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  • The Unholy (1988) Blu-ray Review

    The Unholy (1988)

    Director: Camilo Vila

    Starring: Ben Cross, Ned Beatty, William Russ, Jill Carroll, Hal Holbrook & Trevor Howard

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in New Orleans where a dark underbelly of satanic worship resides, The Unholy centers on Father Michael (Ben Cross, Chariots of Fire), the newly appointed priest of St. Agnes Church.  Following the brutal and unsolved murders of the parishes previous pastors, an ungodly evil threatens the house of worship with Michael’s pure soul being its last hope of survival.  Ned Beatty (Toy Story 3), William Russ (Boy Meets World), Jill Carroll (Psycho II), Hal Holbrook (The Fog) and Trevor Howard (The Third Man) costar.

    Channeling the satanic allure of The Exorcist and The Omen having been originally scripted in their wake and revived more than a decade later, The Unholy injects more special-effects wizardry into its proceedings where demonic beasts and grisly deaths reign while struggling to remain narratively appealing.  Miraculously surviving a fall off a building, Father Michael is appointed to reopen the dormant St. Agnes Church in New Orleans following the tragic murder of his predecessor.  Considered to be “the chosen one” by his mentors, Father Michael is quickly haunted by nightmarish visions of a seductive temptress while investigating the unsolved murders plaguing his church.  Stumbling upon a black magic-worshipping nightclub in his research, Father Michael’s encounter with teenage runaway Millie (Carroll), who confided in the deceased Father Dennis, begins to reveal a frightening truth.  Skeptical of Millie’s insistence that demonic forces are at play, strange occurrences including, a dog slain at the church’s alter and threats made by Millie’s club-owning over protector Luke (Russ) persist.  Juxtaposing between more nightmare-fueled visions of the scantly clad vixen and a victim, intestines gruesomely hanging, displayed as an inverted cross, The Unholy pays off with gory sights and a faith vs. demonic monster showdown during its climax yet, fails to dig deeper into Father Michael’s psyche as the chosen one.  Furthermore, while potential reasons and accused culprits behind the sinister happenings are unnecessarily named, none prove conclusive and simply serve as a way to buffer the runtime and muddy the waters of an effort best blamed simply on the devil.  Mildly taxing for these reasons yet, redeeming in its showcase of visual effects, creature designs and the red stuff, The Unholy offers more in its style than its substance.

    Debuting as the tenth inclusion of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Lionsgate presents The Unholy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Photographed during nighttime sequences or under dimly-lit circumstances, black levels are commendable while occasionally looking grainier than desired.  Furthermore, skin tones are natural with Millie’s 80s-centric makeup popping nicely.  Although the film’s few daytime sequences of sunshine understandably soften up the picture, this softness, although not wildly overwhelming, carries over throughout much of the film, appearing not as sharp as one would hope but also not an uncommon sight for lower-budgeted films from this era.  Meanwhile, moments of neck-torn gore and detail observed in the demonic creatures earn some of the transfer’s highest marks of clarity.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue never disappoints while, the film’s synth-heavy score by Roger Bellon (Waxwork) sounds excellent.  

    Exceptionally packed with content, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Camilo Vila, Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon, an Audio Interview with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca, featuring Isolated Selections from his Unused Score.  Also included, Sins of the Father with Ben Cross (19:09) where the film’s star covers his adolescent fascination with the arts, attending drama school, early days rooming with the film’s director and praise for his costars.  Demons in the Flesh: The Monsters of The Unholy (22:26) catches up with Make-Up Effects Designer Jerry Macaluso who scored the job on the feature as a teenager in high school with additional insight into the film’s reworked ending from Art Director/Additional Special Effects Unit Steve Hardie and Effects Artist/Special Effects Unit Neil Gorton.  Prayer Offerings with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (18:35) and the Original Ending featuring Optional Audio Commentary with Production Designer & Co-Writer Fernando Fonseca (15:02) are also on-hand while, the Theatrical Trailer (1:17), TV Spots (2:15), Radio Spots (2:25), an Original Storyboard Gallery (18:40) and a Still Gallery (11:51) round out this five-star offering of supplements conducted by the tireless Red Shirt Pictures.

    An imperfect tale of satanic seduction that rightly has its dedicated fans, The Unholy certainly has its moments of fright-filled anarchy but has difficulty crafting characters that command our attention.  Worshippers of the black magic horror opus will be overjoyed by its inclusion in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series that blesses it with a respectable HD upgrade and an ungodly awesome stash of newly recorded bonus extras.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 27th from Lionsgate, The Unholy can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Skull (1965) Blu-ray Review

    The Skull (1965)

    Director: Freddie Francis

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

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) / Poltergeist III (1988) Blu-ray Reviews

    Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) / Poltergeist III (1988)

    Director(s): Brian Gibson / Gary Sherman

    Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Julian Beck, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson & Geraldine Fitzgerald / Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke & Zelda Rubinstein

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Haunting high-definition once more in new Collector’s Edition form, Scream Factory, the horror/cult subsidiary of Shout! Factory, welcomes the continued terrorization of the Freeling family to their catalog of frights!  Following the traumatic events of the original film, Poltergeist II: The Other Side finds the Freeling’s attempting to revert back to a normal existence until the forces of darkness, led by the chilling Henry Kane, pursue their clairvoyant daughter Carol Anne with ungodly vengeance.  Next up, from the suburbs to the big city of Chicago, Poltergeist III sees the young Carol Anne living with her aunt and uncle when the restless Reverend Kane weaves his devilish powers upon their daunting high-rise.  

    They’re back as suburban scares persist in the supernatural followup to Steven Spielberg’s original ghostly production of 1982.  Struggling financially in the wake of their house’s frightening decimation, Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson, Coach and JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer respectively), along with their children Robbie (Oliver Robbins, Airplane II: The Sequel) and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke, Happy Days) (sans older sister Dana (played originally by Dominique Dunne who was tragically killed following production on the original film)), attempt to start anew in the house of Diane’s elderly mother.  Retaining her clairvoyant touch, it doesn’t take long before the spirits thought left behind in Cuesta Verde emerge once more to claim Carol Anne for themselves.  Discovering an underground tomb located deeper beneath the Freeling’s former home, trusted psychic Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein, Sixteen Candles) and Native American shaman Taylor (Will Sampson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) sense the greater danger that now targets the evading family.  Stalked by the chilling and skeletal-looking Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck, The Cotton Club), Taylor rushes to the Freelings’ aide in order to prepare them for the dark battle that awaits.  Demonstrating impressively refined special effects that can’t be understated with Native American mysticism and a disturbingly memorable villain, Poltergeist II: The Other Side admirably balances what made the original a suspenseful success while, instilling its own chilling parameters that stand on their own.  Topped with Jerry Goldsmith’s score that blends innocence and dread effortlessly, climactic seat-jumpers featuring nightmarish braces gone wild, floating chainsaws (originally intended for 3-D effectiveness), an unforgettable regurgitated monster worm and a final showdown into the ghostly netherworld all make this sequel a respectably fun and grossly underrated followup to its pitch perfect predecessor.

    Inspired by Lewis Carrol’s own fantastical continuation Through the-Looking Glass, Poltergeist III ditches small-town frights and much of its original cast for a towering continuation of lofty ideas that struggle to land their mark.  Relocating to Chicago for placement in a school for gifted children, Carol Anne, cared for by her Aunt Trisch (Allen), Uncle Bruce (Skerritt) and teenage cousin Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle, Wayne’s World), finds herself frightened by reoccurring images of Reverend Kane (played by Flowers in the Attic’s Nathan Davis following the passing of original actor Julian Beck after wrapping production on its sequel) from beyond the grave.  Sensing Kane’s return and his pursuit of Carol Anne, faithful psychic Tangina (Rubinstein returning once more) seeks to stop the evildoer once and for all.  Jeopardized by budgetary limitations and a personal black cloud of despair following O’Rourke’s untimely passing during the film’s post-production phase, Poltergeist III’s skyscraper setting lends an intriguing visual change of pace for the series that ultimately falls second best to the familiarity of safe suburbia.  In addition, although Skerritt and Allen’s chemistry feels genuine together, Aunt Trisch’s random spouts of disdain for her troubled niece feels uncomfortably out of touch for a character that audiences should see as more maternally understanding.  Furthermore, while the return of Tangina is most welcome, Zelda Rubinstein appears particularly fatigued in the role, further underlining the fumes the franchise is running on.  Passionately directed by genre helmer Gary Sherman (Raw Meat, Dead & Buried), Poltergeist III conveys several worthy concepts through terrifying reflections, demonic doppelgängers, possessed teenagers and Kane’s hellish wrath literally freezing over the high-rise building.  Unavoidably imperfect given its tragic history, Poltergeist III, although busting at the box-office and ranking lowest on the franchise totem pole, delivers just enough light from the other side to draw the curious into its vortex for a brief time.        

    Boasting new 2K scans from their interpositives, Scream Factory presents both sequels with 1080p transfers, preserving their respective 2.35:1 (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) and 1.85:1 (Poltergeist III) aspect ratios.  While both films received above average debuts on the format in years past, their latest outings are that much cleaner, washing away the slight hints of softness found previously with strong skin tones, vibrant color grades, deep black levels and otherwise graciously filmic appearances on hand, leaving both films in their best conditions to date.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes that captures crisp dialogue levels and energetic stabs during supernatural attacks, the film’s scores are excellently handled adding necessary emphasis to their quieter moments and rise to their thrilling tempos.  In addition, both films are accompanied with optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes for your listening pleasure.

    Supplements pertaining to Poltergeist II: The Other Side include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Michael Grais and an Audio Commentary with Poltergeist II Webmaster David Furtney, both of which are newly recorded for this release.  Additionally, Robbie’s Return with Oliver Robins (14:25) catches up with the middle Freeling child today as he commends Director Brian Gibson’s vision for the film, the fun atmosphere making a feature as a child and the sequel’s special effects sequences.  Meanwhile, The Spirit World (22:09) is a first-rate featurette catching up with Special Creature Effects Artists Steve Johnson & Screaming Mad George as well as Special Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund to discuss the many memorable monsters and apparitions that separated the film from the original.  Furthermore, Ghosts of Giger (21:02) takes a look back at the iconic H.R. Giger’s contributions to the film through slideshows and interviews with Steve Johnson and Giger’s agent Les Barany.  Lastly, vintage offerings consisting of They’re Back: The Making of Poltergeist II (6:15), Monster Shop (2:45), Ghost Makers: The Magic of Poltergeist II (6:28), the Theatrical Trailer (1:22) and TV Spots (2:04) are on hand while, a Still Gallery (73 in total), the Poltergeist II Script and Reversible Cover Art retaining the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the bonus features.

    Bonus features found on Poltergeist III include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter/Director Gary Sherman and an Audio Commentary with Poltergeist III Webmaster David Furtney, both newly recorded.  In addition, High Spirits with Co-Screenwriter Brian Taggert (16:02) finds the writer sharing warm memories of his collaborative relationship with Sherman, the film’s budget cuts, O’Rourke’s passing and his friendship with the wise and occasionally feisty Rubinstein.  Reflections with Actress Nancy Allen (12:15) sits down with the star who commends Sherman’s approach to the project, O’Rourke’s old soul personality and her unforgettably sad funeral plus, her working relationship with Skerritt who notes is the only actor she had an argument with in her career.  Furthermore, Mirror Images with Special Make-Up Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr. (12:47), an Alternate Ending (2:50) that lacks audio with dialogue from the original script added in as subtitles, the Theatrical Trailer (1:04), TV Spots (2:06), a Still Gallery (77 in total) and the Poltergeist III Script are also on hand.  Lastly, Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet imagery completes the release’s supplements.

    Topping the television fuzz and tree attacking terror of the original classic may be no easy feat but, the combined efforts of Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III make strong cases for followups of underrated merit.  While, Reverend Kane’s initial attack on the Freeling family is by far the superior sequel, Poltergeist III, although ranking in last place, still maintains a mild charm that continues to persevere through its many setbacks.  Honoring both features with wonderful new scans, a plentiful sum of bonus features exploring the film’s makings and frighteningly fantastic new artwork by Justin Osbourn, Scream Factory welcomes fans back to the ghostly netherworld where your house will be all the cleaner with both Collector’s Edition sequels in them.

    Poltergeist II: The Other Side RATING: 4/5

    Poltergeist III RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Scream Factory, Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Purge: Election Year (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Purge: Election Year (2016)

    Director: James DeMonaco

    Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria & Betty Gabriel

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    At the height of a heated political season, The Purge: Election Year centers on survivor turned security chief Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) whose duty to protect presidential nominee Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost) is compromised.  As her controversial policies to end the savage Purge are despised by the corrupt, navigating dangerous streets and trusting strangers desperate for change may be the only chance to survive the lawless evening.  Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), Joseph Julian Soria (Max) and Betty Gabriel (Good Girls Revolt) costar.

    In a society overrun by one’s anxious desire to brutally slay for one evening, The Purge: Election Year pits the sadistic holiday against a force for change.  Following the murder of her own family during the first annual Purge, Senator Charlie Roan seeks to abolish the barbaric event and expose higher society’s gains from it with her determined presidential run.  Igniting a movement throughout the country and threatening the stability of the corrupt NFFA, Senator Roan, protected by her head of security Leo Barnes and his team, make the necessary preparations ahead of the new year’s Purge where, for the first time in its history, targeting governmental figures is fair game.  Betrayed and forced to evacuate their shelter, Leo and Charlie trek the anarchic streets of Washington D.C. where alliances with working class citizens and anti-Purge rebels is essential to their survival and the Senator’s destiny to alter the course of the country.  Even more fast-paced and action-packed than its predecessor, The Purge: Election Year polishes its simplistic formula with a marketing campaign and over the top violence that cheekily comments on the slogan of one presidential nominee’s to “make America great again”.  Host to choice soundtrack cuts from T. Rex and a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”, Producer Jason Blum’s (Insidious, Sinister) third installment welcomes Uncle Sam costumed killers, candy bar craving looters and white supremacist soldiers stacking the odds against our heroes while, a bloody gun battle in a church paints the walls red and waves a not-so subtle finger at the seething corruption found within political figures and religious organizations.  Financially soaring past its previous entries, The Purge: Election Year arrives with even more refined energy and violent aggression making it the best of the bunch thus far.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Purge: Election Year with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Although not boasting a broad color scheme, skin tones are nicely detailed and true to appearance while, the film’s level of bloodshed and neon-lit masks of various assailants make for the most eye-popping of visuals.  Furthermore, cast under the shadows of night and taking place in dimly lit bunkers and storefronts, black levels are generally pleasing with only occasional hints of digital noise and murkiness in facial closeups.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that handles dialogue with ease and authority, gunfire blasts, explosions and eerie street ambiance dominate the track for a mostly strong presentation.  Special features include, Deleted Scenes (8:05), Inside The Purge (5:31) where returning Director James DeMonaco and his cast reflect on the political themes and increased violence in the film plus, Character Spotlight: Leo (3:34) allows Star Frank Grillo to briefly touch upon his character’s development.  Lastly, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code conclude the supplemental package.

    Darkly fun and serving as good escape from the overwhelming presidential race, The Purge: Election Year paints the screen blood red, white and blue with higher stakes than ever before.  Returning anti-hero Frank Grillo leads a small yet effective ensemble cast to survival as masked Abe Lincoln’s and Lady Liberty’s practice their right to purge in our nation’s capital.  Earning its vote for the franchises most violently entertaining entry to date, Universal Studios Home Entertainment supports the onscreen anarchy with above average technical grades but, lacks more substantial bonus content.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Purge: Election Year 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. 

  • Night Train to Terror (1985) Blu-ray Review



    Night Train to Terror (1985)
    Director: Jay Schlossberg-Cohen
    Starring: Cameron Mitchell, John Phillip Law & Byron Yordan
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    By the sight of the 1-sheet poster, most would assumed that Night Train to Terror is another chip off the slasher block from the bitchin’ 1980s.  As fitting as it may seem, this is an entirely different beast.  When the topic of horror anthologies is brought up, there is a steady list of favorites to choose from such as Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat and Tales from the Crypt.  But, somewhere in the cobwebs lies Night Train to Terror.  Presented for the first time on home video and it its original aspect ratio, Vinegar Syndrome bring this horror oddity to your growing collection in a Blu-ray / DVD combo pack.  How odd is this flick, you ask?  Well, get ready to throw logic out the window and let’s find out...

    Night Train to Terror kicks off with God and Satan aboard a train headed to the friary underworld as they decide the fates of three unfortunate souls.  In Harry, a killer keeps body parts of his victims in a twisted torture chamber.  While, in Gretta, a young woman obsessed with death takes part in a risky game of Russian roulette.  Finally, Claire finds a young woman and a Holocaust survivor terrorized by the son of Satan!

    MOVIE:
    There’s much to admire in a film that kicks off with an 80s-centric band playing to the camera while on board a train to Hell.  The catchy tune and the lead singer, who looks like a mix of Loverboy and Flashdance, sets the tone for the odd film you are about to witness.  The wrap-around segments of God and Satan deciding the fates of each of the  victims was a welcome touch that opened the stage for some humorous moments.  The film itself is an insane collage of horror presented without too much narrative in mind and a tongue firmly planted in cheek.  Demons, dismemberment, nudity and nazis all make entertaining appearances that are provided by a halfway decent cast and a synth-happy score.  Night Train to Terror takes lightning speed shifts telling its story while pushing moments of blood and horror leaving you with a “what the hell is going on?” attitude more than once.  In addition, the film deserves great praise for their usage of stop-motion effects that are less Harryhausen and more Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but just as charming and fun.  Overall, the film succeeds in throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the viewer in terms of horrific elements while weaving a very “unique” kind of anthology tale.  There’s nothing quite like Night Train to Terror and by my calculations, that’s a fantastic thing!
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Vinegar Syndrome presents Night Train to Terror for the first time on home video restored in 2K from 35mm elements and in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio.  The film certainly has its fair share of inconsistencies with debris and scratches with colors popping nicely when they can.  Skin tones appear natural and detail is quite sharp in close-ups.  Grain levels look terrific while blacks can be a hit or miss.  It sounds mediocre, but in truth, this film has never looked better and probably never will.  Vinegar Syndrome’s treatment is the definitive one for a film that has only seen ratty bootlegs before its release.  Consider me satisfied!
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    Night Train to Terror hurls into your living room courtesy of a 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix.  Scenes of dialogue are clear and hissing is hardly present while moments of horror and carnage are loud and robust.  The score and catchy opening tune impressed my ear drums as they were loud even at a relatively lower volume.  Well done!
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    Vinegar Syndrome presents a healthy dose of supplements that are spread across both the Blu-ray and DVD on this release.

    On Blu-ray:
    - Interview with Director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen (offered as an audio track over the film)

    - The Hysteria Continues Commentary: The bloggers offer plenty of laughs and interesting anecdotes about the film and the players involved.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    On DVD:
    - Gretta: The full-version of The Case of Gretta Conners, a unique and welcome extra as one can see and appreciate the differences from its shorter counterpart found in Night Train to Terror.

    - Interview with Assistant Editor Wayne Schmidt (presented as an audio track)

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    Night Train to Terror is quite unlike any horror anthology you’ve ever seen.  The chaotic pace and horrific imagery at every turn will certainly send you for a loop which makes it never boring.  Vinegar Syndrome have preserved and presented the film in the best possible manner with a welcome dose of extras that offer as much behind-the-scenes information as possible on this horror oddity.  Night Train to Terror is an absurd execution in horror anthologies with enough blood, demons and stop-motion to peak most genre fans’ interest.  Looking for logic?  We’re all out on Night Train to Terror but that’s exactly where most of the charm comes from.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Horror Stories (2012) DVD Review



    Horror Stories (2012)
    Director(s): Kyu-dong Min, Bum-shik Jung, Dae-woong Lim, Ji-Yeong Hong, Gok Kim & Sun Kim
    Starring: Ji-won Kim, Tae-woo Kim, Bo-ra Nam, Mi-ran Ra & Yeon-Seok Yoo
    Released by: Artsploitation Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Anthology films have been around for decades dating back to 1945’s Dead of Night all the way to the highly successful Creepshow from 1982.  As years progressed, the likelihood of witnessing a new anthology based film seemed near impossible as their popularity waned.  Within the past few years, countless horror anthologies have emerged including Trick ‘r Treat, V/H/S and The ABCs of Death.  In 2012, six of Korea’s top genre directors formed to create an anthology film like no other.  One where the wraparound segment, mostly used for gimmicky-like interludes in other films, was as horrifying as the actual short tales.  Horror Stories makes a bold challenge but does it live up to its intent?  Let’s take a look…

    Horror Stories collects six of South Korea’s top directors to tell four horrifying stories that are framed through a wraparound segment (directed by Kyu-dong Min of Memento Mori fame) that finds a high school girl abducted and forced by a psychopath to tell him the most frightening tales she knows.  Her stories include Don’t Answer the Door, directed by Bum-shink Jung (Epitaph), which finds a young brother and sister home alone and under attack by an intruder.  In Director Dae-woong Lim’s (Bloody Reunion) Endless Flight, a serial killer escapes police custody while onboard an otherwise empty flight.  Secret Recipe, directed by Ji-Yeong Hong, tells a macabre fairy tale about two jealous stepsisters who take plastic surgery to the extreme.  Finally, brothers Gok & Sun Kim (White: The Melody of the Curse) direct Ambulance on the Death Zone, a claustrophobic zombie tale detailing the standoff between a paramedic and a mother over the possibility of her daughter being infected.

    MOVIE:
    Being a strong enthusiast of the horror anthology format, Horror Stories immediately peaked my interest.  The outcome exceeded my expectations on every level and ultimately left me chilled to the bone.  The no-nonsense wraparound segment set a frighting tone to the film from the first frame.  The madness seen in the eyes of the serial killer keeping a high school girl captive leaves you disturbed knowing people of this ilk actually exist.  The first and arguably most terrifying segment, Don’t Answer the Phone, made me jump more times then I care to remember.  The end of the segment would make one assume the nightmare is over when in reality its just begun.  Director Bum-shink Jung weaves a suspenseful tale that concludes with an ambitious commentary on Korean employment and economy.  The grim ending truly makes one question whether the fairy tale we just witnessed or the real world reality is more horrifying.  Endless Flight received immediate praise for taking terror back into the skies which brought fond memories back of an anthology favorite found in Twilight Zone: The Movie.  While, the terror in this film is not found in the shape of a monstrous unearthly creature, its almost scarier because we are dealing with a flesh and blood serial killer.  A scene that includes a door peephole and a hairpin will make even the bravest squeam.  Director Ji-Yeong Hong’s Secret Recipe takes two jealous stepsisters and their obsession to wed a plastic surgeon obsessed with eternal youth to twisted heights.  The emphasis on plastic surgery that was utilized so well in another 2012 effort, American Mary, is used more subtly to show how far people will go to obtain what they want.  Nightmarish imagery and a dose of cannibalism makes this a bizarre and unforgettable inclusion.  The final segment, Ambulance on the Death Zone, is quite possibly the most creative of the bunch and proves how effective a zombie tale can be within the constrains of one location and less than a handful of actors.  The standoff between the mother and the paramedic makes the audience believe that the possibly infected daughter is truly infected and the mother doesn’t want to accept it.  Interestingly enough, as the tales continues, the daughter isn’t seen succumbing to the zombie infection as quickly as we’d assume which keeps you guessing until the finale.  The segment is incredibly effective in its delivery and sprays plenty of the red stuff which is always a plus for a zombie flick.  Horror Stories is an incredible execution in suspense and terror with each segment succeeding in making you jump.  The film is quoted on the back of its DVD release as being “one of the scariest Asian horror anthologies of the 21st century”, a gracious compliment indeed but slightly off.  Horror Stories is not just one of the scariest Asian horror anthologies, it’s one the scariest anthologies ever!
    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:
    Artsploitation Films presents Horror Stories in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  The film looks quite nice on DVD with skin tones appearing as natural as can be.  Unfortunately, scenes of darker light (which there are many), have slightly crushed black levels that leaves pixelation to be found.  Colors look decent with images of blood popping nicely.  A serviceable transfer but one that could have looked a bit better.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Horror Stories is presented in its native Korean language in 2.0 Stereo.  Sound quality is nice and robust with dialogue and subtle noises coming across without a hitch.  English subtitles are also provided.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Cast Interviews

    - 12-page collectible booklet: This wonderful companion to the film has two essays entitled Omnibus Onslaught by Travis Crawford and The Terror of Modern Subjectivity: An Overview of Contemporary Korean Horror Cinema by Kyu Hyun Kim.  In addition, A Fairy Tale of the Sun and Moon, an interview with Director Bum-shik Jung conducted by Travis Crawford is included.

    - Reversible cover

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    Horror Stories was a masterful demonstration of four frightening tales all wrapped up in one supreme package.  Every segment possessed immense style and packed enough scares to chill me to the bone.  As we mature and age, it becomes difficult to truly “scare” someone who was raised on genre cinema but “Horror Stories” managed to do just that in spades.  As Kyu Hyun Kim mentions, North American consumers may believe that Korean horror is simply just a variation of the J-wave of horror from Japan showcased in The Ring and Ju-On franchises.  If you’re looking for long haired ghosts that are in desperate need of a chiropractor, look elsewhere because if Horror Stories is an indication of the best Korean horror then the future looks very bright.  Artsploitation Films‘ presentation of the film is serviceable enough and the booklet included is a wonderful read that offers very scholarly approaches to the content.  Artsploitation Films should be praised for bringing such a terrifying and rewarding film stateside and their future in distributing unique and unsettling films is one I anxiously look forward to.  The strength of the film itself gets my highest recommendation as an anthology that deserves to be seen by anyone looking to be truly frightened.
    RATING: 5/5

  • Curse of the Blue Lights (1988) DVD Review

    Curse of the Blue Lights (1988)

    Director: John Henry Johnson
    Starring: Brent Ritter, Bettina Julius, Kent E. Fritzell & Willard Hall
    Released by: Code Red DVD

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Code Red DVD is back at it again with another effort this time from 1988 that not only has ghouls, blood and making out but believe it or not… blue lights!  The 90th spine numbered release from the independent distributor marks the first and only official release of the film on DVD to date.  In addition, the film comes with a generous offering of special features ranging from an audio commentary to behind the scenes still galleries.  25 years have passed since the release of Curse of the Blue Lights, but the question remains: does the film have the chops to warrant the title of “cult classic” as noted on the back cover or is this film just an empty promise?  Let’s look up at the night sky and see just exactly what Curse of the Blue Lights has to offer…

    Curse of the Blue Lights is an ambitious flick about a group of teenagers who head out to the local make-out spot (cleverly named “Make-Out Hill”, of course) when they notice two blue lights in the sky.  After a dimwitted decision to investigate the matter, the teens discover a group of ghastly ghouls who are hellbent on resurrecting an Ancient demon God.  Unfortunately, the teens get caught up in the wrath of these ghouls who will stop at nothing to complete their mission even if it means turning people into puddles of melted corpse!

    MOVIE:
    Admittedly, when Code Red DVD first announced Curse of the Blue Lights in November 2012, I was pretty excited for the release.  The synopsis sounded right up my alley and the cover art just sucked me in as a cult release I didn’t want to miss.  As mentioned before, the film is an incredibly ambitious effort especially given the limited budget and experience of all those involved in the making.  That said, the film is a pleasantly entertaining one that the makers should be proud of especially for the time period it was made in.  The greatest attributes of this film come entirely from the wonderful make-up designs for the ghouls and the well orchestrated use of special effects.  There were moments in the film when the question of “how’d they do that?” kept coming up.  For instance, there’s a brief moment when two teens are about to enter the lair of the ghouls via mirror but as they enter the mirror morphs into water.  A great blending of practical effects and old Hollywood magic made moments like this a feast for the eyes.  The make-up designs of the ghouls are remarkably well done and come across on screen as nothing short of a real Hollywood production.  Honestly, the design work very much reminded me of Michael Jackson’s Thriller which is arguably the greatest music video ever made (as well as this reviewer’s personal favorite).  With every up there are sure to be a few downs, which comes in the form of the teenage cast.  Clearly, these kids were all locals who were trying to do their best but most of the time come off as though they were just reading straight from the script.  The inexperience of the actors, while not god awful, was charming enough to watch them navigate through the movie with little to no range.  Fortunately, a few chuckles were had at how unfazed the actors would seem after watching a local witch tear at her own face.  Overall, the interactions between the teens and the ghouls pursuing them invoked a slight Scooby-Doo vibe which left me with a wide grin on my face.  Curse of the Blue Lights is an accomplishment in low-budget filmmaking that really should be discussed more so than it is.  The plot, while simple enough, tends to over-explain and might bore some but certainly won’t derail the viewing of the film.  The lack of experience from the teen actors is harmless enough and calls for a few good laughs. A personal favorite moment is after encountering the ghouls for the first time, one male actor still insists he has to walk home alone or else his father will kick the shit out of him.  Nothing like fearing your own father over demonic ghouls.  The make-up designs and effects work are the true heroes of this film which really should be seen to be appreciated.  Overall, Curse of the Blue Lights sucked me in and managed to deliver, the film definitely earns the definition of a cult classic!
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    The film is presented full frame (1.78.1) from a new HiDef Master created from 16MM film elements.  Aside from a small case of scratches throughout the print, this film looks remarkably clean which is a testament to how well-preserved the film elements had to have been.  Grain is very much intact and those small cases of scratches add a wonderful air of grindhouse freshness to the viewing.  Darker lit scenes are quite visible so no need to squint your eyes to see what’s going on.  I can’t imagine the film looking any better than this.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    The audio is presented in English Mono and sounds surprisingly clean which again is a testament to the handle of the elements.  Everything comes out sounding tip-top.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director John Henry Johnson and Actor Brent Ritter: Johnson and Ritter, who played “Loath,” deliver a very lively and informative commentary in which they rarely take a breath.  The collaborators mention the overseas title for the film being simply Blue Lights as well as how the film was predominately filmed in a plumbing supply building.  Johnson takes time to discuss how the basis of the film was inspired by a teenage hot spot in his youth where people claimed they would see blue lights seen near the river.  Spooky!  In addition, Ritter comments how uncomfortable the contact lenses were to wear during the shoot.  This commentary is a terrific inclusion to the disc and offers tons of background information.

    - Blue Lights Images Part 1: 70 behind the scenes photos with captions by Director John Henry Johnson.

    - Blue Lights Images Part 2: Another 54 behind the scenes photos with captions again by Johnson.

    - Code Red Trailers: A few sneak peeks at available and upcoming titles such as Just Before Dawn, The Police Connection, Death Machines and The Visitor

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:
    Curse of the Blue Lights is a fun flick that had shades of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Scooby-Doo and a touch of fairy tale-ism while maintaining to be its own beast.  The simply story can tend to over-explain itself leaving little for the audience to interpret while the young cast comes off as inexperienced but charming.  The flick shines thanks to the impressive make-up designs and special effects which manage to dazzle the eyes as well as pack the red stuff.  Code Red DVD’s special features are a delight to have and really showcase the labor of love this film was for its makers.  Curse of the Blue Lights was an ambitious effort but one that was well worth it if 25 years later, we’re still here discussing it.  Check out the film or the dead shall inherit the Earth!
    RATING: 4/5