for viewers raised on both Waxwork features during the heyday of video rental.  A clever and unique injection of horror and comedy during the slasher prominent decade, both films, with its 1991 sequel having a slight advantage, are enjoyable excursions into silliness that have been passionately peppered with ample bonus features to continue making the legacy of Vestron Pictures proud.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Lady in White (1988)

    Director: Frank LaLoggia

    Starring: Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco & Katherine Helmond

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the wholesome suburb of Willowpoint Falls circa 1962, Lady in White centers on monster kid Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas, Mars Attacks!) who narrowly escapes death at the hands of a mysterious child murderer.  Aided by the first victim’s ghost, Frankie vows to bring the elusive killer to justice who may be closer than he knows.  Capturing the virtually lost magic of small-town Americana and shot on location in the picturesque region of Upstate New York, Lady in White weaves its atmospheric tale of local legends, ghosts and cold-blooded murder with expert direction and grounded performances that shine with pure naturalism.  Following Frankie’s supernatural encounter, the neighborhood myth of the lady in white searching for her fallen child ties into the picture’s larger story with the very real threat of her assailant still at large injecting a genuine undercurrent of thrills.  Reminiscent of Stephen King’s best coming of age fables, Lady in White’s acute capturing of simpler times while, injecting deeply rooted themes of family, facing fears and discrimination come from a creative voice of passion and experience that Writer/Director Frank LaLoggia (Fear No Evil) conveys in earnest.  An underrated masterwork with an innate connection to the heart and mystery of childhood, Lady in White remains as riveting as ever, eclipsing its reputation as one of the finest ghost stories of its kind.

    Debuting on high-definition with 2 Discs featuring the Director’s Cut (1:57:49, Disc 1), Theatrical Version (1:53:34, Disc 2) and the preferred Extended Director’s Cut (2:06:52, Disc 2), Scream Factory presents Lady in White with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Utilizing the film’s interpositive and an archived film print to assemble the never-before-released lengthier director’s cut, the inherently soft photography is perfectly maintained while, fall leaves and seasonally appropriate greenery are lively looking.  Seamlessly blending its two elements for a first-rate restoration, the director’s intended cut looks excellent whereas the film’s alternate versions are of equal merit.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that forewarns hiss and pops that are hardly noticeable on its extended version, dialogue is never inaudible with the subtle ambiance of howling winds and crashing waves complimenting the proceedings nicely while, the film’s beautiful music selections, handled also by its Writer/Director, perform most effectively.  In addition an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  However unfortunate that no new supplements were produced for the release, vintage bonus features found entirely on Disc 1 include, an Introduction with Frank LaLoggia (0:46), an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Frank LaLoggia (Director’s Cut only), Behind-the-Scenes Footage with Introduction by Frank LaLoggia (16:21) and optional commentary from its creator.  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Frank LaLoggia (36:13) and optional commentary, a Promotional Short Film (7:18), the Theatrical Trailer (1:57), Alternate Trailers (7:10), TV Spots (1:34), Radio Spots (2:21), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Montage (28 in total) and an Extended Photo Gallery (21 in total) wrap up the on-disc extras while, a Reversible Cover Art is also included.  An evocative coming of age chiller ripe for rediscovery and annual viewing, Lady in White is a prime ghostly offering for the Halloween season that stands out for its relatable themes and haunting narrative worthy of the deepest respect.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

     

  • Carrie (1976) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Carrie (1976)

    Director: Brian De Palma

    Starring: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, William Katt, P.J. Soles, Amy Irving, Betty Buckley & Piper Laurie

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Stephen King’s esteemed debut novel, Carrie centers on teenage outcast Carrie White (Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter) who quietly discovers powers of telekinesis.  Abused by her religious mother and tormented by sadistic classmates, the shy introvert exacts her revenge during the student body’s most anticipated evening.  John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever), Nancy Allen (RoboCop), William Katt (The Greatest American Hero), P.J. Soles (Halloween), Amy Irving (Voices), Betty Buckley (Eight Is Enough) and Piper Laurie (The Hustler) costar.

    Marking the first of many adaptations based on the works of horror maestro Stephen King, Carrie expertly melds relatable teen angst with supernatural suspense under the stylish direction of Hitchcock devotee Brian De Palma (Dressed to Kill).  Awkward and friendless, Carrie White’s desires to fit in amongst her peers are consistently shattered when cruel classmates take delight in making her life a living hell.  Following her first unexpected period in the girl’s locker room, Carrie suffers emotionally shattering and embarrassing abuse when her fellow students manically laugh at her traumatic meltdown and respond by piling the bleeding teen with tampons.  From the damaging hallways of high school to her mentally destructive home life soured by her religiously unhinged mother (Laurie), Carrie’s tidal wave of emotions allows her to channel telekinetic abilities.  While her tormentors are punished for their actions, lead heel Chris Hargensen (Allen) rebels, costing her entry to the much anticipated senior prom and making vengeance against Carrie her main priority.  Developing sincere regret for her part during Carrie’s incident, Sue Snell (Irving) is determined to make peace by excusing herself from the prom and urging her popular boyfriend Tommy Ross (Katt) to take the shy Carrie instead.  Experiencing an evening of dreams come true after being crowned prom queen, unparalleled resentment and hate for the introverted teen creates another scarring moment in her life of endless torment.  Unrestrained and empowered by revenge, supernatural occurrences and a fiery inferno turns the once magical evening into a hellish nightmare.

    Brought to life by a cast of relative newcomers who fully embody their onscreen counterparts, Carrie’s simplicity and timeless approach in capturing the harsh struggles of teenage survival is key to its success.  Perfectly cast as the film’s tragic protagonist, Sissy Spacek, nominated by the Academy for her performance, channels the introvert in all of us while demonstrating a wide range of emotions in her pursuit for happiness and eventually fatal revenge.  In addition, Piper Laurie, also nominated for her equally stunning performance as the crazed Ms. White, issues genuine chills of terror while, Nancy Allen delivers one of cinema’s finest villainous roles as high school hell raiser Chris Hargensen making hating her an audience’s pleasure.  Matched with dreamlike cinematography by Mario Tosi (The Stunt Man), an evocative score by Pino Donaggio (Blow Out) and tight cutting by Editor Paul Hirsch (Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back), Carrie maintains its suspenseful build through use of nail biting slo-mo and screen splitting chaos during the film’s fire breathing finale.  Mesmerizingly haunting and easily one of De Palma’s finest hours, Carrie, much like its literary masterpiece, continues to live on as a gold standard example of horror cinema.

    Newly scanned in 4K from the original camera negative, Scream Factory proudly presents Carrie with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Improving on its dated past release, Brian De Palma’s supernatural shocker arrives with natural film grain firmly intact throughout while, skin tones are warmly inviting and nicely detailed.  Furthermore, dirt and debris are virtually absent paving the way for an exceptionally clean presentation.  The surreal, softer focus of Mario Posi’s cinematography demonstrated during sunny exterior sequences are preserved while, black levels cast appreciatively inky levels and bold colors spotted during the iconic pig’s blood poured on Carrie and the prom’s variety of spotlights pop quite nicely.  Without question, Carrie has made her definitive statement with this wholly impressive transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the film’s soundscape has never been regarded for its dynamics yet, dialogue is consummately produced with Pino Donaggio’s exceptional score fully encompassing sequences.  In addition, chaotic screams and destruction of the high school gymnasium offer notable rise.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.

    Spread across two Blu-ray discs, special features located on Disc 1 include, the Theatrical Trailer (2:06) and a Carrie Franchise Trailer Gallery (4:12).  Continuing on Disc 2, newly recorded supplements include, Writing Carrie: An Interview with Screenwriter Lawrence Cohen (29:07), Shooting Carrie: An Interview with Director of Photography Mario Tosi (15:22) and Cutting Carrie: An Interview with Casting Director Harriet B. Helberg (16:03).  The repurposed Acting Carrie (42:42) is also joined by the new More Acting Carrie: Featuring Interviews with Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Edie McClurg & P.J. Soles (20:19).  Additionally, the vintage Visualizing Carrie: From Words to Images (41:33) and a brand new featurette, Bucket of Blood (23:53), interviewing the Italian speaking Composer Pino Donaggio about his experiences is included with English subtitles.  Furthermore, Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (11:25), hosted by Sean Clark as he visits the shooting locations today and Carrie, The Musical: Singing Carrie (6:23) continue the bonus feature packed release with TV Spots (3:11), Radio Spots (1:29), a Still Gallery - Rare Behind-the-Scenes (59 in total), followed by another Still Gallery - Posters and Lobby Cards (47 in total), Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie Text Gallery (13 in total) and a Reversible Cover Art boasting the original 1-sheet design concluding the nearly endless supply of content.  

    Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Carrie continues to shock viewers with its supernatural scares while effectively tapping into the real-life and arguably more frightening torment outcast teenagers continue to face.  Treasuring De Palma’s adaptation for the classic it is, Scream Factory’s gorgeous 4K transfer, joined by its Collector’s Edition level of new and vintage supplements delivers the home video release of Carrie fans have been clamoring for.

    RATING: 5/5

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

  • Fender Bender (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Fender Bender (2016)

    Director: Mark Pavia

    Starring: Makenzie Vega, Dre Davis, Cassidy Freeman, Kesley Leos Montoya, Harrison Sim & Bill Sage

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a New Mexican town, Fender Bender finds teenage Hilary (Makenzie Vega, The Good Wife) experiencing the downside of being a newly licensed driver after suffering her first accident.  Unharmed yet rattled, Hilary innocently exchanges information with her striker only to be grounded for the accidental damage later that evening.  Home alone during a violent storm, Hilary’s friends stop by only for the unsuspecting trio to be terrorized by a masked maniac.  Dre Davis (Pretty Little Liars), Cassidy Freeman (Longmire), Kesley Leos Montoya (The Guest), Harrison Sim (Pizza Girl Massacre) and Bill Sage (We Are What We Are) co-star.

    In the suspenseful spirit of slasherfests from yesteryear, Fender Bender takes the fun yet consistently recycled subgenre and finds a uniquely relatable occurrence to construct its contemporary chiller.  Modern in its setting, Makenzie Vega leads the cast as the diversely selected Hispanic heroine whose day of catching her cheating boyfriend in the act goes from bad to worse after being rear ended in her mother’s new car.  After a briefly awkward exchange of personal information with the fellow driver, Hilary is reprimand by her parents and forced to stay home alone for the night.  Spooked by the loneliness and harshness of a brewing storm, Hilary is further unsettled by texts from her mysterious acquaintance and other questionable events.  Relieved by the arrival of her best friends, Hilary’s night of terror is only just beginning when a leather-masked madman crashes the party, intent on sharply cutting the small guest list.  Marking the return of long absent Writer/Director Mark Pavia (The Night Flier), Fender Bender plays to its strengths with classic tropes of an innocent teen in peril and a stranger in the house with genuine conviction, sparing viewers any self-referential nods that have become commonplace in similar films influenced by previous decades.  While its dialogue is cheesily delivered, a satisfying bodycount and a rather bleak showdown between Hilary and her masked assailant in the final act provides ample entertainment for horror hounds yearning for modern mayhem with inner retro workings.  Enhanced by an evocative, Carpenter-esque score by Night Runner, Fender Bender is a competently constructed slasher that although not perfect, manages to inject a breath of originality into the genre that likeminded viewers will greatly appreciate.

    Scream Factory presents Fender Bender with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, this modern day slasher boasts sharp contrast and strong colors most noticeably in exterior foliage while, skin tones read naturally and well-defined.  Scratch free with only fleeting moments of digital noise during dimly lit sequences, black levels are generally strong with the leather texture of the killer’s mask shimmering nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that plays strongly to the film’s synth score and suspenseful moments, dialogue is rightly prioritized while, sound effects of varying degrees all make commendable strides.  Special features include, a Retro VHS Version viewing option that perfectly brings audiences back to the nostalgic-fueled days of rewinding with accurately cheesy bumpers and tracking lines prevalent throughout the film’s runtime.  In addition, an Audio Commentary with Director Mark Pavia and a second Audio Commentary with Co-Producers Joshua Bunting, Carl Lucas, Jordan Fields & Gus Krieger who deliver information of substance while hilariously playing a drinking game with onscreen actions is also included.  Furthermore, a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (9:16), a “Slashback” Trailer Reel (38:39) promoting many other Scream Factory releases, the Original Trailer & TV Spot (2:07) and a Reversible Cover Art featuring a commissioned design by Justin Osbourn alongside a Digital HD code conclude the supplemental offerings.        

    After years of preserving cult favorites and introducing viewers to horror’s newest nightmares, Scream Factory’s first originally produced effort, in association with Chiller Films, is a suspenseful treat with surprisingly relatable themes and a heavily 80s-influenced score that will transport fans back to the days of video rental stores and big hair.  Making a sound transition to high-definition, Director Mark Pavia’s long-awaited return to horror treats viewers with several supplements and a most enjoyable Retro VHS viewing option.  A conservative blend of new school meets old school, Fender Bender burns rubber and sends Scream Factory off on a strong start in their latest and hopefully enduring new endeavor of crafting original scares for today’s audiences.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Cat People (1942) Blu-ray Review

    Cat People (1942)

    Director: Jacques Tourneur

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

    Released by: The Criterion Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • The Dead Room (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Dead Room (2015)

    Director: Jason Stutter

    Starring: Jed Brophy, Jeffrey Thomas & Laura Petersen

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in New Zealand, The Dead Room centers on a trio of ghost hunters as they investigate strange happenings at an abandoned farmhouse.  Before long, skepticism morphs into full-blown fear when supernatural forces make their presence known to the unwanted visitors.

    Inspired by the local legend of Central Otago, New Zealand, the contrasting methods of science and faith converge to uncover the unsettling truths behind a haunted home in this slow-build snoozer.  Descending upon the forsaken abode, two technologically savvy and scientifically minded paranormal investigators (Jed Brophy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Jeffrey Thomas, The Light Between Oceans respectively) joined by twentysomething medium Holly (Laura Petersen, Shopping) waste little time rigging their equipment in hopes of capturing evidence of the otherworldly to no such avail.  With little exposition and minimal character development, The Dead Room crawls at a snail’s pace before yawn-inducing bumps in the night and howling winds finally signal the trio’s cameras and nerves into believing ghostly apparitions are near.  While Holly intuitively senses her intrusion upon the homestead, uneasy techie Liam is urged by his scientific superior Scott to remain together until conclusive evidence can be obtained of their supposed haunting.  Swinging doors and thrown furniture continue the parlor tricks of the entity as onscreen fear fails to convert restless viewers.  With a promising setup and breezy runtime, The Dead Room attempts to desperately possess audiences in its fleeting moments with the discovery of an unexpected guest and a ghostly twist that feels far too rushed and questionably unexpected to make any redeeming impact.  Establishing little to no emotional connection to its characters and making sluggish strides in suspense, The Dead Room is unfortunately all bark and no bite.

    Scream Factory presents The Dead Room with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Reading expectedly sharp for a feature of its era, skin tones from Holly’s pale-pigment to the aging lines of lead scientist Scott are natural and well-defined.  Meanwhile, textures in the green and purple wall paint of the haunted home are strongly relayed with black levels appearing generally inky with no heavy instances of crush with only minimal splotchiness in facial features during the film’s basement set climax.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is effortlessly handled with the creaky floors, glass breaking and door slamming sound effects of the specter making excellent motions on the track.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided.  Lastly, the disc’s sole supplement is the film’s Trailer (1:43).

    Exhaustively sedate and gapingly monotonous, The Dead Room strives to use its slow-pace and less is more approach to its strengths while, colorless character development and uneventful occurrences sacrifice its true potential.  Shortchanging its runtime and concluding on a go for broke jump scare, the Kiwi-based production gravely disappoints whereas its high-def presentation at least makes worthwhile strides in its crisp photography and effective soundscape.

    RATING: 2.5/5

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

  • Clown (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Clown (2014)

    Director: Jon Watts

    Starring: Laura Allen, Andy Powers & Peter Stormare

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After the entertainment for his young son’s birthday fails to arrive, Clown finds loving father Kent (Andy Powers, In Her Shoes) donning a clown suit and makeup to perform.  Unfortunately, over time the vintage costume and wig refuses to come off, simultaneously altering Kent’s personality into something demonic.  With little hope for a cure, the once wholesome father finds himself in a circus of nightmares that places his family in dire straits.  Laura Allen (The 4400) and Peter Stormare (22 Jump Street) co-star.

    Conceived from a clever mock trailer deceivingly billing eventual Producer Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, The Green Inferno) as its helmer, Clown spotlights the fear-inducing carny figure under unique circumstances as a cobweb infested vintage costume serves as the carrier of evil for an unsuspecting father.  Uniquely crafted, Jon Watts’ (Cop Car, Marvel Studios’ upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming) feature-length directorial debut wastes little time establishing the idyllic family life Kent and wife Meg (Allen) live as they celebrate the birthday of their son Jack (Christian Distefano, PAW Patrol) before peculiar events strike.  Experiencing extreme difficulty in removing the clown nose and full body costume discovered in a mysterious traveling trunk, Kent grows frantic when even power tools fail to sever a single stitch.  Developing a voracious hunger, the real estate agent in clown’s clothing finds answers in the costume’s previous owner Herbert Karlsson (Stormare) who reveals the sinister past of the clown through history and its insatiable appetite for children.  Failing to fatally eliminate the demon’s carrier, Kent, progressively becoming more clown-like, evades death to feed while, Karlsson and Meg join forces to stop a big top reign of blood.

    Shot quickly and cheaply, several years of domestic delays and increased buildup escalated the occasionally creepy feature to heights impossible to live up to.  Presenting one of the better clown designs in recent memory with a grim pursuit of children through Chuck E. Cheese ball pits and unapologetically leaving gallons of prepubescent blood in the demon jester’s wake, Clown also adds a possessed dog in need of decapitation and rainbow spewing body liquid as Kent attempts to unsuccessfully take his life several times.  Greatly suffering from severe pacing issues that jeopardizes the film’s initial suspense, Clown possesses genuine moments of eeriness yet, not nearly enough to leave a lasting impression.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Clown with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Maintaining a softer approach that keeps detail and otherwise more impactful colors mildly restrained, the digitally shot feature is decently presented and appears true to its intended palette.  Although, black levels lack a deeper inkiness common in other modern features resulting in murkier presentations that are mediocre at best.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is greatly prioritized while, the film’s inclusions of heavy bass notes during intense moments of screams and other frights make the track a nice compliment to its onscreen theatrics.  Containing only one supplement, Making Clown (6:24) is a fairly standard EPK with talking heads Eli Roth, Star Laura Allen, Cinematographer Matthew Santo and others discussing the film and their various contributions to it.  In addition, a Digital HD Code has also been included.

    Anticipated for far too long, Clown’s delayed release may have generated welcome buzz yet, its finished product, littered with pacing misfires and an otherwise interesting plot gone dull, diminishes the promise it once had.  While jolts of creativity are contained within, Director Jon Watts has graduated to far better projects that display his talents to much greater effect.  Given its long road to home video, special features are regrettably nominal while, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s presentation is pleasing enough.  

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available August 23rd from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Clown can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Deadly Trackers (1973) Blu-ray Review

    The Deadly Trackers (1973)

    Director: Barry Shear

    Starring: Richard Harris, Rod Taylor, Al Lettieri, Neville Brand & William Smith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After his wife and child are murdered, The Deadly Trackers finds orderly Sheriff Kilpatrick (Richard Harris, Unforgiven) seeking vengeance on the ruthless Frank Brand (Rod Taylor, The Birds) and his trio of thugs.  Tossing jurisdiction to the side, Kilpatrick continues his pursuit into Mexico where the only law the matters is his own.  Al Lettieri (The Godfather), Neville Brand (Eaten Alive) and William Smith (The Mean Season) co-star.

    In what began as a Sam Fuller directed adaptation of his own novel, The Deadly Trackers would ultimately halt production only to return under the watchful eye of Director Barry Shear (Across 110th Street).  Protecting his community of Santa Rosa with the highest regard for the law and a responsible stance on firearms, Irish Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick’s world quickly shatters when a bank robbery explodes into a deadly storm of slaughter leaving his wife murdered and young son trampled to death by horses.  Altered in the blink of an eye, Kilpatrick’s former-self is abolished as his vengeance-fueled pursuit of the criminal quartet leads him into Mexico.  Led by the dastardly Frank Brand in an effectively against type performance by Taylor, the ruthless baddie is assisted by lazy-eyed Schoolboy (Smith), iron handed Choo Choo (Brand) and the eloquent Jacob (Paul Benjamin, Some Kind of Hero) whose race finds him consistently scorned by Brand.  Sidetracked by a law-abiding Federali (Lettieri), Kilpatrick’s rogue journey through the Mexican land finds himself in custody and nearly hanged, only to escape and continue his relentless chase.  Harris delivers a powerful turn as a man with nothing left to lose who suffers physically and emotionally to invoke his own personal justice.  Although never overwhelming and far more suggestive than presented, The Deadly Trackers’ violence of slit throats, point-blank head shots and children in peril make suspenseful sequences all the more tense.  Constantly at odds and resulting in several tussles with his on-off again Mexican sheriff ally, Kilpatrick, virtually blind from a near-fatal gunshot, traces his foe to a convent where Brand’s young daughter is being raised, allowing for an emotionally humanizing sequence between the film’s unforgiving antagonist and his half-Mexican daughter.  Demanding what it means to be a hero and at what cost vengeance must come, The Deadly Trackers is a heart-pounding western, boasting sterling performances from both its leads and Mexican standoff levels of suspense.                           

    Warner Archive presents The Deadly Trackers with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Gorgeously filmic, the grand vistas of the western environment are sharply presented while, the grassy fields during the Mexican sequences are notably vibrant.  Impressing with natural skin tones that strongly detail perspiration and facial hair, only a blemish or two are spotted on this virtually immaculate transfer that transports viewers to the film’s scorching climate while crisply capturing stark levels of bloodshed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handsomely relayed with no hiss or pops detected while, the uncredited Fred Steiner’s (Gunsmoke) poignant score and unloading sounds of ammunition all make stirring impacts.  Unfortunately scant, the sole special feature included is the film’s Trailer (2:45).

    Largely underrated, The Deadly Trackers is a simple story of revenge carried out by a small-town sheriff.  Packed with ample levels of emotion and suspense, Harris and Taylor are spectacularly cast as adversaries with the latter’s performance as badman Brand being of particular note.  Ever diverse, the inclusion of this largely neglected western into Warner Archive’s impressive catalog is treated with expected quality and care that will greatly satisfy movie lovers.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available July 26th from Warner Archive, The Deadly Trackers can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Slasher: Season One Blu-ray Review

    Slasher: Season One 

    Director: Craig David Wallace

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Pack (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Pack (2015)

    Director: Nick Robertson

    Starring: Jack Campbell, Anna Lise Phillips, Katie Moore & Hamish Phillips

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the Australian Outback, The Pack centers on a struggling family whose secluded farmhouse is targeted by a swarm of bloodthirsty wild dogs.  Short on ammunition and largely outnumbered, the frightened family must outwit their predators to survive before becoming a serving of flesh for the four-legged attackers.

    Reviving the nature run amuck genre with the burgeoning home invasion thriller, The Pack is a tensely crafted achievement from first time director Nick Robertson that sinks its teeth into viewers’ jugulars and refuses to let go.  Threatened by loaners to foreclose on their home while struggling to pay their bills, sheep rancher Adam (Jack Campbell, Gabriel) and his veterinarian wife Carla (Anna Lise Phillips, Animal Kingdom), along with their two children, find themselves confronted with worse problems when their sprawling Australian farmland is overrun by flesh-eating wild dogs.  Camouflaged by the night, the pack of fang-toothed savages ferociously charge through windows to reach the appetizing skin of their victims while, the blue-collar family unsuccessfully attempt to shield entryways into their home.  When reaching out to the authorities proves graphically fatal for the cavalry, the family finds themselves on their own against the hairy beasts who manage to take generous bites out of Adam during several escape attempts.  With options running low, the physically drained family use the shadows and their delicate movements to navigate to safety before being forced to defend themselves with only a butcher knife, a tire iron and a handful of bullets. 

    Enforced by pulsating suspense and grisly depictions of the ravenous dogs feasting upon humans, The Pack operates predominately on dread while, allowing viewers to greatly sympathize for the family in peril and root for their survival.  Possessing a rabid-like madness with exceptional hunting skills at their disposal, the devil dogs strike genuine fear into each frame that will leave viewers howling in relief as the sun rises following the film’s never-ending night of terror.  An ozceptional effort from the Aussie shores, The Pack brings healthy doses of bloodshed and a nightmarish view of man’s best friend to the genre.

    Scream Factory presents The Pack with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot predominately under the foreboding night skies, black levels are handsomely relayed allowing for facial details and the blood dripping fangs of the pack to be captured with ease.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue, although scant and secondary to the onscreen action, is audible while shrieking cues of window smashes, rifle shots and dog barks come across with impressive authority.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Bonus features include, The Making of The Pack (7:57), a fairly standard and brief EPK featurette along with the Theatrical Trailer (1:49) and Reversible Cover Art.

    Joining the ranks of their more celebrated contemporary genre acquisitions, The Pack is a nail- biting, canine attacking thriller with an expert sense of suspense crafted by a first time filmmaker.  In conjunction with IFC Midnight, Scream Factory graciously shares this Aussie achievement with domestic audiences sure to be impressed by its unrelenting bite.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available July 5th from Scream Factory, The Pack can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Two-Minute Warning (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Two-Minute Warning (1976)

    Director: Larry Peerce

    Starring: Charlton Heston, John Cassavetes, Martin Baslam, Beau Bridges, Marilyn Hassett, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Walter Pidgeon & Gena Rowlands

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set during the biggest professional football game of the season, Two-Minute Warning finds a crazed gunman perched atop the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as he plots a murder spree across the sold out arena.  Determined to end the reign of terror before it begins, Captain Peter Holly (Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes) leads a tense mission with the responding SWAT team to protect the 91,000 potential victims.  

    Based on the novel by George LaFountaine, Two-Minute Warning joins the ranks of other disaster based epics from the decade where quiet, lone assailants struck fear into the hearts of its ensemble cast.  Juxtaposing between the unsettling viewpoint of the mysterious sniper and the journey to his next elaborate target, Two-Minute Warning bounces around several different groups of personalities ranging from Police Captain Peter Holly, a quarreling middle-aged couple (David Janssen, The Fugitive and Gena Rowlands, The Skeleton Key), a nervous gambler (Jack Klugman, The Odd Couple) and a clergyman (Mitchell Ryan, Dharma & Greg), a family of four headed by Mike (Beau Bridges, The Fabulous Baker Boys) and Peggy (Pamela Bellwood, Dynasty) Ramsay, a pair of pickpockets (Walter Pidegon, Mrs. Miniver and Julie Bridges, Bitter Heritage) among others, all of whom are connected by the championship football match between Los Angeles and Baltimore.  Patiently biting his time in an arena packed with thousands of innocent lives including, several politicians, the gunman is spotted by television cameras before Captain Holly is called into action alongside the trigger-itchy SWAT team, led by Sergeant Chris Brown (John Cassavetes, Rosemary’s Baby).  Attempting to thwart the sniper’s actions, difficulties arise when the motiveless madman realize he’s been had, igniting a deadly showdown during the game’s fleeting moments.

    Boasting an undeniably awesome cast of thespians that defined pictures of this caliber, Two-Minute Warning kicks off intensely enough as our antagonist target practices on an unsuspecting biker before a long, although quite enjoyable, introduction to the film’s many supporting players ensues.  Stadium filled with star power, Two-Minute Warning unfortunately comes up short developing the characters as strongly as desired while, suspense can run dry as the uniformed, Ray-Ban wearing heroes prepare for the worst which doesn’t come until, you guessed it, the game’s final moments.  Thankfully, the SWAT team’s cover being blown results in a pandemonium-filled spree of gunfire causing the hysterical crowd to charge the field and elbow anyone within reach.  As bleak as realities own headlines, Two-Minute Warning refuses to supply any answers for the killer’s motives leaving the wounded warriors triumphant if not, bewildered by the insanity.  A decently-sliced serving of terroristic thrills with Merv Griffin showing up to sing the National Anthem, Two-Minute Warning entertains in waves with star and future NRA President Charlton Heston’s appearance as a skeptical gun-use police captain being oh so charmingly ironic.

    Shout! Factory presents Two-Minute Warning with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing lusciously filmic, skin tones are consistently natural with strong detail admired in closeups while, bolder colors found in the film’s surprising levels of bloodshed and the football players uniforms popping sharply with only very fleeting instances of dust and debris noticed throughout.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed with ease as the roar of the Los Angeles crowd and the powerful blasts from the sniper’s firearm provide admirable boosts in reach.  Special features include, the Television Broadcast Version (2:21:28).  Although sworn off by its director, this alternate version, presented in standard definition, is noticeably lengthier and devises an alternate subplot revolving around an art theft.  In addition, an extensive, newly recorded Interview with Director Larry Peerce (25:35), Radio Spots (2:53), the Theatrical Trailer (1:46) and a Photo Gallery (4:52) round out the disc’s supplements.  Furthermore, while advertised with a new Audio Commentary with Director Larry Peerce, the release does not in fact include one.  

    A fine inclusion into the popular disaster epics predominately produced by Universal Studios during the 70s, Two-Minute Warning is a tense, slightly underdeveloped thrill ride that props itself up with a memorable cast whose appearances more than make up for its slow build.  Rescued from the vaults, Shout! Factory awards fans with a sharp transfer and a commendable selection of bonus features including, the never before available television broadcast version of the film for completists.  With so little time to think, Two-Minute Warning might be the only warning you’ll have to experience disastertainment, vintage style!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 28th from Shout! Factory, Two-Minute Warning can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Crush (1993) Blu-ray Review

    The Crush (1993)

    Director: Alan Shapiro

    Starring: Carly Elwes, Alicia Silverstone, Jennifer Rubin & Kurtwood Smith

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Forbidden love and obsession reign supreme in The Crush when writer Nick Eliot (Cary Elwes, Saw) catches the attention of his landlady’s young daughter Adrian (Alicia Silverstone, Clueless).  After respectfully being turned down by her older crush, Adrian will stop at nothing to turn Nick’s life into a living nightmare.  Jennifer Rubin (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) and Kurtwood Smith (RoboCop) co-star.

    In the vein of Fatal Attraction, The Crush caters its tale of scandalous romance and unsettling revenge for a teenage demographic with many landing their own crush for young star Alicia Silverstone in her breakout performance.  Wise beyond her years, 14-year-old Adrian falls head over heels for houseguest occupant Nick whose flattery and ultimate rejection of the teen beauty alters his life for the worse.  Intruding on his personal space before forcefully kissing her wishful beau, Adrian’s persistence after being shunned takes a darker turn when Nick’s blossoming writing career is jeopardized, his car vandalized and his new girlfriend (Rubin) is hospitalized.  Fearing for his life and unable to escape from Adrian’s hold, Nick is delivered a devastating blow when the menacing minor accuses him of sexual assault, potentially destroying the writer’s life.  With fleeting options and publicly viewed as guilty, Nick’s efforts to definitively break his crush’s heart and clear his own name can only come at a violent cost.  Earning the former Aerosmith music video starlet two MTV Movie Award’s including Best Villain, The Crush may be best and rightly remembered for Silverstone’s seductively skitzo performance while, the true story inspired narrative does admirable work maintaining suspense throughout its rather violently tame plot.  Enjoyably simplistic with evenly applied thrills, The Crush sits handsomely next to other psychotic lovesick pictures of the era with Gen Xers’ nostalgia-fueled appreciation earning its cult credibility.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Scream Factory proudly presents The Crush with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing clear and particularly lush in the green surroundings of the film’s central location, colors are strongly reproduced with skin tones always looking natural.  Lacking any overwhelming instances of dirt or debris, black levels are satisfactory while, its presentation is filmic and exceedingly pleasing to the eye.  Presented with a disclaimer alerting viewers of phasing issues present on previous releases that have been unfortunately carried over due to lack of better materials, the film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix suffers only mildly with dialogue registering slightly lower yet, audibly than anticipated.  Far from deal-breaking and with expectations appropriately adjusted, the mix is perfectly sufficient.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix with identical phasing issues is also included.  Meanwhile, special features include, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Alan Shapiro, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson.  In addition, The Doting Father with Kurtwood Smith (9:59) finds the former That ‘70s Show star reminiscing on his brief but, enjoyable experience on the film, praising its cinematography and recalling Silverstone’s 16th birthday celebration on set.  Furthermore, Stung by Love with Jennifer Rubin (13:19) catches up with the genre appreciated actress as she discusses how her modeling days and handiness with a camera aided her performance on top of praising the acting abilities of co-stars Elwes and Silverstone.  Finally, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:03) and TV Spot (0:17) conclude the disc’s supplemental offerings.

    A seductive thriller fashioned for the MTV generation, The Crush’s greatest claim to fame remains its cinematic introduction to Silverstone who steals the show with her unhinged performance as a lovestruck teen gone psycho.  With an equally strong performance from Elwes, The Crush delivers its taste of suspense commendably, making it a worthy date night thriller.  Rewinding back to the days when UB40 and “Informer” blared across the radio waves, Scream Factory’s high-definition presentation and compact bonus features treats diehard fans with a cult favorite unworthy of breaking up with.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 21st from Scream Factory, The Crush can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Jeepers Creepers (2001) / Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) Collector's Editions Blu-ray Reviews

    Jeepers Creepers (2001) / Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

    Director: Victor Salva

    Starring: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck & Eileen Brennan / Ray Wise, Jonathan Breck, Eric Nenninger, Nicki Aycox & Luke Edwards 

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Knowing precisely what’s eating horror fans, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, presents the definitive home video releases of Director Victor Salva’s (Powder) modern monster features!  In Jeepers Creepers, siblings Trish (Gina Philips, Chained) and Darry (Justin Long, Tusk) are nearly ran off a desolate highway road only to later investigate what they believe are bodies being disposed of down a sewer pipe.  Literally biting off more than they can chew, the terrified teens find themselves targeted by a mysterious monster with a scent for fear.  Next up, Jeepers Creepers 2 centers on a broken down school bus transporting a team of high school athletes who have just become the Creeper’s newest course of flesh.  Testing their fears and own loyalty to one another, the team must stick together in order to survive the final night of the monster’s feeding cycle.   

    Debuting at the tail end of the waining slasher movie cycle, Jeepers Creepers is a consummately constructed ode to the monster movies of yesteryear with an antagonist that appropriately remains shrouded in the shadows and free of a deconstructive backstory.  Headlined by up and comers Gina Philips and Justin Long, the rural set shriekfest wisely makes the leads brother and sister in order to shatter the predictable lovers in peril scenario with the film’s focus prominently placed on their fear of what’s stalking them.  From a tense road game between the traveling teens and an eerie high-speed truck, Jeepers Creepers submerges viewers into the grim underworld of its monster as Trish and Darry foolishly investigate their attackers homestead only to discover a mausoleum of death.  Seeking salvation from the proper authorities, the unsuspecting officers are no match for what awaits them, ultimately leaving the siblings to fend for themselves.  Excellently performed by Jonathan Breck (Everybody Wants Some!!) while doused in impressive makeup design work, the mysterious otherworldly creature packs a sufficiently scary presence with only its computer-generated wingspan showing its age.  Sniffing out the desirable scent of fear, the film’s climax at a blacked-out police station welcomes several opportunities for jump scares and a tense conclusion that surprisingly doesn’t include a celebratory moment of relief for its survivors.  A box-office smash during its original release, Jeepers Creepers was a refreshing jolt of fear during a time when the genre found itself scatterbrained yet again.  Aging gracefully with a simplistic story that makes terror its central priority, Jeepers Creepers still entertains accordingly.

    Emerging two years after its predecessors instant success and downward slide following the September 11th attacks, Jeepers Creepers 2 returns to the scene with its terrorizing monster hungry for seconds.  Following the attack and abduction of his young son, Jack Taggart Sr. (Ray Wise, RoboCop), vows to take vengeance on the winged creature responsible.  Juxtaposing to the final day of the creature’s last eating cycle for the next 23 years, a school bus of athletes are stranded on a backcountry highway with jealousy, racial tension and homophobia tearing them apart.  As nightfall comes, the Creeper sets his sights on the tattered bus, sniffing out his potential victims in what proves to be the longest night of the students’ young lives.  With a larger budget and a bigger cast, Jeepers Creepers 2 follows common sequel tropes by increasing the body count and action set pieces yet, lacking the more intimate punch of its originator.  In addition, although Justin Long returns in a ghostly dream sequence warning clairvoyant cheerleader Minxie (Nicki Aycox, Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead) of the doom awaiting her friends, the lack of former lead Gina Philips also returning greatly disappoints while, the current crop of characters are mostly unlikeable and almost always out for themselves.  Fortunately, the Creeper is far more high-powered in his latest outing, taking to the skies more frequently and serving up an especially fun decapitation via wing.  Restraining the cast to the enclosed school bus for the bulk of its runtime backfires as the thrills decrease with each passing minute while, Ray Wise’s revenge plot, awesomely carried out by a makeshift harpoon, arrives much later than anticipated.  Exceeding the box-office performance of the original film, Jeepers Creepers 2 proved there was more bite left in the franchise with plans for a third movie still being touted.  While the Creeper truly comes into greater form in the sequel and allows for a larger playing field for its action, Jeepers Creepers 2 ultimately lacks the tighter eeriness of its first effort.            

    Previously released in high-definition by MGM, Scream Factory presents both films with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratios respectively.  With the original film bearing a new 2K scan of the interpositive, the sunny, rural exteriors appear even more lush than before while, skin tones are topnotch and black levels appear sharply inky with only fleeting instances of speckling.  Meanwhile, its sequel, presumably carrying its originally released transfer, remains equally as pleasing.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, each film makes dialogue prioritized for maximum clarity while, the films suspenseful scores and emphasis on gunshots and expected screams give tremendous rise to their designated sequences.  Furthermore, both film comes equipped with optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes as well.  

    Joining the ranks of Scream Factory’s lauded Collector’s Editions, Jeepers Creepers arrives with a new Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Victor Salva and Stars Gina Philips & Justin Long plus, a vintage Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Victor Salva.  Located on the original film’s second disc, Jeepers Creepers: Then and Now (36:45) is a newly recorded look back at the film, its making and continued impact with new insight from Writer/Director Victor Salva, Producer Barry Opper, Director of Photography Don FauntLeRoy, Editor Ed Marx and Actor Tom Tarantini.  Also included, From Critters to Creepers with Barry Opper (19:38) sits down with the film’s producer as he discusses his career highlights leading up to Salva’s monster movie including work on Android and the Critters franchise.  Next up, The Town Psychic with Patricia Belcher (16:34) catches up with the film’s clairvoyant character and how she landed the role while, Behind the Peepers: The Making of Jeepers Creepers (59:02) is ported over from its previous release alongside Deleted Scenes (17:13), a Photo Gallery (7:56), the Theatrical Trailer (1:54), a Radio Spot (1:00) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the film’s original 1-sheet design rounding the abundance of special features.

    Surprisingly more packed than the previous film, Jeepers Creepers 2 kicks off disc 1 with an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Victor Salva and Stars Eric Nenninger, Josh Hammon, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Marieh Delfino, Garikayi Mutambirwa & Shaun Fleming.  In addition, a second Audio Commentary with Actor Jonathan Breck, Production Illustrator Brad Parker & Special Effects Makeup Artist Brian Penikas is also included.  Located on its second disc, Jeepers Creepers 2: Then and Now (22:34) finds Writer/Director Victor Salva, Producer Barry Opper, Director of Photography Don FauntLeRoy, Editor Ed Marx and Actor Tom Tarantin returning to discuss the success of the original film and the steps to produce a sequel of equal worth.  Next up, A Father’s Revenge with Ray Wise (15:20) captures a newly recorded sit-down with Wise on his involvement in the project and his love for horror while, Don’t Get off the Bus! (20:52) finds Actors Tom Tarantini, Thom Gossom Jr. and Diane Delano also reminiscing on their experiences.  Vintage supplements ported over include, A Day in Hell: A Look at the Filming of Jeepers Creepers 2 (26:43), Light, Camera, Creeper: The Making of Jeepers Creepers 2 (14:23), Creeper Creation (11:29), Jeepers Creepers 2: The Orphanage Visual Effects Reel (5:23) and Creeper Composer (9:26) featuring interviews with Composer Bennett Salvay and Writer/Director Victor Salva.  Finally, Storyboards (5:35), Deleted Scenes (15:51), two Photo Galleries (15:37), the Theatrical Trailer (2:13) and a Reversible Cover Art sporting the original 1-sheet design concludes the extensive bonus features.

    Separating the art and scandal of its creator, Writer/Director Victor Salva’s twosome of creepy efforts gave modern audiences a new and effectively realized monster of their own.  While the original Jeepers Creepers may be imperfect in its own right, its smaller-scale and mysterious aura of its antagonist makes it the preferred feature to its bigger budgeted and increasingly tiresome sequel.  Making previously available releases virtually unneeded, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Editions are a treasure trove of high quality with their expansive special features requiring two discs to be contained.  Topped off with phenomenal new cover designs by fan-favorite artist Justin Osbourn (Phantom of the Paradise), both releases will surely fill up hungry horror fans.

    Jeepers Creepers RATING: 4/5

    Jeepers Creepers 2 RATING: 3.5/5

    Available June 14th from Scream Factory, Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2 can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Venom (1982) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Venom (1982)

    Director: Piers Haggard

    Starring: Sterling Hayden, Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Susan George, Nicol Williamson & Oliver Reed

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Alan Scholefield, Venom concerns a criminal trio consisting of an attractive maid (Susan George, Straw Dogs), a temperamental chauffeur (Oliver Reed, The Curse of the Werewolf) and an international terrorist (Klaus Kinski, Nosferatu the Vampyre) as they attempt to kidnap a young boy from a lavish London townhouse.  When complications result in a murdered police officer, the unexpected arrival of a deadly black mamba escalates the danger for both the captors and their hostages.  Sterling Hayden (The Killing), Nicol Williamson (Excalibur) and Sarah Miles (The Big Sleep) co-star in this suspenseful thriller.

    The result of a troubled production that initially went before cameras under the direction of Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) before being replaced by Piers Haggard (The Blood on Satan’s Claw), Venom strikes viewers with its simple tale of criminal mischief gone wildly south.  When a planned kidnapping derails into a heart pounding hostage situation, a delivery mixup inviting the world’s most lethal snake into the film’s central location brings certain doom to its many players.  Headlined by the equally hotheaded Kinski and Reed, their clashing offscreen personalities serve their onscreen counterparts well with knife cutting tension as Kinski utilizes Reed as his go-to whipping boy while the Burnt Offerings star boils with anger in his eyes.  Graduating to a tense standoff between crooks and cops, Venom’s true bite comes in the form of its slithery serpent that navigates through the home’s heating ducts and leaps to attack leaving the sexy Susan George on ice in the film’s most grizzly death sequence.  As the sickly child, his elderly grandfather and a herpetologist fear for their survival, Venom strikes sharply as the reptile slides its way up a wounded Reed’s pant leg during another satisfyingly uneasy moment.  While the film would be far more revered in later years on home video, Venom is a notably tense slice of reptilian celluloid, boasting worthy performances from its varied cast and sinking genuine fangs of fear into the uninitiated.  

    Beautifully remastered in 2K, Blue Underground presents Venom with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Looking healthier and more vivid than its previous release, skin tones are pleasingly natural while colors in wall paint are more prominent with detail appearing noticeably sharper.  In addition, print damage in the form of scuffs and scratches are thankfully nonexistent.  Matched with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, optional Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes are also included.  Meanwhile, special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Piers Haggard, the Theatrical Trailer (1:23), Teaser Trailer (0:29), three TV Spots (1:30), a Poster & Stills Gallery (76 in total), a 17-page booklet featuring stills and a deeply researched essay by former Fangoria Editor Michael Gingold.  Finally, a DVD edition and a Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s supplements.

    In one of the few snake-related thrillers of its day, Venom ranks highly with its casting combo of Kinski and Reed plus, its highly suspenseful sequences achieved through the use of real black mambas.  Better appreciated thanks to Blue Underground’s newly remastered Blu-ray, Venom still has the power to make your skin crawl!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, Venom can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Fender Bender (2016) Review

    Fender Bender (2016)

    Director: Mark Pavia

    Starring: Makenzie Vega, Dre Davis, Cassidy Freeman, Kesley Leos Montoya, Harrison Sim & Bill Sage

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a New Mexican town, Fender Bender finds teenage Hilary (Makenzie Vega, The Good Wife) experiencing the downside of being a newly licensed driver after suffering her first accident.  Unharmed yet rattled, Hilary innocently exchanges information with her striker only to be grounded for the accidental damage later that evening.  Home alone during a violent storm, Hilary’s friends stop by only for the unsuspecting trio to be terrorized by a masked maniac.  Dre Davis (Pretty Little Liars), Cassidy Freeman (Longmire), Kesley Leos Montoya (The Guest), Harrison Sim (Pizza Girl Massacre) and Bill Sage (We Are What We Are) co-star.

    In the suspenseful spirit of slasherfests from yesteryear, Fender Bender takes the fun yet consistently recycled subgenre and finds a uniquely relatable occurrence to construct its contemporary chiller.  Modern in its setting, Makenzie Vega leads the cast as the diversely selected Hispanic heroine whose day of catching her cheating boyfriend in the act goes from bad to worse after being rear ended in her mother’s new car.  After a briefly awkward exchange of personal information with the fellow driver, Hilary is reprimand by her parents and forced to stay home alone for the night.  Spooked by the loneliness and harshness of a brewing storm, Hilary is further unsettled by texts from her mysterious acquaintance and other questionable events.  Relieved by the arrival of her best friends, Hilary’s night of terror is only just beginning when a leather-masked madman crashes the party, intent on sharply cutting the small guest list.  Marking the return of long absent Writer/Director Mark Pavia (The Night Flier), Fender Bender plays to its strengths with classic tropes of an innocent teen in peril and a stranger in the house with genuine conviction, sparing viewers any self-referential nods that have become commonplace in similar films influenced by previous decades.  While its dialogue is cheesily delivered, a satisfying bodycount and a rather bleak showdown between Hilary and her masked assailant in the final act provides ample entertainment for horror hounds yearning for modern mayhem with inner retro workings.  Enhanced by an evocative, Carpenter-esque score by Night Runner, Fender Bender is a competently constructed slasher that although not perfect, manages to inject a breath of originality into the genre that likeminded viewers will greatly appreciate.

    After years of preserving cult favorites and introducing viewers to horror’s newest nightmares, Scream Factory’s first originally produced effort, in association with Chiller Films, is a suspenseful treat with surprisingly relatable themes and a heavily 80s-influenced score that will transport fans back to the days of video rental stores and big hair.  A conservative blend of new school meets old school, Fender Bender burns rubber and sends Scream Factory off on a strong start in their latest and hopefully enduring new endeavor of crafting original scares for today’s audiences.

    Premiering Friday, June 3rd at 9PM on Chiller, Fender Bender will be available on home video later this year by Scream Factory.

  • The Witch (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Witch (2015)

    Director: Robert Eggers

    Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in 17th century New England, The Witch finds a banished Puritan family building a new home for themselves in the peaceful wilderness only to unravel following the mysterious disappearance of their newborn child.  Further tested by the demise of their crops and other questionable occurrences, the family suspects a powerful evil has targeted them.  Marking the impressive directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch is a bleak and occasionally unsettling folktale of a religiously dedicated family come undone by tragedy and accusations.  Hauntingly atmospheric and scripted with historically accurate dialogue, Eggers’ fever dream of rural witchcraft may be slow-building yet, its nightmarish imagery of an elderly witch bathing in the blood of an infant and a crow pecking away at a woman’s breast make for some of the film’s more unnervingly memorable moments.  With rewarding performances all around, newcomers Anya Taylor-Joy (Atlantis) appearing as the film’s oldest daughter Thomasin and Harvey Scrimshaw (Oranges and Sunshine) as her younger brother Caleb give especially strong deliveries, The Witch is at its best the deeper the devil divides the unfortunate family as hope for salivation becomes impossible.  Lushly photographed and booming with remarkable production design, The Witch occasionally suffers from a laborious pace but, demonstrates a bold achievement for Eggers and his keen attention to detail that will undoubtedly serve him well in future efforts.

    Lionsgate presents The Witch with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Excellently preserved, skin tones are sharply detailed while the somber tones of overcast skies are handsomely demonstrated.  In addition, the earth shades found in the film’s setting and period based wardrobe display appreciative sense of textures and fibers with black levels appearing perfectly inky.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is solidly audible, if not occasionally hard to understand due to the strong accents of the performers while Composer Mark Korven’s (Cube) frightening score makes powerfully effective declarations.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Robert Eggers, The Witch: A Primal Folktale (8:28) featuring interviews with Eggers and his cast, a Salem Panel Q&A with Cast and Crew (27:59) plus, a Design Gallery (17 in total).  Finally, Trailers (10:46) for Green Room, The Adderall Diaries, Mojave, Tusk and Ex Machina are included along with a Digital HD Code.  Weaving its own spell on viewers with its hyper realistic foundation and disturbing injections of horror, The Witch takes its time establishing its folktale, equally serving and harming its narrative.  Regardless of its carefully calculated narrative, The Witch is a marvelous directorial debut, ripe for multiple viewings to fully appreciate the capturing of its bygone period.  Furthermore, Lionsgate’s high-definition release excels in its technical areas while its assortment of special features are few yet offer a sizable amount of detail into the film’s making.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available May 17th from Lionsgate, The Witch can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

    Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

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

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • #Horror (2015) Blu-ray Review

    #Horror (2015)

    Director: Tara Subkoff

    Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Timothy Hutton, Natasha Lyonne, Balthazar Getty, Taryn Manning, Stella Schnabel, Sadie Seelert, Hayley Murphy, Bridget McGarry, Blue Lindeberg, Mina Sundwall, Emma Adler, Annabelle Dexter-Jones & Lydia Hearst

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the wealthy backwoods of Connecticut, #Horror follows a group of privileged preteen girls whose obsession with a disturbing online game is tested when the terror becomes real.  Chloë Sevigny (American Psycho), Timothy Hutton (American Crime) and Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is The New Black) star in this contemporary shocker helmed by actress turned director Tara Subkoff (The Cell).

    Stuck up, 12 year-old richies unload their horrendous personalities and mean-spirited cyber shenanigans on one another in a time where online discouragement can be deadly.  Joined together for sleepover, the group of girls enjoy playing dress-up with lavish ensembles and priceless jewelry while, remaining glued to their mobile devices for a macabre, nonsensical game.  Rotten to their cores, the suggested friends take turns tearing each other apart by body-shaming, uploading unflattering pictures of one another to the internet and showing no compassion for the death of their friends own mother.  Juxtaposed with hyperactive imagery of emojis, tagged pictures and blood-filled pools, #Horror lacks focus, appearing as scatterbrained as a tech-obsessed teen.  Containing zero redeeming characters, veteran performers including, Sevigny and Lyonne are merely used for set decoration while, Hutton, admittedly over-the-top, delivers the only mentionable performance in his limited screen time as a hysterical father searching for his missing daughter.  More a showcase of today’s cruel bullying dilemmas than a traditional thriller, #Horror attempts to adhere to slasher standards during its fleeting moments as a masked killer, capturing his/her exploits via smartphone, takes bloody revenge on the heartless girls.  Painfully uninteresting and tackily titled, #Horror’s attempts at capturing the true-life terror of cyberbullying is admirable yet, fatally crashes during its upload.

    Scream Factory presents #Horror with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying natural skin tones with pleasing detail, shadowy moments and black levels during nighttime sequences suffer from crushing issues that result in a noticeable, screen-door effect over the picture.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally strong with occasional instances, noticeably in the film’s opening exchange between two parties in a Ferrari, showing less priority in their delivery while, EMA’s electric music queues offer a more pleasing emphasis.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Containing only the film’s Trailer (1:42), a Reversible Cover Art rounds out the rather light supplemental offerings.

    Boasting wholly unlikeable characters and uncertain with its identity as a social statement or a teen terrorizer, #Horror greatly fails as the latter while, its depiction of the former is bleak and unentertaining.  Meanwhile, Scream Factory, in conjunction with IFC Midnight, welcomes the modern feature with a decent high-definition presentation although, bonus features are far and few between.  If death is trending as its tagline so cleverly suggests, then unsubscribing from #Horror is vital.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available April 5th from Scream Factory, #Horror can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Disturbing Behavior (1998) Blu-ray Review

    Disturbing Behavior (1998)

    Director: David Nutter

    Starring: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Bruce Greenwood & William Sadler

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following a family tragedy, Steve Clark (James Marsden, X-Men) relocates to the coastal town of Cradle Bay to start anew.  Shortly after arriving at his new high school, Steve suspects something sinister about the popular Blue Ribbons clique who dominate the halls.  Befriended by likeminded outsiders Gavin (Nick Stahl, Sin City) and Rachel (Katie Holmes, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), the rebellious trio uncover a frightening truth that puts Cradle Bay and their own lives at risk.  Scripted by Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity), this teenage response to The Stepford Wives lacks any genuine scares in its science-fiction driven plot with a narrative so tame one questions its own R-rating.  Headlined by a notably fresh-faced cast who would achieve greater success in its wake, Disturbing Behavior merely serves as an uninspired thriller piggybacking off the success of Scream while, never adhering to the same originality or suspense.  Led by the school’s Dr. Calditcott (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek), misguided teens are brainwashed by his experimental procedure into becoming snobby socialites who unapologetically kill those who resist them.  As Steve and Rachel play Nancy Drew to find answers behind the Blue Ribbons’ peculiar demeanors, an unlikely ally is found in the school’s rat-killing janitor Dorian (William Sadler, Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight).  Unsurprisingly predictable, the free-thinking teens combat Cradle Bay’s brainwashed population in an underwhelming finale using noise troubling rat traps as their weapon of choice.  Well-documented for being largely re-edited from the director’s original vision, Disturbing Behavior will hold mild nostalgia for select viewers who raged through years of pant sagging fashion choices and rounds of hacky sack but, ultimately is a far cry from more revered 90s fright flicks.  

    Scream Factory presents Disturbing Behavior with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing clean and free of severe anomalies, skin tones waver from nicely detailed to slightly oversaturated at times.  Meanwhile, black levels are generally strong with occasional hints of murkiness in several sequences.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue delivery is strong while other elements of the film’s mediocre sound design are satisfactory.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Ported over from its previous DVD release, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director David Nutter, Deleted Scenes (24:42) with optional audio commentary from Director David Nutter and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:31).  

    Admittedly imperfect and largely uneventful, Disturbing Behavior’s cutting room fiasco unquestionably led to its setbacks but, isn’t solely responsible for the film’s overall blandness.  While it may not live up to other teen shockers of the era, fans can take pleasure in Scream Factory’s upgraded HD presentation and the majority of its supplemental package recycled from its past DVD release.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available March 22nd from Scream Factory, Disturbing Behavior can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • No Way Out (1987) Blu-ray Review

    No Way Out (1987)

    Director: Roger Donaldson

    Starring: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton & Howard Duff

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel “The Big Clock” by Kenneth Fearing, No Way Out finds Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman, The French Connection) murdering his mistress Susan Atwell (Sean Young, Blade Runner) in a fit of jealousy.  Determined to protect his superior, loyal aide Scott Pritchard (Will Patton, Remember the Titans) invents a cover-up scheme thrusting blame onto an unknown Russian spy.  Enlisting Naval Commander and friend Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves) to hunt down the killer, all roads lead back to Farrell and his own enticing connection to the victim.

    Weaving a tale of suspense and scandal, No Way Out is a tightly paced thriller where the political underbelly of Washington sets the stage for a whodunit marking its protagonist as public enemy number one.  After a chance encounter at a political ball leads to limo lovemaking, Naval Commander Tom Farrell (Costner) falls deeply for the attractive Susan Atwell (Young).  Admitting to engaging with Farrell’s new boss Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman), Susan agrees to call off the affair only to fatally fall victim to Brice’s jealous rage.  In true closed door political fashion, a cover-up is established pointing fingers to a suspected Russian spy within the confines of the Pentagon, instructing Farrell to uncover the man responsible.  With other selected assassins ordered to eradicate anyone with knowledge of Brice’s involvement, Farrell finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place as each new development implements him in Susan’s death.  Trapped within the walls of the Pentagon as 80s computer technology and prowling eyewitnesses threaten Farrell’s safety, No Way Out rarely lets viewers catch a breath while, an exciting chase sequence beginning behind the wheel before shifting to rooftops and subways keeps the thrills coming.  Featuring the handsome Costner in a role that propelled him to leading man heights and Sean Young at the peak of her sexiness plus, a brief appearance by the beautiful Iman (Surrender, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) as Susan’s trusted friend, Director Roger Donaldson’s (Species) well-received feature keeps viewers on the edge of their seats with a twisty conclusion not seen coming.

    Shout! Factory presents No Way Out with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of fleeting flakes and speckles during the opening moments, the film conveys a pleasingly filmic appearance with facial tones reading appropriately.  Although not wildly colorful, textures in Hackman’s suit, Costner’s pressed Naval uniform and other costume choices are well saturated while, black levels during Costner and Young’s backseat romp are quite clear and free of any abusive crush.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, quality is satisfactory with dialogue levels delivered clearly as scoring cues and the film’s intense wave crashing ship scene offer nice balance to the otherwise tame mix.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Roger Donaldson and the film’s Trailer (1:30).

    Perfect viewing for the political season, No Way Out combines sex, scandal and murder for a gripping narrative set in our nation’s capital.  A solid cast and stylish direction compliment the film’s pace that allows itself to sharply pull the rug out from under the audience during its fleeting moments.  Meanwhile, Shout! Factory upgrades this Costner starring thrill ride with an admirable high-definition transfer and a pleasing commentary track from its helmer.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Shout! Factory, No Way Out can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Luther the Geek (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Luther the Geek (1990)

    Director: Carlton J. Albright

    Starring: Edward Terry, Joan Roth, Stacy Haiduk, Tom Mills & J. Jerome Clarke

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Excavated from the Troma vaults, Luther the Geek centers on paroled murderer Luther Watts (Edward Terry, The Children) who takes comfort in biting the heads off live chickens for their blood.  Returning to his hometown with a razor sharp set of teeth, Luther stakes his claim at a family’s desolate farm house where his bloody rampage continues.  Joan Roth (in her only feature role), Stacy Haiduk (Superboy), Tom Mills (Bean) and J. Jerome Clarke (Behind the Candelabra) co-star.

    Set in rural Illinois, Luther the Geek is a harrowing horror film bursting with bloodshed and deranged depravity.  Lacking the date night quality of slasher films, Carlton J. Albright’s sole directorial feature packs an effectively grizzly punch sparring no apologies.  Melding the psychological ambiguity of Leatherface with the carnivorous killer instinct of a vampire, Luther, after serving 20 years in prison, is released without batting an eyelash before returning to his violent ways.  Chomping into the neck of an elderly old lady with his sharply shimmering teeth, the madman stows away in the back of a woman’s vehicle to evade capture from local law enforcement.  Shortly after arriving home, single mother Hilary (Roth) is confronted by her unexpected passenger only to be bound and gagged while, daughter Beth (Haiduk) and boyfriend Rob (Mills) get frisky in the shower.  When Luther’s less than stellar riding abilities are proven while attempting to steal Rob’s motorcycle, the bald lunatic decides to make the young lovers his latest prey.  Overpowered and held captive on their quiet farmland, the trio are no match for Luther even when a lone officer attempts to do battle with him in a dimly lit chicken coop.  In the longest evening of their lives, dawn hardly means the nightmare is over for the simple farm folk.

    Clucking at his victims with an animalistic stare in his eyes, Edward Terry’s performance as the circus freak influenced killer is firmly unsettling and fully embodies the mindset of an unhinged individual.  Savagely gnawing at his victims necks, Luther’s forceful beating of the teenage Beth is notably ruthless and oftentimes difficult to view while, special effects highlights, achieved by the uncredited William Purcell (RoboCop) and Mike Tristano (Things), include the goretastic moment of Rob’s torn open chest exposing his still beating heart.  Intendedly harsh and dreary, this memorable home invasion bloodbath unquestionably separates itself from the pack.  

    Scanned and restored in 2K from the original camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome proudly presents Luther the Geek with a 1080p transfer in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  While mild compression traces can be spotted in darker sequences such as the chicken coop climax, visibility is hardly an issue.  Otherwise boasting a remarkably clean appearance, footage is filmic while skin tones are notably accurate with colors found in Beth’s hot pink tank top and Luther’s stroll through food market aisles making bold strides.  In addition, detail is most striking during closeups of Luther’s neck-tearing acts showcasing all their brutal severity.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, a pop or two is heard only during the film’s opening credits while, dialogue is strongly delivered with no complaints to be had.  Newly created special features include, a colorful Introduction by Director Carlton J. Albright (0:38), Audio Commentary with Director Carlton J. Albright, Fowl Play: An Interview with Jerry Clarke (10:17), credited as J. Jerome Clarke, the actor/artist/singer shares his experiences in the business while reminiscing on his role as a state trooper.  Also included, A Conversation with Carlton (6:36) and the Theatrical Trailer (2:26).  Ported over from Troma’s past DVD release, supplements comprise an Interview with Carlton Albright (5:12), Interview with Will Albright (2:40), Carlton on the shower scene (7:30), Carlton on the old lady bite scene (2:38), Carlton on the fight scene (8:50) and Carlton on the final scene (1:12).  Accompanied by The Children Trailer (0:55), a Reversible Cover Art bearing the original poster and a DVD edition of the release conclude the supplemental package.

    Effectively brutal and chilling, Luther the Geek pits psychotic tendencies with Ozzy Osbourne head-biting qualities for a peculiar feature that carries buckets of blood to the show.  In their latest recovery from Troma’s vast library, Vinegar Syndrome restores the sadistic shocker to life in glorious quality, squashing all previous releases.  Matched with a suitable spread of supplements and a generous reversible cover art, Vinegar Syndrome’s latest cult release is worthy of clucking over.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar SyndromeLuther the Geek can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.comAmazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #6: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Spaced Invaders (1990) & Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Blu-ray Reviews

         

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #6

    Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

    Director: Leigh Whannell

    Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell & Lin Shaye

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Leigh Whannell (Saw, Dead Silence), Insidious: Chapter 3 travels back in time to the early origins of spiritualist Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye, Ouija) as grieving teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott, A.N.T. Farm) seeks her assistance to contact her late mother.  Living a fragile existence, Elise has sworn off her psychic practices until Quinn finds herself the victim of a supernatural entity.  With assistance from amateur ghost chasers Tucker (Angus Sampson, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specks (Whannell), Elise must venture once more into The Further to save Quinn’s life.  Following its financially successful predecessor that tended to over-explain and tarnish the mystique of its supernatural antagonists, Insidious: Chapter 3 moves backward for a prequel based tale that packs several effective jump scares while lacking the originality of its franchise starter.  Shining a welcome spotlight on spiritual expert Elise and to an unfortunately lesser extent, the fan-favorite duo of Tucker and Specks, the paranormal happenings of the film are far too generic to stand out.  Donning multiple creative roles in front and behind the camera, Whannell’s first directorial outing is hardly a wasted affair with an admirable performance from Shaye and unique make-up designs of the film’s ghostly apparitions.  While its competently constructed and occasionally succeeds at building tension, Insidious: Chapter 3 never rises above mediocrity.  

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Insidious: Chapter 3 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a crystal clear picture, skin tones are always natural-looking while, detail in costumes and set decoration are splendid.  From excellently saturated colors to the dark explorations of The Further, black levels are astoundingly inky and free of any digital noise.  With no anomalies on display, Insidious: Chapter 3 appears hauntingly perfect.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is exceptionally crisp while music cues and startling jump scares offer a shrieking depth that greatly impresses the entire runtime.  Special features include, Origin Story: Making Chapter 3 (19:04), Stunts: The Car Crash (9:35), Macabre Creations (8:58), Cherry Glazerr: Tiptoe Through the Tulips (5:16), Being Haunted: A Psychic Medium Speaks (11:34) and Deleted Scenes (5:16).  Additionally, Previews for The Final Girls (2:48), Air (2:12), Risen (1:31), Extinction (1:59), Lake Placid VS. Anaconda (1:37) and Broken Horses (2:35) are included along with a Digital HD Code.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Insidious: Chapter 3 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Spaced Invaders (1990)

    Director: Patrick Read Johnson

    Starring: Douglas Barr, Royal Dano, Gregg Berger & Ariana Richards

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Co-produced by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label and Smart Egg Pictures (Critters), Spaced Invaders finds a quiet midwestern community uprooted on Halloween night by a crew of misguided martians mistaking Orson Welles’ infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast as a call for hostile takeover of the human infested planet.  Hip yet wet behind the ears, the mini martians find themselves on a series of unexpected misadventures as they attempt to return to their home planet safely.  Marking the inaugural feature of Director Patrick Read Johnson (Baby’s Day Out, Angus), Spaced Invaders takes the zaniness of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and sci-fi shenanigans of Howard the Duck to deliver an over the top space comedy for preteens.  While attempting to invade Earth, the five dimwitted martians quickly realize their nonthreatening, Halloween costume appearances doesn’t bode well for them as new kid in town Kathy (Ariana Richards, Jurassic Park), dressed in full Alien garb, befriends the green visitors.  As Kathy’s sheriff father (Douglas Barr, Deadly Blessing) and the elderly Mr. Wrenchmuller (Royal Dano, The Dark Half) eventually suspect invaders from Mars are in town, the young girl seeks to help her new friends return home much to the dismay of their ship’s Enforcer Drone committed to seeing Earth in ruins and the martians pay for their failures.  Silly although rarely humorous, Spaced Invaders makes attempts to appear hip to its then audience but, stumbles at every turn.  While its animatronic effects are generally pleasing and reminds viewers of a more charming time for movie magic, Spaced Invaders tends to overstay its welcome by its final act, dragging its feet to see the martians make their expected getaway back to Mars. 

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Spaced Invaders with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably dated, flakes, speckles and occasional vertical lines are on display while skin tones are decently relayed with mediocre detail.  Bolder colors such as bright reds pop reasonably well although others appear rather drab.  Meanwhile, black levels possess their share of speckling and fail to bolster more pleasing, inkier results.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, sound is largely dull and unimpressive while dialogue is at least audible and free of any severely intruding factors.  Expectedly, no special features are included.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Spaced Invaders can be purchased via MillCreekDirect.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

    Director: Francis Ford Coppola

    Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins & Keanu Reeves

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blending the narrative of Bram Stoker’s iconic tale and the factual history of Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s Dracula centers on the tragic Transylvanian prince (Gary Oldman, Sid and Nancy) as he travels to 19th-century London in search of love.  After an encounter with the radiant Mina (Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands) who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife, Count Dracula’s overwhelming passion brings darkness and horror to those who care for Mina.  Drenched in gothic atmosphere with an acute sense of detail, Director Francis Ford Coppola’s (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) exceptional adaptation successfully paints its antagonist less as a bloodsucking monster but more a tragic Shakespearean figure audiences empathize with.  Brilliantly performed by Gary Oldman, Count Dracula’s unique costume designs and deliciously offbeat makeup brings to life a one of a kind interpretation of the grim character.  In addition, the supporting thespians including, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins as an eccentric Van Helsing and Tom Waits as the deranged Renfield deliver excellent performances while Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker serves as the sole casting miscalculation.  Although considered cliché today, Reeves poor English accent and flat performance consistently removes audiences from the otherwise mesmerizing film.  Insistent on utilizing practical effects from luscious matte paintings to various in-camera techniques, Director Francis Ford Coppola achieves an array of visual splendor that captivates audiences.  Deservedly earning itself three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Effects Editing, Coppola’s erotically charged and frighteningly surreal adaptation has aged considerably well, living on as one of the more ambitious retellings of the Count’s fateful saga.

    Following its previously subpar release, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Newly mastered in 4K, the results are night are day with impressive textures, excellently inky black levels and naturally fitting skin tones.  While a minor framing adjustment is present on the release, it’s hardly deal breaking to excuse the overwhelmingly positive attributes to the transfer.  Further complimented by sharper detail and beautifully relayed colors to better highlight the various costume designs and ever-changing lighting effects, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has never looked better.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, audio is pitch perfect with flawless dialogue levels and Composer Wojciech Kilar’s (The Ninth Gate) empowering score enthralling listeners.  In addition, hushed tones, thunderous sound effects and eerie ambiance all excel with proper balance and effectiveness.  The bountiful special features include, an Introduction by Director Francis Ford Coppola (3:55), a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, Visual Effects Director Roman Coppola & Makeup Supervisor Greg Cannom as well as a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola.  Additionally, newly included featurettes Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (29:11) and Practical Magicians: A Collaboration Between Father and Son (20:07) are joined by previously available supplements The Blood is the Life: The Making of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (27:48), The Costumes are the Sets: The Design of Eiko Ishioka (14:02), In Camera: Naïve Visual Effects (18:46), Method and Madness: Visualizing Dracula (12:06), Deleted & Extended Scenes (28:14) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:36).  Lastly, a Digital HD Code closes out the release’s gratifying supplemental package.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 52 Pick-Up (1986) Blu-ray Review

    52 Pick-Up (1986)

    Director: John Frankenheimer 

    Starring: Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, Vanity, John Glover & Clarence Williams III

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of The Manchurian Candidate, 52 Pick-Up centers on successful Los Angeles entrepreneur Harry Mitchell (Roy Schieder, Jaws) who, along with his city council running wife (Ann-Margret, C.C. & Company), lead the good life.  When Harry is confronted by a trio of blackmailers, led by the sadistic Alan Raimy (John Glover, Gremlins 2: The New Batch) with video evidence of his secret affair, tensions mount as Harry attempts to pit the criminals against one another.  Clarence Williams III (The Mod Squad), Vanity (Never Too Young to Die), Robert Trebor (Talk Radio) and Kelly Preston (Death Sentence) co-star.

    While, best remembered for their enjoyable cult classics and over the top action extravaganzas, the stars would align several times for Cannon Films, pitting A-list talent both behind and in front of the camera to deliver something truly worthwhile.  Releasing films at a rapid pace, 1986 would see the juggernaut company, led by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, reach their pinnacle with a whopping 43 films.  Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard (“3:10 to Yuma”, “Get Shorty”), 52 Pick-Up is a suspenseful thriller combining exceptional directing and memorable characters with remarkably sleazy Los Angeles locations.  Roy Scheider leads the film as a lucrative businessman and former soldier who refuses to bow down to the demands of pornographic blackmailers.  Confronted with evidence of his affair with a young stripper (Preston), Alan Raimy (Glover) demands $105,000 per year from Harry to keep the tarnishing footage out of the limelight.  John Glover’s maddening performance as the lead blackmailer is the film’s highlight with his striking eyes and ruthless perseverance to obtain Harry’s money a magnetizing sight.  In addition, Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor both offer worthwhile turns as Raimy’s partners with Trebor, greatly impressing as an openly gay strip club owner with emotional depth for his slimy yet, sympathetic character.  Set in some of Los Angeles‘ seedier bars and strip clubs, 52 Pick-Up finds our blackmailers hosting a party with scantly clad guests including, appearances from porn icons Ron Jeremy, Amber Lynn and Jamie Gillis.  Coming clean to his devoted wife (Margret), Harry ultimately risks both their lives choosing to resist the very serious threats, leading to one chilling turn after another.  

    With critical opinions mixed and a poor box-office reception, 52 Pick-Up still remains an engaging thriller with a top-notch cat and mouse story between blackmailers and their  target who fights back.  Joined by a welcome appearance from the gorgeous Vanity as a fellow stripper, 52 Pick-Up stands as one of Director John Frankenheimer’s strongest efforts of the decade and another intense performance from Scheider.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents 52 Pick-Up with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Opening with a softer image and light speckling, the film proceeds to a much cleaner picture with warm skin tones.  Meanwhile, detail is crisp in Scheider’s gruff complexion, wardrobe choices and backgrounds.  Black levels are handled nicely in the many dingy bar and underlit strip club sequences with no crushing to speak of.  Bearing a healthy layer of grain without any digital manipulation applied, 52 Pick-Up pleases on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always nicely relayed and appropriately prioritized with Composer Gary Chang’s score of synth and jazz elements richly captured.  Finally, a Theatrical Trailer (1:44) is the sole special feature of the disc.  

    Tense and gripping, 52 Pick-Up is a fast-moving concoction of thrills and endless suspense.  Highlighted by performances from Roy Scheider and its unhinged antagonist John Glover, 52 Pick-Up blends blackmail and the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles to deliver a first-rate effort from Cannon Films during the height of their success.  Furthermore, Kino Lorber Studio Classics‘ Blu-ray treatment compliments the film with a visually pleasing transfer and well balanced audio mix.  Cannon Film completists will relish in this darkly engaging effort, destined to leave you on the edge of your seat.

    RATING: 4/5    

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, 52 Pick-Up can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Sacrament (2013) Blu-ray Review

    The Sacrament (2013)

    Director: Ti West

    Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz & Gene Jones

    Released by: Magnolia Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, comes a tale about the false promise of paradise and its haunting consequences.  Produced by Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), The Sacrament is more fictionalized documentary than “found-footage”, set against the backdrop of our grounded reality.  Grim and terrifying, Magnet Releasing guides you to a utopia of nightmares that will leave you in a state of disbelief and shock.

    The Sacrament centers on Sam (AJ Bowen, You’re Next) and Jake (Joe Swanberg, Proxy), two journalists documenting their friend Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) journey to reunite with his estranged sister (Amy Seimetz, The Killing).  Traveling to a remote, utopian compound known as Eden Parish, the trio are welcomed into the self-sustaining community and introduced to the elderly and mysterious leader, referred to as Father (Gene Jones).  Slowly but surely, things are not what they appear as the outsiders begin fearing for their lives.

    MOVIE:

    From devil-worshippers to hotel haunting poltergeists, Director Ti West has a tendency of pushing the limits of his artistic abilities with each new endeavor.  Inspired by the Jonestown cult that rocked headlines in the 1970s, The Sacrament tells its tale through the lens of a fictionalized documentary.  Vice magazine journalists,  Sam (Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Swanberg) are intrigued by their friend’s desire to reunite with his former drug-addicted sister, Caroline (Seimetz), who now resides out of the country in a remote community.  Upon arriving at Eden Parish, the trio are fascinated by the self-sufficient village and its residents‘ infatuation with their savior, known as Father.  Virtually plucked from obscurity, Gene Jones‘ performance as the elderly commune leader is the domineering force that makes The Sacrament as chilling and absorbing as it is.  Clothed in a simple khaki outfit and sporting tinted aviators reminiscent of Jonestown leader, Jim Jones, Father is seen as a warm, loving individual by his followers.  As Caroline parades her brother around her new home, Sam and Jake interview several parish members before sitting down with Father.  Expertly acted, Sam and Father’s interview beings routine enough with followers watching and applauding Father’s every response.  An ominous tone settles in when Father eerily turns the tables on Sam’s inquiries, using personal information against him.  The interview draws you in with curious information about Eden Parish until Father’s brief, off kilter demeanor sends an uncomfortable chill.  Shortly after, Sam and Jake are pulled aside as several members inform the journalists that Eden Parish is not what it seems.  Genuine fear settles in as Sam and Jake have difficulty locating Patrick the night before their return to New York.  The following morning, Eden Parish appears to be crumbling when residents are denied permission to leave the isolated area, resulting in violent force used against them.  Hunted by Fathers’ devoted followers, Sam and Jake know their fate if they remain at Eden Parish any longer.

    The Sacrament goes to great length to create a sense of realism enhanced by Sam and Jake’s affiliation with the very real Vice magazine, known for its unique journalistic stories.  Captured through the lens of Jake’s camera, the viewer is put in the first person of this very tense and chaotic situation with seemingly no way out.  Mirroring the final 48 hours of Jim Jones‘ infamous cult, The Sacrament’s final act is a grim depiction of the control authoritative religious leaders have on brainwashed followers and the extremes those will go to for the ultimate sacrifice.  Unrelentingly suspenseful and believable, The Sacrament is not only one of the most haunting cinematic experiences in recent years but also, Director Ti West’s finest achievement in terror.

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    The Sacrament is presented with a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally with a documentary flair, the transfer bears no instances of scratches or other such anomalies.  Skin tones are relayed naturally, boasting nice contrast.  Eden Parish’s jungle-like surroundings come across lush while, black levels are handled significantly well considering the lack of more controlled lighting.  With no assistance of tripods and operated entirely handheld, The Sacrament is true to its faux-documentary roots and still looks mighty fine.

    RATING: 4.5/5  

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, The Sacrament’s documentary style enables most of the principal cast to be visibly wired, making dialogue come across clearly as can be.  Moments of more hushed tones, especially when Sam and Jake are fighting sleep after their interview with Father, are audible with no issues.  Tyler Bates‘ ominous score is goosebump-inducing and offers a nice contrast to the relatively quiet film.  More climatic moments including gunshots and the roar of helicopters come across effectively blaring as well.  While, not bearing a groundbreaking sound design, The Sacrament sounds more than satisfying.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Ti West and Stars AJ Bowen & Amy Seimetz: The trio command the commentary track with ease, hardly ever taking a breather.  West expresses his first experience with Composer Tyler Bates to be a rewarding one and his extreme satisfaction with the vastly talented group of extras.  The three friends keep it informative and always enlightening while, also sharing humorous stories from the shoot.  A worthy listen for those hungry for more behind the scenes information.

    • Creating The Sacrament: Revealing the Vision (21:07): Director Ti West along with co-producers Eli Roth, Peter Phok and Jacob Jaffke discuss the early seeds of the project and the breakneck speed it was made.  In addition, the cast explains the approaches to their roles and the real-life incident that inspired the film.  Covering nearly everything worth knowing about the production, this featurette is essential viewing for fans of The Sacrament.

    • Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience (5:56): Cast and crew, many of whom are frequent collaborators, speak highly of the director and commend his genuine passion and rich imagination to each project he brings to life.

    • Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter (4:52): A brief look at the film’s finale showcasing West at work with his actors, blocking the intense sequence.

    • AXS TV: A Look at The Sacrament (3:38): A condensed EPK with cast and crew offering their insights on the production.

    • More from Magnolia Home Entertainment: Trailers include Filth, Nymphomaniac Volume I, The Protector 2 and The Double.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Always challenging himself, Director Ti West opted to tell a truly horrific tale, free of the shelter of supernatural genre elements with glowing results.  Akin to Ruggero Deodato’s iconic faux-documentary, Cannibal Holocaust, The Sacrament tells a familiar tale of an unhinged cult leader inspired by unimaginable real events.  Grim, shocking and unsettling, Gene Jones‘ performance as Father will chill viewers to the bone as his effect on his loyal followers is anything but holy.  The realistic, first person perspective as well the leads‘ Vice magazine positions make accepting The Sacrament as a work of fiction, a tough pill to swallow.  Magnolia Pictures‘ video and audio treatment are exceptional while, the special features package is as informative as one could possibly desire.  A gripping work of terror, The Sacrament is Director Ti West’s finest achievement to date, one that wonderfully exemplifies a gifted filmmaker growing and mastering his craft.

    RATING: 5/5

     

  • Anaconda (1997) Blu-ray Review

    Anaconda (1997)
    Director: Luis Llosa
    Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson & Jon Voight
    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Headlined by an eclectic cast of newcomers, familiar faces and an Academy Award winner, Anaconda pits a team of Amazonian journeymen against the world’s largest and deadliest snake.  Earnest in its delivery, this slithering, suspense thriller grabs hold and will take your breath away.  Returning to Blu-ray, Mill Creek Entertainment invites you to dive into the depths with this creature feature.

    Anaconda centers on a documentary film crew traveling the Amazon in search of a mysterious ancient tribe.  Led by Anthropologist Steve Cale (Eric Stoltz) and Director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez), the team encounter Paul Sarone (Jon Voight), a snake hunter who is saved from his sinking boat.  After an accident leaves Cale helpless, Sarone commandeers the expedition in search of a deadly anaconda snake, leading the film crew into a world of danger.  Ice Cube (Friday), Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji), Owen Wilson (Cars), Kari Wuhrer (Thinner) and Vincent Castellanos (Mulholland Drive) co-star.  

    MOVIE:
    Predating 1999’s Lake Placid and the barrage of “animals gone wild” films from SyFy, Anaconda chooses to favor suspense and scares over broad humor.  A box-office smash and childhood favorite, Anaconda relies on the Jaws formula pitting a group of civilians against a force of nature on his territory.  While, not quite the masterpiece Steven Spielberg’s 1975 opus was, Anaconda is still an entertaining romp best enjoyed for its sheer popcorn value.  Kicking off with a brief appearance by genre vet Danny Trejo (Machete), POV shots of the man-eating snake stalk its prey giving the film a slasher-esque vibe that runs throughout the film.  In order to avoid being eaten alive, Trejo offs himself segueing into a documentary crew embarking on an Amazonian journey in search of a tribe.  The cast of performers are all competent enough with Jennifer Lopez (Selena) appearing in arguably, her most tolerable role while, Jonathan Hyde (Titanic) and Ice Cube’s (Boyz n the Hood) chemistry is the root of most of the comic relief.  Academy Award winner Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy) serves as an odd casting choice for the Paraguayan snake hunter with a devious agenda.  Voight’s accent and groovy ponytail may be hokey, but adds a charm of cheese as the film’s antagonist.  Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris) appears in an early role as a sound man who meets a deadly fate after sucking face with the anaconda while, Eric Stoltz (Some Kind of Wonderful) is criminally underused following a wasp accident that benches him the majority of the runtime.

    Anaconda serves as a great reminder of how to effectively blend CG and practical effects.  Paling in comparison to today’s technology, the CG still holds up decently for such an early effort in computer effects of this size.  Far from perfect, Anaconda suffers from pacing issues making the viewer wait half the runtime before seeing the beast in all its glory.  The first act can be occasionally boring and a stretch to endure as our characters develop and Sarone’s motives are made clear.  As the snakes appearance becomes more frequent, the fun and suspense build leading to a finale at an abandoned outpost where after killing the deadly snake, another, even larger anaconda tries to make lunch of the remaining crew.  The inclusion of another snake so late in the game feels a bit contrived but well worth it just to see Voight swallowed whole then regurgitated.  Nostalgia aside, Anaconda has aged well and still manages to entertain regardless of its pacing miscalculations.  Boasting one of the most diverse casts to appear in a creature feature, Anaconda is worth curling up to if not taken too seriously.  
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Presented with a 1080p transfer sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Anaconda bears the same appearance as its original 2009 Blu-ray debut.  The film looks slightly soft with an occasional haze, most likely attributed to the fog found in many scenes.  Colors appear accurate, most noticeably in skin tones, but never really pop.  The lush greenery of the Amazon jungle never reaches its full potential while, black levels look a tad fuzzy at times.  Luckily, the transfer is blemish free with no noticeable scratches or other anomalies.  Overall, Anaconda sports a mediocre transfer that could have looked better but will suffice.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, Anaconda has a pleasant audio presentation with dialogue sounding clear and jungle noises relaying nice ambiance.  Composer Randy Edelman’s (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) score is a highlight with its usage of flutes enhancing the exotic landscape of the film.  More climatic sequences offer decent bass but feel somewhat restrained and could have benefitted from an additional boost.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    None.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    Critically panned and a rousing box-office success, Anaconda was a childhood staple that made you cringe at the sight of the massively long reptile.  Nearly 20 years after its release, Anaconda still retains its charm thanks in part to its divergent cast, lush shooting locations and intent to surprise and thrill.  The ashes of this Jennifer Lopez thrill ride would be collected and morphed into a franchise with cheaper budgets and David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider) in the driver’s seat.  The 1997 original still remains a worthwhile entry in the “animals attack” subgenre worth revisiting, warts and all.
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • The Final Terror (1983) Blu-ray Review

    The Final Terror (1983)
    Director: Andrew Davis
    Starring: John Friedrich, Adrian Zmed, Lewis Smith, Daryl Hannah & Joe Pantoliano
    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing to feed the fire of their exciting Summer of Fear line-up, Scream Factory, the horror offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents one of the most sought-after slashers from the 1980s.  Helmed by director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and produced by Joe Roth (Alice in Wonderland), The Final Terror is a frightening experiment in backwoods terror.

    The Final Terror centers on a group of forest rangers enjoying a fun weekend of camping.  Upon intruding on forbidden territory, a savage, camouflaged killer begins stalking the woods for fresh victims.  The few that remain have no choice but to defend themselves against the deranged murderer.  This long-lost slasher stars John Friedrich (Baretta), Adrian Zmed (Bachelor Party), Rachel Ward (Night School), Daryl Hannah (Splash), Ernest Harden Jr. (White Men Can’t Jump), Mark Metcalf (One Crazy Summer), Lewis Smith (Django Unchained) and Joe Pantoliano (Memento).

    MOVIE:
    Shot in 1981 but shelved for distribution issues, The Final Terror would finally be released in 1983 to capitalize on the stardom of Daryl Hannah and Adrian Zmed whose careers were blossoming from their appearances in Blade Runner and Grease 2.  Following in the wake of the slasher genres recent successes at the box-office, The Final Terror feels less Friday the 13th but more Just Before Dawn meets Rituals.  The film begins promisingly enough with a young couple enjoying a motorcycle ride before meeting a bloody demise courtesy of our backwoods killer.  Transitioning to a group of wilderness rangers on a weekend getaway, The Final Terror features one of the more diverse casts including African-American and English actors, both of whom were not as common in other slasher films at the time.  The group is full of unique personalities who all share a mutual dislike for Eggar (Joe Pantoliano), the redneck outcast who makes a living being rude to others.  When the group ignores Eggar’s warnings about intruding on forbidden territory in the woods, Eggar opts to travel by car and agrees to meet them at the end of their journey.  Once alone in the wilderness, the group begin getting picked off by a mysterious figure.  The backwoods setting and deserted group of would-be victims seems conventional enough, but luckily The Final Terror aims for more.  Instead, of the group ignorantly pretending nothing has gone astray, they immediately recognize their dilemma and fight for survival.  Combating the harsh conditions of the outdoors, The Final Terror feels as much as an escape films as it does a slasher.

    While, the film is a product of its genre, The Final Terror lacks the body count and promiscuity that runs rampant in its slasher counterparts.  In addition, following the opening death scene, the film takes half the runtime before anything as exciting occurs, making The Final Terror quite the slow burn.  The final act leads to a predictable outcome although, the reveal and eventual demise of the savage killer is a memorable one that incorporates the survivors putting teamwork and their survival skills to the test.  Ultimately, The Final Terror has its share of pacing issues and a slightly underwhelming amount of slasher tropes.  That said, the film has an entertaining cast that use their heads as opposed to being mere cattle for the killer.  As obscure and forgotten as the film is, The Final Terror still possesses enough enjoyment to proudly welcome into your slasher library.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    The Final Terror is presented with a 1080p high-definition anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.78:1).  Before the film kicks off, Scream Factory informs us that all materials including the OCN and inter-positive were lost.  The label went to great lengths securing six different film prints from private collectors in order to present the film in the best possible way.  Surprisingly, Scream Factory’s Frankenstein job is mostly successful.  The transfer appears generally clean of scratches and debris allowing the filmic grain layer to be better appreciated.  Colors appear mostly healthy although occasionally skin tones dip in quality.  In addition, dimly lit night sequences have always plagued this film and still remain murky at times but, are luckily far more visible than ever before.  Overall, for a film with no original elements to work with, Scream Factory accomplishes a satisfying transfer that should please fans waiting to relive the film after 31 years.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, The Final Terror sports decent sound quality with dialogue picking up nicely.  Suspenseful sequences with loud screams are quite striking and help enhance the experience.  The mix is sufficient and works well for all the basic needs.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Andrew Davis

    - Post Terror: Finish the Final Terror: Post-production supervisor Allan Holzman sits down for over 20 minutes to discuss his contributions to the film as well as his early film training editing films for Roger Corman before directing Forbidden World.  Holzman’s wife, composer Susan Justin, also shares her approaches and styles when scoring the film.

    - The First Terror with Adrian Zmed & Lewis Smith: Actors Zmed and Smith, who appear as Marco and Boone respectively, sit down for a 15 minute series of interviews where the two discuss their first interest in acting, shooting in frigid temperatures, producer Joe Roth’s temper and director Andrew Davis‘ remarkable skills behind the camera.  

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - Behind the Scenes Still Gallery: 67 in total.

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    The Final Terror is a surprising treat for Scream Factory fans that never imagined this backwoods slasher receiving a second lease on life.  Released in the horror heyday of the early 80s, The Final Terror stars an incredibly likable and diverse cast that use their outdoor surroundings to survive the night.  A slow build and small body count hurts the film’s fun factor, but The Final Terror still manages to entertain and provide great camerawork from talent that would move onto such A-list projects as A Perfect Murder and Holes.  Scream Factory’s dedication to preserving sought after genre titles like The Final Terror makes fans eternally grateful for their efforts.  Combined with a healthy dose of special features, provided once again by Aine Leicht (Witchboard and Night of the Demons), Scream Factory’s release of The Final Terror is the definitive word on this forgotten slasher.
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • Sugar Cookies (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Sugar Cookies (1973)
    Director: Theodore Gershuny
    Starring: Lynn Lowry, Mary Woronov & George Shannon
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Vinegar Syndrome continues their excavation of the Troma vaults with, according to writer/producer Lloyd Kaufman, “the only adult film to lose money”.  An erotic thriller that is far more artsy than one might expect, Sugar Cookies stars such queens of cult cinema as Lynn Lowry (The Crazies) and Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000).  Restored in 4K, this underrated gem arrives on Blu-ray for the first time ever!

    Sugar Cookies opens with the mysterious death of adult film star Alta (Lynn Lowry) while in the company of her wealthy producer Max (George Shannon).  With the assistance of Alta’s manager, Camilla (Mary Woronov), the two begin hunting for a suitable replacement.  Young and naive actress, Julie (Lowry appearing in a dual role), is discovered and slowly groomed into Max and Camilla’s sadistic world until Julie begins fearing for her own life.

    MOVIE:
    Advertised as a sexy lesbian flick, Sugar Cookies attests to be far more than Times Square peep show entertainment.  Interestingly enough, Sugar Cookies feels ahead of its time and shares more in common with the erotic thrillers of the 1980s, popularized by Brian De Palma (Body Double) and Adrian Lyne (9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction).  No doubt taking a very Hitchcockian approach to its material, Sugar Cookies still remains very rooted in its adult-underground environment.  Director Theodore Gershuny (Silent Night, Bloody Night), with the assistance of director of photography Hasse Wallin (in his sole credit as cinematographer), commands the camera with a watchful eye and captures beautiful footage warranting the film its “artsy” label.  Lynn Lowry, in her first starring role, handles the portrayal of two very different characters effortlessly.  The shy, reserved nature of Lowry’s sympathetic Julie makes her downward spiral into the caretakers‘ eccentric world all the more impactful.  The beautiful and commanding presence of Mary Woronov is the real highlight of the film as her seduction of Julie showcases the sweet and wickedly dangerous sides of her sinister character.

    Wonderfully shot and nicely acted, Sugar Cookies delivers its fair share of skin from Lowry and Woronov who obviously impress.  The nudity and sexually-charged scenes never feel forced but instead compliment the story which is refreshing.  Unfortunately, Sugar Cookies slightly derails as time is spent on Gus, nephew of sleazy, sex-producer Max.  Admittedly, some moments with Gus inject genuine humor but his overall appearance, along with his sister, amounts to a wasted subplot that never really goes anywhere.  In addition, while the final act mimics the tense opening scene of a sexual game involving a firearm with shocking results, the film ultimately ends on an abrupt note leaving the viewer with a few questions.  Imperfections aside, Sugar Cookies still manages to deliver one of the most intriguing and artistically sound productions from Lloyd Kaufman who became well renowned for Troma’s more outrageous and goofy output.  A financial flop during its original release, Sugar Cookies seemed ahead of the curve by blending the erotic and thriller genres with mostly successful results.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Newly restored in 4K from the original camera negative, Sugar Cookies sports a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Colors are very lush and skin tones, which are best appreciated in close-ups and nude scenes, are relayed quite naturally.  The bright red furniture seen in Camilla’s house also pops exceptionally well.  Minor inherent print damage, in the form of light scratches and flakes, arise but are brief and never intrusive.  Vinegar Syndrome has proved successful yet again with another top-notch transfer.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Sugar Cookies slightly underwhelms.  Music comes across rather loud with little hiss, unfortunately, dialogue tends to be more problematic.  Mostly attributed to the shooting locations, certain scenes find dialogue constantly echoing off walls while, moments of hushed tones certainly require an increase in volume.  That said, the majority of dialogue is still picked up clear and crisp with the pros outweighing the cons.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Making Sugar Cookies with Lynn Lowry: Lowry sits down for nearly 14 minutes discussing her original hesitation to join the film based on the amount of nudity required.  Lowry fondly recalls her working relationship with Woronov as a pleasant one and still finds the film quite an accomplishment.

    - Lloyd Kaufman Remembers Sugar Cookies: Available only on the DVD, Kaufman sits down for a lengthy 35-minute interview and delves into a range of topics including growing up and befriending Oliver Stone, who would be credited as a producer on the film.  In addition, Kaufman discusses the financial hardships for the film, casting and much more.  Kaufman’s interview is incredibly informative and is the supplemental highlight of the release.

    - Mary Woronov Interview: Also only found on the DVD is this brief interview with Woronov ported over from Troma’s original DVD release.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - Alternate Theatrical Trailer: Only on DVD.

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    Sugar Cookies stands as a sexually-charged blending of genres that is both dangerous and tantalizing.  Arguably, ahead of its time, Sugar Cookies is far more rewarding than your average X-rated film and possesses genuine style matched with fine tuned performances.  The story makes a few missteps but never diminishes what is considered one of Kaufman’s most artistic looking efforts.  Vinegar Syndrome has done a superb job restoring this often forgotten gem with a near perfect video presentation, an adequate audio mix and a delicious set of supplements.  If you’re hungry for a truly scandalous thriller with a twist of erotica, then take a bite out of Sugar Cookies.
    RATING: 4/5   

  • Paper Mask (1990) DVD Review


    Paper Mask (1990)
    Director: Christopher Morahan
    Starring: Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe, Frederick Treves & Tom Wilkinson
    Released by: Scorpion Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The trust we put into doctors is a sacred one.  We are literally putting our livelihood in their hands when seeking medical attention.  The countless years of dedication and education needed to become a licensed doctor is no picnic and we value their expertise at all costs.  But, what if the person you are entrusting your life with isn’t the expert they claim to be?  The suspenseful melodrama, Paper Mask, explores this scenario as one man goes to every extreme to embody the profession he obsessively desires.  Based on the novel by John Collee, future screenwriter of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Happy Feet, Paper Mask will admit you but can’t guarantee a full recovery by its conclusion.  Let’s get the patient prepped and see how this medical thriller holds up...

    Paper Mask stars Paul McGann (Withnail & I) as Matthew Harris, an unhappy hospital intern jealous of the doctors and nurses who surround him.  When a young physician is tragically killed, Matthew assumes his identity and lands a job that the deceased had applied for.  Now, as Dr. Simon Hennessey, Matthew navigates the medical world while falling in love with a friendly nurse, Christine Taylor, played by Amanda Donohoe (Liar Liar).  As Christine learns and maintains Matthew’s secrecy, a fatal mistake leading to a patients death corners the couple into a chilling finale.  Frederick Treves (The Elephant Man) and Tom Wilkinson (The Lone Ranger) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Crafting a persona that is not your own is not exactly a revolutionary plot device.  Secret agents maintaining a cover or superheroes disguising their true identity, pretending to be someone else and the extremes one goes through to maintain it make for solid drama.  Taking that concept and setting it in the medical profession is slightly more unique added with a lowly intern that desires more from life.  Our hopes and dreams are only truly obtained by hard work and determination but some can’t wait for the sun to shine on them.  Paul McGann, as Matthew Harris, headlines Paper Mask with a sadness and desperation of wanting to be a respected medical expert with a white coat.  He feels he has achieved little in life and longs for more when a sudden tragedy turns a lightbulb on in his mind.  Assuming the identity of a deceased physician, Harris takes up shop at a Bristol hospital as he stumbles his way through the chaotic nature of emergency rooms.  One might question why anyone would attempt to falsify themselves as a licensed doctor especially if they aren’t appropriately trained.  But, it is Harris‘ obsession with the profession that drives him without considering his lack of experience.  Harris can barely focus on his patients‘ needs and drinks himself into a stupor after his first day on the job.  Harris befriends Christine Taylor (Amanda Donohoe), an efficient nurse, who helps him on his feet before the two engage in a romantic relationship.  Harris learns quickly and his own personal studying pays off as he upholds the role of a false doctor.  Supervising physician, Dr. Thorn (Tom Wilkinson), is never fully convinced of Harris‘ dedication to his job and remains skeptical.  Wilkinson’s role is minor but he manages to command strict attention to the screen whenever he appears.  When a fellow doctor’s wife dies under Harris‘ care, an intense investigation is issued threatening Matthew’s cover.  Against better judgement, Christine conceals Matthew’s secret as she is reprimanded for lack of patient attention.  Fortunately, Matthew is cleared of any wrong doing as faulty equipment is discovered as the leading cause of death.  As life begins to stabilize again, an old friend from Matthew’s past nearly blows his cover pushing him to new limits.  Matthew’s friend quickly disapproves of his antics before the good doctor attempts to murder him.  Paper Mask takes a chilling turn as Matthew becomes so desperate to remain in his role that he will do whatever is necessary.

    Available for the first time on DVD in America, Paper Mask does a fine job relaying a story about the desires that consume us and what some will do to obtain them.  Paul McGann is terrific as the lead and delivers a personable, albeit chilling performance.  Amanda Donhoe (LA Law) compliments McGann as the capable nurse, head over heels for a clinical madman.  Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins), appearing in an early film role, has brief screen time but leaves an intimidating impression on McGann and the viewer.  Paper Mask could have benefitted from going deeper with Matthew’s darkness after murdering his friend.  Instead, we are left with him ditching Donohoe‘s character, which seems foolish considering she knows his true identity, and taking up shop in a new hospital with one final blank stare at the camera before concluding.  Nonetheless, Paper Mask achieves suspense and believability thanks to the wonderful performances from the cast.  It may not be the finest production to handle the subject of false personas, but Paper Mask is undoubtedly an entertaining watch.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Scorpion Releasing presents Paper Mask in a brand new anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer, mastered in HD.  With the exception of a handful of minor pops, the transfer appears clean and clear of any intruding distractions.  Skin tones look accurate with a nice grain structure apparent throughout the film.  Presented in arguably the best shape the film will ever see, the transfer is a perfectly serviceable one.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Paper Mask comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix.  Dialogue comes across slightly muffled in early sequences and the thicker accents of the English cast make it hard to hear at times.  Raising the volume will be necessary in order to catch what everyone is saying.  Luckily, the mix adjusts nicely and makes for an adequate listen.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Original Trailer

    - Scorpion Releasing Trailers: Includes Go Tell the Spartans, Saint Jack, The Girl Hunters, Wombling Free and The Octagon.

    RATING: 0.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Paper Mask is an intriguing cynical look at the medical profession that shines a light on obsessions and the choices we make to bring them to fruition.  The principal cast of Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe and Tom Wilkinson play their roles efficiently and achieve great results.  Scorpion Releasing’s presentation of Paper Mask is possibly the best the film will ever look and is sure to please viewers.  While, special features are scant, Paper Mask still comes recommended based on the strength of the film itself.  
    RATING: 3.5/5