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  • Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow (2007) Special Edition Blu-ray Review

    Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow (2007)

    Director: Michael Felsher

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Celebrating the first creative collaboration between horror maestro George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and the master of suspense Stephen King, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow delves into the beloved anthologies influences, creation and continued appreciation through interviews with its talented cast and crew 25 years after the film’s original release.

    Previously available on Second Sight’s international Blu-ray release of Creepshow, Director Michael Felsher’s love letter to 1982’s anthology frightfest finally arrives domestically, elevated from its previous stature as a mere supplement to be better appreciated for the singular achievement it is.  Universally hailed as a career milestone for zombie popularizer George A. Romero, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow hosts a feature-length retrospective on the film that explores its obvious EC Comics influences and the chance encounter and eventual friendship between Romero and King that would generate their horrific nostalgia-driven opus.  Featuring detailed insight into the film’s development, Romero, Producer Richard P. Rubinstein (Dawn of the Dead, Martin) and Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, The Burning) are prominently on hand to discuss the swift 60 day period King took to compose the screenplay, casting more well-known faces than previously used before in other Romero productions and the groundbreaking effects work utilized to bring the film’s monstrous segments to life.  While King is noticeably absent along with new sit-downs from stars including, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson and Hal Holbrook, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow welcomes genre legends Tom Atkins (Halloween III: Season of the Witch), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog) and most impressively, Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind) as they look back on the making of the film with warm memories, most humorously about Nielsen’s onset practical jokes and his knee-slapping usage of a fart machine.  Also covering extensive ground from behind the scenes talent, Felsher’s documentary spotlights Bernie Wrightson’s artistic contributions to the film’s comic book infused sequences while, First Assistant Director John Harrison details his impressive musical abilities landing him composing duties on the shoot.  Exceptionally thorough, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow joins the ranks of other finely realized retrospectives on genre pictures that provides fans with invaluable insight into the film’s making with vivid detail from its makers.

    Synapse Films presents Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  As a purveyor of bonus features for several genre labels through his Red Shirt Pictures banner, Felsher’s camerawork and interview footage appears unsurprisingly clean and fluid with sharp clarity throughout.  While vintage material and photographs from Creepshow’s shoot is noticeably of lesser quality at times, the doc’s presentation remains professionally rich.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is perfectly clear throughout making this predominately talky track most pleasing.  As bloated as its feature is extensive, the whopping assortment of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director/Editor Michael Felsher plus, a second Audio Commentary featuring Interviews with Actor John Amplas, Property Master Bruce Alan Miller & Make-Up Effects Assistant Darryl Ferruccui.  Furthermore, Creepshow Days with Michael Gornick (8:01) finds the Creepshow 2 director discussing his role as cinematographer on the original film and its impressive special effects work.  Also included, Tom Savini’s Behind-the-Screams (26:31) shares rough video recorded footage of the film’s effects in progress, Extended Interview Segments (23:45) with George A. Romero, Tom Savini and Bernie Wrightston plus, Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark (14:56) where the spiky-haired horror host explores some of the film’s shooting locations today.  Finally, a Vintage 1982 Evening Magazine Segment (7:31), a Behind-the-Scenes of Creepshow Photo Gallery (8:30) and most excitingly, Scream Greats Volume One: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects (52:54) makes its long-awaited home video rerelease following its VHS debut 30 years earlier.

    While many horror aficionados abroad may already possess Felsher’s top-notch effort, domestic viewers who patiently waited for the definitive companion to Romero and King’s classic chiller to arrive have been handsomely rewarded.  Unlike other modern documentaries whose focus covers decades long franchises and their endless sequels, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow makes its one picture coverage an endlessly engaging watch for a game changing anthology that has undeniably stood the test of time.  Distributed by Synapse Films, this special edition release arrives with enough supplemental offerings including, the fan favorite Scream Greats installment that will undoubtedly tide fans over for the foreseeable future.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 12th from Synapse Films, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow can be purchased via Synapse-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Sorceress (1995) Blu-ray Review

    Sorceress (1995)

    Director: Jim Wynorski

    Starring: Larry Poindexter, Rochelle Swanson, Julie Strain, Linda Blair, Edward Albert, Michael Parks & William Marshall

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented in its uncensored director approved form, Sorceress centers on ambitious attorney Larry Barnes (Larry Poindexter, American Ninja 2: The Confrontation) as he zeroes in on a partnership at a respected law firm.  In an effort to ensure Larry’s success, his witch dabbling wife Erica (Julie Strain, Heavy Metal 2000) works her dark magic to tragically weed out his competition, Howard Reynolds (Edward Albert, Galaxy of Terror).  Understandably incensed, Howard’s wife Amelia (Linda Blair, The Exorcist) plots her own revenge using similar powers.

    Billed under its original Temptress title card, Sorceress is an erotically charged, cheaply budgeted effort starring a bevy of buxom babes who make clothes a chore to keep on.  Produced in a whopping 12 days, exploitation maverick Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall, Deathstalker II) brings his appetite for attractive actresses and glorified nudity to the forefront while the film’s witchcraft focused narrative takes a backseat to the oil-lathered bodies on display.  After his black magic worshipping wife meets a tragic end, Larry Barnes attempts to move on with his life by focusing on his career and reuniting with former flame Carol (Rochelle Swanson, Secret Games 3).  Haunted by Erica’s sexually restless spirit, Larry notices dramatic changes in Carol’s behavior while, Amelia, wife to Larry’s crippled former competition, puppet masters a seductively deadly revenge plot against the handsome hunk.  With the exception of a forgettable subplot involving a subdued Michael Parks (Red State), Sorceress keeps viewers hot and bothered with sexy sequences allowing star Larry Poindexter to sleep with virtually every pretty face in the cast.  Featuring more steamy footage and extra nudity than ever before, Wynorski’s bonafide Skinemax-style sizzler showcases Penthouse Pet of the Year Julie Strain baring all with toe-sucking lesbian love sessions also included for good measure.  While plot is surely secondary to its visual proceedings, Sorceress remains a nostalgic reminder of late night encounters with scandalous content.  Promising healthy doses of T&A and soft-core fornication, Jim Wynorski’s coven of kinkiness is sure to bewitch genre aficionados.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from uncut vault materials, Synapse Films presents Sorceress with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Decidedly lush with excellent detail found on body sweat and natural skin tones to match, Wynorski’s nudie witch flick impresses with solid black levels during its many dimly lit sequences with no noticeable age-related damage to report.  Joined by a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Jim Wynorski and a second Audio Commentary with Director Jim Wynorski and Special Guest, SPFX Make-Up Artist/Actor/Director Tom Savini.  Recorded during the Cinema Wasteland convention, Wynorski and Savini have a hoot drunkenly commentate over the film with Savini’s childlike glee for T&A serving as a hilarious highlight.

    Ushered direct-to-video upon its initial release and popping up during the wee hours on television, Sorceress is a red-hot opus starring even hotter players that cast wicked spells and suffer from insatiable appetites for lovemaking.  Featuring the sexiness of horror goddesses and Penthouse Pets, Wynorski’s low-budget skin flick will greatly appeal to all exploitation horndogs with a penchant for the B-moviemakers efforts.  Preserving the film’s never-before-seen uncut version, Synapse Films treats viewers with a typically solid HD presentation and two enjoyable commentary tracks that are nearly as attention grabbing as the film’s rampant nudity.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 14th from Synapse Films, Sorceress can be purchased via Synapse-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Morituris (2011) Blu-ray Review

    Morituris (2011)

    Director: Raffaele Picchio

    Starring: Valentina D’Andrea, Andrea De Bruyn, Désirée Giorgetti, Francesco Malcom, Giuseppe Nitti & Simone Ripanti

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Morituris centers on two Romanian girls as they embark on an impromptu trip to a midnight rave with three Italian men.  Proceeding on foot to their mystery destination, a decrepit cemetery is discovered as the girls are assaulted by their newfound friends.  With an evening of debauchery turned into a nightmare, several undead Roman gladiators return from the grave to hunt down the group with no mercy.  

    Banned in its native country of Italy, Morituris finds its core cast of two Romanian females and a trio of Italian men en route to a rumored backwoods rave.  Subjecting viewers to tediously dull and overlong conversation ranging from musical tastes and an ice-breaking fart, the quintet continue their journey on foot for an evening of hard partying.  Complimented for their normalcy among other encountered Italians, the Romanian beauties are blindsided as their hosts turn into sexual deviants, savagely raping and assaulting them.  Disturbingly unpleasant, the female friends, violated and bracing for death, briefly escape the wrath of their assailants.  Intruding on a mysterious graveyard, a series of undead Roman gladiators return to deliver medieval punishment to their unwelcome visitors.  Hailed by Fangoria’s Chris Alexander as “Gladiator with graphic gore and ghouls”, Morituris is not nearly as epic as described with uninteresting characters and its inclusion of brutality, unnecessarily incorporated for shock value, weighing down its potential.  While the gladiators' frighteningly imposing builds make for worthwhile eye candy, their delayed appearances in the film are cause for disappointment.  Reminiscent of Italian gore pictures of yesteryear, Special Makeup Effects Supervisor Sergio Stivaletti (Demons, Opera) luckily excels with bloody decapitations and several graphic crucifixions.  Shocking for shock’s sake, Morituris intends but never fully recaptures the impact of its influences while, gorehounds should be moderately pleased with its level of bloodshed.

    Synapse Films presents Morituris with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Skin tones appear generally natural with occasional instances of murkiness spotted in dimly lit sequences.  Cloaked in overwhelming darkness, black levels in the film’s many forest scenes appear inky with no disruptive crushing on display.  While the onset lighting or lack thereof makes visibility difficult at times, the transfer is not at fault.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Italian mix and optional newly translated English subtitles, dialogue is clear and free of any problematic hiss.  In addition, high-pitched sound effects of screams, clattering medieval weaponry and eerie gladiator growls are strongly relayed and properly prioritized.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also provided for your listening pleasure.  Although minimal, special features include, the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:45) and Reversible Cover Art.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available September 8th from Synapse Films, Morituris can be purchased via Synapse-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

    Prom Night (1980)

    Director: Paul Lynch

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

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    MOVIE:

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

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

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

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

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

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

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

    • Original Theatrical Trailer (1:49)

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

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

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

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

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

    • Reversible Cover Art  

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

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

    RATING: 5/5

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

  • Worm (2013) Special Edition DVD Review

    Worm (2013)

    Director: Doug Mallette

    Starring: John Ferguson, Shane O’Brien & Jes Mercer

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In a future where our dreams are but a distant memory, a new nocturnal product will guide us back to our wildest fantasies at a cost.  Birthed out of a short film presented for Nashville’s “The 48 Hour Film Project”, Synapse Films proudly presents the feature length version of Worm, a unique sci-fi thriller that successfully won the 2013 Dark Carnival Film Festival awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress.  

    Set in the distant future where people no longer dream, Worm centers on the newly developed Fantasites, a worm-like parasite utilized by humans to experience their wildest fantasies as they sleep.  Charles (John Ferguson), a lonely young man, longing for an escape from his uninteresting life begins using the slimy Fantasites to bring him closer to the girl of his dreams.  Eventually, things spiral out of control for Charles and his friends when the government bans the addictive product and people must seek underground means to obtain it.

    MOVIE:

    Shot on a shoestring budget and invoking a Cronenbergian tone, Worm is a wildly unique execution in genre-blending.  This sci-fi thriller takes place in a future where human dreams have been abolished for 30 years and sleep is overtaken by somber darkness.  Genetically engineered worms, known as Fantasites, hit storefronts promising citizens a new doorway into their most euphoric dreams.  Inserting one worm into your ear canal before bedtime ensures a sleep like no other, prompting everyone to subscribe to this new practice.  Shy and awkward Charles (Ferguson), in need of friendship and love, works as a maintenance man at an apartment complex.  Desperate for attention from his neighbor Reed (Shane O’Brien) and the affection of his girlfriend June (Jes Mercer), Charles seeks Fantasites to help him escape his lonely way of living.    As side-effects to the slimy sleep additives are revealed, the government bans the experimental product, birthing an illegal underground world to feed the Fantasite addiction.  Charles and Reed become junkies, surrendering themselves to whatever means necessary to get their kick.  A potential chance with June is fogged as Charles‘ life becomes a whirlwind of heartbreak and destruction.

    Impressively shot without a script, Worm was generally improvised by the actors which equally helps and hurts the film.  Finessing the dialogue would have strengthened the narrative and the characters‘ development, immensely.  In addition, its limited budget is showcased during bizarre dream sequences that fail to be quite as effective.  Luckily, Composer Bill Mitchell’s xylophone chimes feel reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s more gothic contributions, granting Worm another added layer of creepiness.  While, handled unorthodoxly, Worm still packs a solid punch as a peculiar tale of sci-fi, romance and addiction that makes one wish the production had a larger budget to realize the full scope of their intentions.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Worm is presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer, bearing a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, Worm looks fairly decent with natural skin tones and colors reading fine.  Unfortunately, the digital, student film appearance never lets viewers forget this is an independent production shot on a dime.  Worm looks as it was intendedly shot but, never appears overwhelmingly impressive.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, Worm is audible if not, slightly problematic.  Several moments of dialogue are relayed lowly while, others suffer from a lackluster sound mix causing background music to overwhelm character interactions.  Overall, the cons on this mix are not rampant and most can be excused by the production’s low-budget.  

    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Doug Mallette, Co-Producers Jeremy Pearce & Jennifer Bonior and Visual Effects Supervisor Julian Herrera: Chatty and enthusiastic, the group of friends keep things on track while injecting informative notes and exchanging laughter.  The difficulty of filming with dogs and the low-budget (less than $10,000), which was raised through an Indiegogo campaign, are all discussed on this worthwhile track.

    - Worm - Original Short Film (7:57): The small seed that planted the feature is apparent, but the original short is too all over the map and incoherent to enjoy beyond a curiosity viewing.

    - Deleted Scenes (10:40): Six scenes omitted from the final cut are included.

    - Original Trailer #1 (1:51)

    - Original Trailer #2 (2:07)

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Shot cheaply and with no script, Worm was a risky endeavor that paid off for the most part.  Successfully blending the worlds of science fiction, love and uncontrollable addiction, Worm is one of the standout independent efforts of the year.  Channeling the youth of David Cronenberg and injecting a creepy, childlike score from Bill Mitchell, the nonprofessional cast do their best guiding the slimy story of Worm.  Synapse Films has done a fine service rewarding this indie effort with a wider distribution for more eyes to witness.  Joined by an informative commentary and the original short film, Worm is an engaging specimen with a fresh story that only suffers from common low-budget woes.

    RATING: 3.5/5 

  • Curtains (1983) Special Edition Blu-ray Review

    Curtains (1983)

    Director: Jonathan Stryker

    Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson, Lynne Griffin & Lesleh Donaldson

    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Considered a forgotten gem among slasher enthusiasts, few films of its ilk can match the tone and nightmarish imagery of this independent Canadian production.  Banished by its creators, Synapse Films proudly presents the long awaited Curtains on Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Meticulously restored from original vault materials and loaded with horrific new special features, Curtains has finally been unveiled with treatment worth dying for!

    Curtains centers on a group of actresses summoned to a casting call at the secluded mansion of famed director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon, Savage Streets).  In search of the perfect actress to portray a crazed character, these women will do anything to land the job.  In no time, a deadly killer in a banshee mask crashes the party, picking off the group one by one.  Samantha Eggar (The Brood), Linda Thorson (The Avengers), Annie Ditchburn (Slow Dancing in the Big City), Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas), Sandra Warren (Terror Train), Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me) and Deborah Burgess (The Last Chase) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Beginning in 1980, Curtains was cursed with endless re-writes, reshoots and recasting before reaching completion in 1983.  First time director Richard Ciupka felt the finished product was so far removed from his original vision, he withdrew his name from the film with the directorial credit cheekily awarded to John Vernon’s fictional character.  Nonetheless, the production’s rocky road birthed Curtains unique style that stands out from its other slasher brethren.  John Vernon, who carved a career portraying sleazy characters, is perfectly cast as the womanizing Jonathan Stryker.  Samantha Eggar compliments Vernon nicely as his former leading lady, Samantha Sherwood.  Determined to land the role, Sherwood checks herself into an asylum where Stryker cruelly leaves her.  The supporting cast of attractive actresses including slasher movie alumni Lynne Griffin and Lesleh Donaldson do well before the majority of the cast start disappearing Agatha Christie style.  With the exception of Stryker, Curtains is an entirely female driven film which allows the film to stray from formulaic tropes and surprise the viewer.  In addition, the banshee mask wearing killer is one of the most underrated and creepy stalkers to ever appear in a slasher.  An infamous sequence takes place on an ice skating rink where the killer stalks an unsuspecting victim in broad daylight while maintaining nail-biting suspense.

    Curtains does suffer from minor pacing issues, most notably during the actresses‘ stay at Stryker’s mansion.  Several scenes can pass while the viewer is anxiously waiting for action to take place with no avail.  Luckily, nightmarish imagery involving a creepy China doll and a tense stalking sequence on a staging area amongst mannequins and funhouse mirrors more than make up for this.  Considering its production woes, Curtains still manages to achieve its own unique tone and style with rewarding results.  Bizarre imagery that never makes sense coupled with a sleazy John Vernon, an unforgettable killer and a twist ending deems Curtains an eccentrically essential slasher.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Restored in 2K, Curtains is presented in a 1080p widescreen transfer sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Relying on fuzzy, distorted bootlegs for years, Synapse Films‘ presentation is a revelation.  Skin tones are as accurate as can be with fine detail impressively picked up on the countless wrinkles in the killer’s banshee mask and Vernon’s graying beard.  While, not an overly colorful film, there is much to admire in the costumes and sheer clarity of the sprawling, snowy Canadian landscape.  In addition, black levels, at one time a constant struggle to view, are remarkable with night and other dimly lit scenes now fully appreciated.  Synapse Films‘ attention to pain-staking detail is clear in this gorgeous looking transfer!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix, Curtains sounds terrific.  Specifically created for this release, dialogue, while hushed at certain times, comes across clearly with no distortion to speak of.  Composer Paul Zaza’s foreboding piano cues are chilling and greatly enhanced on this superior mix.  Stalking sequences are also nicely balanced and provide an extra boost when needed.  In addition, an original 2.0 Mono mix is also included.  Suffice to say, Curtains sounds nearly as good as it looks.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Stars Lesleh Donaldson and Lynne Griffin, moderated by Edwin Samuelson

    - Alternate Audio Track with Vintage Interviews with Producer Peter R. Simpson and Star Samantha Eggar

    - The Ultimate Nightmare: The Making of Curtains: Red Shirt Pictures provides a 35-minute retrospective with insight from Director Richard Ciupka, Editor Michael MacLaverty, Special Make-Up Effects Creator Greg Cannom, Composer Paul Zaza and more.  The individuals discuss Producer Peter R. Simpson’s erratic behavior and foul mouth, the production’s endless journey and Ciupka’s decision to ultimately remove his name from the film following Simpson’s handling.

    - Ciupka: A Film-Maker in Transition: Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, Synapse Films have provided Director Gordon Thorne’s vintage documentary on then hot shot Cinematographer Richard Ciupka making his directorial leap.  The 15-minute mini-doc is a wonderful time capsule focusing on Ciupka’s career highlights at that point.  Curtains enthusiasts will especially appreciate the fly on the wall footage on the film’s set and Vernon and Ciupka blocking a scene.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    A holy grail in the pantheon of slasher history, Curtains remained in the recesses of fans’ memories for years, all but losing hope for a legitimate release of this Canadian oddity.  Synapse Films have not only rescued the film but have presented it with a jaw-dropping video and audio treatment matched with a sprawling amount of bonus content.  Bizarre yet memorable, Curtains is a stand out slasher playing on nightmare imagery, a female driven cast and a banshee mask wearing murderer destined to creep you out.  Over 30 years after its original release, Curtains has finally been re-opened to its undying audience with a career highlight release from Synapse Films.

    RATING: 4.5/5

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #12: Countess Dracula, Happy Days, Vampire Academy, Twilight Time & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #12 includes:

    - Grand Piano (2013) (0:42)
    Street Date: May 20, 2014
    Magnolia Pictures: http://www.magpictures.com/

    - Wild at Heart (1990) (6:59)
    Street Date: April 8, 2014
    Twilight Time: http://www1.screenarchives.com/display_results.cfm/category/546/TWILIGHT-TIME/

    - Used Cars (1980) (14:10)
    Street Date: April 8, 2014
    Twilight Time: http://www1.screenarchives.com/display_results.cfm/category/546/TWILIGHT-TIME/

    - Vampire Academy (2014) (21:10)
    Street Date: May 20, 2014
    Anchor Bay Entertainment: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx

    - Happy Days Season 5 (27:31)
    Street Date: May 20, 2014
    Paramount: http://www.paramount.com/

    - House of Dust (2013) (31:47)
    Street Date: May 20, 2014
    Anchor Bay Entertainment: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx

    - Countess Dracula (1971) (35:42)
    Street Date: May 6, 2014
    Synapse Films: http://synapsefilms.com/

    - Flying Tigers (1942) (41:32)
    Street Date: May 13, 2014
    Olive Films: http://www.olivefilms.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (46:52)

  • Reel Zombies (2008) Special Edition DVD Review

    Reel Zombies (2008)
    Director(s): Mike Masters & David J. Francis
    Starring: Mike Masters, David J. Francis, Stephen Papadimitriou, Sam Hall & Paul Fler
    Released by: Synapse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Since the golden days of Romero to the recent runaway success of The Walking Dead, zombies have held a grasp on audiences for decades.  With inflated budgets and A-list talent attaching themselves to projects of the living dead, originality is running stale in the genre.  Queue a Canadian team of indie filmmakers with a shoestring budget and playing themselves onscreen to inject some fresh blood.  Synapse Films proudly presents a satirical mockumentary about a ragtag group of friends attempting to stage their latest zombie flick amongst a very real zombie apocalypse.  Grab your weapons and most importantly, your filming equipment as we capture a peek of Reel Zombies...

    Reel Zombies stars Mike Masters and David J. Francis, appearing as themselves, as they eagerly attempt to complete the third film in their Zombie Night trilogy.  Set in the real world of a post zombie apocalypse, Masters and Francis gather up as many of their friends and real zombies to pull off this exciting venture.  With a dirt cheap budget and production woes every step of the way, a documentary crew follows their progress as the danger of actual flesh eating zombies slowly becomes their smallest worry.

    MOVIE:
    While, the zombie genre has grown tired with its overwhelming amount of awareness amongst the masses, a few promising efforts have impressed, most notably World War Z, Shaun of the Dead and Cockneys VS. Zombies.  With so many similar projects competing for audiences‘ attention, it becomes difficult to gauge the entertainment and originality factor for said projects.  The zombie genre has transformed little since George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead debuted, but any attempt to try something unique always attracts attention.  Reel Zombies, completed in 2008, attempts to spin a Christopher Guest-esque mockumentary against a zombie breakout with mostly successful results.  Directors Mike Masters and David J. Francis appear as themselves, along with the rest of their indie filmmaking cronies, when sheer boredom inspires them to shoot a new fictional zombie flick in their infested Canadian homestead.  The charm of Reel Zombies comes from the naturalistic quality of the cast that invites their actual offscreen friendships and humor to shine.  Contrary to popular belief, when asked to “act natural”, most people do the opposite and are not self aware enough to let their true personalities show.  The cast of Reel Zombies have no issue showcasing who they are, opening the floodgates for hilarious banter at every turn.  The documentary that is simultaneously being shot on the making of the film, which is constantly labeled as a mere EPK (Electronic Press Kit, for those unaware) by the cast, captures the good and bad but mostly, the bad.  The fly on the wall footage echos moments of The Office where dimwitted conversation is caught while trying to stage sequences.  Wrangling the real zombies becomes difficult as cast members turn up dead, forcing the makers of the film to take on a “pain is temporary, film is forever” stance and press on.  Reel Zombies not only works as an indie effort in zombie films but, as an effective showcase of the struggles of low-budget filmmaking.  The viewer walks away well informed on many stages of the process without ever feeling like they witnessed a tutorial.

    Reel Zombies works decently as the satirical mockumentary it is but, struggles to shake its less than stellar low-budget feel.  Surely intended, but by the final act, the aesthetic just begins to lose its mojo when the real zombies slowly take over.  As the viewer, we’re supposed to acknowledge these “real” zombies as threats that are endangering our heros but, unfortunately they appear no different than the mock-zombies found in the fictional film.  While, the final act finds the entire cast, with the exception of the documentary crew, meeting an unfortunate end, Reel Zombies still walks away as a decent independent effort that dared to be original.  With a slightly bigger budget and the right cast, Reel Zombies could easily be remade with even better results, but this small Canadian production did a fine job with everything they didn’t have.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Synapse Films presents Reel Zombies in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer.  Captured through the lens of the documentary crews‘ digital camera, the film matches its intended look with off the cuff interviews and shaky camera movements.  The video presentation isn’t flawless but still captures detail and colors quite nicely.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, Reel Zombies captures dialogue decently especially in on camera interviews but moments where several people are speaking at once, most notably during the script’s table read, the audio becomes overwhelmed and slightly muffled.  Overall, a decent mix that is relayed sufficiently.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Directors Mike Masters & David J. Francis and Producer Stephen Papadimitriou: The three friends discuss the genesis of the project as well as their past efforts.  Humor and laughter run rampant as well as informative anecdotes about the shoot.

    - Deleted Scenes and Outtakes: Over 40 minutes worth of material.

    - Original Trailer

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    Reel Zombies is a decent and unique stab at the zombie genre through the eyes of a satirical mockumentary.  The core cast and makers of the film succeed in letting their offscreen personalities shine, creating some truly funny moments.  While, the low-budget angle is clearly intended, it simultaneously hurts the production when attempting to make the real zombies appear menacing.  Synapse Films did a great service acquiring this earnest indie flick which doubles as an informative crash course in no-budget filmmaking.  The video and audio presentation are suitable with a supplemental package of decent extras worth exploring.  Reel Zombies may not be perfect but, it’s desire to try something wildly unique from other zombie efforts deserves a look.
    RATING: 3/5